Settle the Score
by Chri

January 5th, 2011: Chapter finished

Inuyasha and the other characters of Rumiko Takahashi aren't mine.
The chapter epigraph is from a song by Bolt Thrower.

Special thanks to:
dangersque for beta-reading.

Chapter 40

Nightmare world
reflected as a dream

Remembrance – Part 1

I wake up slowly. At last, I sit up and take a look around. I recognize the never-ending grassland, green until the horizon, and the road. I've been here before... How long was it? Back then, the weather was nice – now, thick thunder-clouds linger in the air.

Across the road is, again, the person looking like me, just a few years younger.

"You again!" I say with disdain.

"It's you who has returned," he says with his annoyingly calm voice. "I told you not to come back."

I'm not sure if it is meant as a reply or as an accusation. Something in his voice sends shivers down my spine. "Why would I listen to you?"

"Because I know things you don't," he says. "Because you lack experience."

"I lack experience, you little brat?" I shoot back. "Just who the hell are you, anyway?"

"My name is Inuyasha, for certain. Remember it."

Just to spite me, the storm hits right at that moment. The wind picks up, and a thick shower pours down. In seconds, I'm drenched to the bone. "Great!" I curse, wiping my wet hair out of my face. I notice that on the other side of the road, the guy isn't wet at all – instead, the weather looks warm and sunny there.

I get up and want to cross the road, but I can't. Even with all my willpower, I can't bring myself to set a foot on it. Angrily, I glare across and growl, "Now you've even cornered the good weather for yourself?"

He looks up, blinking into his sun. I'm blinking, too, to shield my eyes from wind and rain. "Yes, this side is nicer," he says dreamily. For a second, he looks like any boy, enjoying the first rays of the sun in the spring. Then he looks back to me, his face hardening into his usual contemptuous glare, and explains, "You will bear the consequences of your decisions, just like everyone. You can't switch sides on a whim."

He edges closer to his side of the road, until he sits directly across from me. I suddenly notice that the road looks different from last time. Like a thin coating, there's some liquid, flowing incredibly slowly on top of it. And then I realize that it's not a road; it's a river. Thick as resin; dark and red. I shiver involuntarily.

A river of blood.

"I guess I have some time to spare," the guy across the river says, catching my attention. "So, do you want to know who Inuyasha really is?"

Although I can't stand him, I can't help being curious. He notices my interest and invites me with his hand to sit down. I scowl at him, but follow his gesture, leaving a healthy distance to the river. After drawing a deep breath, he begins,

"Once upon a time, there was a princess. The beauty of her smile outshone the radiance of the sun, and when she spoke, the people fell silent at the wisdom of her words. So great was her renown, that even the king of demons fell in love with her. At first, she denied him, afraid of who he was. But the king never wavered, and after a while, the princess came to love him despite his fierce appearance. Soon, she gave him a son.

"This angered the humans, for they didn't understand the love of their princess. 'Out with you!' her father cried, when she proudly showed to him his grandson. 'You are my daughter no longer!' Crying bitterly, she had to leave her home that very night.

"For a while, she lived with the king, but the demons understood their love no more than the humans had. With a heavy heart, the king of demons sent his wife and son to a remote village, so that the young prince would grow up in safety.

"It turned out that he had made his decision almost too late, as a traitor rose to challenge him. The battle lasted seven days and nights, but finally the king was killed. He took the secret of the village's location to the grave with him. When hearing of her husband's death, the princess cried for thirty days. But she had to watch after her son and put her grief behind her. And so, the young prince grew up.

"But the villagers never trusted them. When the prince turned seven, they plotted to murder them. 'The prince isn't human,' they whispered, 'and he's becoming stronger every day.' They set fire to the hut of their guests, but with the strength of desperation, the prince broke through the back wall. Mother and son escaped, leaving behind their village and their home.

"They fled through the forest and hid in an abandoned shack. But they didn't know that the shack had been cursed, and after a day, a dark wizard appeared before them. Cruelly, he looked at them and said,

"You will follow me."

Inuyasha retreated behind his mother, scared by the stranger. "What do you mean?" Ayako asked, her voice nervous.

The man coolly looked at her and repeated, "I bought you from the town elders. From now on, you will call me Lord Isobe."

Inuyasha looked up to his mother, not understanding what was going on. He could feel her tense, smell her fear.

"This must be a mistake," Ayako said, her voice even. "We're travelers, just passing through. We have no ties to this town."

All of a sudden, Isobe struck out and slapped her. Crying out, she fell to the floor, knocked down by the force of the blow. Inuyasha stared at him in shock.

"I won't repeat myself again," the man said. "You'll address me Lord Isobe."

Inuyasha turned to his mother, looking at her for guidance. She was looking from him to the man, and back again.

"Kiba!" she shouted suddenly. "Run!"

It took him a second to remember that this was the name they had agreed on. Then, her command confused him even more. He couldn't leave her alone, not with this man.

"Run!" his mother repeated. "Now!"

"No!" Inuyasha shouted and ran in front of her, blocking the stranger's path. "Leave my mom alone!"

Isobe was looking down at them coldly. "You," he said, turning his eyes upon Ayako. "I've had enough of you."

He stepped closer, drawing the sword he carried with him. Inuyasha gulped, but stood his ground. "Stop!" he shouted. "Leave us alone."

"Out of my way," Isobe said coldly and kicked at him. Inuyasha got hit right in the chest and flew to the side.

He picked himself up immediately. The man had now reached his mother, who tried to get up from the floor. He started at the man, but suddenly felt himself hoisted up in the air.

Inuyasha struggled, but couldn't break free. The person put a hand over his eyes. "You don't want to see this," a voice whispered into his ear.

He felt the person turn around and leave the room with him.

Panicking, Inuyasha struggled and somehow managed shake the hand off. He turned his head and found his mother, Isobe standing behind her, holding her by her hair. Something silvery and red was sticking from her neck.

Inuyasha felt a blow to the back of his neck, and the world went black.

It was hot, so hot. Inuyasha turned his head and blinked into the sun. It was his second day, bound to this pole.

"Are you willing to serve me?" Isobe had asked at the beginning.

He'd shouted for his mother.

"Tell me when you're ready," Isobe had said and left him standing in the summer sun.

It was in a clearing in the forest. They'd set up a pole and bound him to it. Standing in the same position all the time made his muscles hurt. He tested his strength against the ropes, but he soon had to accept that he couldn't break free. He became thirsty, but he would endure.

An image was stuck in the back of his mind, and he didn't know what to make of it. His mother, had she been hurt badly? Why didn't she come for him?

There were youkai working for the man, sometimes they would look at him. "A feisty one," they said; and, "He won't last a day."

Inuyasha glared at them, and they went on with their chores.

Soon, the need to pee became his most pressing problem. He held it back.

It became easier once the sun settled and the air cooled down. He shifted around as much as he could, and it helped a little.

He hoped that his mother would come soon. "Mum," he mumbled, tears streaming down his cheeks. "Where are you?"

"I'm right here, Inuyasha," his mother answered.

"Mum!" Inuyasha shouted and embraced her. "You really came!"

"Of course!" she answered and smiled at him.

When he woke up, it was still in the middle of the night. When he realized it had just been a dream, Inuyasha cried. It was cold, his arms and legs hurt, and he really needed to take a leak.

Time passed slowly.

"You got anything to tell me, Kiba?" Isobe asked in the morning.

"What's happened to my mum?" Inuyasha demanded.

"If you're hoping for her help, give it up," Isobe said matter-of-factly. "You won't see her again."

Inuyasha was left alone, in a state of shock. 'I won't see her again?' he thought in horror. What did he mean? He had lived with her every day, for his whole life. "Mum!" he shouted, but nobody answered.

Now it was about noon. Inuyasha stood in a daze. His throat was dry, and still the sun was glaring down at him. 'Water,' he thought. Later, he cried, feeling tears streaming down his cheeks. He slurped them up with his tongue.

"Don't cry!" his mother said.

"Mum," Inuyasha said, "I had a nightmare. You were hurt, and a bad man took me away. He said I'd never see you again!"

"What a silly dream!" she laughed. "I'm right here, aren't I?"

When Inuyasha wanted to embrace her, she suddenly went away.

Disappointed, Inuyasha looked up into the sun again. Didn't she want to embrace him?

He noticed a penetrating smell on himself. He sniffed - somebody had peed on his leg when he hadn't noticed. A flare of anger ran through him, at his helplessness, at Isobe and the youkai and the whole world. The anger turned to shame when he realized that the urine was his own.

Later, somebody approached him. "If you stay stubborn like that, you'll die of thirst," the youkai said. Inuyasha thought he recognized the voice.

"Mother," Inuyasha mumbled. "Where is she?"

The youkai shook his head. For a moment, he seemed like he didn't know what to say. "You should worry about yourself," he finally answered. "I'll acknowledge your strength of will, but please give in tomorrow."

"Give in?" Inuyasha asked.

"Lord Isobe will ask if you accept his leadership," the youkai said. "It's your last chance."

'I won't give in,' Inuyasha told himself. 'Mum will come to help me.'

But what if she didn't, if he really never saw her again?

It took forever until the night finally settled in. Although the sun had vanished, it was still so hot. His tongue was just a useless lump of flesh; his entire body felt like it had dried out. It wasn't the first time that Inuyasha was hurt, but this time it was different.

This was death. He couldn't tell why, but he knew without a doubt that he couldn't take another day in the sun. 'I don't want to die!' Inuyasha thought desperately. He tried to cry for help, but only a raspy stammering left his dry throat.

His mother visited a few times, and what she told him was very important. The most important thing in the world, but he could never remember what it was that she told him. The night felt like it lasted forever, but it was still over too quickly.

Inuyasha watched the horizon turning crimson, terror welling up in him. The sun; the sun was coming back!

He had to get away! It would burn him to ashes as soon as it rose over the hills. His body mobilized its last reserves and he tried to break free. Already he could see the first bits of the sun glaring at him, greedily trying to devour him.

Suddenly, somebody stepped into his field of vision. "Got something to tell me, Kiba?" Isobe asked.

"Please, help me!" Inuyasha mumbled desperately.

"Will you follow my command?"

"I'll do anything," Inuyasha croaked. "Just don't leave me here, please."

"Please, Lord Isobe," the man corrected.

It took Inuyasha a second to comprehend. "Please, Lord Isobe," he added quickly.

Somebody took him down. They joked that he reeked horribly, but he didn't care. They carried him inside a tent and gave him water. Inuyasha drank greedily. It tasted better than anything he'd ever had before.

After that, he drifted off into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Over the course of the next weeks, life passed by in a haze. From the start, Inuyasha didn't have time to think or mourn. There was always something to do. Even if he finished his chores, as the newcomer and consequently lowest end of the food chain, Inuyasha would quickly inherit somebody else's work.

More and more, his old life felt like a distant dream.

Lord Isobe earned his living by traveling the country and showing off his troupe. The villagers paid well to see the performances. They usually were afraid at first, but Isobe was always quick to stimulate curiosity when they arrived at a new village. The chance to see youkai up close – without the threat of being killed – lured a lot of spectators to the shows. The youkai danced and walked on tightropes. They spat fire, scared the children and lifted giant boulders. The rest of the time, they had to help out the villagers with everyday work.

His name was now "Kiba, the feral wolfboy." Inuyasha had argued that he bore no wolf blood, but Takeo had only laughed that you could never be sure with a mongrel. Inuyasha hadn't understood the joke.

As long as you didn't count Isobe, Takeo was the leader of the troupe of four youkai. Well, now it were four youkai and a hanyou. Takeo was big but lean, and always had a sly twinkle in his eyes. Inuyasha soon learned that it was wise to stay on the youkai's good side, as Takeo was also in charge of food distribution. If you annoyed him, it meant going to sleep on an empty stomach. Takeo used this privilege quite liberally, as the convict's ration then became his own. Most of the days, the portions were small, Takeo was hungry, and somebody annoyed him.

Hunger had become Inuyasha's constant companion. It wasn't the kind of hunger that left you weak or in fear of starving. But he rarely could eat as much as he would have wanted, and there was always a gnawing in the pit of his stomach.

His second new companion was fear. Every time he saw Lord Isobe, it felt like something tightened around his chest, around his heart. His mind dispersed into chaos, and all he could think about was not attracting his attention. Luckily, the man didn't involve himself too much and left all the daily business to Takeo, so Inuyasha didn't see him often. Instead, Lord Isobe usually spent his time with the important people of the current town. But if the audience wasn't pleased, he would quickly notice. And that was something that Takeo did his utmost to avoid. And everyone else as well – they wanted a dinner, after all.

Lord Isobe only appeared during the shows, to play the role of commentator; he never missed a chance to appear in front of an audience. "Here comes the ferocious spawn of the forest! Kiba, the feral wolfboy!" After the announcement, Inuyasha would charge onto stage. For now, all that he had to do was hop around like a monkey, growling and hissing at the audience.

People had always acted strange in his company, but never before had they shrunk away in fear. It was a very strange experience for Inuyasha, and one that he didn't like. Sometimes, he thought about making a joke during a show or just do something unexpected, but when Lord Isobe announced him, he was way too afraid to actually try.

Instead, one day Inuyasha summoned up his courage and took the risk of annoying Takeo. He approached the youkai and said that he wanted to do something else. Takeo replied that he would have to come up with something better if he didn't like his role. "And, if you have time to think about useless things, go and help somebody! There, Kiyoshi can use a helping hand!"

Inuyasha gulped, but obliged. Kiyoshi was a strange one. He was already old, with white hair, and didn't talk much, except for sometimes mumbling to himself. At evening, he usually sat apart from the rest and stared off into space. He was stoutly built, looked strong despite his advanced age and always had a mean look on his face. Officially, Kiyoshi had no special position, but Inuyasha thought that the youkai treated him differently. He couldn't help but notice that, when the time came for Takeo's extra portion of food, it was never Kiyoshi's.

He didn't like the old youkai. Kiyoshi was the one who had been with Isobe when Inuyasha had been taken from his mother. It were moments like these that made Inuyasha remember the life he'd left behind.

"Hey, Kiba!"

Inuyasha, sitting outside against a tree, looked up and stopped with his meal, having gotten used to being called by his new name. Daimaru approached him, and Inuyasha watched him cautiously.

Daimaru was the smallest of the youkai. Since the others were all pretty tall, that meant he was about as tall as a normal Japanese man. He could have passed off as one, too, unlike the other youkai – even his ears weren't so pointy that they would have immediately drawn attention.

Inuyasha took a quick look around, but the other youkai had already finished and left. It was just him and Daimaru. "What do you want?" he asked guardedly, turning his attention back to the youkai.

"Kiba, I'm disappointed with you," Daimaru said when he reached him, and sighed deeply. "You're the newcomer, and yet you have never treated anybody to a welcome meal. Didn't your parents teach you any manners?"

"I've only got a bit of my rice ball left," Inuyasha replied. He hesitated for a second, then split what was left it in two and offered Daimaru one half. "Here."

Smiling encouragingly, Daimaru took it and ate it with a single bite. Chewing with pleasure, he said, "Thank you!"

Inuyasha chomped down his part as well. Returning the smile, he said, "It's pretty good."

"Damn right," Daimaru agreed. Standing up, he said, "You're a good kid! I'm sure we'll get along nicely." He winked and left.

Inuyasha stared after him, still smiling. It was pretty much the first time that somebody had just talked to him, and he only now realized how much he missed it.

Daimaru was back the next day. They chatted a bit, and Inuyasha offered him part of his food again. Daimaru promised to look out for him. "You're very brave, but you're still a kid. Things will be easier with me around, promise."

During the day, Daimaru never had time to talk. "We're all busy, kid," he would say. "We can chat in the evening."

True to his word, Daimaru always took some time to sit down with Inuyasha. "What a hard day," the youkai said one evening. Inuyasha wholeheartedly agreed – he was always so tired at the end of the day. It was the only time when they had an hour for themselves, though there wasn't that much going on. Mostly, everybody was just regaining their strength for the next day.

There rarely was time for rest during the day. The villagers were allowed to assign them tasks, from feeding animals to working in the fields to fixing the roof. After an initial cautiousness, they always made liberal use of their privilege. Five minutes of leisure time was long, a quarter of an hour an eternity – fifteen minutes, without somebody telling you what to do!

Daimaru nodded at Inuyasha's complaints. "My all-time record for stealing away is an hour. It was my finest hour, ha! I tell you, any more is outright impossible."

The continued sharing of his food was beginning to take its toll on Inuyasha. Still, he was reluctant about telling off his new companion. Everyone else pretty much ignored him, unless it was about pushing their chores on him. But he couldn't go on like this. Daimaru was already having about half of his food.

Inuyasha tried to compensate with charities from villagers. But, aside from a few lucky exceptions, the villagers weren't very generous. Hardened by the times of strife, they rather fed their own children. His official role as "The Feral Wolfboy" also prevented him from appealing to their sympathy. Not that the others had more success – the youkai race was seen as enemy of mankind, and they were treated as such.

For the first time in his life, Inuyasha considered stealing. However, this was absolutely forbidden, and if you were caught, it cost you your head. He'd been reminded of that a lot during his first days with Lord Isobe's troupe, and remembering his recent brush with death, he didn't follow this impulse. Yet.

After a particularly hard day, maybe a week after getting to know Daimaru, Inuyasha was so hungry that the evening couldn't come quickly enough. He felt weak and shaky. A feeling of nausea had been growing in his stomach since noon. Now, finally, they were getting their evening meal. Waiting in line felt like an eternity, still he tried his best to give Takeo no reason to confiscate his portion. When he finally got his share, he quickly walked to a place off to the side and dug into his food, everything else forgotten.

He didn't notice Daimaru approaching.

"Hey, Kiba!" the youkai said. "Let's split evenly!"

Inuyasha didn't look up and just continued with his meal. "Sorry," he mumbled between bites, "too hungry."

It happened so quick, he had no time to react. Or maybe he had just gotten too slow. Daimaru shoved him down and snatched all the food in one fell swoop. Before Inuyasha had understood what had just happened, Daimaru had already gobbled down everything.

"Hey!" Inuyasha shouted disbelievingly, desperately. He was hungry. He was so hungry he could have eaten two portions, or ten. "That was mine!"

Daimaru took a step back. "Shut up, runt!" he hissed.

"Give it back!"

"Hey!" Takeo interrupted. He came over to them and, looking at them fiercely, demanded, "What's going on?"

"Nothing!" Daimaru said, putting up his hands innocently. "Kiba asked me if I could spare him something to eat. When I said I was already finished, he suddenly snapped."

"That's not true!" Inuyasha shouted. "You stole my food! Give it back!"

Daimaru stared at him incredulously. "Hey, it was funny for a while, but knock it off!"

"Silence!" Takeo interrupted and looked from one to the other with squinted eyes. "If I hear another word, it's no breakfast for both of you!"

Inuyasha could feel tears welling up in his eyes. But the threat of missing breakfast, too, cut off any reply or explanation. He looked up at Takeo expectantly, still hoping that the youkai would help him to get his right.

"This is a serious accusation, Kiba," Takeo continued. "Do you have proof?"

Inuyasha thought hard, but had to shake his head. "No," he whispered, crestfallen. Then he forcefully shut his mouth, remembering that he wasn't supposed to talk.

"Daimaru, already finished with your meal?" Takeo asked, turning to the youkai. "What are you doing here?"

"You know I'm a quick eater, boss," Daimaru said conversationally. "Just stretching my legs, really."

Takeo gave him a long, hard stare, then did the same with Inuyasha. "I'll let it slip this time," he finally said. "Next time, Lord Isobe will be your judge. Understood?"

Inuyasha gulped and nodded. Daimaru, an uneasy expression on his face, nodded as well. Considering the matter settled, Takeo left them.

"Idiot!" Daimaru hissed as soon as Takeo was out of hearing range. "Are you trying to get us killed?"

"You started it," Inuyasha whispered, "how can you complain?"

Daimaru shrugged and said, "You always shared your meals, why throw such a tantrum today?"

Inuyasha glared at Daimaru. "You never stole it before!" he replied, trying his best to keep his voice down despite his anger.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Daimaru mumbled. "But if you prefer to, you can eat alone from now on. A fine friend you are." The youkai turned around and left, joining Katsuro, another youkai who was sitting near the fire. He said something, gesticulating wildly.

Inuyasha turned around and left. He heard them laughing behind him, and tears welled in his eyes again. When he was alone, he sat down and cried. He noticed that he was shaking over his whole body. He tried to stop it, but it continued on its own.

"Damn," he cursed silently and hit the ground with his fist. He wiped the tears off his face and gulped. He looked at his hand - it was still shaking and just wouldn't stop.

He felt stupid, used, and ashamed. Daimaru had only wanted to stuff his stomach. He'd thought he'd made a friend, but it had only been about the food from the start.

For a minute, Inuyasha tried to find another explanation. Maybe Daimaru had been hungry, as well, or had knocked him down by accident. But his growling stomach reminded him that Daimaru had not asked, not even demanded.

He couldn't trust them. They had taken him away – of course, they wouldn't want to be friends. They had taken away his mother. They couldn't be friends.

After a while, Inuyasha dragged himself to the tent where they spent the night. He looked around, hoping against hope to find something edible, but of course there was nothing. He lied down in the back.

He was hungry. Hungry. He closed his eyes, trying to escape to the land of dreams, but it took a long time until he fell asleep. He woke up repeatedly, sweating and, again, shaking.

He tried to distract himself by imagining a good meal, but that only made his stomach growl more vehemently. 'I hate Daimaru!' Inuyasha thought with a fury he hadn't known. He had used the word before, but now he finally understood its meaning.

Over the next days, his thoughts circled around food, food, food. He ate his meals in vicinity of others, so that nobody could steal from him – at least not unnoticed – and generally gobbled down everything as quickly as possible.

Daimaru had tried to reconcile on the day after his theft. Inuyasha, even hungrier than before, wouldn't hear any of it. After that, Daimaru kept his distance, which suited Inuyasha just fine.

Only a few minutes left. Inuyasha anxiously looked for a possibility to get away. It was summer and, although already quite late, not dark yet. But a glimpse at the settling sun confirmed that his luck was finally running out.

Damn! He'd been so hungry, he had even forgotten about something so important. He had watched out for it as long as he could remember. How could he have missed the new moon?

"Runt, what are you doing? Get back inside!" Takeo grumbled in his direction. Inuyasha stepped back from the exit, clenching his fist.

During the night, the youkai weren't allowed outside of the tent, so as to not scare the villagers. Not that they could have attempted an escape – Isobe always set up wards around the village. Though no one had ever seen evidence, there also was a rumor that Isobe could find you using the rosaries. It was generally accepted that escape was impossible, and Inuyasha had overheard a few stories of failed attempts. This, like stealing, cost you your life, just in a more gruesome manner.

But he wasn't trying to flee. 'I only want to get outside the tent!' Inuyasha thought desperately. For as long as he could remember, he had kept his human night a secret. The only person who had known had been his mother, and keeping this secret had been a matter of highest importance for her. He had tried to continue her determination – and had thought the last few hours about it – but he had no idea what he could possibly do.

He looked around, but his actions had drawn not only the attention of Takeo, but the others as well. Inuyasha glimpsed outside the entrance and saw the sun vanishing. He did the last thing he could think of and briskly walked towards an unoccupied corner of the tent. He sat down, his heart beating wildly, and hoped that nobody would notice. The tent was pretty large, considering that there were only four youkai inside it. It just might work out.

A slight nausea told him that his transformation was about to begin. It started with his claws, his only means of defense. Next, the ears. They itched when they shifted positions, and soon left him in a world of silence, compared to the one he was used to. But worst was the loss of his sense of smell. His nose, though not shifting on the outside, actually changed the most. Feeling crippled and insecure, he hugged his knees to his chest, and looked around the room.

Everyone was staring at him.

Inuyasha gulped.

Somebody laughed. "Look what we have here!"

Inuyasha tensed, readying himself, although he knew that he was no match for them even as a hanyou.

"Did you think you could keep it secret?"

"It's been a while since I had a human child for dinner."

More laughter. "They're so delicious!"

Inuyasha twitched when he saw two youkai advancing on him. The first was Daimaru, a gleeful smile plastered on his face. Behind him came Katsuro, whom he hadn't talked more than a few times with.

He prepared to jump up and run, to hell with the rules. They wanted to eat him! His eyes darted between the youkai, who had almost reached him, and the entrance of the tent. "Stop!" he demanded, trying to put up an unimpressed front. But they just laughed and continued.

Inuyasha was about to dart, when Kiyoshi stood up briskly, catching everyone's attention. Daimaru and Katsuro stopped in their tracks, watching him cautiously. Inuyasha, still ready for anything, looked at the mean old youkai from the corner of his eye, not letting the other two out of his field of vision.

Kiyoshi trudged closer. Inuyasha held his breath, wondering what the youkai was up to. It was completely silent in the tent, and nobody else seemed to move.

Kiyoshi coughed once and then sat down again. He lazily gazed at the ground, completely ignoring everyone.

All of a sudden, life seemed to return.

"Hey, that's enough," Takeo said. "Let the kid be."

Daimaru and Katsuro started to talk again and returned to their places. They joked with each other, louder than usual.

Inuyasha kept his attention on Kiyoshi and edged away from him. There! The old youkai threw a quick glance at him out of the corner of his eye. Or had he only imagined it?

There, again! Inuyasha gulped, keeping himself prepared. The old youkai was planning something for sure. He was probably waiting for everyone to fall asleep.

Inuyasha kept his eyes on the suspicious youkai all night. It soon seemed like Kiyoshi was sleeping, but he was faking it. Inuyasha couldn't see well in the darkness, but every now and then, he could make out Kiyoshi inconspicuously turn in his direction, to check if he had finally fallen asleep.

Irregularly, one of the other youkai would turn in his sleep, startling Inuyasha. Every time, Inuyasha prepared to cry to wake up the others. Sleep was out of the question. Towards the morning, Inuyasha almost fell asleep a few times, but he kept his watch.

At last, his youkai powers returned with the dawn. The others were still asleep, missing his transformation entirely. Tired but relieved, Inuyasha stood up and stepped outside the tent, watching the sun climb over the hills. Birds were chirping, and he felt like a gigantic burden had been taken from his shoulder.

'I'll never sleep again during the new moon,' Inuyasha realized, the foresight suddenly making him feel very melancholy.

Author rantings:
Hello, dear readers! :) It took me a while to finish the chapter. I'm sorting out a few personal things and had to take a pause from writing. I even considered a hiatus message, but they always seem so... final.

Thanks a lot for your encouraging reviews. They really helped me a couple of times to get into the writing mood. I was glad that most of you liked how I'm trying to deal with the rosary seriously. There will be a few tough decisions ahead once the main story continues.

However, as you've probably guessed, we'll be taking a small side-trip with the next chapters. My goal is to span the years Inuyasha spent with Isobe without writing a novel. So, the chapters will be more episodic, and not as continuous as the others, which is kinda new for me. So far, I think that I'm doing well enough, considering that this chapter is covering more time (a bit less than a month) than the rest of story so far (which is only about two weeks.) Let me know how it works for you. One thing I'm unhappy with is that I didn't take much time to introduce all the new characters, but I want to keep the focus on Inuyasha.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the upcoming chapters. I've hinted at all this mysterious-Inuyasha's-past-stuff for years, and now I can finally bring it to paper. If I manage to keep a good pace without rushing things, I think you'll like it.