punkish furball – Howdy ho, ev'rybody! X3
Words to Ponder:
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Hello, all! I apologize for the delay, but this chapter was beastly to crank out. There's not a lot of action, but it certainly gives you some insight on what the other players in this story are up to and sets the stage for what's to come. I hope you all enjoy it!
I shall also use this space to plug with no shame my recently updated one-shot collection, Turtle Bites. Check it out if you have the time! XD
Kohaku smiled as he heard the twinkling laughter of the girl he hoped to marry. Not for the first time since she arrived from Edo did Rin ditch her training exercises with the other apprentice healers to work in the fields, giggling and gossiping with the other girls toiling in the rice paddies. It was shocking at first to see her there especially with her status as ward to Lord Sesshomaru, but Rin shrugged it off and continued to work, saying the small, self-sustained fields in the demon slayers' valley were nothing compared to the ones in Edo.
This and all of Rin's other odd indulgences were ignored due to the constant and silent vigil of Lord Sesshomaru. He never strayed too far from her and appeared whenever he pleased with small tokens for Rin and letters from Edo. Despite Sesshomaru's more than adequate protection, Kohaku always made time to sneak away from his village duties long enough to check on Rin himself. With just one glimpse of her endearing grin, he knew she was safe and sound.
"Yes?" Kohaku answered as he turned away from the fields and faced the messenger.
"We have visitors at the main gate. They wish to speak to your elder sister and her husband."
Kohaku thoughtfully hummed and nodded for the messenger to continue.
Ever since the defeat of Naraku, the slayers' village had more business than ever. Sango, like all other members of her team, gained a renowned reputation from her shard hunting days and her current status as head of the taijya village alongside Miroku. As such, all requests and renegotiations from exterminations, trade, and similar matters went directly to Sango or Miroku, and it wasn't uncommon for them to be requested by name. However, Sango was recently confirmed to be with pregnant her and Miroku's third child and in no condition to receive unknown and possibly hostile clients even if it was within the safety of her own home. Of course, Miroku, the dutiful husband and father, stayed by her side and took care of their two twin toddlers, Ran and Junko. That left all of their administrative duties to Kohaku.
Initially, Kohaku was surprised to see his willful sister resigning herself and her obligations even if it was only temporary. But, over time, he saw how much marriage and motherhood matured and softened his sister from the reckless days of her youth and respected her decisions, happily standing in for the power couple. He always consulted Sango before making any major decisions in their absence, knowing she would retake her mantle again until Kohaku officially succeeded her.
Or she ends up pregnant again, he thought with an amused snort.
His brother-in-law really couldn't keep his perverted hands to himself. Hopefully, Sango's recent bouts of morning sickness and swollen ankles would give her enough incentive to keep his advances at bay for a while.
As Kohaku turned his attention back to the messenger, noticing he was hesitant to resume their conversation.
"Is there a problem?" he asked.
"Sir, the visitors are demons, ōkami."
Kohaku nodded, skillfully hiding his shock. Several townships in the southern mountains were attacked by wolves over the past several months and the destruction and carnage increased with each and every attack. Slayer teams were hired and dispatched to handle the most recent incidents as simple exterminations. For now, the wolves seemed to retreat, but there was no telling when they would strike again.
Could they be planning a counterattack? Kohaku briefly considered but shook his head. If the wolves planned to retaliate against them, they wouldn't announce themselves so directly no matter how bold they were. Besides, he had to remember not all demons were evil and be an example for the rest of the village.
"Very well. I will go to meet them. Be alert but inform the others not to attack," Kohaku instructed.
The young messenger nodded and left before Kohaku left to approach the gate. When he arrived, he saw the guards surrounding three wolves, ones Kohaku vaguely recalled from his forced servitude to Naraku. The one with piercing, ice blue eyes was Koga, the ōkami pack leader who at one time possessed two shards of the Shikon Jewel and whose kin Naraku slaughtered. Kohaku only heard about him one more time after the vile hanyō was defeated, and Sango and Miroku noticed the wolves mobilizing in the east united under Koga's rule. They trusted him and his tribe so they didn't investigate further. So, if they trusted him, then so would he.
"Thank you for your hard work, everyone. I'll take it from here," Kohaku announced, "Make sure you tell the others not to be alarmed and notify my brother-in-law of their arrival."
The guards hesitated but eventually left to complete their appointed tasks. Kohaku was younger than most of the village's residents, but his judgment was rarely questioned.
Koga snorted and relaxed his two followers relaxed.
"Bout time. I was beginning to think we'd be out here all day."
"I apologize for the inconvenience, Lord Koga," Kohaku amended with a short, polite bow, "My sister and her husband are unable to meet you and your party at this time."
Koga groaned as the two other wolves laughed.
"Listen, kid. I ain't no lord so don't call me that. Like I told the others, the only reason I came here is to talk to the monk and female slayer who traveled with InuYasha."
"I see. You wish to discuss the recent attacks and exterminations in the southern mountains, correct?" Kohaku assumed.
"You got it," Koga replied with a brief nod, "I think we all have some information that could help us make sense of all of that."
"I'll take you to Miroku. He's been handling the negotiations with the villages that have contracted us for our aid, so he has far more knowledge on this matter than I."
"Alright. Let's get going."
Koga followed the teenaged slayer uncaring of the stares that followed him and his men. He may not attack humans anymore, but he had no illusions about where his race stood with them especially in a villages of exterminators bred to kill his kind.
"Please wait here," Kohaku said as he stepped onto the porch of Sango and Miroku's home. He disappeared behind the paper screen door and returned within seconds with the monk.
"Gentlemen, wonderful to see you again," Miroku greeted, "But I know this is not a social call. Kohaku tells me you have information you want to share pertaining to the attacks by ōkami tribes in the south in exchange for what knowledge we have gathered."
Koga nodded. "Yeah, that's right. The wolves responsible for the attacks defected or were forcibly exiled from the eastern tribe after I came into power."
"So you are not connected to them at all," Miroku deduced, "Sango and I suspected that were the case since you have made it very clear you do not condone unprovoked violence against humans."
"So the attacks were unprovoked?" Ginta asked.
"That is what the dispatched teams have reported. Sango and I also reviewed the evidence they collected and eyewitness testimonies and reached the same conclusion. The attacks are random in both location and timeframe, all ending in fatalities. The perpetrators were located and executed by our slayers, but the location of the main pack and the identity of its leader have yet to be determined. Right now, they seem to be lying low. The reported last attack was several weeks ago." Miroku paused, thoughtful.
"Do you have any information that contradicts our assumptions?" he inquired.
Koga shook his head. "I haven't been to the southern territory, but a mated pair from one of the tribes came to me for refuge and told me what happened. Between fighting amongst themselves and the humans, the wolves in the southern mountains are dying out. Those who are strong enough to leave will probably relocate to the east with us and petition for the right to join our pack."
"And you'll grant it," Miroku inferred.
"Only if they abide by all my rules."
Despite the abrupt response, Miroku smiled.
"Then I suppose the matter will resolve itself in time. Now that our business is concluded, perhaps you can stay a while before embarking on your journey home."
Koga prepared to refuse but a side glance at Ginta and Hakkaku made him falter. They didn't show it after years of experience, but the pace he set was pretty taxing.
"Sure thing, monk."
"Alright. Please follow me."
The wolves did as they were told and followed Miroku to an informal sitting area. There, much to their surprise, sat his wife, round and heavy with child, with a toddler on her lap beside a teenaged girl Koga barely recognized who held another child. Koga's tail twitched. Openly showing one's offspring was a show of great trust, especially with children so young. Considering he wasn't exactly close to the slayer or the monk, he wasn't sure how to feel.
Sango looked up from her child and grinned. She said, "Koga-san. It's been a long time."
"It has," Koga replied, "Glad to see you are well."
"Koga-sama!" the younger girl cried before Sango could speak. The toddler in her lap giggled and clapped matching her enthusiasm perfectly.
"Do you remember me?"
"Well…about that—" the wolf leader stammered. It was quite obvious that he didn't.
Ginta and Hakkaku both snickered before the latter leaned toward Koga's ear.
"Koga, she's Lord Sesshomaru's ward," he whispered.
Koga's eyes widened. "No way! You're that kid?"
Rin nodded, maintaining her composure as her Lord Sesshomaru and teachers, Kagome and Kaede, taught her. Wolves may have caused her first death and honestly continued to frighten her, but Koga saved her before and everyone—excluding InuYasha—spoke highly of him. Even her lord gave the wolf his due. For that, she would give him the utmost respect.
"I'm just visiting for a while," she explained, "I live in Edo with InuYasha and Lady Kagome."
Koga's heart clenched at the sound of his beloved's name, but he hid it well as he always did.
"Oh. So how are those two doing?" he obligatorily asked.
"Very well! Lady Kagome is always busy, but Lord Sesshomaru says that InuYasha is getting lazier and lazier by the day. Kagome says he'll never find himself a good wife living like that!"
"What? Why would she say something like that? Aren't those two mated?" Ginta asked.
As he spoke, Koga turned away to hide the fearsome look spreading across his face. From what he understood, human marriage was a far lesser commitment than a true yōkai mating. Multiple wives and paramours were common amongst mortals and certain species of demon, and the practice was particularly popular with the noble, aristocratic class. If the male partner desired it, there was nothing his wife could do but obey. That was the only reason Koga could think of to justify the face Kagome would even consider the possibility of InuYasha taking another lover.
However, ōkami were strictly monogamous even more so than their baser animal counterparts. To hear that a female he desperately loved and wanted was attached to a wretch who squandered her ardor and loyalty by daring to look at another woman made his hackles rise and bile build up in the back of his throat. How could InuYasha waste what he would give anything to possess?
How could I have expected more than that from a mutt like him? Dogs are only tamed by and loyal to their masters not their mates, Koga thought, if anyone was the mutt's master, it was the resurrected miko, Kikyo. Even though she was once again laid to rest, Kagome still had to compete for InuYasha's affections.
Then the mortal girl spoke again, effectively shutting down Koga's mounting rage and all coherent thought in his head.
"Of course not," Rin answered, perplexed, "Why would they be?"
"You mean Kagome and InuYasha aren't together?" Hakkaku asked. He was just as dumbstruck as Koga and Ginta.
Sango shook her head and slowly rocked her daughter when she began to fuss. Ran always required more maintenance than her sister.
"We were surprised by the outcome as well, but, after Kagome returned from her homeland, she and InuYasha never began a romantic relationship." She frowned when her child began to wail causing all of their demonic guests to wince save for the gobsmacked wolf leader.
"I better put Ran and Junko down for a nap before they get too fussy. Sorry I can't be more hospitable."
"No problem. Thanks for seeing us on such short notice," Hakkaku answered for Koga. He awkwardly added, "We hope your next birthing goes well."
"Thank you," Sango said and gave Ran to Kohaku as her husband helped her up. Kohaku readily stood next to his prospective bride who held his much calmer niece. When she was on her feet, Miroku nodded and stepped away from her.
"And thank you for making the trip. We hope to see you again under better circumstances," she stated as she took her daughter from Kohaku. With a final nod in the wolf demons' direction, Sango left with Rin and Kohaku in tow.
"Well, gentlemen, if you have no pressing engagements, I'd be delighted to treat you all to a drink. I have a special bottle of sake I inherited from my master that should be perfect for this event," Miroku offered.
"And what event is this?" Ginta questioned, suspicious. He only heard that tone in the monk's voice when he was up to something.
"The reunion of friends and allies!" he clarified, "Although there are a few very noticeable absences, but I'm sure they'll be with us in spirit. They've actually accomplished a lot over the past several years if you would like to hear about it."
"We'd be honored," Koga affirmed and eagerly took a seat after Miroku left to fetch the sake.
When the monk returned and poured the trio's first drinks, he began his detailed accounts of the village in Edo centered around one particular miko. His motives couldn't be more transparent, but Koga didn't care. In less than a minute, everything he presumed to be true was so thoroughly demolished, and he couldn't be happier. Kagome was not bound to InuYasha by mating or marriage and even encouraged the mutt to find a woman of his own. He always knew InuYasha had dubious tastes especially after his run-in with the reanimated shell of his former love, but he wasn't going to complain.
Koga downed his drink, and Miroku readily poured him another without pausing his stories. Koga listened and felt his being filled much faster than his cup, overflowing with hope he believed withered and died long ago. His old fears were tossed aside, and he vowed his self-imposed loneliness was coming to an end. No matter what, he would be a part of Kagome's life because he should have never left her in the first place. Whether she wanted him as a friend or much more, Koga would no longer hide from her like a coward afraid to put his heart on the line.
Ginta and Hakkaku grinned behind his back as their lone wolf leader soaked in everything the monk told him about their human sister down to the last miniscule detail. Their smiles widened when Miroku explicitly stated Kagome was single and unattached. They may be getting ahead of themselves, but they were sure Koga was preparing for a vigorous hunt by learning everything about his intended prey. After all, the most prized acquisition of the wolf prince would be his princess.
Kagome tiredly groaned as she tended to her fire pit. It was a time consuming task, but the wood she carefully covered with the lid to one of her cooking pots was slowly but surely turning into charcoal.
When she left the caravan and arrived in Tai-kawa about two days ago, she briefly met with the village head before going directly to the sick and infirmed. Their symptoms were just as Kaede described, severe abdominal pain and lethargy coupled with high fever. Kagome was also told of instances of yellow skin discoloration and seizures in the younger patients.
Kagome frowned. She wasn't able to directly observe any children with that particular symptom. As soon as the villagers witnessed the violent trashing in one of the afflicted, they quickly separated him from the other infirmed, restrained him, and ultimately killed him before they burned the body; fearing demonic possession was the cause. From what Kagome was told, over a dozen of Tai-kawa's youth met such an unfortunate end. It was an avoidable and unnecessary loss, but it couldn't be helped now. Kagome just had to work quickly so she could prevent it from happening again.
A high pitched yelp broke Kagome from her somber thoughts and made her smile.
"I know. I know. Back to work," she said, absently scratching her cub behind the ears.
Kei licked her fingers before he settled himself on his paws watching as Kagome worked. Like her, he was bored with sitting still for so long, but he knew his Alpha had a job to do.
After she examined the sick, Kagome distributed herbal remedies she prepared beforehand and stored in her first aid kit to ease the pain before she surveyed the area where the idol was lost. After much persuasion, she had the men to dredge the statuary from the river. It was easy to find and remove despite its large size. The metal ore it was composed of ensured the idol quickly sank into the thick claylike mud of the riverbed and stayed in place.
With a little more persuasion, Kagome convinced the onlookers to leave her alone with the beloved idol. When she made absolutely sure she was alone, she quickly inspected the statue for any clues. The villagers claimed the plague started when the idol fell. From what she could gather, the statue itself had no real power of its own, but that didn't mean it was completely innocent either. It was the only lead she had, so she had to follow through with it for now.
It was once a magnificent piece of art, but the long exposure to the river water dulled and faded all of its intricate decor. Kagome gingerly touched the ore and rubbed the residue that gathered on her thumb with her index finger. The powder was soft but very heavy, a telling characteristic.
From her pack, Kagome removed a small knife and her medical textbook full of her handwritten notes sloppily tucked between the pages. She flipped to the right section in her book before she grabbed a stray rock with one hand and held her blade at the idol's wrist. There was one final test need to confirm her speculations. She mumbled a quick apology to Kei before she hit the knife's handle with the stone using it was a makeshift chisel. It took some time and effort, but she finally detached the metal hand from the rest of the statue. She turned to the she lit for her test and tossed the limb into the flames. As expected, the metal slowly began to melt.
The cause of the ongoing plague was clear, heavy metal poisoning from the discarded idol. Once it sunk to the bottom of the river and began to erode, the toxins contaminated the surrounding water, the fish, and other wild and domestic animals before it was all consumed by the village over time.
The young and elderly were the most vulnerable and succumbed to the poisoning first. Everyone else in between, though stronger, also began to experience the same symptoms. On top of that, the lingering winter cold prevented them from venturing too far outside of the small township to acquire other sources of food and water, and they had no choice but to continue consuming the unknowingly tainted rations. The cold also had a part in weakening their immune systems not that that would have made much of a difference. Kagome was surprised they managed to last as long as they did and travel so far to find her.
Based on the alloy's softness, great weight, and low melting point combined with the symptoms exposure to it caused, the idol's composition likely contained a high percentage of lead.
Unfortunately, knowing the cause of the mystery sickness didn't make Kagome's job any easier. As a modern era girl confined to the medieval era's methods of medicine and healing, there wasn't much she could do. Her spiritual energy wouldn't help. Lead, though toxic to humans, was a naturally occurring element not the type of impurity she could easily cleanse from the body. It might be a viable option for one infected patient, but she had nearly half of the village quarantined and waiting to be treated. Using her reiki to heal them took time, effort, and energy she just did not have.
All she could do at this point was stop the body from absorbing the poison, treat as much of the internal damage as she could, and prevent those who were too far gone from suffering even more than they already have.
"And finished!" Kagome cried as she lifted the lid and collected the last batch of the newly formed coals. She wasted no time transferring them to a nearby container and meticulously grinding them to a fine powder. Activated charcoal administered with her standard herbal concoctions was the best remedy she could develop with such limited resources while offering her prayers to the kami for safe and speedy recoveries.
Kagome paused while dividing the powder into single doses. It was times like this when she really missed her birth era. She did what she could, but, at the end of the day, she was only one woman with the power to heal and knowledge far beyond this time who still couldn't save everyone no matter how much she wanted to.
She jumped when Kei sat up and whined reaching over to lick her knuckles. She smiled at her cub and gathered him in her arms. Kagome didn't know much about the intricate network of canine packs other than what she learned from Sesshomaru, but she was more than aware of the instinct to comfort a saddened pack member.
"Thank you, Kei," she whispered then giggled when he intentionally but playfully nipped her chin. It was also pack responsibility to keep each other on task.
"I know. I know. Back to work," she repeated.
The wolf yipped when Kagome placed him back on the ground and gathered all of her supplies. With everything packed and the fire extinguished, she started her way back to Tai-kawa. She didn't have to look down to know Kei was faithfully to her side. This was his first venture outside of Edo since Kagome took him in. He was understandably wary of the strange villagers and the feeling was more than returned, but Kei never wavered, never strayed from Kagome's side.
The cub was active and alert watching his Alpha, powerful, generous, and kind, aid the foreign humans. Though they were grateful for her help, Kei perceived what his Alpha did not. He saw the minute flinches of the townspeople when he and Kagome, demon and human, approached another sick person. He saw the hateful, untrusting glares and heard the whispers of suspicion and malice.
His Alpha, though far stronger than these other humans, focused all of her attention on her health-giving and was not aware of the potential danger. It went against his instincts to devote himself to such an irresponsible female, but it was simply her way and he loved her all the more for it. And, as a member of her pack, Kei would protest his Alpha Kagome with all the strength he had.
Miroku groaned as he ran his hand through his unbound hair blinking his bloodshot eyes. He underestimated the alcohol tolerance of his demonic guests and ending up being out several bottles of premium sake with the biggest hangover he had since the celebration of Sango's first pregnancy.
I should have known better than to expect full-fledged demons to match InuYasha's tolerance. The hanyō was a lightweight even by human standards.
Miroku grunted when Ran and Junko pounced on top of him forcing him back to his bed. They were both clearly wide awake and more refreshed than he was.
"Careful, girls," he bemoaned, "Daddy is not feeling well. Now is not the time to play."
"Serves you right."
Miroku, completely under the mercy and weight of his two daughters, weakly looked up at his pregnant wife smirking down at him.
"And just what injustice did I comment to deserve such treatment?"
Sango sighed and shooed Ran and Junko away before carefully dropping down by Miroku's side.
"I know you meant well, but you shouldn't have discussed Kagome's private affairs with Koga behind her back."
He opened his mouth to reply, but she cut him off before he could speak.
"Don't play me. I know all of your tricks and exactly what you were up to after I left."
"It was harmless," Miroku assured her, "I am more than certain Kagome would not object sharing those details with a dear friend she has not seen in years."
Sango shook her head. "Koga's friendship with her began with a very clear motive."
She knew, while flattered by Koga's attentions, Kagome never had any desire to pursue a relationship with him beyond their simple camaraderie. Sango also doubted Koga's constant claims and declarations of love for the futuristic miko. They were only empty words from a male who came and went out of her life as he pleased. That was not the kind of man Kagome needed in her life. And, even if he was, it was not Miroku's place to present her to him on a silver platter.
"I cannot deny that Koga initially became interested in Kagome for her ability to see the Shikon shards, but the jewel is no more. Koga genuinely wants nothing more than her companionship whether it is for friendship or something deeper than that."
Miroku understood exactly where Sango was coming from. Though she learned how to fend for herself, he and Sango were still fiercely protective of Kagome and her innocent view of the world. The wrong kind of man could easily take advantage of her.
The Koga they met was an arrogant blowhard who spoke more than he acted especially in regards to his love for Kagome. But, call it cliché, he began to change shortly after he and Kagome met, and Miroku honesty believed Koga was no longer that person. He saw just how much Koga changed when Rin innocently spoke of the current situation between Kagome and InuYasha. He—like many others—assumed the two were a happily married or mated couple. Once he learned everything he believed was a lie, Koga asked for everything and anything involving the priestess's life.
Miroku was more than willing to share whatever he could with the wolf leader. He recognized something in Koga that he knew very well. He subconsciously tightened his hand, the same hand that bore Naraku's curse. It was the only thing that stood between him and the life he only dreamed of with the woman he dearly loved. The very second his hand and his heart were both free from those restraints and he was unhindered by the promise of violent and lonely death, Miroku pursued Sango relentlessly. He would accept nothing less than everything she had to offer and would give her all he had in return.
Koga undoubtedly wanted the same now that he too was free from any restraints that kept him and Kagome apart. Call him a romantic, but Miroku believed in giving the lovesick wolf a chance.
"Miroku?" Sango questioned, carefully placing her hand over his, "Are you alright? Would you like me to get you something?"
Miroku chuckled in spite of the throbbing pain in his head and ragged appearance. He tenderly grasped Sango's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.
"All I need is you, dear wife."
Sango giggled at his advances and reciprocated enthusiastically until she got a whiff of his alcohol laced breath. She violently lurched and scrambled to her feet.
"I'm going to be sick!" she rasped before rushing out of the bedroom with one hand pressed to her mouth and the other against her unborn child thrashing in her belly.
Miroku sighed and fell back on his pillow, cringing when he heard Sango empty the contents of her stomach. He was never drinking again.
punkish furball – That's a wrap! There will definitely be more action in the next chapter, and our favorite couple will be reunited (but how they reunite is completely at my discretion). Until next time, TCB!