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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?"


"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."


"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."


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.

Chapter 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.


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