50 Years Too Early by Gammer
Summary: When Kagome falls into the Bone Eaters Well, she enters a time when Kikyo is still alive, the jewel is whole and Onigumo is still a mere crippled bandit. Will her presence be enough to help Inuyasha and Kikyo escape the trap fate has in store for them? Or will she only hasten the fated tragedy?
Categories: Action/ Adventure, Romance > InuYasha/ Kagome, Romance > InuYasha/ Kikyo Characters: Inu Yasha, Kagome Higurashi, Kikyo
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 18 Completed: No Word count: 83314 Read: 200064 Published: 11 Jun 2011 Updated: 15 Jun 2015
Story Notes:

A strange sort-of "what if" story. It popped into my head after watching episodes 147-148 and episode 151 afterwards. What really caught my eye was the comments on youtube for the episodes saying that Kagome would have been able to see through Naraku's disguise. And thought: 

"Hmm....let's test that theory." 

 Another thought that led to this story was: 

"If Kikyo were still alive and a viable opition, would Inuyasha have chosen to be with her?" 

Both concepts really got me going and is a real good source of drama. And don't worry all characters will remain in-character. 

1. Boy Meets Girl Meets Reincarnation by Gammer

2. Compare and Contrast by Gammer

3. First Impressions by Gammer

4. Gifts by Gammer

5. Hair, Blood and Fights by Gammer

6. First Strike by Gammer

7. Regroup by Gammer

8. Unity by Gammer

9. Downtime by Gammer

10. Vicious Visions by Gammer

11. Alliance of Blood by Gammer

12. Turbulence at the Tea House by Gammer

13. The Demon Puppeteer by Gammer

14. Kagome's Voice and Kikyo's Trust by Gammer

15. Under the New Moon part 1 by Gammer

16. Under the New Moon part 2 by Gammer

17. Under the New Moon Part 3 by Gammer

18. Rendezvous with Miyatsu by Gammer

Boy Meets Girl Meets Reincarnation by Gammer
Author's Notes:

Hope you enjoy the first chapter. Be sure to tell me what you think, it is the only way the story can improve after all.

In terms of timeline, this is after Inuyasha's very first attempt to take the jewel. So he and Kikyo have met, but they haven't really talked yet, hence their distance to each other. 

 Also I wasn't sure exactly when Kagome's birthday was. So I just guessed. Most cheerful people I know were born around summer time, so I figured what the heck. If anyone knows her actual birthday, let me know and I'll correct it. 

 

50 Years Too Early

Disclaimer: Inuyasha obviously belongs to the great Rumkio Takahashi. If I owned it well...it would have been a lot shorter that's for sure, but that's beside the point.

Chapter 1: Boy Meets Girl Meets Reincarnation

Today was the day. Today was her fifteenth birthday. A huge smile covered Kagome Higurashi's face as she threw off her pink sheets and jumped out of bed. Her chocolate brown eyes took a quick look at her clock. 6:50, it read. Her grin widened. Not only was it her birthday, but she actually got up early today!

The teenager pushed her window open and allowed the crisp June air to hit her cheeks. A gentle breeze swept into her room, calming the usually frantic morning girl. Kagome took a deep breath and let out small squeal.

This was how all birthdays should start.

"Today is going to be great!"

OOOOO

It was still dark when Kikyo awoke. She looked across the small hut and saw Kaede still sleeping soundly. The priestess allowed herself a small smile at her dormant sister before preparing for her morning rounds.

As she dressed herself, she mentally called out to the barriers around the village. No disturbances so far. That would most likely change by mid-day at the earliest. If she took the southern route to gather herbs she'd return in time for a quick meal, something she had been missing for the past several days.

The young woman sighed. She'd known that protecting the scared jewel would be a constant affair, but she had yet to adjust to the frequent attacks. At least so far the demons had been minor. Still, she couldn't lower her guard, not even for a moment.

She took a bowl of fresh water and splashed it on her face. With each handful of water she mentally put on her mask. Her mask of apathy. Every day it became easier and easier to put on, and harder to take off. One day, she feared it would permanently be her face. A shot of dread ran through her. Would she still care about Kaede should that day ever come to pass? Would she still be able to find solace in the children of the village and their simple purity?

She splashed her face again. It was much too early for such brooding. Whether she agreed with it or not, she had a duty to carry out and she would fulfill her role, no matter what.

She tied her hair and stepped over Kaede to the door.

"Kikyo..." Kaede whispered.

"Forgive me, Kaede," Kikyo said. "I did not mean to wake you."

"No...I...just..." the child muttered, sleep clearly winning the battle. But despite that, Kaede managed to utter a phrase that shattered the priestess's guard. "Happy Birthday."

Kikyo froze at the doorway. The single phrase brought up so many memories. Some pleasant, some better left forgotten. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Kaede had finally lost the battle. Her light snores echoed through the hut. The priestess allowed herself a smile. Kaede may not have known it but she had just saved her sister from an entire morning of brooding. Yes, she still had a way to go from being the ice doll every one perceived her as.

"Thank you, Kaede."

She walked out of the hut with a new vigor.

Perhaps today would be a pleasant day after all.

OOOOO

Inuyasha awoke with a start. Today was the day. Today he was going to take the Sacred Jewel from that priestess.

The Halfling stretched out on his high branch. A quick sniff of the air told him that the river was only a few yards away. Three leaps from this height would get him there. He rotated his ears, taking in every sound and rustle for potential threats. Nothing in the immediate area. Keh, there had better not be, he thought. After he killed those weakling ogre brothers, the lesser demons of this forest let him be. Probably because they were too busy throwing themselves at that priestess for the Sacred Jewel. Inuyasha scoffed. As if he would let a bunch of weaklings have his jewel. All he had to do was defeat the priestess Kikyo and the power of a full-fledged demon would be his. Inuyasha cracked his claws in anticipation. It would be easy. He just needed to take out that damn bow of hers before she could shoot. With his speed it would be simple.

"I wonder what I should do first as a full demon," he wondered aloud. The answer came faster than he thought. Punch that pretentious, pompous, asshole he calls a brother, right in his smug, prick face. Yeah, that would show him that Inuyasha was the real deal. Then he'd hunt down every demon that had ever given him grief in his days as a pup and show them why screwing around with him was a bad idea. After that, he'd challenge even stronger and stronger demons until he was the most powerful demon around. Yeah, that would be the life for him, all he had to was defeat the priestess.

A rustle in the bushes pulled Inuyasha out his daydream. The red clad demon quickly went on the alert. His ears flicked in every direction, trying to hone in on the possible threat. After three tries, he found the source. It was approaching from the west. It definitely wasn't human from the slow and heavy steps he heard. It also had a strong scent to it. Inuyasha crouched on his branch, ready to spring at whatever was coming.

The bushes parted to reveal a medium sized male bear. Probably fresh into adulthood. Inuyasha scoffed and leaned back against his tree. To think he got so riled up over one stupid bear. It wasn't even a demon. Still it was hard to argue with almost ten years of caution. But that would all change when he became a full demon. No more hiding, no more caution and definitely no more worrying about the new moon every month.

He sniffed the air to see if the priestess was out and about yet. Through all the smells, he managed to find hers. The strong smell of demon blood. She was still in the village it seemed like, but demons were already throwing themselves at her barrier. The fools, he thought with a smirk. If they were smarter they would realize there was a weak point near the eastern portion of the shield. It was still a bitch to push through, but it was better than hurling at the front end. The priestess also had a habit of wandering these woods, his woods, for more plants. She'd be easy enough to find, just like he said to her on his first attempt.

If he left now he could probably sneak up on her. Or at least catch her before she wore herself out fighting those minor demons. He wanted to face her at her best, so that there could be no debate over his victory. Inuyasha stood on the branch, ready to leap when he heard the bear scratch on his tree. The dog halfing growled. He had marked this tree as his territory the moment he had found it. Now this bear was trying to take that from him? Keh, the fool.

Inuyasha angled himself so that he was right above the bear's neck. He flexed his claws and took another sniff of the air. The priestess had begun to move. He would have to make this quick. It would make for a good warm-up anyways.

A single leap and a single swipe was all it took. The bear was a weakling after all. Not one to waste anything, Inuyasha began to gut the creature, the meat would last him a good while if he stored it correctly. He then took a dip in the nearby river to clean off the blood.

With a full stomach and a successful territory defense, he was on a roll. Now all that was left was the jewel.

Inuyasha leaped after the priestess, already feeling the full power of a demon flowing through him.

Today was going to kick ass!

OOOOO

Kagome all but flew down the stairs to the kitchen. Her mother Chihiro was already at the stove cooking breakfast. (Kagome vaguely wondered if she ever left the kitchen) Souta was glued to the TV watching his early morning cartoons. His school uniform and soccer ball long forgotten on the couch. Gramps wasn't in the living room, but she could him struggling with something outside. Kagome glanced at rows of boxes lined against the back door and rolled her eyes. It was probably more of those Jewel of the Four whatever replicas he'd been going on about for the past couple of weeks. Why tourists would come to their shrine for some glittery marbles was beyond her.

"Happy birthday, Kagome," her mother said, snapping Kagome out of her thoughts.

"Oh, thanks mom!" she replied, taking her seat at the table.

"Souta, come eat your breakfast."

"Ok, mom," he replied, not moving from the TV screen. Kagome grabbed the remote and switched off the TV, breaking the spell. "Hey!"

"Come on squirt, before it gets cold."

The boy sighed and made his way to the table, disappointed that he won't see the show's climax.

"Happy birthday, Kagome!" Gramps called from the door over the large box in his hands.

"Thanks gramps," she said as she rose to help the elderly man with the box. "Sheesh, what's in this box, rocks?"

Gramps' face beamed with pride. "Authentic Shikon Jewel replicas!"

"Seriously gramps?" she groaned as she placed the next box against the wall. "Don't you think you're taking this whole sacred jewel thing a little too far?"

"You watch your tone little missie!" Grandpa exclaimed. "I'll have you know those replicas are a part of an ancient history. In fact according to legend this entire area was a battle ground for the original Jewel of the Four Souls..."

"Pickles, grandpa?" Chihiro interrupted.

Gramps's face brightened. "Ah yes thank you!"

Kagome sighed in relief as the old man made his way to the table. The last thing she wanted hear was another one of grandpa's "you have no respect for tradition" lectures. Especially today of all days. Breakfast was the usual affair, with Grandpa mouthing off every now and then about how even the pickles were filled with history. She had to roll her at that one. What was next? The floor tiles? Gramps really needed to give it a rest.

Luckily for her before the old man could go off again, it was time to head out. She slipped into her brown shoes while Souta went on ahead. Her mom told her to double check to make sure she had everything before wishing her a happy birthday one more time. She was halfway across the grounds when she saw Souta frozen in front of the storage house.

"You're not supposed to play in there," she reminded him, making her towards the boy.

"I'm not," he said with an annoyed pout. "It's the cat." Kagome saw the bowl of cat food in his hands and figured he had been trying to lure the wayward creature out of the storage house without actually going in himself. He was such a little coward.

"Buyo…." Souta called meekly.

Kagome crouched next him. "So go down."

"But why do I gotta be the one?" he whined.

"Because, you're the one that's looking for him," she replied as if it were obvious.

A faint scratching echoed near the old well in the center of the room. Souta yelped and was behind Kagome in a blink of an eye.

"Something's down there!"

"Uh yeah, the cat." She resisted the urge to groan. There wasn't any time for this, she had less than fifteen minutes to make it on time for homeroom. If Souta was too chicken to go down and grab the cat, she would have to.

The old wooden steps creaked under feet. She unconsciously walked on her toes to avoid breaking them. As she descended she noticed the scratching sound getting louder and it was coming from the well. And that wasn't all. Something was calling her. It was faint, just barely above a whisper, but she defiantly heard it. Her legs seemed to have a will of their own as she approached the old well.

"What is it sis?" Souta asked.

"Something….from the well…." She muttered, not noticing the faint pink glow emanating from her chest. She passed her hand over the boards covering the well. A warm pulse ran up through her and for the briefest of seconds nothing seemed to move.

That all changed when a plume of white erupted from the well, blowing off the boards like an overflowing pressure cooker. Before Kagome knew it, she was dragged in. A sudden bump on her head at the bottom of the well broke whatever trance she had been under.

"Ow….That wasn't fun," She groaned. "I must have fallen in the well. Hey Souta, go get grandpa!" When no response came the young woman had to groan again. The little coward must have run off. Figures.

"Not exactly the best way to kick off your birthday," she said to herself as she climbed up the old vines on the stone wall. "But it's just a little bump in the road. Just climb out and pretend this little clumsy incident never happened."

She reached the top with an exhausted gasp. Her arms were already aching from the excursion. A bright morning sun was waiting for her, along with the chirps of several cicadas. Kagome looked up in confusion. Wasn't the well inside the storehouse? Instead of a damp gloomy storage house, her chestnut eyes saw lines of trees as far as she could see. Butterflies fluttered across her face while a few birds flew over head. But most importantly, the shrine and her house was nowhere in sight.

"I might be wrong, but Toto, I don't think we're in Tokyo anymore."

OOOOOOO

Kikyo had just finished surveying the Eastern portion of the village when she picked up a strange presence. It was faint, but very powerful for her to pick up on it from this distance. Kikyo closed her eyes and stretched out her awareness. From behind her eyelids the forest rushed past her in a green blur as if she were dashing through them. She saw familiar grounds such as the lake, and rice patties before settling near the Bone Eaters Well and the Tree of Ages. A singular figure, humanoid it seemed like, was wandering through the forest. Normally Kikyo would have just written it off as a false alarm. But the powerful spiritual energy told her otherwise.

Was it a dark priestess? Tsubaki, perhaps? No. As strong as Tsubaki was, not even she had the kind of spiritual power Kikyo was sensing. Whoever was out there had sprit power almost on the same level as hers. But it seemed so raw and untamed, similar to the half-demon's aura she had faced the previous day.

The priestess readied her bow and set off towards the disturbance. Only twenty arrows sat in her quiver, she hoped that would be enough.

OOOOO

Kagome wasn't sure how long she had been wandering the woods when he showed up. She wasn't sure how many times she had yelled out for anyone familiar to her to pop out and say it was all just a joke. She wasn't even sure if she was still in Japan. But all those thoughts came to a halt when she heard,

"Where do you think you're going Kikyo?"

A boy dressed in all red suddenly leaped out of the trees and landed square in front of her. His long silver hair, and amber eyes were strange enough, but those dog ears just took the cake. They were just too…..cute. She wasn't sure if she should be scared or curious about the strange boy in front of her.

"Uh…hey you live around here right?" she said, taking a step forward. Anyone who dressed the way he did had to know his way around this crazy place. "Can you tell me where I am or at least point in the direction of a phone?"

Dog boy raised an eyebrow. Confusion dipped into his features before shifting back to its original growling state.

"I don't know what kind of trick you're trying to pull, but it won't work on me Kikyo! Now hand over the Scared Jewel!"

Trick? What trick? Was he on something? Who was Kikyo? Was he a schizophrenic?

"Look, can you please just get me to a phone or something; my mom must be worried sick."

"I told you to lay off the tricks, Kikyo!" he growled. "If you ain't gonna hand the jewel over, I'll just take it!" He cracked his fingers, showing his ridiculously long nails.

Her heart began to pound as her earlier curiosity gave way to fear. He wasn't seriously going to come after her was he? It had to be some kind of joke, a birthday prank. But when four golden arcs came her way that thought evaporated. Kagome screamed at the top of her lungs and dove forward, narrowly avoiding the attack.

"Someone help!" she screamed, not sure who would hear. "This weirdo is trying to kill me!"

Dog boy whirled around. Annoyance was written all over his face. "I'm the weirdo? Says the woman in those clothes and acting completely different from yesterday! Did you hit your head or something Kikyo?"

"That does it. Kikyo, Kikyo, she's not me, because my name's Kagome, KA-GO-ME!"

"I've had enough your games, Kikyo! Prepare to die!" He leapt at her again, his claws beginning to glow that yellow light. Kagome squeezed her eyes shut, too afraid to even move. At that moment, two arrows whizzed past her ears. A loud grunt, made her open her eyes. The dog boy was now pinned to a tree by two arrows in his sleeves. Before she could wonder what happened, she got her answer from a voice behind her.

"I thought I told you to stay away from here, half-demon."

Kagome turned around and nearly jumped out her skin. Walking towards her was a young woman who looked almost exactly like her. She seemed to be somewhat familiar with the dog guy, who was now cursing up a storm at her twin. Kagome stayed frozen in her spot as she watched her clone and the dog boy talk. This couldn't be happening. This had to be a dream or an extremely elaborate prank for TV. People don't just run into their exact twin out of the blue do they? And what about that whole idea where if someone met their doppelganger they would die? Did that mean she was going to die?

"You there," her twin said calmly, breaking Kagome out of her stupor.

"Y-yes…?" she replied meekly.

"Follow me, if you wish to live."

Kagome did as she told (as if she had a choice), but one thing was sure,

She was definitely going to remember this birthday.

Compare and Contrast by Gammer
Author's Notes:
For me the best part about this chapter is just having Kikyo and Kagome interact with each other, which they really do much in the series. (At least on good terms anyways)

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 2: Compare and Contrast

Kagome wasn't sure what to think as she followed her twin through the forest. Her chocolate brown eyes were fixed on the figure in white. No matter how many times Kagome stared, it was still creepy. For the fourth time in under a minute, Kagome slapped herself. From the rising sting on her cheek, this definitely wasn't a dream. Kagome still wasn't sure if that was a good thing.

This place was scary. Ever since they had started the trek, Kagome had felt like there were a million eyes on her. As if creatures in the bushes around them were following her every move. With each step her anxious feeling only got worse. A rustle in the bushes from a squirrel made her jump almost eight feet and the slither of a snake passing by her foot caused a scream that seemed to shake the leaves. This place was terrible!

It really didn't help that her twin or clone or whatever, wasn't that talkative. None of this would be so bad if her twin just stopped and explained what was going on. But then again, what exactly was the protocol for conversing with your body double? If Soap operas were any indications most conversations involved the original accusing the twin of putting their fiancée in a coma or sabotaging some aspect of their lives. And the twin would retort that they've been neglected by the original since they were born and did it to get attention. Kagome looked up at her twin for what had to be the tenth time. Something told her the soap opera model wouldn't be of any help. But she had to say something, the silence was horrible. She took a deep breath and cleared her throat to catch her twin's attention.

"Um….so…." Kagome started, earning a glance from her twin. Kagome flinched when she saw even their eyes were the same color.

"Yes?" her twin pressed when Kagome failed to follow up.

Shaking off the shock, Kagome searched the sky for a topic. "Where…uh….where are we going?"

The twin turned back to the road. "My village." She said simply.

Kagome had to jog to keep up. "Oh! What's there? Your friends? Your family?"

"Answers."

"You mean like how I got here, what the deal was with that dog eared guy, and if I can get home?" she babbled.

Her twin answered with a simple, "Yes."

"That's good because, I need to get home, I'm sure my mom is worried sick, I'm sure my little brother Sota would love having an extra room in the house and Gramps of course would rant that I was spirited away by angry deities and all that stuff. Kind of funny when you think about it."

Kagome's forced laugh was silenced by a single look from her twin, deflating her false joviality. Crash and burn, Kagome thought. But then again babbling about random topics probably wasn't the best way to have a conversation. Maybe she needed a different approach. She jogged up to her twin once more so that they walked side by side, though Kagome was careful not to glance up at her twin's eyes again.

"So… what's your village like?"

The twin raised her eyebrow. Kagome inwardly smirked. Now her twin had to give her more than a simple answer!

"It's fine."

Or not. Was talking just something frowned upon here? Kagome opened her mouth one more time, but her twin stopped her with another look.

"Save your voice for the village," she said. "If you make too much noise here, you'll attract demons."

"D-demons? Real demons?"

"Yes, so please remain quiet until we reach my village."

Kagome bit her lip. Actual demons. That would explain that weird feeling of eyes on her. She shivered despite the June heat. Maybe questions would have to be saved for later.

OOOOO

Kikyo glanced over her shoulder as the girl jogged to catch up. The girl was almost an exact duplicate of her. But their appearance was the only similar aspect. Besides her strange clothes, the girl moved like a frightened child. She had jumped at the simple motion of a squirrel moving through the trees and Kikyo could swear that the girl alerted every demon in the area when a snake passed by her foot and she screamed with all her might. The girl also seemed to be in the habit of talking for no other reason but to fill the silence.

Kikyo had traveled with others before, but often times it was with other priestesses like Tsubaki or Kaede, both seemed to appreciate the need for silence on the road, especially during a mission. The quiet was useful to her. It allowed her to gather her thoughts, focus on her duty and plan out possible counter measures to any form of attack. That focus was currently in much need as Kikyo searched her mind for how such a duplicate could exist. The girl had no demonic aura around her or signs of sorcery of any kind.

She had been in the process of changing her theory when the girl began asking senseless questions. While Kikyo could understand the girl's curiosity, how did she expect to get answers if the girl kept interrupting her thoughts? Not one for rudeness, Kikyo answered the girl's questions as simply as she could. She couldn't distract herself with conversation at this point. She needed to figure out exactly what kind of power she was in the presence of. Yet the girl's chatter persisted. Kikyo held in the urge to groan when another question came her way. As before Kikyo answered as simply as possible to avoid breaking her focus, but that was not enough for the girl it seemed like.

It had been an easy enough task to silence her. She used a line she had seen mothers use on noisy children. A bit underhanded of her, but it served its purpose. She remained quiet for the rest of the trek to the village. But as the familiar huts came into view, Kikyo was no closer to an explanation than she was previously. This was proving to be more difficult than she first surmised. Kikyo sighed and turned to the girl.

"We have arrived," she announced, making the girl stiffen even more. "If any of the villagers question your presence here, allow me to answer them. Do you understand?"

The girl nodded and together they entered the village. Kikyo could only hope she knew what she was doing.

OOOOO

"Damn it!" Inuyasha yelled at the sky. Another bust! The Halfling struggled against the arrows that held him to the tree, cursing the priestess with each breath. That damn double had thrown him off. Kikyo must have created some kind of twin with her powers to distract him so she could pin him to the damn tree. And he fell for it! Damn it! He should have known better. The scents were completely different. The body double reeked with fear and bunch of other unfamiliar scents. The sound of the twin's step was nowhere close to Kikyo's either. The double's steps were quick and erratic like a scared rabbit or trapped prey.

He wasn't sure what made the priestess suddenly want to use decoys, but then again it really didn't matter. All it meant was that she too scared to take him head on. Keh, the next time he faced her, he'd get past that double no problem, then the jewel would be all his!

But first he had to get off this damn tree.

As he struggled against the arrows one thought drilled against skull with every move he made. Why didn't she finish him off? He was helpless. Just one arrow to the throat and he would be done, no questions asked. So why didn't she do just that? Inuyasha knew for a fact that he wasn't going to give up on the jewel and so did Kikyo for that matter. Knowing that should have made killing him all the more easier for her. Why keep him alive when she knew he would just keep coming?

Was it mercy? No it couldn't be. From the amount of demon blood that soaked her scent, it was fair to say that Kikyo spared no seeker of the jewel. So why was he the exception? Pity? Keh, that was just as ridiculous as mercy. He may be only a half-demon, but he was still a demon damn it! And demons didn't need pity to survive; they survived on power and their own strength! If pity was really the reason for his current survival then he was even weaker than he thought. His claws dug into his palms at the fact. A feral growl escaped his clenched jaw. His ears tucked back into his hair while his muscles tensed. "Weakling" floated behind his eyelids like a taunt, made even worse by the fact that he could hear his brother utter word as if he was right behind him. Inuyasha's eyes snapped open and with one frustrated yell pushed off against the tree trunk ripping himself from the arrows.

A quick look over told him that he wasn't injured. Kikyo had good aim; he had to give that much to the priestess. She didn't even come close to his vitals. But even if she did, his Fire Rat robes would have protected him. That was only if she continued to use her normal arrows. If she used any of her spiritual energy he wouldn't be standing.

"I guess I should count myself lucky," he muttered. He growled and shook his head at the thought. Demons didn't need luck to survive either!

He sniffed the air and once again found Kikyo's scent. She was back in the village, which was well within her barrier and beyond his reach. Her body double or twin or whatever was with her too. He cracked his claws, imagining the satisfaction of taking both women down and getting his hands on the Shikon jewel. His frustration gave way to the more familiar confidence and gusto.

"Just you wait Kikyo," he swore. "I'll show you that leaving me alive was a big mistake."

OOOOO

Kagome stared at the village in front of her; her jaw had long since dropped. It was like stepping into one of Gramps's period movies or Sota's samurai shows. Everything was more or less exact from their simple kimonos to their soil stained hands. If she really was back in feudal times, she was definitely getting an A in history when got back home. If she ever got back home.

The villagers greeted her twin pleasantly but stopped to stare at Kagome. One look from her twin stopped them from asking any questions. The walk to her twin's hut only took two minutes but it might as well have taken two years.

The hut was a simple one, just like Kagome had seen on TV. There was a fire pit, bare hardwood floors and two sleeping mats around the fire pit. In the corner she saw several clumps of herbs that gave the hut a strong arbor smell. Kneeling next to the herbs was a young girl. She wore a simple orange-yellow kimono. Her hair was tied with the same white ribbon as her twin and she seemed to be humming a cheerful tune while she worked.

"Kaede, I've returned," her twin announced, slipping out of her sandals. Kagome followed suit.

The little girl, Kaede whirled around a bright smile on her face. "Sister Kikyo!"

Kagome wanted to slap herself one more time. Her twin not only had a little sibling too, but even her sibling shared the same eyes and general face as her. Was this some weird parallel universe where her face was the template or something?

Kaede's smile dropped when she glanced at Kagome, making the schoolgirl shift in discomfort. The hut was silent for several long seconds before her twin, Kikyo, interrupted.

"Kaede, you're staring."

The girl snapped out of her trance. "Oh! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to-!"

Kagome waved her hands trying to appease the flustered girl. "No, no, it's fine. I probably look kind of strange anyways….." she said with an uneasy laugh.

"Kaede why don't you go make our guest some tea?" Kikyo suggested, setting her bow and quiver against the far wall.

"Oh right!" Kaede grabbed a kettle near the fire pit and pattered out of the hut yelling that she'd back with fresh water over her shoulder.

"I apologize for the villagers and my sister's behavior," Kikyo said as she began lighting the fire pit.

Kagome let out another small laugh as she sat across from her twin. "Don't worry about it, like I said, I probably look weird to them."

"Indeed," Kikyo said simply.

Silence fell between them once more. Kagome's hands twitched, eager for something to do. Her fingers found their way to her hair and began twisting at her bangs. Her other hand seemed eager to test how smooth the floorboards were.

"Um…." Kagome tried, catching the twin's attention. "So…is it ok to talk here, or will demons get us here too?"

The corners of Kikyo's lips twitched upwards but quickly shifted back down to their previous position. An attempt to smile maybe? "I can assure you, we are perfectly safe here thanks to the barrier around the village."

"Oh well… that's good I guess…"

"What is your name?"

"Kagome Higurashi."

Her twin mouthed her name silently as if testing it on her lips.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Higurashi," she said with a bow, taking Kagome aback.

"Um…you can just call me Kagome if you want. Formality really isn't my thing…."

"Very well, Kagome."

"And you're name is, Kikyo right?"

"That is correct."

"Do you have a family name?"

Kikyo looked down and Kagome knew right away she hit a sore topic.

"You don't have to answer; I was just wondering, you know." Kagome said frantically.

Kikyo answered anyway. "Unfortunately, my family is no longer a part of this world."

"So they died?" Stupid! Kagome hissed at herself. Of course they died what else could that mean!

"Correct," Kikyo replied not at all bothered it seemed. "It happened when I was no older than Kaede is now."

"You don't have to say anymore," Kagome said quickly. "I'm sorry; sometimes I have to play catch up with my mouth. Funny isn't it?"

Kikyo shook her head. "There's no need for apologies. I would not be much of a priestess if I allowed such a childhood event to still affect me."

I'm guessing this is before post traumatic stress disorder was discovered, Kagome thought.

The door slid open revealing Kaede with a full tea kettle of water. Another round of silence passed as Kikyo rose from her seat and helped her sister prepare the beverage. Every now and then Kaede would glance up at Kagome, making the schoolgirl shift her gaze to some other part of the hut.

"Kagome," Kikyo said as she poured three cups.

"Yeah?"

"I am curious as to how you came here," she said sliding the tea over to Kagome. "If that is a tale you feel comfortable sharing of course."

"No, no it's fine I just don't know how to put it in words actually…." Kagome replied with a weak laugh.

Kikyo took a sip of the tea. "Take your time."

Kagome scratched her head trying to find the right words. "There's not much to it honestly. My younger brother was looking for our cat Buyo, but he was too much a coward to actually go down into the storehouse. So I had to. Then next thing I know the old well springs to life, drags me to the bottom, I climb out, and well….here I am."

"Fascinating," Kikyo said. "And tell me, what was the name of this well you spoke of?"

"Um….I'm pretty sure Gramps called it the Bone Eaters Well or something like that. Not a very welcoming name if you ask me."

Kikyo set her tea aside and sighed. Her chocolate brown eyes met Kagome's, causing another flinch from the school girl.

"It's as I thought," the priestess muttered to herself. "I had my suspicions but I never thought something like this was possible."

"What suspicions? What's going on?"

"You are my reincarnation, Kagome."

Kagome nearly dropped her cup. "I'm your what?"

"My reincarnation," Kikyo repeated patiently. "Essentially I am you and you are me."

"I know what reincarnation is," Kagome said her voice shaking. "And the whole point of it is that a person soul lives on in another body after death. So how can we be talking if I'm supposed to be you? Am I dead! Is this some kind of near death experience?"

"Remain calm. The situation is not as morbid as you believe."

"How do you figure that?"

"What brought here was not death. It was the Bone Eater's Well. It is a well made from the wood of the Scared Tree, which is, in turn, a Tree of Ages."

"A tree of what?"

"It is a tree that transcends time," Kikyo explained. "It experiences different eras in time and with proper spiritual power, those experiences can be shared."

"You're still not making any sense…."

"It's basically an immortal tree," Kaede piped up. "It can't be chopped down or burned or anything. No matter what happens it endures."

Kagome couldn't resist smiling. Even in a different time and a different place, a smart younger sibling was unavoidable.

"Well put Kaede," Kikyo said with a more noticeable half smile.

"Ok, so the Scared Tree is immortal. I kind of get that, but how did it manage to bring me here?"

"The Bone Eater's Well is made from some of the wood from the Scared Tree. When it was built it must have made some sort of connection with the well in your world and brought you here when you fell in."

"But stuff has fallen in the well all the time before and it didn't get whisked away to another time. Why did it suddenly decide to bring me here?"

"Perhaps fate has a plan for you."

"And that still doesn't explain this reincarnation thing. How can you be so sure that I'm your reincarnation without some test like they do for the Dali Lama?"

"Do you have a better explanation for our similar appearance?"

Kagome froze. She really didn't, not without citing those stupid comic books Sota usually read. Today was definitely crazy if robotic twins or a parallel universe was a more logical explanation for her current situation than what Kikyo suggested. Kagome found herself losing strength in her body. It didn't take long for her to slump against the wall, her head light and spinning.

"This is… a lot to take in," she breathed. A cup of cold water floated in front of her face. Kagome followed the arm and saw Kaede offing a cup with a warm smile. Kagome managed a smile back as she accepted.

"I understand your aversion and your discomfort," Kikyo said placing a hand on Kagome's shoulder. "But I promise you I will do everything in my power to find a way to send back to your world."

"Thank you," was all Kagome could think to say. She gulped down her water wishing her head would stop spinning. "This isn't exactly what I wanted for my birthday though."

Kaede's eyes brightened. "Today is your birthday as well Lady Kagome?"

Kagome gave the little girl another genuine smile. "Yep, I'm officially 15 today."

"So a birthday is another aspect we share," Kikyo said.

Kagome straightened up. "Get out; it's your birthday today too?"

"Correct. As of today I am 18."

No way! Kagome thought. I thought she had to be at least 20 or something.

"Does my age surprise you?"

Kagome nearly jumped out of her skin. Could she read minds now? "How did you-!"

"It was written all over your face."

"Oh…sorry it's just-."

"You needn't worry. People are always surprised at my young age," Kikyo looked into the green liquid of her tea. A distant look began to flash in her eyes. "I suppose my duties have taken certain toll on me, hence my older appearance."

Time seemed to freeze as Kagome examined her other self. There was no denying that they looked the same at first glance, she realized the biggest difference between them. It was their eyes. Kikyo's were more rounded and for the longest time Kagome avoid looking to them because they held such a cold and apathetic look to them. But as Kagome looked into them now, she saw only sadness and loneliness in Kikyo's eyes. Kagome couldn't explain how she knew, but some part of Kikyo was crying out for someone, anyone, to ease a pain so long bottled inside. Was this why fate sent her here? To help this lonely form of herself?

"Sister Kikyo…? Kaede whispered, breaking the silence and Kagome's trance.

"My apologies," Kikyo said, snapping out of her gaze. "I must have gotten lost in my chain of thought."

Kagome waved it off. "Don't worry about it. Hey, what do you usually do for your birthday?"

Kikyo looked up, a blank look on her face. Clearly no one had ever asked her a question like that before. And from her lack of response, Kagome knew the answer already.

"I'm guessing you don't do much," Kagome said with a sigh.

A light shade red appeared on Kikyo's pale face. "I never have the time to properly celebrate-."

"That's stupid," Kagome interrupted. "You should always make time for your birthday!"

Kikyo tilted her head. "What do you usually do in your world?"

"Well my friends usually take me out somewhere like our favorite burger shop and my mom cooks a really nice dinner for me with all my favorite foods. Then we all have a toast…that's it!"

"What is?"

With a strange new vigor, Kagome filled their cups with tea and raised her cup to Kikyo.

"We can still have a birthday toast. Like this, Happy Birthday Kikyo!"

Kikyo stared at the cup in front of her then at Kagome. For the longest time the priestess didn't move. But soon the priestess raised her own cup and met Kagome's, with a look of warmth in her eyes.

"Happy Birthday, Kagome."

Kaede quickly followed suit. "Happy Birthday Sister Kikyo and to you too Lady Kagome!"

Kagome giggled. "I told you, just Kagome is fine."

With that, under the afternoon sun the three shared a warm carefree drink. Kagome looked over her cup and saw the corners of Kikyo's lips turn upward again, this time staying in that position.

Suddenly this strange place didn't feel so bad.

End Notes:
As always let me know what you think.
First Impressions by Gammer

Yura of the Hair was bored. The last hunt had been disappointing. Those arrogant samurai never stood a chance against her. It had only taken a few stokes from her comb to take them out. The hair she collected from them had been a letdown as well. Far too many loose ends, strands and split ends, in such common colors too. Black or brown. At least she gained more hair this time. For the past several weeks all she had been catching lately had been foolhardy monks. Bald skulls were never fun. And with the death of so many monks, the humans nearby had branded her forest “cursed” which deterred any new prey and robbed her of any hair.  Yura huffed as she leaned against her bed of skulls. It was time to face the facts; this hunting ground was growing stale and fast.

She combed the hair of her latest skull. Relocating was always such a chore. Finding the perfect area, ensuring that there were enough humans to prey on, and making sure that the hair she collected was up to par. Her last hunting ground, the mountains of the north had been a disaster. There was hardly enough room to move how she wanted, the air was far too cold, and to make it worse the hair was just too thin and meek. The southern regions were spacious but far too much competition from lesser demons and to the West were extremely powerful demons, like that arrogant dog demon upstart.

However, the west was home to some of the best hunting grounds and the hair of the humans was said to be of the highest quality. If she were to relocate to the western lands, she would need more power. The demons that roamed the western plains were not keen to share their hunting territory to newcomers. She would need some extra firepower in her corner to show her dominance. And there was only one object that would give Yura what she needed.

The demon stood on the bed of skulls and chuckled.

“I believe it’s time I gave that priestess Kikyo a visit.”

OOOOOO

It was about mid-morning when Kagome awoke. The early sun poked through the holes in the hut, giving the dim room some much needed light. Kagome rubbed her neck as she sat up, trying to locate an annoying knot that had formed during the course of the night. Sleeping on the hardwood floor wasn’t for her. And her mother wondered why she never wanted to go camping as a kid.

“Good morning Lady Kagome,” Kaede’s cheerful voice said.

“Good morning Kaede,” Kagome managed to yawn back as a hot bowl of miso soup was presented to her. She had spent almost the entire day talking to Kikyo before the priestess was called back to her duties. Kagome spent the rest of the time talking to Kaede who, much like Sota, seemed way beyond her years in smarts and unlike Kikyo seemed much more willing to talk about…well…everything. Especially about her sister it seemed. Most it involved recalling a great deed Kikyo did and how Kikyo kept her cool in the most dire of situations. At the thought of her twin, Kagome glanced around the mostly empty hut.

“Where’s Kikyo?” she asked as she began to eat.

“Oh, she started her rounds already.”

“Huh? This early? When does she wake up?”

“Right before sunrise,” Kaede answered as if it were obvious. “She’s usually out for the entire morning and eats lunch late. Sometimes not all.”

That can’t be healthy, Kagome thought. She had known a girl in middle school named Keiko who was rather obsessive with her grades. She had heard from Keiko’s friends she pulled all-nighters regularly and routinely skipped meals. She got into one of the best high schools in the country, but not too long after the poor girl had a major breakdown. Last time Kagome checked, she was still trying to recover in an institution.

“Aren’t you worried she might over extend herself?” Kagome asked, the image of a mentally ill Kikyo muttering to herself flashing in her mind.

Kaede stared at her bowl of rice. “Every day.”

Open mouth, insert foot, Kagome growled at herself. How could she have been so insensitive?

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-,” Kagome started.

Kaede immediately perked up. “No it’s fine don’t worry about it.” She took several mouthfuls of her breakfast to emphasize her content. “Anyways, Kikyo wanted me to show you around today and we would meet with her this afternoon in front of the sacred tree.”

“Alright, sounds like a plan,” Kagome replied, picking at her fish. 

She finished the rest of her breakfast in silence while Kaede dominated the rest of the meal with information about the village. The various paths to the fields and the river, how far the scared tree was, the location of the shrine all passed in and out of Kagome's ears. The school girl mouth only opened when she began to eat, for fear of making another stupid comment.

When the meal finished, Kaede gather up the bowls and headed for the door.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” the girl realized and turned to Kagome. “Wait right here.”

Kagome watched as Kaede ran to the closet on the far wall of the hut and pulled out what looked like an extra set of Kikyo's priestess robes. She presented them to Kagome with a smile.

“Here, change.” 

“Huh?”

“Well, Sister Kikyo said that all day yesterday the villagers were making side comments about you and the way you were dressed, so she thought for now it would be best if you changed.”

Kagome took the robes and titled her head. “Thanks but don't you have any regular clothes? Something she would wear off-duty?”

Kaede looked down. “She's never off-duty.”

Kagome glanced at the robes and smiled at Kaede. “Maybe you and I can change that.”

OOOOO

“Hand over the scared jewel priestess!”

Kikyo held in a sigh and notched her bow. It took a single arrow to dissolve the crow demon. This was rapidly becoming routine. Sense the demon, move to its location, the demon would demand the Shikon jewel, charge, fire an arrow and kill the demon. Proceed to repeat the process until the sun set, then she would wake up the next morning for the ordeal resume itself. Was this really what her life amounted to? A path tainted with blood? The duty of a priestess did indeed involve bloodshed, however Kikyo was sure her particular path left more bodies in her wake than a samurai warlord. Would it ever end?

“Priestess!!!” the baritone of an oni shouted alerting her senses.

A quick overview of his aura told the weary priestess this one was nothing to worry about. The demon raised its weapon of choice, a kabano and let out its battle cry. A ploy to intimidate her Kikyo figured. Other than showing off the demon's poor dental hygiene, it was highly ineffective. The demon charged when it realized the priestess was inapprehensive.

“Hand over the scared-!”

Its demand was cut short when four well placed arrows pierced into its torso. The oni collapsed at her feet before turning to ash. Kikyo stared at the rising ash. The addition of the oni placed her current count to eight demons for the day. She glanced at the sun, which told her that noon had not yet arrived. Her personal record was thirteen demons before the noon hour. Perhaps today she would best herself.

Kikyo shook her head. It was unwise to wish more demons on herself. Not too long ago, at the start of the new moon cycle, she had faced more demons than she could handle. She had defeated them but she had used more power than she had intended, leaving her drained. That was when she had sensed the half-demon. Not one to show weakness, she had displayed her usual cold demeanor. However her strength failed her and she collapsed. Yet the half-demon did nothing. He was in the perfect position to finish her off for good and take the Shikon jewel for himself, so why did he not take his chance? Was it a part of a grander stratagem? Kikyo shook her head at the thought. The half-demon's attack strategies had been no better than the oni's or the other demons she had faced. So why did he not just finish her off when he had the chance?

“Sister Kikyo!” Kaede's voice snapped Kikyo out of her brooding.

The little girl ran up the hill, a huge smile on her face, with Kagome in tow. Kikyo examined her reincarnation and had to hold in a chuckle at her attempts to keep pace with Kaede. Kagome clearly was not used to the robes of a priestess as she could barely keep her footing and caught her feet on the hakama. By the time Kagome had reached Kaede, the robes already had several smudges of dirt dotted around the torso.

“Good morning Kaede, and to you as well Kagome,” Kikyo greeted, hiding her inner amusement as much as possible.

If Kagome did not look like her twin before, she certainly did now wearing her spare robes and her hair tied back. “I'm glad my clothes fit you Kagome.”

Kagome dusted herself off with an embarrassed chuckle. “Do they come with an instruction book on how to walk in it?”

A small smile crossed Kikyo's lips. “No I'm afraid not.”

“Doesn't Lady Kagome look pretty Kikyo?” Kaede asked.

“She certainty does.”

Kagome face reddened slightly. “Thanks for the clothes and everything but...why exactly do I have to wear this? I'm already starting to miss my uniform.”

“I apologize for your discomfort but it is necessary for the deception to be effective.”

“Huh? What deception?”

“Yesterday the villagers all thought you were some kind of demon,” Kaede said with a small giggle.

“You can't be serious. Me a demon?”

“It is not as farfetched as you believe,” Kikyo said making her way towards a small lake. The familiar pulse of demon energy ran through her body. “Foxes and badgers can all change their shapes and pose as humans. In fact the most powerful demons are the ones that look the most human.”

“You wouldn't want the villagers to ask Sister Kikyo to exorcise you, trust me.”

Kagome's face paled. “I'll....take your word for it.” She glanced at Kikyo. “So what did you do?”

Kikyo notched an arrow. The demon was coming. “I merely told them that you were my long lost twin sister.”

“Heke?”

“We were separated from birth during an attack on our village ten years ago. A priest found you and took you to a shrine in the southern region where you were trained to be a priestess. Several weeks ago, you learned that I protect the Shikon jewel and traveled here to find me.”

She glanced over her shoulder and saw Kagome staring at her with wide eyes. “Uh...when exactly did you come up with all that?”

“The day before, while we were sharing that cup of tea.” Kikyo glanced at them. “The both of you step back.”

“What's going-?” Kagome started, but Kaede grabbed her hand and led her behind one of the trees. Kikyo smiled slightly at her sister's obedience.

Her smile dissipated when the demon sprung out from the waters. A giant koi fish demon rushed at her, its crimson eyes intent to kill. Kikyo had to repress the urge to groan. Even the fish were after the scared jewel. The demon proved to be nothing more than size when a single arrow purified it. When the danger passed Kikyo turned to her two spectators.

“You two can come out.”

“Are you all right Kikyo?” Kaede asked.

“Awesome,” Kagome breathed.

“Come, let’s go home.”

“Um…Kikyo, it looks like you aren’t done yet,” Kagome said pointing over her shoulder.

Kikyo followed her twin’s finger and saw the red-clad half demon, a confident smirk on his face. She felt herself twitch in irritation.

“It’s you again,” she said.

He presented his claws as a warning. “Kikyo, had over the scared jewel.”

“I thought I told you to stay away from me.”

“And I thought I told you I wasn’t going to give up so easily!” he snapped. “We are going to settle this today. Now get that kid and your weak twin out of the way!”

“Hey, who are you calling weak dog-boy?” Kagome huffed.

“Kagome, I’ll handle this,” Kikyo said, not taking her eyes off the half-demon. “Take cover with Kaede in the trees.”

“But-!”

“Do as I say,” Kikyo said with finality.

“Fine.” Kagome muttered.

Kikyo eyed the half demon and met with his striking golden eyes. From his face down to his feet, he was indistinguishable from any other human. It was only until one noticed his dog shaped ears, sharp claws and great agility did his demon side reveal itself. A being that was neither human nor demon. A pitiful half demon, who was merely looking for his place in the world.

“There is something I wish to ask you,” she said, when it became clear the half-demon was not going to attack first. Perhaps he finally learned from his previous attempts. “Why didn’t you kill me that night? It would have easy enough given my condition.”

The half-demon twitched as if he were offended. “I don’t play dirty that’s why.”

A small chuckle escaped her lips, her first genuine laugh in ages. Honor. It was a word she had been sure demons were not aware of. “I see.”

“Hey! What’s so funny?”

He was an interesting one, that much was certain. “Let me ask you one more thing, half-demon what name do you go by? You must have a name even though your just a half-demon.”

The Halfling growled. “Hey! Quit calling me a half-demon will ya!”

“Then tell me your name,” Kikyo asserted. “And I shall never call you ‘half-demon’ again.”

“It’s Inuyasha.”

“Inuyasha. I’ll remember that.”

Inuyasha sprang forward, the time for words clearly over. “Prepare to die Kikyo!”

Four well placed shots ended Inuyasha’s charge and the half-demon once again found himself pinned to a tree at her mercy. Both his arms and legs were trapped by her arrows and his throat was wide open. It would only take one final shot end his attempts at the jewel. But was once again caught by his golden eyes. There was something about them that made her unable to release her arrow. Every ounce of her training and previous experience with demons told her to take the shot and end their little game. In the end however, whatever she felt overtook her training.

She sighed and lowered her bow.  

“Will you stop that!” Inuyasha yelled. “Why do you never finish me off!?”

Kikyo whirled around to face him. “Stop coming after the jewel. I have no wish to waste more arrows.”

She signaled to Kaede and Kagome that it was safe to emerge. As they made their way back to the village, Kikyo found herself hoping to see the half-demon, or rather Inuyasha once more.

A strange desire.

But a welcome one.

OOOOO

 “Sarohouziki,” Kaede said as she moved through the field. “Lady Kagome, over here, I found some!”

Kagome smiled and approached the girl. The rest of the morning had passed without much incident. Kagome had tried several times to ask Kikyo about her encounter with that Inuyasha guy. After watching Kikyo take down a giant koi fish with a single shot, she wondered why she didn’t do the same to Inuyasha. Kaede told her late that she wondered the same thing. Kikyo however was being as stoic as ever. When they had finished their meal, Kikyo asked Kaede to gather some more herbs for their dwindling supply and for Kagome to accompany Kaede while she went to cleanse herself of the bloody demon smell on her body. This seemed to catch Kaede off guard while Kagome was just confused. She really didn’t smell anything from Kikyo. Then again, what did demon blood smell like anyway?

“She’s never really cared about the demon smell on her,” Kaede had noticed on their way to the meadow. “Why the sudden change?”

Kagome could only shrug. If her own sister couldn’t figure out Kikyo, then she definitely couldn’t.

“So what does this herb do Kaede?” Kagome asked looking over the plant. Despite her stoic nature, Kagome could tell Kaede had nothing but admiration for her sister. Then again if she had a sister that could defeat a bunch of demons with only a couple of arrows, Kagome would admire her too. But then, Kagome thought. Maybe that was the problem too.

“Kikyo told me it reduces swelling,” Kaede answered, snapping Kagome out of her thoughts. “We could use some later.”

Kagome was about to reply when she felt a strange run down her spine. Her body stiffened as the feeling slithered down her backside like a snake. A faint beat was coming their way. Something similar to a weak drumbeat but it was getting louder as it got closer to them. She wanted ask Kaede what was coming but she got her answer seconds later.

“The scared jewel!” a shrill voice screamed.

Kagome looked up to see what could be described as the top portion of a woman and centipede mixture. The demon dived towards them, leaving little room to think.

“Run Kaede!” Kagome shouted.  

“I shall take the two of hostage and force that priestess to give me the jewel!” the creature announced as it extended its multiple arms towards them.

“No! Stay back!” Kagome screamed. At that moment something seemed to explode from her hand. Whatever it was, it pushed the centipede monster several feet. The monster gave Kagome a confused looked before charging again.

“You have the same powers as Kikyo!” Kaede realized.

“I do?”

“Hurry, try to do it again.”

Kagome extended her arms in front her and squeezed her eyes shut. “Stay back!”

But none of the power came.

“Stay back!!” she tried again but still no response.

She peaked open an eye to see the creature was only inches away from her. She was about to scream in terror when she heard a coarse voice yell out:

“Get down you stupid girl!”

Kagome dove to the ground in time to see a red figure slice the demon into pieces with a single swipe of his claws. Inuyasha landed with a slight slide on the grass as he looked over his kill with smug smile. He cracked his claws with scoff.

“Keh, no way I’d let a weakling like you get the scared jewel from under my nose.”

Kagome was frozen on the ground. Did he really just save them? But wasn’t he after this jewel too? Wouldn’t it be easier to go along with what the centipede demon wanted and kidnap them? Kaede approached their savior with a low grateful bow.

“Thank you, for saving us,” she said her voice timid.

Inuyasha glanced at her before scoffing once more. “You got it all wrong. I just don’t want anyone else getting the scared jewel, that’s all.”

“O-oh,” Kaede muttered as he turned on his heels to go.

Kagome wasn’t sure what is was, but seeing Kaede look so disappointed and crushed, shook off whatever remaining shock from the attack. The schoolgirl was on her feet in seconds, marching towards the departing demon.

“Unbelievable!” she shouted, making Inuyasha freeze in his tracks. “The least you can do is say ‘you’re welcome’ you ungrateful dog!”

Inuyasha’s ears twitched and whirled around to face her.

“What did you call me you stupid girl?!”

“What are those ears just for decoration now?” Kagome shot back, now nose to nose with him and temporarily forgetting that he could easily do to her what he did to centipede demon. “When you save someone, the least you can do is accept their thanks!”

“I don’t need your stupid thanks!” Inuyasha growled. “You should count yourself lucky I was even around at all!”

“Ha! Shows what you know, I had the situation under control.”

“Really? I guess screaming out ‘stay back’ is powerful spell where you come from!”

“I have you know I happen was a priestess back in my village!” Kagome exclaimed, hoping Kikyo’s little lie would save some face.

“If that’s the case I feel sorry for whoever had to put up with you for a priestess.”

“Ugh you’re such a jerk!!” she yelled at the top of her lungs.

Inuyasha took a few steps back as if he had been punched. Kaede covered her ears.

“Fine, if I’m such a jerk, don’t come crying to me when your weak ass needs rescuing!” he shouted back and leapt back into the bushes in a huff.

“Don’t worry!” Kagome yelled at his retreating form. “Next time I won’t need saving!”

She let out one final yell of frustration. Never before had she met someone so infuriating. Not even Sota with all his annoyances pushed her buttons this much! If she ever saw him again it would be too soon!

Kaede tugged on her skirt.   “Um…Lady Kagome…”

Kagome shook her head trying to shake off her anger. “Sorry about that Kaede. Let’s go back to the village before demon crows start attacking or something.”

“Uh…ok…”

Kagome stomped the rest of the way back, her mind still seething over her encounter with the half-demon.

Stupid, arrogant jerk! She growled. Where does he get off calling me stupid! He has some nerve!

Still…a small voice in the back of her mind muttered. His dog ears were cute.

OOOOO

“Inuyasha, you’re there aren’t you,” Kikyo called out to the bushes behind her.

Inuyasha slinked back hoping he could escape, but Kikyo wouldn’t allow him to.

“Why don’t you come down,” she said, more as an order than a request.

The half-demon leapt from his hiding place and landed near the sitting the priestess. He sat in a four-point squat, which made it easy for him to leap away in case she tried something. But her bow and arrows were on the ground and she seemed to have no hostile intentions. However, being too careful was what allowed him to survive this long.

“This is the first time we’ve spoken up close,” Kikyo said breaking the silence.

What was she getting at? “Yeah…so what’s your point?”

“I understand you saved my sisters Kaede and Kagome.”

Inuyasha scoffed. “Oh that.”

Kikyo inclined her head to him. “I wanted to thank you too.”

“Trust me; the gratitude thing doesn’t look good on you.”

“I see,” Kikyo said. She turned to him a small smile on her face. “However, according to Kaede there was a minor….disagreement between you and Kagome?”

At the sound of the twin’s name, Inuyasha could already feel his earlier temper rise. “Tell your sister to be more grateful to someone who saves her life.”

A small chuckle was Kikyo’s response. “I’ll be sure to relay the message to her.”

Silence passed between them for a time. They sat on a hill that overlooked the entire village. Inuyasha’s fingers fidgeted. Just sitting around doing nothing was never his style. He liked to keep moving, doing something. Just sitting around meant he’d be vulnerable to attacks. What was she waiting for?

“Inuyasha,” she said finally. “How do I look to you? Do I seem human?”

Inuyasha reeled back. What kind of question was that? “Now what are you going on about?”

“I show my weakness to one,” she continued unaffected by his confusion. “I must never have doubts. Or else demons would overcome me. I am human, yet I cannot be human. We’re quite alike you and I. You, a half-demon, that is why I could not kill you.”

Inuyasha stood up with a scoff. She’d just called him down here for a pity party. That he didn’t need or had any interest in. “Is that supposed be an excuse? Doesn’t really seem like you.”

Kikyo looked up at him and he froze in his tracks. “You’re right,” Kikyo said. “I suppose it’s not like me.”

 When he looked into her eyes any abrasiveness he had evaporated. She smiled at him, the first smile he had seen from her. It was small and easily missed at first glance but it was there. Yet her eyes were so sad and lonely. Like someone accepting an undesirable fate. As if she knew that loneliness would her only companion for the remainder of her life.

Like mother Inuyasha realized. Like me.

“Inuyasha…”

At the sound of his name, the Halfling closed his slacked jaw. “W-what is it?”

“N-nevermind. It’s nothing,” she said and began to walk off.

Kikyo…

“Kikyo! Come back here tomorrow!” he yelled before he could stop himself.

“Huh?”

“W-what I mean is….” He stuttered, his face turning rouge. “I-I…want to give you something.”

“You want to give me something? That’s good, because I have something I’ve been thinking of giving you.”

Inuyasha’s stomach jumped. “The scared jewel?!”

“No such thing,” Kikyo chuckled.

“Keh, should have known.”

Even as Kikyo disappeared down the hill, Inuyasha found it difficult to move. But it wasn’t out of fear of an attack. There was lightness and strange warmth in his body. Something he hadn’t felt since his mother was alive. It remained even as he leapt through the forest that was filled with demons that were willing to take a swipe at him.

He settled into his usual tree and realized he was oddly excited about tomorrow.

He wanted to see what kind of gift Kikyo would give. But more importantly, he wanted to see Kikyo again.

Sleep began to overcome him and for the first time in a while, he couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.

A weird feeling.

But he liked it.

Gifts by Gammer
Author's Notes:
A lot of Kikyo and Kagome interaction but it was nesscary to establish their relationship. Besides there's hardly any interaction between Kikyo and Kagome on good terms in the series.

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 4: Gifts

It didn't take long for Yura to reach the village where the sacred jewel resided. The village had after all reached the point of legend among demons. Countless lesser demons crossed rivers and mountains to try their hand at defeating the ruthless priestess and snatching the sacred jewel as their prize. In a way the jewel had become a contest among demons with only the bravest or foolhardy willing to make the attempt. Yura was no different. Ultimate power after all was too tempting of a prize to pass on. She stood on one of the tallest trees that overlooked the area. Already her hair was the combing the forest for any potential threats and familiarizing themselves with other demons lurking around who would steal her prize.

She would have to tread carefully however. From what she could gather from her hair, the priestess' barrier encompassed the entire village and a good portion of the forest. And even if by some chance Yura got around it somehow, direct combat with the priestess was a foolish choice. During her journey, she had heard many tales of countless demons throwing themselves at the priestess only to be turned to ash by her sacred powers. Then again, direct combat wasn't Yura's forte regardless, which gave her some type of advantage. But there was still that cumbersome bow to get past. Even if she fought in the manner usual for her, that priestess could still pick her off with one shot of that bow. Destroying the bow meant getting close and that would be too risky. Attempting to use her hairs would be useless, the priestess would not only be able to see them but most likely knew countless defense charms against such attacks. Yura sighed as she sat against the tree.

"Oh my, quite the conundrum," she said A flick of her wrist shot hair to a nearby tree-branch allowing her to swing through the forest. "I guess I'll just have to be creative."

With each swing she left strands of her hair on every tree-branch and leaf until long strands of interconnected hairs filled her side of the forest. Yura looked over her marked territory with a smirk. It really didn't matter how she went about it, the jewel would be hers.

She leaped off the tree and continued to spread her hair, her mind going through various ways to take down the priestess. Another smirk crossed her lips.

She was enjoying this already.

OOOOO

Kagome all but collapsed the wall when she and Kaede returned to the hut at dusk. Kaede had proven herself to be quite the handful of energy. From showing her every herb and special plant around the village, to playing ball with the other village kids and picking flowers, there seemed to be no off-switch on the little girl. Kagome did her best to keep up but when they reached the hut, all her remaining energy gave out. Kaede had gone to fetch some more water to make their miso soup for dinner. Kagome leaned against the wall thankful for a break.

"I don't even remember Sota tiring me out this much," she muttered.

"You'll have to forgive her for that," Kikyo said as she entered the hut.

"Oh, hey Kikyo..." Kagome said, too tired to be surprised at her twin's sudden appearance.

"It would seem you and Kaede had quite the day together,"

"That's putting it lightly," Kagome said with a light laugh. "Is she always so energetic?"

Kikyo set down a small wooden box with strange purple beads on a nearby table. "Just the opposite, in fact. She's usually much more reserved and is often off playing by herself."

"She doesn't have any friends in the village?"

Kikyo looked down. Kagome had to kick herself once more. She really needed to stop bringing up sore topics.

"Often times, the villagers and the children treat her as another priestess," Kikyo replied, her voice dropping as well. "In several of the villages we've stayed in, the children seem afraid of her."

Kagome was taken aback. "Afraid? Of little Kaede? She's so sweet!"

"Yes but as a potential priestess herself, villagers often see her power or what she could be capable of prior to anything else."

"So they see a mini-priestess first before they see her as a kid?" Kagome reasoned.

"Exactly. In fact, I doubt she's made a single friend since I took my oaths as a priestess."

"Oh...I see..." Kagome replied, unable to think of anything else to say.

"That's why I believe Kaede has become so attached to you, so quickly," Kikyo said, her expression more or less brightened. "You see her as a child and not anything more."

Kagome rubbed her head, and could feel her face turning pink. Kaede liked her for something as simple as that? This place really was strange. "Don't mention it. If that's the case, I guess I can manage a bit more energy on my part."

"I'm sure Kaede would appreciate it," Kikyo said turning to the beads.

"So how was your day?"

"I spoke with Inuyasha today."

"Who?"

"The half-demon who saved you and Kaede from the centipede demon earlier today."

At the recognition, Kagome felt her skin grow hot from their encounter and the resulting argument. She gritted her teeth at the thought of it.

"You mean that red-clad jerk! Why would you want to talk to him? I'm surprised he didn't bite your head off too!"

"It seems he's made quite the first impression with you," Kikyo said with a small laugh.

"Ugh...I've never met anyone so arrogant and full of himself in my life!" Kagome huffed and folded her arms. "If I ever see him again it'll be too soon."

Kikyo shook her head with another small laugh. "You musn't be so quick to judge, Kagome. Inuyasha is truly quite...gentle."

"That guy? He wouldn't know gentle if it smacked him on his head."

"You would be surprised," Kikyo replied as she turned back to the beads.

Kagome examined her twin up and down. Something was different about her. There was a lightness in her face and her voice that wasn't there when they first met. Her eyes seemed less downcast, as if rays of sun had begun to poke through the bleak clouds in her mind. Was her encounter with Inuyasha really that great?

"I'm back!" Kaede announced.

"Welcome home, Kaede," Kikyo said.

When Kaede title her head and looked at Kikyo as if she hadn't seen her in months, Kagome knew she was right in thinking something was different about her normally aloof twin. Kaede looked over Kikyo's shoulder at the beads.

"Aren't those beads used for subjugation? Are you giving those to Inuyasha?"

"Yes I am," Kikyo replied. "It may be a little underhanded of me, but these will prevent Inuyasha from doing anymore wrong." She stared at the beads with a small smile, as if they held a secret only she knew. "Now then, what trigger word should I use for the beads to take effect?"

"Trigger word?" Kagome repeated.

"If I say a certain word, the beads will bind Inuyasha's spirit," Kikyo explained, though Kagome still wasn't sure what she meant.

"That's right," Kikyo said as if she had just remembered something. "That priestess Tsubaki put a curse on me." She shook of the thought with a light sigh. "The path I choose is a path of carnage so why should I fear an unnatural death?"

Talkaboutamorbidthought, Kagome said to herself.

"Now for the beads, beloved, that's a good trigger word."

"Beloved? That doesn't sound very binding," Kagome said.

"Oh? What word would you suggest, Kagome?"

Kagome paused for a moment. She thought back to her encounter in the field with the dog-boy. His ears were the first thing she remembered about him.

"Well he's part dog right? How about, sit boy?"

Kikyo reeled back. "Surely you jest Kagome. That sounds rather demeaning."

"Oh come on, think about it," Kagome pushed. "It'd be pretty funny."

"You certainly have quite the imagination," Kikyo said with a fuller smile. "I'll consider it." She glanced over at Kaede who began chopping vegetables. "In the mean time, would mind helping Kaede with dinner?"

"Sure no problem."

As three settled into their tasks for the night, a long strand of hair slithered back to its waiting mistress.

OOOOO

For Kikyo, her morning rounds couldn't have ended sooner. It had been a slow morning. Only two demons had attacked so far, a crow demon and a newt demon. Their demon aura had been so weak Kikyo did not feel the urge to kill them. A simple repel charm cast on her bow was enough to make them pull back their assault. The lack of danger left Kikyo with a rather strange feeling. She was on edge, but not a in negative fashion. She would keep looking at the sun every second, hoping this time it would be at its noon position. She fiddled with her bows and arrows as if such tasks would somehow make the time go by faster She checked her sleeves for the prayer beads she tucked away every other second as well. The only other time Kikyo felt this way was back when she took her first oaths as a priestess. Since then her stoic demeanor had dominated almost every aspect of her life. But now a child-like excitement, one that she thought was long gone, had awakened inside of her and it was not diminish. Whatever was the cause of this, she did not want to question it.

When the temple bell rang, signaling the noon hour, Kikyo made her way to the meadow. Her pace three steps faster than usual. When she saw the red-clad half-demon on the hill, her pace increased to a light jog. She couldn't have been that late could she? How long had he been waiting?

"Inuyasha!" she called.

"So you came after all," he replied.

"Forgive me, I did not mean to keep you waiting."

Inuyasha scoffed and looked away. "Keh, who said I was waiting for you?"

Kikyo titled her head. "Did you not say yesterday that you wanted to meet here again?"

A shade of red that matched his robes crossed his cheeks. "Y-yeah well...I was just...on the look out for more demons. I don't want anyone else to take the Scared Jewel after all."

Kikyo allowed herself a soft chuckle. "Of course."

"Anyway," he said, waving off the topic. He reached into the folds of his robes and presented a small clam shell with a crimson bow at the end.

"What is it?" she asked, the meaning not reaching her.

"No sense in me keeping it, so I might well give it you," he said. "Go ahead take it."

Kikyo examined the small gift, hoping her confusion was not too apparent. As he fingers ran along the surface she found that it opened. Inside was a small pool of rouge. She had seen several of the village girls and many noble women color their lips with it. Though she wondered why Inuyasha would carry around rouge in the first place.

"The only things my mother left me were that and the robe of the Firerat," he said answering her unasked question.

"Your mother was human?" Kikyo reasoned, she had never seen demons wearing rouge before.

Inuyasha looked away. "Yeah well..."

"This must mean so much to you," she said softly.

He still wouldn't look at her. "Don't worry about it, the robe of the Firerat is useful enough, it's all I need."

She had been so blind. She had known that she and Inuyasha were alike, but until now, she had never known the depth of their similarities. Both her parents had perished when she had been a child. The only thing she had found in the rubble had been the mirror her mother used from time to time. She cherished it. It was the only link she had to her life before her oaths. If anything ever happened to it she did not know what she would do. The rouge and his Firerat robes must have meant the same for Inuyasha. How could he so easily give it to her when she so mercilessly shot at his cherished robes? She glanced up at him and he seemed more content to stare at the nearby lake.

She took his hand, which finally caught his attention. "I'm so sorry Inuyasha," she breathed, squeezing on his hand through the sleeves of his robes. "I didn't know and I shot so many arrows at it."

He glanced down at her hand as if confused. He met her eyes before settling back into his familiar demeanor.

"Keh don't worry about it. This robe heals about as fast as I do," he said. "Oh, by the way what did you say you wanted to give to me?"

At the reminder of the prayer beads, Kikyo reached into her sleeve but stopped. Was it right of her to take advantage of Inuyasha like this? He obviously held no ill will against her for their previous encounters. For him to give her an object so precious to him as well only made her stomach sink at the thought of tricking him into the beads. Ever since their last talk, Inuyasha hadn't made a single attempt at the jewel. She had sensed his presence near her on a few occasions but he never attacked not even when she was cleansing herself, when she would be the most vulnerable.

Inuyasha didn't need the beads to keep him in check. All he needed was someone to care. A friend.

"Kikyo?"

She looked up at him with a small smile. "Oh, I'm sorry, I must have forgotten it."

Inuyasha groaned. "Oh come on, I've been waiting and everything!"

"Forgive me. I'll be sure to give you something even better at a later date."

"Keh, you better," he said, folding his arms and looking away.

Kikyo stared at the rouge. "Are you sure I can keep this gift?"

Inuyasha opened an eye and offered a genuine smile. "Sure thing."

"Thank you."

"So uh..." Inuyasha started. "When do you gotta go back?"

As if on cue the temple bell rang, signaling the end of the noon hour.

Kikyo sighed. "Now it seems."

"Oh..." he said his disappointment clear.

"However...today has been rather uneventful. I suppose there would be no harm in staying for a few more moments."

She sat down on the grass and indicated for Inuyasha to join her. He took his four point squat a good distance away but he was at least a good step closer to her than the last time they had talked. They exchanged brief but descriptive stories about their childhoods and experiences, careful to lighten or avoid particular topics. Inuyasha, she noticed, only spoke of his mother never about his father or if he had any siblings and she only spoke of various missions she had been part of, never about her training or her life prior. The omissions in their stories were left unacknowledged. For Kikyo there were certain aspects about her life that were...uncomfortable to discuss and Inuyasha most likely felt the same.

A few moments quickly turned into entire hour. When the second bell rang, Kikyo could not ignore it.

"I suppose I should be getting back," she said standing up.

"Yeah...I guess I'll see you," Inuyasha muttered.

Despite their parting words, neither moved. Kikyo's stomach felt as if it tied itself into a knot. She wanted to say something to him, but she couldn't fathom what it was. Was she looking for another excuse to stay? Did Inuyasha want her stay? If she asked him would he accompany her on her rounds? She opened her mouth to speak.

"Goodbye for now, Inuyasha."

"Y-yeah, later."

The half-demon gave her one last look before he leaped away into the trees. Kikyo couldn't help but watch him as he bounded away. There was a strange lightness in her stomach that seemed to extend into her steps. As she made her way back to the village, she found that it was harder for her to return to her expected apathetic demeanor.

"Hey Kikyo!" Kaagome called, starling her. How could she not have sensed Kagome's presence?

"Good afternoon, Kagome," she greeted as they fell into step. "Kaede is allowing you a time to rest I see."

Kagome laughed. "Yeah, I convinced her to ask some of the kids to play with her. It seems to be going all right so far."

"If you're idle, some of the villagers could use some help with the rice patties this afternoon."

"Um….All right, but I'm not quite sure what I can do to help."

"You'll do fine."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence I guess." Kagome glanced at her. "So what's your pocket?"

"I'm sorry?"

"You've been fiddling with something in your pocket since you got here."

"No I-," but when she looked down, her hand was indeed in the pocket where she had placed the rouge. Kikyo vaguely wondered exactly when that had happened.

"So what is it?"

Kikyo sighed. There was no point in hiding it at this point. "I will show you, but I would prefer if it is kept between us."

"Is it that serious? It's not anything dangerous is it?"

Kikyo chuckled. "No of course not. It's rather...nice to be honest."

She pulled out the seashell and revealed the rouge to her reincarnation, whose eyes brightened.

"Oh wow. Who gave it to you? A secret admirer?"

Kikyo's face grew warm. "N-no it's nothing like that." Inuyasha as an admirer? "It's merely a friendly gesture..."

"Riiiight, because guys just give girls lipstick when they just want to be friends."

"I never said it was from a man," Kikyo muttered.

Kagome grinned at her. "I don't see you denying it."

A small blush crept across Kikyo's face at being caught in Kagome' minor trap. "It's nothing serious I can assure you of that."

"So why are you blushing?"

"I am doing no such thing."

Kagome just shrugged, unconvinced. "Keep telling yourself that. So have you tried it on yet?"

"N-no-"

"So what are you waiting for?" Kagome grabbed her hand and lead her into their hut.

"K-Kagome, I still have my rounds to complete," she protested.

"Ah, you'll finish that later; this'll only take a second anyways."

Kagome sat her down in front of the table and pulled her hair ribbon, allowing her hair to cascade down her back. Kikyo allowed her hair down only when she slept. To have it down during the day felt strange, but Kikyo could not deny the freeing aspect of it as well. Kagome looked around the small table for something else.

"Do you have a mirror around here or something? Are those even invented yet?"

"The center drawer," Kikyo answered, passing her hand through her unshackled hair. "It was my mother's mirror so please, be careful with it."

Kagome withdrew the mirror and dipped her finger in the rouge. She turned to Kikyo with a bright smile that Kikyo could not help but mimic slightly. Her reincarnation was a strange one, but if Kagome truly was her from a different world, she did not mind.

"All right pucker up," Kagome said.

"I'm sorry?"

Kagome sighed. "Never mind, just hold still."

Her finger passed over Kikyo's lips. In only a few dabs the process was done.

"Wow! You look like a completely different person!" Kagome remarked.

Kikyo took the mirror and examined herself. Kagome had exaggerated of course. As a whole, she looked the same but the simple make-up created an air of sensuality that was not present beforehand. She touched her cheek as if to make sure the reflection she was seeing was truly her.

"I really am beautiful," Kikyo whispered. There had been many young men who had passes at her with compliments of her beauty, but it was only now that she believed it.

"I don't know why it was a question in the first place," Kagome shrugged. "Add in a little eyeliner and some mascara and every guy in a ten kilometer radius will be fighting to get your attention."

"Inuyasha would probably be the first in that line," she whispered.

"Inuyasha? Is he the one who gave you that rouge?"

Kikyo flushed. "I-that is…"

"You like Inuyasha?"

"N-no! O-or rather…I-I suppose…"

Kagome grinned at her. "I never thought I'd see your face so red."

"Kagome…."

"You really shouldn't be so wound up about things like this," she said as she made her way out.

"I have to," Kikyo replied, washing off the make-up. "It is a part of my duties."

"I suppose. I mean, I'm not a priestess or anything, but to me if feelings were meant to be left inside of us, then there would be no point having them right?"

"Perhaps. Although I'm not quite sure I understand."

Kagome just laughed. "Neither do I. Anyways, I'm going to help with the rice patties, so I'll see you later tonight."

When Kagome left, Kikyo remained still, left with only the lightness that remained in her stomach and a flushed face.

Perhaps Inuyasha's gift was more than just the rouge.

End Notes:
Hope you guys liked this chapter. Don't worry action will start up next chapter.
Hair, Blood and Fights by Gammer

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 5: Hair, Blood and Fights

Inuyasha stared at his hand as he lay in his tree. It was still warm. He traced his palm with his finger trying to simulate Kikyo's soft touch. He had known women were soft creatures. In the short time he had with his mother, he had learned how fragile and delicate women were. But when he had first encountered Kikyo, soft was not a word he would have used to describe her. Powerful, yes. Threatening, yes. Cold as ice, definitely.  But never soft, at least until today. Save for a few calluses on her fingers from her bow training, her skin was like cotton or the silk of his mother’s robes. From behind his eyelids, Inuyasha could still see her light brown eyes staring up at him, remorseful. Her smooth voice still rung in his ears when she apologized to him. “I’m sorry” were two words he hadn’t heard in the longest time in earnest. From a human no less. In his experience if a human said “I’m sorry” to him, he was in danger. Either someone who allowed him spend the night was about to kill him for “the sake of his soul” or worse. But when Kikyo said it he didn’t feel on edge at all. His stomach seemed to jump and his heart beat a little faster. Looking at her face then made Inuyasha for a moment forget about the Sacred Jewel.

At that thought Inuyasha growled and shook his head. Forget the Sacred Jewel? What was he thinking! He needed to be become a full fledged demon. The jewel was the only path to that power. As beautiful as she was, Kikyo was still in his way to becoming a full demon. The next time he saw her, he would defeat her. He sniffed the air, identifying her scent quickly. It was the smell of faint herbs, incense and...Water...? She must have been by the lake, most likely taking out another demon. He wouldn’t be denied this time. This time the jewel would be his!

He leaped off the tree with his familiar smirk on his face. Just as before Inuyasha could see himself victorious over Kikyo with the Shikon jewel in hand and the powers of a fully fledged demon flowing through him. Nothing would stand in his way this time. But he made his way through the forest he felt his hairs stand on end. He felt a nudge in his stomach as if his instincts were trying to give him some kind of warning. Something wasn’t right in the forest. A quick survey of the area showed no imitate danger but a lifetime of experience had taught Inuyasha that sight alone was not the best indicator of safety.

His ears twitched, taking in every sound while his nose searched for unfamiliar scents. He heard the simple chatter of the villagers a good 80 yards or so away. Four birds were nested in the tree to his immediate right with six others to his left. There was a demon spider perched not too far away from him. The demon was still but Inuyasha could feel its eyes on him. It was most likely trying to figure out if he was a threat to it. Inuyasha scoffed. Other than venom spider-demons of that size posed no real threat to him. He took another sniff of the air and took a human scent. But it was human mixed with a demon’s scent. Another sniff revealed it to be the scent of various weaker human scents mixed together with a stronger demon scent. Inuyasha lowered his ears. While stronger than the human scent, the scent of the demon was too faded or weak for him to locate it. The demon scent wasn’t moving but the human scents were. How was that possible? Was demon using some ability to mask its scent? But then why would a demon need to that? Most times if a demon sensed him in the area, it would just attack straight away. Why the need to hide itself? Inuyasha gritted his teeth. The danger was there but it was as if it was just out of reach. Like predator stalking prey, allowing the prey to believe it safe before striking. Inuyasha slammed his fist into his open palm. He was no prey for some lowly demon and he was going to show this bastard that he didn’t know who he was messing with. He took another sniff. The weaker human scents were moving, towards the waterfall. Towards Kikyo.

Inuyasha sprang off the tree branch with a new vigor. The Shikon jewel moved to the back of his mind.

“You just picked the wrong guy to screw with.”

OOOOO

“Aw man, that’s cold!” Kagome squealed as she entered the river. She was only submerged up to her ankles and already her entire body was shivering. Her arms flew over her naked chest and rubbed her shoulders in a vain attempt to keep warm. She turned to Kaede who sat on the riverbank, washing the many mud stains off her robes. “How do you guys manage to do this?”

Kaede only giggled at her as she scrubbed the uniform. “Sister Kikyo warned you not to go in the water bare, Lady Kagome.”

“Well how else do you expect me to take a bath?” She stared at the clear water and saw four fish begin to nibble at her toes. A new feeling of terror and revulsion ran up her spine. Her loud shriek scared them off. “Now there are fish in her too!”

“It’s a river Lady Kagome,” Kaede reminded her. “Fish are a good sign that the river is healthy.”

“Says you…” Kagome replied. “What I wouldn’t give for some hot water and shampoo right now…”

Kaede dipped the uniform into the water and continued her scrubbing. “The longer you wait Lady Kagome, the worse it’s going be.”

Kagome sighed and shook her hands, as if trying to shake off the cold. “All right, all right. Just think of it as the pool. Just dunk your head and it’ll be fine.”

Kaede began to rather stones and sticks. “I’ll have a fire ready.”

“Thanks, Kaede, you’re the best.”

Kagome took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut. The image of the school pool formed behind her eyelids. Mind over matter, she thought. Mind over matter. After a mental count of three she dove head first. The cold ran up her skin making her shudder at first but after a few strokes under water, the cold seemed to roll off of her. Still couldn’t replace the bathtub back home though.

Home…

She was starting to wonder if she would ever see it again. Kikyo and Kaede were great and really made her feel welcome but she had a home already. She had a life and a family who was probably worried about her. Plus school. Panic swept through Kagome as remembered the math quiz in three days. She could barely understand it before, now with this little break it might well be Greek on the board when she got back! Or rather if she got back. Then again, if it meant missing Math, maybe she could stomach being here for a little while longer.

Kagome swam up to the surface and took long breath of air. But was quickly reward with a harsh cold draft and that made goosebumps rise on her skin almost instantly.

“Yep…just like the pool…” she shivered. “Get used to the water, next thing you know the air is freezing.”

Kaede waved her to the shore. “Lady Kagome, your clothes are ready.”

Kagome spotted roaring fire, which gave her more than enough reason to return to the bank. But as she made her way in, she spotted something on the ledges above the river. Or rather someone…and he was in all red.

Kagome’s shriek echoed through the area but the loud thwack of the rock she hurled at Inuyasha along with his plummet to the ground, echoed louder.

“OW!!!” The dog boy growled rubbing the new bump on his head.

Kaede turned to injured Halfling. “Are you all right Inuyasha?”

“What the hell did you do that for!” he yelled.

Kagome quickly took cover behind the bushes and began to dress. “Serves you right for spying on me you peeping tom!”

“Shows what you know!” Inuyasha shot back. “Like I really came all the way here just look at a dumb girl like you!”

“What did you call me, dog boy!”

“You heard me!”

Kaede stepped between the two of them as if she were a shield against their bickering words. “Inuyasha why did you really come here? Was to see Sister Kikyo?”

Inuyasha paused and looked away.

“Knowing him he wants to take a peek at Kikyo too!” Kagome called.

“I dare you to come over here and say that to my face!”

“You make it sound like that’s challenge!”

“Well it is!”

“Challenge accepted!”

“Lady Kagome,” Kaede piped up. “Perhaps that isn’t such a wise…”

But Kagome, fully dressed, stormed out from the bushes, her face flushed with anger. Her harsh breathing drowned out Kaede’s pleas for her to calm down. How dare this creep try to weasel out of peeping at her, and then try to do the same to Kikyo? In front of Kaede no less! She was nose to nose with him like in their last meeting and she could swear she saw the sparks fly between them.

“I said, you’re just here to peek at Kikyo. Is this close enough to your face for you?”

“You really think I’d even think to do something like that?”

Kagome folded her arms. “Oh I see. Kikyo isn’t good enough to peek at. Is that it?”

Inuyasha reeled back. “Of course not! I’d jump at a chance to look at her!”

Kagome shot forward, her finger inches away from his nose. “Aha! You admit it!”

Inuyasha’s eyes widened in realization. “T-That’s not I what meant!”

“You heard it straight from the horse’s mouth,” Kagome said. “You heard him too, right Kaede.”

“Um…yes….but….”

“There you go!”

Inuyasha nearly pulled out his hair. “You know I’ve never hit a woman in my life, but your ass is pushing it!”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“That’s enough from both of you,” Kikyo’s stern voice said.

Kagome felt herself freeze at her twin’s voice. She approached them in her thin white robe with her wooden bucket in one hand. The bottom folds of her robe still dripped with water while the robe itself still clung to her body. Kikyo stared at the two of them the same way Kagome’s mother would stare at her and Sota during their fights. That look that made Kagome stomach fill with shame and guilt. She glanced at Inuyasha who couldn’t even bring himself to look at Kikyo.

“Would the two of you please explain this ruckus?” Kikyo asked, her voice all but daring them to lie.

The earlier fire that fueled Kagome’s anger had diminished. She could only stare at her bare feet and kick the stones in a vain attempt to make herself invisible. But motion only seemed to catch Kikyo’s attention.

“Kagome….please explain.”

“Hey why are you singling me out?” Kagome said, suddenly reminded of the time she and Sota accidently broke a vase. “Ask dog boy over here….he was the one peeping at me.”

“What did you say…!” Inuyasha growled.

“Inuyasha….” Kikyo warned.

At her warning, Inuyasha’s growl lowered to small grunt. “I wasn’t peeking…” he muttered.

Kikyo sighed. “Kaede..?”

“Um…I was washing Lady Kagome’s robes while she bathed in the river. Inuyasha came by when Lady Kagome came up for air and I believe she got the wrong impression,” Kaede said.

“A minor misunderstanding caused all this commotion?” Kikyo said, making Kagome’s face turn red. She couldn’t deny that when put in those terms it did sound kind of stupid.

“I wouldn’t call that minor!” Inuyasha exclaimed. “She damn near cracked my skull with that damn rock she threw.”

Kikyo only chuckled. “Inuyasha, I was under the impression you were a strong demon. Surely a rock thrown by a mere mortal girl could not have caused you such damage.”

“I never said it damaged me…” Inuyasha muttered.

“Apologize, the both of you,” Kikyo said.

“WHAT!!?” the two cried.

“Me apologize to this self-centered, arrogant, perverted jerk!”

“You really expect me to give this stupid, whiney girl an apology!?”

“Yes and yes.” Kikyo replied as she took her spare uniform from Kaede.

“BUT-!”

One stern stare from Kikyo was enough to make Kagome’s skin feel as though she was back in the river. Any hang ups she over apologizing were vaporized in that one stare. No wonder the demons were so afraid of her. If Kagome had to fight Kikyo, her eyes alone would be enough to cry uncle. She glanced at Inuyasha who seemed to share the same sentiment since any anger in his eyes and voice were gone too.

“S-s-sorry…” he said between clenched teeth.

“Y-yeah I’m sorry too.”

Kikyo emerged from the bushes fully dressed in her spare uniform. “There, that wasn’t as difficult as you two made it seem.”

“Speak for yourself…” Kagome muttered. Another stare from Kikyo quickly made her regret that. Kagome made a mental not to introduce Kikyo to her mother one day.

“What was your true purpose of coming here, Inuyasha?”

“My true purpose?” he repeated.

“Yes. I highly doubt you came here for the sole purpose of causing such a hassle.” Kikyo straightened her uniform and offered Inuyasha small playful smile. “Besides, I believe if your true intent was to peek at me, you have done so at an earlier time.”

Inuyasha reeled back and looked away a shade of red forming on his cheeks. Kagome glanced at Kikyo and saw the same shade of red forming. Kagome could only laugh to herself. Could these two be any more obvious?

“I smelled something weird,” Inuyasha said finally. “Some demon smell mixed with human heading in this direction. I….wanted….to make sure you all were ok….”

“I-I’m sorry?” Kikyo said, her face an expression of surprise. Kagome had to admit she didn’t expect that from the dog boy.

Inuyasha snapped back with his usual scoff. “Keh! Don’t get the wrong idea. I just wanted to make sure no else defeated you, before I got the sacred jewel for myself is all!”

Kikyo sighed. Kagome raised an eyebrow. Was Kikyo…disappointed?

“I see. Well, I thank you for your concern.”

“Don’t thank me,” Inuyasha said, turning on his heel. “This whole thing turned out to be a waste of time.”

“Lady Kikyo,” a woman said as she approached the group.

Kikyo bowed to the woman in greeting. “Ah, good morning Sayaka.”

She was a middle aged woman in the same faded robes as the other villagers. She carried her infant son in a small sack on her back. “It’s my daughter,” she said. “We were working in the fields and she just suddenly collapsed. Could you please see what ails her?”

“Of course, I’ll see what I can do,” Kikyo said. “Come Kaede. This will make for good practice.”

“Ok, coming.”

As Kikyo began to depart she turned Kagome. “I’ll return shortly. Try not to fight.”

Kagome took a breath as Kikyo left and turned to Inuyasha. Maybe they just got off on the wrong foot. Kikyo managed to find a relatively decent side to him and Kaede certainly seemed to like him, so maybe she could do the same. From the way Kikyo described their encounters, Inuyasha was just a lonely spirit looking for his place in the world. His rough side was a result of growing up alone and being attacked at every opportunity. Maybe if she looked at him that way he wouldn’t be as much of a jerk. All she had to do was try.

“Hey,” Inuyasha said, catching her attention.

This was it. This was her chance to start over and get to know each other better. Maybe there was really was a nice guy underneath. “Yeah?”

“Get undressed.”

Or maybe he was just a perverted jerk!

The fire ignited in Kagome’s stomach once more and before she knew it she smacked Inuyasha over the head with the largest stone she could find.

“OW!!!!!”

“You’re such a pig,” she huffed. What the heck did Kikyo see in this guy?”

Inuyasha shot up to his feet, his face fuming. “I didn’t say get naked stupid! I just can’t stand seeing you in those clothes!”

“Why? Because I look like Kikyo?”

Inuyasha flinched as if he were just slapped. But looked away with usual huff. “That ain’t got nothing to with it okay!”

Kagome gritted her teeth. There was no way one person could be this infuriating! Sota was more mature than this jerk! A thousand retorts sat on her tongue, ready to fire at this red clad dog boy but Kikyo’s disapproving stare crossed her sight. Kagome bit her lip before she set off another fight and took another deep breath. Do this for Kikyo, she said to herself.

“Look, I don’t want get in another fight with you, so why don’t you come out and say what your problem with me is.”

Inuyasha folded his arms and looked away. “I ain’t the one with the problem.”

Kagome twitched, feeling her anger beginning to boil. “Ok…fair enough. I’m sorry I hit you with those rocks. Now isn’t there something you’d like to say to me….?”

“Keh, I got nothing to say to you.”

That did it.

“You stupid, arrogant jerk! I’m just trying to nice here!”

“A demon like doesn’t anyone to be nice!”

“Oh right, that’s why you turn to mush every time Kikyo’s around!”

“What’d you just say!”

“Don’t try to deny it. ‘I like Kikyo’ is written all over your face every time she’s around!”

“That ain’t true! And who you to be looking at my face anyways!”

“It’s only fair isn’t it! You peeked at me earlier!”

“Like I’d really waste my time trying to peek at the likes of you!”

“What’s that supposed to mean!”

“Exactly what I meant you stupid girl!”

Kagome growled and smacked the dog with another rock. “That’s it! I’m outta here!” She stormed off towards the bushes, smoke all but shooting out of her ears. Never before did she have to put up with an immature, self-centered, stubborn, asshole! Kikyo must have had the patience of a saint to be able to just tolerate him let alone find whatever microscopic soft side that existed.

“Hey, where you going?” Inuyasha asked, no doubt faking concern.

“I’m going home stupid!” Kagome stormed into the bushes, stomping every step. Kikyo had told her that the forest wasn’t safe and that all kinds of demons could be lurking around, but she’d rather take her chances in there than deal with this jerk.

“Fine!” Inuyasha huffed. “Go home see if I care!” With that he leaped into the forest, not even bothering to look back.

Kagome gritted her teeth as she continued to fume. That jerk didn’t even once use her name. Not once.

OOOOO

The hut in which Sayaka’s daughter laid ill was the same size as all the others in the village. The girl was pale and still. Small rises and drops in her chest were the only indicators that the girl was still alive. Kikyo approached the girl with a basket of herbs to lower fevers. From the river to the village, Sayaka had gone on length about the ails of her daughter, to which Kikyo only listened with half an ear. Most likely the girl merely fainted from exhaustion. She had no fever or any other serious symptoms.

The rest of her attention was back at the river. The altercation between Inuyasha and her reincarnation was immature, minor but admittedly, amusing. She had never seen Inuyasha so flustered or Kagome so flushed. In her interactions with him, Inuyasha always seemed so reserved as if he were holding countless things back. At the river today, she saw glimpse of what laid beneath and it was both fascinating and amusing. She only wished she could have a chance to tease him in the same manor at some point.      

But then….such a thought. It was so….childish, so immature of her. She was priestess. She had neither the time nor the leisure to think of such things. Yet here she was in front of a sick child with her thoughts lingering on such a childish notion. She closed her eyes to center herself as she had been taught, to push back against any worldly emotions. But even as she went through the breathing exercises and her mantras, that warm feeling, the same from when Inuyasha gave her his mother’s rouge, was not being push down. Rather it was pushing back against her training. Why? What was wrong?

“Lady Kikyo? Is something the matter?” Sayaka asked.

Kikyo shook her head. This was a matter for a later time.

“Sister Kikyo…?”

“I’m fine Kaede,” Kikyo said. “Go fetch some water while I grind these herbs please.”

“All right, I’ll be right back.”

As Kikyo began to work, she felt something. A light nudge against her awareness. There was something in this room. Some hidden danger that was close by. Kikyo stretched out her awareness but felt nothing at first. But then there was flick. A small spike of demonic energy entered the room.

“Lady Kikyo look,” Sayaka said. “My daughter is moving.”

Kikyo looked up in time to see the daughter float up from the floor and hover seven inches off the ground. Her eyes remained closed, her head hung and her arms were extended as if she were being stretched out. Kikyo narrowed her eyes. This was not normal movement. The daughter raised her arm and Kikyo saw what was controlling her. Some type of string or wire had wrapped itself around the daughter’s limbs and torso. Kikyo looked closer. It wasn’t wire, it was hair. Human hair.

“Stay back Sayaka,” Kikyo warned.

A nearby knife flew up to the daughter’s waiting hand.

The daughter shot forward and swung.

In a single stroke, blood filled the hut.

OOOOO

Yura sat on her with a giggle. From the vibrations she felt on her territory hairs, all the pieces were in the place. The demon stood and swung towards the village.

“Time for the fun to begin.”    

 

AN: As always tell me what you think and be sure to review! See you next chapter!

 

 

 

End Notes:
Hope you enjoyed it.
First Strike by Gammer

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 6: First Strike

Kagome stomped her way through the forest, her nostrils flaring like a provoked bull. Inuyasha's crass voice echoed in her ears. She gripped the hem of her crimson pants, imagining that her hands were around Inuyasha's throat. As she stomped, her foot knocked against a midsized rock, buckling her trudge of fury. The schoolgirl's temper flared to a boil. A single kick sent the rock sailing over the trees and crashed to the ground several yards away. But that still was not enough to wane her fire. That perverted, arrogant, immature, short-tempered asshole! The word, though rarely thought of by Kagome, was perfectly warranted when describing that dog-eared idiot. Kagome could think of no other word that better described his flippant attitude. Decency and respect were two things her mother made sure to teach her growing up but she just couldn't do it when Inuyasha was involved. He didn't even call her by her name, not once!

"Kikyo is a saint if she can find anything gentle about that guy," she growled.

She wasn't sure how long or how far she had been stomping but eventually the fire at the core of her stomach simmered, leaving her only mildly annoyed. She emerged in the clearing where the Bone Eater's well lay. On its face the rectangular structure was a simple design. Wood and stone made up its base and mouth with moss and some weeds as the only indicator of its age. But somehow this simple well had brought her here. Kagome approached slowly as if she were walking towards a predator. She passed a finger on the mouth of the well and quickly jumped back. When nothing popped out, she repeated the action with her entire palm. Nothing, it was only wood. At least for now.

"This where I came out, so by that logic it should send me back, right?" she asked the air around her. She peered into the mouth of the well. "I wish there was a way to test it at least."

The mid-afternoon sun peaked out from the clouds and its rays followed Kagome's gaze down the well, illuminating the dark bottom. Kagome's stomach dropped when she saw the height of the fall. It had to be at least several feet, or even a yard or two. Save for the vines and damp moss, there were no footholds or anything to hold on to that could slow her fall. At the bottom of the well was a bed of abnormal skeletons piled together in a disorganized manor. Kagome's stomach churned and bit down on her lips to prevent bile from escaping her mouth. She slid down to her knees unable to look at the sight any further.

"No way…." She muttered. "No way. I can't go in there now."

She leaned against the well staring at the afternoon sky as she weighed her options. Go back? Kikyo and Kaede were nice and they certainly did their best to make her feel welcome but Kagome just wasn't sure how much more of this place she could take. A summer wind blew through the trees, pushing out several leaves from their branches. Kagome watched in a lost gaze as the leaves floated to the ground without a care. But as one came towards her, it sliced in half as if it had passed through some blade. Kagome followed the other leaves descent only to see them get sliced as well.

"What the-?" she rose to her feet only to get nicked by something against her cheek. It felt as if she had just brushed by a knife. Warm blood trickled down her cheek as Kagome looked over the forest around her. Thin strands of wire covered the clearing from the top branches all the way to the grass. They crisscrossed at random points in their lines, covering not only the path she had taken to get here, but all the paths out of the clearing as well. Kagome could feel a strange pulse in the air. It wasn't quite a heartbeat but something of equal rhythm approaching her. She felt herself tense up and her hairs stand on end. Something wasn't right. She looked at the wires harder only to see that they weren't wires at all.

"That looks like…hair!"

"Oh my, oh me," a high pitched voice said from above her. "You can see them then. My net of hairs I mean."

Standing on top of the wires, or rather hair was a young man who appeared to be a few years older than Kagome. Other than a skin tight leather outfit with gauntlets on her hands, she wore nothing else. A medium sized sword was attached her belt. The newcomer looked down at Kagome with her strange magenta eyes and a sly smile.

"Pity, because seeing is not enough."

"Who are you?" Kagome asked, hoping she didn't sound too frightened.

"How do you do," she said, her fingers twitching. "I'm Yura of the Hair."

"Um…nice to meet you….?"

"You must be one of Kikyo's sisters," Yura said. "The resemblance is uncanny."

Kagome flinched. Kikyo had only come up with that cover story only a few days ago. How did this girl know about it already? She took a step back only for her heel to hit the stone base of the well.

"What do you want?" she managed.

Yura scoffed. "Please spare me the brave act. Your spiritual power is pathetic. But I suppose that makes things easier for me."

A flick of her wrist sent the hairs whipping against Kagome's body. The girl's arms flew over her chest and cried out in pain as the whips cut against her skin. Kagome dropped to a knee while tears formed at the corners of her eyes. Yura gestured again and the hairs flew up around her neck, hoisting Kagome into the air and pulling her towards the demon.

Yura grabbed Kagome by the cheek. "What I want is you little priestess. Once Kikyo hears her precious sister has been abducted, the Jewel of the Four Souls will be mine."

Kagome gasped as the hairs tightened around her throat. Her legs kicked in a vain effort to escape while her fingers blindly grasped at the hairs trying to find some loose end she could pull against.

"P-p-please let go…" she wheezed. "This…hurts…"

"Aw…poor baby," Yura mocked as she tightened the hairs. "Then again, I suppose I don't need you alive to draw Kikyo out. Would you like me to take the pain away?"

Kagome could only stare as the sword on Yura's hip floated out of its sheath and slowly pointed itself at her throat. Kagome's lungs burned, crying out for air. She could feel her body going limp and could see a haze beginning to form over her eyes. The blade seemed to move in slow motion as it inched closer to her throat. Kagome gritted her teeth, the last ounce of her strength coming to her. A strange warmth awakened her stomach, refilling her lungs and giving enough air for one last cry.

"Let…GO!" she bellowed. As if on cue, a purple blast exploded from her body. The blast hurled Yura back into the trees and snapped off the hairs around her neck. Kagome took a sharp breath filling her lungs with much needed air. But her relief was short lived once she realized one thing, she was falling. A shriek of terror escaped her lips. The mouth of the well got closer and closer with each second.

"No fair!" Yura said as she swung out from the trees. Her sword shot out from her hip, following Kagome on the way down.

All Kagome saw as she fell into the well was a bright light.

OOOOO

Inuyasha sprinted through the forest, his mind replaying the incident at the river. He could already feel his annoyance returning. The nerve of that stupid girl to call him a peeping….whatever that word was. He wasn't lecherous! And Kikyo….making him a demon or half-demon apologize to that human girl. Demons never apologized to anyone. He'd never seen his brother apologize to any of his victims. None of the demons that attacked him on a regular basis ever apologized. Why should he? The Halfling leaped into the trees, really not sure where he was going exactly. He needed to work off this mood. He needed a fight or something to gut open with his claws. He landed on one of the taller trees and took a long sniff in the air. A growl vibrated against his throat when he didn't smell any demons in the immediate area.

"Figures," he barked, punching the tree trunk. "Just when I need a bastard to fight me, they're all too chicken-shit to show up."

He sat on the branch in a huff. His fingers twitched against his sleeves, his knee bobbed up and down. He needed something to do, just sitting around was never a habit of his. He took another sniff of the air hoping he had missed some cowardly demon hiding in the bushes. But instead of a demon, he took the scent of something else.

"Blood," he whispered to himself. "Kikyo's blood…!"

Without a second thought Inuyasha leaped off the branch and bounded towards the village. In a matter of minutes the familiar brown huts and open fields came into view but when the half-demon slid to a stop the only people there to intercept him were eight young girls. They floated four inches above the ground, their heads hung low and their arms spread out wide with their wrists pointed downwards. In each hand was a knife, pick, or cleaver. Inuyasha glanced from one girl to another.

"Well…I guess I don't need to ask what you're up to." Something wasn't right, there was a faint smell of demon in the air but it was hidden among all the human scents.

The girls' arms jerked upwards presenting their weapons. Inuyasha scoffed and jumped back, raising his claws as well. This was exactly what he needed.

"All right, now this is what I'm talking about!" He cracked his claws and lowered himself, ready to leap at any moment. "Just don't expect me to go easy on any of you."

"Inuyasha wait…"

At the sound of her voice, Inuyasha turned on his heels to see Kikyo emerge from one of the huts. Her left hand clutched a wound on her right shoulder, the blood already staining her white uniform. Inuyasha could smell the sweat and fear on her. Her bow and arrow hung off to the side of the hut, most likely left there when she entered. She made her way towards him, her steps slower than usual but she still managed to close the distance between them rather quickly.

"Kikyo, what happened? Are you okay?"

"A minor slash wound," she replied, her eyes examining the girls. "Nothing you need to be concerned about."

The girls began to close in, their weapons ready to make their cuts.

"What's going on with these girls?" Inuyasha asked, positioning himself between Kikyo and their attackers..

"I can't say for certain, but something is controlling them. Some type of wire or string. If you cut them, perhaps they'll return to their previous selves."

A girl in a red kimono floated dangerously close to them. Inuyasha put his weight on his right foot, ready to leap. "I don't see any string,"

The girl shot forward her knife coming down towards Inuyasha skull. In the middle of its arc, the half demon released the weight on his foot and soared over his attacker, his claws instinctively going for her neck.

"Inuyasha!" Kikyo exclaimed. "Do not hurt them; they are not in control of themselves!"

Inuyasha gritted his teeth and slid to a halt. A twitch in his ears told him more were coming in from behind. He whirled around in time to see a cleaver swing towards his torso. He jumped back only to be caught in the path of an axe coming for his legs. Another leap and a flip brought him back to Kikyo's side, who had managed to retrieve her bow and arrows.

"I can't keep dodging them forever, I'm going to have to attack sooner or later," Inuyasha growled.

"Calm yourself Inuyasha," Kikyo said, notching her bow. "Whomever is behind this, I believe desires you to attack the girls."

Inuyasha cracked his claws again. "Well if you have a better plan I'd be happy to hear it."

"Stay where you are and observe."

Inuyasha huffed, more waiting around.

OOOOO

Kikyo's shoulder burned. She could feel her blood ooze out from her wound and begin to roll down her arm. If it reached her fingers her grip on her bow would weaken, making her shots inaccurate. Leaving the wound untended to also ran the risk of infection setting in later. She would need to settle this quickly. Her eyes ran across the controlled girls. A complex web of string had wrapped itself around their limbs which were what allowed them to float in the air. Cutting them with a dispelling arrow was the easiest way to free them.

She filled the arrow with her energy and loosed it. The projectile hurled towards its target, cutting every string in its path before coming to rest in a nearby tree. The girls, free of the control, dropped to the ground like stones. Their breaths were slow and steady but they were alive.

"Keh…well that was easy," Inuyasha scoffed.

"Yes…" Kikyo said looking over the still girls before her. A demon's presence was still knocking against her senses. "Perhaps too easy."

Something was wrong. Many of the strings controlling the girls had been cut, yet they were not awakening. The demon's presence she was sensing was not dissipating, in fact, it seemed to be growing stronger. And it was getting closer. Pain shot up her arm and shoulder as Kikyo went for another arrow in her quiver but she pushed through it. It wasn't over yet.

"Inuyasha, be on your guard. Whoever is behind this is not through with us yet."

Inuyasha turned to face her, no doubt with a question his lips, but a scream caught both their attentions.

"Kikyo, help!" Kaede's voice shrilled over the still village. From over the hill, came Kaede, running as fast as he short legs could from a group of ten armed and controlled village men. An axe swung at her neck, making Kaede dive to the ground to avoid it. But another controlled man thrust his spear at her exposed back.

"Kaede!" Kikyo instantly aimed her arrow at the man, but Inuyasha bounded into the fray.

With a loud yell he smashed his fist into the man's face, even from her distance away, Kikyo could hear the man's nose break from the blow. The injured villager flew back crashing into the three behind him. Four more attacked with their spear heads aimed straight for Inuyasha's throat. The half-demon's claw swung out in a golden arc, reducing the spears to splinters. Before the men could realize what had happened, Inuyasha placed four strong punches into their bellies, making them collapse. The remaining three attacked with their axes. Inuyasha dodged two of their swipes before grabbing the third man by the wrist and hurled him into the remaining two.

A small smile crept onto Kikyo's lips as she watched Inuyasha check if Kaede was all right. She could feel the same lightness she felt when Inuyasha had given her his mother's rouge. The warmth began to spread in her chest once more, overriding the tenseness that came from her senses and training. Kaede bowed to Inuyasha in thanks, only Inuyasha to huff and look away as he always did. A laugh bubbled in her stomach at the sight. Inuyasha was certainly in his own category.

But her moment of lightness was short lived. At that moment, the demon energy flared to life, slamming against her senses. The hair around the men Inuyasha had knocked out snaked off their victims and slithered around Inuyasha's body, slowly but surely overtaking his torso.

"Inuyasha, the hair!" she exclaimed, but she was a second too late.

The hair tightened around his body, trapping his hands against his chest and squeezing his legs to he couldn't leap away. The knocked out men were pulled out of their stupor by the hair and floated towards the entrapped half-demon with their weapons ready to cut.

"Kaede!" Kikyo said as she went for another arrow. "Run into our hut and remain there until it's safe!"

"But…Inuyasha…."

"Go, now!"

Kaede glanced at Inuyasha one more time before running towards the huts. The moment she was out of range, Kikyo took aim. Inuyasha struggled against his strange bonds while the men closed in ready to finish him. She narrowed her eyes, her blood beginning to drip to her wrist. The wires were so tight against Inuyasha's body that any attempt to free him risked killing him. But if she could find the main string that controlled it, perhaps it would break the other wires.

Kikyo felt her body tense when the demon's energy flared again. The wires around the girls began to grow at their cut ends until they were back to their original length. Something tugged on the newly grown wires, brining the girls into their floated position where they formed a wall in front of Kikyo's sight, blocking Inuyasha from her view.

Satsuki swung at her with a knife, making Kikyo jump back. She fired her charged arrow, but Satsuki was pulled into the air by the wires, opening the path for an axe to swing towards her head. Kikyo caught the blow with her bow but quickly realized her mistake. A spear thrust through her right leg. Pain ran up her body like a river flowing upstream. Her grip loosened on her bow, allowing the possessed girl to overpower her. The girl followed through with her axe and knocked Kikyo's bow out her hands. Overcome by pain, Kikyo dropped to a knee, her vision becoming blurred.

"Kikyo!" she heard Inuyasha cry out.

The village girls circled around her, but Kikyo had one last technique. It would take much out of her energy reserves but at this point she had little choice. Her spiritual energy answered her desperate call by filling her body with power. The girls floated closer, their weapons ready to cut her down. Kikyo's eyes snapped open and she unleashed the power she had gathered.

A blue sphere exploded out from her body pushing back her assailants and engulfing much of the village. When the light faded, Kikyo fell against the wall of a hut. Her body felt heavy and her could barely find the strength to even breathe properly. The girls lay before her, unconscious but alive. The technique was meant for demons and other impure creatures. The wires controlling them were once again cut short. Kikyo attempted to rise but her body screamed against it. Her bow was only a few steps away. If she could break the strings controlling the men, Inuyasha could escape.

Kikyo pushed herself to her feet and found that her speared leg would not support her weight. She was back on the ground after only two steps. The blood from her shoulder wound now seeped out from her sleeves and dripped from her finger tips. She wouldn't be able to properly hold her bow now.

"Kikyo, hold on!" he heard Inuyasha cry out.

"It looks like she's a little busy at the moment, little dog," a sultry voice said from above.

Kikyo tensed. The source of the demon aura now stood on a series of wires that crossed over the village. Her hands had knots tied onto to each finger and each knot connected to a wire. Her pink eyes stared down at Kikyo with a smug triumph that made Kikyo's blood boil.

"So this is the infamous Kikyo," the demon said with a chuckle. "We've only just met and already I've brought you to your knees."

Kikyo managed to sit up but standing was out of the question. "And just who might you be?"

The demon smiled at her. "I am Yura of the Hair, it's a pleasure to finally meet you."

OOOOO

Inuyasha struggled against the strange wires. His arms were pinned to his chest and his legs were being squeezed together, making leaping nearly impossible. The village men all took their swings at him, but their movements were slow and telegraphed. It didn't take much to avoid them, even tied up, but he could only keep this up for so long. When he saw Kikyo go down, Inuyasha struggled even more, but there seemed to be no loose end to this weird string.

A strong pull made Inuyasha go flying backwards and slam against a tree. Stars danced in front of his vision but the half-demon shook it off. The wires only tightened more, especially the one around his neck.

"Damn…it…." He growled. If he didn't act fast he was a goner.

A flash of blue light caught his eye. Kikyo was in trouble! The Halfling tried to jump but that only made things worse. It was as if someone was strangling him from behind the tree. If that was the case, then there was only one option.

Inuyasha turned his right palm so it faced outwards. His right arm pulled against his bonds, looking for the slightest loose end, all he needed was enough room for one swipe.

"Kikyo!" he cried out. "Hold on!"

"It looks like she's a little busy at the moment, little dog," the demon's voice said from above.

Inuyasha gritted his teeth and with a savage yell swung out his right arm tipped with golden energy.

"Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!" his golden claws swept downwards slashing through the bark of his bound tree. The unsteady tree rocked back and forth, loosening the wires. Seeing his chance, Inuyasha leapt as far as his legs could push him. He soared over the possessed village men and rocketed towards the female demon.

"Your pet is quite the spirited one," the demon quipped.

"I'll show you pet, bitch!" Inuyasha yelled, his claws drawn back. "Iron Reaver Soul-…"

The demon wagged her finger at him like a mischievous child. "Now, now, you wouldn't want to harm her would you?"

With that Kaede floated in front of Inuyasha's path, making the half-demon redirect his claws down to force a landing. Inuyasha shot out his left arm to absorb his fall. He pushed against the ground into a flip that brought him to Kikyo's injured side.

"Kikyo, are you all right?"

Kikyo's eyes never left the demon or Kaede. "Forget about me."

"And just who the hell are you supposed to be?" Inuyasha growled at the demon girl.

"She calls herself, Yura of the Hair," Kikyo answered.

"I'm flattered that you remember, Kikyo," Yura said.

"Release Kaede immediately," Kikyo said her voice a razor edge.

Yura chuckled. "It's rather difficult to threaten someone when you can't even stand priestess."

Inuyasha growled. Kaede by Yura's side, unconscious like the other girls. If he could just get her out of the way, he could attack this bitch and show he was no one's pet.

"What is it you want?" Kikyo asked.

"Isn't obvious? Bring the Sacred Jewel to me by midnight or…." The demon's sword floated out from her hip and its edge stopped inches in front of Kaede's throat. "Well, you know the rest." Inuyasha made a fist, his claws almost cutting into his skin. Just like that stupid centipede demon. Too weak to fight head-on so they resorted to these cowardly tricks. A real demon always fought his opponent face to face.

"Why don't you come down here and try to take it yourself!" Inuyasha yelled.

"Come now, Kikyo, surely the fate of your youngest sister means more than a fancy jewel. She is rather adorable. She almost reminds of your twin."

"What have you done with Kagome?" Kikyo said.

Yura just shrugged. "Does it matter? The jewel tonight or receive your sister's head. I'll be waiting."

Inuyasha launched himself towards her. He'd just have to mind where he swung.

"You ain't going nowhere!"

But he was moments too late. A single stroke of a red comb and Yura vanished in a wall of flame.

"Damn bitch!" he growled. He smelled the air trying to find her scent, but all he could get was the fresh smell of fire, blood and sweat. He looked over to Kikyo, who was using her bow as a crutch to bring herself to her feet. The spearhead was still imbedded in her knee and her shoulder wound had turned her pristine white robe, red. Her eyes seemed like they could close at any moment from exhaustion but still she pushed herself to walk towards him.

"Inuyasha," she said, her voice sounding as if talking took all her strength. "We need to move quickly to save Kaede."

Refusing crossed his mind. He had no obligation to the kid or Kikyo. Rescuing her would just lessen his standing even more among the demons. Yura already called him Kikyo's pet. No, a true demon wouldn't stop to help a human, especially one that had defeated him so many times in the past. He should just take his leave now and go after that Yura-bitch himself.

"What do you need me to do?" he said instead.

"Find Kagome," Kikyo said simply.

At the sound of her name, their encounter at the river earlier flashed before him. His temper sparked. "What do we need her for? She's just a stupid whiny girl. She'd be no help in a fight!"

Kikyo sighed. "She also has all my spiritual power. As I am now, injured and depleted of energy, I would no benefit to the fight either. Kagome will be fresh and at full power. We will need that to save Kaede and defeat this Yura demon."

Inuyasha growled. The feel of those rocks hitting against his head still fresh. But that was all forgotten when Kikyo took his hand and her warmth filled his hand.

"Inuyasha…for Kaede's sake, I beg you to please put aside whatever objections you have with Kagome. Without her, I fear that this fight will be in vain."

"Fine!" he barked. "Fine, fine, fine. But if she screws this up, it's on you."

"I appreciate it. I need to tend to these wounds and find a proper horse. I will meet you at the Bone Eater's Well, I believe that is where you'll find Kagome."

Inuyasha raised an eyebrow. "What makes you so sure she'll be there?"

"It is only speculation but I can think of no other place she'd be."

Inuyasha sighed. He could already hear that dumb girl's whining. "All right, fine, I'll go grab her. You just be ready by the time I get back."

With that he leaped into the forest with a huff.

He was positive his brother didn't have to put up with this crap.

OOOOO

Kagome awoke in darkness on a damp stone floor. She sat up slowly trying to recall what happened. There was some hair and a girl looking to kidnap her, and then she fell in the well. She rubbed her head but didn't feel any bumps or sores, so she must not have fallen as hard as she thought. But what now? If she went back up, would Yura still be up where waiting for her? What would she do if Yura was still there?

"But we've already been in here a dozen times."

"Grandpa, I told you, this is where she fell!"

"Are you sure you weren't dreaming?"

A cone of light shined into the well blinding Kagome for a second, but she knew those two voices straight away.

"G-Grandpa? Sota?"

She was out of the well in a matter of minutes and standing at the top of the stairs of the shrine. It was all here, here house, the shrine, the wall of buildings that made up Tokyo. She looked up to see the never-ending web of power lines stretch across the horizon and the undeniable smell of fuel and smog from cars. Her lips quivered as the realization became clear. She was back, she was really back home.

"You've been missing for the past three days," Grandpa said. "You could have at least called."

"And why are you wearing those weird old clothes?" Sota piped in.

She was really back. Tears welled up in her eyes and she fell into Grandpa's arms.

"Grandpa!" she sobbed. "I was so scared!"

"Kagome…what in the world happened?"

OOOOO

It didn't take long for Inuyasha to find the girl's scent. It was one of the few scents that was vastly different than the other smells in the area. He arrived at the well as Kikyo had said and like she had guessed, Kagome scent was all over the well. Along with Yura's. He didn't see her around but her scent indicated that she was here. Maybe she was in the well hiding. Inuyasha scoffed at the thought, that was probably where was.

The demon leaped into the well.

"This better not be a waste of time!"

Regroup by Gammer

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 7: Regroup

Kagome collapsed on her bed, the mattress folding around her body. She took in the sweet smell of her shampoo that washed over her pillow. Buyo leaped up and snuggled next to her with a flat purr. Kagome stroked the stout cat, her fingers taking in every bit of fur and skin. Her other hand felt around her bed for the remote on her dresser. A click of the power button brought reality TV booming into her room. Kagome buried her face in the pink pillow, ignoring MTV's latest Teen Mom confessional. She took another deep breath. Laying in her bed, waiting for her mother to call her down for dinner, the TV in the background, it all made it seem as if she never left. It was as if she had just woken up from a strange dream. Maybe that was all her trip down the well had been. On the way down, she must have hit her head and only came to when Grandpa and Sota came looking for her.

But the sensations she felt had all been so real. She remembered the lash from that Yura girl's attack and the feeling of those hairs slowly strangling her. Kagome shivered at the thought and passed her hand over her throat to make sure no hair remained. Last she checked dreams and hallucinations weren't that vivid, not the mention the fact that Sota and Gramps found her in Kikyo's spare robes. Kagome sighed. Ok, maybe it hadn't been a dream. So what else could it have been? There's no way she could have been in that strange feudal Japan with demons, sacred jewels and body doubles….right? At the thought of her twin, Kagome remembered the look on Kikyo's face when she mentioned her duties had taken a toll on her and when she tried on the rouge Inuyasha gave her. To Kagome she seemed so sad but beautiful in a weird way. She had wanted to help her somehow but what could she really do for her? Kikyo could already vanquish a huge demon with a single arrow. What kind of help could a normal girl like her give a priestess? Kagome groaned and sat up. There was no use in obsessing about it.

She clapped her hands together like she closed a book. "Chapter closed," she announced to no one. "As far as I'm concerned it was just a fairy tale."

"Kagome," Chihiro called. "Dinner's ready!"

"Coming!" Kagome sprang up from her bed, the scent of her mom's cooking almost allowing her to float downstairs to the living room. Already her mouth watered at the sight of the boiling bowl filled with potatoes, beef and vegetables. Her first full meal in how many days! She had no idea how Kikyo and Kaede could survive on a single bowl of rice and three fish each day.

"Real food! Real food! Real food!" she chanted.

"You don't need to worry about the well anymore Kagome," she vaguely heard Gramps say. "I've covered the well with the sacred sutras passed down our family's line for generations! No demon or specter shall enter our home. And if they do, I shall protect you with my last breath!"

Kagome grabbed her chopsticks and filled her bowl with beef and rice. "Sorry Gramps, were you saying something?"

Sota sighed. "I don't think she heard you Gramps."

Kagome only shrugged when Gramps went off about this current generation. If there was any doubt she was truly back….

She filled her mouth with her mom's cooking and nearly swooned.

"What a marvelous time to be alive!" she breathed.

She was about to go for more when a pair of footsteps caught her ear. The living room door slid open with a slam, revealing an all too familiar figure decked in red. Kagome's eyes met his scrunched up face and ever-present frown. Her family stared blankly at their unwelcomed guest unsure what to do. Kagome could only gape. There's no way he could be here.

"I-I-Inu…Yasha…?"

OOOOO

Yura lay on her bed of skulls with a huff. The full moon basked her lair in an annoying sliver light that left her exposed. From its position it was an hour before midnight and the priestess had yet to arrive. Her hairs covered most of the forest and some of the village and since she had taken the youngest sister, she felt no vibrations. She had been sure the priestess would ride to the rescue. But then there was no reason to worry, as long as she had the priestess's precious sister, Kikyo would arrive soon enough. She stroked her precious red skull with a sneer as the image of killing Kikyo crossed her mind. She would be infamous among the demon world and feared in the human world. With the power of the Shikon jewel, she would be unmatched. Her conquest of the western lands would be absolute and then she would move on to the lands in the north. It wouldn't be long now.

A pluck on one of her hairs brought Yura out of her daydream. The vibration rippled down its line until it reached her ring finger. The hairs attached to her index, middle and thumbs vibrated as well. The vibrations were out of sync and moved in different patterns and rhythms, indicating more than one person. Yura scoffed. She had hoped for the priestess but a little warm-up couldn't hurt.

Yura pulled on her hairs sending her swinging upwards through the trees and towards her prey. The closer she got, the stronger and more frequent the vibrations became. The intruders had heavy steps and walked without any grace. They were no doubt humans. And from the lack of reaction from her hairs, they had no spiritual power either. Yura huffed, normal human prey were no fun. The demon settled on a high branch that overlooked a moderate clearing. From the vibrations she felt, her prey would be approaching any minute. Now came one her favorite parts of the hunt, figuring out how to slaughter them best. Yura leaned against the tree trunk, weighing her options. She didn't want to use too much of her energy, not with Kikyo arriving soon. But some of her more fun techniques required more energy. Then again it was only some humans. She wouldn't have to take it too seriously regardless.

As Yura mused, she heard the bushes part below and the chatting of the prey. There were only 15 of them. Bandits based on the cheap and damaged brown armor they all wore. Yura had to resist the urge to laugh outright at their pathetic formation and quivering feet. The fear already present in most of them. Their leader however, walked with no fear present in his steps. He wore a full suit of armor with a mask over his face. Still the spider symbol on the back of his armor was difficult to miss.

"Come on you cowards!" he shouted over his shoulder, his voice the slimmest she's heard from a human. "The village can't be far."

"Chief," a foot soldier whined. "I've….heard stories about this place….it's supposed to filled with demons….And that priestess is said to show no mercy to any seekers of the jewel."

"Bah!" the chief scoffed, cuffing the frightened over his head. "I will not have my chance at ultimate power blocked by a mere woman! Her spiritual powers have no effect on humans. She'll be no match for us!"

If they were after the jewel, they were more foolish than Yura thought. The Sacred Jewel was hers and no one was going to steal it from her. The demon pulled out her crimson comb from her bosom and loudly cleared her throat.

"I'm so sorry boys….but I'm afraid there's been a little mix-up," she said announcing her presence.

"Who are you, witch!" the chief exclaimed drawing his sword. Yura barely contained a laugh when the chief's men pointed their arrows at her. Save for the chief, all of them were close to pissing themselves.

Yura twirled her comb. "You needn't bother to remember. You'll all be dead."

"Enough of this nonsense!" the chief said. "Men attack!"

Before any of them could take a step, the demon swung her comb as if it were sword, creating four jets of flame. The fire ran down the wires of hair surrounding the bandits and within seconds, the clearing lit up like a bonfire. Yura stood over the conflagration taking in their screams of agony. She watched as the skin and bones slowly gave way to the flames until they were nothing but ash feeding her flames. The demon smirked at the thought of what that little sweep could do when enhanced with the power of the Sacred Jewel. It would certainly make hunts like this one more akin to swatting flies.

"Y-y-y-y-you….witch…." she heard.

The bandit's chief, his armor and most of his skin long burned, attempted to rise. But his efforts only resulted in more pain. Yura huffed; some insects just didn't know when to die. She had half a mind to finish him but using more energy on such weakling was a waste of time. The bandit would be dead soon regardless. She pulled on her hairs again and swung back to lair to await her true prey.

All the while, she listened to the bandit's struggle to move.

OOOOO

Inuyasha could already tell he hated this world. The moment he stepped out of the well, his nose was raided by these strange smells. The smoke he picked up on had this stinging bitter scent that was all over. To make matters worse there was a faint but prominent smell of metal within every scent. It was as if a thousand swords had been melted into the air itself. But even through the chaotic scents, Inuyasha could still single out the dumb girl's scent. It was the usual weird scent of cherries and sweat. She wasn't too far away. The half-demon cleared the well house in a single bound and moved towards the white house, far larger than any hut he'd ever seen.

Another leap through an open window brought him into the house. Already he could hear the dumb girl with three others, a woman, a kid and an old man enjoying a hearty dinner. A growl vibrated against his throat. Kikyo was injured, Kaede captured and here she was, stuffing her face! He slid the door open, almost making it fly off its path and glared at the scene before him.

Kagome gaped at him, her eyes growing wider than usual. He heard her heart skip a beat in surprise.

"I-I-Inu…Yasha…?"

"Idiot!" he barked. "Who said you could go home!"

"B-But how did you-?"

"Through the well of course!" this girl was stupider than he thought. How else could he have gotten here?

"You lie!" the old man said. "I made those sprit wards myself, there's no way you could have-."

Inuyasha didn't need any spiritual sense to know this old guy had none whatsoever. "Hate to break it to ya old man, but they don't work."

"Impossible!"

While the old guy cried out in despair, Inuyasha grabbed the object of this little visit. "Come on, you're going back."

"No!" Kagome said as she struggled against him. She was no match for his strength of course but it was still annoying. "And you can't make me! Why should I go back to that crazy world?"

"Because some crazy demon-bitch took Kaede, that's why!"

Her struggling almost instantly stopped. "What? What do you mean? What happened? Is Kikyo all right? What demon are you talking about?" she managed to say in one breath.

"Some bitch who calls herself Yura of the Hair took the kid and wants the jewel in exchange. Kikyo sent me to get you cuz she thinks you'll be useful. Keh, she has more faith in you that I do."

"What about Kikyo is she ok?"

"She can still fight if that's what you're worried about." It would take far more than a few cuts to bring Kikyo down. Inuyasha knew that for a fact.

"That's not it-!"

"Kagome…what in the world is going on?" the old man asked.

"What's a…Yura?" the kid asked.

"Are you kids talking about some TV show?"

Kagome jerked back to her family and turned a faint shade of red. She grabbed his arm and shuffled him into the hallway. "We'll be right back ok?" She slid the door closed behind them.

"Come on!" Inuyasha said, grabbing her arm again. "We're wasting time."

Kagome pulled away. "Look, I appreciate Kikyo's faith in me, but what can I do against a demon that she can't? She's a trained priestess for crying out loud! I'm…just a schoolgirl! I don't have any special powers. What does she expect me to do against a demon? Throw my tiara at it or something? I can't-.,,,"

"Shut up!" Inuyasha shouted. If he had to hear her whining for another second he was going to claw out his ears. "I don't give a damn what you think you can't do! This ain't even about you; it's about saving the kid! Are you really just gonna let that Yura-bitch have her way because you're too scared to do anything about it?"

She looked down and shifted her legs. It had to be only for a minute but it seemed longer than that. She was completely still, save for the quivering in her lips. Inuyasha groaned this was waste of time after all. He whirled around calling her a lost cause. He didn't need her. He could take on that Yura-bitch himself. He was halfway down the hall when she called out him. When she looked up at him again, Inuyasha saw the same fire in her eyes he saw in Kikyo when she was faced with another seeker of the sacred jewel.

"Let's go," she said simply.

Inuyasha looked at her up and down. From her eyes alone, she had the will to fight. But he knew first-hand that Yura wouldn't take it easy on her. No doubt, Yura would target her, the weakest of the three of them, first. If she got cut down, all this crap would be for nothing. Inuyasha pulled on his robes, shedding the torso portion of his fire-rat kimono. He tossed it to her before heading for the well house.

"Put that that on," he said over his shoulder. "It should give you some protection."

She offered him a small smile. "Thank you…"

"Yeah well if you weren't so weak you wouldn't even need it."

Kagome narrowed her eyes at him. "You really know how to charm a girl don't you, dog boy."

"Yeah, yeah. Let's go, Kikyo's waiting."

OOOOO

Pain shot up and down Kikyo's leg as she climbed off the mare. Despite the large quantities of herbs she had applied to her wounds, the pain and some blood still cracked through the bandages. If she hadn't, she imagined the pain would have been far worse and movement would have been impossible. Her current predicament was still less than ideal for a battle however. She had applied the bandages hastily and with only one fully capable arm, the process took far longer than it should have. The members of the village were still unconscious from Yura's control. Kikyo surmised that they would only awaken if Yura was defeated. With her current strength, or lack thereof, such a requirement seemed rather arduous.

Kikyo approached the well, using her bow as her crutch. Putting any weight on her right leg made her body scream. She had thought about putting her injured arm in a sling, but that would only hinder her archery. Her only option was to fight the growing pain as much as she would fight Yura. She managed to sit with her back to the well to observe her surroundings. Almost the entire forest was covered in Yura's hairs, making tracking her difficult. Every bit of Yura's demonic energy was in the strands. Kikyo was sure a main strand existed but too many of the hairs overlapped. The hairs also made any direct assault impossible. Any vibrations on the wires would alert Yura of her presence. Kikyo looked over the thick web of hairs for a time, straining her eyes to find some blind spot in them. As the priestess began to look upwards, a plan began to form.

"Aw man…I can never get used to all these bones," Kikyo heard in the well.

"Would you quit your whining, we have a job to do damn it!"

Within moments Inuyasha leaped out of the well with Kagome in tow. Kikyo raised her eyebrow at the fire-rat robes draped over Kagome, but it was a detail not worth exploring at the moment.

"Kagome, I'm glad you are unharmed," she greeted. "Thank you for coming back."

"No problem, although I wouldn't mind if my escort was a little more gentle," Kagome replied glaring at Inuyasha.

The half-demon just scoffed. "Do I look like a damn servant boy to you?"

Kikyo sighed. It looked as though getting over their objections would take more time than she anticipated. Time they didn't have. But before she could say anything, Kagome rushed to her side.

"But forget about me, Kikyo are you all right?" Kagome looked over her bandages and began to retie and readjust them with an expertise, Kikyo had not seen from her prior.

"There's no reason to worry," she said. "I've taken the necessary precautions against infection."

"Yeah, but you're going to need stronger bandages if we're going after Yura," Kagome replied, tying her bandages even tighter than Kikyo had. "These will tear with too much stress."

Inuyasha scoffed. "And just what the hell do you know about medicine?"

"Duh, my mom's a nurse," Kagome said. "You tend to pick up on a few things."

When Kagome finished, Kikyo found her bleeding had stopped completely. The bandages were far tighter than they were before, which cut down on the feeling she had in her shoulder and leg. But at the very least she didn't have to worry about them tearing over the course of the battle.

Kikyo attempted to stand but her injured knee still turned against her. Kagome offered her hand. Usually she was not one to take assistance from others in her injured state, but perhaps she could make an exception in this one instance. With Kagome's help she was able to stand and use her bow to keep her up.

"Now that that's settled, we can find that Yura-bitch and take her down," Inuyasha said cracking his claws.

"Calm yourself, Inuyasha. We mustn't approach too hastily. The entire forest is covered in Yura's hairs. If we trip any of them, she will know we have taken moves against her."

"So what the hell are we supposed to do? It's almost midnight and she said she'd kill the kid if you don't show up."

Despite everything, his show of concern was amusing. As before, Kikyo could feel the warmth in her chest, only this time it seemed slightly stronger. "Inuyasha, I was not aware Kaede's safety meant so much to you."

The half-demon flinched and reeled back like a child being caught in a forbidden act. He stammered a bit before scoffing and looking away. "Keh, it doesn't. I….just don't want that Yura-bitch thinking she can run her damn hairs all over my territory is all."

Kikyo could feel herself smiling. A small one, but one of the few she had been blessed with for a while. "Of course."

"Not much of a liar is he?" Kagome muttered to her.

Inuyasha growled at her. "I heard that you know."

"Our first priority," Kikyo interrupted before the two of them went off again. "Is locating Yura. These overlapping hairs make it difficult to sense her demonic aura. Kagome, I will require your assistance."

"What do you need me to do?"

"There should be some kind of main strand that connects directly to Yura. It should be a strand that allows her to project her demonic aura to the rest of her hairs."

Kagome looked around, her eyes move between every strand before letting out a frustrated groan. "There's too many. How am I supposed to find a single one?"

"Concentrate," Kikyo said simply, reiterating the same advice her teachers would give her. "Look with both your eyes and your spiritual sense."

Kagome took a breath and squinted. Kikyo could feel her twin's spiritual aura rise. It felt like the first jet of water of a broken dam. In only a few minutes Kagome let out triumphant cry.

"I got it!" she announced. "It's right there!" She pointed down the eastern pathway. Kikyo followed her fingers and noticed a strand of hair filled with more demonic energy than the others. It was hidden by countless strands crisscrossing each other forming almost a wall that initially blocked Kikyo's sense. The fact that Kagome could see through it was a good indicator.

"Well what are we waiting for, let's go!" Inuyasha exclaimed. His energy and eagerness was welcome but they still needed a proper strategy.

"Inuyasha, a moment," she said, halting him. "Can you smell Kaede's scent down that path?"

He took three strong sniffs of the air. "Barely. I'm getting mostly Yura's."

Kikyo nodded, she had expected as much. "I'll take the mare and go down this path. Inuyasha, Kagome I want the two you to take the path that runs parallel to this one. Inuyasha, be sure to stay high in the trees, where the hair is thinnest. Kagome, be sure to inform him of any hairs he is approaching."

Inuyasha raised his eyebrow. "What for? We know where she is, what do we need to split up for?"

"Yura is expecting me to deliver the sacred jewel to her in exchange for Kaede. If I approach with the two of you in plain sight, she will no doubt know that I have no intention of following her demands…."

"And she'll kill Kaede before we even get there," Kagome finished.

"Exactly," Kikyo nodded.

"Ok…" Inuyasha groaned, the realization hitting him. "But why can't I trail behind you?"

"The path Kagome pointed out leads to a small valley. It's a wide open area, with plenty of room to maneuver, which is in Yura's favor. The path I've pointed you down, will take you and Kagome to cliffs that flank the valley."

Kagome's eyes lit up. "I get it. You draw Yura's attention by making your presence known and make her think you're doing the deal, while Inuyasha sneaks up behind her and takes her out."

"Yes. It would appear Yura does not have an affinity for close combat, something Inuyasha excels in. But while Inuyasha and I are engaging Yura, Kagome it will be your job to locate Kaede and get her to safety."

"Got it."

Kikyo approached the mare and with great difficulty managed to climb onto the saddle. From the corner of her eye she saw Inuyasha inch forward but ultimately stayed where he was. Kagome hopped and his back, much to his obvious annoyance, and turned towards his path.

"Kikyo," he called out over his shoulder.

"Yes?"

He stood there frozen for a few moments. His mouth opened and closed several times before he just shook his head.

"Just don't do anything stupid."

"Same for you."

Their eyes met for a brief moment before Inuyasha huffed and bounded into the trees. He was a strange one without a doubt. But in her world of meeting expectations, rigid schedules, and strict training regimens, a little strangeness was always welcome. She took several breaths to regain her calm, focused center. The warmth she felt her in chest slowly died down, giving way to her priestess training. She ordered the mare forward but noticed that it was getting harder and harder for her to fully diminish that warmth. Inuyasha's golden eyes were becoming a constant presence in her mind's eye.

Not that she minded.

But for now she needed to be focused. Kaede was depending on her.

Their counterattack started now.

Unity by Gammer

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 8: Unity

Kagome had always loved roller coasters. Ever since gramps to her to Osaka's Expo-Land and she rode the Orochi roller coaster, she was hooked. With each passing year she expected more out of the roller coasters she rode to the point where Eri, Yuka and Ayumi had once joked that the only way for her to get the thrill she wanted was to go skydiving. There had been times where she had given it some thought. But riding on Inuyasha's back through the hair infested forest made her reconsider. Even on the fastest, tallest rides, she had always been strapped in and felt safe in some manner. Here, the only thing keeping her from falling at least 3 stories were Inuyasha's arms. She could feel the strength in them but that didn't make her feel any better about it.

It didn't help that the half-demon bounded through the forest with speeds no roller coaster could match. The wind whipped against her face, making it nearly impossible to keep her eyes open. With each drop and jump it felt like stones were being dropped on her stomach. Every now and then he would bark at her to keep her eyes peeled for Yura's hairs, a task easier said than done. She allowed herself to crack open one eye only to see Inuyasha launch himself another six stories into the air to get past a rather tall tree. Kagome's stomach instantly dropped into her legs and her scream echoed to the heavens. She felt Inuyasha's body buckle at the sudden noise causing him to miss his intended branch. Kagome could only scream louder as they plummeted. Her arms latched onto the closest thing it could find, Inuyasha's neck. The moment his arms left her legs, she squeezed as hard as she could and let loose another scream, not daring to open her eyes.

"Would you stop screaming!?" Inuyasha yelled over her. "We ain't even falling anymore!"

Kagome allowed one eye to open and saw that Inuyasha's claws had dug into the bark of a tree. She took one glance down and quickly buried her face into his back. They were still several stories above the forest floor.

"Jeez!" Inuyasha said as he launched himself back into the branches. "I don't know what Kikyo was thinking sticking me with you. Alert the entire damn forest where we are while you're it."

Despite the intense speed, Kagome managed a glare at the halfling. "You're running faster than a bullet train and you expect me to be calm about it!? Not all of us can be Ms. Perfect like your girlfriend, Kikyo!"

"She ain't my girlfriend!" Inuyasha barked. "And what the hell is a bullet train anyways?"

"Ugh….! You're hopeless," Kagome said.

"And you're-!" Inuyasha halted before he could continue. A fire burning in a nearby clearing illuminated the dark woods in a flickering orange light. Kagome didn't have Inuyasha's sense of smell, but even she could smell the smoke, and worse in the air. She felt the nausea build in her stomach almost immediately and mentally cried for Inuyasha to turn back but she pushed it back down as best as she could. Kagome tightened her grip on Inuyasha and the half-demon made his way towards the fire. In only four leaps, he landed at the scene and the nausea in Kagome's stomach peaked.

Four burned bodies lay near the charred remains of what used to be the bushes of the clearing. Piles of ashes and dust dotted the space near them. Kagome could only assume the ashes were the rest of their friends. The intact bodies had burns that no CSI TV show could accurately replicate. She felt her knees weaken and the bile in her stomach threaten to enter her throat. She turned away and crouched down just in case.

"Bandits," Inuyasha announced, looking over what was left of their armor. "It doesn't look like they put up much of a fight."

"Did…Yura do all this…?" Kagome managed to say. Suddenly their chances didn't seem all that great.

"Looks like it. I smell her stupid scent all over this place." He glanced down at an untouched patch on the burned ground. Kagome heard him take a few sniffs around the patch. "Judging from this scent, one of them managed to get away. Keh, doubt he lasted long though."

"Terrific," Kagome said gulping down her remaining nausea.

"Now what's the matter?" Inuyasha groaned. "I better not hear you say that you're scared or you want to go home."

Kagome took a breath. Getting scared wouldn't help Kaede. If they didn't save her and fast, Yura would do to Kaede what she did to the bandits. She saw a bow and a quiver of arrows leaning against a tree and smirked. If Kikyo could do it, so could she.

"Actually," she said grabbing the bow and arrows. "I was going to borrow these."

Inuyasha glanced at her for a few moments, his expression unreadable, before merely scoffing. "Whatever you say."

It took a few seconds for Kagome to readjust herself on Inuyasha's back before they set off again. With each passing moment, Kagome could feel her heart race. By the time the rocks of the cliffs came into view, Kagome was amazed she could hear anything over the pounding organ.

"You know you're not going to hit anything right?" Inuyasha said. "So why bother?"

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, dog boy," she said.

Inuyasha raced up the top of the cliff, which gave them a full view of the valley below. "Have you even held a bow before?"

"No, but how hard can it be?"

"Famous last words…" Inuyasha muttered.

Kagome shot him a glare before a pulse ran through her body. It was as if spiders were crawling under her skin. She could feel Yura's presence straight ahead of them. She crawled to the peak of the cliff and looked down at the valley. A giant sphere made up of countless interlocking clumps of hair, skulls and bone stood in the center. Kagome could only gape at the strange aura she felt.

"A giant…hairball?" she said. "Yura isn't one for subtly is she?"

Inuyasha took a few whiffs of the air. "The kid's down there somewhere. But Yura's scent is so strong, I can't pin her down."

Kagome looked over the area as one thought began to nag her. "Inuyasha…I think we're missing one important element here."

He raised an eyebrow at her. "What's that?"

"Where's Yura?"

OOOOO

When Kikyo arrived at the valley, already she could feel something amiss. The giant hairball that served as Yura's lair pulsed with her demonic aura. The mare's hair bristled against Kikyo's legs as they approached. She scanned the area, unable to pin down neither the demon's presence nor Kaede's. But she could at least detect Inuyasha's and Kagome's presence. They were in position; she just needed the proper lure for their target.

"Yura!" she called. "Show yourself. I'm here as you asked!"

She could hear the hairs around her screech like a sour note on a shamisen, starling the mare. Kikyo pulled on the reins to keep the creature steady, though she doubted its stillness would last. The mare's hooves stomped the ground, ready to gallop in the opposite direction at any unexpected sound. Kikyo grabbed an arrow from her quiver and aimed it into the valley. Pain ran up her arm from her shoulder wound. Kikyo bit down on her lip to keep herself from wincing. The last thing she needed was Yura knowing how weakened their previous encounter left her. Even now, after Kagome adjusted her bandages, her knee injury ached. She still wouldn't be able to put weight on it. With any luck, she wouldn't need to leave the mare's saddle. But in her travels, Kikyo had learned that luck was a fickle creature.

"So I see," Yura's voice echoed. "Yet, I do not sense the Sacred Jewel. Does your sister's life mean so little to you?"

Kikyo could feel a shift in Yura's demonic aura but she still couldn't trace it. "I give you this one chance. Release my youngest sister and perhaps I will spare your miserable life."

"You underestimate me, Kikyo," Yura said, her voice rising, making the mare even more unsettled. "I'm nothing like those primitive demons who threw their lives away in their pursuit of the jewel."

Kikyo stretched out her awareness, Yura was close. She only needed a few more moments to pinpoint her exact location. "Your current actions, suggest otherwise."

"Well then, allow me to demonstrate."

A sword flew out from the valley faster than Kikyo could spot. Instinctively, the priestess launched her arrow at the weapon, only for the sword to curve downwards, avoiding her attack completely. Kikyo reached for another arrow but was two seconds too late. The sword imbedded itself deep into the mare's chest, striking its heart. The mare's cries pounded against Kikyo's ears at it stood on its hind legs, thrashing about. The priestess attempted several soothing gestures but nothing could ease its pain. The horse's own weight became too much for it and Kikyo could feel it begin to crumble to the ground. As it made its final cries, she leapt from the saddle. But she regretted the action almost instantly as pain crippled her leg. The priestess could not resist the cry that escaped her lips.

"It's as I thought," Yura said. "Your fragile human body has yet to heal."

Kikyo took a knee, unable to stand for long. But already her bow was notched. "You dare call me fragile when you are too afraid to even show yourself?"

"Very well, I shall remedy that."

The hairs around Kikyo sprang to life, enfolding her limbs and waist, then dragging her into the center of the valley to the base of Yura's hairball. Dust and rock knocked against her trapped body, the hairs tightening their grip with each passing second. She felt a tug on the locks and like a pulley; Kikyo was hoisted almost eight feet into the air, to come face to face with Yura. The female demon stood on thick tendrils of hair like a tightrope, her demonic violet eyes smug and her sword sheath empty.

"Are you satisfied now priestess?" Yura asked. Another tug brought her sword flying back to her waiting hand. It was then Kikyo noticed the hair wrapped around the hilt. She managed a quick glance around her and saw Yura's back was to the cliff where Inuyasha and Kagome lied in wait. Despite herself she managed a smirk.

"Why yes, Yura, I am very satisfied," she said. "Inuyasha, now!"

"Finally!" she heard him exclaim. "Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!"

Four golden arcs slashed through Yura's torso from her shoulder down to her hips. Yura's eyes widened at the sudden attack and the hairs immediately lost their grip. Kikyo dropped but did not get far before Inuyasha grabbed her and slid to ground.

"Are you all right?" he asked as he set her down.

"I will survive," she said simply.

Inuyasha scoffed, ready to berate her she figured, but Yura's voice cut through the air.

"Such a bad doggie you have priestess," she said from above them, her wound from Inuyasha's claws nonexistent. "I see it falls to me to teach your pet some manners."

Inuyasha's ears flattened, his face locked in a growl. "Who are you calling a pet, bitch!"

"Inuyasha," Kikyo warned. "Do not allow her to provoke you."

But the half-demon already sprang into the air, his claws poised for a strong swipe. Yura dodged the attack with little effort. Inuyasha grabbed one of the nearby tendrils to keep himself at her height but he realized his mistake too late. The tentacle quickly wrapped itself around his wrist, immobilizing his right arm. Inuyasha swung out with his left but another gesture from Yura made three more tendrils wrap around his remaining limbs.

"Too easy," Yura giggled. "Your little doggie has quite the temper Kikyo."

Kikyo grimaced. Yura surviving a direct attack from Inuyasha's claws complicated matters enough, now she had Inuyasha in her midst and still no sign of Kaede. How was it possible that Yura not only survived but managed to heal herself? The priestess brushed the thought aside for the moment. Freeing Inuyasha had to come first. She looked to her left, where her bow laid a good twenty paces away. She took one step with her injured leg and nearly crumpled to the ground. Curse this wound, she thought.

"Having a little trouble, Kikyo?" Yura said.

A surge of demonic energy was Kikyo's only warning before Yura's hair swept her up and bound her across from Inuyasha. Yura tugged on both their bonds cutting off the blood flow to her limbs and aggravating her shoulder wound. She saw Inuyasha struggle against the hair but to no avail. Kikyo could feel numbness setting into her arms from the elbows down, the only feeling that remained was pain in her shoulder. Yura seemed to sense her discomfort and swung in her direction. She passed a hand through Kikyo's hair, her smile of victory impossible to ignore.

"The mighty Kikyo, at my mercy," Yura said, looking over her hair. "I would have hoped that a priestess with your reputation would have given me much more a challenge, but alas. I can add your hair to my collection at the very least. As soon as I take the Sacred Jewel of course."

"Get your hands off of her!" Inuyasha yelled.

"Although I must say," she said as she made her way towards Inuyasha. "It's rather sad when your pet has far prettier hair than his owner."

Inuyasha swiped his claws at the demon but Yura merely dropped to a lower hair chord. The hair absorbed her fall and allowed her spring back up, slashing Inuyasha's chest as she went with her sword. The demon licked the blood off her blade and smiled.

"Just for that, you shall be first half-breed."

"Yura, release him!" Kikyo said.

"Too late, Kikyo!" the demon replied and launched herself towards the trapped half-demon. She raised her sword over her head, ready for a decapitating swing when a single arrow whizzed into her path. The shot was wide and nowhere close to hitting its target but at the very least it took Yura's attention off Inuyasha. The only problem lied in who was now in Yura's focus.

"Yura!" Kagome called from below. "Let them go right now, or the next one is going through your head!"

OOOOO

That stupid girl! Inuyasha thought. She might as well have placed a large target on her face. Even with his Fire-rat robes, he doubted she could take Yura's full wrath. The halfling struggled against his bonds with a new vigor. With Yura's attention elsewhere, the hairs had loosened slightly. He could only free up his left arm but that was all he needed. He glanced over to Kikyo who returned his stare. She managed to move her hand, catching his attention and pointed downwards at the ground. He followed her fingers and saw her bow lying close by. Inuyasha nodded in understanding. If she could get to her bow, she could end this.

"I thought this girl fell down the well," Yura muttered. "But oh well, at least I get to see her die this time around."

"Sorry," Kagome said. "I'm not going anywhere!" She loosed the arrow but missed Yura completely. Instead the arrow shot straight towards Inuyasha's head. He ducked as the projectile whizzed over him and imbedded itself into the hairball.

"Oops…" he heard her say. Across from him he heard Kikyo sigh.

"Oops! That's all you have to say!" Inuyasha yelled. "You could have killed me with that you idiot!"

"Well excuse me for trying to save you!"

"I don't need saving!" he barked back. The last thing he needed was to feel indebted to her. Although even he had to admit she had guts for stepping into the fight.

"Says the guy tied up!" Kagome said, trying to notch another arrow.

He was about to retort when a surge of spiritual energy caught his eye. The arrow implanted in the hair formation flared with purple energy, breaking apart the walls of hair. Inuyasha glanced at Yura, who had been strangely quiet. Her eyes were locked on the skulls oozing out of the lair, her teeth grinding. As more skulls parted, Inuyasha managed to catch the scent of the kid. He squint his eyes and sure enough, he saw Kaede's round face among the skulls. She looked as if she were sleeping but whether or not she was alive was another thing.

"Kikyo!" he shouted. "The kid's in that stupid hair-ball thing! That's why I could barely pick up her scent!"

Kikyo nodded and turned to her twin. "Kagome!"

"I'm on it!" she said, running down the slope.

"You're not doing a thing!" Yura exclaimed. A swing of her comb brought four jets of flame shooting down the hairs and heading straight for Kagome. The girl froze and before she could take another step, she was engulfed. Kagome collapsed to her knees crying out for help.

"Kagome!" Kikyo cried.

"A pity your sister turned out so weak," Yura said. "But don't despair you'll all be joining her soon."

Inuyasha dipped his free hand into his wound, covering his fingers with his blood. "We'll see who's joining who! Blades of Blood!"

The attack slammed into Yura's exposed back, cutting off her sword hand and knocking her into the cliff. The hair slackened as he thought and Inuyasha took his chance. He dipped his claws again and turned to Kikyo.

"Kikyo, don't move!" he shouted. "Blades of Blood!" Kikyo's bonds were torn apart like paper. Inuyasha cut through his and pushed against the cliff, catching her before she fell completely.

"Kagome…" she muttered looking at the flames.

"She'll be fine," he said as they dropped to the ground. "She's wearing my Fire-rat robes."

"Inuyasha, behind you!" Kikyo exclaimed. The halfling quickly pushed Kikyo out of the way and soon had Yura sword imbedded in his chest, knocking him over. Inuyasha grit his teeth, it was a shallow wound, something that would heal in day or two. But that didn't stop the pain from flowing up and down his torso. A tug on the hairs around the sword brought it back to Yura's waiting hand, which had somehow reattached itself after his attack.

"Your demon powers are pathetic, little doggie," she said, floating to the ground. "I bet you want to jewel so you can become a full demon. However, a wish like that would be such a waste of the jewel's power."

"Keh, like you'd be any better," Inuyasha scoffed getting to his feet. "What would a demon like you want with the jewel?"

"Isn't obvious? I would declare my new power to every demon and human that dared to cross me. And I would rule over the western lands as its new empress with no demon daring to take my territory."

Despite his injures, Inuyasha could only laugh. He tried imagining Yura defeating Sesshomaru but the only image he could see was her being melted away by his poison claws. And demons taunted him for having ridiculous dreams. At least becoming a full-fledged demon was at least remotely possible. All the power in the world couldn't help this one against the western demons.

"What's so funny half-demon?" Yura growled.

"A weakling like you would have no chance in the western lands," he said. "Even with the Sacred Jewel, you'd still just be a fly to them."

"The personal pet of a priestess has no right mocking me!" Yura hurled her sword once more but before Inuyasha could react, an arrow pulsing with spiritual energy shot past his cheek. It cut through the hairs controlling the sword, making the weapon fall harmlessly to the ground. Inuyasha looked over his shoulder to see Kikyo notching another arrow. Good, at least now the field was even.

"Your head is next," Kikyo said simply.

"I don't think so!" Yura tugged on the hairs wrapped around her fingers, sending her flying back up. Kikyo loosed another arrow, cutting the four hairs and making Yura fall back to the ground.

"Inuyasha, we need to keep her on the ground," she said. "Without the aid of her hairs, she has no power."

"Got it. What about the kid?" he asked.

"Kagome has it handled."

OOOOO

Climbing had never been Kagome's strong suit in gym. She wasn't afraid of heights or rather not the heights in the modern world. It was just that the rock wall they practiced on, never sat well with her for some reason. The rope climbing exercise had always been a source of embarrassment for her too. She could only reach the first quarter portion of the rope before her hands gave out on her. Meanwhile, Eri reached the top in record time twice in the same year. But then looking back, she would much prefer climbing up the rock wall in gym class with her peers watching rather than climbing up a structure of demon hair with only human skulls for her footholds.

When the fire had hit her, she had been sure that she was done for. But after a few seconds she realized that not only was she not burning, she wasn't even hot. Inuyasha wasn't kidding when he said his robes would give her protection. No wonder he wore it all the time. Slipping out of the plume of flame had been easy once Inuyasha made his move and kept Yura's attention on him and Kikyo. The only downside was that the flames had burned her bow and arrows. If Yura somehow got past Inuyasha and Kikyo, she'd be defenseless. Kagome shook her head, forcing down the thought. Just focus on getting Kaede out of here, she said to herself.

The little girl was easy enough to spot, being that she was the only head with skin still attached in the structure of hair and bones. Just like when they found the remains of the bandits, Kagome gulped down her revulsion and scaled the demonic structure to the unconscious girl. At least Kagome hoped she was just unconscious.

"Kaede," Kagome said when she finally reached the child. "Come on, wake up." She was buried up to her neck in Yura's hair with skulls surrounding her. Kagome checked for a pulse on her neck and thankfully found one, it was steady but weak. She had to wake her up and fast. Kagome removed her fingers from the child's neck and as lightly as she could, slapped Kaede across her cheek.

"Ow…" Kaede moaned. "Wh-what's going….Lady Kagome…?"

"You're all right," Kagome breathed. "Come on, we have to get you out of here."

Kaede looked around trying to get her bearings and after a few seconds, recognition flooded her eyes. "Now I remember, that demon Yura captured me."

"That's right and your sister and Inuyasha are fighting her right now," Kagome said. "They sent me to get you to safety."

"W-wait. My sister can't win…" Kaede muttered.

Panic swelled in Kagome's stomach. "What do you mean?"

Kaede struggled against the hair. "Yura's body is different. Her heart isn't in her body…it's somewhere else."

"What are you talking about?"

"I saw her. Before she put me in here, there was a red skull she had with her. I sense something different about it. It's the core of her demonic aura."

"So get rid of the skull, and we get rid of Yura," Kagome simplified as she began digging out Kaede from the hair. "Do you know where it is?" Her question was answered when Kaede freed her right arm, showing the crimson red skull in her hand.

"She put the skull in here with me," Kaede said with a smile. "I thought it looked important so I held on to it."

Kagome returned her smile. "Nice one."

"Get away from there!"

Kagome turned around to see Yura's sword heading straight for them.

OOOOO

Yura dodged another one of Inuyasha's swipes and she gave more ground. It was as Kikyo predicted, she had no close quarter's ability. Cut off from the hairs she was helpless. Yura's sword caught several of Inuyasha's claws, before the demon pushed him back and leapt to reconnect with her hairs. The moment she jumped Kikyo loosed her arrow, making the demon pull back and allowing Inuyasha to tackle her back to the ground.

"You would strike a woman?" Yura asked as Inuyasha raised his fist over her.

The half demon just smirked before his fist slammed into her face. "I would, got a problem with that?"

Kikyo glanced over her shoulder. Kagome was making good progress to Kaede. They only had to keep Yura occupied with them. Inuyasha jumped back when the demon stabbed at his chest. Seeing a moment's reprieve, she reached into her bosom for her comb, most likely to call on more hairs. Kikyo fired her arrow, reducing her hand to ashes. But rather than dispersing, the ashes gathered back together, reforming Yura's hand.

"Do you not see I am immortal!" she declared.

Inuyasha rushed in. "Let's see you survive this!" His claws plowed through her chest, striking her heart, or rather where her heart should have been. The demon merely took a step back as if Inuyasha had just stepped on her foot and stabbed his stomach before following up with a slash across his chest.

"You are a poor master indeed, Kikyo," she taunted. "Your pet would not only strike a lady, but fondle her bosoms with no second thought?"

"Inuyasha, are you all right?" Kikyo asked ignoring Yura's barb.

"I'll live," he said. "These scratches just give me more to work with. Blades of Blood!"

"Heads up!" Yura declared with a swing of her comb. A wall of hair converged in front of her like a curtain, blocking the crimson blades. The skulls trapped in the hairs shot out towards the half-demon. Kikyo loosed several arrows destroying them before they could harm either of them.

"This is going nowhere," Inuyasha growled. "No matter what we do, we can't put her down."

"Could it be that her heart lies elsewhere?" Kikyo said, destroying another skull.

"Well where else could it be?"

Before she could respond, Yura shot out from the hair curtain, her sword ready to slice her in half. But she suddenly froze. Her eyes darted to the hair structure and instantly filled with fury.

"Get away from there!" she shouted at Kagome and Kaede and hurled her sword their way.

Kikyo quickly notched an arrow but Yura was upon her before she could fire. A swift kick to her injured knee brought pain screaming up her leg.

"Blades of Blood!" The attack hit Yura directly, knocking her aside, but she recovered just as quickly.

"A good try little doggie, but you'll need more than that to kill me," she said.

"Inuyasha! Kikyo!" Kagome cried out. "It's this red skull! This is the core of her demonic aura or something like that!"

Kikyo looked up to see Kagome unharmed, not even bleeding, waving a red skull in her hands.

"That little bitch!" Yura hissed, launching herself at Kagome. "Why won't she die!"

"Inuyasha…" Kikyo began but he caught her meaning immediately.

"I'm on it!" he nodded and leapt after Yura.

OOOOO

"Hey Yura!" Inuyasha shouted in the air. "We weren't finished dancing! Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!"

The four golden arcs were preempted by another wall of hair. Her sword came his way soon after, but Inuyasha knocked down with a punch. As he felt himself falling, he grabbed one of her loose hairs and began to climb after the demon.

Yura closed in on Kagome and Kaede, but an arrow from Kikyo struck her ribs. The demon paused to resister the projectile and pulled it out. But the brief pause was all Inuyasha needed. He dipped his claws deep into his wound. He flared his demon energy as much as he could before attacking, this had to work!

"Blades of Blood!" A storm of his crimson blades struck Yura from her head down to her torso, cutting her in every way imaginable. As she shook her head to recover, he turned to Kagome and the kid. "Quick! Throw me the stupid skull!"

"I hope you can catch!" The schoolgirl hurled the skull through the air. When it reached the peak of the throw, Inuyasha launched himself into the air. Yura jumped after him, her hairs ready to tie him up but an arrow from Kikyo dissolved them. His clawed hands grabbed the skull and he turned to face the ground.

"Kikyo!" he shouted holding up the skull. "You ready?"

Kikyo notched an arrow and aimed straight for the skull. "Yes!"

"Stop that!" Yura cried.

"Fun's over bitch!" Inuyasha declared and hurled the skull with all his might.

Yura flew past him reaching out for it but Kikyo's arrow, engulfed with spiritual energy passed through the crimson skull. The head froze in the air before the sacred energy began to break it apart piece by piece. In a flash of purple light and skull was nothing but ash. Yura's eyes widened, her body petrified in mid-air. In only a few moments her body broke apart to dust, leaving on her clothes and her cursed comb.

Inuyasha could only spit at her remains. "Try coming back from that one."

OOOOO

"Sister Kikyo!" Kaede cried as she embraced her sister. "I knew you'd come for me."

Kagome couldn't help but smile at the scene. It was all over. "Is everyone ok?"

"Keh, these are nothing but scratches," Inuyasha scoffed. "Still, I gotta admit that some nice thinking with the skull, Kagome."

"Oh no, don't like at me it was Kaede….Did you just say my name?"

Inuyasha shrugged as he gathered his fire-rat robe. "Yeah…well don't let it go to your head. I still think you're pretty useless."

Kagome felt her temper flare but Kikyo interrupted before it could get worse.

"Inuyasha do not be so crass," she said. "She did help to save Kaede and defeat Yura."

"Yeah fine…whatever…" He glanced at Kikyo before jumping away into the forest.

"I actually think he's starting to like me," Kagome said. "Well…at least tolerate."

"Every step counts I suppose," Kikyo replied. "Come, let us return to the village."

Kagome was about to follow in step when a weak moan caught their ears. Her heart pounded against her chest. Yura still wasn't dead? Kikyo made her way in front of them, with her arrow poised to attack. It was a humanoid figure, walking slowly in the shadows its arms reaching ut for anything to grab onto.

"Stay where you are!" Kikyo ordered.

The figure ignored her warning and stepped into the moonlight, showing his features. It was a horribly burned man. From what was left of his armor, the only survivor of the bandits she and Inuyasha saw earlier. The man collapsed with a groan as if walking took everything he had. Kikyo dropped her bow and made her way towards the injured man.

"Kaede, get men from the village to help me carry him to a safe location, Kagome, I will need water and bandages to treat his wounds. Hurry, he does not have much time!"

"I'll be right back," Kaede said.

"What is your name sir?" Kikyo asked the burned man.

"O-Onigumo…."

Downtime by Gammer

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 9: Downtime

Something didn’t feel right to Kagome. She stood in a meadow a few miles away from Kikyo’s village. The grass reached her ankles and the landscape was barren save for Onigumo’s cave to the north. Thick clouds floated across the sky, shielding the sun on a few occasions. The resulting shadow over the world only heightened Kagome’s unease. She took a few steps forward, her sandals stepping on dry grass, causing an ever present noise to accompany her walk. A bitter wind passed through the meadow, making the tall grass sway. The cold seemed to bypass her clothes and strike her skin directly. Kagome could already feel the goose bumps forming up her arm. The wind only grew stronger, blowing some of her hair into her eyes and mouth. Kagome reached up to adjust her hair, only for her hand to be caught in the long white sleeve that made up her priestess uniform. Kagome pulled the sleeve back but suddenly froze.

Priestess uniform? The schoolgirl looked down and sure enough she was clad like Kikyo, from the top down. When had she changed? She remembered facing Yura of the Hair in her home clothes with Inuyasha’s fire-rat robes over her. She also remembered not staying long afterwards since she needed to get the first-aid kit from her house to help Kikyo’s injuries and that burned bandit she had found. But Kagome’s recollection only puzzled her more. None of it answered the question of why she was suddenly standing in the barren meadow in Kikyo’s uniform or why she felt so uncomfortable. A stronger wind passed through, this time blowing several of the cherry blossoms off their branches. Kagome managed to catch one with her hand and paused once more.

Cherry blossoms? In June? By now they should have become leafs. What was going on? Was she losing her mind?

“Guys?” she called into the emptiness. “Kikyo? Kaede? Inuyasha?”

No answer, only more wind. Kagome rubbed her arms. Why was it so cold? Wasn’t it supposed to be spring or summer? She glanced at the still rising sun.

“Maybe they overslept?”She took another step, unsure where she was headed. She must have taken only a dozen steps when she heard it.

Something was moving in the grass, something moving extremely fast. Kagome first passed it off as some animal, but that was before she heard that low guttural chuckle. Before she could even take another step, claws ripped through her back from the shoulder down to her hips. Pain careened through her body. All the air seemed to escape from her lungs, making Kagome unable to cry out. The world seemed to slow down as she felt her blood fly out from her body and her legs lurching forward unable to support her. Everything around Kagome became indistinct like a mist had suddenly formed around her eyes. She finally hit the ground but the pain from the blow numbed her to any other sensation. Even moving her fingers sent shockwaves up her arm and down her back. Kagome squeezed out a small cry, tears forming in her eyes.

“Someone….help…me…..”

A bare foot crushed her exposed hand. “Fool.” Her attacker taunted. He started talking, but Kagome couldn’t understand anything he meant. But she did make out,

“But I shall take this nonetheless. Thanks!”

She tried to call out but no words came from her mouth. Kagome laid still, left with only pain both in her body and her heart.

//////////////////////////

Kagome’s eyes snapped open and immediately shot up in bed, throwing Buyo from her chest to her lap. The annoyed cat voiced his protest but Kagome could only hear her pounding heart. While annoying, Buyo’s meowing did remind her that she was indeed in her room in the present era. She glanced down and saw that she was wearing her blue and white checkered pajamas. Her school bag was in the corner of her room, with her school uniform hanging over her window, washed and ready to wear tomorrow morning. The clock on her nightstand ticked away, set to go off at 6:30am. Everything was normal.

Kagome let out a sigh of relief. “It was just a dream.” She slipped off her pajama top and felt her back. Only her skin greeted her fingers and no wound. “At least I think it was a dream. Last time I checked, dreams weren’t supposed to hurt you.”

The pajama top returned to its original position and Kagome lay back, unable to return to sleep. She could still feel those claws slash through her like it was nothing. And that laugh dominated her ears despite the quiet of her room. Just thinking about it made sweat pour down her forehead. She closed her eyes trying to get back to sleep but the laugh of her attacker persisted throughout the night.

By the time her alarm clock went off, sleep had not returned to the schoolgirl. Her eyes were heavy but every time she closed them, she was back in the meadow. As she dragged herself out of bed, she felt slow. Already the lack of sleep was present. She managed to reach the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face.

“This is going to be a long day.” She muttered.

She was proven right when she reached the breakfast table. Just picking up her chopsticks took all her effort. And to make matters worse, she couldn’t follow any of the conversation between her mom, Sota, or Gramps. All she could hear was her attacker as he stepped on her hand and mocked her.

“I shall take this, nonetheless. Thanks,” she heard. 

Her mom shook her shoulder, brining Kagome back to the present. “Kagome, are you all right?”

She shook her head and forced a smile. “I’m fine, mom.”

“You look pale, dear; maybe you should stay home today.”

“Maybe she got some weird disease from that crazy feudal world,” Sota said.

“Evil spirits and demons have been known to cast spells of sickness upon their victims,” Gramps said. “If my granddaughter has been struck with illness, an exorcism is in order!”

“No, everyone, I’m fine,” Kagome insisted. “Besides I’ve missed enough school as it is.”

“If you insist, but call me if you feel worse.”

“I will, thanks mom.”

The walk to school took far longer than usual. She struggled to keep herself moving and had to focus to avoid her eyes drooping. With every step, she was reminded of the meadow….and the claws.

“Kagome!” she heard behind her. She nearly jumped out of her skin. Kagome turned, half expecting to see her attacker, but instead it was merely Eri, Yuka, and Ayumi.

Kagome sighed. “Oh it’s just you guys. What’s up?”

“What’s up?” Eri repeated. “You’ve been absent for almost a week and all you can say is what’s up?”

“Has it really been that long?” Kagome asked aloud. “It doesn’t seem that way.”

“Everyone thought you were sick or something,” Yuka said.

“Or according to your grandpa, spirited away,” Ayumi added.

Kagome smacked her forehead. Seriously Gramps? That was all he could think of?’

“So what’s the deal?” Eri pressed. “Were you actually sick?”

“I wasn’t sick; I was just at Kikyo’s.” Kagome’s hand flew to her mouth immediately when she realized her mistake. But it was far too late to take it back.

“Who’s Kikyo?” Yuka asked.

Kagome searched the sky for a proper answer. “She’s…my….sister….?”

“You have a sister!?” they exclaimed in unison.

The bell went off, signaling the start of first period. Kagome let out a sigh of relief. At least now this gave her a good six hours to come up with a proper story. As she ran off to the school gate, Yuka called out to her.

“We’re meeting up after school for burgers, you better tell us more then.”

“Looking forward to it!” Kagome called back. “Not really…”

By the time the second bell rang, Kagome was in her seat and classes began. Normally school was a painful and prolonged experience with Kagome eager for the final bell to ring. But now she welcomed any opportunity to get her mind off her dream. Although she could have done without the sine, cosine gibberish her teacher was spewing. By third period, the dream was at the back of Kagome mind. Catching up on a week worth of material came to the forefront. When the final bell rang, Kagome could feel her brain was at the breaking point. Two papers, a unit test, and three quizzes all within the next couple of weeks?! Did the school not know the meaning of overbearing?

It wasn’t until she reached the burger shop to meet Yuka, Eri and Ayumi did she break out of her academic stupor. They took their usual spot on the second floor near the window and once their burgers arrived, the trio swarmed around her like locusts.

“Ok, classes are over,” Eri said. “So spill, since when do you have a sister?”

“Would you relax? It’s not like I was hiding her or anything,” Kagome said, sipping her diet Coke. “I just found out about her a few days ago.”

“How’d you find her?” Yuka asked. “Did she just ring your doorbell one day?”

“No, nothing like that….” Kagome said. “I got a letter in the mail over the weekend. We were separated at birth and when she found out about me, she wanted to meet me.”

“How did you guys get separated?” Ayumi asked. “Someone kidnap her?”

“Not quite. She was in the accident that killed my dad, so my mom thought she was dead. But in reality a bystander managed to get her to a hospital. The nurses had no way of contacting my mom so one of the nurses adopted her.”

“Oh wow!” Eri breathed.

“Sounds like one of those movies on Lifetime,” Yuka said.

Kagome flinched. In truth she had just described the same Lifetime movie she had watched with her mom last night. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

Thankfully Ayumi jumped in before Yuka could press. “So where does Kikyo live?”

“In Hokkaido,” Kagome said. “And you know going there isn’t exactly a day trip.”

“She must know great skiing spots!” Eri exclaimed. “Maybe we can plan a trip there for winter break.”

“Uh….yeah sure…that could be fun.”

“What’s your sister Kikyo like Kagome?” Yuka asked. “Is she anything like you?”

“Oh no, she’s my exact opposite. She’s really quiet, frank, really focused, and can be kinda scary at times. But once you get past that she’s really nice and gentle. She really cares about her little sister.”

“Wait, there’s another sister now?” Yuka said.

Kagome nearly smacked herself. How did Kikyo come up with these stories so easily? “Yeah…Kaede. She’s the biological daughter of the nurse who adopted Kikyo. Kikyo thinks of her as her real sister.”

“Oh that’s so sweet,” Eri swooned.

“Does she have a boyfriend or anything?” Yuka asked.

“No…or actually…maybe…I don’t know, it’s weird.”

“What do you mean?” Ayumi asked.

“Well…from what I can tell, she likes him but she’s too focused on her duty and studies to want to do anything about it. And he totally likes her but he’s too full of himself and stupid to realize it.”

“Sounds like they’re both just afraid of their feelings,” Yuka reasoned.

“Or maybe your sister just needs to relax a little bit more,” Eri said.

“Trust me I’ve been trying to get Kikyo to relax,” Kagome sighed. “All she does is work.”

“Well what does she do?” Ayumi asked. “Maybe she just doesn’t have time for a relationship.”

“She works at a shrine like grandpa, but she takes it much more seriously than gramps does. Plus she’s practicing archery and studying to be a doctor.”

Eri gaped. “And I thought my workload was tough. How does she do it?”

“She sounds less like your sister and more like Wonder Woman,” Yuka said.

“No wonder she won’t act on her feelings, I wouldn’t want to either if I had all that on my plate,” Ayumi said.

“Yeah but she seems….I don’t know…happier when he’s around,” Kagome shrugged. “But in the end it’s not really my business.”

“Are you nuts?” Yuka exclaimed. “You’re her sister; of course it’s your business.”

“If he makes her happy, you should be encouraging her to go for it,” Eri said.

Kagome took another sip of her soda, mulling over her friends’ words. Encouraging Kikyo would mean getting more involved. But then again she was already involved; taking on Yura was just the icing on the cake. She remembered Kaede saying how Kikyo was never off duty and how flushed the priestess got just by the mere mention of Inuyasha. Maybe she could do something about it.

“Where do you think I should start?”

OOOOOO

Kikyo let out a small sneeze as she stirred the gruel in the pot. When the sensation passed she grimaced. She couldn’t afford to get a cold in her condition.

“Are you getting sick, Kikyo?” Kaede asked, adding more wood to the fire pit.

“Unlikely. Perhaps it’s merely the smoke from the fire.”

Kaede smiled. “Or maybe someone is talking about you right now.”

Kikyo chuckled. “I highly doubt that. Besides, who would think to talk about me?”

“Maybe Lady Kagome,” Kaede said. Then added with a smile, “Or maybe Inuyasha.”

Kikyo paused her stirring and considered the thought. She tried to imagine Inuyasha sharing some kind of gossip about her, but all she could see was the halfling cursing her as he planned his next attempt for the Shikon Jewel, or getting into yet another argument with Kagome.

Kikyo shook her head. “Inuyasha is the least likely suspect.” But the more she thought about it, the more the light feeling in her stomach returned. “Still,” she added under her breath. “It would be nice if he did.”

Kaede glanced up from the fire pit. “Did you say something Kikyo?”

The priestess felt her face warm. She quickly looked down into the brewing stew, hoping the smoke hid her red face. “It’s nothing.”

The strong scent of the gruel filled the hut, telling Kikyo that it was ready to serve. Instinctively Kikyo reached out for a bowl with her right arm. Pain shot up her arm from her shoulder wound, reminding her that she was not fully healed. Kikyo winced, hoping Kaede didn’t see her small lapse in judgment, but she was proven wrong when her younger sister came to her side and repositioned her arm back in its sling.

“You shouldn’t overexert yourself, Kikyo,” Kaede said.

Kikyo held in a sigh. The life of an invalid did not suit her at all. The frequent pain was one thing, but relying on Kaede to help her do minor tasks such as pouring gruel into a bowl, or gathering herbs, or merely moving from one side of their hut to another, was maddening. It had only been two days since their battle with Yura and Kikyo knew firsthand that healing was a slow process, but everyday Kikyo wished for her body to return to its previous health. And moreover she cursed her own carelessness. Never before had a demon injured her to this lasting extent. In the long term, these wounds were minor and could have been worse, but the idea that Yura’s sneak attacks struck her not once but twice, infuriated Kikyo the most. It would not happen again.

Kaede finished the readjustment of her sister’s sling and began grinding the herbs. “I hope Lady Kagome returns soon with the medicine from her world.”

“As do I Kaede,” Kikyo said with a nod. She took the crutch by the fire pit and with Kaede’s help, rose to her feet. “But for now we’ll have to manage.”

Kaede sprinkled the herb bits into a small container and slipped it into a bag. “Are you sure you’ll be ok going outside?”

Kikyo smiled at her sister. “For the fifth time today, yes. That bandit Onigumo needs care or else he will succumb to his wounds.”

Kaede nodded and handed Kikyo the bag. But the priestess couldn’t help but notice the disapproval in her sister’s eyes. 

Venturing outside of the hut in her condition was a risk. She couldn’t afford to showcase her weakness or else the seekers of the jewel would take advantage. But remaining confined in her hut meant leaving both the jewel and the village unprotected. Her barriers that protected the village and the shrine where the jewel was held were strong. They could repel most demons, but as experience taught her, there were always those who managed to get through regardless. Those demons required a personal touch. And while Kaede showed promise, her younger sister was not ready to face demons on her own. Moreover, Kikyo refused to impart this burden onto another, especially her little sister. She would just have to take the risk.

The walk to Onigumo’s cave was slow and arduous. The villagers often approached her asking if they could do anything to assist her, to which Kikyo frequently responded with an honest no. But their requests persisted, causing Kikyo become curter with her answers than she would have liked. The true test however came when they reached the forest. Kikyo could feel the countless demon auras on the fringe of her senses. They circled around her like crows near a corpse. She could feel their bloodlust ready to rip her to shreds. Kikyo did her best to maintain her apathetic composure but with every few steps, the pain in her leg or shoulder cracked the façade. She must have winced one too many times because once they reached the center of the forest, four demons broke from the pack and rushed their position.

Kikyo narrowed her eyes and went for her bow, but someone beat her to the punch. From a distance she felt his unique aura bound through the woods and attack the four demons. She heard him cry out his attack and claw through the demons in seconds. He paused, allowing Kikyo to spot his red-clad robes in the distance, but he leaped away, disappearing in the forest’s canopy. But rather than move away, Kikyo could feel Inuyasha linger at their flank. As their walk continued, Kikyo felt Inuyasha’s aura above them. He never ventured closer yet he never distanced himself either. It was only when a demon approached them that Inuyasha would move beyond her sense. After the demon was defeated, he would return to his perch above them.

It didn’t take long for Kikyo to realize his pattern. It was his motives that perplexed her. Had he not willingly helped her defeat Yura just two days ago? Why did he insist on distance? Were they not allies or acquaintances at the very least? When they reached the meadow, Inuyasha withdrew back into the forest. Kikyo couldn’t help but scoff. No place for him to hide in this open field. A talk would be in order when she finished with Onigumo.

The cave was a shallow and compact structure. The tight setting allowed for the various scents of herbs, bodily fluids, candle wax, and moss to fester together into one assaulting stench. Years of exposure to such smells allowed Kikyo to enter with no incident. Kaede, however, was not as fortune. The young girl’s face scrunched together at the smell. Her hand flew to her nose and mouth as if she were entering an area infested with plague. She coughed several times before taking two steps back from the entrance.

“Wait outside for me, Kaede,” Kikyo said. “I can manage on my own from here.”

Kaede attempted a brave face. “N-no, I can handle it. I’m a priestess too.”

“A priestess in training,” Kikyo corrected. “You are not required to deal with this task just yet.”

Kaede sighed, dejected. “All right, I’ll be outside.”

The priestess approached the stationary bandit. The white bandages that enclosed his body, made him easy to spot in the dim light of the cave. Kikyo lit a new candle and managed to kneel next to the cripple. His one exposed eye looked up at her, the veins surrounding his pupil reminded Kikyo of a spider-web.

“K-Kikyo….it’s you….” He groaned.

“Yes, I’ve brought some gruel for you,” Kikyo replied presenting the small bowl.

Despite his burned skin, Kikyo could see the beginnings of a blush across his cheek. “F-forget me. Don’t even bother coming anymore.”

Kikyo stirred the gruel and spoon-fed the bandit, ignoring his pleas.

He tried again. “Go away….”

When the bowl was finished, Kikyo began to change the bandit’s bandages. A difficult task with only one usable arm, but she managed.

“Why do you take pity on me priestess?” Onigumo asked when she finished. “I am a bandit; most would have left me to die.”

Kikyo placed the old bandages in the bag she had brought. “As a priestess, it is my duty to take the actions others would not.”

“I see. But in doing so, do you not fear interrupting the world’s natural order?”

Kikyo raised an eyebrow. “The natural order?”

“The Buddha said so himself, in his four noble truths, to be alive in this world means to suffer. It is only natural in this world of frequent war, famine, disease, and demons. Death is the only escape from this. By healing the ailments of others, are you not merely prolonging their suffering in this world?”

Kikyo allowed herself a chuckle. “It’s rather uncommon for a bandit to quote the truths of Buddha.”

“I have raided many temples in my time priestess….I’ve read their scriptures.”

“And you use this fledgling understanding of the Buddha to justify your actions?”

“I only speak truth, Kikyo. This life is far too brief to waste it on the ailments of others,” the bandit continued. “True nirvana lies in doing what you please with no worries of afterlife or the future.”

Kikyo looked over the bandaged bandit. “Indeed, and look what you’ve gained through that worldview.”

“I did not say it was without risk. I make no apologies, priestess.” 

“Nor do I,” Kikyo said. “We agree on one matter, Onigumo, this life is brief. But it is because it’s so brief that every life holds value. Even an unapologetic bandit such as yourself deserves the opportunity to enjoy all of what the realm of the living has to offer. As a priestess it is my duty to care, console, and protect those who wish to experience the peace and prosperity this world holds. And in that mission, I will never relent or yield.”

“But what of your own happiness, priestess? Do you honestly see this selfless path ending with you dying of old age in your bed, surrounded by loved ones? No, in truth, you will be cut down by a demon finally getting the better of you, or a disgruntled feudal lord, or perhaps through one of the very diseases you strive to cure. You will die never knowing the touch of a man or what it means to love. Is that truly what you desire?”

Kikyo paused at the cave entrance. “If that is my fate, then so be it.”

A light cough echoed through the cave. Onigumo’s attempt to laugh, Kikyo guessed. “You are an interesting one, Kikyo.”

“Same to you, Onigumo.”

Kikyo blew out the candles in the cave and left the bandit to his thoughts as she climbed through the entrance.

“How is the bandit, Kikyo?” Kaede asked her.

“He’s an unusual one, I’ll admit that much.”

Kaede cocked her head in confusion but said nothing else as they approached the forest once more. The moment they entered, she felt Inuyasha’s presence nearby. Just as before he remained at the peripheral of her senses, taking out demons who dared to come close to her, yet not saying a word to her or coming down to converse. By the time she and Kaede reached the hill overlooking the village, Kikyo had enough of his behavior.

“Kaede, why don’t you go to the village and prepare a meal,” she said glancing at the tree line. “I shouldn’t be long.”

“All right, I’ll try to make something great.”

As the little girl jogged down the hill, Kikyo called down her “protector.”

“Inuyasha, I know you’re up there. Come down, we need to talk.”

She sensed him attempt to move away.

“I insist.”

He paused but eventually leaped down to the hill in his four point squat.

“So…what’s up?” he asked. “Need help sitting?”

“I can manage. However, I do appreciate you holding off the demons for Kaede and myself today.”

His ears twitched, before he scoffed and looked away. “Keh, oh that, who said I was doing it for you?”

Kikyo sighed. “You weren’t?”

“Course not!” he insisted. “I was just cutting down the competition for the Shikon Jewel is all. You just happen to catch a break from it.”

“I see. So is it safe to assume your assistance with Yura two days ago was for the same reason?”

“Of course it was!” he said. “Why else would I help you out?”

“So you consider us opponents still?”

Inuyasha flinched. He opened his mouth but only a stammer came from his lips. “W-well yeah,” he said finally. “I still want the jewel after all!”

Kikyo sighed once again and stood. “Very well. If you’re so sure that we are enemies, then strike me down.”

“W-what?!”

OOOOOO

“If you’re so sure that we are enemies, then strike me down.”

Inuyasha buckled like he had just taken a blow to his chest. He glanced at Kikyo like she had just transformed into a demon. His jaw dropped and he sprang to his feet.

“W-what?!” Did he hear her right?

Kikyo stood with difficulty but the sternness in her eyes exposed no weakness. “It is as I said, Inuyasha. You believe us to be enemies correct? Then prove it to me. Strike me down, I’m helpless. Now is your chance to take the jewel.”

Inuyasha gaped at the priestess. In reality, this was the ideal situation. He didn’t have to kill her, just strike her enough to knock her out, or hit one of her wounds. Then he could easily take the jewel. But to strike an injured woman in cold blood like this? And not just any woman, the only woman he knew that would speak to him like an equal, who didn’t see a monster or a demon that needed to be exorcised. She valued his help and actually wanted him around her. When he had seen her injured and walking around still, he knew the other demons would take advantage. In truth he just acted without thinking. He couldn’t really say why he did it. But he knew he couldn’t strike Kikyo.

The priestess must have sensed his hesitation because she closed the distance between them. She was at an arm’s length. Her nostrils flared and her eyes held no hesitation or fear.

“Why do you pause?” she asked. “Strike me! You didn’t hold back against Yura, why is this moment different?”

Inuyasha stepped back, unable to make his mouth form words. “I-uh…”

“Do you think I lie? Is that why you hesitate?” Kikyo said, her voice rising. “Do it!”

His hands were pinned at his sides, as if he were bound by an invisible rope. He couldn’t even manage to move his fingers let alone build up an attack. The disgruntled priestess only drew closer until there were only inches between them. At this distance Inuyasha took in her entire face, something he only had a few occasions to do. Her pale face was flushed with anger and strands of her hair were falling out of place. But Inuyasha’s eyes lingered on her lips. There was something captivating about them, something that made Inuyasha not want to strike but to take her in his arms. The half-demon shook his head, clearing himself of such thoughts.

“What’s the matter?” she said, breaking him out of his thoughts. “Are you scared? Is that it? Are you a coward?”

Inuyasha growled. “Hey! I ain’t no coward!”

“Then why don’t you strike?”

“Because I can’t ok! I could never hurt you, no matter what happens!” he blurted out.

Kikyo flinched and stepped back like she had been slapped. When his brain finally caught up to his words, the half demon felt his face redden to the point where he was sure it matched the color of his robes. He looked down with another growl and nearly pulled out his hair.

“Damn it! Now look what you made say!” he exclaimed.

Kikyo looked away, her eyes now soft and distant. “Did you truly mean that?”

Inuyasha looked up, unable to look at her directly. “Well….what do you think?”

The priestess’s eyes returned to him, the sternness returning full force. “Inuyasha….”

Inuyasha wanted to scratch out his hair. “Damn it, you know I meant it! Now quit asking!”

He saw the corners of her lips curl upwards and soon her mouth parted, allowing him to hear the most pleasant fits of laughter Inuyasha had ever heard. It didn’t last long but Inuyasha knew it would echo in his ears for the longest time.

“I see,” Kikyo said when her laughter subsided. “You are….an odd one, Inuyasha.”

“Me? You’re the one who walked up to a demon and said strike me!” Inuyasha shot back, a smile tugging at his lips despite himself.

“A foray into the impulsive, I’ll admit,” she said, her smile not dropping. “But what choice did I have?”

Inuyasha folded his arms. “Keh, you’re lucky it was me and not anyone else.”

She looked up at him, her eyes soft, warm and inviting. Looking into them made it feel like a knot in his chest was being untangled. “Yes,” she said. “I suppose I am lucky.”

A comfortable silence passed between them and before Inuyasha knew it, they had fallen into step. They talked about nothing in particular, just minor stories about what they had been doing since the fight with Yura. Inuyasha lost all track time and soon they reached Kikyo’s hut.

“So uh….I guess this you….” He muttered, scratching an invisible itch on his neck.  

“It is,” Kikyo said, not quite looking at him. “Will I see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” he answered quickly. “I-I mean if you want me to.”

“Of course I do,” she said just as quickly. “I-It would be easier to ward off demons with your assistance.”

“Yeah…easier…” he muttered.

Silence again. It felt as though something was missing, but he wasn’t sure what it was.

“So….until tomorrow Inuyasha,” Kikyo said finally.

“Yeah. Uh…same spot?”

She gave him another full smile. “Yes.”

“Then yeah, I’ll be there.”

Kikyo nodded at him before disappearing behind the straw door. The half-demon lingered in his spot. His ears picked up on the villagers walking around him and whispering to each other about the strange stationary halfling. He could smell several demons nearby, all of them ready to take a swipe at him.

But all Inuyasha could hear was the sound of Kikyo’s laughter.

Even when he leaped away the sound lingered.

He didn’t mind at all.  

       

 

 

   

   

                

       

 

             

   

 

 

Vicious Visions by Gammer

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 10: Vicious Visions

The embers of a wild bonfire lit up the night. The flickering orange hue revealed the charred remains of a village, with the bodies of its former inhabitants stripped of clothing and valuables. The inhabitants' houses were reduced to piles of wood and ash with everything of value either taken or burned. The scorched remains of those who had attempted to hide were in plain sight. Around the slaughter, the disproportionate sound of laughter could be heard from two miles away. Bandits dressed in old armor that could not hinder even the smallest of blades, sat before the wild bonfire. Their faces drenched in blood, sweat, and dirt. Their mouths filled to capacity with sake and pilfered food. Several stood before their comrades reinterpreting the anguished cries of their victims with smiles on their faces as if they retold a scene from the kabuki theatre. Rasetsu, the captain, sat at the head of the group. The plain faced leader took a long swing of the sake jug taken from the headman's hut as he watched the men's reenactment of the raid. Already his vision blurred and his words slurred together but that did not stop him from demanding another jug.

"Not a bad score men," he said, tossing the empty jug over his shoulder. "The women were disappointing but at least they had decent wine."

"Doesn't matter how disappointing they were!" one of the bandits yelled. "We still had our fun!"

Rasetsu gave his men a knowing grin. "I bet you did."

"Where should go next chief? North? South?"

The leader pulled out the cork of another sake jug. "It doesn't matter where; the world is ours for the taking!"

A rowdy roar erupted from the inebriated bandits.

"Chief! The scouts have returned."

"Bring them to me," Rasetsu said. "They will know the closest village to strike."

It only took a few minutes for two of his scouts to make their way to him. They were scrawny young boys, whose armor overshadowed their lanky bodies. The small daggers at their waists were the only weapons they carried. Rasetsu knew from personal experience that giving these two anything more was far more dangerous than attacking a camp of samurai. The boys' chests heaved up and down from their running. Rasetsu tossed them his water sack and the two drank heartily before speaking.

"Rasetsu…." The first scout said. "We have word of Onigumo."

The leader scoffed at the name. "What's that wretch up to now?" Onigumo had been his co-captain. They had founded the gang together and commanded equally. But it soon became clear to Rasetsu that all Onigumo wanted was to take over the gang. The despicable villain often set traps for Rasetsu, no doubt hoping that through this scheming; he would die, leaving Onigumo the logical choice for leader. Yet with each trap Rasetsu came out alive. A saner man would have killed the traitorous co-captain or at the very least, expel him from the gang. But it had become a point of pride for Rasetsu the amount of traps he had escaped. It gave him a thrill that years worth of raids could not. A week ago, it seemed Onigumo grew tired of his frequent failures and left the gang with a group of men in search of the fabled Shikon Jewel.

"We believe he is dead sir…." The second scout said slowly. "He was killed by some demon woman while in search of this Sacred Jewel."

Rasetsu raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? Well good riddance if you ask me. Anything else?"

"Yes sir, we managed to locate the Shikon Jewel. It is in the possession of a priestess named Kikyo."

"They entrust the key to ultimate wealth and power to a mere woman?" the leader snorted. "The fools."

"They say she is the best archer in the land sir," the second scout said. "And that she has killed far more demons than feudal lords have killed men!"

Rasetsu waved them off. "These are mere exaggerations to keep others from seeking the jewel. I'm confident my archery will be enough to rid us of this Kikyo."

The bandit smirked at the thought. Yes, it was possible. If he could survive Onigumo's traps, then he could no doubt finish a woman, who most likely earned this reputation through luck alone. All he needed was high ground and a time when Kikyo was defenseless. Then in a single shot, the infamous Jewel of the Four Souls would be his and his alone. He would be emperor of this vast land, no emperor of the world. All the wine, women, and wealth would be his in a single act. Rasetsu licked his lips at the thought. And with no Onigumo to get in his way, it was the perfect time to make the attempt.

"Fetch me a horse!" the leader commanded.

"Why sir?"

Rasetsu shouldered his bow and arrow as he climbed onto the horse provided.

"I'm going to pay this priestess, Kikyo, a visit."

OOOOOO

"I said come down!" Kagome yelled up at the red clad figure atop a barren tree.

"And I said, no way in hell!" Inuyasha barked back.

Kagome held in a grunt. She had only been back for three minutes and already she wanted to go home. But she couldn't in good conscious leave Kikyo and Inuyasha with their injuries. Although that's what she thought going through the well, now that she was here….

"You need medical treatment!" Kagome tried again. "It's not gonna take long."

"Get off me!" Inuyasha said. "You act like I'm the one who lost!"

"You were stabbed at least four times, stupid! Where I come from, that calls for medical attention!"

"Don't get mad at me because I'm not weak like you humans!"

"No, I'm getting mad at you because you're being an ass!"

"I'm a demon, not a donkey!"

"Well you're certainly being as stubborn as one!"

"Yeah well, there ain't nothing you can do to get me to come down there!"

Kagome gritted her teeth, her hands squeezed into the sides of the first-aid kit. It was times like these she wished Kikyo had given him those prayer beads. Even half demon dogs needed to know when to heel from time to time. She shut her eyes and slowly counted to ten, hoping for her temper to simmer down. She extended the count to twenty when the first attempted failed. By the time she reached fifteen an idea came to her. A sly grin crossed her lips as she looked over her shoulder and let out a false gasp worthy of the movies.

"Oh no, there's a demon heading towards Kikyo!"

The full sentence barely had time to be uttered before Inuyasha bounded out his tree and landed next to her, his claws at the ready. Kagome could barely stifle her giggle.

"Where? Which direction?" he asked, his head darting left and right for the imaginary adversary.

Before he had time to realize his mistake, Kagome smacked the white haired teen with biggest rock she could find, knocking him over, and leaving only a mild bump on his head.

"Ow! What the hell did you do that for!" the half-demon shouted.

Kagome climbed on top of him and clawed at his robes. "You're so predictable. Now undress!"

He struggled against her, doing everything short of striking. "No!"

She pulled at his top robe. "Don't be such a baby about it!"

"You know to some people, what you're doing right now could be seen as rape!"

"Girls can't rape boys stupid!"

"What do you call what you're doing right now?!"

"Aggressive medical attention," Kagome said simply. "It wouldn't be so aggressive if you would just chill out!"

"I don't even know what that means!"

"It means relax! It'll be over before you know it!"

"Get off!"

"It would seem you two have conquered your differences far sooner than I expected."

Kagome froze at the sound of Kikyo's voice. She slowly turned her head to the right and sure enough, the priestess stood over them with Kaede taking refuge behind her sister's leg, her face slightly flushed. The schoolgirl's heart raced. Her current position must have looked terrible. What if Kikyo got the wrong idea? Kagome wouldn't be able to live with herself if her twin thought she wanted Inuyasha for herself. That would ruin everything. She glanced down at the half-demon, whose slacked jaw and bewildered eyes mirrored her own. He took matters in his own hands with a single shove that had Kagome skidding against the ground. She shot him glare as she nursed the new cuts on her bottom. When he merely huffed, Kagome turned back to her curious twin.

"K-Kikyo! Uh….well….this isn't what it looks like….you see…uh…."

Kikyo let out a genuine and surprisingly, vocal laugh, which made Kagome's jaw slacken once more. Did a demon replace the scarily stoic Kikyo she knew?

"You needn't explain, Kagome," Kikyo said in between her attempts to control herself. "I am aware of the situation."

"Y-you are? How long were you behind us?"

"I approached you around the time of the 'donkey' remark," Kikyo replied, her laugh subsided but the smile on her face remained. "You were so engrossed in your….activity that I did not have the heart to interrupt."

"Next time, go into the bushes if you want to do something like that," Kaede said from behind Kikyo's leg.

It was Kagome's turn to flush. "It's not like that! I just swung by to apply some first-aid, but Mr. Tough Guy over here would have none of that."

At the sound of her nickname for him, Inuyasha scoffed and pulled at his robes. "I thought you would have figured it out by now!"

The right side of his robe slipped down to his upper arm, giving Kagome a full view of his torso. Like the rest of his exposed skin, there was a slight tan, though it was milder than the tan on his face and neck. Lean muscles rippled up and down his body from what Kagome could see. His pectoral muscles looked to be hardened squares that a man could break his fist against. Kagome could see beginnings of his abs as well and could already tell the term "washboard abs" didn't do them justice. Kagome felt her face grow warm. She must have stared longer than warranted because it took Kikyo clearing her throat to remind Kagome of the true reason for the free show.

"The wounds are gone…." She said finally.

Inuyasha huffed and readjusted his clothes. "So you can keep your first-aid. I don't need it."

Kikyo sighed. "Inuyasha, you should, at least, thank Kagome for being considerate of you."

Inuyasha glanced at the priestess, making Kagome tense and ready for another bout of barking. But instead the halfling just groaned like a child being forced to apologize.

"Fine," he said, the added eye roll made Kikyo glower at him. "Thanks!"

At the sound of the low guttural word, Kagome felt the temperature in the air drop. Her body quaked as if she were trapped in her own personal earthquake. She found herself back in that open meadow, claws slashing into her back. Pain shot up her back as that evil voice spoke in her ears.

"I shall take this nonetheless….thanks!"

Kagome took a breath, but the air refused to enter her lungs. Her chest heaved up and down, trying and failing for respiration. She closed her eyes trying to will the voice away but instead it merely brought her back to the meadow. Back to the claws, the blood, and the laughter. That sickening laughter. Kagome gripped her forehead as if she attempted to keep her brain from melting out of her skull. She opened her eyes again to see Inuyasha nose to nose with her, his arms on her shoulders, shaking her and yelling. But no words seemed to come out of his flapping mouth. She gripped the sleeves of his robes and tried to mutter out a cry but her voice failed her as well. Panic gripped her already overworked chest, making her heart ram against her ribcage. Was she going to die like this?

"Kagome!" she heard. "Listen to me. Listen to my voice and my voice alone."

"K-Kikyo?" Kagome managed. The priestess appeared next to Inuyasha and placed two fingers on her forehead as she spoke.

"Whatever it is you're seeing, whatever you hear, it isn't real," Kikyo said, her fingers glowing with familiar purple light. "Latch onto my voice, use it as your tether to this world."

Kikyo's voice flooded her ears, muting the wicked sound. The amethyst radiance blinded her almost. Instinctively Kagome flinched away from it but it was warm and soothing. The light seemed to wrap her up and pulled the frightened schoolgirl towards Kikyo voice. By the time it subsided, she was back in the forest with Kikyo, Inuyasha and Kaede. She glanced between the three of them unable to speak at first.

"Breathe in through your nose and out your mouth," Kikyo instructed. "Slowly."

Kagome did as she said, inhaling as much air as she could and slowly passing it through her mouth. Kagome repeated the process for what appeared to be an hour but in reality had to be only a few minutes. When her lungs recovered, Kagome felt faint like she had just finished running around all of Tokyo. Her legs lost strength and darkness overtook her. The ground came closer and closer to her, but before she could hit a strong pair of arms engulfed her. With her eyes buried in Inuyasha's chest, the crimson red of his robes was all she could see.

The demon carefully laid her down and used his lap as her pillow. He looked down at her, his amber eyes filled with concern.

Kagome had to admit, he was actually cute when he wasn't being obnoxious.

OOOOOO

Kagome's eyes shut, causing alarm in Inuyasha at first. But the gentle and constant rise and fall of her chest informed them that the girl was merely sleeping. Kikyo let out a sigh of relief but despite the ideal resolution, this incident brought up countless questions.

"W-what the hell was that?" Inuyasha said.

"It would appear Kagome had a….." Kikyo searched the sky for the proper word to describe it. "A vision. And from her reaction, it was not a pleasant one."

Inuyasha raised an eyebrow. "A vision? Priestesses have stuff like that?"

"It is rather uncommon and the few who do have them seldom have any so vivid. They mainly occur during times of deep meditation and fasting, when mind, body, and soul are cleansed."

"Will she be all right, Kikyo?" Kaede asked as she made her way towards Kagome's side.

"For now yes," she said. "But I will need to know more about this. Inuyasha, would you carry Kagome to our hut?"

The half-demon scoffed. "Keh, do I look like a pack mule to you?"

Kikyo sighed. "Inuyasha, please," she said, undeterred by his abrasive nature. "This is serious."

"Fine." Without another word he carefully placed the sleeping girl on his back and offered Kaede a ride as well. Kaede glanced at Kikyo for her permission. Kikyo nodded and before she knew it, he scooped up her little sister and bounded away, leaving Kikyo to her thoughts.

Visions were no simple matter, Kikyo learned as much at the monastery where she trained. Commonly, visions were out of focus and deliberately indistinct. Her master described them as streams that led to only one of countless possibilities within the ocean of fate. Too often however, visions persisted driving the seer into insanity without proper guidance and control. One of Kikyo fellow pupils, Yukina, had been blessed, or in her view, cursed with such visions. They occurred only when she slept but frequently brought her into the same state of shock as Kagome. But Yukina's visions were of the distant past. Kikyo could not be sure what Kagome saw until she awoke.

But that merely led Kikyo to another question. How could Kagome have these visions at all? The girl was her reincarnation but Kikyo did not have any proficiency with visions. Was it perhaps from her family? Kikyo recalled Kagome speaking about her family their first day together and from what she described; her grandfather had no spiritual power. So she could not have gotten this gift from him.

Kikyo carefully made her way down the hill, her leg and arm still aching from the battle with Yura. She glanced at Kagome's white box with the red cross on the front. A first-aid kid, she had called it. The priestess shrugged, believing it would useful at a later date, and took it under her arm and to the hut.

When she arrived, Inuyasha was waiting on the roof with Kagome already inside and lying down. Kaede was by her side wringing out a cloth of water. Kikyo sat the first-aid kit near the entrance and attempted to kneel. The wound made it difficult, but she managed.

"How is she?" Kikyo asked when she settled into the position.

"She's still sleeping. Will she be ok?"

Kikyo placed her palm on Kagome's cheek, checking her temperature. Slightly warm, but nothing to worry about, for now. "That remains to be seen, Kaede."

"Oh….Is there anything more I can do?"

"Why don't you take Inuyasha with you and gather some herbs for some tea. I imagine Kagome will need something to ease her stomach."

Kaede nodded and called down Inuyasha. To Kikyo's surprise it did not take much for Kaede to convince the half demon to accompany her. As their footsteps faded from her ears, Kikyo delicately shook her sleeping twin's shoulder. Kagome groaned, muttering something about five more minutes. But finally her eyes eased open, confused at first but quickly focused on Kikyo's face.

"Uh…what happened?"

"I was about to ask you the same."

"I'm…not really…sure. I was going to give Inuyasha first-aid and then….I don't really know."

Kikyo nodded, short-term memory loss was a common side-effect. The few times Yukina had a vision while she was awake, she would forget what had occurred beforehand.

"How long was I out for?"

"Merely a few minutes. Has this ever happened to you before?"

"No. Well….I mean I've never passed out like that. But I've had that dream or whatever that was, a few nights ago. It felt so real. I haven't had a good night sleep since."

"I see. Would you mind recalling what you saw?"

Kagome sank deeper under the covers. "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not. What if it happens again?"

Kikyo took the frightened girl's hand, in the same manner she did when Kaede had a bad dream. She rubbed the top of her palm, hoping the added warmth would add some measure of comfort. "You have no reason to be afraid. I'm here with you and together I'm sure we can figure out this phenomenon."

Kagome looked down, still unsure. "I don't know. It's pretty weird…."

"I'm currently speaking to my own reincarnation," Kikyo reminded her. "I'm positive that 'weird' is no longer a deterring factor for me."

"Good point," Kagome admitted. "There really isn't much to tell. I'm walking in a meadow by myself. I'm looking for you guys and then suddenly something attacks me from behind. The guy takes something from me, thanks me for it and just laughs before fading away. That's it."

Kikyo tapped her chin, taking in Kagome's brief tale. It didn't sound like much but visions were often layers upon layers of hidden meanings and silent riddles. "Do you remember any other details?"

Kagome shrugged. "Like what?"

"The time of day, what you were wearing, the color of the leaves, or the angle of which your attacker came?"

"I remember seeing cherry blossoms, so I guess it was supposed to be spring."

"Were there many cherry blossoms?"

"Just the one that fell on my hand."

Kikyo looked down and tried to recall the few lessons she had pertaining to deciphering visions. Every detail of the vision was relevant information. The cherry blossoms and spring could symbolize the start of new life, or how fleeting and brief life could be. Was it the future Kagome was seeing? Or some kind of memory they shared? Kikyo attempted to recall any significant event that had happened to her in a meadow but no incident she remembered seemed worthy of being shared with her reincarnation.

"The one who attacked me, sounded like Inuyasha though," Kagome said.

Kikyo bit the inside of her cheek. "Truly?"

"Yeah….but he wouldn't do something like that. Right?"

"Of course not," she said with far more edge than she intended. "He has his abrasive moments but he is no villain."

"I didn't think so," Kagome said with a nod. "So what now?"

Kikyo sighed. "This is beyond my training," she admitted. "There is very little I can surmise from what you told me. But without the proper spiritual guidance your visions will persist until you cannot discern fantasy from reality."

"It'll be that bad?"

"I'm afraid so."

"There isn't anything else you can do? You can't like recommend me to another priestess or something?"

"It is as I told Inuyasha; very few priestesses have this gift. I do not know many who would be able to tell you more. Unless…."

"Unless what?"

"Atsuko," Kikyo said. Just saying the woman's name put Kikyo at unease. "She is a priestess. A rather…unorthodox one."

"How so?"

"Well in general priestesses, once they complete their training, wander the countryside to wherever they are needed. They battle famine, demons, disease, and aid wounded soldiers. Others take refuge in a temple in order to teach those who come to them. Atsuko took a….different path."

"Are you actually going to explain or just keep trailing off like that?" Kagome asked.

"My apologies, Kagome," Kikyo said as rose to pack a bag. "My dealings with Atsuko have never been smooth transactions. My last encounter with her resulted in my hanging over a cliff with my bow and arrows destroyed and a giant spider-demon ready to devour me."

Kagome flinched. "That's comforting…."

"Trust me, I would rather not have any further contact with her," Kikyo said. "But she is the only one I know of who can help you. She dwells deep in the mountains to the north of here. If all goes well it should be a week's journey."

Kagome sat up. "You're coming with me right? I mean you know this stuff."

"I cannot. The Shikon Jewel requires my constant protection. And my injuries have yet to fully heal. I would only be a burden on the road."

"So I'm going by myself to this crazy lady?!"

"Calm yourself, I will make sure you have an escort."

"Who?" But after a brief pause, annoyance flooded Kagome's face. "You can't be serious!"

Kikyo sighed. It would be long trip for both of them no doubt.

OOOOOO

"You want me to what!?" Inuyasha shouted.

When he and the kid returned to the hut with fresh herbs, Kagome was already up and moving around helping Kikyo pack a bag. After a while, Kagome said that she had a bigger bag back in her time so she had run back to get it. Kikyo then asked him to accompany her on one of her rounds. She was still injured of course, so there would be no doubt that demons would try to attack her. It was when they reached an open meadow with a tall cliff overlooking the area did she spring this request on him.

"Escort Kagome north to a priestess that dwells there," Kikyo said for the fourth time.

Inuyasha jogged to catch up with her. "You can't be serious!"

"Surely it cannot be that outrageous of a request. It is merely a week's journey."

Inuyasha growled under his breath. A week worth of her whining and arguing, and Kikyo wanted to know what his objections were. Clearly she didn't know her sister very well. "It's one week longer than I would like."

"You saw her today did you not?" Kikyo said, annoyance dipping in her voice. "You saw what those visions did to her. If she does not go, it will only get worse."

Inuyasha had to admit that seeing her like that, so scared and helpless, was jarring. He knew all too well what that felt like. His first day on his own in the wilderness, not even a day had passed since his mother died, and his grandfather had him banished from the castle. No doubt his face that day was the same as Kagome's today. And the idea it could get worse made his stomach churn in ways he did not expect.

"I'm surprised by your reluctance, Inuyasha," Kikyo said her voice growing lighter. "You seemed rather….comfortable with Kagome earlier today."

At the reminder of the incident Inuyasha instantly felt his face grow warm. "That was an accident! You saw!"

"Truly? It seemed as though you were enjoying yourself."

"You really think Kagome clawing at my robes is something I would enjoy?"

"As I understand it that would be a fantasy come true for most human men."

"Yeah well I ain't fully human now am I?"

Kikyo turned to face him, a smile fully plastered on her face, making his heart skip for a moment. Her hand covered her lips as she turned away, preventing him from seeing more. "Calm yourself Inuyasha, I am merely teasing you."

Inuyasha reeled back. "Since when do you do stuff like that?"

Kikyo glanced at him ready to reply but instead looked away and continued to walk. Inuyasha tilted his head but decided not to press the issue. It wasn't as if he didn't like her teasing anyway. It was a much better change than that icy stare she gave everyone.

Their walk took them past the cliff and overhead, Inuyasha picked up on a horse approaching them from above. He took a whiff of the air and the scent of blood, sweat, and mud filled his nose. Inuyasha's face scrunched together at the repulsing combination. Whoever was up there hadn't bathed in how many months. Kikyo was a few steps in front of him, her bow and arrow with her as always but with her injuries, she would not be able to react to their visitor as fast as she would like. The pulling of a bowstring caught his ears. Inuyasha had no doubt who this guy's target was. The arrow loosed and whistled through the air. Inuyasha's hand flew up, grabbing the arrow by the shaft with ease.

A growl vibrated in his throat as he leapt up the cliff in a single bound. His sudden appearance startled the horse. It threw off its rider and sped into the bushes, leaving the armor-clad attacker on the ground and confused.

"Who are you?" the man asked. "What do you want?"

His shoddy armor and worse-for-wear weapons marked him as a meager bandit. Inuyasha's nose sensed no demon aura or any demon-possessed weapons on the man either. He was a full human, a small fry.

"You're just a human," Inuyasha scoffed. In truth he was disappointed, after Yura there hadn't been any good fights recently. His claws were inching for something to cut. A human who stood no chance against him just didn't fulfill him. Inuyasha snapped the arrow in his hand like a twig. Still, fulfilling or not, this human tried to kill Kikyo and there was no way he was going to let that stand. "You got some nerve trying to cut Kikyo's life short you pathetic human. I bet you're after the Sacred Jewel too!"

The bandit scrambled to his feet and drew his sword. Inuyasha had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. Like that puny sword would do anything to him.

"I've heard enough of this demon!" he exclaimed and swung at the halfling with an overhead strike, no doubt trying to cleave him in two with a single stroke.

The blade met Inuyasha's forearm protected by the Fire-Rat robes. The metal snapped in two, sending the point flying upwards. The bandit looked up at the metal in awe but that proved to be a mistake. The flying metal plummeted to the earth and imbedded itself, point first, in the man's left eye.

The man fell to his knees in pain, gripping his blinded eye socket with blood seeped through his fingers. Inuyasha cracked his claws. It wouldn't be honorable cutting him down like this but Inuyasha had learned that where there's one bandit, there bound to be fifty more hiding somewhere. He was probably some scout sent to take out Kikyo so that the others could ransack the village for the jewel. Keh, not on his watch.

"You're just lucky I'm not a full demon," Inuyasha said. And it was true. Had this bandit picked a fight with a full demon like Sesshomaru, there'd be nothing left of his body. At least Inuyasha would give his fellows something to cremate when they found him. "Prepare to die."

"Inuyasha…" he heard Kikyo call.

The half-demon let out a groan. Kikyo wouldn't approve of his taking a human life, even if that life was the lowest of the low. It wasn't as if the bandit would survive for long anyways. If he returned, his boss would punish him for his failure with death or dismemberment. Or if his boss didn't punish him, he would go into battle later down the road. With that blinded eye his fighting ability would be hindered, making it far easier for an enemy to finish the job. Inuyasha just shrugged, guess this vermin just wasn't his to kill today.

"Count yourself lucky this time," he said as he jumped onto the bare tree below the cliff.

"Did something happen up there?" Kikyo asked. "I heard screaming."

He heard the bandit scramble away, bumping into the trees as he went. He wouldn't be bothering them again. "Keh, nothing I couldn't handle."

"I'm confident you wouldn't do anything violent while I'm in your presence," she said, this time her smile in full view.

Inuyasha leapt out of the tree and to her side, his hands folded in his sleeves. "Yeah yeah. So what's the deal with this Atsuko priestess?"

"She can communicate with the Baku."

Inuyasha froze. A smirk appeared on his lips.

This trip just got interesting.

OOOOOO

Rasetsu stumbled through the forest, pain gripping his skull at every turn. Damn that sliver haired demon! That monster robbed him of his destiny! How could he rule now? How could he even lead his men being a one-eyed cripple? Damn him! The bandit slammed his fist against a nearby tree, only resulting in more pain. He crumbled to his knees both in pain and despair. There was nothing left for him.

"No," he said to himself. "There is one thing I can live for. Revenge. Revenge against that half-demon for what he did to me. And revenge against that priestess Kikyo! I'll have all their heads and the Sacred Shikon Jewel will be mine! Even if it's the last act of my pitiful life!"

"In that case, I believe I can be of some help to you, Rasetsu," a seductive voice said from behind him.

The injured bandit followed the voice to see a young woman dressed in dark lavender robes. Her ebony hair allowed her to blend into the darkness of the brush almost perfectly. A crimson tint flashed in her blue eyes for a moment as she approached him. A snake twice the length of his arm slithered past Rasetsu and coiled itself around the priestess.

"W-who are you?"

"I am called, Tsubaki."

End Notes:

Glossary:

Baku: A tapir spirit within Chinese/Japanese mythology that is said to have the ability to devour dreams and nightmares. Its presence is believed to help ward off evil spirits and helps to ensure that the first dream of the New Year holiday is a good one.

Alliance of Blood by Gammer

Rasetsu's remaining eye never left the black robed priestess. Her back was to him as they made their way deep into the forest, the deepest the bandit had ever gone. Among humans it had always been common knowledge to never venture too far into the woods. Demons often lurked in the shadows ready for mischief, ambush, or both. For his bandit gang, the adage had a far more practical reasoning. Moving seventy or so men through the narrow and confiding roads of the forest was often a difficult and frustrating process, especially with horses bogged down with loot. Open fields and highways always proved to be better for both movement and potential victims.

But with this dark priestess, demons and a complicated landscape were the least of Rasetsu's worries. Save for her name and the order to follow, the priestess called Tsubaki had not uttered a word to him. Rasetsu had wondered if she was even aware he followed behind her. He had attempted to ease himself away from the priestess but her snake had let out a loud hiss, whether as a warning to him or its master, the bandit could not be sure. Either way, the priestess halted in her steps until he returned to his original position before continuing their stride into the treacherous woods. Rasetsu had tried again only for the snake to alert Tsubaki once more. Since then, the snake's crimson eyes never left the bandit. Its slightly raised head swayed like a pendulum taking in every motion of the trapped bandit.

Did the priestess mean to kill him? If so, why bother with the promise of revenge? Why not kill him when she first encountered him? Perhaps she intended to use him for some kind of sacrifice to the gods? Sacrifice was neither a tenant nor a practice of the priesthood, but with dark priestesses, anything could be possible. From what Rasetsu heard from rumors on the road, the dark types specialized in unholy curses that would make any demon or human quiver in fear. Maybe this Tsubaki intended to try out some kind of new curse, with him as her target. Or maybe she would drop him into some cauldron for a spell that required human blood. Rasetsu growled under his breath. No, he wasn't going to die as some ingredient for some bitch's concoction. The bandit's hand passed over the knife in his belt as he eyed the priestess up and down for the best spot to imbed his weapon.

The snake followed the motion of his hand and flicked its forked tongue as a warning. Rasetsu bared his teeth. He wouldn't be intimidated by some legless creature. The snake seemed to share the sentiment and exposed its long venom soaked fangs, making Rasetsu stumble over a large root. Damn thing, Rasetsu thought. Taking it out would be his focus, then without her familiar, he could easily overpower the priestess. Dark curses or no, she was still a woman. A smirk crossed his lips. He hadn't had a good lay in a while. Who knew what treasures laid underneath that robe of hers?

He pulled on the knife slowly; stepping on every dry leaf and twig he could to muffle the sound of the weapon leaving his belt. He tucked the blade behind his wrist, hoping the fading sunlight would not catch on the metal. All the while, the snake's eyes never wavered. Its tongue flicked up and down with every passing second. Without any spiritual power, the bandit could not tell if the familiar was sending out some kind of warning to its master, but he had to take the risk. He wasn't going to die because of the empty promises of some dark priestess bitch!

It would have to be fast. Eight paces separated them, and with the snake, he would only have seconds before the dark priestess became aware of him. He would slash off the head of the snake first, then in the same motion stab the priestess between her shoulder blades. Rasetsu shook his head. He wouldn't be able to have any fun with a corpse. Some of his men could, but not him. He needed the shrieks, the frantic but futile kicks, and that final cry of acceptance. So rather than stabbing the priestess, the bandit resolved to tackle her to ground after killing her familiar. Then he would flip her on her back, pin her arms above her head, and then stab his knife through her hands to keep them in place. He would then rip off her robe and the fun would begin in earnest. Rasetsu licked his lips in anticipation. He could already hear her cries of surprise and terror.

The only obstacle lied in that irksome snake, whose fangs and tongue were on full display, as if it sensed his intentions. Rasetsu scoffed. The reptile didn't matter. It would dead soon regardless.

It was now or never, the bandit resolved. Who knew when the priestess would have her back to him like this again? The sooner he acted, the sooner he could retrace his steps back to civilization.

His feet moved carefully. The snake let out a loud alerting hiss. But the priestess paid it no mind, lost in her thoughts it seemed. Rasetsu was only four paces away, two more and he'd be in striking distance of the snake. This would be far easier than he thought.

At three paces Rasetsu drew his arm back, gathering as much strength he could before he took the final step. But at that moment a wave of heat shot up his arm. Suddenly what felt like a vast conflagration that could burn down an entire forest, flared up in the limb. Rasetsu bit down on his lips to prevent his cries, but it was a vain attempt. His anguished cries filled the forest but that only seemed to allow the internal fire to spread down his arm and into his chest.

The bandit gripped his heart as what felt like lava seeped into his organs. His blood seemed to be boiling. It became impossible for him to remain on his feet. The bandit dropped like a rock to the forest floor writhing like a seizure victim. His vision became saturated with red, like a volcano had passed over his body. Drool and other fluids oozed out the corners of his mouth as his chest buckled like it would burst at any moment.

But despite his immense pain, his ears were untouched.

And he could hear the laughter of the priestess very clearly.

What have you done to me?! He wanted to exclaim, but the words only came out as a gargled mess of gibberish.

"Amazing isn't it?" the priestess said, finally turning to face him, revealing her left hand to be in some odd sign. "What a few drops of blood and some spiritual energy can do to a man."

She held up her right hand, displaying a straw doll with no distinguishing features other than his name written in kanji on the doll's torso. Through the red hue over his eye, Rasetsu managed to squint and saw that his name had been written in blood. His blood. It was then the bandit realized just what kind of doll the priestess had in her possession. It was a curse doll. Or wara ningyo as he had heard it called once before. They were dolls of spite. Created and used when one despised another with such fervor that he or she demanded the spirit world kill them or cause them agonizing pain.

To kill him all the priestess had to do was drive a nail through the doll.

Sweat filled Rasetsu's brow.

Tsubaki approached him, her smug smile flaunting her enjoyment. "I see you are familiar with this doll. Good." Her left hand flowed into yet another sign. The heat in his body receded only to be replaced with what felt like an invisible boulder being dropped on his chest, pinning him to the ground.

The bandit gritted his teeth as the new pain bore down on his chest. In only a few moments his torso would give way, killing him in an instant.

The dark priestess stood over him holding the doll cruelly just out his reach. "Your life is mine now, Rasetsu. You are no longer a bandit lower than most vermin, motivated only by your perverse lust and greed. You are my weapon, the spearhead for me to use at my pleasure to dispose of my enemies. If your services are satisfactory your pathetic existence will be free of pain and for a few precious moments I shall allow you to rape and pillage as you see fit. If not well….I believe you know the rest. Do we understand each other?"

A wave of her left hand and the pain disappeared as suddenly as it came. Rasetsu immediately shot up, his lungs hungry for air. His hands ran up and down his body to check for permanent damage. Fortunately there were none, but as he looked into the eyes of the dark priestess towering over him, he wasn't sure just how fortunate he was anymore.

Tsubaki held up the doll again, her left hand already shifting into another sign. "Do we understand each other?"

Panic gripped the bandit. "No please! We understand each other. I'm yours to use as you see fit!"

The dark priestess paused; her eyes boring into his soul it seemed like. Finally, the priestess stored the doll into the folds of her robe and lowered her left hand. Rasetsu allowed himself to breathe, not sure when exactly he began to hold breath in the first place.

"You're trash Rasetsu," Tsubaki said bluntly as she walked passed. "A vapid, ignorant, waste of human life motivated only by your base desires. And you are exactly what I need to finally kill that self-righteous priestess Kikyo."

Rasetsu slowly climbed to his feet, unsure what could set off his captor. "Why do you hate her so? It cannot be mere rivalry."

Tsubaki glared, making the bandit flinch. "No questions. I tell you to accomplish a task, you do it, and that's all, understand?"

"U-understood."

"Good. Now look sharp, we've arrived."

Rasetsu glanced over the priestess's shoulder to see a moderate cave standing over then. Moss hung over the entrance like a natural curtain with jagged slash marks on the sides. Tsubaki entered the dark structure with no hesitation. The bandit stood at the threshold of the darkness, his foot wavering over the separation of the surface and the abyss before him. He could no longer see the priestess from where he stood and no doubt she could not see him either. If he ran perhaps she wouldn't be able to use that doll. She would not be able to track him either, unless that snake somehow caught his scent. Then he would have to jump into the nearest river to cleanse himself. It was all possible.

The bandit turned on his heel, ready to dash into the bushes when his injured eye ached. The pain gripped his skull, reminding the bandit of the half-demon who had blinded him. The red-clad monster who regarded him no better than a fly that needed to be squashed. Rasetsu tightened his fist as the pain slowly regressed for the moment.

The bandit faced the darkness once more and entered without a second thought.

The dark priestess awaited him.

"What took you so long?" she asked.

"My apologies," he said simply.

Tsubaki looked over him but said nothing more. The pair ventured deeper into the cave, the walls closing in with each passing moment. Eventually the light could no longer reach them. Tsubaki reached into her robes to pull out a talisman. A quick wave of her hand and a small flame over the paper flickered to life. But even with the soft orange light, Rasetsu could still barely see. Despite his resolve, he could not help but wonder just where the dark priestess was leading him.

His question was answered when candle light came into view at the end of the path, along with sound of deep guttural growls.

Rasetsu gulped before following Tsubaki around the corner. A round, hollowed-out chamber was their destination. Torches hung over the rotund chamber giving Rasetsu a full view of the oni demons that occupied the space. The oni had always been distant ghost-like creatures used to frighten small children, in his experience. He never would have imagined he'd be seeing one up close, let alone nearly twenty of them. The nine feet tall creatures were just as monstrous as the stories described. Their bodies were unnatural crimson or cobalt colors with no clothes save for loose tied loincloths. The lack of garments allowed for their massive muscles to be put on full display. Horns protruded out from their heads at various angles and lengths. Their claws were twice the length of his arm and even with their mouths closed, their fangs still overlapped.

But the small legion of ogres was not even the strangest sight.

It was the woman sitting in the center of them on a make-shift throne made of stone. She was at least three times taller than human women but still barely reached the armpits of the ogres around her. Her long ebony hair extended down her back and her bangs hid her eyes. An affluent kimono draped over her body. Its design was a simple natural green color with no other patterns or decorations. The odd woman crossed her legs as she readjusted her position on the rocks, giving Rasetsu a full view of her cream-like skin. But as he looked her over, there was one feature that gave the bandit a moment of pause. It was the curved horns that projected out of her skull. The woman downed a dish filled with sake before finally acknowledging her guests. Or at least, Rasetsu hoped they were guests.

"So you are this dark priestess, Tsubaki?" the oni-woman said, her voice as crass as any other demon.

"Indeed, Lady Moriko," Tsubaki answered with a bow. "I have come to you with a proposal."

Lady Moriko motioned for her dish to be refilled. "You have one minute. If you cannot convince me in that time you two will be a much needed meal for my starving friends."

Rasetsu's heart skipped a beat. Already the ogres reached for their clubs. Drool began to form at the corners of their mouths. The bandit glanced at Tsubaki, his face pale enough to be spotted even in the low light. But Tsubaki seemed undeterred. In fact, she smiled.

"A few moon cycles ago, three of your followers were killed by a half-demon were they not?" Tsubaki said, her certainty making Rasetsu wonder why she bothered to ask.

Lady Moriko merely scoffed. "If you've come here believing I would avenge the death of two fools weak enough to be killed by a half-demon, you're wasting your time."

The hungry demons closed in, but again Tsubaki did not appear concerned.

"It's not the ones who died that should be your interest; it is with the one who killed them. He is a half-demon who goes by the name, Inuyasha."

"You say that name as if it is of consequence to me," Moriko said, downing another full dish of sake. "I believe you are merely stalling, priestess."

Tsubaki's smile grew. "And I believe you should be more interested in the brother of the demon who killed your clan leader, usurped your territories in the western lands, and banished the rest of you to this pitiful human-filled region."

Moriko paused, the dish still in-between her lips. Cracks began to form on the saucer, quickly overcoming the object before it shattered into countless pieces. Without the buffer of the dish, Rasetsu could see the demon woman's nearly endless row of fangs that made up her mouth. She pulled aside her bangs, revealing her crimson soaked eyes and odd green irises. A feral snarl that echoed throughout the entire cave reverberated in her throat. Her claws made short work of the stones she sat on as she rose to full height.

"How would you know about that, human?"

Tsubaki shrugged. "We humans have our ways, my lady."

"What do you want from us priestess?"

"I want you to kill this Inuyasha. If you do, you will not only strike a blow to your usurper's bloodline but I will, as a reward, give you the Sacred Jewel of the Four Souls. The jewel will no doubt give you enough power to take back your lands."

"And what stake do you have in this priestess?"

"The half-demon has grown close to one of my rivals," Tsubaki explained. "She guards the jewel but they have grown closer, far closer than a priestess should become with any man. Killing the half-demon will unbalance her, allowing me to take the jewel."

"I see. You are not powerful enough to challenge this other priestess yourself, so you seek to use us as an indirect attack like a cowardly badger demon."

Tsubaki narrowed her eyes. "My powers are more than adequate," she insisted. "It is merely bad form for two priestesses to combat each other so openly."

Moriko scoffed. "It doesn't matter to me how you wish to justify it, priestess. Just tell us where we can find this…Inuyasha…."

Rasetsu saw a flicker of crimson flash in Tsubaki's eyes. He wondered if he should warn the demon just what she was getting herself into.

"So we are in agreement then?" Tsubaki said.

Moriko extended her claws and slashed open her own right palm. As the blood oozed down to her wrist, the female oni held out the injured hand. "Yes, we have a deal."

Tsubaki's snake slithered down to the priestess's palm and bit down hard enough to draw blood. Their bloodied hands met in a firm handshake, sealing their arrangement. But there was one question nagging in Rasetsu's head.

"What exactly is my part in all this?" he whispered to her.

"All in due time, Rasetsu. All in due time."

OOOOO

"Are you sure I have to wear this?" Kagome asked for the fourth time as Kikyo adjusted the priestess uniform. "It feels like I'm wearing an oversized pillow-case."

"It is unwise to stand out in any fashion while you are on the road," Kikyo replied. "If you travel in your usual garments demons, bandits, and worse will be upon you in a matter of seconds."

"What could be worse than a demon?" Kagome asked, afraid of the answer.

Kikyo shook her head. "It is better you never find out, hence the uniform."

Kagome sighed, unable to counter her twin's reasoning.

The early morning sun peaked through the windows and small cracks in Kikyo's hut as the injured priestess continued to make final preparations for the trip. Kagome's yellow bag sat near the door, filled with supplies she had spent all of yesterday gathering in her time. She had been tempted to bring her bike as well, but just trying to think of a way to get down the well and out again with it gave her headache. And knowing this crazy place, it would be destroyed the second Inuyasha got into a fight anyways. Kagome shuttered when she imagined trying to explain to her mom why she needed a new bike.

"Something tells me 'a demon ate it' isn't exactly the best of excuses," she muttered to herself.

"Did you say something, Kagome?" Kikyo asked as she presented a white ribbon for her hair.

Kagome yawned while she took the ribbon. The early sun only reminded her of just how much sleep she was missing on a Sunday. When Kikyo had told her to return early, she had no idea she meant crack of dawn early. Did the weekend not exist in the feudal era? When Inuyasha had knocked on her window at 4:30 in the morning, Kagome got her answer.

"Nothing important," Kagome said, tying back her hair. "Just starting wish I had time to pack some coffee or something…"

"Coffee….?" Kikyo repeated, the word sounding clumsy.

"Just think of it as a magic potion that keeps you awake," Kagome said, finalizing the knot. "It works wonders when you have to be awake at the crack of dawn against your will."

"I apologize for the hour, but you must maximize the sunlight during your travels," Kikyo said, dropping three herb stalks into the yellow bag. "Never travel at night, unless absolutely necessary."

"I got it, mom," Kagome said with giggle. "What are you going to tell me next, don't talk to strangers?"

"How did you guess?" Kikyo replied with a small smirk.

Kagome slipped into the sandals near the door when Kaede entered with three containers of water and a small green bag wrapped around her back.

"I have the water, Kikyo," the little girl said. "And I checked out the main roads too, they're clear for now."

"Good, the three of you should encounter no difficulties for today," Kikyo said.

Kagome paused. "Wait, the three of us? I thought it was just going to be me and dog-boy."

"I heard that!" Inuyasha shouted from the roof.

"Oh no, I'm coming too!" Kaede said with a wide smile.

Kagome glanced at Kikyo. "You sure about this…? I mean with the demons and stuff…"

Kikyo sighed. "She insisted. Besides, I believe Kaede will provide much needed stability for the two of you during this journey."

"Plus I've always wanted to see the baku," Kaede said. "They're a rare sight even for priestesses."

"Speaking of which, Kagome, remember to decline any request or favor Atsuko asks for you to do in return for her help," Kikyo said, as she handed Kagome a bag of gold and silver pieces. "Give her this money and this money only. No matter the circumstances."

"I got it," Kagome breathed. This was worse than the first time her mom dropped her off to preschool. Then again preschool wasn't filled with human-eating demons.

Kikyo presented a bow and a full quiver of arrows. "Take this as well, just in case."

"You sure? Don't you need them?"

Kikyo waved off her concern. "I have several, no need to worry. You would be surprised how many bows I have gone through in one week alone."

"You girls done yet?" Inuyasha yelled. "I'm growing mushrooms up here!"

"A gentleman always waits for a lady!" Kagome yelled back.

"A half-demon ain't no gentleman!"

"Inuyasha is correct," Kikyo interrupted. "We are wasting the sunlight. Everything is in place; you should set off before it grows later."

Kagome scoffed. The words "Inuyasha" and "correct" were two things she never imagined would go together.

"If you say so."

"And please listen to him on the road," Kikyo said as if reading Kagome's thoughts. "He is abrasive yes, but he has more experience surviving on the road than you do."

"Fine, fine," Kagome said with a sigh. "Just don't blame me if he comes back with a little wear and tear though."

"You know, funny thing about having my ears," Inuyasha said as he landed in front of the hut. "You tend to hear every crappy thing people are saying about you."

"That must be such a burden for you," Kagome said with an eye roll. "Come on Kaede. We'll see you in a week, Kikyo."

Kikyo replied with a bow. "Take care."

OOOOOO

Kagome and the kid walked past him, already chatting about all the fun things they were about see. Inuyasha could barely hold in a groan. A creepy priestess even Kikyo was wary about didn't exactly sound like fun to him. Though he had to admit, a part of him was excited to see someone able to communicate the baku. They were elusive creatures, content to remain on the Other Side until the New Year or when someone summoned them. How this Atsuko was able to commune with them was anyone's guess. He doubted even Kikyo knew the answer to that one. He glanced over at the priestess who slowly made her way out the door, to watch her sisters leave, he assumed.

"Inuyasha," she said softly. "Promise me you will look after them."

"Do I look like a babysitter to you?" he barked. "Jeez people, I'm a demon damn it!"

But when she looked up at him, he immediately regretted his tone. There was a pleading look on her face. It was similar to the one mother gave him when she told him to always be safe when he went out to play. And again when she was on her death bed. Inuyasha looked away, not wanting to relive those memories.

"I promise," he muttered. He opened his mouth again, but no words came, as if his body did not want him to say the next few words. He took a small gulp and this time the words came. "But to be honest, they're not the ones I'm the most worried about…"

"I'll be fine," Kikyo said, somehow getting his meaning right away. "This is not the first time I've been injured."

"Yeah but what about the demons? You're still guarding the jewel; any sensible demon would attack you now when you're injured."

Kikyo glanced at him with a full smile. "You worry too much."

Inuyasha couldn't help but smile as well. "Me? You're one to talk. You could practically fill an entire sutra with the stuff you were telling Kagome to watch out for."

Her smiled dropped. "You and I both know what is out there. I just don't want her to be caught off guard."

"Yeah, I guess so," he said, scratching a non-existent itch on his cheek. "What happens if that vision-thing pops up again? What do I do?"

"I've placed three special herbs into her bag," Kikyo said. "When ground up and mixed together with water or tea, it should induce a state of drowsiness. Have Kagome drink that and she should be asleep for, at most, 30 minutes, allowing the vision to run its course."

Inuyasha nodded. "Sounds like you've thought of everything."

Kikyo looked up at him. "Hardly. There are still a great many things I cannot foresee."

Inuyasha felt his face grow warm. For some reason he drew closer to Kikyo. "Like what?" he asked, his voice soft.

"Well…" she said a flush of pink running up her face. "I-.."

"Inuyasha!" Kagome shouted from at least a mile away. "Are you coming or not?"

Inuyasha quickly straightened himself and cleared his throat. The need to jump in the river was suddenly a very overwhelming urge. "A-anyways….I'll…um…see you in a week."

"Y-yes…of course….." Kikyo mumbled. "I-I should probably…..gather some more herbs for the coming day…."

"Yeah you should probably go do that," he said.

"Be safe," she said.

"Same to you."

He glanced at her one last time before leaping off after Kagome and the kid.

This was going to be a long week.

End Notes:

A villain focused chapter, yeah. But hey can't have a good story without villains right? There was going to be one more suprise on the villain-end of things but I decided to just save that for the next chapter.

 

Turbulence at the Tea House by Gammer

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 12: Turbulence at the Tea House

Moriko paced the cramped chamber, her long kimono dragging at her heels as she went. The growl building her throat echoed through the cave. The wound in her hand had already closed but the trail of blood that remained flowed down to her wrist. It was the only physical indicator of her pact with the priestess. A nagging voice in her head questioned if she had made the right decision, willfully allying herself and her horde with a smug priestess. Most deals with humans were for shallow promises of power, prestige, and other concepts that humans were always so willing to forgo their souls in exchange. It never took much effort to distort these desires to suit a demon's needs. Humans were never the ones who benefitted from these deals, yet there never was a shortage of fools believing themselves to be the sole exception.

But this Tsubaki was different. She was neither a desperate peasant longing for power nor a lord seeking some meager advantage over his rivals. The dark priestess seemed to know exactly how poorly these deals fared for humans and positioned herself to have the primary advantage, the promise of power and revenge. Moriko would be a fool if she turned down the Shikon Jewel. With it fueling her horde, taking back their territory in the west would a simple matter. Not even that dog demon upstart would be a match for her! But she was also a fool if she blindly accepted this deal and did not expect Tsubaki to betray her at some point.

Moriko turned on her heels to begin another lap of her pacing, her mind racing with potential outcomes. Even if the priestess betrayed them, what could this Tsubaki possibly do to them? Dark priestess or not, she was still another weak human they could easily overpower. More importantly, revenge could not be ignored. She could still remember when that dog-demon had strolled into their lands, his irritating toad servant at his flank, claiming their territory for his own.

Naturally their leader had attacked to protect them but that dog-bastard didn't seem to flinch. In one blow from his light-whip, the master was decapitated and his body vaporized by the dog's poison claws. The upstart had then tossed their leader's head to her as a warning.

"Stay out of my territory," the usurper had said.

Moriko slashed at the wall of the chamber. HIS territory!? The nerve of that arrogant bastard! She shut her eyes and could clearly see the bastard dog as clearly she had seen Tsubaki. At the mental image of her nemesis, Moriko's growls soon overtook her throat and exploded out of her mouth in the form of a savage roar that echoed through the entire cave. The deep wave of sound shook walls of their small enclosure, forcing the pebbles to trickle down like a small storm. Her chest heaved as the tantrum began to fade while her body was still hot with her rage. Despite that, Moriko could see that the path forward was clear. She would hunt down this, Inuyasha, and bring his head to his usurper brother!

But the only question was how. The oni mistress took a breath as she returned to her damaged stone throne. Already, one of her oni brandished a replacement sake dish, while another was in the process of refilling it. Moriko held out her expecting hand and within seconds her lips tasted the primitive but effective wine. It took six mouthfuls of the beverage for the alcohol to serve its purpose. She could feel her temper wane, allowing her mind to shift through her options without interference from her more basic instincts.

Killing this, Inuyasha, would be a simple matter. A half-demon stood no chance against her horde once they were fully committed to a task. Moriko downed another full dish of sake as her memories began to catch up to her racing mind. The half-demon had already killed three of her ogres. Weaklings of course, but all the same, in this instance perhaps overwhelming force was not the proper method. Her ogres, while formidable, were all rather simple-minded and unable to ignore their instincts. Dispatching them all to this Inuyasha would result in one of her ogres becoming either frustrated or impatient. No doubt they would kill the half-breed before it could be brought to her.

The Halfling creature's fate ultimately would be death, but Moriko wanted her claws to be the ones to cut him open. She wanted her claws to tear away his flesh and bone while he helplessly begged forgiveness for his elder brother's conquest. More importantly however, the half-demon could know information about his brother's movements and where he was most likely to strike next or even where he laid his head for the night. The ogre mistress swallowed another full gulp of sake as she nodded to herself. The half-demon had far more uses alive than dead, at least in this stage of the game.

"Now, how do I capture a half-demon alive?" she muttered to no one. Live captures were rare for her and the horde. Very few of their targets held anything of value to them, other than the meat that came from their flesh. Her followers could not be trusted with this task. They only knew how to maim, kill, and devour. Anything other than that was beyond them.

Moriko tapped her club against her throne as she ran through her options. She could always make the attempt herself, but fighting blind was what caused the master to lose his head and their lands. She dare not repeat that mistake. If she fell to that half-demon, however unlikely that outcome was, the horde would be mindless and their lands forever out of their reach.

The demon felt another growl building. This was becoming far too complicated. No horde, no direct involvement, so what she left with? Outside help? There were already too many claws in this pot. But what other options were there? Moriko held in a groan at the thought of finding a demon strong enough yet intelligent enough to capture the Halfling alive rather than slaughter him outright. According to the priestess, the half-demon was travelling northwest. Moriko scoffed. The northern regions did not have much to offer in terms of formidable demons. It was mainly bloodthirsty wolves, centipedes, and the occasional bird demon clan. None of which had the mindset or the restraint to capture their prey alive. Then again it had been sometime since she had dwelled in the north. Perhaps someone more suitable to her goals had muscled their way in by now.

She turned to her oni who had waited patiently for her orders. "Any one of you knows who's up north nowadays?"

Her oni glanced at each other, searching their brethren's faces for the answer. Moriko often sent them out to scout the area for prey and information, surely at least one of them heard rumors of new demons in the north. The ogres growled amongst themselves for a time, sounding less like a discussion and more like an approaching thunder cloud. Finally a red oni stepped forward and bowed at her feet before speaking. His words slow and deep but Moriko picked up on the ogre's meaning.

"A member of Taigokumaru's clan dwells to the north mistress…"

Moriko felt another growl coming on and quickly downed the rest of the wine from the bottle to prevent her temper from overcoming her. But even with the sour taste of the wine smeared inside of her mouth, the ogre mistress could still feel the heat of her rage broil inside her stomach.

First a devious priestess and now this!

This deal was getting worse all the time.

OOOOO

"We're here!" Kaede announced gleefully as she jogged passed Inuyasha.

"Hey, slow down will ya!" the half-demon called after her.

Kaede paused when she was only a few feet ahead and turned on her heels to address their straggler. "Hurry up Lady Kagome! We made it!"

Kagome let out a huff as she climbed the relatively moderate hill before her. It had barely been half a day and already her feet were swollen. She could feel the blood from the various cuts on her toes and heels tickle her skin through the tobi socks she wore. The added weight of her backpack didn't help matters either. She had told her mother and grandfather she needed 'just the basics'. This to them seemed to translate in packing an entire month of supplies for her to lug around the feudal era. Some food like the instant ramen noodles and rice balls she could understand. But did gramps really need to shove an entire bottle of "holy sake" in there too? Plus there were her textbooks sitting at the bottom, silently remaindering her of the classes she'd be missing for this trip. Then again, slowly going insane due to visions of the future was no excuse to fall behind on her class work. At least that's what her instructors would tell her anyway….

"Coming….coming…." Kagome muttered, even her voice straining itself.

"Would you speed it up?" Inuyasha yelled. "We ain't got all day you know!"

"Let's see you drag this stupid thing around!" Kagome shot back.

"Fine," the half-demon said. In a single leap, he cleared the distance between them. At the sight of his red robes overtaking her vision, the school girl stumbled back, but his hands latched onto her shoulders keeping her firmly in place. He slid off the straps from her body and hoisted the backpack to his shoulders with one arm.

"There," he said as he continued on without any problems. "Better?"

Kagome stretched out her arms and rotated her shoulders to alleviate the stiffness she had built up. Her muscles and joints all but screamed in relief at the absence of the weight. "Um…yeah actually. Thanks…"

"Keh… weakling."

Kagome's face scrunched up at the remark. "Well forgive me, not all of us have the privilege of being born a half-demon!"

Inuyasha froze in his tracks. Kagome saw his usually lively ears, flatten onto his skull, to the point where they were nearly invisible underneath his mane of silver hair. His free hand curled into a tight fist. He turned on his heels and faced her with a glare that immediately made Kagome feel as if she were his prey in the wilderness.

"You have no idea what you're talking about! There ain't no 'privilege' in being a half-demon!"

"S-sorry….." Kagome whispered, taking a step back. She was suddenly reminded of the first day they met, when Inuyasha was about to attack her for looking like Kikyo. She watched his claws as he constantly clenched and unclenched them. A small quake of fear ran up her spine. She had left the bow and arrow Kikyo had given her in her backpack, it had been way too much to carry at once. If Inuyasha really did attack…..

No! He wouldn't do something like that. Not with Kaede with them. And especially not when Kikyo asked him to escort her. But there was something in his eyes, an anger that could possibly overcome all of that. A small bead of sweat began to form at the base of her neck. Kagome couldn't bring herself to move.

She blinked and when she opened her eyes, she found herself back in the treacherous fields. The sole cherry blossom fell into her hand and from behind her she could hear her attacker dashing towards her.

"No…." she whispered. "Not again!"

But rather being slashed, a small but strong pair of hands grabbed her wrist and began to guide her past Inuyasha and up the hill. Kagome snapped out of whatever fear-induced trance took hold of her and saw Kaede leading her away.

"Come on Lady Kagome, we don't have time to stand around," she said with a smile. "Inuyasha, I think I sensed a demon a few yards to the west. It could be following us."

Inuyasha shook his head, as if snapping himself out of a trance as well. "What kind of demon? How big is it?"

"It looked like an oni. Maybe even a tengu," Kaede replied. "Could you check it out for us please? We'll be right here."

The Halfling scoffed, but nodded regardless. He set down Kagome's bag before leaping off into the bushes.

It was only when his red-clad figure left completely, did Kagome allow herself to breathe. "Thanks Kaede. It was getting kinda of tense for a second or two back there," she said as she gathered up her backpack.

"Don't worry about it," the little girl said. "I'm sure killing a demon will help Inuyasha cool off."

"Oh, there really was a demon out there?"

Kaede could only shrug. "There are demons everywhere, Lady Kagome."

"I guess that much is true," Kagome said, returning the shrug. She really hadn't seen any evidence to suggest otherwise. She wouldn't be surprised if there were tree and mountain demons out there at this point.

The pair reached the top of the hill to their destination. It was a modestly built tea house just off the main road. Four benches were placed near the entrance of the small house, two of which were already occupied by two farmers. Kagome noted the small dishes near the occupants and the cups of green tea they were nursing. She raised an eyebrow at Kaede as a slender middle aged woman emerged from the tea house to greet them.

"So what is this place exactly?"

"It's Ms. Nami's tea house," Kaede said.

"And why are we here?"

Kaede smiled at her. "It has the best Mitarashi Dango* you can find in the province."

"Oh Kaede-chan, you exaggerate," the woman known as Nami said. "All the same, I always do enjoy your visits." She turned to Kagome and bowed. "I hope things are well with you, Lady Kikyo."

"Oh! Um…I'm not…!"

"Actually, this is my other sister, Kagome," Kaede jumped in.

"Truly?" Nami said as she scanned Kagome head to toe. "The resemblance to Lady Kikyo is uncanny. You must be her twin sister."

"Uh…yeah," Kagome said meekly. "Something like that. So…about those dumplings…."

"Oh, of course! Listen to me babbler about. Take a seat. How many would you like?"

"Just six is fine," Kaede answered.

"Coming right up."

When the woman disappeared back into the tea house, Kagome managed to take a seat at one of the vacant benches, dragging her backpack all the while. Kagome let out a relived sigh, her body rejoicing at the prospect of just sitting down for a while. She removed her sore feet from the sandals and removed the socks to examine just how bad the scrapes were. She could only groan when she saw the results.

"Next long distance trip, I'm wearing my regular shoes," Kagome muttered. "Or hiking boots."

"So what's in your bag Lady Kagome?" Kaede asked, leaning over.

"Good question, let's find out."

Kagome heaved the bag onto the bench and saw that a small flea market awaited her inside. "I've got….hairspray, a giant bottle of 'sacred' sake, ten packs of instant ramen noodles, some rice balls, sleeping bag, soap, some herbs, Kikyo's bow and arrows, flares, a holy bell for some reason, and my textbooks. Geometry, Biology, Pre-Calculus, History of Japan from the Tokugawa era to the Meiji era….."

"Meiji?" Kaede repeated. "I've never heard of that warlord."

"And you won't for a while," Kagome replied. "But let's not get into spoilers ok?"

"Um…Ok….But how did all that fit in there?"

Kagome only shrugged. Her mom had packed most of it, and Kagome couldn't figure out how she did it either. The teenager eased back onto her seat and watched Kaede swing her short legs over the edge of the bench as they waited for their dumplings.

"So how did you know about this place?" Kagome asked the idle child.

"Sister Kikyo saved Nami's mother from being possessed by a demon. Nami was so grateful she promised to give us free dumplings whenever we were in the area. I actually have been longing to happen by here for a while now, but ever since Sister Kikyo received the jewel…."

"It must be tough…" Kagome said. "For both of you."

"It can be at times," Kaede muttered. "I do miss travelling the country-side. But Sister Kikyo is doing important work. And when my time comes….I'll be doing the same…."

"You don't sound too enthusiastic about it," Kagome noted.

Kaede sighed, her shoulders sinking due to some invisible weight. Kagome saw the child's swinging feet halt and her fingers drag across the wood of the bench. Kagome mentally scolded herself for hitting another nerve. She opened her mouth to apologize, but Kaede spoke first.

"Sometimes….I think that I don't want to be a priestess…." The child whispered, though loud enough for Kagome to hear. "Please don't tell Sister Kikyo I said that."

Kagome wrapped her arms around Kaede's small shoulders. "No, of course I won't."

"Thank you."

"But if you really feel that way, you should tell Kikyo, I'm sure she would understand."

"No…I….it…just wouldn't feel right…."

Kagome patted her hair and offered her a bright smile. "Well if you ever need someone to talk to, you can always talk to me, all right?"

Kaede returned the smile. "Right!"

The two sat in silence for a while, Kaede's chipper behavior soon returned and she began to ask questions about Kagome's world. Moments later Nami emerged with their dumplings and tea.

"Inuyasha has been gone for a while," Kagome said as she took a dumpling. "You think we should go look for him?"

"If you talking about your companion, I'm afraid he's lost," one of the farmers said over his shoulder. "He has entered the forest of Royakan, the mad guardian."

"Royakan?" Kagome repeated. This wasn't sounding good.

Kaede shook her head. "You must be mistaken. Royakan is a gentle guardian of the forest. He guides and protects travelers who provide him offerings. And only punishes those who harm the forest."

"Aye," the farmer agreed. "A month ago you would have been correct girl. But lately the guardian has become a butcher."

"Now he attacks anyone who enters his forest," the second farmer added. "His hounds of the underworld are relentless. Just a week ago they slaughtered an entire unit of samurai. No one dares enters that forest now."

The first farmer turned to Kagome, making the schoolgirl return to her dumpling to avert his gaze. "But now that you're here priestess, you can slay Royakan for us!"

Kagome lurched forward, the dumpling nearly going down her windpipe. She pounded her chest to force the bit of food down and gulped her green tea for good measure. "Umm….I'm sorry what was that?" she asked when she regained control of herself.

"You are the twin sister of the famed priestess Kikyo are you not?" the farmer pressed. "I heard you admit it to Ms. Nami."

"Yeah but….we're in the middle of our own journey," Kagome attempted though even to her the excuse sounded flimsy.

"Nonsense!" the second farmer said. "What could be more important than coming to the aid of the common man? Is that not what priestesses do?"

"Of course sir," Kaede said, finishing off her dumplings. "We'll be sure to look into this."

Kagome could only nod in agreement, allowing the two farmers to breathe a sigh of relief.

The school girl on the other could only groan under her breath.

What had she just gotten herself into this time?

OOOOOO

"Not all of us have the privilege of being born a half-demon!"

Inuyasha could feel his temper grip his chest as he soared over the forest canopy. It didn't take him long to realize there was no demon in the area, but time away from that stupid girl was best for everyone right now. The Halfling came to halt on a rather tall tree, with thick enough branches to support his weight.

"A privilege she says," he growled as he plopped down on the branch. Keh, he should have told her to go rely that message to his brother and his grandfather. The only "privilege" he had as a half-demon was the privilege of running and hiding for most of his life. He had the "privilege" of spending a good portion of his formative years scared and alone.

And he had the "privilege" of seeing mother shed tears over his fate.

"Mother," he had said to her. "What's a….half-breed?"

Inuyasha jolted to his feet and slashed at the trunk of the tree to keep those memories at bay. He wouldn't have to worry about that crap once he got the Sacred Jewel and became a full-fledged demon. Then he'd show everyone the privilege of his claws! They would all keep their distance out fear of him, just like his brother!

Even Kikyo? A small voice in his head whispered to him. Even Kagome? When he had snapped at Kagome for what she said, she had a look on her face no human or demon had given him before.

For those few seconds, she was afraid of him.

Keh, she should be! He was a demon after all. Human women like her should be fleeing at the sight of his presence or offering him gifts in exchange for letting them be! The fact that Kagome was afraid of him meant that she was one the few smart humans he had encountered!

But it didn't feel right, the small voice said again.

Inuyasha let out an aggravated growl and leaped off the branch. His claws twitched as he surveyed the forest for some demon, any demon, to fight. Maybe the rush from a fight would shut up that stupid voice in his head.

At the apex of his next jump the smell of human blood caught his noise, mixed together with a strong smell of a demon. Inuyasha smirked and immediately followed the scent. Eventually he came upon a small moss filled cave, settled between two great trees. Human remains were scattered near the entrance. As some crude warning, he guessed. Inuyasha cracked his claws. It didn't matter to him, as long as this demon was big and tough.

"Hey!" he shouted. "Anyone actually live in this pathetic shit hole!"

Silence was his only answer until a loud powerful voice echoed from the depths of the cave.

"WHO DARES INTRUDE ON THE TERRITORY OF ROYAKAN!"

Keh, a dramatic one, even better. "Why don't you come out here and find out!"

The ground quaked causing smaller rodents to scurry away for cover. A massive furred hand emerged from the darkness, griping the sides of the cave in order to support the body attached to it.

A large demon in the shape of an armored wolf towered over the red clad half demon. The creature's round head seemed to overtake a good portion of his body. His oversized crimson irises glared down at Inuyasha with the usual scorn most demons gave him at first glance. Drool oozed down the corners of the demon's mouth. Its wide tongue flicked out to catch the liquid only making the problem worse. Its fur stood on end, signaling that he was already for a fight. Inuyasha smirked, he shared the sentiment.

"I AM ROYAKAN! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR END HALF DEMON!"

Inuyasha dashed forward, his claws ready to slice. "That's funny I was about to say the same to you! Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!"

Blood colored the air around him, and the fight was on.

The small voice was silent.

OOOOO

Deep in the forest a young demon hung upside down on a branch. Her leather wings were wrapped around her slender body, blocking the details of her figure. Her long white hair hung below her while her lips stayed focused on the flute she was playing.

Her eyes snapped open when a new scent reached her lips. She ceased the sound of her flute for a moment to allow herself a smile.

"New prey," she whispered.

This would be fun.

AN: Sorry for any typos you might see, didn't have time to really edit. Hope to see you next chapter!

Mitarashi Dango: is a type of dango skewered onto sticks in groups of 3–5 (traditionally 5) and covered with a sweet soy sauce glaze. It is characterized by its glassy glaze and burnt fragrance.

The Demon Puppeteer by Gammer

Chapter 13: The Demon Puppeteer

"I AM ROYAKAN! PREPARE TO MEET YOUR END HALF DEMON!"

Inuyasha dashed forward, his claws ready to slice. "That's funny I was about to say the same to you! Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!"

The four golden arcs sliced through the air like flying blades. With Royakan's massive bulk and oversized torso, a hit was guaranteed. But the enraged monster halted its charged and slammed its massive hands into the ground, sending a wave of dirt, rock, and dust into the attack's path. The debris blasted its way into Inuyasha's eyes, obstructing his vision for the briefest of seconds. The half-demon launched over the dust cloud. But he quickly realized his mistake.

"FOOLISH HALF-DEMON!" the mad guardian exclaimed from above.

Inuyasha gritted his teeth and barely had time to form a feeble defense before Royakan's claws dug into his flesh. The sudden weight of the monster killed what was left of Inuyasha's leap and brought the half-demon back to the hard earth below, smacking his head into rocks in the process.

The red-clad demon growled, already feeling the blood ooze down the side of his face, and the sore bump that would follow. Royakan stood over him, his right claw holding the half-demon in place, while his left poised over his neck, ready for the finishing cut.

"Let's see you try and use those feeble dog claws now, half-demon!"

Inuyasha scoffed. "Fine, but you asked for it! Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!" At close range, dodging was impossible. The four golden arcs tore through the creature's armor, cutting upwards diagonally until reaching the creature's neck. Royakan jumped back before the technique could finish its path. At the loss of the weight, Inuyasha sprang to his feet and launched towards the stumbling Royakan. A desperate swipe was only attack Royakan could manage. In mid-air, Inuyasha tumbled forward, avoiding the blow and landing squarely on the monster's forearm. With the added boost, the half-demon pushed off against the limb and the met the creature with a front kick to his chin. Inuyasha swung his body to the side, the force giving him the power to knock the creature off its feet with a powerful roundhouse kick.

The trees around them quaked as Royakan met earth. Inuyasha smirked. Despite the new wound in his torso and bump on his head, it always felt good to knock down an arrogant demon like this one. He walked over to the defeated guardian, surveying the damage he had inflicted. The four slash marks from his claws had made short work of Royakan's armor, easily reaching the flesh to create a deep blow. Fresh blood oozed out from its wound while the wolf's now vacant eyes stared at nothing.

Inuyasha nudged the demon with his foot for good measure. When no reaction arose from his opponent, he nodded to himself and turned towards the pathway.

"Back to babysitting," he muttered to himself. The half-demon was ready to spring away when something caught his ears.

A groan was behind him was his only warning.

Inuyasha whirled around in time to see Royakan's claws lurch in his direction. The half-demon sprang back and saw his formerly dead opponent rise to his feet. The blood from its wound receded back into its body while the wound closed completely. The claw marks within the armor quickly stitched itself back to its previous form. Royakan's previously vacant eyes now focused squarely on the lone red-clad half demon before him.

"What the hell?!" Inuyasha exclaimed.

"ROYAKAN IS IMMORTAL!" The demon declared to the heavens.

Inuyasha slid back from his opponet. He had never seen any demon heal that quickly. Demons of course healed much faster than humans. But he'd never seen one heal only a few seconds afterwards. Was it some kind of illusion? Or some type of spell Royakan knew? Inuyasha struck down the latter thought. A beast like Royakan was all brute strength. Magic never came naturally to those types. But that sill did not explain what he had just witnessed. The half-demon scoffed as he noticed Royakan prepare for the next round.

"Keh, all that means to me is that I get to cut you up in more ways than one!"

Royakan growled before taking a deep breath. A substantial circular bulge enveloped his throat. The pressure shifted upwards, filling his cheeks with whatever technique the creature was ready to unleash.

"Prepare…yourself…half demon….!"Royakan exclaimed, despite his full mouth. "To…be devoured…by the Hounds of the Underworld!"

Wolves erupted from the mouth of Royakan like waves. The vermin quickly swarmed around Inuyasha, their fangs on full display and their three lime green eyes taking in every inch of Inuyasha.

"Not a bad trick," Inuyasha said. "Let me show you another one of mine, Blades of Blood!"

The crimson blades easily cut through the impromptu wolf pack, creating a brief pathway towards their leader. Inuyasha dashed through the path, slashing at any remaining wolves as he went. The half-demon drew back his claws, preparing for another slash, but Royakan seemed a step ahead of him. The wolf-guardian leaped to the side, avoiding Inuyasha's attack and exposing his backside. Royakan wasted no time in exploiting the opening. More demon wolves exploded from his mouth. Inuyasha slammed his heels into the ground in an attempt to slow himself down, but the wolves closed the distance faster. The red clad half demon was quickly overtaken by the wolves. A seemingly endless crowd of creatures bit and slashed at his robes drawing blood.

Inuyasha growled at his current plight. The wolves seemed to be coming from every direction, gnawing at whatever part of his body they could find. He slashed to his right, creating a small hole in the wall of wolves. But the small opening was quickly closed by another ten wolves replacing the vanquished.

"No way am I going let myself be mauled to death by you bastards!" Inuyasha exclaimed as he kicked out both legs from the fray. He could already hear Royakan create more wolves to replace the newly vanquished. With that in mind, the half-demon gathered as much power as he could in his legs and launched himself into the air, the sudden uptake of wind knocking off any remaining wolves.

The half-demon settled on a high branch, overlooking the scene below. The wolves already swarmed the tree, scratching at the bark in a vain attempt to intimidate him. Inuyasha's ears pressed down into his hair as he growled back at the four-legged creatures. Damn vermin, he thought. At the wolves' flank Royakan paced, his eyes not leaving the tree. Inuyasha cracked his claws. Taking out the wolves was a waste of time. Royakan would just make more. The bastard would probably just keep hurling wolves until he was too tired to fight back, then Royakan would cut him down in an instant.

The halfling could only scoff, like hell that was going to happen. All he had to do was slash Royakan until whatever was healing him just gave out from the frequent cuts. Or slash open the bastard's throat. Inuyasha grinned; yeah he liked the second option much better.

The half-demon sprang from his tree branch, soaring over the pack of wolves with ease. Royakan's mouth immediately swelled up, ready to unleash more hounds. But gravity was on Inuyasha's side. He shot through the air like a tinted red arrow, his surroundings a blur save for the massive target that was Royakan. Inuyasha's claws met Royakan fur-covered flesh and slashed across the creature's wide neck.

A fountain's worth of blood burst from the new wound, soiling Inuyasha with more red than usual. The white-haired demon kicked the dying creature away from him to prevent more its blood from reaching him. Royakan convulsed on the forest floor. His throat filled with his own blood. A coughing fit struck the former guardian as the blood entered its windpipe. With each labored and desperate cough for air, more blood burst from his mouth, trailing down the corners of his mouth and joining the growing river on the forest floor.

After only a few seconds, Royakan became still. His wolves vanished in a blue puff of smoke.

Inuyasha could only scrunch his face in disgust. "Damn it, now I gotta wash this stupid wolf smell off me."

"YOU SPEAK AS IF YOU HAVE WON HALF-DEMON!" Royakan growled. The wolf guardian rose back to his feet. The three deep slash wounds in his throat had already closed. The only indicator that Royakan had been wounded at all was the blood that still remained on the forest floor.

Inuyasha took a step back and gritted his teeth. "Damn it! What does it take to kill you!?" There had to be some kind of trick to his rapid healing. That Yura-bitch could heal from all the wounds he had inflicted on her but only because she had that weird comb thing. Without it she had withered to nothing. Royakan had to have something similar nearby. In his cave maybe? Was that why he had made this area his territory? There was only way to find out.

"I am about to win, you furry bastard! Blades of Blood!" The numerous crimson blades easily found their mark, Royakan's eyes. The beast's hands immediately flew up to its eyes, stumbling about in pain.

Seeing his chance, Inuyasha dashed towards the temporarily blind creature and took a sizable leap over the guardian. But Royakan, despite his blindness seemed to be one step ahead of him again. His giant hand latched onto the half-demon's ankle, halting the leap instantly. Royakan swung him like a club, bashing him against a nearby tree before slamming him back down to earth.

Inuyasha rolled back, putting some distance between them. Stars danced at the edges of his vision and as he stood he felt unsteady. The half-demon merely growled and mentally willed the pain away, for now. He had a fight to finish damn it!

"Is that all ya got, ya over-sized throw rug!"

"NAY, HALF-DEMON! I HAVE SPECIAL TECHNIQUE FOR THE LIKES OF YOU!"

Inuyasha puffed his chest. "Well, bring it on! I ain't got all day!"

Royakan replied with an ardent roar that seemed to make the forest quiver with fear. The over-sized wolf's body tensed as his exposed fur began to stand on end. His chest armor quickly gave way to the fur. Before long, Royakan was a walking mass of spike-like fur. Inuyasha cracked his claws ready for anything, but still could not help but roll his eyes at the creature's "special technique".

"Keh, what are you going to do with a move like that?" he chided. "Poke me to death?"

Royakan responded by curling himself into a ball, fully exposing the new fur-spikes on his back. Inuyasha took a step back, slowly piecing together exactly what Royakan's "special technique" was.

"DIE HALF-DEMON!"

The new boulder-like form of Royakan began to spin at a speed Inuyasha could barely keep up with. The demon's new form barreled towards Inuyasha, ripping apart the ground with ease as he went. Inuyasha dug his feet into the ground, unwilling to let the monster force him to yield.

"Blades of Blood!" The blades struck the rolling Royakan but did nothing to deter the impending collision. Inuyasha barely had time to register his surprise before the creature was only inches away from him. Shelving his pride for now, Inuyasha shot into the air. As he hovered, he saw Royakan's new form annihilate every tree, rock, branch, and creature in its rolling path as if they were all rice paper. A long and thick trail of debris and destruction followed the new form.

Inuyasha landed on a branch and watched as the boulder form of Royakan continued its path of destruction. The lack of adjustment and direction in the monster's rolling made the half demon figure that Royakan could only go in a straight line in that form. Inuyasha rolled his eyes at the demon's own stupidity and lay back against the tree trunk. It was only a matter of time before Royakan went over a cliff or ran into an even bigger demon that would make short work of him, his faster healing rate be damned. Pursuing the fight further would be pointless.

All things considered it hadn't been that bad of a fight. Inuyasha only wished it hadn't ended so abruptly. Inuyasha shrugged at the thought. At least that damn voice in his head had been silent the entire time. Now with that out of his system all he needed was a river to wash off the disgusting wolf scent from his body.

He smelled the air and easily caught the scent of a river nearby. But there was another scent in the air, Kagome's along with Kaede's. What the hell were they doing? Weren't they eating dumplings? Maybe they were just out for a walk? That thought quickly fell by the wayside when the scent of Royakan struck Inuyasha's nose.

Realization jolted through Inuyasha's body making him leap off the branch and soar towards the girls.

Royakan was heading straight for them.

Despite the urgency, Inuyasha couldn't help but smirk. Looks like their fight wasn't over just yet.

OOOOOO

"Man this thing is tough to pull!" Kagome exclaimed as she tugged on the bowstring of Kikyo's bow. It took most of her strength just to make the stupid thing budge. She could feel the strain run up and down her arm and tendons. The skin on her fingers quickly became irritated and Kagome could tell that soon the skin would break. The school girl slung the bow back on her shoulder to give her arm a break. "How does Kikyo manage to do this all the time?"

"Sister Kikyo always insisted on bows with heavier resistance in the draw string," Kaede said with the quiver on her back.

Kagome massaged her wrist, wishing her mom had packed some ointment as well. "Why?"

"The arrow's impact is usually greater that way," Kaede explained. "Most demons are able to resist and even ignore most arrows loosed from normal bows. So Sister Kikyo learned to create her own specialized bows and arrows in order to properly combat demons."

Kagome took the bow in her hands again and looked over the weapon. It didn't seem all that different from bows she had seen before. Then again she was the furthest thing from a master archer. "What kind of Shinto shrine teaches its students how to craft their own weapons?"

Kaede shook her head. "Sister Kikyo didn't learn that from the shrine. Our Uncle Arima taught her everything she knows about archery."

"Uncle Arima? Who's that?"

Kaede froze. Her hands flew to her mouth as if she had just blurted out a series of curse words. The little girl quickly looked down and shuffled past Kagome. "It's nothing, never mind, forget I said anything."

Kagome was taken aback by the child's sudden shift in behavior. But soon realized soon that Kaede was already well ahead of her. "Kaede, wait up!"

"If we don't hurry, we won't reach Royakan," Kaede insisted.

"That's true but we might get separated," Kagome said, jogging to catch up with the suddenly swift child. "Besides, we don't know what else lives in this forest."

That was when Kagome heard it. It was music, a strange kind of music. A flat and slow tune seemed to drift its way into the forest. The sound seemed to alert the birds and rodents to scurry away for safety. Kagome tensed. She glanced around her for the source of this noise but all she saw was foliage. With each passing second the music grew louder and faster. Kagome gulped. Whatever was coming wasn't going to be good. She took hold of the bow and reached for an arrow only to grab air.

"Crap…" she muttered, remembering where the quiver was. "Kaede! Get back here!"

Kagome wasn't sure whether or not Kaede heard her when the small child stopped in her tracks. Kaede looked left then right as if she was trying to cross an imaginary road. As Kagome jogged to reach her, she heard Kaede let out a gasp. The child turned on her heals and sprinted towards Kagome.

"Lady Kagome we have to leave this area at once!"

"Why? What's going on?"

Kagome received her answer when a massive ball of fur and armor bulldozed its way through the trees and straight towards them, ready to do the same.

Kagome grabbed Kaede's wrist and bolted down the already narrow forest path. The sandals she wore slapped against her feet and seemed ready to slip off at any moment. And the long hakama pants trailed on the ground behind her like dress. Kagome stumbled when her feet got caught on the cloth.

"Darn it!" she exclaimed, recovering quickly. "How do you run in this thing?!"

Kagome looked over her shoulder and saw the thunderous ball was very quickly gaining on them. It tore through the ground giving Kagome a preview of their fates if she didn't act fast. With a speed she didn't know that she had, Kagome scooped up Kaede and dove to into the side bush off the main path.

Kagome squeezed her eyes shut as she skidded across the ground, pebbles, branches, and friction all gnawing at her body. Kagome's grip on Kaede never wavered as her body took the full brunt of their dive. When they finally came to a stop, Kagome laid still. The world seemed to be a series of spirals and pain. Her stomach churned and pumped, ready to dispel its contents at any moment.

She felt Kaede shake her, crying for her to get up. Kagome attempted to do so, but her stomach said otherwise.

"Wh-what happened….?" Kagome managed.

"When you dove us out of the way of the demon, we ended up tumbling down the hill behind me," Kaede explained.

Despite her dizziness and nausea, Kagome peered over Kaede's shoulder. Just as the little girl had said, a pretty steep and sizable hill was behind her. Skid marks from their fall were leftover along with most of the contents of her bag and the quiver Kaede had.

"Did we lose that….thing at least?"

"Yes you did," a coy voice said from above them. "But unfortunately, priestess you will now need to deal with me."

The pulse of a demonic aura ran through Kagome's tattered body. The schoolgirl sat up despite a strong refusal from her stomach and glanced around them. No demon was within their sights. She was about ask where the voice came from, but Kaede tapped her shoulder and motioned for her to look above them.

Hanging upside down was a female with long white hair and strange mauve eyes. Her body was slender in a way that most super-models starved themselves for. Black leather wings draped around her like an odd organic coat and her long talons dug into the tree branch. A wooden flute was close to her lips, making Kagome wonder how this strange girl could play upside down.

"What kind of demon is that?"

"A demon bat," Kaede answered, slowly stepping back. "They're usually found in the mountains to the far north."

"What's one doing down here then?"

"I must congratulate you priestess," the female bat said. "No one has ever found my hiding place so easily and quickly. Your helpless act, along with your false argument with your half-demon companion had me deceived for quite some time."

Kagome glanced at Kaede hoping the young girl could somehow translate what the demon meant, but the girl shook her head. She had no answer for the befuddled schoolgirl. Kagome gulped and slowly got to her feet. "Um…I'm not really sure what you're talking about Miss…."

"I am called Jun, but my name is of little consequence to you priestess," the bat demon said.

"OK, look Jun, I don't know what you think you know but we just came here by accident," Kagome insisted. "And we were just about to leave, so if you'll excuse us…."

"You can drop the act priestess!" Jun snapped. "I know you sent that half-demon into my territory in order to do battle with my pet Royakan and then while my protector is away, you used that as an opportunity to track me down to my true hiding place!"

"I don't know where you're getting your information from, but I think there's been a slight misunderstanding here."

"There is no misunderstanding, priestess."

With that Jun brought the flute to hear lips and began to play a slow high pitched tune that forced Kagome to cover her ears. With each passing second the music became louder and faster in its beat. Kagome dropped to her knees as the sound became like a needle being gouged deeper into her ear drum. Kaede seemed to be feeling the same. The little girl cried out as the noise persisted but she seemed dead-set on reaching the hill where they had tumbled.

"What's she trying to do?" Kagome yelled over the torturous composition. "Make us go deaf!?"

"My music is beautiful to demons, priestess," Jun said, giving the schoolgirl a brief reprieve from the white noise. "When they hear it, they are compelled by its graceful melody and enduring beats. But to your pure ears I'm sure it's merely noise."

"Noise…is…putting it lightly…." Kagome shot back, despite the new ringing in her ears.

"Lady Kagome!" she just barely heard. "Catch!"

The bow landed at her feet with three arrows following afterwards. Kagome scrambled to pick up the weapon and notch the arrow. Her face scrunched together in effort trying to pull back on the drawstring. Kagome could feel the muscles in her arm nearly tear at the exertion. The bow refused to stay straight. The constant shifting made aiming nearly impossible. Kagome shut one eye like she had seen in the movies and loosed the arrow when her arm couldn't take much more.

The swift wind of the flying projectile whizzed past her ear. The arrow soared down its path directly into a tree thirty feet to the right of her opponent.

Kagome could only stare blankly at the missed shot, her mouth agape.

"Kaede…." She said finally.

"Yes?"

"I think we're in trouble here…"

Jun stared at the off-the-mark arrow and slowly turned back to Kagome. A giggle passed through her lips as the demon raised her flute once more. "I believe I may have overestimated you priestess. But still, better safe than sorry."

The screeching music made its encore, making Kagome drop the bow as she covered her ears. But this time the music was accompanied by a thunderous rumbling that seemed to be making its way towards them. In only a few seconds the brush nearest Jun gave way to the massive boulder-like object from earlier.

The object ceased its rolling and unfolding itself to reveal an over-sized wolf demon in full armor.

"Royakan!" Kaede identified. "Jun must be controlling him with her music! That's why he went mad!"

Kagome stepped back, the sound of her pounding heart overtaking the demon's flute. "I think how she's doing it is the least of our problems right now…"

"Royakan," Jun said to the mad guardian. "Be a dear and kill these two intruders for me."

"What's wrong, too weak and lazy to do your own dirty work?" A crass voice scoffed from above them. A voice that Kagome recognized instantly.

"Inuyasha!" she exclaimed.

The red-clad demon hopped off his branch and landed by her side, a smirk present on his face. "What do we have here? An over-sized wolf and a rat with wings pulling his strings. I guess today is my lucky day. I get to slaughter my two least favorite species of demon in one fight."

"No half-demon," Jun said. "Today is my, lucky day."

With that the music continued but it wasn't the screeching sound that had come before. This one was much smoother and softer with a quicker tempo. Kagome looked over to Kaede who did not seem affected by the music either. The little girl shrugged at her and Kagome returned it. Whatever Jun was doing didn't seem to be aimed at them.

But her ease was quickly replaced by terror with Jun's next statement.

"Half-demon, finish off those priestesses!"

Inuyasha whirled around, his eyes crimson and his expression feral.

Kagome froze.

Inuyasha attacked.

Kagome's Voice and Kikyo's Trust by Gammer

50 Years Too Early

Chapter 14: Kagome's Voice and Kikyo's Trust

Kikyo felt a tremor roll down her body. The air was suddenly cold and her heart began to pulsate. The voice of the headman in front of her seemed non-existent, despite an echo emphasizing her every short breath. Her hands shook and the priestess placed them on the floor to control the spasm but to no avail. Something wasn't right. She felt…scared…on edge, and tense. Emotions she had not felt since her girlhood. Was it a demon? No, she had checked her barriers this morning as she always did. There had been no activity. Moreover, this was not the same sensation she felt when a demon approached. It was too foreign. As if the fear originated from someone else.

"Lady Kikyo!" A strong voice exclaimed.

Whatever trance Kikyo had been locked in, shattered when her ears picked up on the voice. She took a breath to regain her center. She would have to research whatever happened to her at a later date.

"Are you all right, Lady Kikyo?" the village headman, Hisashi asked. He looked at her intently, placing his shaved head and growing wrinkles on full display.

"There is no need to worry Hisashi-san," Kikyo reassured him with a wave of her hand. "I was merely in a…deep meditation."

The older man raised an eyebrow before letting out a small chuckle. "I have spent some time in the temple, Lady Kikyo, but never have I seen anyone go into such a deep trance mid-conversation."

It was Kikyo's turn to chuckle, albeit, humorlessly. "It is…a rare talent."

A silence passed between them while Hisashi took a sip from his lukewarm tea. The headman's home was a modest structure. The tatami mats and shoji screen doors were trappings that would not be found in her home or the other villagers. A scroll of calligraphy hung on the far wall with several sutras and texts beneath it. Kikyo returned her gaze to the headman before her. The older man had been recently appointed head of the village by the Hojo clan several months ago. Never one for politics, local or otherwise, Kikyo had provided him with the greetings and blessings that were expected from her. With that accomplished, Kikyo had been content to allow Hisashi to do his work as long he did not attempt to meddle in her affairs of protecting the jewel and the village. For his part, the headman seemed to oblige her. The two never had an extended conversation beyond fair-weathered topics such as the current day or minor happenings in the village.

It was only when an Imperial messenger descended upon the village this morning did Hisashi break their unspoken arrangement.

The letter laid spread out in the center of Hisashi's small table. The calligraphy beautiful and well practiced. The language, verbose and more akin to poetry. It took three readings for Kikyo to fully understand the letter's message.

The Emperor wished for all prevalent monks and priestesses to travel to the capitol, Kyoto, for the time of Obon.

Kikyo held in a sigh. Obon, for many it was the most important tradition on the calendar. For her it was the busiest time of the year. From the thirteenth day of the seventh month to the fifteenth day of the seventh month, souls of departed ancestors returned to this realm from the spirit world. It was a time for families to come together, clean their homes, and attend to the graves of their loved ones. She was a priestess and a follower of the various kami in the world and Obon was a tradition found in the teachings of the Buddha. Still, the two faiths agreed that the souls of the departed, especially those of the ancestors, needed to be guided and protected during this time.

As a result, Kikyo often found herself overrun with requests to purify grave-sites, offer prayers to every departed family member, provide advice for the best grave offerings, share the location of the best incense, pacify every wronged spirit in the family tree, and so on. Naturally humans were not the only ones who enjoyed Obon. With so many spirits and humans gathered in one place, the Obon festivities were the perfect target for demons. Demons she would, of course, be expected to deal with. By the time Obon concluded with the floating lanterns, Kikyo had always found herself completely drained of energy and vigor. Such an experience was exhausting enough in her modest village. To experience Obon in the capitol….

"I do not like this idea," Hisashi said, somehow voicing her own thoughts. "I know the Emperor wishes to protect his people yet…"

Kikyo wanted to scoff at the idea. Only during Obon does the Emperor recall having subjects to protect? Where was this "protection" during these seemingly endless times of civil war and strife? Where was this so-called Living Kami when villages must endure yet another raid from bandits or from poor samurai seeking their heads for prestige? Where was the power of this "Son of Divinity" to attend to the countless cases of disease and famine that plagued this land?

"For our village, you are the main source of protection from demons and worse," Hisashi continued. "Without you here, Lady Kikyo, I fear for the safety of the villagers. Especially with the cursed jewel still present."

"The Jewel of the Four Souls," Kikyo corrected.

Hisashi inclined his head. "Yes, of course."

The jewel did present her with some difficulties. Protecting the Sacred Jewel was her priority. Nothing, not even the Emperor, should be enough to take her away from that. Yet it was also her duty to protect the souls of the departed. With so many demons failing to gain the jewel it was likely that they would change their targets to the vast array of humans and souls that the Obon festival provided. Taking the jewel with her was out of the question. It would not only bring even more demons to the festival but also expose the jewel to the collective darker desires of the humans present. In the village the jewel was isolated and surrounded by villagers who were, thankfully, ignorant of its malevolent power.

"Both the villagers and the jewel shall be safe here," Kikyo concluded. "The Obon Festival is tempting enough for demons to, temporarily, overlook the jewel."

Hisashi sighed. "Then I assume you will be attending then?"

"That is correct."

It would be an exhausting ordeal, but protecting the souls of the dead and the living, who prayed for their safety, was of far more importance than her own comfort. If she only thought of herself, she would be a rather poor priestess.

"Very well, I shall respond with your agreement."

"I thank you Hisashi-san," Kikyo said with a bow.

Kikyo rose to take her leave. Since Kagome applied the medicines from her world on her wounds, her recovery speed had increased. Today for instance, she was able to get around without the need of a crutch. Her limp however still remained, but some progress was better than none. She saw Hisashi rise in the corner of her eye. He most likely wished to provide assistance on her way out, but the priestess motioned that it was not necessary.

The headman nodded in understanding and produced a fresh parchment in order to write the reply. Kikyo was nearly out of the room when she heard him clear his throat.

"Lady Kikyo, can I also assume that you will be taking the half-demon with you?"

Kikyo immediately halted. She felt a twitch in her eyebrow as the spark of irritation surfaced inside her stomach.

"If Inuyasha wishes to accompany me," she replied, emphasizing his name. "He is welcome to do so."

She heard the headman sigh. "I understand that he is your ally in protecting the jewel, but I am not comfortable with you traveling with such…an unpredictable being."

Under her sleeves, Kikyo's hands curled into fists. The dark-haired priestess took a deep breath, reminding herself of Hisashi's status as the village headman and his connections with the Hojo clan. If she alienated the elder man or insulted him in any way, he had the potential to make her life and Kaede's life by extension, far more difficult than it was already was priestess or no.

She turned to face the headman, her face impartial, she hoped. "I am afraid that I do not understanding your meaning Hisashi-san."

"There is no need for you to feign ignorance with me Lady Kikyo," the headman said, rising to face her. "I know the boy may look human but we both know that the treacherous blood of a demon still flows through his veins. You cannot expect me to believe you would be safe around that…creature."

"Inuyasha has been instrumental in the defense of this village," Kikyo said, her voice dangerously low and the edge blatant even to a deaf man. "When Yura of the Hair attacked and took the people as her puppets, he helped to defeat her. He kept the demons at bay while I recovered from the battle. And he has saved my sisters on more than one occasion. He is more than just a mere ally. He is my friend."

"Lady Kikyo, tell me you are not that naïve," Hisashi muttered. "Demons do not make friends. A demon who claims otherwise is a fox or worse in disguise. We are nothing but food and playthings to them."

"Inuyasha is half-human."

"The point still remains, my lady," Hisashi pressed. "Do not think of me as a distrustful old man. In my previous service to Lord Hojo and in my short time as a temple monk, I have seen all manner of demon. Not once did I see one capable of even understanding the notion of friendship. And I am sure you have experienced the same."

"Do you truly believe I would entrust Inuyasha with the lives of my sisters, Kagome and Kaede if he were anything like the demons you and I have encountered previously?"

"I believe you are mistaking pragmatism for friendship," Hisashi said frankly. "You informed me, several months back, that the half-demon was merely interested in that jewel you are so keen on protecting. And now you expect me to believe that suddenly, he has lost all interest? If I were in his position I would be biding my time as an ally to learn your weaknesses and then strike once your guard has been lowered. That is how Lord Hojo regained the Musashi province after all."

"If that is case then I am glad that I am placing my life in Inuyasha's hands rather than yours," Kikyo said, her evenhanded tone long gone and her impartial expression replaced with a venom-filled scowl.

"I do not mean to offend, Lady Kikyo," Hisashi said, holding up his hands in defense. "I am merely attempting to give you insight into what the half-demon is thinking."

This time, Kikyo allowed herself to scoff. "So you are able to read minds then? Tell me did the mighty Lord Hojo impart this great skill onto you as well?"

Hisashi narrowed his eyes. "Lady Kikyo…."

Kikyo looked away, ashamed of herself. This back and forth was of no benefit to her or Inuyasha. She allowed herself to take a step back and took a cleansing breath. The fire that had taken hold of her abated. She felt her lips move out of a scowl and back into their neutral position.

"I apologize for my outburst Hisashi-san," she began slowly. "You have brought valid points to my attention. I will work to ensure that even if you cannot trust Inuyasha, you and the villagers are able to trust my judgment in regards to him."

Hisashi nodded. "I accept your apology Lady Kikyo. Please understand, I only speak with your safety and the safety of the village in mind."

"I thank you for your concern headman, but I give you my word, Inuyasha would never harm humans."

OOOOO

"Inuyasha stop!" Kagome cried, stumbling backwards. The harsh wind of his swipe passed over her face, taking a few strands of her hair with it. Another swipe with his left came immediately after. Kagome ducked as low as her body would take her. The attack passed over once again, giving Kagome the chance to somersault to her feet and dash down the dirt path. She heard Inuyasha snarl. She peaked over her shoulder and all she saw were four golden arcs heading her way.

"Lady Kagome, get down!" Kaede shouted.

Kagome dove forward without a second thought. An arrow whizzed overheard, wide of its mark. The crazed Inuyasha whirled his body around, striking down the projectile as if it were paper. His crimson eyes left Kagome, and followed the path of the arrow. Kagome wasn't sure how to feel when she saw Kaede holding Kikyo's bow and fumbling to notch another arrow. But the moment she saw the feral Inuyasha smirk and crack his claws, she knew exactly how she felt. She panicked.

"Kaede! Run away now!" the schoolgirl exclaimed.

"I won't leave you Lady Kagome," Kaede said, closing one eye to aim.

Kagome saw Inuyasha inch forward, wary of the bow. Time was running out. "I'll be fine!" she lied. "Just get out of here now!"

"Sister Kikyo wouldn't run," Kaede whispered. "I won't either."

Kagome scrambled to her feet, throwing herself between the half-demon and the girl. "Inuyasha if you're in there, I need you to listen to me!"

A snarl was his only response.

"You don't want to do this! This isn't you!"

Inuyasha crouched, his fangs on display.

Kagome gulped.

"It's useless girl," Jun said from above them. "He belongs to me now."

"That isn't true!" Kagome shouted. "Inuyasha, you're in there, I know it! We're your friends! Kikyo asked you to protect us! Remember that!"

Inuyasha flinched. His snarl died down to a small grunt. The crimson in his eyes flickered as if a light switch was being switched on and off inside his skull. Kagome's stomach jumped at the sight. He was half-demon after all, maybe Jun's music only affected half of him. It wasn't much, but it was more than what she had to work with a few seconds ago. She took one step forward, despite every instinct screaming at her to run.

"Inuyasha…." She said slowly and softly. "You recognize me…right?"

A series of low growls behind them, forced Kagome to look over her shoulder. A pack of ten or more three eyed wolves were inching towards them. Drool oozed out of their mouths in anticipation of the kill. Kaede whirled around, pointing her arrows at the approaching wolves. Despite the distance between them, Kagome could see the sweat and trembling in the little girl's hands. Royakan, at the flank of the wolf pack, got down on all fours. He licked his lips and shifted his weight on his back legs, ready to pounce at the command of Jun.

"Face it priestess," Jun chuckled, preparing the final note. "I've won."

No, this couldn't be it. It couldn't be. What would Kikyo do if she were here?

"Half-demon, Royakan…..finish them."

"What would Kikyo do? What would Kikyo do?" Kagome muttered to herself at inhuman speeds. Knowing her twin, she would probably have some super purifying technique that would work on both Inuyasha and Royakan. And she would unleash it perfectly without a single hair out of place. But Kagome didn't have anything like that. Did she? Kagome could remember using some power to blast back that centipede demon and some of it to fight Yura, but those were all accidents. She could never remember how to activate them.

A final loud and sour note screeched through the air. The hesitation in Inuyasha's eyes vanished and the crazed half-demon sprung towards her. The wolves circled around Kaede and charged, their fangs ready to tear her apart. Kagome grit her teeth, Kaede's cries filling her ears. A fire ignited in her stomach and spread up to her throat, into her heart, and into her lungs. The burning seemed all consuming. Inuyasha's claws came directly for her neck and as she looked into his eyes, Kagome could only do one thing.

"INUYASHA SNAP OUT OF IT!"

Bright purple light exploded from her body with the intensity of her scream. The light consumed everything around her. Inuyasha, Jun, Royakan, Kaede and the wolves. The trees were torn from their roots and snapped in half like dry twigs. The grass vaporized into nothing, leaving only dirt and rock in the wake of the light. As the power faded, Kagome felt strength leave her body. The schoolgirl fell to her knees and was met with silence. The remaining purple light sparked around her like small lightning bolts. Around her it looked as if a bomb had gone off in the area. Kagome took a deep breath, only to be caught in a coughing fit from the intense heat in the air.

Once the fit ceased, Kagome looked in front of her and saw Inuyasha laying flat on his back some distance away. His fire-rat robes damaged and near tatters. His eyes were blank with unconsciousness. Panic gripped her chest, but she found herself unable to walk. She looked over her shoulder and saw Royakan in the same position. But someone was missing.

"Kaede…." She called her voice hoarse. "Kaede…are you here?"

"I'm here…." Her little voice said. The younger girl emerged from a pile of ashes, which Kagome could only assume used to be the wolves. She rushed to Kagome's side, helping the schoolgirl to her feet. "That was…incredible Lady Kagome….! I've only seen spiritual power on that level from Sister Kikyo. How did you do it?"

"I…wish I could tell you…" Kagome replied. Her gaze fell to the still unconscious half-demon. "Inuyasha…"

She left Kaede's assistance and slowly made her way his still form. She took his arm and felt for a pulse. Thankfully there was one. It was slow and steady. Kagome let out a sigh of relief.

"Is he…?" Kaede asked.

"No, he's alive," Kagome said. "Just knocked out."

"But…do you think that Jun demon still controls him?"

"A very good question little priestess," a sly voice said from above them.

Dread overtook Kagome when Jun swooped down from the air, her body none worse for wear after the blast. The demon must have taken to the air to avoid the more severe damage.

Jun darted forward before Kagome could blink. Her talons wrapped around her throat, cutting into the skin. A single flap of her wings took them airborne. Before Kagome knew it, she had an aerial view of the entire forest, with a very angry demon as her guide.

"You destroyed my territory priestess!" Jun growled. "Do you have any idea how long it will take to find a better hunting ground?"

"Not…really…"

Jun just smirked. "It's just as well. At least I can say I killed the sister of the infamous Priestess Kikyo."

"No…please…."

"Don't despair. The child will be joining you."

"Don't you touch her!"

"You don't have a say in the matter priestess. Any last words?"

"How about four! Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!"

OOOOOO

For Inuyasha it was hard to describe the experience of being under Jun's music. All he knew was that when he arrived to take on Royakan again, he saw the bat demon pulling the strings. The next thing he knew he heard some weird music that seemed to awaken…something that had been sleeping inside of his soul. After that, all he could see was red. It was as if a haze had overtaken him. Nothing seemed real. He couldn't feel, he couldn't think. The only sense he still had was his hearing. And Jun's music was all he could hear. A part of him was content to remain in this haze.

That is until he heard Kagome's voice.

Inuyasha wasn't sure how or why, but he heard her. She said 'friends' and 'Kikyo'. The haze surrounding him, for a moment, lifted. When he saw Kagome approach him the haze or whatever yearned for him to slash her open with his claws. Inuyasha pushed back against that urge, forcing himself to stay still if it was the last thing he did. But when she looked over her shoulder at the approaching wolves, whatever power she had over him vanished and the haze returned. He felt himself lunge towards her, willing to cut her to pieces like the music wanted.

"INUYASHA SNAP OUT OF IT!"

Inuyasha couldn't be sure if it was the immense spiritual power or her voice or both, but either way the moment she screamed and unleashed the wave of spiritual power, the haze shattered. Inuyasha felt himself burn with the sacred energy. Through the blinding light, he saw the wolves of Royakan reduced to ashes and Jun hastily retreating to the air. For a few moments everything went black.

When he came to, the world was still fuzzy. His ears were ringing and the scent of burning wood overwhelmed his nose. When he sat up, dizziness and nausea met him. Kaede sat next him but her eyes were fixed on the sky. Inuyasha looked over the young girl for injuries but other than a few scrapes and dirt on her robes she was fine. Inuyasha allowed him a sigh of relief, which quickly caught the girl's attention.

"Inuyasha!" she exclaimed, causing him to wince. "You're all right!"

"Yeah…sort of…." He groaned. "Where's that damn bat-demon bitch?"

Kaede pointed into the sky. "She took Lady Kagome into the air! I can't shoot that high up!"

Inuyasha growled. Suddenly his unease vanished. The image of Jun being sliced to bits by his claws filled his eyes. "That damn bitch! This fight ain't over yet!"

"Inuyasha…."

"Stay here kid."

A number of trees strong enough to support him still remained despite the blast. It didn't take long for Inuyasha to find them and launch himself towards the two figures hanging in the air. The wind howled past his face while his claws twitched in anticipation. That bitch had some nerve using him as her puppet! He'd show her!

With each leap Jun came closer and Inuyasha already knew the best way to attack the wicket bat demon.

"It's just as well," Inuyasha heard her say to Kagome. "At least I can say I killed the sister of the infamous Priestess Kikyo."

Inuyasha scoffed. She was just another glory-seeking blowhard. Even if Jun killed Kagome, Kikyo would not let that stand. Neither would Inuyasha.

"No…please…." Kagome's hoarse voice reached his ears, making him pick up the pace of his leaps. With Kagome so close and so high in the air, his attack would have to be swift so Jun couldn't keep him too occupied.

"Don't despair," Jun said. "The child will be joining you."

Inuyasha pushed himself even further. One more leap and he would be close enough to strike. He landed on a rather weak branch. He felt the branch bend to his weight, bringing him back down to the ground below.

"Don't you touch her!" Kagome managed.

The branch nearly reached its breaking point and Inuyasha sprang off, soaring higher than he could on his own. As the aerial figures came into view, the half-demon realized he would end up behind Jun, just as he had hoped.

"You don't have a say in the matter priestess. Any last words?"

Inuyasha could barely hide his glee as Jun finally came within striking distance of his claws. Golden energy laced his fingertips, allowing him to pull back his arm.

"How about four!" Inuyasha exclaimed. "Iron Reaver Soul Stealer!"

Four golden arches slashed into Jun's back. Inuyasha could feel his claws slice through the sensitive membrane that connected the bat's wings to her torso. The leather-like material stood no chance against his steel-like claws. In one pass, Jun's leather wings flew off their home covered in her blood. Time seemed to slow down for Inuyasha. Jun's face was frozen in shock. She lingered in the air for a few extra seconds before she dropped like a rock. Her grip on Kagome loosened to nothing.

Kagome shifted from relieved to terrified in only a few seconds. Her shrill shriek stabbed his ears like a needle to his eardrum. Inuyasha allowed himself to fall in her direction. The distance easily closed between them, allowing the half-demon to scoop Kagome into his arms. He felt the girl grip onto his robes (or what was left of them) as their fall slowed. Inuyasha reached the top of a nearby tree and easily hopped his way back to Kaede.

Inuyasha set her down as Kaede rushed to meet them. Kagome stared at him, her face unreadable. Inuyasha took a step back fully expecting her to go off on him with that temper of hers. She took a step forward, her chocolate-brown eyes not leaving his face.

"What the hell are you looking at?" he asked.

Without any further word, Kagome flung herself onto him, wrapping her arms around his neck in a tight embrace. Inuyasha could barely let out a grunt of surprise.

"You're back to normal!" she exclaimed. "Thank goodness!"

Like Kikyo, Kagome's body was extremely soft. But unlike Kikyo there were certain…features on Kagome that were much more…developed. And those twin features were pressed firmly on his body. Inuyasha felt his face grew warm at the realization. His heart sped up to levels that weren't healthy. His thoughts even more so.

"Uh….Kagome…." he muttered.

Kagome let out bashful squeak before pulling back to a safer distance. Her face just as red as his, he couldn't help but notice.

"Sorry…." She said looking down. "I'm just glad you were able to shake off that freaky music."

Inuyasha brushed himself down. "Yeah well, thanks to you I probably went deaf. What kind of technique requires you to scream you lungs out like that?"

Kagome frowned. "The kind that saves the life of your companion who was dumb enough to fall under the spell of a bat demon sorcerer…"

Inuyasha looked away. "Yeah well…about that…..Thanks…you know…."

Kagome's eyes widened but a smile quickly formed on her face. "You're welcome. See, was that so hard?"

Inuyasha scoffed. But there were still a few more blows his pride had to take. "And…for attacking you two like that…it's not easy for me say…so…..you know…."

"Apology accepted, Inuyasha," Kaede said, dragging Kagome's bag at her heels. "Lady Kagome, I managed to re-gather your bag for you."

"Thanks Kaede! I was worried about it for a while."

"So what happened to that Jun demon?" Kaede asked.

Inuyasha smirked at the memory of cutting down her wings. "If she survived that fall, she won't be bugging anyone else anymore."

"And Royakan?" Kagome asked.

At the sound of his name, the wolf demon emerged from the bushes. Inuyasha immediately jumped in front of his charges and growled. To his surprise, Royakan flinched and cowered away.

"Oh no, please!" the demon cried. "I mean you no harm half-demon!"

"What the hell?"

"He was under Jun's control too remember?" Kaede said. "That's why Lady Kagome and I entered this forest to begin with. Some villagers asked us to find out why their guardian went mad."

"Keh, wasn't there for that part."

"Probably because you stormed away in a temper tantrum," Kagome reminded him.

"Yeah? And whose fault was that?"

"Not mine."

"Keep tellin' yourself that."

"Anyway," Kaede said cutting in. "Royakan had something he wanted to say you Lady Kagome."

Inuyasha saw the massive demon approach Kagome who gulped but held her ground. The wolf took a knee and lowered his head to her feet.

"I owe you my life Priestess Kagome," Royakan declared. "Without your assistance I would have remained under that witch's spell for the rest of days. I offer you my most humble of thanks."

Kagome blinked before waving off the strangely modest demon. "Err…don't worry about it. We were just passing through after all…"

"If you or your allies are ever in need, you are welcome to call on me. I will provide you with any assistance I can muster."

"Thank you…." Kagome replied, glancing at Inuyasha for help. The half-demon just shrugged. A demon prostrating himself to a human priestess was a new experience for him too. "We'll be sure to take you up on that someday."

Royakan nodded and rose to his feet. "I must now make amends to the villagers for my wrongs. Farewell for now Priestess Kagome."

"Can you believe that guy?" Inuyasha spat as Royakan made his leave. "What kind of demon makes a promise like that to a human?"

"He called me 'Priestess Kagome'," Kagome whispered. "I…kinda like the sound of that."

Inuyasha rolled his eyes. "Yeah it almost sounds like you did something important. Almost."

Kagome glared at him. "Must you ruin everything!"

"Lady Kagome, may we return to Nami-san's tea house?" Kaede asked. "I don't think we ever got to finish our dumplings."

"Sounds good to me," Kagome said with a smile. "I could use another snack." She turned to Inuyasha before heading back on the trail. "Are you coming? Or are you just going to have another tantrum when we get there again?"

"Get off my back, I'm commin'" Inuyasha scoffed, falling in step with them.

As they walked, Inuyasha constantly brushed his robes.

He could still feel Kagome's soft touch on his skin.

OOOOOO

From the top of her head to the soles of her feet, all Jun could feel was pain. Her body laid sliced and broken. Her back ached for the wings that despicable half-demon took from her. Her arms and legs broken beyond use. Her demon blood would soon repair what it could but her wings would not return. To lose one's wings was like taking the fangs from a wolf or taking the fins from a fish. Without them she was nothing. She was less than nothing. She was grounded.

"That…disgusting…worthless…mongrel….!" she growled. "How dare he….!"

Inuyasha was that half-demon's name. She would have to thank that novice priestess for frequently yelling it out for Jun to hear. When she healed, if she healed, she would track down this Inuyasha and slaughter him with all she had.

"Beware….Inuyasha! My vengeance will know no quarter…!"

"It would appear we share an enemy then," a crass voice said from behind her.

Unable to turn her head, Jun could only stare at the sky until the newcomer entered her field of vision.

A female oni with a lose fitting human robe and red bowl of sake looked down on her. A rather satisfied smile on her face.

"Who are you?"

The oni took a sip out of the dish. "I am Moriko. And you and I are going to make a deal."

OOOOOO

From her scrying bowl, Tsubaki witnessed the scene unfold between the two demons.

The dark priestess could only smile.

"All according to plan."

End Notes:
Kind of a breezy ending admittedly but I was eager for this part of the arc to be over.
Under the New Moon part 1 by Gammer

Chapter 15: Under the New Moon part 1

A thick heat prevailed through the air. It was only the hour of the rabbit* and already Rasetsu could feel sweat build at the nape of his neck. It would seem that the gods were eager to inform mortals that the easy summer months were ending and they were entering the long heat filled heyday of the season. Rasetsu wiped his neck with a cold cloth and let out a groan as the cold offered him a brief solace from Amaterasu's* early assault on the mortal world. The bandit tucked the cloth away in his belt, hoping the cold water would remain so after he completed his task. Fresh dew slicked the grass beneath his feet and the rising sun peaked through the tree branches, blinding his good eye occasionally. Rasetsu's fingers drummed against the hilt of his sword as he mentally repeated the task assigned to him. Defeat the priestess' six shikigami warriors.

Rasetsu had laughed at the task when the priestess presented it to him. Surely it was some type of jest or ruse, he had thought. He had survived over three hundred battles with many more to come! He had slaughtered men and women by the thousands! Defeating six conjured pieces of paper would be a simple task for a fighter of his caliber! Or so he had thought.

After ten defeats in a row in only an hour's time, Rasetsu began to understand how much was set against him.

First and foremost was his eyesight. A man could survive in this world with only one working eye, a fighter however could not. Both eyes were needed to keep all opponents in view and to take in the surrounding area in case the gods granted good fortunate in advantageous terrain. It was a task that a sole right eye could not accomplish. To compensate, Rasetsu was forced to keep his head in motion to prevent the shikigami from attacking on his blind side. Yet another task that was easier in speech than in deed. The shikigami often moved faster than the bandit could keep up with. The puppets seemed to be aware of this and constantly broke off into two groups. Three would attack on his good side to keep his attention while three would approach from his blind side and rain blows on his exposed left. Even with his foreknowledge of the tactic, Rasetsu could do very little to counter it. Each time he was brought to his knees hatred filled Rasetsu gut. Hatred for this half-blind condition and hatred for that disgusting half-demon who had caused it! He would decapitate that pathetic creature and use its skull for his sake!

The bandit shook his head and took a deep breath. Hatred was a powerful tool, he was beginning to learn, but it could easily be turned into a distraction. Many of his losses could be attributed to his frustration which led to him attacking wildly without any hint of strategy or technique. His hatred for the half-demon would power his strokes but not blind him further. He needed all his wits to fend off the six puppets.

The shikigami stood in a semi-circle, their weapons already drawn. Three held the standard samurai sword, two wielded the yari, and the final one had a bow and arrow. Their six eerily pale faces stared back at the bandit, unmoving. Rasetsu inched forward, recalling yet another challenge inherent in the task. The puppets held no emotion. They were blank parchment with only what the priestess ordered of them as their desires. Without any desire, they had no intent in their faces. And with no intent, Rasetsu could not read them or anticipate them. But after three days of attempts, stopping only to eat and sleep, Rasetsu was beginning to, at the very least, understand his puppet foes.

Rasetsu raised his sword and dashed forward, a mighty yell shaking the leaves from the tree branches. The two yari shikigami charged to meet him, their long pikes lowered, ready to skewer him like a wild boar. The three sword shikigami quickly shifted to his blind side while the arrow puppet jumped back to notch an arrow.

The bandit brought down his sword, deflecting a thrust to his feet. Rasetsu rammed the attacking puppet with his shoulder, the power of his charge granting extra strength. As the first puppet fell, the rest were quick to cover their first loss. The second yari puppet thrust high, forcing Rasetsu to block upwards to avoid losing his final eye. The bandit realized too late the true purpose of the attack. With his sword caught, Rasetsu had no means of blocking the sword shikigami's stroke to his belly. The bandit's blood sprang from his flesh, soaking the yari puppet in crimson red. Rasetsu planted his foot in the red puppet's chest, knocking it back, freeing his sword to pursue his second attacker.

The sword puppet moved like water as it avoided Raestsu's first two strokes. The bandit pressed his offensive going for a downwards stroke but the puppet slid backwards, allowing his two fellows to swing around him. The two puppets cut into Rasetsu's exposed side as they past, causing the battered bandit to stumble forward and into the path of the final puppet's arrow.

The arrow hammered into his knee like a kick from a horse. Before a cry of pain could leave his lips, the yari puppets came in for the final blow. Two swift blows to his head.

Darkness overtook Rasetu's vision in an instant.

The bandit awoke to a powerful wave of warmth overtaking his damaged body. His vision cleared to see Tsubaki standing over him, her hands in an odd seal, and her lips moving quickly through some chant. A burning sensation passed through him, making the bandit cry out, but the moment the pain eased, he found his wounds to be healed.

"Yet another loss I see," chided Tsubaki.

Rasetsu shot her a glare. For the past three days the only time he would see the priestess was when he was rendered unconscious and she arrived to heal him. Then she would return to her lair to continue plotting whatever she had in mind for him. What was the witch getting out of this? Pleasure? Were her loins arid except in the presence of another's torment?

"Can you read?" the priestess asked suddenly, snapping Rasetsu from his brooding.

"What?"

"Can you read?" she said again, annoyance building in her voice.

Rasetsu scoffed. "What purpose would reading serve me? I can read and write my own name but that's only to carve my name in the heads of my enemies so others know it was I who took their head! Reading marks on paper holds no other value to me."

Tsubaki nodded and tossed a roll of parchment in his lap. "Excellent. Take a horse and deliver this message to Lord Hojo to the east."

Rasetsu stared at the paper and could only scowl. "I'm a bandit, not a messenger!"

"You're whatever I tell you to be," Tsubaki replied. "Now get moving. I expect you to return by tomorrow morning."

"Return to what exactly?" Rasetsu growled. "Being your puppets' personal sandbag?"

The priestess glowered at the bandit, but said nothing as she rose to her feet.

"Answer me, damn it! What's the point of all this! Why am I subjecting myself to this torment!? You promised me revenge against that disgusting mongrel of a creature! For the past three days you have done nothing to honor that promise! And now you make me your personal messenger!"

"I made no such promise," Tsubaki said. "Our agreement was you do as I say, without question."

"Well that's not good enough anymore!"

The priestess turned to face him, her eyes flashing crimson, making Rasetsu's skin crawl. "I believe we both know how this chain of thought will end Rasetsu."

Rasetsu stepped back, despite the priestess being nine paces away from him. His chest tightened at the memory of the doll tucked away in her robes. The sweat near his neck began to flow like a river, while his eye lingered on the priestess' hands hoping she did not reach for the cursed object. Her pale hand rose to her chest and to his horror she began to chant.

"No, please!" Rasetsu exclaimed, falling to his knees. "I understand. I'll do as you ask." The bandit let out his breath when the priestess ceased her chanting. But his relief was short lived.

In a single instant, the priestess formed her hands into the seal and resumed her chant. Rasetsu's cry for her to stop immediately became a wail of misery as the spell worked through his body. The bandit gripped his chest; his body became wrought with spasms. Air would not reach his lungs and his chest felt as if a boulder bashed against it each second. The world fell away from him. Rasetsu only knew pain.

Finally after what seemed to be years, the pain melted away into the ground. Movement was beyond Rasetsu's body. He gasped at the air, greedily grasping for as much air as possible. His limbs and chest ached as if he had just come from a raid.

Tsubaki stood over him, her face filled with a smug superiority. Rage gripped Rasetsu but the bandit had no energy left to indulge it.

"Never raise your voice in my presence again. Do you understand?"

Rasetsu attempted to speak but his throat could not function.

At his hesitance, Tsubaki narrowed her eyes. She placed her hands into the seal again. "Do you understand?"

Cold panic coursed through the bandit's body. With all his might he forced himself to rise to his knees and push the words from his mouth. "I…..under…stand…."

"Then get on your feet and deliver that message."

Tsubaki turned on her heels and walked to her lair. As she left, Rasetsu allowed something to slip past his lips.

"I…..hate….you…!"

"Good," Tsubaki replied. "Then you're finally progressing."

OOOOOO

Inuyasha's leg bounced against the ground as he sat in the meadow. His fingers drummed on his thigh while his ears twitched every which way. He licked his lips for tenth time in only a few minutes and shook his body for the fourth time, trying to ward off an imaginary itch. Tonight was the night of the new moon and his body was already on edge. He should be scouting the area for a secluded place to hold out in or the highest tree he could find so he could overlook the entire area around him. Instead, he sat in an open meadow with Kagome and the kid as they ate their fill of some noodles Kagome called "ramen". Inuyasha had to admit the weird yellow food smelled good, but now wasn't the time to stuff his face. The sun was already nearing its peak in the sky and it would be all downhill from there.

He wanted to growl at the girls and force them to get moving. But then they would ask him why and Inuyasha had no desire to tell them. Not even the old flea Myoga knew for sure when his time of weakness was and that's how Inuyasha wanted to keep it. Keeping his night of weakness a secret was the only advantage he ever got out of life.

"Inuyasha," Kaede called. "Why don't you join us, this… ramen Lady Kagome brought is really good!"

"Keh, no thanks!" Inuyasha shot back. "I'd rather get moving before the day's over!"

"It's only the hour of the snake*, Inuyasha," Kaede said gently. "We have plenty of time to cross these meadows."

You have plenty of time, Inuyasha grumbled to himself. No way they would get it.

"Well if you're not gonna eat anything then would you mind stop fidgeting," Kagome said, half of her face obscured by one of those textbook-things. "Watching you is making me exhausted."

"Then quit gawking at me and keep those stupid eyes on that book-thing!"

Kagome sighed and closed the book with a slam. "I would like to, it's just that there's this red fidgeting figure in my vision that keeps distracting me!"

"Well maybe this red figure will just go on without your slow asses!"

"Go right ahead!" Kagome yelled back. "I'm sure Kikyo would love to hear how you left her two sisters out in the middle of the wilderness!"

Inuyasha flinched. He had never seen the reserved priestess truly lose her temper before but leaving Kagome and Kaede here would definitely be enough for her expressionless mask to break. The image of Kikyo extremely cross with him entered his mind and he could feel all the color leave his face. The hairs on the nape of his neck immediately stood on end and the daunting summer air suddenly became much colder. She could always pin him to the trees no matter how fast he went or what angle he came at when she was calm. If she were ever truly enraged…..an imaginary noose wrapped around the half-demon's neck at the thought, making the young man leap to his feet to escape.

The sound of Kagome's giggling snapped the halfling back to reality. "Did you see the way he jumped Kaede? I had no idea you were that scared of Kikyo!"

The little girl, despite having a mouthful of noodles didn't attempt hide her amusement either. "You can't blame him, Lady Kagome."

The half-demon scoffed and looked away, his face warm. "Wh-who said I was scared? I ain't scared of nothing, especially not Kikyo!"

"I'm sure your soiled robes say otherwise," Kagome sniggered.

"Just shut up, and finish eating!" Inuyasha snapped.

Kagome opened her book again, the satisfied smile on her face annoying the hell out of the half-demon. "You certainly change your tune fast."

Inuyasha merely growled at the schoolgirl who only giggled behind the book. In the end, it took them another hour before they got moving again. Inuyasha took the lead, grumbling all the while. Behind him Kaede was chatting Kagome's ear off about previous missions Kikyo had been on, while Kagome kept her nose in that ridiculous book. Both of them going on with nothing to fear from the coming night. Inuyasha wondered how he would be able to keep this long night a secret from them. It was impossible not to notice when his hair went black and his fangs and claws receded. If they could find a forest to camp in, he'd be able to stay high in the trees for the rest of the night and stay out of sight. With any luck, Kagome would stay out of trouble. Inuyasha paused and thought back on the last month with Kikyo's newfound "sister". As the memories replayed in his mind, from their first encounter to now, the thought of Kagome staying out of trouble for a single night seemed all the more unlikely.

They were nearly out of the meadow when a strong scent struck Inuyasha's nose. It was a crisp, burning scent. The scent of blood and burning wood was mixed together in the air as well. From the strength of the scent, there were a lot of bodies.

"Something wrong Inuyasha?" Kagome asked. "Why did you stop moving?"

"It's nothing," he said quickly. "We need to keep moving."

"Look! Over in the distance!" Kaede exclaimed.

Inuyasha cringed as his eyes followed the girl's finger. A column of smoke arose out from the hills on the far horizon. Based on what his nose was telling him that was source of the burning scent.

"Looks like something is on fire, we should go check it out," Kagome said, closing her book.

"We ain't gotta do nothing!" Inuyasha barked. "Now let's go!"

"Are you out of your mind?" Kagome shot back. "People could be trouble!"

"Well it ain't got nothing to do with us, now does it!"

"Of course it does! We can probably do something to help!"

"Hey! My one job is to get you to this creepy priestess in one piece!" Inuyasha growled getting nose-to-nose with the frustrating girl. "Going off and checking out every little problem is not what I signed on for!"

"What the heck is your problem? It probably won't even take that long, right Kaede?"

But the little girl wasn't present. She was long gone, off the road and running straight for the pillar of smoke. Inuyasha nearly pulled out his hair at the sight.

"Kaede wait up!" Kagome exclaimed and ran to keep pace with the girl.

"Hey, get back here stupid!" When neither girl seemed intent on returning, Inuyasha could only growl into the sky at his plight, and bound after them. He could already smell disaster in the air.

He soared over the girls, thankful that his strength and agility had yet to decrease. It only took him a few bounds to reach the site of the scent. As he expected, the source wasn't pretty. A village lay in ruins before him. Huts were either soot or still burning. The rice paddies had been trampled over by what looked like a hundred or more horses. At this close distance, the stench of burning flesh overpowered the scent of burning wood and straw. The bodies strung about with deep slash wounds and their blood staining the earth, told Inuyasha how little of a fight the villagers had put up. No one was spared from the looks of the bodies. But as Inuyasha examined the carnage a small irregularity stuck out to him. There were no women present.

In most bandit raids one could find as many female corpses as male. Most of the time the female corpses were stripped naked and physical markings of being ravished remained. In this village, Inuyasha could see no females. It was possible they had been burned along with their huts. But another irregularity stuck out to his nose. The scent of a demon was in the air. It was faint but still present. Any other day, Inuyasha would have been able to sort out the scent no problem, but already his senses were getting dull. A small gasp from behind him caught the half-demon's attention.

Inuyasha whirled around, ready to face whatever monstrosity had caused this massacre. The half-demon presented his claws and let out the most feral growl he could muster. To his surprise the newcomer was a boy-monk. From his awkward and gangly body, the boy was fresh into his adolescence. His dark grey apprentice robes were smudged with dirt and dark circles of sweat covered his armpits. The kid's round plain face was slightly hidden by an over-sized straw hat but his fear was still easy to spot. The boy slowly stepped back, his hands shaking and his voice locked in an eternal whimper it seemed.

"I-I-I-I-I…..!"

Inuyasha withdrew his claws and titled his head at the boy. "What the hell are you doing here kid?"

"I-I-I-I-I…I am…a monk…..!"

"Yeah…I'll be sure to tell that to your soiled robes," Inuyasha replied.

"Matahatchi!" a powerful voice exclaimed from the distance. "Away from there!"

The kid dove to the side and before long, Inuyasha quickly realized why. A staff about the length of his arm spiraled in his direction at the speed of one of Kikyo's arrows. The half-demon bounded back, the staff striking the ground where he once stood. A blast of spiritual energy exploded at the contact, nearly knocking the half-demon off his feet. The kicked up dust and dirt prevented Inuyasha from seeing his new opponent. He sniffed the air but only received the scent of dust and blood.

The half-demon soared over the obstruction and landed face to face with the new monk. Like most monks he was bald. His oval face and striking dark blue eyes would have given him a lot of female attention, Inuyasha figured. A small mole under his right eye was the only blemish in his looks. A set of purple prayer beads dangled in his left hand and in his right, his staff. The staff's head it appeared to be a brown claw of some sort. Maybe taken from a demon the monk had slain? Inuyasha scoffed. Where his staff came from didn't matter.

"Hey!" Inuyasha barked. "Who the hell are you and what's your deal?"

"It is as I suspected, Matahatchi," the monk said to the boy. "A demon is behind these savage raids."

"Don't ignore me you damn monk!"

The monk lowered his staff. "I had heard that half-demons were rather feral creatures, but I never expected to find one so vicious."

Inuyasha reeled back. "You think I did this?!"

"Do not attempt to deny it, beast," the monk replied. "I know not your motives and I do not care to know. My only request is you release the women you have taken captive, and then you may prepare yourself for judgment from above."

"I ain't preparing for nothing!" Inuyasha exclaimed. "I ain't the one dying today!"

"Very well."

The monk reached into his robes and produced four talismans, the papers burning with a strong spiritual aura. Maybe as strong as Kikyo's even. Inuyasha narrowed his eyes. This monk was the real deal. Inuyasha cracked his claws and put weight on his left leg, ready to leap when the monk hurled those things. For the longest time neither moved. Inuyasha knew and the monk seemed to know as well, that the loser would be the one who moved first. If Inuyasha attacked first, the monk would have a clear shot with his talismans. If the monk attacked first, Inuyasha could easily dodge the talismans and slash the monk with his claws. Inuyasha inched forward wanting to break the stalemate but not willing to fully commit to an attack just yet.

"Inuyasha!" he heard Kagome shout. "What the heck is going on?"

Inuyasha turned his head to see the girls finally make their way into the ruined village. But that seemed to be the opening the monk was looking for. The moment Inuyasha returned his new foe; the talismans had found their mark. The charms attached themselves to his torso and exposed hands and sent a powerful shock wave of spiritual energy though his body. It felt like lightning was striking him from the inside out. The half-demon's wails filled the silence as the pain forced him to his knees. Inuyasha gripped the ground and bit down on his lips to prevent more screams from escaping. A task harder than it seemed.

"I'll ask again, demon," the monk said, his voice eerily calm. "Where did you hide the women?"

"Fuck you monk!" Inuyasha managed.

"Then, may Buddha find mercy for your troubled soul."

"Hey! Leave him alone!" The red hamaka pants of Kagome's robes blocked Inuyasha's sight of the monk. Kaede's tiny feet quickly accompanied her.

"Lady Kikyo….?" The monk gasped. "What are you doing here?"

"Master Muso," he heard Kaede say. "Please stand down; this half-demon is our friend!"

"Kaede-chan? What in the world is going on?"

Kagome's face filled his vision and the girl quickly removed the four talismans from his pained body. She glanced at them with confusion before tossing them to the ground. "Are you all right?" she asked.

"I didn't need your help."

"Seriously?" Kagome said, exasperated. "You being brought to your knees with talismans covering your body is your definition of not needing help?"

Inuyasha scoffed and slowly rose to his feet. The monk reached into his robes for more talismans but Kaede stood in front. The monk named Muso, scowled.

"Kaede-chan, I am asking you to please remove yourself from that half-demon. He must be removed from this world at once!"

"Master Muso, Inuyasha is my friend and our escort," Kaede said calmly. "I will not allow you to engage any further."

Muso turned to Kagome. "Is this true Lady Kikyo?"

Inuyasha wanted chuckle at Kagome's confused expression.

"Err…I'm not…."

"This is Lady Kagome, master," Kaede interrupted. "Kikyo's twin sister and she vouches for Inuyasha as well, right?"

"Uh…right! Of course!" Kagome said. "Yeah, Inuyasha is with us."

Inuyasha cracked his neck. "Forget that crap! Come on monk! I'm just warming up!"

A rock smashed against is skull, knocking the half-demon off his feet. "Would you shut up for once?" Kagome hissed. "We're trying to defend you here!"

"Kaede-chan," Muso said as he lowered his talismans. "I believe an explanation is in order."

"Later master," Kaede replied. "I believe we have some bodies to purify and bury."

Muso nodded. "Agreed."

Inuyasha growled. "We don't have time to play grave digger!"

"We do now OK!" Kagome shot back.

Inuyasha glanced into the sky and could see the sun inch its way down.

It was going to be a long night.

OOOOOO

Kagome ducked her head in the nearby river, her body no longer bothered by the sheer cold. Her clothes hung on a nearby branch soaked with river water as well. The schoolgirl only wished she had some soap with her to complete her cleaning ritual. Never before had she been so close to corpses, let alone touching them. She was no stranger to dead bodies. Back when she was a kid, her mom would take her to the hospital while she worked the late shifts. Very often she would see her mom rush into a patient's room when the EKG went haywire. From behind the window, she would see someone struggle to breathe or just shut their eyes never to open them again. Her mother would always try to shield her from such sights of course, but death was something every one needed to see at some point.

Moving dead bodies into freshly dug graves however, was something she'd rather not do again.

There was nothing to fear from the dead logically. But logic had very little comfort for her nerves. There had been so many. Their wounds were atrocious and many weren't even whole. Much of the day had been spent trying to figure out which limb went with which corpse or trying to make heads or tails of a charred body.

Kagome's stomach churned at the memory. Her hands flew to her mouth to prevent the bile from rising further.

There had been so many kids. Too many kids. Their small bodies mangled, burned, slashed, or all three. Each time they found a small body, Kagome's heart felt like it weighed forty tons. Kagome could only just barely hold the tears back as the monk known as Muso lowered the children's bodies into the graves. It had been a grim task but it needed to be done. If they had just left the bodies out there to rot and be pecked at by the crows, Kagome knew she would have felt a thousand times worse.

Inuyasha had been a huge help. Being part dog allowed him to dig the graves rather quickly. The image of the half-demon crouched down and digging into the dirt as per his namesake, brought a smile to Kagome's weary face. Still she wished his attitude had been as appealing. Throughout the entire process Inuyasha's grumbling only got worse and more frequent. He would fidget and keep glancing at the sun as Kaede, Muso, and Matahachi said their blessings over the bodies. And he kept growling as she and Muso put out the remaining fires. It probably didn't help that Muso had kept a wary eye on Inuyasha. The half-demon was probably still sore that a monk had been able to bring him to his knees with only a few talismans. But that didn't excuse his insistence of leaving every few hours.

Kagome resurfaced, hoping the grime, soot, and heavier emotions, would be left in the water. As she dressed, the low hanging sun got in her eyes occasionally. The bright orange-red hue was a gorgeous sight. Kagome wished she had brought her smartphone with her. Sunsets like this one were a rare thing back in the modern era. But then, she was sure that Inuyasha would try to slash it out of her hands if she did bring it.

Kagome approached the village, walking by the numerous graves as she went. Flowers picked by Kaede and Matahachi decorated them with incense curtsey of Muso. Kagome clasped her hands together and lowered her head in prayer. With that completed, she made her way to one of the few remaining houses left intact. Kagome had guessed that it belonged to the previous headman of the village. Kagome couldn't venture a guess as to why his house was spared, but it did provide them with some shelter for the night. Perched on top of the roof was Inuyasha, staring at the sun. Yet another mystery Kagome couldn't figure out.

She slid open the doors to see Kaede and Matahachi huddled over some miso soup in the fire pit. On the far wall, Muso went over a map of some kind, muttering to himself.

"Ah! Lady Kagome," Matahachi greeted. "The soup is ready!"

"Great, I could use a bite to eat," Kagome replied.

The bowls were passed around. Kaede offered some to Inuyasha but the stubborn halfling refused to come down from his perch. Kagome had half a mind to scold him but the day's events had worn her out.

"I believe proper introductions are in order," Kaede said. "Lady Kagome, this is Master Muso and his ward Matahachi. Master Muso is a powerful monk who has assisted Sister Kikyo in a number of missions."

"Nice to meet you," Kagome said.

"Likewise, my lady," the monk said with an incline of his head. "Now I hope you can explain to me why two of Lady Kikyo's sisters travel with such a being as your half-demon."

Kagome raised an eyebrow. "What's the big deal? Yeah he's rude and crude but he isn't dangerous."

"You must be new to your duties then, Lady Kagome," Muso said. "Trust in a half-demon is about as valuable as trust in a snake."

"Hey, cueball!" Inuyasha yelled from the roof. "Keep in mind I can hear every word you say!"

"Who we choose to travel with is our own affair, master," Kaede said. "If Sister Kikyo were here, she would say the same."

Muso sighed. "Very well, I shall say no more regarding the matter."

"So... what brings the two of you out here?" Kagome asked, hoping to break the tension. "I heard you say something about raids?"

"Yes," Matahachi spoke up. "There have been a series of bandit raids on villages the past few weeks. Vicious ones. In cases such as these, the local garrison would handle the brigands, however these raids are different."

"In each one, the women are spirited away," Muso continued. "No trace of them is ever found. Lord Hojo believes a demon is responsible and I am inclined to agree with him. I have investigated four raided villages and in each one a demon's aura is present. It is very faint but it's there, hiding among the bandits."

"Lord Hojo has tasked our company with tracking down this demon and exorcising it," Matahachi said, his excitement clear.

"Your company?" Kagome repeated. "But there are only two of you."

Muso scowled. "There was a third, but he proved himself to be most unreliable. I thought it best to continue without him. His exclusion from the reward will be of his own doing."

"Is there any way we can assist you?" Kaede asked. "This sounds like a mission where you would benefit from more hands."

"Helping Matahachi and I bury and bless the dead was more than enough, Kaede-chan," Muso said. "I cannot ask more from you, I sense you have your own task to accomplish."

"Hear that Kagome!" Inuyasha yelled again. "Even the monk thinks we should move on!"

Muso scowl deepened. "Half-demon that is no way to speak to a lady, let alone a priestess!"

Inuyasha scoffed. "Oh yeah, and what are you gonna do about it monk!"

"Inuyasha!" Kagome hissed. "Stop picking fights!"

"It is of no consequence Lady Kagome," Muso said as he rose. "I believe it best for Matahachi and I to continue on with our task."

"But it's nearly pitch black outside," Kagome protested. "You won't find anything out there now."

"Don't be too sure of that," Inuyasha said, leaping down from the roof. "There's someone out there in the bushes. A bandit by the smell of him. Probably one of their scouts."

Muso grabbed his staff and urged Matahachi to his feet. "We best hurry then if we hope to catch him."

"We'll be here if you need more help," Kagome offered.

"Thank you, but it will not be necessary. Come Matahachi!"

The monk stormed out of the small house like a man possessed. His ward at his heels, trying desperately to keep up. The scene would have been comical or something right out of a cartoon if their purpose wasn't so dire. The two disappeared in the bushes and Kagome could only hope they could find and rescue the lost women.

"Keh, good riddance."

Kagome could only shoot him one last glare before sliding the door closed and preparing for the coming night.

/

Blood poured down Kagome's shoulder. Her white robes were saturated with the red sticky substance. The fluid rolled down her arm and dripped to the ground leaving a long trail for even the most incompetent tracker to follow. She was walking, her destination unknown. The trees around her seemed to fly past her despite her slow strides. A fury, an intense, murderous fury, seemed to be driving her. Her heart pounded against her chest both from blood loss and the savage emotion she felt. A figure in red dominated her sight and his cursed voice rang through her ears.

"I shall take this nonetheless, thanks!" she heard over and over again like a tormenting punishment from the gods.

Kagome closed her eyes, trying to shake off the voice, only to find that she was no longer in the forest. She was on the steps of a temple, a bow and arrow in her hands, and her target in sight.

"INUYASHA!"

/

Kagome bolted awake, her breath caught in her throat. Complete darkness welcomed her, reminding her of the moonless night this evening. The schoolgirl checked her back and just like before, there was no wound.

"Just another nightmare," she muttered, both relieved and concerned. Kikyo had told her the dreams would only intensify, but Kagome didn't realize it would be this bad. She was tempted to go back to sleep, but if she did the dream would probably torment her again. The teenager rose from her sleeping bag and slid open the door, the evening summer air a relief on her skin.

She leaned against the wall of the hut, unsure what to do with herself.

"What you still doing up?" a voice said above her.

"Can't sleep," Kagome answered without looking. Only Inuyasha would still be awake during these hours.

"Join the club."

"Unfortunately, the insomnia club isn't an organization I'm up for joining right now."

"What the hell is insomnia?"

Kagome sighed. "Never mind." Silence passed between them. Kagome heard the half-demon shift around on the roof, probably looking for a comfortable spot sit. Why he insisted on staying up there was beyond her. Sure it probably wasn't proper for him to share a room with them or whatever but she didn't know Inuyasha was that much of stickler for decency. "You can come sit next to me you know," she offered.

"No!"

Kagome growled. "What the hell is your problem? You've been acting like a bigger jerk than usual all day today. What is it your time of the month or something?"

"Who told you?!"

Kagome froze. The implication of his statement sending her mind to places she'd rather not go. "Uh…what?"

"You heard me! Who told you about my period of weakness?!"

Kagome winced. "Ok…that's seriously making it worse….."

Before the half-demon could respond a shrill cry for help reached her ears. Kagome had never been so thankful to hear a cry for help in her life.

"PLEASE LADY KAGOME, KAEDE-CHAN! YOU HAVE TO HELP!"

Matahachi emerged from the bushes, his straw hat long gone and panic so clear on his face, the complete darkness of the night couldn't hide it. Kagome rushed to meet the teenage boy.

"Matahachi, what's going on?"

"It's Master Muso! He's been captured by a demon! Please your half-demon seemed strong, he has to help!"

"Not tonight kid!" Inuyasha shot back.

A fury gripped Kagome's body. Before she could stop herself, she grabbed a medium sized stone and hurled it at the rooftop. The rock smacked the petulant half-demon right on his skull, knocking him to the ground. Kagome marched over to the halfling, feeling close to how she felt in the dream.

"Ok I've had it with this attitude of yours!" Kagome exclaimed, sure that her voice would wake every creature around them. "This boy is running to us for help and because you had slight clash with his master, you're going to leave him to die!"

Inuyasha remained hidden in the shadows, refusing to look at her. "That's not it….."

"Then what is it?"

He refused to move from his spot.

Anger gripped her hand and with an odd strength she pulled the half-demon into the light. "Look at me damn it!"

His hair cascaded down his shoulders, ebony black. His now violet-black eyes looked at her with an intense annoyance and frustration. His clawless hand attempted pushed her off him but lacked the strength it usually did. He scowled but without his fangs it was ineffective. He brushed his hair back behind his now completely normal looking ear and glared at Kagome. The schoolgirl found herself dumbfounded. The red robes were right but everything else was completely off.

"I-I-Inuyasha…..is that….you?"

"No," he snapped. "I'm a talking puppet."

"Wh-I-…..what happened to you?"

"Like you said, it's that time of month."

Glossary:

1.) Hour of the Rabbit: Approximately between 5am and 7am

2.) Amaterasu: Shinto Goddess of the Sun

3.) Hour of the Snake: Approximately between 9am and 11am

Under the New Moon part 2 by Gammer

Kagome could only stare at the Inuyasha. Or rather the guy who claimed to be Inuyasha. He leaned against the wall of the hut, his new violet-black eyes boring into her. His shoulders slumped and his arms hung off his shoulders lifeless. Unlike his dog ears that rotated and twitched every few seconds, his human ears were just…there. His voice seemed to have lost its edge. It was softer and much more cautious, as if he walked on thin ice. This couldn't be the proud, graceful, powerful, and annoying, Inuyasha she had come to know. No this new guy just seemed so….diminished.

"Would ya quit gawking at me! I ain't gonna grow a second head or nothing!"

Scratch that, he was still annoying. "Given the circumstances, I wouldn't be surprised if you did!"

"Just shut up!"

"Not until you tell me what the heck is going on with you!"

"None of your business!"

"It kinda is now! So spill!"

"It's his period of weakness," the boy, Matahatchi squeaked. "It is a plight that plagues all half-demons."

Inuyasha could only glare at the boy. "And just how would you know about that brat?"

Matahatchi balked under the new human's glare. Kagome had half a mind to tell him to cut it out, but not before the child-monk finally gave some answers.

"I-I-It was a text written decades ago….b-by Master Hitoshi, the master of our temple. A-a half-demon took refuge in the temple for a period of eight months and Master Hitoshi recorded their interactions. H-he d-discovered that at a certain time of the year t-the half-demon would lose all his supernatural abilities and be rendered completely human."

Kagome reeled back, her brain racing to process this new information. It still didn't add up. They had faced Yura at night and Inuyasha seemed to be top form then, what was so different about this night? Maybe it was a certain time of night? But without a clock or watch how could she tell for sure? Her eyes flew upwards, searching the sky for any difference between this night and the previous ones. The stars, unobstructed by the fields of ambient light in her time, lit up the sky like a bunch of LED light bulbs. Had she paid more attention in astronomy class, she would have been able to point out all the constellations. As her eyes moved between the nearly infinite amounts of stars, she finally noticed the one oddity in the sky. There was no moon.

"The moon…." Kagome breathed. "Tonight is the night of the new moon. That's why…."

"Keh, took you long enough," Inuyasha scoffed.

"This happens to him every month?!" she exclaimed.

"Yes…" Matahatchi said. "According to the text it happens without fail."

"Darn, I wish my period of weakness was that regular…" Kagome muttered.

"What's that?" Inuyasha asked.

Kagome immediately flushed. "Oh nothing! Nothing at all! Don't worry about it!" Inuyasha let out another huff, before looking away. As her flushed face began to die down, another realization struck Kagome. "Wait a minute, if you knew this was going to happen tonight, why didn't you say anything?"

"If you remember, I was the one who wanted to keep moving! But no… you and the kid just had to stop at every turn!"

"That's because we didn't know!" Kagome shot back. "If we knew you were going to lose your powers, Kaede and I wouldn't have insisted on helping Master Muso! What the hell is the matter with you? You couldn't trust us with this?"

"I don't trust anybody! Got it!"

Kagome felt the fire leave her body. "H-how could you say that? I thought that…."

"You thought what? Just because we've been through some fights, I'd suddenly spill everything to you and the kid? Keep dreaming! This is how I protect myself and that's how it's gonna be! Ain't no one is gonna change that!"

Kagome's shoulders dropped and her eyes became glued to her sandaled feet. It's true; she really hadn't known Inuyasha and the others for long, barely a month. But in that short time they had gone through more than she ever had with her friends back home. Kikyo trusted her enough to finally open to her and drop that freaky emotionless attitude and Kaede had no problem sharing either. So why…couldn't Inuyasha do the same? Hadn't she proven herself trustworthy? True they could barely be alone without breaking out into a fight but she had thought that she was at least growing on him. The corners of her eyes stung with fresh tears forming. She grit her teeth trying to will them away.

"Inuyasha…I get what you're saying…." She said. "I just wish you would open up to me more….as your friend…"

"H-hey! Don't cry. I'm the one who's supposed to be down."

"Inuyasha…you're such a…such a….." The tears seemed to evaporate as her body gave way to the inferno building inside her. "COMPLETE IDIOT!"

Her voice seemed to knock Inuyasha off his prideful high horse as he attempted to cower back into the shadow of the hut. But Kagome stomped after him, her nostrils flaring and her nails digging into her skin.

"If it weren't for your pride this whole situation wouldn't have happened! Grab a brain next time! You're not John Rambo!"

"Who the hell is that?!"

"Lady Kagome…." Matahatchi whimpered.

"It doesn't matter who that is!" Kagome shot back. "We could have found you a nice place to hide out and this whole thing would have gone smoothly but no! You had to play Mr. Macho, you idiot!"

"Lady Kagome….!" Matahachi attempted again.

"You're the idiot! This situation wouldn't have happened if you and the kid had just moved on like I said we should!"

"We would have if you weren't being a secretive, irritating, jerk about it!"

"LADY KAGOME, PLEASE! MASTER MUSO IS STILL IN DANGER!"

The young monk's exclamation slammed into Kagome's ear drum, snapping her focus away from the annoying red-clad human before her. In all honesty, she had completely forgotten about Matahatchi's master. Then again, finding out that her escort and bodyguard suddenly lost his supernatural powers seemed to be more important. But watching the boy's quivering body and unending tears made her see otherwise. With Inuyasha human and Kaede still in training it was up to her. She might not be an actual priestess but she wore the robe and had the bow and arrow so she might as well act like one.

"I'm sorry Matahatchi. We got distracted," she said gently. "Tell me what happened so we can figure out a way to save Master Muso."

"You ain't going by yourself," Inuyasha said.

Kagome rolled her eyes. "Really? Now you want to play the hero?"

"Of course not! But I gave Kikyo my word that I would look after your dumb ass, so that's what I'm gonna do. Human or no."

"That has to be the most noble yet insulting thing I ever heard," Kagome replied.

Behind them the door to the hut slid open. Kaede, her eyes still gripped with fatigue, stepped outside. A light trail of drool ran down the corner of her mouth. "Why is everyone yelling? Is there a demon present?"

"Sorry, Kaede, but there's a bit of a….situation here," Kagome attempted.

The child's eyes seemed to wander until they fell on Inuyasha and all remnants of sleep evaporated. "I-I-Inuyasha? Is that you? What happened?"

Kagome and the human Inuyasha glanced at each other. Finally it was Kagome who spoke. "It's a long story."

OOOOOO

Being human sucked! The thought repeated itself over and over again in Inuyasha's mind as the foursome made their way through the thick woods. His human nose was so shallow. He could only smell the natural aroma of the forest. The scent of the monk and his companions were non-existent. His ears could only pick up on the nearest sound which was a rabbit rustling in the bushes. And that was only a few footsteps away. His muscles felt meager and limp. His claws weren't claws at all, just fragile fingernails that couldn't even scratch rice-paper. He wasn't much use to anyone like this. He'd be better off sneaking off and hiding in a cave until morning. But his feet just kept moving forward; down the path the kid-monk said he and his master used to follow the bandits.

Listening to the kid ramble about what happened to the monk irked Inuyasha to no end. The monk just got cocky. They had tracked down the bandits to their camp where a large group of women were being fought over. The monk swooped in hoping to take them out, but then their leader overwhelmed him with some weird technique. Any other day Inuyasha would have been eager to see just what this technique was. But tonight he could only feel apprehension. If he still had his nose, he knew he'd reek of fear.

Ahead he could hear, just barely, the rowdy noise of a group of men. With his human ears he couldn't make out a word and his nose only picked up on the slight smell of a fire. If he had his regular agility and senses, he'd know exactly how many there were and more. Damn this new moon!

"That's the camp up ahead," Matahatchi said.

Only a few footsteps ahead, the forest became a wide clearing. Already the bandits had thrown together their makeshift cots with their latest plunder in the center. They were all spread out. Clusters of men gathered around several fires that dotted the camp. The nearest bunch was five men, all of them horrendous looking creatures.

Like most bandits their armor was shoddy and old. Their weapons looked even worse. In total there seemed to be least seventy or eighty of them. About thirty paces to the south of the camp a group of women huddled together. Even from his current vantage point, Inuyasha could see them whimper with fear. There weren't as many as he'd hoped there be. The black-haired teen had a good idea what had happened to the rest. But there was another element missing from the scene below.

"Where the hell is the monk?" Inuyasha whispered.

Matahatchi's quaking finger floated past his cheek and pointed to a strange oversized web cocoon fifty footsteps west of the camp. The grass around it had melted and the branches supporting the odd structure were slowly giving way. Green ooze seeped from the corners of the cocoon, eating away at everything it touched. Inuyasha's stomach churned. Whatever that stuff was the monk couldn't have survived long with the green crap surrounding him.

"What the hell did you drag us all the way out here for kid? The second that stuff touched him, he must have melted to nothing!"

"Inuyasha!" Kagome hissed.

"No! Master Muso is alive!" Matahatchi cried. "I saw it! He created a barrier around himself when the leader used his technique! Master Muso has no peer in this generation when it comes to his barrier techniques! Only the living Buddha, Saint Hakushin could rival him!"

"All right fine just shut up!" If he had to listen to more of the kid's whining he'd rip out his own ears. "Here's the plan, I go down there and take on those bandits. Kagome you take the holy kids and see if you can free that asshole monk from that cocoon crap."

Kagome's skeptical eyes bored into him. "Are you nuts? You don't have your demon powers remember?"

"Of course I remember! But what do you take me for a pup? I don't need my powers to take on a bunch of loser bandits!" As long as he had his firerat robes, he'd be fine against their pitiful human weapons. Besides, every new moon his irritation always peaked. It'd be great to have something to actually punch this night. He only hoped that Kagome could clear out the monk before the demon hiding among the bandits revealed itself.

"That may be true, but I still don't like it…" Kagome replied.

"Well I'm all ears for a better plan. Till then, this is the one we're going with."

Without another word, Inuyasha broke through the bushes, apprehension tensing his muscles. Behind him he heard Kagome and the kids make their way west. Although the fact that he could hear them with his human ears meant that the bandits could hear them as well. Inuyasha doubled his pace, this distraction needed to happen faster than he thought. But he could still feel the fear gripping his body. He couldn't be afraid. He needed to be angry.

He was only twenty paces ahead of the camp when the bandits' words started to became clear to his human ears. Their slurred speech and rowdy tone exposed their level of drunkenness. Some bit of good news finally. He could easily take on a bunch of drunks in his human form. Their rambunctious voices carried, filling the moonless night with their critiques of the women's "performances" tonight. Their laughter as they recalled the struggles and futile cries for help boiled Inuyasha's blood. At ten paces, fear had long succumbed to the rage building in his stomach.

In the midst of their intoxication, none of the bandits spotted him. He stood over a man sitting near the fire; the air escaping Inuyasha's flaring nostrils hitting the bandit's bald head no doubt.

"You should have heard this wretch's screams as I took his wife!" the man laughed. "I swear to all the gods I would have gone deaf!"

"She was a beauty," his friend to the right said. "I had my share of her as well. It's unfortunate about her face however."

"It's own her fault!" the bandit scoffed. "If she hadn't struggled so much, I wouldn't have needed to leave so many bruises on that pretty face. Besides, will such a minor thing stop you from having your fill?"

"Pah! Of course not!"

The men around the fire shared a hearty laugh. Inuyasha smirked at their inattentive senses. He cracked his knuckles, the motion finally grabbing the bandits' attention.

"Evening boys," he said. "Mind if I join you?"

"And who the hell are you?" the bandit nearest the fire exclaimed.

"A concerned citizen," Inuyasha replied.

His fist smashed into the bandit's face without a further word. The scum's nose immediately gave way under his knuckles and Inuyasha followed through. The bandit stumbled back, falling into the campfire. His screams grabbed the attention of the remaining bandits. The man's comrades rushed to his aid while the rest surrounded Inuyasha.

Inuyasha glanced around him and smirked. "Well bring it on! I ain't got all night!"

That did it. The bandits charged, their drunkenness replaced by blind aggression.

Inuyasha cracked his neck.

Every new moon needed to be like this.

OOOOOO

It didn't take long for Inuyasha's little distraction to catch the attention of the entire camp. Based on the taunting she heard, Inuyasha seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Kagome swallowed the lump in her throat and moved as quickly as she could in a hunched over crouched position. The arrows on her back rattled with each step. Behind her Matahatchi and Kaede crept, their small feet only making the slightest of sounds. Kagome peaked over the bushes to see almost the entire camp rushing towards the commotion, leaving both the cocoon and the seven remaining village women unattended.

Kagome shuffled even closer and the noxious scent of the cocoon struck her nose. Kagome felt herself turn green at the appalling smell. It was as if someone had mixed together every bit of sulfur, rotten tomatoes, gasoline, and bad cheese they could find. Kagome had to hold her breath just to push herself forward. She was only a few feet away.

"Kaede, when I fire my arrow, you and Matahatchi take the women back to the hut, got it?"

Kaede nodded, already bracing herself for a sprint.

"What about Master Muso!"

"Shh!" Kagome hissed. Even with the distraction there was no telling how many more bandits lied in wait to do worse to them than what they did to those women. "I'm going to fire my arrow at the cocoon. That should free him. I think…."

"You're not sure?"

"Look it's better idea than using our hands and exposing ourselves to god knows how many hazardous materials."

"Lady Kagome makes shots like this all the time Matahatchi-kun," Kaede said. "Master Muso will be out in no time at all."

Matahatchi gulped and Kagome wanted to do the same. Still the target was a giant cocoon, hard to miss that. She hoped. If she missed it only meant that it might catch the bandits' attention and cause them to attack, with no half-demon Inuyasha to protect them. The bow on her shoulder suddenly weighed a full ton. The schoolgirl took it in her hands to keep the imaginary weight off her quaking body. She took an arrow from her quiver; with any luck the darkness hid her trembling hands. "Ok, everyone ready? On the count of three…."

Her heart rammed against her chest. She could feel the unnatural chill pulsing off the strange cocoon. This was probably what Kikyo meant when she said she could sense demons. Inside her something began to flow like water, up her stomach, down her arm and entering the arrow. A lilac radiance emitted from the projectile. At any other point she would have thought it looked beautiful, but at the moment she wished she could turn it down a bit. The light painted a giant bull's-eye on their hiding place. Kagome took a breath and shut one eye. The arrowhead wouldn't stay still. She could see a clear line from the bushes to the cocoon, but her arms wouldn't allow her to line up the shot. Kagome grit her teeth, her draw arm straining from the resistance of the bowstring. She could feel the string cut into her fingers. It was now or never.

"Ok…here we go…" she muttered, though it didn't seem as if Kaede and Matahatchi heard her.

Kaede inched closer to her. "Make sure you exhale before you shoot."

Kagome released her held breath, her muscles releasing the almost unbearable tension. The bow steadied itself, for now. "Come on…hit the mark…! One…two…three!"

The arrow shot forward, the luminescent lilac illuminating the darkness like a flying lantern. But the arrow suddenly veered to the right. The projectile sunk deep into the right corner of the cocoon, filling it with her spiritual energy. The purple light moved from the arrow and glided down the length of the structure. The odd substance expanded like a balloon, until the energy sprang from the prison in a luminous explosion greater than any fireworks display Kagome had ever seen. The schoolgirl squeezed her eyes shut at the violent light and when the assault on her eyes concluded, she saw Master Muso on his knees, groaning. Both the village women and the kids stared at her in awe and Inuyasha's battle royale had come to an abrupt halt as the bandits gawked at the sudden attack.

Kagome shook her head, readjusting her eyes to the darkness and made her way towards the monk. It wasn't perfect, but she'd take it.

"Someone grab the chief!" she heard.

Kagome upped her pace.

It was time to go.

OOOOOOO

The bandits stood in a semi-circle in front him, their weapons either broken or bent. As he thought, his firerat robes held up, making their attacks useless. Inuyasha's knuckles already had a shade of red around them from the beating he had given the bandits. Many lay unconscious on the ground or conscious but nursing broken ribs, noses, or wounded pride. All three worked for Inuyasha. The remaining few were the cowards who were too scared to attack. But at the moment, he didn't have their attention.

They were all gawking at the purple blast that Kagome had caused.

Inuyasha groaned when he saw it. Apparently the girl's idea of saving the monk was creating a fireworks show bigger than the ones at Obon. It was only a matter of time before they went after her.

"Someone grab the chief!"

Or worse.

Inuyasha dashed forward, slamming his shoulder into the squealer. The attack knocked the bandits out of their stupor but Inuyasha was well out of range of their weapons by then. The human sprinted, already feeling the strain on his human heart. By the time he reached Kagome and the kids, he was out of breath. He wanted to curse but his lungs wouldn't allow it. The sooner this new moon ended the better.

The monk looked alive but worse for wear. A blue glow of spiritual energy receded back into his body while he used his staff to prop himself up. Kaede and the boy-monk helped the seven women to their feet. And at Inuyasha's heels were twenty or more pissed off bandits.

"We have to go, now!"

"Master Muso can't walk!" Matahatchi exclaimed.

"Well he better relearn because those bandits ain't gonna wait!"

Over his shoulder the bandits were gaining ground and fast. Agitation gripped Inuyasha's chest. He could hold off the weaklings long enough for the others to escape without a problem but against their leader he wouldn't stand a chance. With his luck, the leader was the demon hiding among them. Taking him on would be suicide. A good death for sure, but Inuyasha wasn't ready for that just yet. They could run but with the monk and the women in the shape they were in, they wouldn't make it to the hut.

"So what do we do?" Kagome asked.

The bandits were only a few paces away.

Looks like plan A was the only option.

"Go!" Inuyasha shouted. "I'll hold them off!"

"We're not going through this again!" Kagome exclaimed.

"Damn it, Kagome! Would you just listen to me for once?"

"No! Because half the crap you say is stupid!"

"You're the one who's stupid!"

"Pardon me, Lady Kagome," the monk said. "I believe I have a better idea."

The monk shuffled toward him, his eyes fixed on the approaching bandits. He reached into the folds of his robes and produced a small black orb that gave off an odd odor that even Inuyasha's human nose could pick up.

"Everyone, hold your breath!" the monk shouted.

The horde of bandits was close enough to spit on them when the monk hurled the orb. The second it touched earth, a loud crack went off like a firecracker. Pitch black smoke exploded from the object, shielding everything from the trees to the bandits with smoke and shadow.

Inuyasha felt the tug of Kagome on his robes.

Tonight's moon was filled with surprises.

OOOOOO

Kagome wished she had a watch on her and a better sleeping bag. Between the march to the bandit's camp, the run back, running between Master Muso and the village women for injuries, and helping Kaede and Matahatchi cover the hut with Muso's barrier talismans, Kagome could hear her body scream at her for rest.

They had done their best with the limited space of the hut. The village women slept in the far corner. Kagome had done what she could for them, but their wounds seemed more mental than physical. She wished she had better experience in the former.

Master Muso slept near the door with Matahatchi at his side. It was sweet to see how devoted the boy was to his master. Still the kid needed a few lessons in nerves. Then again she wasn't one to judge in that department.

Kaede slept near the fire pit, the events of the evening took their toll on her too. With that in mind, Kagome did her best to keep quiet as she boiled some water for instant ramen noodles. She may have been tired but her stomach wouldn't let her rest just yet. And she didn't feel like waiting 500 years for the nearest Taco Bell to spring into existence.

Kagome stared at the embers of the fire dance around the kettle. She wasn't sure how much time had passed. She had counted to 120 about four times so it had to be close enough. After waiting for it to cool, Kagome took her midnight (or close enough to midnight) snack to the only place in the hut she could eat.

Climbing onto a roof with two cups of hot ramen in her hands was difficult, but not the craziest thing she had done in the last few weeks.

When she reached the top, unsurprisingly, it was occupied.

Inuyasha sat with his back to her, legs and arms folded, staring at the moonless night sky. But from the slight grunt that escaped his lips, she knew that he at least was aware of her presence.

"You should get some sleep," she said as she carefully made her way across the roof.

He huffed at her. "I ain't never gone to sleep during the new moon."

Kagome sighed. "Thought as much. Here, then at least eat."

He stared at the bright yellow cup peculiarly. "You want me to eat the cup?"

"No… Just the stuff inside. It's ramen, it's good."

He glanced at her one more time before finally taking the cup. He sniffed its contents a few times before diving in. He paused for a few moments, licking his lips in the interim. He nodded to himself and began to pig out completely. His hearty gulps told her that instant ramen noodles had another happy customer.

"Keh, I forget how hungry I can get these nights sometimes."

"You don't eat during the new moon either?" she asked as she ate hers in a less savage manner.

"Too risky." Inuyasha replied, downing the rest of the noodles. "You got more of this stuff? It ain't half bad."

Kagome giggled. "Depends, how long are you willing to wait?"

"How long does it take?"

"About two minutes usually."

"Damn! This shit would have been handy back when I was a pup."

Kagome slurped more of her noodles. "So….if you don't mind my asking, how long has this new moon thing been happening to you?"

Inuyasha raised his eyebrow. "For as long as I can remember. Don't see how it's any of your business though."

"It's not, I'm just curious. It isn't something I see every day. You…don't have any other transformations do you? Like during the full moon or something?"

"No, thank the gods," he replied. "And as soon as I become a full-fledged demon, this shit will be the first thing to go!"

"I dunno…. black kinda looks good on you."

"Keh….you're the only other person who thinks so."

"Who's the first? Kikyo?"

"My mother….."

A silence passed over them, broken only sparingly as Kagome finished off her ramen. She had never heard Inuyasha mention his mother. From his hunched shoulders and sullen expression it was easy to see why. It would have been better to leave well enough alone and let Inuyasha brood in his thoughts, but she didn't have a mouthful of noodles to stop her from asking. "What was she like?"

He glared at her, which really she should have expected. "She was nice," he said simply. "Took care of me, all the good that did. What about you?"

"My mom? Well….I don't know. She's really nice too. A great cook and she always has a smile on her face for me and Sota no matter what's happening around us. Ummm….let's see what else, oh, she loves the Beatles!"

"She loves a bunch of bugs?"

"No! The band of course."

"There's a band named after bugs? Why the hell would they do that?"

Kagome giggled. "You won't get it until you hear their music. It's something that can transcend time and borders. Heck, that's how my parents met."

"Because of this band of bugs?"

"Well no. The band had broken up by the time my mom was 17. But one of the band members named Paul started his own band, called Wings. They were doing shows all over the world and my mom really wanted to see them in person. But my gramps wouldn't allow it. He said their music was poison to the minds of young women, or something like that."

"What, was it like that bat demon's music?"

"Eh…sort of. It certainly made a lot of people faint, that's for sure. But anyway, my mom heard on the radio that the band was doing a show in San Francisco and she just made a vow right then and there that she would go see them, hell or high water. She got every part-time job you could imagine so she could have the money for her way across the ocean and for the concert ticket. She scrubbed every dish, washed every car, did every waitressing gig she could get her hands on, and she even did strangers homework for them. And well….long story short, she somehow ducked gramps, hopped on a plane and next thing you know she's in America."

"And she saw these winged people there?"

"Not exactly. For one thing, she didn't speak the language very well. She ended up in Los Angeles, like 300 miles away from San Francisco. She was surrounded by people who didn't understand her and had too much pride to call gramps to help her out. Not only that but the concert was in a couple of hours, she thought there was no way she could make it. She said she sat on the curb of the airport ready to cry when someone spoke to her in our language."

"Your old man, I'm guessing."

"Yep. Well at the time he was just some guy named Hiroyuki. As luck would have it he was on his way to the concert too. His parents had a house that was pretty close to the concert pavilion. He offered her a ride and of course she took it."

"She just rode with a stranger?"

Kagome shrugged. "It was a different time. Anyway, that entire 300 mile stretch they rocked out to all the hits. Hey Jude, Strawberry Fields, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Revolution, Help, Let it Be, all of them. He even put on some Rolling Stones and stirred up that classic debate."

"There's a band named after stones? Who comes up with this stuff?"

"Not the point! It was a five hour drive so of course by the time they made it, the concert was sold out, so they stopped at his parents' house for dinner. My mom was still kinda bummed that she didn't see the concert. All that hard work and it amounted to nothing you know. They were almost done dinner when he saw how upset she was. So he made the rest of their dinner into a picnic and took her to this huge hill that overlooked the entire concert. She could see everything, the lights, the crowd, and even the overpriced food vendors. She couldn't see Paul and the rest of the band all that well, but she was there. She could hear all the music just like she wanted and it was all because of him. And well, .it was all… so perfect. Talking about it now…maybe that's why they….you know….under the stars and everything…."

"Huh?"

Kagome turned beet red. "Nothing! Anyway that's how they met. Even when she had to come back home, they sent letters and kept in touch over the phone. Three years later they got married. He was my mom's one and only…."

"Was?"

Kagome shut her eyes. Behind them she could see the amalgam of metal and glass that used to be the family car. All around the intersection were sirens and police officers redirecting traffic. She could see herself standing on the curb, numb. The pouring rain and the gashes on her ribs were nonexistent. The voice of the police officer asking for her name and home number seemed to be light-years away. All she could see was the stretcher with her mangled father underneath its sheets.

"Kagome? Hey Kagome!"

She blinked and she was back in the feudal era, with Inuyasha shaking her shoulder.

"Sorry…" she said faintly. "What was I saying?"

"Your old man…."

Kagome rubbed her arms, trying to warm the chill that passed through her body. "Oh, right. Well he…passed away… when I was twelve. A car accident."

"A car?"

"Think of it like a palanquin with wheels."

"Oh…. Do you remember a lot about him?"

Kagome giggled, albeit humorlessly. "I remember everything about him. He had these really strong pair of hands that could lift me up in one arm and carry a full bag of groceries in another. He had this straggly beard that my mom always told him to shave but he always joked the second he did, my mom would forget why she fell in love with him. When he worked he had this stern expression on his face, almost like one of the Buddha statues. But every time I sat on his lap he'd always rub my hair and smile." Kagome chuckled again. Her eyes were starting to sting. "I remember waking up in the hospital with my mom looking over me. She'd been crying, something I'd never see her do. When I sat up she gave me the tightest hug I'd ever gotten. She didn't want to let me go."

"I know how that feels," Inuyasha whispered.

Her vision became a translucent blur. "Every day after that accident, she's been trying to make everything the way it was. She put on a happy face for Sota and me for our sake. But I don't think she ever got the time to really grieve, you know. I never wanted to talk about him because I didn't want to make her sad too. But I know….I know she misses him as much as I do."

"Mothers are weird like that….aren't they," Inuyasha said softly. "My mother was the same way."

Kagome turned away, wiping her eyes as she went. "What do you mean?"

"Like you said, she always had a smile on her face. No matter what horrible shit was being thrown at me. Even when she cried she smiled. Keh….I can still remember her face when I asked her what a half-breed was for the first time. She didn't say anything. She could only look at me with tears in her eyes and hugged me like she didn't want to let me go. I didn't know shit back then. But she did, she knew everything. She knew what my life would be like…."

"She was trying to protect you," Kagome replied.

"Yeah…I know…"

"What happened to her….? I mean…if you don't mind my asking. It's perfectly fine if you don't want to talk about it. It must be tough to-."

"She got sick," he said simply.

"Just like that?"

"Yeah. She was always frail. She'd get these fainting spells or she'd throw up sometimes or just a fever but she'd always be fine in a few days. But one day I was playing with her in the gardens like usual. It was summer so all the flowers and everything were blooming. I was trying to make her one of those stupid flower crown things I'd seen other kids do, but my claws were starting grow so they kept cutting all the flowers I got. I must cut through half the garden's flowers before I got something barely recognizable as a crown."

Despite herself Kagome chuckled. The thought of a tiny Inuyasha running around a garden of flowers was adorable.

"I was running back to her when I saw her on the ground. She was sweating real bad and she could barely breathe. The servants brought her back inside and she stayed in bed for the rest of the day and the rest of the next day too. By the third day she only got worse. She couldn't keep anything down, not even soup. She had these coughing fits that kept her up at night. Blood was in her waste and just keeping her eyes open gave her trouble…."

Kagome winced. Her heart scrunched together as she imagined a child seeing such symptoms and having no idea what to do or why it was happening.

"By the second week she was really pale. Every ounce of color had left her body. She called me in to see her and told me that if anything happened to her that I should go find my older brother. She promised he would look out for me. I didn't want to believe she was going anywhere, but I agreed since it seemed to make her happy. She smiled at me one last time before telling me to go outside to play. She said was going to take a nap for the rest of the day. She….closed her eyes….and never opened them again."

"I-I see…." Kagome could only keep her eyes on the thatched roof. She didn't want to bring attention to the tears rolling down his eyes in the darkness. "How was the funeral?"

"I don't know. I didn't get to go."

"What? What do you mean?"

Inuyasha scoffed, hate dipping into his voice. "My grandfather in all his infinite wisdom said I was the reason she died!"

"What!"

"'She gave birth to an abomination', the old fart said. So the gods must have cursed her with this disease to punish her! So to prevent the disease from being passed on, I got chased out like some traitor!"

Kagome gaped at him, his story twisting her heart into knots.

"Old bastard. I'm glad he's dead. Only wish I did it myself."

"But happened after that? You must have found your brother right?"

"Don't get too excited!" he snapped. "He's an asshole."

"He can't be that bad…."

Inuyasha laughed humorlessly. "Oh really? About four months after she died, I finally found him. I had to cross through a shit-ton of demon territory, at least six temples with major 'purification' hard-ons, and ferry across at least three rivers crawling with river demons. I found him while he was fighting some moth demon and saw him action for the first time. He was everything I wanted to be. Powerful, graceful, proud, swift and had an underling who worshipped every pebble he stepped on. I can still remember being so excited. Finally someone like me. Someone who could help me understand my claws and fangs. And maybe someone who tell me about my old man."

"Well….what happened?"

"He attacked me."

"What?"

"I was 'no relation' to him, he said. That I was a walking repugnance that served no purpose but to remind the world our father's mistake. And that my human blood poisoned every aspect of his pure demon lineage. I was better off a corpse in the dirt. He moved faster than I could. His claws dug into my skin dousing me poison. I didn't know how to fight back then. I ain't got no idea how I managed to escape. But the wounds he left me with didn't even hurt all that much, at the time. I couldn't believe what he said. It was all the same as those human bastards who kicked me out. No matter where I went I was a monster, an abomination, someone who didn't deserve to live. I hadn't done anything to them. I didn't even want all that much! I just wanted… I just wanted…"

His voice broke as he related the incident. His hands curled into tight fists. His lips were shut tight yet his lip quivered. Kagome held her breath as she took in all that she saw. Stripped away of his pride, his power, and arrogance, Kagome could only see a lost boy. His quirks the previous few weeks suddenly seemed so small. Like a hard shell protecting the vulnerable child that still lied within him. Kagome reached out to his shoulder, stopping every few inches, expecting him to lash out, but he never did. Her arms wrapped around his torso and pressed her forehead against the center of his back. His body immediately tensed, but still he did nothing.

"I'm sorry…." She whispered to him. "I'm so sorry…."

Inuyasha exhaled, the tension leaving his body.

"I am too."

Underneath the shadow of the new moon, the stars were at their brightest.

Under the New Moon Part 3 by Gammer

Chapter 17: Under the New Moon part 3

Jun's feet ached. Walking was such an ineffective method of travel. Her legs could barely support her. They were meant to support her weight during short bursts such as when she hung on a branch or while she slept upside down. But this new function was new to her body. And it was clear; her legs did not like it. Her muscles pulsed with pain, begging to be granted a respite from this ridiculous action. Jun's eyes turned upwards into the moonless night sky. That was where she belonged. With the clouds, wind, and stars as her companions, not mud, rocks, and dirt. A bird flew overhead free of the burden the earth had shackled her with. This was no way for a demon-bat to live. Jun suppressed a growl and returned her gaze to her aggravating companion. For the past day and night, Jun had followed behind the female oni, who called herself Moriko, with no indicator of their destination. If not for Moriko's vague promises of revenge against the half-demon, Jun would have abandoned the sake-gulping demon two days ago. The thought of that red-clad mongrel sent another flare of pain roaring up her back. She could still feel his claws ripping through her body and robbing her of her most precious attribute. That disgusting creature would die for this indignity. Painfully and slowly.

If they ever sought him out.

Jun had lost track of which forest they were in. From the scents of rice paddies, incense, and firewood she was picking up, they were entering human dominated territory. What possible purpose humans could have in her revenge, Jun could not be sure. But Moriko trudged on, sipping her massive bottle of sake all the while. Jun wondered if she had made an error in following this drunkard demon. The two never spoke save for Moriko altering their nearly endless expedition or making another empty promise for revenge that would satisfy them both. There were no details given or any discussion of Moriko's grudge against the half-demon.

Jun did not care for the latter, but she would require some indication that this demoness had half her wits about her.

Truly, only desperate curiosity and a seething rage kept her legs moving forward. It would take months or perhaps years to return to demon-bat territory in the far north. And even she if did, their great leader Taigokumaru would humiliate her, at best, for her grounded state or eliminate her for being useless to the clan. Most likely both. His son and heir Tsukuyomaru would, perhaps, take pity on her. But that meant banishment. Attempting to establish her own territory in the demon filled north with no wings was an impossible task. Either the Birds of Paradise would pluck her from the ground like a centipede or those aggravating wolf tribes would overwhelm her with their numbers.

Jun growled. Her fate seemed to end only one way.

But as long as she could bring the half-demon's head to hell with her, death would be welcome.

Jun's ears heard Moriko stop short. The bat-demoness nearly halted and shot a glare at her companion.

"We've arrived," Moriko said simply.

Jun glanced around her. In her reverie she had not noticed that they had gone off the beaten path and entered a thicket. The trees were packed tightly together making grand movements difficult. The ground was slick with fresh blood. A sizable boulder sat in the center of the odd location. Old and withered bodies encircled it, as if something or someone had quite literally sucked the life out of them. They were human women from their lack of fangs, claws, and slender bodies. But most curious of all was the occupant of the boulder.

A human man pale skin and long curly hair sat before them. His narrow eyes beckoned them to approach. Blood trailed down the corner of his already colored lips. Though Jun doubted the red of his lips came from rouge. He wore traditional human warrior armor with a purple surcoat overtop. There was no family crest on his robes. Why Moriko wanted to meet a human with no clan connection was beyond her reasoning. At the base of the stone laid a great war axe. The axe-blade larger than any human she had seen before. The weapon towered over the man even as he sat. Jun wondered how the human was able to use such a weapon in battle.

Moriko approached with zest. "I had a rather difficult time finding you."

The man chortled. A laugh that lingered in Jun's ears longer than she liked. "I prefer to keep my horde moving rather than stay in one place."

Moriko scoffed. "Scrawny humans do not count as a horde."

The man shrugged, unoffended. "So you say. But they do have their uses."

"It is those uses that I seek."

The man's narrow eyes fell to Jun. The demoness flinched under his gaze. "Perhaps…." He said, his voice like a snake. "This is best discussed privately?"

Moriko motioned to Jun. "She's part of this."

"Part of what?" Jun exclaimed. "You promised me revenge! Not some torturous walk so you can speak freely with your damn human friend!"

"You believe me to be human?" the man said, his lips forming into a vile smile. "How quaint."

Jun sniffed the air and immediately realized her error. It was faint and difficult sense, especially with two demons so close together, but there was a third demon odor among them. But it was hidden among a haze of human scents.

Jun sneered at the newcomer. "So you hide amongst humans? Why? Unable to fend for yourself?"

The man gestured to the withered bodies. "Witness my bounty from this night alone and tell me again that I am unable to fend for myself."

Jun growled, still unamused by the stranger. "You have others hunt for you while you reap the rewards. A trait of laziness and cowardice."

The man scoffed as he reached for Moriko's sake. "This coming from the demon who uses her music to control the actions of others?"

Jun hissed at the hidden demon. "My music is art! It took me years to learn the most captivating songs and even longer to find demons susceptible to its beauty. You just round together a group of desperate humans and run amok in the countryside! There is no art or effort in how you hunt!"

"Enough!" Moriko barked. "I did not come all this way to debate hunting practices."

"Then why did we come all this way!? Certainly not to kill the half-demon!"

"You're wrong, Jun. That is exactly why we are here."

Jun could only stare at the ogre demon.

"This is Gatenmaru," Moriko introduced finally. "He is a moth demon and leader of a substantial amount of human bandits. Combining his bandits with my horde and the half-demon will fall to our might."

"And what is my role in all this? You seem as if you already have what you need in this coward."

Moriko shook her head. "Your role is your music. As disgusting as the half-demon is, for my purposes, I need him alive."

Jun bared her fangs. "Alive?! You want him alive!? You promised me vengeance! I have no interest in your purposes! The half-demon dies!"

"He will die," Moriko assured her. "But at the moment he may have knowledge that would benefit me. Once I extract what he knows, he is yours to torment. My horde does not understand the term 'bring back alive', that is why I need them under your control."

Jun seethed but retracted her fangs. She nodded at Gatenmaru who seemed more interested in finishing off the sake bottle. "And him? What do you need him for?"

"I have been informed that the half-demon either by weakness or misplaced morality will not kill humans."

Jun smirked as the pieces joined together in her mind. "I see."

"This is all dependent on my agreeing to your convoluted scheme," Gatenmaru said, tossing the empty bottle of his shoulder. "You have yet to divulge how this benefits me."

"What is there to discuss?" Moriko said. "When I get my lands back from the usurper you and your men will be paid accordingly."

Gatenmaru spat at the ground. "Payment, humph. I am a bandit, not a mercenary. When I want payment, I take it."

"A minor difference," Moriko shot back. "You and your men will be paid for your services. More than they make on your regular raids, when I retake the lands stolen from my clan."

Gatenmaru chuckled. "If, when. My horde moves on sure things, not vague promises from an ousted demoness."

"When you and your men raid a village, do you not move on the promise of riches, women, and rice?"

"That promise is always fulfilled," Gatenmaru replied. "Besides, this alliance seems to be forged solely on revenge." The demon bandit leaned against a tree and folded his arms. "I have no quarrel with this half-demon and to see two full-bloods so ruffled by one mongrel is laughable. Perhaps it would be best for me to recuse myself and watch the two of you stumble over each other to kill one fool."

Moriko growled her hand moving to the kabano on her hip. Gatenmaru frowned and dropped his arms closer to his great-axe. Jun glanced between them, curious as to who would prevail in a bout. But if one killed the other, the plan would collapse and her opportunity for revenge would be lost. Like it or not, Jun needed these two. Gatenmaru just needed a proper motivation.

"The half-demon travels with a beautiful priestess."

Gatenmaru's frown dissipated almost immediately, though his eyes remained on Moriko. "What's that?"

"The half-demon travels with a beautiful priestess, named Kagome. She is the twin sister of the priestess Kikyo. Surely you've heard of Kikyo, correct?"

This time, Gatenmaru faced her fully. "What demon has not heard of Kikyo?"

"Then you understand the opportunity Moriko has presented you with," Jun said. She could already see the lust build in Gatenmaru's narrow eyes. Jun motioned to the withered corpses of women at his feet. "Judging by your tastes, his companion Kagome would be more than adequate payment for your services. There is a little one too named Kaede, if your taste runs that far."

Gatenmaru licked his lips. "A woman is a woman. Age makes no difference."

"In any event imagine it, this priestess Kagome falling under your sword."

"Kagome and her sisters?"

"I can promise you Kagome. I cannot promise you her sisters."

Gatenmaru nodded. "Fair enough."

"So, you will join us?" Moriko asked, her fangs retracted.

"Aye," Gatenmaru said with a smirk. "Who could turn down such a prize?"

Behind them Jun heard a twig snap and the rustle of fast moving feet. Human feet. In the air she could smell human but once again there was a faint demon scent coming from the bushes.

"This conversation is no longer private," Jun announced.

"Chief!" a nasally voice shouted. "Chief! There's a problem at the camp! Chief!"

Gatenmaru sighed. "Remove yourselves. I have yet to reveal my true form to my compatriots."

"We will remain in contact," Moriko said with a nod.

As they reentered the forest, Jun laid eyes on an oddly shaped stone. She could have sworn she saw it tremble under her gaze.

"Jun!" Moriko shouted.

The demon-bat grunted in acknowledgment and brushed past the stone.

A stone was not worth her time.

Not when revenge was within her sights.

OOOOOO

The demon Gatenmaru rose to intercept his sprinting comrade. The two exchanged words, something about an attack on the camp by a group of humans. As the comrade spoke, Gatenmaru became incensed and cuffed the newcomer over his bald head for his foolishness. The bandit leader dragged the semi-conscious man through the bushes, presumably back to the camp to survey the damage of this supposed attack. The rustle of their footsteps echoed through the cramped forest. With each passing second, the hidden demon's steps grew fainter and fainter until all was silent under the dark gaze of the new moon.

The silence remained until a newt crawled over a quivering rock in the bushes. The rock tumbled and burst into cloud of azure smoke, accompanied by a balloon-like pop. The newt scrambled away and a tanuki spilled out of the cloud, his body still quivering.

Hatchi wasn't sure who to thank for his current fortune. Neither the gods nor the teachings of Buddha really spoke to demons. But the trembling raccoon felt some deity needed to be honored for keeping him alive and undetected from the treacherous trio he had witnessed. His fur stood on end to such a degree that Hatchi was sure he'd be mistaken for a porcupine. His purple kimono was drenched with his sweat and judging from the large dark circle on the center of his pants, he needed to find a new pair very soon. Still…at least he was alive. For now…..

The image of one the three demons returning crossed his mind and Hatchi very nearly added another dark circle to his pants at the thought of it.

"Oh…..why do I always listen to that crooked monk….." he whimpered. "'Go north', he said. 'There's no danger in the north', he said. Mother was right; I should have been a ferryman…."

Still, the life of a ferryman didn't offer the same rewards the monk provided him. But then, at least the payment of a ferryman was consistent and didn't involve sneaking into the camps of dangerous demons.

With a sigh Hatchi took a leaf and placed it on his forehead. His minor demon aura flared and in a puff of blue smoke, his body shifted into a golden gourd. As he took to the air, the raccoon wondered where he could find his master. He sniffed the air around him and decided to go with the usual method.

Follow the scent of wine and whores.

OOOOOO

Gatenmaru stood in front of his tattered camp, his lips curled downward into a scowl. His men nursed broken noses, damaged ribs, and a diminished morale. His cocoon had been destroyed, the monk missing, and the few women he was saving for later, gone as well. His men gathered before him, ghastly silent as he mused over their current standing. Gatenmaru's tongue flickered behind his teeth. He wished to drain the blood of each one of these incompetent fools. If they could not even hold the camp while he away for the night, what good were they?

"Tell me again, what happened…." He muttered, his voice barely audible.

"Ch-chief….we already told you three times already…." His lieutenant, Kouji said.

"Tell me!" Gatenmaru snapped, nearly revealing his fangs in the process.

Kouji immediately dropped to his knees. "When you took the women away for the evening, we did as you said and remained in camp. We were glad you left us with enough women to keep us occupied. But then….some boy dressed in red attacked us!"

"A boy?"

"Yes…..he looked to be in his adolescence. He had long black hair and wore a red kimono. He attacked the men while a priestess freed the monk and the women…."

"You allowed a boy, barely a man, and a girl to beat you and rob you of our prizes. All in the span of a single night?"

"Y-yes chief…"

"The boy was a monster!" one man shouted. "He fought like a demon!"

"Aye, chief, aye!" an older bandit exclaimed. "I've never been hit with such force! It was like being hammered by a boulder!"

Gatenmaru growled, silencing them at once. "Where is this boy now?"

"We…do not know…chief…."

Gatenmaru's hand thrust forward, wrapping around Kouji's neck. His weak human windpipe already giving way under his grip. A gurgled cry for mercy squeezed out of his lips. "Then your services are no longer required, Kouji."

"C-C-C-Chief…please….!" His body writhed in Gatenmaru's grip. Drool rolled down the corners of his mouth while his eyes were filled with fear. The moth demon placed his free hand onto the minion's forehead and in a single twist, his neck resembled a knot. A panicked gasp rang out among the horde as Kouji's corpse dropped to the ground. Gatenmaru kicked the body at the gathered men who quickly scrambled out of its path. He could have drank Kouji's blood as well, but that meant exposing his true nature. Moreover, the blood of human males tasted disgusting.

Gatenmaru strolled towards his horde, their trembling evident. "We will find this boy."

"B-b-but chief…it…was…just one i-incident…shouldn't we just…let it…go?"

In one motion the fool's neck was in Gatenmaru's hand. "If we allow one foolish boy to attack us with impunity then we are no longer a horde to be feared! Imagine if this little incident gains traction. What happens when some lord, such as Takeda, or Oda, or, Hojo hears how easily we were bested! How soon until their men crest our hills!"

"Y-Y-Yes…..chief…..!"

Gatenmaru dropped the idiot and mounted his horse. Fools, all of them. Moments like this made the demon wonder why he bothered with this little scheme. A zealous boy and his priestess maiden would never dare rob him of his bounties in his demon form. It didn't matter to him how long it took. The boy would be found.

"But how do we find him chief? We don't even know his name…."

"He travels with a priestess does he not?"

"Y-yes chief…."

The demon bandit smirked. "Then we simply do what we do best. I have an inkling that he will find us in due time. And when we do, I want his head on a spike. All will know the penalty for defying us! Is that understood?"

"YES CHIEF!"

His horse galloped up the road to the northeast. His demon blood boiled.

This boy would die. Painfully and slowly.

OOOOOO

"TIME TO DIE PRIESTESS!"

Kikyo suppressed a sigh. Her body went through the needed motions to dispel the incoming demon, while her mind wondered how many more demons were out in the forest this evening. The night of the new moon had always been a time of wariness for her. While the start of a new moon cycle meant new opportunities, she had always found that the night itself was far too often treacherous. The lack of moonlight to illuminate the way meant that traveling at night required torches or other forms of external light. Those touches made any traveler a walking target for bandits and brigands. In her own experience, the new moon brought out the demons in full force. Kikyo theorized that the demons believed, due to the darkness, she would be at some type of disadvantage. But as her uncle had always said, "a warrior who relies on eyes alone is no warrior at all."

With her leg injury still healing, Kikyo had been content to remain indoors on this new moon. But Sayaka had insisted on inviting her to dinner as a gesture of gratitude for saving her daughter and the rest of the village from Yura's clutches. Kikyo was rather ashamed to admit to herself that she had nearly forgotten that Sayaka's daughter Azumi had been one of Yura's first victims. Had Sayaka not sought out her aid at the river, Kikyo never would have taken notice of Yura's presence until it was far too late.

She had been sitting on the hill overlooking the village when the demon decided to test its luck. Since Yura's defeat there had been a brief lull in demon attacks. Yura had most likely killed many of them when she first established territory in the area. With her dead, the demons were slowly beginning to return. With her injured leg and the new moon, the demons must have thought now would be the perfect opportunity to strike. It was a valid strategy. Basic but at least the demons were attempting new methods. The stratagem did have its merits. It would not be the first time she'd be caught off guard and weakened during a new moon after all.

A smile grew on her face, despite herself. Her master and uncle would no doubt think it strange of her to have fond memories of the last new moon. That had been the night she had collapsed in the rain after she had exerted too much energy slaying demons. Such a result should have been considered a personal failing on her part.

But that had been the night she met Inuyasha.

True it was not a conventional meeting any sense. And certainly not like any of the romantic songs or haikus she had heard in her travels. But there could be no doubt that it had left a mark on her.

At the thought of the red-clad half-demon, Kikyo reached into her pocket and found the seashell of rouge he had given her. Laying it flat in her palm, she traced its edges as she found herself often doing since he, Kagome, and Kaede had departed. In truth there was no practical reason for carrying it with her. She did not see herself coloring her lips during battle and to wear colored lips around the village would send the wrong message to the village men. It would be better if she kept it in her hut as usual.

Yet each morning and each night she made sure she had it with her.

"Lady Kikyo!" a young bright voice exclaimed behind her. Kikyo jolted to her feet, causing a wave of pain to run up her leg. The limb buckled ready to give out, but the priestess supported herself with her bow. As the pain subsided, Kikyo turned to greet Azumi, quickly pocketing the seashell as she went.

"Azumi-chan," she said gently. "You startled me."

The child smiled. "I'm sorry. But mother sent me to fetch you. Dinner is ready."

Azumi took her hand and led the way, chatting all the while about the flowers she liked and the other children she played with that afternoon. Kikyo allowed herself a small smile as listened, pitching in small questions every now and then. By the time they reached the hut, Kikyo wondered how the little girl still had air in her lungs.

Dinner was a rather meager affair, despite the celebratory occasion. Carp with some radish and red beans along with miso soup. While Azumi filled the space with her tales of attempting to catch a dragonfly with her friends, her mother, Sayaka remained sullen. The lines on her face had deepened. Dark circles entrapped her eyes and when she spoke it was faint and fragile. When her infant son began to cry, Sayaka rose but she moved as if a boulder had been placed on her slim shoulders. Kikyo was tempted to bring attention to Sayaka's behavior but Azumi seemed oblivious to it. There was no need to worry the child. Kikyo continued her meal responding occasionally when it was warranted. By the time the meal was completed, Azumi finally ran out of energy and slipped into a deep sleep next to her infant brother.

"I thank you for the meal Sayaka," Kikyo said with an incline of her head. "The koi was delightful."

Sayaka merely grunted as she cleared the small table.

"Is there something troubling you Sayaka?"

Sayaka sighed and from the sleeves of her kimono produced a small roll of parchment. "I received news today, Lady Kikyo. News that I cannot bear to share with Azumi….nor anyone else…."

Sayaka slid the parchment to the priestess, glancing over her shoulder as she went. Kikyo unrolled the parchment and her eyes scanned the message. It was a message from her eldest son, Souji. It was a brief, hastily written message. From the small water stains, most likely written during a rainstorm. The ink had run over the course of travel and exposure to the elements but the urgency of the message was clear. Kikyo's heart dropped as read the boy's news.

"Your husband has been killed….."

Sayaka nodded. Tears rolling down her cheeks.

The details of his death were vague. As a villager, it was doubtful that Sayaka's husband, Hajime, was a high ranking soldier. He, like Souji, were conscripted for Lord Hojo's latest border skirmish with the Takeda clan. Kikyo could still remember the day Hojo's messenger arrived at the village, demanding every able bodied man and boy for ashigaru service. But that had been at least three years ago. It was doubtful that Souji ever had time to properly write his mother. To finally receive word from him after so long, only for it to be such somber news must have been devastating for her.

"I am sorry for you loss, Sayaka," Kikyo said. An empty platitude that failed to provide any comfort for the new widow, but there very little else that could be said. Distressingly it was a platitude Kikyou found herself repeating on many occasions. To the point where it was becoming almost banal. Such a thought burdened her soul more than anything else. "Do you wish for me to recite a prayer for his soul, so that he may find peace?"

"I thank you Lady Kikyo. Your prayers are welcome, but that is not why I reveal this letter you."

Kikyo raised an eyebrow.

"Please, read the first lines again."

"Mother," Kikyo read. "I regret I have been unable to write you over these long three years. Our general has kept us on the march. However, I have news that needed to reach you at urgent speed. I hope you read this by fire. I can think of no other way to say this: Father has fallen. He joins our other comrades who have given their lives for Lord Hojo-."

"That is enough," Sayaka muttered.

Kikyo scowled at herself. Of course there was no need to continue. Sayaka had no doubt read the letter far more times than anyone. "Forgive me. However, I do not see the purpose of this Sayaka."

"Place the letter near the fire-pit, Lady Kikyo."

Kikyo glanced at the woman before complying. Careful not to burn the parchment completely, the priestess held the message over the moderate flames in the center of the hut. The flames danced underneath the parchment while the embers nipped at Kikyo's fingers. After a few long moments, the priestess failed to see the reason behind the action. It wasn't until she leaned in closer to the parchment that she get her answer.

Under the light of the flames, a new message overlapped with the initial one. Small characters blocked together in far more practiced and precise writing told an entirely different story. Kikyo squinted taking in each character and word as she went. She read the hidden message at least nine more times before turning to Sayaka, the older woman's face stern.

"Soji believes his father was poisoned by Lord Hojo…." Kikyo whispered.

Sayaka looked away, her eyes burning with tears. Kikyo read over the message a tenth time for any irregularities or any sign that it was some type of forgery. But who would go to the trouble to forge a letter written by a mere foot soldier? Soji had just lost his father, perhaps in his grief he jumped to this wild conclusion? The letter did not offer much proof.

"Do you believe this claim, Sayaka?"

"Soji has always been an earnest boy. He has no reason to lie to me about such matters."

"I understand. However, what is it that you desire of me? Why reveal this message to me?"

Sayaka swallowed a lump in her throat. She dropped to all fours and lowered her head to the point where her forehead nearly touched the floor. Her voice was muffled, but the desperation was clear. "Lady Kikyo, I ask you to please discover the truth behind Soji's words. Please find who took Hajime from me, and protect Soji. If what he says is true then it will not be long until he is killed as well. I beg of you Lady Kikyo, help my family once more."

"Sayaka, I am a priestess," Kikyo said gently. "My duty is to protect the jewel and the village. I cannot involve myself in political matters."

"Please Lady Kikyo! I have nowhere else to turn! If eyes other than yours found Soji's letter, his head would be presented to Lord Hojo in seconds! He is only a boy he does not know the full extent of the danger that surround these nobles!"

"Surely Headman Hisashi would be more appropriate," Kikyo offered. "He has connections within the Hojo clan."

Sayaka shook her head. "I dare not ask, Lady Kikyo. Who's to say his connections will not simply behead my son as soon as the letter is brought to their attention? It must be you Lady Kikyo. I can think no one else as just, kind, and pure as you!"

Kikyo bit her lip. Sayaka's faith was flattering but the environment of politics was a dangerous one. Her duty was first and foremost the Sacred Jewel. To properly investigate this claim, she would need to leave the village for an extended period of time. It was possible to take the jewel with her but that was akin to diving into shark infested waters with an open wound. Her eyes turned to Azumi, who remarkably, was still asleep. Sayaka probably did not have the heart to share the news with her daughter. The girl had to be at least seven, already old enough to have lasting memories of her father. The loss would leave a lasting scar, that much was inevitable. How deep the wound would cut was the true question.

Kikyo could still remember the day her father perished. She could see surviving soldiers pulling on a wooden wagon, filled with corpses. Her mother had made a futile attempt to shield her eyes, but the damage had been done. He had been a simple man. A farmer from an unremarkable village. No one cared about his death. He was just another in the long line of peasants to be sacrificed in the name of the warlords' ambitions. If not for her uncle, she would have been swallowed by the madness of her grief.

Kikyo gripped the hem of her hakama. It would not bring back Azumi's father. But it would spare the child years of emotional anguish to at least know why her father was murdered by his lord.

"Very well Sayaka," Kikyo said, her voice measured. "I cannot make any promises but I will do what I can to learn the truth and ensure that Soji is safe."

A joy swept Sayaka's face. The mother prostrated faster than Kikyo could keep up with. Her voice cracked, filled with sobs and declarations of gratitude.

As she rose to make her departure, they promised to meet every month at the start of the new moon cycle in order to share any new discoveries or developments. With another unadulterated show of gratitude, Kikyo made her leave.

The first few rays of sunrise were there to greet her.

The long moonless night was finally over.

However, Kikyo feared the coming days would be far longer.

Rendezvous with Miyatsu by Gammer

Chapter 18: Rendezvous with Miyatsu

Kagome barely stifled a yawn as she stood in the road. Waking up at the crack of dawn had never been her style. With six days straight of waking up at 5:30 am for school, Kagome cherished every extra hour of sleep she could get. But Master Muso had seemed intent on waking up at the crack of dawn to take the surviving village women to a temple nearby for safe haven. And Kaede seemed intent on seeing him off. It was the "proper" thing to do, Kaede had told her. Kagome could only grumble under her breath as the child priestess got her up that morning. If this was going to become a habit, then the only "proper" thing to do would be to pack a thermos of coffee in her backpack for later trips.

"I wish you safe travels Master Muso," Kaede said with a deep bow. Kagome mimicked the gesture. Being dragged out of bed was no excuse to be rude. "Safe travels to you as well, Matahatchi-kun," Kaede added with a smile. A shade of pink flashed on the young monk's cheeks before shrinking behind Master Muso.

Master Muso inclined his head. "I thank you both for your assistance the previous evening. I'm glad we were able to save at least some of the villagers."

"I'm surprised those bandits didn't find us," Kagome said.

"That's thanks to Master Muso's barrier technique," Matahatchi said proudly. "To anyone outside the barrier, human or demon, it looks as though nothing but rubble is left of the hut. Those bandits most likely rode right past us."

"Nice trick," Kagome said with a nod.

"Where is your half-demon companion?" Muso asked. "I did not see him on the roof."

"Looking for me monk?" From a distance a familiar red clad figure, soared over the trees. His robes were saturated with water. But as the sun caught on his hair, Kagome could see the full mane of silver flowing behind him. His dog ears twitched each passing second and his claws were on full display as he slid into a landing near the monk. Kagome examined the half-demon and a smile formed on her lips. That cocky smirk on his face, his amber eyes, and irritating arrogance, it was all there. Kagome had never been so glad for a sunrise in her life.

Muso turned to Inuyasha, a stern expression on his face. Kagome braced herself for another round of insults and challenges from the two. Inuyasha held up his claws, accepting Muso's daring. Kagome took a step to get in between them but Muso halted six paces away from Inuyasha. The monk took a breath as if bracing for an attack. His body tensed while his fingers twitched on his staff. He looked Inuyasha dead in the eye before bowing towards him.

"I thank you for saving my life, half…rather…Inuyasha," Muso said. "I regret my abrasive behavior when we first encountered each other. It was…wrong of me to jump to such conclusions."

Inuyasha could only gape at the monk. Precious seconds passed to the point where Kagome wondered if the blood had stopped flowing to Inuyasha's brain. Finally, the wires in his head seemed to spark. He scoffed and walked past the monk.

"Keh, just don't let it happen again baldy. Next time, you ain't gonna be so lucky to have me around."

Kagome rolled her eyes. Yep, he was definitely back to normal.

Muso simply nodded at his response. Probably in acknowledgment of some stupid honor code among men or something. Kagome couldn't even pretend to understand men and their need to be macho and abrasive all the time.

"I thank you again, Lady Kaede," Muso said. "Please tell Lady Kikyo that I hope to see her for Obon next month."

"I will be sure to relay the message to her, master."

Muso nodded and turned to the road. "Come Matahatchi, it is a long road to the temple."

"Perhaps we will find our wayward companion there master," Matahatchi said as he followed behind.

Muso frowned. "I highly doubt that, young one. He rarely feels the need to cleanse himself."

Only when the monk, his charge, and the village were out of sight, did Kagome finally allow herself to yawn. "Man…." She groaned. "What a night…."

"Keh, thought he'd never leave," Inuyasha said, shaking the water off his robes.

"Where the heck were you this morning?"

"Where do you think? I reeked of those damn bandits. I had to wash myself before I hurled out my guts."

"Nice to see your foul mouth has returned too," Kagome muttered.

"Keh, would you want it any other way?"

"What I want is to go grab some extra z's but I guess that's not going to happen either…." The schoolgirl said, biting down another yawn.

"Damn right it ain't. We wasted more than enough time here than it is."

"Fine, fine…." She said. "Come on Kaede, let's get our stuff together."

She halted before reaching the hut. Her chocolate brown eyes lingered at their spot on the roof. She could still see his sullen and dejected form. His black hair attempting to hide the tears and pain in his eyes. Kagome's stomach twisted at the image. He had seemed so….unnatural. Kagome looked over her shoulder at the sliver-haired figure standing with his fingers twitching and his "ready for anything" scowl. In an odd way that expression suited him better. Still, Kagome couldn't help but wonder how much of his feelings from last night remained. His body had changed, but what about his heart?

"What the hell are you gawking at?" he barked. "Get moving, we got a shit ton of ground to cover today!"

Kagome groaned and returned to the hut.

Some things were better left unsaid.

OOOOOOO

By mid-afternoon the ruined village was far out of sight. Good riddance, Inuyasha thought. That little stop had given him more trouble than he signed up for. It was bad enough that Kagome and the kid saw his human form, but his damn human emotions just had to get the better of him in front of Kagome last night. Every new moon it was always the same. His demon instincts faded away, leaving his human emotions to run wild. Crap like his mother's death and his encounter with his asshole brother would always run through his head. It was bad enough to have to deal with that nonsense on his own. Now he had to deal with Kagome and those damn sympathetic looks she kept throwing his way. It had gone on all morning. In between chats with the kid, she would stare at him for far longer than was warranted. Sometimes he'd see tears at the corners of her eyes. Every time he met her gaze, she would look away and repeat the action when she thought he didn't notice. What a pain in the ass. He was a demon, not some paper doll. He didn't need her sympathy. It sure as hell wasn't going to make him any stronger.

He finally caught a break when they reached the river. Kagome broke off with the kid to refill her water bottle-thing and gather some water to make ramen for their lunch. Inuyasha had to admit that he was looking forward to more of those noodles. He leapt onto a high branch to keep eye an out for trouble. After that long night, he could use a decent fight to reinvigorate his claws. He doubted he would get one though. They were in human territory. The most he could hope for was a fox looking to swindle a meal. Times like this he wished he was back at Kikyo's village. With the Sacred Jewel present, there was no end to demons that he could fight. He was sure that by now Kikyo had already taken out at least ten. Keh, she got to have all the fun, while he stuck babysitting. He couldn't wait to get back. He couldn't wait to see Kikyo again.

Inuyasha nearly jolted off the branch at the thought. But as the memory of her laughter rang in his ears and the feel of her touch on his hand ran through his mind, Inuyasha found himself easing back onto the branch. He took a breath trying to remember her scent. Instead he got a strong whiff of demon in the air. A smirk ran across his lips. Maybe his claws would see some action after all. He soared off the branch, following the scent with vigor. The scent took him past the river and towards a large clearing. He dropped to the ground, claws raised, and his nose sniffing around for the scent. A rustle in the bushes caught his ears and the half-demon whirled around, ready to face whatever creature lied beyond. The bushes parted and a small fox scampered past his feet. The creature barely reached Inuyasha's shins. The fox paused when it saw Inuyasha. Its mouth held purple robes that were bigger than the fox. Another rustle in the bushes forced the fox to drop the clothing and run in the opposite direction.

Inuyasha groaned. All that for nothing.

"Is that you my dear?" a slurred voice said from the bushes. "I'm here awaiting your surprise."

Inuyasha raised an eyebrow and carefully made his way towards the bush. He pushed the shrubs aside and instantly wished he had left well enough alone.

A man sat tied to a tree, his eyes covered by a blindfold, and his naked body exposed for all to see. His cheeks were flushed and his breath reeked of sake. His slightly tanned body glistened with sweat from previous…..excursions. The man had black hair that was tied back in a small ponytail. The beginnings of a beard poked at his chin and a staff laid useless on the tree trunk.

"You can stop trying to hide, my dear fox, I can hear you coming," he said. "There's no need to hold back, my sword has many more thrusts left."

Inuyasha could only slap his forehead.

From behind him he could hear Kagome and the kid start making their way over.

"You know, you're not a great escort if you keep wandering off without saying anything!" Kagome yelled.

"Uh…..Kagome….you might want to sit this one out….."

"Ah…Kagome! So that's your surprise!" the man exclaimed. "Hmmm….I can already imagine her fine taste!"

"Sit what out, what are you talk abo-OH MY GOD!"

"She's a screamer!" the man said, his body shifting around in excitement. "Even better!"

"Why were these robes just sitting on the ground?" Kaede asked as she joined the free exposure.

Kagome's face immediately flushed to a dark shade of red that Inuyasha had never seen on a human. A small amount of blood oozed down her nose before she dove behind Inuyasha, her hands flying to Kaede's eyes to shield them. "Inuyasha…..care…to…..explain….?"

"Your guess is as good as mine….."

"Ah! I hear the footsteps of two women!" the man said, a blissful smile on his face. "….And a very small child!" His smile dropped to a panicked gasp as he began to resist against his bonds. "Sweetheart, I know I said I was adventurous, but that's not what I had in mind! Surely a round with you and the two other women you brought would be suffice!"

Inuyasha growled. "All right that's it. Fantasy's over, weirdo!" A single swipe broke his (willing) bonds. And one tug brought down his blindfold. The man shook his head trying to adjust to the light. His dark blue eyes met with Inuyasha's and the man could only sigh.

"I knew this was too good to be true," he muttered. "Her mate, I assume?"

"What?"

"Before you take your revenge, know that I am a man of the cloth. Any damage you do to me now will severely damage your opportunity for nirvana in the next world. Moreover, your vigorous vixen wouldn't have needed to find solace outside your bond if you had properly fulfilled your duties as a male."

"What the hell are you talking about?!"

"To be showed up by a mere human, that must be so embarrassing for you. Then again, judging by your slender appearance and oddly long hair, I theorize that your vixen merely wished to lay with a man that actually looked like one."

Inuyasha grabbed the man by the neck, his claws dangerously close to the weirdo's groin. "You keep talking like that, you lose what makes you a man! And something tells me you wouldn't enjoy the life of a eunuch very much!"

The man gulped. "Now, now, there's no need to be hasty….."

"Inuyasha leave him alone!" Kagome shouted, though her eyes were still squeezed shut. "Just tell him to put some clothes on and we'll talk this out!"

"Inuyasha…?" the man repeated. "A rather odd name for a fox demon…."

"That's cuz I ain't no fox….."

The man blinked. His glazed over eyes slowly coming back into focus. "Oh! I see…errors have been made…."

"Um….sir…." Kaede squeaked behind Kagome. "Could you please dress yourself….?"

One set of returned robes later, they returned to the river with the odd man who appeared to be a monk. He sat at their makeshift camp rummaging through Kagome's bag for something to drink.

"Um….I have water here…" Kagome said holding up the water bottles.

"I'd much prefer some sake, my lady," the man replied.

"What for? You're already drunk!" Inuyasha barked.

"Not anymore," the man replied. "I have every intention of resolving that problem." His eyes brightened as he pulled out the large bottle of sake from Kagome's bag. "I see we share the same tastes, priestess."

"That wasn't my idea…" Kagome muttered.

Kaede narrowed her eyes. "A servant of the Buddha is taught to avoid alcohol."

The man just smiled at her. "True, however, I do not see Buddha here to stop me from doing so….."

The monk popped the top off, but Inuyasha grabbed the bottle before the weirdo could take a sip. "Why don't you tell us who the hell you are before you take Kagome's stuff!"

The man sighed and folded his arms into his sleeves before sitting down. "Very well if you wish to be so insistent. I am called Miyatsu. I am a monk of the Divine Wind Temple in the Hyogo prefecture."

"Hyogo prefecture? You're a long way from home," Kaede said. "Why have you come this far north?"

"Lord Hojo approached my temple with a mission," Miyatsu said, keeping his eye on the sake bottle. "There have been a series of attacks by bandits on villages. Many of which where the women were spirited away. A demon is said to be behind it. My companions and I were tasked with tracking down this demon and exorcise it."

"Wait a minute, this is the same crap that Muso-bastard was after!" Inuyasha exclaimed.

Miyatsu grimaced. "I see you have met my brother."

"Brother?! That devout monk with a gigantic stick up his ass is your brother?"

Miyatsu nodded with a small smirk. "In every way but blood. He doesn't like to talk about me very much."

Inuyasha rolled his eyes. "Gee, I wonder why."

"If you were on a mission, what were you doing tied up to a tree with a female fox demon?" Kaede asked with a frown.

"Uh….Kaede I think we all know what he was doing…." Kagome whispered.

Miyatsu rubbed his head and chuckled. "Would you believe me if I said I was gathering the needed information?"

"Not one bit," the three said in unison.

"Well….what is there to say? There are few men in the world who can resist a female demon fox. Any man who says otherwise is a liar."

"Some defense, monk," Inuyasha spat.

Miyatsu shrugged. "It was the best I could do on such short notice."

"No wonder Muso left your worthless ass behind."

"He and I simply have different methods," Miyatsu said. He glanced at Kagome, a sly grin growing on his face. "I, for example, much prefer a….hands on approach."

Inuyasha flattened his ears, and displayed the most savage growl he could muster. "Don't you think about touching Kagome, monk!"

Miyatsu however was unperturbed. He met Inuyasha's growl with a curious stare before raising his arms in defeat. "Calm down, it was a mere jest."

"Not a very good one!" Kagome exclaimed, her cheeks flushed.

"Comedy was never my strong suit," Miyatsu replied. "If I am allowed, may I ask the three of you some questions?"

Inuyasha shot him a glare and displayed his claws for good measure. "Just be careful what you ask."

"Noted. What brings the three of you here? This is not a path taken by most travelers."

"We seek the priestess Atsuko," Kaede answered without missing a beat.

Miyatsu shuddered. "Lady Atsuko? Only the truly desperate and lost seek her services."

Kagome tilted her head. "You know about her?"

"We've….crossed paths on a few occasions."

"What was it like? Meeting her?"

"Traumatizing," Miyatsu replied. "I nearly lost my right hand doing one of her little favors….."

"That doesn't sound good…." Kagome whispered to herself.

"If you seek divine answers, surely a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Hakushin on Mount Hakurei would better suit your needs," Miyatsu said. "I have been there at least three times. Well….Muso has. I could barely stand at the base of that pure mountain. Let alone reach the inner sanctuary."

"We appreciate your concern Master Miyatsu, but we cannot afford to go that far north," Kaede said. "Moreover, our escort would not be able to stand at the mountain either."

"Yes, I can see how brining a half-demon to such a pure site would cause problems," Miyatsu said. "Though he is a very interesting specimen. Where did you find such a creature? Fully grown at that."

"Hey! This creature has a name you know!"

"Yes, of course," Miyatsu muttered. He turned to Kagome. "He seems quite well trained, Lady Kagome. What methods did you use to capture him? And how did you get him to serve you and your sister so loyally?"

"Inuyasha isn't a captive," Kagome said firmly. "He's our friend. What is it with you monks? What's your problem with half-demons?"

Miyatsu rose to his feet his staff in hand. "So far none. I speak merely as a curious observer."

Kagome shot him a glare. "Then keep your curiosity to yourself too."

The monk brushed down his robes, still glancing at the sake bottle in Inuyasha's hands. "Very well. Although I would recommend coming up with story to explain his presence when you approach villages. The sad truth is that most humans are far more willing accept half-demon servants and slaves than they are half-demon friends and escorts. Just one monk's humble opinion."

Inuyasha growled. He was no one's slave.

"But I see I have overstayed my welcome," Miyatsu said. "I wish you all safe travels."

The monk followed the river downstream, whistling to himself as he went.

Inuyasha's claws twitched as he watched the monk slowly walk out of sight.

If he ever saw that crooked monk again, his claws would finally get the action he'd be looking for.

OOOOOO

Miyatsu chuckled to himself as reached into his sleeves and withdrew his newest prize. A small bag filled to the brim with gold and silver, courtesy of the lovely maiden Kagome. The girl may wear the robes of a priestess and have great spiritual presence, but she had much learn about the road. Namely, always keep on an eye on your items when a stranger is rummaging through your bag. A grin was plastered on his face as he walked downstream. With such a bounty he could easily buy at least ten women at the next brothel and some fine sake to last him a month or so. But first he had some debts to settle. A minor demon aura nudged against his senses. Miyatsu glanced upwards to see his first debt collector slowly descending into the forest. The monk entered the bushes and walked into a thin cloud of azure smoke. The badger in the center of the smoke was brushing himself off when the monk smacked his head with his staff.

"You're late Hatchi," Miyatsu berated. "I said before mid-day."

"Sorry master, you were a bit hard to find this time…."

"I wasted the last of my coin on some vixen fox waiting for you."

"What? How was she?!"

Miyatsu sighed. "Enjoyable up until we were rudely interrupted by a half-demon and his priestess companions."

Hatchi shook his head. "You should be thanking them then. One night with a fox often ends with them stealing fifty years of your life."

"Yes well, I needed to do something to pass the time."

"You could have mediated."

"Something I enjoy doing."

"Yes of course….."

Hatchi fidgeted. As a lowly badger demon he was often the first on the meal list for higher tier demons, so he was always on edge and looking over his shoulder. But Miyatsu couldn't help but notice his companion seemed far more skittish than usual. He could accidentally drop his staff and the badger would flee. Was the news he had brought truly that horrible?

"What have you learned in your travels?" he asked, forgoing their banter.

"Before I start, I just need a guarantee of payment this time Miyatsu," Hatchi whimpered. "I took a whole bunch of risks getting all this information…..I think I might need double my usual fee…."

Miyatsu frowned. Typical. The badger may have been low on the demon scale, but his swindler skills were top notch. "Let me hear your information first before I decide whether or not it's worthy of double."

"Oh come on, Miyatsu!" Hatchi cried. "When have I ever steered you wrong?"

"How about that time you sent me into a cave filled with demon birds," Miyatsu recounted. "That Princess Abi was no joke. I barely escaped with my life."

Hatchi shrugged. "So I mixed up the Fire Birds with the Birds of Paradise, you still got paid right?"

Miyatsu rolled his eyes at the memory. "We were paid, but Muso in all his wisdom, decided the temple deserved all the reward money. I was left with mere copper coins and a few bags of rice. Hardly enough to satisfy myself with the ladies."

"Ok…so I'm not perfect. But this news is worth every coin Miyatsu, I swear it!"

The monk took a breath. Despite some hiccups, Hatchi had always proven himself in the past. And while he was every much a swindler as his master, Hatchi never intentionally placed Miyatsu in danger he knew he couldn't handle. The monk reached into his bag and produced six gold coins. "Very well you damn schemer."

Hatchi gathered the coins quickly, his face bright and lively. "Thanks Miyatsu! You won't regret it!"

"That remains to be seen," Miyatsu said, sitting on a rock. "Now what have you learned?"

Hatchi plopped down across from the monk and produced a small jug of sake that he tossed back, before speaking. "Well, to the west that dog-demon upstart continues to gain territory. He's pushing out everyone. Ogres, kappa, dragons, you name it. The panther demons are starting to take notice. He's getting dangerously close to their lands. If this keeps up there will be war soon."

Miyatsu waved off the news. "Demons killing each other is of no interest to me. No one pays you when that happens. What else?"

"Lord Hojo's bride is with child. It was announced three weeks ago. Perhaps you could travel there and provide a blessing?"

"I'm sure this news has reached the entire region by now. I hate having to compete with other monks for the nobles' attention, far too much work involved."

Hatchi took a breath. His tongue licking the sides of his snout.

"Is that all? If so, give me back three of those gold coins."

"No wait there's more. I'm just not sure how to phrase it…."

"Just speak, Hatchi. It's not as if etiquette is a major concern of mine."

"Well….there's an alliance forming. Between a demon bat named Jun, an ogre called Moriko, and a demon who disguises himself as a human bandit, named Gatenmaru."

Miyatsu raised an eyebrow and leaned in closer. "An alliance between their clans?"

Hatchi shook his head. "No they seemed to be working by themselves. They're eager to get their hands on a half-demon."

"Three full-blooded demons form an alliance over a half-demon?" Miyatsu said. "Hatchi I know you like to exaggerate but-."

"No exaggeration, master!" Hatchi exclaimed. "I don't know what the half-demon did to the ogre or the bandit, but that demon Jun wanted his blood bad! I heard it all myself! They want to use bat demon's power to control others and combine it with an ogre horde and a gang of bandits!"

Miyatsu stroked his growing beard. The trio certainly sounded dangerous. And from Hatchi's description of the third demon, it was the demon lord Hojo had hired them exorcise. Where Muso was now, he was not sure. But even with his barriers, such an onslaught would be overwhelming. Whoever this half-demon was that they were after, Miyatsu did not envy him. "Is there more?"

"Yeah! Apparently they want the half-demon's traveling companions too! Two young priestesses!"

Miyatsu froze. "Two priestess….?"

"Yep! One of them is named Kagome!"

The name echoed in the monk's ears. Wheels of possibility ran in Miyatsu's mind. Each outcome danced before him like kabuki performers. Like a choreographer, Miyatsu moved the outcomes about in his mind. He ran down the cost and benefits of each like a tax collector. Finally when the perfect plan emerged, Miyatsu let out a strident laugh that seemed to engulf the entire forest. The monk held his sides unable to contain his buckling body. The Buddha certainly worked in mysterious ways. Whatever he had done to earn this good favor, Miyatsu was determined to capitalize. Hatchi stared at him, his small eyes filled with confusion. Miyatsu patted the badger's furry scalp and stooped down to his eye-level.

"Hatchi…..you have just given us an opportunity to make far more money than we know what to do with."

Hatchi's ears perked up. "T-truly master?"

Miyatsu nodded as he tossed the small satchel into the air. "Truly. Give me two days and this bag of coins will multiply into an entire treasure chest of rewards. But… that's only if you do your part."

Hatchi nodded heartily. "Just tell me what to do master, and I'll do it."

Miyatsu could have sworn he saw the small demon's pupils become gold coins. Although he was sure the same could said of him. The monk smiled and led Hatchi down the road.

"Good, because there's plenty of work to be done."

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