Disclaimer: I do not own InuYasha or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Legacy of the Cursed Mask: Battle Across Time

Chapter 15: Weaving a Story Part 4

I don't believe this…! Azusa thought as she sat on a rocky cleft of the mountains of her home. Her brows furrowed in thought as she once again mulled over everything she had learned. Even after everything I've seen and all the rest of it…I still don't believe it!

Shaking her head in slow disbelief, Azusa thought back to before. When she had been having a heated discussion with Jiro. About how she and some other wolf-demons had been out hunting for food, only to see from a distance a battle between a group of Demon Slayers and a monstrous ogre with many arms.

A discussion that ultimately led to Azusa being told an unexpected truth.

"That monster we saw – that was Sango?!"

Wincing at the harsh tone with which Azusa had spoken, Jiro quickly glanced about, as if making doubly and even triply certain that there was no one present that ought not be hearing this. But even as he did so, Kei, one of the Demon Slayer council members, sighed and nodded somberly. "Yes. Sango had been afflicted with what we call…Kasuga's Curse."

"Kasuga's Curse?!" Azusa repeated incredulously as she stood within the cave where the wolf-demon leadership ruled over the mountains. And as she stood there, she swung her accusing eyes at representatives of both their peoples. "And what the hell is that?! Does it have anything to do with what that stupid sword did to us?!"

"In a way, yes," Kei conceded. "It is the natural consequence of being a Demon Slayer. Of surviving many battles against powerful demons and being bathed in their blood."

"Natural consequence?!" Azusa frowned as she again echoed another's words. "What consequence?!"

Frowning uncomfortably, Ayame sighed before asking, "Azusa…you remember your lessons? What I taught you about certain magics? Such as the principle of transmigration?"

"Of course I remember that!" Azusa decreed without hesitation. "You told me stories about how some demons use the blood of murdered children to make their weapons evil and stuff like that! So?"

"So transmigration can also affect the living," Ayame softly explained. "For example, it is possible for a human to use a Sacred Jewel Shard to become a demon. That is, if the evil in them is strong enough."

"Yeah, I know about that! So -!" Azusa started. Only to cut herself off when she made the connection. "Wait a second…are you saying that – the Demon Slayers are all turning into demons?!"

"Not exactly. Though that can be the result," Kei admitted. "It depends upon the strength of the demons we slay, how thoroughly drenched in their blood and power we are, and a host of other factors." Then she heaved a solemn breath before admitting, "But Sango…she's been stained with tremendous demonic power. And Kasuga's Curse has taken a firm hold of her."

"So she's definitely changing into a demon?!" Asuza demanded with increasing incredulity. "She's seriously going to become the monster we saw out there?!"

"Not if we have anything to say about it," Kei stated firmly. "We're currently preparing a ritual to stabilize her condition. To allow Sango to retain control as she…goes through this transition. It is a…a difficult thing."

Considering this, Azusa then harshly inquired, "And you didn't tell us about this before why?!"

"But Azusa, we knew!" Ayame countered. "Daisuke told Koga about the curse when we were setting up this alliance!

"Your cousin speaks the truth, Azusa," Yorozuko stated, the ancient white wolf looking firmly at the bombastic redhead. "Myself, Robai, and a few others were all told of this truth. Daisuke felt that we had a right to know and that to keep secrets would be to damage our ability to trust one another."

"Then why didn't you tell everyone else?!" Azusa persisted. "Do you have any idea how much easier this would have made selling this alliance idea to everyone?!"

This prompted everyone else in the cave to freeze in shock. Whether human or demon, everybody gathered there proceeded to look at Azusa with expressions of dumb astonishment. "I -!" Jiro sputtered out incredulously. "Azusa, what are you -?!"

"What, isn't it obvious?!" Azusa immediately demanded. "Every wolf-demon knows how much weaker humans are when compared to us! So of course nobody was taking this alliance idea seriously at first! But if we had all known that they eventually turn into superpowerful demons, then -!" The bombastic redhead frowned as something occurred to her. "Wait a minute – just how many of you are demons? Or turn into demons, or – however this thing works?"

Kei frowned intently at this. "I…those that have tamed Kasuga's Curse have access to an…alternate form, yes. And they are…generally the most experienced among us. The ones that have seen the most battle and have been soaked with the most demonic blood. Such as members of our council," she reluctantly admitted. "But –"

"The council?! Aren't you a part of this council?!" Azusa demanded as she approached Kei. "So does that mean that you've got a demon form?"

"Uh, Azusa?" Jiro broke in even as Kei averted her eyes. "I don't think you should -!"

"I'm not talking to you, Demon Slayer! I'm talking to her!" Azusa declared as she marched up to Kei and glared right into her face. "So? Do you have a demon form hiding away in that scrawny body of yours?"

Kei's gentle face was slowly darkened with a heavy scowl. "First of all, Azusa, I would thank you not to speak so casually in regards to Kasuga's Curse. For our people, it is a matter of grave seriousness," the petite woman stated firmly. "And to answer your question…yes. I have been forced to tame the beast within."

"Really?" Azusa nodded, more curious than anything else. "Then show me just how big a beast it is!"

Kei's eyes went wide with shock at these words even as Jiro gasped and staggered a step back. Meanwhile, Ayame groaned while Yorozuko growled, "Azusa, be careful in how you speak!"

"What, what?!" Azusa retorted incredulously. "I'm just -!"

"You're speaking lightly of a very serious and personal matter to the Demon Slayers," Yorozuko harshly broke in. "And I would ask that you respect their concerns in this matter."

"Hey, I just want to know what they can do! I mean, if they've got it, then they should definitely be flaunting it!" Azusa countered, still not seeing what the problem was. Then she shoved Kei in the chest hard enough to send her tottering back a few steps. "So go ahead and start flaunting it!"

Kei took a deep breath even as she momentarily clenched her hands. Pausing to close her eyes for a brief moment, she once more looked squarely at Azusa. "My cursed form is nothing to be flaunted, Azusa. And neither are those of any Demon Slayer. They are a consequence of our duty, and are only to be used as a last resort."

"Why? Does using them hurt you or something?" Azusa wondered.

"Nothing like that," Kei immediately replied, heaving in a deep breath. "But –"

"Then go on! Show it off already!" Azusa demanded, giving Kei another shove. "Or are you afraid that you won't be big and bad enough to impress me?!"

Kei heaved a deep breath once again, but before she or Azusa could say anything, Jiro tried to interpose himself between them. "Uh, Azusa! I don't think -!"

"Outta the way, Demon Slayer!" Azusa ordered, forcing Jiro aside. "And as for you…!"

Azusa fired off a quick punch at Kei's face. The council member moved just enough to be able to dodge the blow, but the way her hair was ruffled made it clear that the she-wolf wasn't playing games. "You're not going anywhere until you show me what you've got!"

Increasingly alarmed and angered, Ayame called out, "Azusa -!"

"I see…I believe I now understand why Totosai chose such a drastic means of protesting your insistence before your arrival," Kei murmured in a low, controlled tone. "It seems that…words will not reach you. That you will not listen to anything other…than hard action."

"You noticed!" Azusa smirked, glad that she was finally getting through and would be getting her way. "So what are you waiting for?!" she wondered as she reared back to deliver another blow. "Show me what your inner demon has got!"

With a feral grin, Azusa fired off a punch that was aimed right at Kei's face. Only for her grin to be immediately wiped off of her face when the petite woman instantly and effortlessly grabbed the wolf-demon's arm by the wrist and stopped the impended blow.

"Gah!" Azusa cried out, more out of surprise than anything else. Only to wince as Kei tightened her grip.

Her eyes bulging somewhat as another sound pricked her ears. At which Azusa looked up…and watched as Kei's frail human fingernails broke apart. Reshaping themselves into longer, tougher claws.

"You want to see…what my beast is like?" came an ominous, rumbling voice. It took Azusa a few seconds to realize who exactly was speaking. And when she did, she looked Kei in the face. And very nearly fell over in shock.

What had once been a smooth and serene expression that Azusa had only seen reach the depths of controlled annoyance was creased and contorted with absolute fury. Kei's mouth hung open, giving the she-wolf a perfect view as the Demon Slayer's teeth lengthened and sharpened into razors.

"Then...take a good, long look…!" Kei snarled as her eyes began glowing balefully. "Because I'll only show you this once…!"

And once was enough! Ouch! Azusa thought, wincing at the memory of what had come next. Of how the newly transformed Demon Slayer had proceeded to demonstrate her physical strength in a singularly effective manner.

Azusa's body was now riddled with large bruises and numerous claw and bite marks. A testimony to the savage beating that she had been subjected to.

I don't know what I'd expected…but it sure wasn't that! Azusa thought sourly. And neither was what happened next…!

"Ooooooooooooohhh…!" Azusa groaned feebly as she lay on the ground. Unable to move without the assistance of her cousin. "Ayame…"

"I'm here! Though I should honestly just leave you to rot after what you just did!" Ayame snarled furiously. "What were you thinking, Azusa?! Were you thinking?!"

"Hey, I just wanted to see what the big deal was!" Azusa shot back, only to cringe as the simple act of speaking caused fresh spasms of pain. "You told me that they can turn into demons, so -!"

"So naturally, you decided to set a forest on fire just to see how bad it could get!" Ayame broke in, sounding as if she dearly wanted to bear Azusa into the floor. "All the while we kept warning you to -!"

"Well, your warnings still don't make any sense! I – ouch!" Azusa started to shoot back, only to move in such a way that made her shoulder scream in pain. "Seriously, did you even see what she did?!"

"We saw, alright!" Yorozuko growled as he surveyed the cave. Surveyed the many bloodstains and other forms of damage dealt during Kei's demonstration. "It was quite hard to miss!"

"And you can bet that our people would have sat up and taken notice of it!" Azusa went on, giving the aged wolf a fierce glare. "So if you knew about this, then why -!"

"Because it needs to be kept a secret!" came Jiro's voice as he reentered the cave with the once more human Kei a short distance behind. A voice that reverberated painfully within the cave, causing Azusa to wince as a result. "I can't believe that you -!"

"Wait, why does this need to be kept secret?!" Azusa demanded incredulously.

"Isn't it obvious?!" Jiro shot back with enough force to send Azusa staggering back a step. But even as it looked like he would continue, he sucked in a deep breath and ran his hand across his face. "I…I'm sorry, I -!"

"There's no need to apologize, Jiro. This should not have happened, and we apologize for everything that happened," Yorozuko assured them. "What of you, Kei? Have you…recovered?"

Pressing her lips tightly together, Kei managed a brief nod. "Mostly. The transformation is…difficult. It…loosens one's control over their emotions. Makes it harder to reign in things that we would normally keep inside." She then gave Azusa a look before adding, "If not for Jiro snapping me back to my senses, this would likely have been a lot worse."

Giving Kei a look, Jiro then shook his head and looked harshly at Azusa. "You shouldn't have done this," he stated firmly in a voice of controlled anger. "I – I realize that you don't understand, but still -!"

"You're right! I don't understand!" Azusa exclaimed, only to cringe in pain as she twisted something in precisely the wrong way. "If you people have this power, then why don't you use it?! Show everyone out there that they shouldn't mess with you?! Human, demon…it doesn't matter!"

"If it were so simple, Azusa, then perhaps we would," Kei replied, her voice still unsteady. "However, things are not that simple."

"And why not?!" Azusa harshly demanded, only to wince as she moved the wrong way.

Pausing to heave a deep breath, Kei clenched and unclenched her hands. Closing her eyes and issuing a soft prayer before looking at the she-wolf once more. "For one thing, not every Demon Slayer has Kasuga's Curse, let alone tamed it. But more importantly is its nature. Even after being tamed, Kasuga's Curse doesn't make us demons. Nor are we fully human.," she carefully explained. "Now tell me something; how would full demons or humans tend to view something that is not fully of either race?"

Azusa opened her mouth to speak…only for realization to hit her. "Ohh…"

"Exactly. If it became common knowledge that we can…become that…every human village, lord, and more would turn against us," Kei explained. "Even if they didn't attack us outright…we chose to become Demon Slayers to protect those in need. Yes, we took payment in return for our services. But our first and foremost goal was to protect people from attacking demons. How well do you think we could accomplish such a goal if people came to view us as being even worse than the demons they would have us slay?"

"And don't forget how many tribes of demons hate them!" Ayame chimed in, giving Azusa a scathing glare. "Do you really think that the Demon Slayers would want even more enemies than they already had?"

"Well…okay! I guess that makes a bit of sense!" Azusa shot back, unwilling to concede defeat. "But still, if they have power, then -!"

"A power that is not fully reliable, Azusa," Kei promptly stated. "Even once tamed, the power granted by Kasuga's Curse loosens our inhibitions when brought to the fore. It takes a certain degree of restraint and self-control to successfully wield it. Because of that and our need to maintain this secret, we view it as something to be brought forth only in an emergency where nothing else can save your life."

"Besides, Azusa, the bounty of our alliance with the Demon Slayers isn't solely in their capacity as warriors," Yorozuko stated firmly. "Their skills will benefit us in times of peace. Not simply when in battle."

"Which means what?" Azusa wondered.

"It means that our ability to simply take what we want from others is fading. Partly because the resources of our territory have not yet recovered. Partly because Toma wiped out those we would normally take from," Yorozuko stated solemnly. "As difficult as it is for us to accept, we need to learn new ways. Growing food, forging tools, creating better medicines, and more. We need the Demon Slayers as teachers more than anything else."

"Growing – wait, you mean like farming?!" Azusa demanded incredulously. "No way! We're wolf-demons! We eat meat!"

"Meat that is increasingly scarce. And let me remind you that, as wolf-demons, we're capable of eating plants as well," Ayame pointed out. "And we've seen human farmers raising animals to be eaten."

"Well, yeah! I know that! But still -!" Azusa hotly countered. Only for the thrust of her fellows' reasoning to find its mark. "I…are things…that bad…?"

"Bad enough that we cannot ignore any possible means of insuring our peoples' future," Yorozuko admitted. "That being said, Azusa, I would ask you to respect the Demon Slayers in this matter. The same way that they have tried to respect our ways. And remember that the matter of Kasuga's Curse, among other things, is deeply sensitive and important to them."

With that, Yorozuko turned and started away. Leaving Ayame to level a fierce glare at her cousin. "And don't you dare tell anybody else about any of this! As far as the rest of the tribe is concerned, the Demon Slayers were dealing with a wild ogre! That's all they need to know!"

Caught between the realization there was at least some good reason behind such secrecy and the fact that she hated to be on the losing side of anything, Azusa shot back, "Alright, fine! But do you seriously think that you can keep this secret forever?!"

This prompted a serious frown from Ayame. "No. But we have to at least keep it a secret until the situation between our two peoples is stable enough for our tribe to be able to fully accept the Demon Slayers. And their secrets."

With this, Ayame departed. Leaving Azusa to frown in consideration, uncertain as to what she should do. But then she noticed Jiro walking away. And without a thought, she started after him. "Hey, Demon Slayer!"

Jiro paused in mid-step, and with her keen senses, Azusa noted the way his body tensed. How he sucked in a deep breath and muttered beneath his breath.

All signs of someone doing his best to rein in his anger. And from someone Azusa had never seen truly angry before.

Dammit…I guess I did kind of screw up on this one… Azusa thought, not liking the idea of admitting it, if only to herself.

"I…Azusa…" Jiro got out as he turned to look at her. "Listen, I –"

"Look, I get it! Doing what I did…wasn't my best idea, alright?!" Azusa managed to force herself to say. "It's just…I'm still not sure why this Curse thing is such a scary thing for you! I mean, I get the parts about why you wouldn't want people finding out about it! I get that part! But…I…"

Azusa trailed off, trying to think of a way of phrasing what she wanted to say without making herself look weak in the process. But even as she fought for the right words to say, Jiro exhaled softly. "I suppose…it doesn't help that…you don't know much about Kasuga's Curse," he finally admitted. "But – well, there is more to this, Azusa. Another reason why we take it so seriously."

Glad that she had been spared the possibility of looking like an idiot, Azusa pounced on Jiro's statement. "And what is it?! What makes this thing a curse, anyway?!"

Visibly hesitant, Jiro took his time in responding. "Azusa…do you remember what Kei said before? How she referred to Kasuga's Curse as…something that had to be tamed?"

Frowning in thought, Azusa then nodded. "Yeah, I heard her saying stuff like that. So?"

"So did it ever occur to you to ask…what would happen if someone were to fail in taming it?"

These words hit Azusa harder than Kei had not that long ago. "Uh…fail?" she eventually repeated, her voice shuddering somewhat. "I – I just figured that it was…something that you people worked at until you got it right!"

This prompted Jiro to sigh and nod somberly. "I see. That…actually does explain a lot," he admitted. "And wouldn't it be wonderful if it was that simple…"

"Then – how does this thing work?!" Azusa wondered.

Pressing his lips together, Jiro eyed Azusa for a time. "I – alright," he hesitantly began. "Imagine…your capacity for evil. All of your rage, intolerance, hatred, selfishness…everything that's worst about you. And try to picture it as…a living monster. One that you have to keep locked away in a cage because if it ever gets out, it could hurt those that you care about the most."

Azusa contorted her expression before shrugging. "Okay. I mean, I don't know what's so bad about being mad when everyone around you is being an idiot, but – alright. There's this monster in me and it's in its cage. So?"

"So imagine that…every enemy you slay, every demon you kill…feeds that monster. Makes it a bit stronger," Jiro carefully explained, maintaining control of his emotions as the two of them made their way out of the cave. "Until at last the monster becomes strong enough to break out of its cage. And when it does…it will kill you."

Azusa froze in midstep at this. "Kill you?!" she blankly repeated. "But – Kei, she's alive! And -!"

"I'm not talking about your body, Azusa! I'm talking about your mind! Your very soul!" Jiro tersely explained. "The person you are, everything about you…dies. And in its place is a mindless, rampaging monster. With a powerful new body to act on every evil that you are capable of."

Blinking a few times, Azusa then shook her head and waved her hands as she tried to make sense of this. "Wait wait wait! I – hold on! Let me get this straight!" she finally managed to get out. "So…what you're saying is that – if Sango, she fails to get control of this thing…it'll kill her?! And then all that'll be left of her is that huge ogre we saw?!"

"An ogre that had no compunctions against trying to kill and eat two of her dearest friends," Jiro stated firmly as he slowly nodded his head. "That's exactly what I'm saying, Azusa."

Disturbed and confused by this revelation, Azusa then asked, "So – is there a cure or something for this?! I mean – isn't there – anything that you can do?!"

"No. Not if she fails to tame the beast within," Jiro solemnly admits. "If it comes to that, then…death will be her only release."

"Meaning that – you'd kill her?!" Azusa gasped out. "And – she knows that?!"

"She does," Jiro assured her. "As does everyone else in our settlement. We know what has to be done."

Feeling like her insides were twisting about like a nest of snakes, Azusa then frowned as something else occurred to her. "Wait – that old goat Totosai hit you with that sword as well! And you changed, and -!" Her eyes rounding as her chain of thought reached its conclusion. "Does that mean – are you -?!"

Azusa trailed off, unable to give voice to that possibility. All she could do was stand there and watch as Jiro lowered his gaze to the ground. And in a soft voice, finally admitted, "Madness…looms in my future as well."

With this admission, Azusa found herself flashing back to the horrid ogre Jiro had become as a result of being struck by the Reikikaega. A massive, brutish ogre whose red skin perfectly matched his rage and mindless fury. And then she imagined that transformation going even further, on the same scale as Sango's metamorphosis.

She imagined such a monster reaching for her. And then…

Wincing as she forced such horrid images to the side, Azusa then eyed Jiro. "Well…if it comes down to that, you better be sure to kick your own beast's ass! You got that?!"

Giving Azusa a wan look, Jiro managed the tiniest of smiles. "That's…certainly what I intend to do. When the time comes."

"Good!" Azusa promptly declared. "Still, I think you Demon Slayers are wrong about something." This warranted a puzzled look from Jiro. "I get why this thing is serious business for you all. And I can understand why you don't want everybody finding out about it and that it would cause you trouble. I've got all of that down." When the Demon Slayer gave a slight nod, the she-wolf gave a toothy grin. "But I still think you shouldn't be so shy about strutting it! Showing it off!"

Jiro jumped a bit before whirling to stare at the she-wolf with eyes wide with astonishment. "What?! Azusa, what are you – were you even listening?! These forms are a manifestation of everything terrible in our hearts! They are our deepest evils given physical shape! Monstrosities that do their all to kill us and take over our bodies?! Why on in the world would we want to show off such bodies?!"

"Precisely because they try to kill you and failed!" Azusa quickly shot back. "Think about it! These things – these beasts inside of you – they do everything they can to take you over, right?!"

"That's right!" Jiro quickly nodded. "So?!"

"So if you beat this thing, you can transform into it! You control it, not the other way around, right?!" Azusa went on.

"The control…isn't perfect. It…takes time. Discipline. Training," Jiro hesitantly replied. "But – still, so what?!"

"So by taming this thing and taking its power, you get to go around and say, 'Hey, I beat this thing that tried to take me over! It wanted to kill me, but instead, I made it my personal bitch!'" Azusa decreed with a toothy grin. "And if you ask me, that's something to brag about! Not act like you're all ashamed or afraid of it!"

Jiro heaved in a breath to respond…only to free as his eyes narrowed in consideration. "I…" he managed to get out before pulling back a step and bringing his hand to his chin. "I…hadn't even…I never thought of it like that…"

"No surprise there!" Azusa decreed with a roll of her eyes. "Now look, I get that you wouldn't be able to show this off in front of other humans or demons or whatever! But seriously! You shouldn't let this thing be like something you dread all of the time! If you ask me, that's just giving it more power over you!"

Jiro frowned deeply as he furrowed his brow in contemplation. "It's…true that fear and anxiety…exacerbates the curse. Causes it to…awaken much faster," he admitted after some time. "But – this is a thing that -!"

"Yeah, I know! And I'd be freaking out pretty hard if I had to deal with that!" Azusa admitted with some hesitation. "Or have you forgotten that I know what it's like to be turned into a mindless animal?! Thanks to a certain old goat?!"

This definitely garnered Jiro's attention. He stared at Azusa in surprise for a brief time before a confused smile reshaped his lips. "I…suppose you do. But – well –"

"I know. Not the same thing. But about as close as I'm gonna get to it. You know, since I'm already a demon!" Azusa pointed out. Then she gave a toothy grin. "Besides, did you get a look at the kind of body Kei had once she changed?!"

"I saw it," Jiro nodded, now more confused. "So?"

"So?! Do you have any idea how many wolf-demons would kill to have that for a mate?!" Azusa decreed, grinning even more broadly.

Jiro officially graduated from confused to dumbstruck with these words. "Wait, what?!" he sputtered out, eyes bulging from their sockets. "Are you being serious here?!"

"Seriously serious!" Azusa confirmed, delighting in having the Demon Slayer so thoroughly gobsmacked. "I mean, think about it! Big muscles, great figure, the fur, the fangs, the claws!" Chuckling knowingly, the she-wolf smiled playfully. "I'm telling you, if Kei were to parade herself around the mountains in that body, she'd have everybody coming after her, panting and drooling!"

"Uh…I…see…" Jiro managed to get out, his voice making it clear that he had gotten a lot more than he had bargained for in that exchange. "I – well, I'll have to take your word on…that last bit. But…as for the rest, well…you may have a point. Perhaps…fear of Kasuga's Curse has given it greater power over us than we had realized. I'll…I'll have to discuss this with Kei and the other members of the council."

"Yeah, you go do that!" Azusa declared, giving Jiro a fierce pat on the shoulder that elicited a wince of pain from him.

It also kept him from noticing the way Azusa's expression shifted to a frown of concern.

Ugh…I can't even…imagine what that must be like…! Azusa thought as she continued to sit outside. The familiar view of the mountains her people called home doing nothing to comfort her or answer any of the questions and concerns that she currently dealt with. Knowing that…I might turn into a monster…that my people might have to kill me…!

Azusa couldn't help but shudder at these thoughts as she looked towards where she knew the Demon Slayer fort lay. And she thought about what it had to be like, to know that to do what you did was to shed more and more of what made you who you were and still do it anyway. She thought about all of the concerns being raised about the grim future of her people.

She thought about the prospect of Jiro being condemned to the fate that had been described to her.

I…still don't know what to make of him… Azusa muttered inwardly as she scowled in thought. He was a brave warrior, true, and had proven himself in battle. But Jiro was capable of infuriating her to no end with how calm he always seemed to be. Still…winding up like that…that thing Sango turned into?! I wouldn't wish that on – well, anybody! And besides, he -!

Azusa cut herself off as her thoughts wandered into rocky territory. There was just too much going on, and she had learned so much in a very short time. People had earned her respect that she had never imagined would do so, problems she had never envisioned becoming problems now threatened her people with annihilation, and more. It was all just too much.

And then there was something else. A possibility that dangled in the back of her mind.

Prompting Azusa to lazily envision Jiro having tamed Kasuga's Curse. And instead of a raving, furious ogre, he wore a powerful demonic form. And instead of snarling at her…

"Ugh! What is wrong with my brain today?!" Azusa soon growled, giving her head a fierce shaking. "I need to go find someone to beat up before I go insane!"

"This is completely crazy!" Kagome gasped as she and the others continued their trek back to Kaede's Village.

In the wake of Kaname being teleported by the magical statue, Kagome, InuYasha, and Kikyo had urged her to join them upon Momo the bull's back. Now the Kururugi girl sat behind Kagome with InuYasha at the front, and as they continued their journey, Kaname informed them as the discoveries that had been made.

"So you're saying that – your ancestor made a whole lot of other statues from the powers of the Celestial Beasts! And that's how you and Michiru have Shikigami magic?!" Kagome gaped, looking over her shoulder at Kaname. "And that statue is one of them?!"

"I – I think so," Kaname uncertainly replied as she continued to cradle the dog statue that healed their wounds. "I – I only just found out about this! That we could have…more powers, and –"

"I believe that it is true. And that this statue is one of the ones that you spoke of," Kikyo solemnly intoned from her place hidden in Kagome's shirt. "The fact that the statue would react to your scouts by summoning you is proof of that."

"And how's that?" Kagome wondered.

"Think about it. From what Kaname has told us, this statue has a 'will' of its own. It might not be alive as we think of it but does have an awareness of the world around it. As well as the capacity to act independently of another's will," Kikyo readily explained. "Now think about it. You are a statue created by Yuuta and have been guarded by the Kururugi clan. You are then sealed away in a shrine for your protection. When the shrine is opened, it's not by members of that clan, but rather by demons and other strangers that fight over you."

"Okay," Kagome nodded, trying to see where Kikyo was going with this. "So…?"

"So then you sense something with the power of the Kururugi clan," Kikyo quickly continued. "So after being almost stolen, what else would you do…if not summon someone to protect you if at all possible? Someone of the clan that you were created for?"

Kagome blinked a few times at this. "Okay, that makes sense. But…the rest of it? It's just so – so much!"

"Yeah! And it's all bad news!" InuYasha snarled irately. "Like the fact that Naraku has ten of those statues! And apparently, he can use them to supercharge anybody he wants and make them even stronger!"

"Uh…yeah. That's what Daisuke and Haruna think happened with those monsters from the Band of Seven," Kaname nodded.

"I wouldn't say that it's all bad news, InuYasha. Yes, the fact that Naraku has those…Seiryu statues, you said?" Kikyo wondered, giving Kaname a look.

Nodding, Kaname answered, "According to Haruna, those statues control the forces of nature. Earth, fire, wind, water, and all of the rest of them. They're all powers under Seiryu, the Azure Dragon."

"Yes. As I said, that is troubling, to say the least," Kikyo admitted. "But now that we know about the existence of these statues, we can begin searching for and retrieving them ourselves. And since you and Michiru are both of the Kururugi Clan, as well as Kurogasa, it would seem to me that we have an advantage in our ability to retrieve them. Especially if the statues wish to be restored to the Kururugi Clan."

"Yeah, well, if that's all true, then I say we start with the statue that Haruna has!" InuYasha snarled irritably. "What was it that you called it? Dauntless…?"

"Dauntless Might," Kaname confirmed. "It increases the strength and power of whoever uses it. And from what Sango said, Haruna's been using it to make herself superstrong."

"Well, as soon as we're done at Kaede's Village, we're heading back to the Demon Slayer's fort and getting her to hand it over!" InuYasha declared in a fierce tone. "If that statue can make us even stronger, then I say we should use it! Get even stronger so we can fight Naraku!"

"Wha- but InuYasha, you can't just demand that Haruna give us her statue!" Kagome immediately protested.

"And how the hell is it hers?!" InuYasha demanded. "From what we've heard, that statue belongs to the Kururugi Clan! As in Michiru and Kaname's family?! If anybody has any right to that statue, it's them!"

"I agree that it's a matter that we should and will discuss with Haruna," Kikyo announced before anybody could say anything further. "But you can't simply demand that she surrender the statue, InuYasha. Everything I've seen makes it clear that we need strong allies now more than ever."

"Exactly! You need to be diplomatic, InuYasha!" Kagome instructed him. "Ask Haruna politely to give us the statue!"

"And if she says no? What then?" InuYasha wondered.

"That is a matter to be settled later," Kikyo broke in before things could get more heated. "Our priority must be in regaining our full strength. And don't forget that Michiru and Sango still need to recover from their own trials."

Growling deep in his throat, InuYasha then growled in frustration. "Alright, fine! We'll talk to Haruna about it after Michiru and Sango get better!" he finally conceded. "Let's just get back to Kaede's Village so you can start retraining Kagome! We've got a lot that needs to get taken care of before Naraku makes his next move!"

"I'll say. And – oh!" Kaname started, only to cut herself off.

"Huh?!" InuYasha frowned in surprise. "What? What is it?!"

"Sorry! It's just – the scout that I sent back to Tsuzumi Village? It found Daisuke!" Kaname quickly reported.

"Then it won't be long before he reads your message," Kikyo nodded with a slight smile. "Good. That's one matter taken care of."

"I see. So you were able to confirm what this message said was true?" Daisuke inquired as he held the piece of paper upon which Kaname's message was written.

Giving a slight nod of her head, Kei replied, "Kaname is currently with InuYasha and the others. They're riding to the village…and she does have a statue with her."

Making a noise of concern in his throat, Daisuke muttered, "These statues are powerful magic. I certainly hope that they know what they're doing. Powerful magic that is capable of acting of its own accord is not to be trusted."

"Do you wish for me to keep watching over them?" Kei wondered, her concern showing clear on the screen of the communications altar.

"Hmm…yes. But only until they reach the village. And as soon as they do so, contact us here," Daisuke eventually replied. "There's too much that still needs to be done. And until the metal bird has been moved, we cannot spare anybody to go after them. All we can do now is trust in their ability to defend themselves."

A moment passed before Kei nodded. "I understand," she assured him. "Is there anything else that we can do for you?"

"I can't think of anything offhand," Daisuke admitted. "Just tell everyone to remain on alert. I suspect that things are going to get a lot uglier."

"I'll do so. Best of luck to you all," Kei stated before her image disappeared from the crystalline screen.

As Daisuke heaved a deep sigh, additional voices were heard. "Wow!" Shippo gaped in surprise. "You seriously managed to build that from Michiru's book of spells?"

"Yes. That…and other things," Daisuke admitted, too tired after everything that had been happening to truly focus on the little fox's words.

"Amazing," Kurogasa mused, the samurai having been brought on board after Kaname's disappearance. "A way…of instantly speaking with someone else over a great distance. A way that…can be used by anyone…I'd never have imagined."

"Yes. And while I still have concerns about Haruna's eagerness to press forward…there can be no denying how useful such instantaneous communication has proven to be," Daisuke reluctantly admitted. "If we were forced to rely on Kokoro to relay messages…or even some of our other more traditional means, such coordination would be impossible."

Shippo then looked up at Kurogasa and gave him a thoughtful look. "So, uh…what do you think? Did you know about all of these other Shikigami you have?"

"No. I'm as surprised as you are," Kurogasa admitted without hesitation. "Please remember that – while my mother taught me much about the power of the Shikigami, this wasn't a power she was proud of. And while she used it when necessary…she didn't care about unlocking further power."

"Oh, right. Because of what her mother did," Shippo muttered solemnly. "You know…I get that Kakuju hurt some people because of what she did. But…if you'd only met her yourself. You'd have seen that she really did feel awful bad about…the things that she did."

Shaking his head at this, Kurogasa muttered, "I still can't believe that you met my grandmother. I mean…I know that you can't be certain, but…the parallels between what Kakuju did and what my mother told me…it's just too much to be a simple coincidence." Pausing to heave a deep breath, the samurai went on to say, "So much that I've missed. So much that I need to learn...if I'm to avenge everyone…"

"Well, I hope that you learn what you need to," Daisuke stated. "For now, we have to –"

"Daisuke! Daisuke!" came the alarmed voice of another Demon Slayer as she rushed down the halls of the Hiryu. "We've got trouble! There's a demon just outside of Tsuzumi Village! A powerful one!"

"A demon?" Daisuke repeated, his expression hardening. "What manner of demon?"

"It's human in form. Resembling a man with long, flowing silver hair," the Demon Slayer promptly answered. "He's garbed in fine raiments and appears to be missing an arm, and -!"

"What?!" Shippo cried out in horrified dismay. "That – that sounds like – Sesshomaru!"

"It also sounds like one of the demons I sensed coming here," Kurogasa admitted.

Frowning, Daisuke glanced at the two of them. "Shippo, Kurogasa, come with me," he instructed them. "I need you to confirm the identity of this demon."

"Huh?!" Shippo got out even as Daisuke started moving. "But – we don't have InuYasha or Michiru or Kaname – or – or anybody here that can fight Sesshomaru! The last thing we want to do is go anywhere near him!"

"We don't have to go close to him in order to identify him," Daisuke declared even as he turned and gave the little fox a stern look. "And let me remind you that we have a ship filled with seasoned warriors who are no stranger to combat."

"Oh! Um! Well, I – I didn't mean it like that!" Shippo hastily backpedaled. "It's just – Sesshomaru is really dangerous! InuYasha's fought him a lot, and he's barely survived some of those fights!"

"I see. And I understand your concerns, Shippo," Daisuke quickly assured him. "That being said, however, we still need to confirm the identity of this demon, as well as determine his intent. And it is not my intention to fight him if we can avoid it. Once we're certain as to who and what we are dealing with, I will decide upon our next course of action." Then the Demon Slayer gave both of them a hard look. "And since I've never dealt with this…Sesshomaru in the past, I'm going to need you two to identify him for me."

"I'll only be able to confirm if this is a demon I witnessed approaching while on my way here," Kurogasa admitted. "But how can we identify him without getting close?"

"Another of the innovations Haruna and the others have crafted for us," Daisuke explained. "Here. Follow me, and I'll show you."

Without hesitation, Daisuke started down one of the ship's corridors, leaving Shippo and Kurogasa with little option but to follow him. Before long, the unlikely group emerged onto the Hiryu's deck, where they found a small group of Demon Slayers clustered around a large tube mounted on the side rail. One of them had his eye to the smaller end of the tube and was peering intently out over the distance. "I was informed that there is a demon just outside of the village," Daisuke declared, drawing everybody's attention. "I trust that you're watching him."

"Uh, yes. Of course, Daisuke," the Demon Slayer that had been looking through the tube answered.

Nodding, Daisuke then glanced at Shippo and Kurogasa. "Here. See if you can identify this demon. Confirm that it's the one you spoke of."

"But…how are we supposed to do that?" Kurogasa wondered as he looked blankly at the tube. "Is this tube magic? Because…I can't sense any magic within it."

"No, it's not magic. But it was made by magical means. And it might as well be magic for as much as I can understand it," Daisuke admitted with grim humor. "It's another of Haruna's innovations taken from the Kururugi texts. She calls it a…a 'telescope'."

"A telescope?" Shippo repeated blankly. "Wait…that sounds familiar…"

"Perhaps Michiru and Kaname mentioned such an artifact to you before. As Haruna said, this is based on things she gleaned from their texts," Daisuke suggested. "But that's not important at the moment. What is important is identifying this demon."

"Yes, of course," Kurogasa nodded as he quickly approached. After a moment's hesitation, he put his eyes to the small end of the telescope and began looking about. "Why, I – everything looks so much closer now!"

"Exactly what this device is supposed to do," Daisuke nodded. "But can you see the demon?"

"Give me a moment, and – yes!" Kurogasa tersely confirmed. "I can see him. He's standing on the edge of the woods. There's a…a small imp and a child with him."

"An imp?! And a child?!" Shippo quailed, shaking nervously at this revelation. "That sure sounds like Jaken and Rin!"

"Then we might as well confirm it now," Daisuke suggested. "Kurogasa, if you please…?"

Pulling away from the telescope, Kurogasa watched as Daisuke took Shippo and lifted him. "Now…I need you to look through and see if this is this…Sesshomaru you told us of."

"Uh…o-okay…!" Shippo warily replied as Daisuke held him up to the telescope. "Uh…um…ahhh!"

Shippo jumped in Daisuke's hands, very nearly sending the Demon Slayer falling to the deck. "Wah! It's Sesshomaru, alright!" the little fox fearfully declared. "We – we better get out of here! Take the jet and fly! Right now!"

"Not an option. The metal bird hasn't been properly secured yet," Daisuke grimly intoned. "Besides, we don't want to provoke this demon before we're ready. If we do, there's a chance that innocents will get caught in the crossfire.

"You're right. And I've seen enough death already," Kurogasa muttered. "But if we're not going to flee…then what do we do?"

Making a low noise in his throat, Daisuke frowned before focusing on Shippo. "I need you to tell me everything you can about Sesshomaru. His powers, his allies, whatever weapons he has. Everything."

"Uh…okay…" Shippo hesitantly answered. "And…then what?"

"Then…as soon as I know exactly what I'm dealing with…" Daisuke frowned as he looked out over the distance, "…I'm going to go talk to him."

"Oh, wow! Would you look at that?!" Rin cried out in girlish delight as she pointed towards the village. "That strange boat is just…floating over the buildings! I've never seen a flying boat before!"

Nor have I, Sesshomaru mused as he looked out across the distance. And I have lived and seen far more than you have…

"Rin, don't bother Lord Sesshomaru with trivial matters such as that!" Jaken chided the human girl. "Let's just get that blasted star or whatever it is and get away from here! We have more important things to do than dawdle at some human village!"

"Oh? Like what?" Rin asked with a voice of pure innocence.

"Like – uh…like finding Naraku! Yes, that's it!" Jaken declared after a moment's hesitation. "That filthy wretch still needs to pay for everything he's put us through! Like how -!"

"Be quiet, Jaken," Sesshomaru ordered in a deceptively mild tone. His keen ears and nose pricking at the wind as it carried information to him. "Someone is approaching."

"Huh?!" Jaken wondered, gaping in surprise.

"Who is it, Lord Sesshomaru?" Rin wondered.

"I do not know. Yet," Sesshomaru stated firmly. "However…one of them…smells familiar…"

As Sesshomaru mused what his nose told him, trying to place the scent, his eyes detected two figures approaching. One was a burly figure of a man that wore the uniform of a Demon Slayer. The other wore a black kimono with a white, sleeveless haori over it. Each of them moved in an efficient but unhurried manner. And as they approached, Sesshomaru noticed that they were both watching him intently.

"Oh, look!" Rin exclaimed in cute surprise. "Somebody's coming to greet us!"

"Hmph! More like they intend to try and drive us off! As if they even could!" Jaken decreed with a dismissive scowl. "Allow me the honor of dispatching these foolish mortals, Lord Sesshomaru!"

"Not yet, Jaken," Sesshomaru frowned as he studied the approaching duo. "Let us see what they want."

Studying the approaching humans with a dispassionate eye, Sesshomaru appraised them. Both were armed, but neither was reaching for their weapons. Something that indicated that they did not intend to start a fight, but made clear that they would be ready to defend themselves. This was further reinforced by their expressions, the way they carried themselves, and their scents.

These were men that were aware that they were in potential danger, that respected the peril that Sesshomaru represented. But were resolved and in control of their emotions, rather than giving in to fear.

Which means that they're not only experienced in the ways of battle…but they're aware of who I am. Or at least, they have determined that I am a significant threat to them, Sesshomaru decided after a moment's analysis. Still…what do they hope to gain from approaching me?

It wasn't long before Sesshomaru would get his answer. The elder of the two humans came to a halt a polite distance from the demon lord and his entourage. "Greetings," the Demon Slayer announced in a terse, controlled manner. "You are Lord Sesshomaru. Correct?"

"You are correct," Sesshomaru readily answered, his voice even and controlled.

"My name is Daisuke. I am a Demon Slayer, and presently, Tsuzumi Village and its people are under the protection of myself and my fellows. My companion's name if Kurogasa," Daisuke announced, his words not a boast or a threat. Merely a statement of fact. "I would ask what your business in this village is…but I suspect I already know the answer to that question."

"As I suspect I already know why you have such an interest in this village yourself," Sesshomaru countered as he stood his ground. "The object that lit up the skies several nights ago."

"The metal bird," Daisuke nodded. "I assume that you intend to claim it for yourself."

"If that is the object I saw, then that is correct," Sesshomaru stated. "And I assume that you would challenge such a claim."

"I certainly would," Daisuke confirmed with a terse nod. "The power locked within the metal of the bird is far too great to be entrusted to those that would abuse it. And while I have never met you before, Lord Sesshomaru…I have become aware of your past actions. And those do not inspire trust in me."

"Bah! Who cares what a pathetic little human like you thinks?!" Jaken incredulously demanded. "Lord Sesshomaru came for this bird! And if you know what's good for you, you'll stand aside and let him take it!"

"I have no intention of doing anything of the sort," Daisuke stated firmly. "I'm aware of Sesshomaru's power, but I did not become the leader of my people by caving into fear."

"Why – of all the impertinence! Then I'll just have to teach you the meaning of fear!" Jaken declared as he hefted his staff. "Feel the power of the Staff of -!"

With a swift movement, Daisuke knocked the Staff of Two Heads out of Jaken's hands and sent it flying away. And what happened next happened in such rapid succession that no ordinary human could follow it.

Scowling his annoyance, Sesshomaru instantly closed the gap between himself and Daisuke, brandishing his clawed hand. But to the dog-demon's mild surprise, the Demon Slayer also moved swiftly, grabbing hold of Sesshomaru's wrist and redirecting the thrust of the blow so that the claws and their deadly poison missed their target.

Mildly surprised by this, Sesshomaru pressed against Daisuke. The Demon Slayer grunted as the increased force caused his feet to sink into the ground, and the demon lord could sense the way the human's muscles strained to withstand the increased force.

The two of them continued for a brief while longer, each of them scrutinizing each other. Taking the other's measure, evaluating their respective strength, endurance, and determination. Until at last Sesshomaru withdrew his hand and Daisuke recovered. The two of them studying each other before the silver-maned demon declared, "Your strength is impressive…for a human."

"And your power is…quite considerable," Daisuke stated, matching Sesshomaru's tone. "Not surprising, given what I've heard of you."

Considering the Demon Slayer for a brief while longer, Sesshomaru then asked, "What were your intentions in regards to this…bird? How did you plan to use it?"

"We have several fine blacksmiths among us and have been in contact with another. An elderly demon by the name of Totosai," Daisuke explained without hesitation. "We intend to make weapons from its substance so we can better counter a demon that destroyed our former home. I believe you already know of him; his name is Naraku."

"Huh?!" Rin gaped in surprise. "Naraku attacked you, too?!"

"Indeed. And we not only lost our home but many brave warriors because of his treachery," Daisuke declared firmly. "And so, I am not willing to surrender something we could use against him to anyone."

"I see," Sesshomaru replied, considering this situation. As well as Kurogasa, whose only move had been to lightly place his hands on his swords during the brief confrontation. "Regardless, I am not one to surrender. I will take this bird."

"And if you were to do so?" Daisuke wondered. "What would you do with it?"

"That is none of your concern," Sesshomaru declared in a deceptively mild tone. "Now…either you surrender the bird to me…or I will take it by any means necessary."

Daisuke studied the demon lord for a time. Right before he scowled intensely. "If those are my only options…then there is no point in further discussion. Because I refuse to surrender the bird. To you or anyone else," the Demon Slayer declared. "The only thing I can ask from you is that you refrain from attempting to claim it before we are away from here."

"Wha-?! Of all the nerve!" Jaken snarled, having reclaimed his staff. "First you refuse Lord Sesshomaru what is rightfully his, and then you have the gall to make requests?!"

"I do so on behalf of the people of Tsuzumi Village. Not for my own sake," Daisuke quickly countered. "These people are innocent and have already suffered greatly as a result of Naraku's machinations. If you must try and claim the bird, then fine. But…wait until we are away from here before you do so. So that the people here do not come to further grief."

"And why should we care about a bunch of humans?!" Jaken demanded in a high-pitched voice. "In fact, if you really want to keep them safe, then you should hand that bird over right -!"

"Very well," Sesshomaru decided in a deceptively mild tone. "I will wait until you have moved the bird away from here."

"Lord Sesshomaru?!" Jaken screamed in patent disbelief.

"But you had best move swiftly," Sesshomaru continued before Jaken could speak further. "I will wait no longer than sunset before I come to claim the bird. Regardless of where it is. Or who is close to it."

Daisuke furrowed his brows but eventually nodded. "Very well, Lord Sesshomaru." Then he turned towards Kurogasa. "Let us get back to the Hiryu. The sooner we are away from here, the better."

"I'd have to agree," Kurogasa somberly nodded. He then paused to cast one last glance back at Sesshomaru.

As the two humans made their way back to Tsuzumi Village, Jaken looked after them. Sputtering incomprehensibly for several seconds, his already huge eyes bulging even bigger. Finally, he vigorously shook his head before turning back to his master. "I – I – Lord Sesshomaru, I – I don't understand!"

"What's the matter, Master Jaken?" Rin wondered quizzically. "I know it's too bad that they won't give Lord Sesshomaru this bird. But at least the people here won't be in any danger."

"Do I look like I even care about that?!" Jaken shrilled incredulously. "I just – don't understand why -!"

"I have my reasons, Jaken," Sesshomaru stated as he eyed the airborne boat hovering over the village. "It would seem that there might be another prize to be claimed this day. Also…that encounter provided another mystery."

"Huh? What do you mean?" Rin wondered.

"Kurogasa. His scent…it reminds me of another," Sesshomaru stated, thinking back to a previous encounter. "It's very similar to that boy, Michiru."

"Wha-?! Oh, no! Not him again!" Jaken cried out in horror. "That boy is nothing but trouble!"

"Ooh!" Rin cooed happily. "So you think Kurogasa is Big Brother's brother?!"

"No. But I can tell that they're related," Sesshomaru stated thoughtfully. "Also, Daisuke mentioned Totosai. Which likely means that InuYasha is involved in this."

"Hmph! That wouldn't surprise me in the least!" Jaken grumbled sourly. "This situation just gets more and more complicated!"

"So…what should we do?" Rin wondered.

"For now, we will wait and observe these Demon Slayers," Sesshomaru stated firmly. "They have until sunset to make their move. Let us see how they move…so I can use it against them."

"Sunset?!" Shippo cried out in dismay. "Sesshomaru's going to attack us at sunset?!"

"That's what he claimed. And I'm certain that it was no idle threat," Daisuke stated firmly. "Everyone! Secure the bird to the Hiryu! Bring Kohaku aboard and have him secured! Ienobu's spell still holds, but that might not last! And be quick about it! We must be as far away from Tsuzumi Village as soon as possible! I refuse to put the people here in harm's way!"

The many Demon Slayers around Daisuke nodded and set about carrying out his orders. "But what about the village?" Kurogasa asked. "What happens if Sesshomaru or some other demon decides to attack?"

"I've already arranged for a detachment of Demon Slayers to remain here and guard the village," Daisuke replied. "Even if Sesshomaru is true to his word, it's likely that it will be some time before other demons and more learn that the metal bird is no longer present here. So it's in the best interest of the people here that we leave some of our forces to ensure their safety."

Shippo and Kurogasa quickly nodded to this. But even as they did, Daisuke frowned, because there was more to it than that. For even though they had been successful in trading for some badly needed supplies, food and medicine remained a critical concern for the Demon Slayers and their wolf-demon allies.

Maintaining strong trade allies would go a long way toward ameliorating those problems. And with the Hiryu – and maybe more of such ships – we could establish long-term trade relationships. Not just with Tsuzumi Village, but with other large settlements as well. And being able to fly to and from such places would allow us to…to…

At this point, Daisuke found himself discomforted. And it took several seconds for him to realize why; because his plans and ideas were starting to sound a great deal like Haruna's own ambitious visions of the future.

But – no. It's not the same, Daisuke quickly told himself. We need food and more to survive. And working towards obtaining the things we need to ensure our survival…that's not the same as the plans that Haruna has proposed.

And so, Daisuke took that debate and set it to the side where it belonged. Allowing him to focus on much more immediate concerns. "Next, we need to contact the fort. Alert everyone to be at full combat readiness and to deploy reinforcements."

"Huh?!" Shippo got out with clear surprise. "Wait, can this ship get to the mountains before sunset?!"

"The Hiryu is very fast. But I'm not sure if it's fast enough. Especially since Sesshomaru may choose not to wait for sunset before he strikes," Daisuke admitted, cursing the fact that they were being forced to put their faith in a ship that had not been thoroughly tested. "But there is one advantage we have that I doubt he is aware of; our ability to contact the fort and arrange for aid."

"Ah…automation…mass production…!" Haruna breathed, savoring the words she spoke as she looked about the cavern she now stood in. "These principles will pave the way for the greatest revolution we have ever seen!"

Once again giving praise to the tomes of knowledge Michiru had allowed her to copy, Haruna watched with a broad smile as the latest wave of Servitors were assembled. Their various parts being taken from the molds she and other Shikigami Users had crafted from the very first Servitor to allow for swift replication of the Shikioni servants.

"As soon as these Servitors are complete, deploy them for construction!" Haruna ordered the people that labored before her. "We still need to complete the fort! And I want our new ship, the Yokaze, ready as quickly as possible!"

"Understood, Haruna!" replied one of her fellows as they worked to finish assembly of one of the Servitors.

Gleeful at the sight of such progress, Haruna ordered, "Collect more clay and soil! And get more wood! I want to begin production of another -!"

"Haruna, wait! Hold on!" a voice interjected. "We can't!"

Stung by these words, Haruna whirled about to face the speaker. Another Shikigami User by the name of Fujita. "I beg your pardon?"

"We've already dug up a lot of clay and soil just to make the Servitors we have! And we've taken and grown many trees for the new ships! The local soil has been drained of much of its vitality!" Fujita protested. "We need to give the earth and the wood time to recover! We need to replenish them!"

Surprised by this statement, Haruna countered, "But there's so much work that needs to be done! So many things that -!"

"Haruna, with all due respect, you need to remember the rule of the Shikigami! The rule that you yourself have constantly reminded us of!" Fujita stated in an almost scolding fashion. "We must never take more from the world…"

Fujita trailed off, giving Haruna the chance to realize what he was saying. At which point she sighed in frustration and acknowledgment. "…than what we give back to it. Because we are caretakers of the world, not it's masters." When her fellow Shikigami User nodded, Haruna again sighed and gave a reluctant smile. "You're right, of course. It's just…so difficult to be patient in the face of so many new possibilities!"

"That doesn't make it any less important," Fujita countered. "And don't forget that the land is still recovering from Naraku's poison. It will be some time before those wounds are healed. And there is only so much we can do with magic alone."

"Yes, yes, of course," Haruna grudgingly conceded. Heaving a deep breath as she struggled with her own impatience, she studied her fellow Shikigami Users. "Once this latest batch of Servitors is complete, set them to work, and then go forth. Nurture the land so that the plants and animals that depend upon it may once again thrive."

As the other Shikigami Users nodded and set about their tasks, Haruna groaned in her throat. And the sooner the land has recovered, the sooner we can return to real work!

Despite everything, Haruna couldn't help but shake her head in frustration. On the one hand, she knew Fujita to be right. Maintaining the world around them was the duty of everyone that wielded the universal power of the Shikigami. It was the forces of nature and more that granted them their powers, and thus Shikigami Users needed to replenish that which they used. And not just for themselves, but also for everything else that lived.

But still…there's just so much that needs to be done! Haruna grumbled inwardly as she thought of the many projects that would be put on hold by such a lack of resources. Not the least of which is the matter of food and medicine! Those hydroponics experiments and the new airships would go a long way in addressing those situations before they get even worse! Clenching her fists, the Shikigami Master again grumbled in her mind. Unfortunately, there's no denying that Fujita is right. We have used up a great deal of resources in our recent labors. And thus we have to -

"Haruna! Come quickly!" came another voice. Jumping somewhat, Haruna was in time to see Kei approaching. "We have an emergency!"

Startled by the sight of the normally calm and reserved spiritualist rapidly approaching, Haruna frowned. "What is it?"

"Daisuke. He just contacted us. He and the Hiryu are on their way back with the metal bird," Kei tersely informed her. "But a powerful demon named Sesshomaru has announced his intent to claim the bird for himself, and is currently pursuing them."

"Then they're under attack?!" Haruna demanded.

"Not at present. Sesshomaru…according to Daisuke, he's given them until sunset before he attempts to claim the bird," Kei continued to explain. "We're already preparing the defenses and arming for battle. But – this battle could become very bloody. So I came to see what…if you had any additional resources that we can call upon for the battle ahead." The spiritualist frowned, her expression falling. "We've already lost so many…"

"And we don't want to lose anybody else," Haruna replied, giving a terse nod. "We'll deploy as many Servitors as possible. And then, I'll go check on the Yokaze. Perhaps we can get it ready for launch in time."

"The Yokaze?" Kei frowned in perplexity. "But – it hasn't even been tested! Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"What I am certain of is that I don't want more of our people to suffer and die because we didn't do everything we could for them!" Haruna decreed as she started forward. "And I'd rather have it at the ready and not need it than to need it and not have it ready!"

"Aw, finally!" InuYasha growled as a familiar sight finally came into view. "I was starting to think that we'd never get back here!"

"InuYasha! Stop complaining!" Kagome grumbled good-naturedly. "Honestly, you're like a little kid in a car, constantly asking 'Are we there yet?'!"

"I don't know about that, but…I'll be glad to get back on solid ground!" Kaname confessed as she looked down below. "It's been kinda crowded on Momo's back! And if it weren't for this statue, I know I'd sure be sore by now!"

"What!?" Kagome squawked, looking back at the Kururugi girl. "You're not sore?! At all?!" When Kaname gave a quick shake of her head, the raven-haired girl glared at the statue. "Here!"

Kagome placed her hand upon the statue. And the instant she did, she could feel its healing magic flowing into her, alleviating the soreness and stiffness that had permeated her body on the long trip. "Ah…that's much better!" she declared even as Momo came to land. "It might not be a nice, hot bath, but…it'll do for now!"

"Kagome, I would advise against using the statue's power so casually," Kikyo murmured from within Kagome's top. "We still don't know what limits it might or might now have. Nor do we want anyone to become aware of what we have. Not when Naraku and possibly others hope to claim it."

"But we're back here! In Kaede's village!" Kagome immediately protested as she and the others dismounted Momo. "The people here see us with all kinds of weird magic! And they've never tried anything!"

"I know. And I certainly wouldn't wish to think ill of them," Kikyo admitted with some hesitation. "But for the time being, I believe it best that we keep the statue and its power a secret. At least from the people as a whole."

"Okay, but – we're still going to show it to Kaede, right?" Kagome inquired. "Tell her that – hey! If this thing can heal wounds, maybe it'll give Kaede back her eye!"

"Oh, you think so?" Kaname wondered as she glanced down at the statue she held.

"It'd be worth a try!" Kagome decided with a broad smile. "I certainly don't see how it could hurt anyone!"

"Kagome, again, -!" Kikyo started to protest.

"Shh!" Kagome broke in, holding up her finger to her lips before proceeding to whisper, "You don't want people finding out about how small you are, remember?"

Though tiny, Kikyo's stung expression made it clear that the reborn priestess had made her point. Something that Kagome something to smile about despite her inner concerns. The thing is, she's right. This statue is probably going to draw a lot of attention if everybody finds out what it can do, the modern miko thought sourly. Naraku's going to be after it for sure. Might even come after it here. And…even if he doesn't…

"I wonder what the other statues can do," Kaname murmured as she walked alongside InuYasha. "I mean…if this statue can heal and Haruna's makes people superstrong, then…I wonder what powers the other ones have?"

"Don't know. But I do know we need to find them! Before Naraku can track them down!" InuYasha heatedly declared. "If these things can make us even more powerful, then they could be just what we need to kill that bastard once and for all!"

Watching the two of them walking alongside each other caused Kagome's heart to sink. The next time InuYasha leaves…I won't be at his side. Kaname will be, she thought as her eyes fell to the ground. And…who knows how much closer they'll get…before I even have a chance to -?

"Hey! Kagome!" cried out a familiar voice. One that caught Kagome by surprise, for it was a voice that had no business being there.

"Huh?!" Kagome squawked, looking up towards the source of the voice. Only for her eyes to bulge when she confirmed who the speaker was. "Sota?! What – why – how did you -?!"

"What, have you forgotten?!" Sota wondered, holding up the pendant he wore. "Michiru's pendants! They let me come back to visit any time that I want!"

"Aye. And your younger brother has been coming to visit quite a bit, Kagome." Looking about, Kagome watched as Kaede slowly approached, the elderly priestess smiling thoughtfully. "Dropping by to see if you and the others have returned yet. Coming by to help around the village. Such a thoughtful young man."

"Uh…right…" Kagome muttered, kicking herself inwardly for forgetting about the pendants. "But – Sota, you really shouldn't be doing that! There are plenty of demons around here! Even a trip from here to the Bone-Eater's Well can be dangerous!"

"No longer, Kagome," Kaede informed them, prompting looks of surprise from the group of travelers. "While you've been away, Michiru's father spent some time here, enchanting the pathway that leads between here and the Bone-Eater's Well. As a result, it repels all lesser demons that might threaten any traveler."

"Yeah! I'd been wanting to visit before, but – Mom and Grandfather were worried that something might happen if I did!" Sota went on to explain. "But – well, Mr. and Mrs. Kururugi were visiting one night, so I asked if there was something that he could do to – you know! Make a magic barrier or something to protect me so I can come visit! And he did this!"

"Wow! I didn't know that Dad could do that!" Kaname declared.

"Hmph! Well, that's something," InuYasha muttered. "Maybe next time he comes back here, he can help make a barrier to protect the entire village! We could sure use one of those right now!"

Frowning at this, Kaede replied, "I see. Then I take it that…things have not been easy for you. I notice that…Michiru, Sango, Shippo, and Miroku aren't with you. Has…something happened?"

"Ugh! More like what hasn't happened!" Kagome groaned wearily.

"It's a loooong story," Kaname seconded.

"I see. And such stories are rarely good," Kaede nodded somberly. "Come. I have a large pot of stew cooking in the fire even as we speak. Let us sit down and have something to eat while we speak."

"Sounds good. I could sure use a bite!" InuYasha decreed without hesitation.

"Yeah, I'll – oh! Wait a minute!" Sota cut himself off. "I almost forgot! I've got a special surprise back home for you all!"

"A special surprise?" Kagome repeated blankly.

"Yeah! I've been coming back every day to see if you were back yet! So I could show it to you!" Sota smiled eagerly even as he started away from them. "You go and eat with Kaede! I'll go back home and get it for you!"

"But -!" Kagome started to protest, but Sota was already well away from them before she could say another thing. Resulting in her growling in her throat and massaging her temples. "Ugh…little brothers are such a pain right where I sit!"

"Hmm. I suppose it can't be easy, dealing with a younger sibling," Kaede mused thoughtfully. "I wouldn't be surprised if Kikyo thought of me as little more than a burden at times."

"That was never the case, Kaede," Kikyo immediately spoke from within Kagome's skirt.

"I – huh?!" Kaede gasped, already looking about in surprise. "Sister?! Did I – am I imagining things? I could have sworn…that I…"

"Uh, yeah! About that!" Kagome broke in, a fake smile and a drop of sweat appearing on her face as she chuckled nervously. "Let's…get inside right away and have some of that stew! Because…well, that would be part of that long story we mentioned!"

"And that is where we stand now, my sister," Kikyo announced as she stood within Kaede's home. All eyes upon her at the end of a lengthy narrative that had been delivered in part by everyone present, but held together by the diminutive priestess's calm attitude. "Until Kagome and I have recovered, we will be remaining in the village for the most part. While the others…deal with the many problems that we now face."

"And a great many problems you now have to deal with," Kaede muttered, giving a slow shake of her head. "Kagome, you made mention of this alliance when you visited before. But…all of this?"

"I know. It's really bad," Kagome nodded. "Especially with Miroku gone and Sango and Michiru…well, you know."

"And Naraku having all of those statues!" InuYasha fumed. "And going after all of the other ones while he's at it!"

"Aye, it's very troubling," Kaede nodded as she studied the statue that sat in Kaname's lap. "Still, it sounds like you have strong allies now. So at least you won't have to stand alone in the trying times to come."

"I know," Kaname agreed, giving a soft nod of her head. "But still…it's just so much all at once! And now -!"

"Hey! Kagome! Everyone!" came a voice from outside Kaede's home. "I'm back!"

"Oh. Sota," Kagome muttered tiredly even as a fresh gust of wind blew into Kaede's home. "I'd almost forgotten, what with –"

"Huh?!" InuYasha started, his ears pricking as he sniffed at the air. "That – that scent!"

"Hmm?" Kaede started, giving the half-demon a look. "InuYasha, what is it?"

But InuYasha didn't respond. He just sniffed the air a few more times, his eyes going wide with amazement. "It– it can't be!" he declared before leaping to his feet. An instant later, the half-demon was launching himself out the door.

"InuYasha?!" Kagome called out, immediately annoyed with the half-demon's impetuousness. "What is it?!"

As Kagome moved to follow, Kaede also rose and joined her. Kaname then stood up, but as she got up to her feet, she fumbled the statue that she held. "Whoa!" the Kururugi girl sputtered, caught off-balance as the statue slipped about in her hands.

Right before it tumbled from her grip. And was sent falling into the pot filled with stew.

"Oops!" Kaname cried out in dismay as she studied the pot filled with stew. "The statue! I've got to – ouch!"

Acting on instinct, the Kururugi girl tried to reach for the statue. Only for her tender skin to balk at direct contact with the hot stew. "Oh, no…!"

"Kaname, you get the others," Kikyo tersely instructed her. "I'll watch over the pot and the statue."

"Uh, sure! Right!" Kaname sputtered out, mentally kicking herself for her clumsiness. "Uh – you don't think that -?!"

"Kaname, I'm certain that being submerged in hot food isn't going to damage an artifact of power like this statue," Kikyo promptly assured her. "Now go get the others!"

"Uh, right! Sure!" Kaname uncertainly replied, casting one last look at the pot before exiting Kaede's house. "Uh, listen, everyone! I kinda – huh?"

The first thing Kaname noticed was InuYasha, Kagome, and Kaede standing stock still, completely frozen. As she rushed up to their sides, she took in the various expressions of absolute astonishment plastered on their faces. "Uh, InuYasha? Everyone?" she gently started. "I – kinda messed up, and…huh?"

It was then that Kaname finally noticed why InuYasha and the others were so thoroughly dumbstruck. Standing a distance ahead on the path was Sota…and a girl of about Kagome's and Kaname's age. She had dazzling blonde hair, blue eyes, and a full figure. She wore a grey skirt and a white shirt, as well as a blue jacket and a red tie. She held in her hand a naginata and was gently waving at the unlikely group.

"Hi, everybody," the girl spoke in a voice choked with happiness. "It's…been a while…"

"Omigosh…" Kagome gasped in absolute astonishment. "J-Janis?!"

Fire. Smoke. Darkness. Those were all Michiru could see as he wandered about, wondering where he was now.

But just because his eyes had been rendered all but blind, Michiru's other senses provided him with more information. And made him glad that he couldn't see at that moment.

Screams of horror and dismay. Horrid, cruel laughter of triumph. Shrieks of pain, pleading for mercy, the wretched sound of people choking to death on their own blood.

"Yes, yes! That's it, you worthless parasites!" cried out a female voice rife with cruelty. "Feed me! Give yourselves to me! Give me your blood, your souls! Everything!"

"What in the -?!" Michiru gasped out, only to be cut off when he was overcome by a coughing fit. Waving away the smoke and blinking his eyes free of irritants, the Kururugi boy did his best to scan his surroundings. Searching for the source of that horrid voice. Only to jump back in surprise when a sudden surge of wind cut through the smoke and haze and gloom.

And when those things were cleared, Michiru could see a woman standing in front of him. A woman with a cruel smile filled with gleeful hatred. Her entire body soaked with the blood, and her eyes wild and terrible.

A woman that Michiru had seen before. A woman that filled him with outrage, just from him seeing her.

A woman that was one of the sisters of Heizo Jun.

"You…" Michiru growled lowly in his throat. His hands involuntarily balling up into fists.

"The same way that you'll give me your life, Kururugi!" the woman declared, holding up her hand towards Michiru. Magical energy crackling about her fingers before being launched right at him.

"Never!" Kirara roared from somewhere off to the side. Which was all the warning Michiru had before two powerful arms wrapped around his frame.

"Wha-?!" Michiru cried out even as he looked towards his rescuer. "Kirara!"

"Don't forget, Michiru; Heizo and the rest of the Jun have no real power here! Except for the power that you give them!" Kirara tersely stated. Then she came to land and scowled furiously at the Jun woman. "And even if you did have any power…it would do you no good. Because Yuuta's and Midoriko's bloodline will never fail as long as I live!"

"I find that proposal completely acceptable, Midoriko's flea-bitten little -!" the Jun woman snarled, the rest of her oath drowned out by the sound of her unleashing another blast of deadly magic.

Before the blast could even get close, the scene around Michiru and his guardian shifted. And before long, the Kururugi boy was riding upon Kirara in her battle form. Surveying the lands from above. But it wasn't long before Michiru realized that something was off.

"Wait…what the…?" Michiru frowned as he studied the lands below. "This…this isn't Japan!"

"No, it isn't. This is the mainland," Kirara replied. Startled by hearing her voice, Michiru looked up. And to his surprise, he saw her human head upon the shoulders of her cat body. "In the wake of the sisters of Heizo devouring the four demons, they abandoned their home. Used their powers to make their way to the mainland. So that they would be far away from Yuuta and Midoriko. To be sure that neither they nor their friends and allies learned of what they were doing."

"And – what were they doing?!" Michiru asked with increased heat. "Because – from what I could see, all she was doing was killing people!"

"And that is precisely what the Jun clan came to do, Michiru," Kirara informed him in a solemn tone of subdued fury. "Heizo's sisters traveled to the mainland for the sole purpose of killing as many humans and demons as they possibly could. So that they could steep themselves in the blood of their victims. With all of their pain, anger, hatred, fear, and more. To let the blood of wicked humans and demons alike suffuse their very beings."

Michiru gasped at this, but before he could say anything, Kirara's words struck a chord in him. "Wait a second…this sounds like…Kasuga's Curse!" he finally got out. "Were they – trying to curse themselves?!"

"No, but you are correct that what Heizo's sisters intended on doing was transforming themselves with demonic power," Kirara confirmed. "But unlike Kasuga's Curse, they would retain their human minds and memories. But at the cost of their humanity, both in body and in spirit."

As Michiru looked down below, he saw numerous fires breaking out across the lands below. "Despite how it may look, this was no mindless rampage. The Jun did their all to avoid drawing the attention of those that were powerful enough to be a threat to them. They targeted poorer villages and roaming bandits. Minor demons and those with many enemies. Those that no one in power would care about. Each of the Jun sisters slaying over a thousand humans and demons each."

Shudder at the thought of causing so much death, at having just so much blood upon his hands, Michiru was brought up short when Kirara seemed to vanish from beneath him. But instead of falling, the Kururugi boy once again found himself standing upon solid ground. In the middle of a dark and dismal clearing was looked like a small, abandoned shrine. Its lanterns were lit and the entire structure was marked with glyphs that Michiru didn't recognize. And yet the mere sight of them was upsetting to the boy who found himself irresistibly drawn to the macabre sight.

"What…what is this…?" Michiru nervously asked as he made his way up to the shrine.

"It is…your death, Kururugi filth!"

"Gah!" Michiru cried out, spinning about to see a familiar, hated face behind him. "I – Heizo!"

Chuckling at the boy, Heizo drew himself up and started to circle him. "This is your death, boy!" he gloated in a sick voice as he made his way over to the center of the shrine. "As it was the death of Yuuta, Midoriko, and entire generations of your kind!"

Feeling the fury boiling up within him, Michiru wanted nothing more than to wipe that hateful smirk from Heizo's face. But a gentle hand being placed upon his shoulder before he could act on this urge. "There's nothing you can do to stop this, Michiru," Kirara reminded him even as he looked her in the eyes. "All you can do is watch. And learn from the past."

Despite knowing that Kirara was right, it was still a struggle for Michiru to force down his growing rage. Still unsure what it was about Heizo that made his blood boil so effortlessly, the Kururugi boy did his best to focus on his companion. "What…is this about?" he asked in a controlled voice. "I – I understand that they…wanted more power! But…what's this…?!"

"This…is the Jun sisters giving up their mortal existences for power," Kirara stated in a solemn, almost sad manner.

Starting at this, Michiru suddenly glanced about the shrine. And it wasn't long before he saw each of the four Jun sisters. They were each lying on a blanket, still stained with blood. "What in the -?!"

"Heizo and his sisters knew that there was no way that they could match the power Yuuta now wielded. Especially with Midoriko and myself at his side," Kirara explained, anger creeping into her words at this. "And after being bested by Yuuta and their loss of favor from the nobles of the land, they decided that the only way that they could hope to claim the power of the beasts was to make Heizo Yuuta's equal." The cat-girl's eyes narrowed fiercely as she bore her fangs. "Yuuta had taken the fragments of power of the four Celestial Beasts and crafted each fragment into ten Shikigami. So Heizo and his sisters decided that their only choice was for him to receive the power of four great demons, and craft that power into many Shikigami as well."

At this, Michiru realized exactly what Kirara was saying. "And if he couldn't find gods to give him that power…" he breathed in a voice of low horror, "…then he'd create demons that would."

"Exactly," Heizo decreed as he stood at the center of the shrine. Various glyphs and spells inscribed upon its surface already lighting up. Creating magical pathways linking him to his four sisters, each of whom was lying upon a pentagram inscribed upon the ground. Each of which suddenly lit up and bathed the four women in a terrible magical power.

And as Michiru stood there and watched, each of the Jun sisters began to cackle and snicker.

Even as they started gasping in pain.

At first, Michiru didn't quite realize what was happening. But then he noticed the bellies of each woman rapidly swelling up beneath their clothes. Rapidly ballooning up, larger and larger with each passing second. All the while their skin shifted colors, their faces more contorted and twisted. Until at least their bodies ripped open, allowing hordes of demons to erupt from their bodies.

"Yes! Yes!" Heizo cried out in sick triumph as the hordes of demons spread forth from the women that birthed them. "Come to me! Become part of me! My new Shikigami!"

The magic unleashed by Heizo pierced the demons' bodies, causing them to glow various colors. Each of them shifting form, becoming beings of energy, of pure magic. Becoming a vortex of magic that surrounded Heizo, prompting a dark pentagram to sin into existence at his feet, another to erupt from his back, a third to appear upon his forehead, and the fourth to manifest above his head like a halo.

And into each of those pentagrams, ten demonic Shikigami went. With each new demon causing Heizo to thrash even more wildly about, his laughter filling the shrine and twisting about in Michiru's insides.

"This…this is monstrous…" Michiru breathed, unable to grasp the horror of what he had just seen.

"I know. And the worst is yet to come," Kirara murmured. "For while the Jun sisters' human lives had come to an end, their new existences were just beginning."

As if in response to Kirara's words, each of the Jun sisters began thrashing and convulsing wildly on the shrine floor. And as Michiru looked on, each of them swelled up beneath their human skins and clothes before finally erupting from both. One sister rose up with a body covered in scales, her legs replaced by a long, serpentine tail and horns sprouting from her head, a massive figure that reminded Michiru of a honnari. From another of the sisters rose a skeletal horror that resembled the gashadokuro. The third of the sisters at first looked as if she remained human, right up until saw the spider-like lower body that marked her as a jurogump. And the fourth emerged from her tattered skin as a massive red ogre with five horns that looked a great deal like the Hashihime of Uji.

"The sisters of Jun gave up their mortal existences, their physical bodies, to become powerful demons. And although they lost the ability to physically interact with the world, their power was fully available for Heizo to use through the Shikigami that they had birthed," Kirara intoned even as each of the Jun celebrated their transformations. "Before long, they would return to Japan…and the true horror of what they had done would become known."

Author's Notes: Ugh…this pandemic is really keeping me down. Not to mention souring my mood and my creativity. But still, I hope that you all enjoy. And please don't forget to read and review! And check out my other stuff while you're at it?

In fact, since we're on the subject of my other works, I figured I mention this. Some time ago, I was commissioned by Silver Cow Studio, an Indie video game company, to write the script for their newest Time Tenshi game. It's recently been released for the Nintendo Switch, so if you enjoy my writing, maybe you'll enjoy that as well.

Anyway, sorry to be so bogged down. Let's get to work on responding to your reviews!

Windracer, well, I've managed to avoid catching Covid-19 and coming down with a bad case of dead. So that's something. I'm glad that I've managed to capture the characters of InuYasha to such a degree. And what can I say? I have a great deal of disdain for con artists, lechers, and so on. Not to mention I've long since gotten sick of the whole, "women beating up men as comedy" shtick. I'm glad you're enjoying how Michiru/Sango and InuYasha/Kaname are coming. Hope I continue to get it right. And I hope that Azusa and Jiro's relationship is continuing as it should. Kagome's gotten some of the picture, but not all of it. Expect that realization to hit her like a truck. The same way it hit Miroku. Haruna is definitely the hero of her own story, and expect that to cause trouble. Especially with the statues around. And I'm also glad that this story comes off as authentic. I've really tried to make it feel thus. And oh, wouldn't I love to see a SOTCM anime spin-off.

Frosty Wolf, expect for Naraku to be even more dangerous in the future. With a lot more going wrong.

IrishKatana, at the moment, everybody's been too busy to think of sending Kohaku to the future. But they'll think of it eventually. As for Haruna, you'll have to wait and see how that fracas goes.

Zoarak13, I'd love to see this story get recommended on the InuYasha TV Tropes Fanfic Recommendations pages. I'm sure that would draw more eyes to it.

Greymon Leader Batx flashpoint, well, that was a very villain-centric chapter, so thanks. Expect for a whole lot of ugliness to result of everything these villains have been doing as of late. As for Haruna, one of her massive problems is that she genuinely does want to do good, but she's been tempted by power. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I hope this chapter answered some of your questions about the Jun Clan. And you'll be finding out why Michiru has so much hatred of the Jun next chapter. InuYasha has always struck me as being clumsy in matters of emotion. He knows what's right, but because of his isolation, he honestly doesn't know how to handle such things well.

Uruz 11, yeah, life has been keeping me hopping. Also, I wrote the script for a visual novel, so that kept me busy as well. Yup, Naraku is being evil. It's kind of his thing. No, things did not end well for Yuuta or Midoriko. I'll be putting more of that on display as Michiru learns more about the Kururugi Clan's history with the Jun Clan. Kagome can really be thin-skinned at times, and she's too quick to take it out on others. I'm not as fond of the Blades of Blood, simply because it requires InuYasha getting wounded to use it. Also, I can't imagine using too much of your blood being a good idea. And I thought it was clever for Kagome and Kikyo to work together like that. That statue can do a lot more than just heal wounds, as you'll see. Tsubaki is a schemer, and you can expect for her to be even more dangerous now. Especially as she executes her role in Naraku's plans. There are plenty more mysteries about the Kururugi Clan to be uncovered. Haruna's going to be getting even more impatient, as you can probably guess from this chapter. There is a reason why Michiru has a special hatred for Heizo and the other Jun. Hope you'll enjoy learning why.

Raidentensho, not a bad guess. Kirara will be doing a lot of explaining, but not just yet.

TheEmeraldMage, the statues are indeed very important. And the statue InuYasha and the others have possesses a very special power that you'll be seeing soon. Or at least, I hope it'll be soon. Sigh…if only I could write as fast as I can think…