Hey all! I can't believe I'm doing this. starting another story! It's terrible, I know. but, when inspiration hits, what are you supposed to do? I already have twenty billion outlines for half-baked ideas and really good plots that I want to get started, just drifting aimlessly around my computer, currently. But I have to put all those fics on hold because I'm already halfway through other stories that are currently posted on ff.net. This one though, I couldn't just let sit there. It had to be dealt with. So here it is! A sketchy first chapter that I hope you all enjoy, although I must warn you this story might not be getting updated very often. However, I only plan to make it around seven parts long (With, because it's me, really long chapters.) so it might be over quickly.

This story is going to focus not just on Inuyasha and his friends, but a lot on the villains as well. Like Naraku and Kikyo and Sesshomaru (Although I'm sure a great deal of you out there won't mind me focusing some attention on that last character.) It's, generally, pretty evenly distributed. And I'd like to warn you all in advance that the plot is extremely. out there. But it's funny. Really funny! Sort of.

So, keep in mind that I don't own Inuyasha, please review, and enjoy the story!

*

All morning, Kikyo had been absorbed with an ill-omened premonition she had received the previous night, and had retreated to the very edges of her most recent village in order to obtain complete solitude and silence, so that she could more effectively brood over this puzzle that had been placed before her. She had been meditating on this new dream and what it meant, while kneeling placidly by a gushing creak, wondering what its contents revealed to someone of her caliber and knowledge, and if she should be at all worried about this vaguely foreboding presentiment of sorts.

So far she was coming up empty handed.

The dream, which had caused her to awake last night sweating and slightly breathless, and had quickly filled her head with many confusing and contradicting images, she distinctly remembered being not about her, or her shady future as an undead priestess... but it had instead been about Inuyasha and his friends. There wasn't so much detail as there was a deep- seated feeling of danger and imminent conflict in this vision, this dream, this omen. There had been a rush of emotion flying through her head, bursting with colors and blurry images, filled with confusion and devastation, with desperation and magic, and with. many.evil beings. yelling. fighting. over something very-very. threatening.

Oh hell.

In short, Kikyo was lost. She had no idea what this dream was supposed to tell her, it being either extremely complex or irregularly messy, and except for the fact that it was presenting to her the near futures of Inuyasha and his ragtag gang, Kikyo could offer no further insight on the subject. She wondered distantly if she should ever care about this dream. It wasn't as though it concerned her, and who cared if that silly hanyou got into a spot of trouble? If his friends died - it was less work for her in the long run. And as long as the half demon himself survived (If not simply for the purpose of later being killed by Kikyo herself.) the miko convinced herself nothing else mattered.

So Kikyo smoothly got to her feet, her pale, pretty features quietly staring off into the morning sunrise, as she clenched her fists until her nails bit into her palms, and desperately tried to ignore the great pull that was urging her to her little sister's village far into the west. Inuyasha's village.

*

She closed her eyes as the trees rushed at her, leaves whipping past her face yet never actually coming in contact with her skin. She tightened her grip around his neck unconsciously, even though she knew he would never let her fall. She had nothing to fear when she was with him, and she took comfort in that relaxing knowledge. He would never let any harm befall her while in his custody, and because of this, in many ways, Inuyasha was Kagome's best friend.

"Are you sure it's this way?" Inuyasha called up to the girl riding on his back, as he swiftly made his way through the forest with powerful leaps and bounds, flying through the air at inhuman speeds. Kagome nodded deftly, biting her lip and focusing on the energy source she felt, while distantly listening to the sound of Kirara and her other companions following breathlessly behind her.

"Um. turn a little to the left!" she replied back, opening her eyes and peering out into the woods. It was a bright, sunny day, golden rays filtering in through the foliage above them and giving everything around the group of shard hunters a green tinted appearance. However, today, there was no time to admire the scenery, as Kagome had sensed another shikon fragment that morning.

Guiding her companions through the nearby forest, the Japanese schoolgirl concentrated on the powerful feel of the shard, a feeling she had engraved into her memory after many months of encountering other pieces like it. "We're almost on top of it!" she reported grimly. She felt Inuyasha tense underneath her - no doubt preparing himself for an inevitable battle. There were almost always fights when Kagome sensed a jewel shard. They had the iniquitous ability to drive demons who possessed them insane, and this usually did not bode well for Kagome and her friends, especially when they were attempting to appropriate the shikon shards from the ravenous monsters. Demons generally didn't like that.

"I see something!" Sango reported from atop Kirara, Miroku glancing at the forest floor from behind her, frowning.

"Me too!" the monk cried. "It's on the ground."

Landing elegantly in a crouch, Inuyasha let Kagome jump off his back, and then came to stand protectively in front of the young miko as he inspected the dark forest floor. Immediately his sharp eyes caught sight of a living being, sprawled haphazardly on the grass, a few feet away. Even from behind the hanyou, Kagome could sense the presence of a shikon shard radiating off the fallen body.

"That thing definitely has a shikon shard on it!" she reported gravely, Kirara, hopping gracefully to the ground, reverting back to her smaller form as the humans riding the youkai slipped off her back.

"What is it though." Inuyasha questioned, frowning and approaching the form slowly. Kneeling by it, the half demon carefully prodded the thing, apparently a person lying on their face, delicately. "Hey, wake up man!" Inuyasha ordered in a growl. From behind him Miroku clutched his staff with readiness, and Sango put a hand on her boomerang bone, just in case. That thing didn't look like it was about to get up anytime soon, but you could never be too careful.

"What is it Inuyasha?" the small kitsune, Shippou wanted to know as he leaped onto Kagome's shoulder and watched Inuyasha roll the person over onto their back with morbid fascination. God. those wounds.

"It's a cat demon!" Inuyasha said, with no small degree of surprise in his voice, as he looked over the mauled youkai.

"Really?" Sango said, startled, and approaching the duo carefully. "What do you think one is doing all the way out here? Usually they stick the northern regions of this area."

As a rule, cat demons kept to themselves - a proud race that didn't like to travel during the day and were outstandingly powerful by nature. it was a bit disturbing to find a mortally wounded one lying around the forest so plainly.

"I don't know, but look, something beat it up really bad. He's hardly breathing! He's got too many serious wounds in his abdomen, and the thing's burning up," Inuyasha admitted, putting one hand to the bloodied demon's face. "He's not going to make it," This caught the self appointed nurse of the group's attention, and Kagome quickly trotted over to see what could be done.

"Oh my gosh! You're right, these wounds are terrible!" Kagome gasped, taking out a handkerchief and wiping away some of the blood from the demon's forehead. Mere seconds later the sixteen year olds' handkerchief was soaked through with the bright red substance, and Kagome put it aside, frowning deeply. "We need to get him to a village..."

"Can you sense where his shikon shards are?" Inuyasha wanted to know.

"Inuyasha! You can't seriously be meaning to steal the shikon shards off a dying person!" Kagome shrieked, disgusted. "That's heartless!"

"Hey! I didn't say I was going to TAKE them! I just wanted to know where they were!" the hanyou defended, glaring at the girl.

"Well sure I know - but I'm not going to tell you now!" she snapped, as she and Sango tried to lift the comatose demon off the ground, hoping to get him onto Kirara without further agitating his grievous wounds.

"Aw, come on Kagome!" Inuyasha whined, frustrated. However, the couple's squabbling had roused the demon, who immediately began to shudder with pain at the feeling of Sango and Kagome attempting to drag him over to Kirara.

"Ahhh!" he hissed.

"Ohmigod! I'm sorry!" Kagome squeaked, gently laying the demon back down, as Miroku and Shippou came over to see what they could do to help.

"Are you in much pain?" Sango asked, kneeling next to the cat youkai and frowning seriously.

"I-I." the demon rasped wetly, revealing his green tinted eyes, while clenching his fists and holding back a groan of anguish.

"That would be a yes," Inuyasha quipped from behind Kagome, even though he held a sympathetic look in his eyes. Too often had he found himself in this demon's position.

"What attacked you, sir?" Miroku asked, folding his arms. Was there a dangerous demon in the area that the group should be aware of? To take down a cat demon.

"I. killed it." the demon stated, his breathing ragged and irregular. "Took its. shikon shard."

"I see," Inuyasha said, understanding that it must have been a youkai under the potent affects of the shikon no tama that had hurt this demon so.

"We're going to try to move you, and take you to a village so that we can tend to your wounds," Kagome told the demon in her most comforting tone, as she let Inuyasha scoop him up this time.

"Don't bother." the demon quickly said, putting a hand up as to stop Inuyasha. "Please. just. do me one favor." Everyone looked slightly hesitant at this statement, knowing better than to agree to requests from random youkai without reading the fine print. Not that this cat looked remotely threatening, however malice runs deep.

"What do you want?" Sango asked flatly.

"I cannot survive, so, would you please." he paused a second, a shallow cough wrenching itself from the male demon's mouth. "Take my body. to my mother's house."

Abruptly, everyone's eyes softened, not bothering to assure him that he would pull through, as it was obvious he wouldn't - and nodding sadly. Who could say no to an innocent request like that? It was the least they could do.

"Of course,"

*

Our Maze Of Dreams

By Rio Grande

Chapter One: Itazura

*

"THIS is where his mother lives?" Sango asked skeptically, addressing the humble looking cottage settled in the deep woods about ten miles from where the group had picked up the demon. It was homey looking, covered in vines and surrounded by all sorts of flowers, herbs and weeds, and not at all the sort of living environment your typical cat youkai would enjoy. "This youkai isn't even living in cat-demon territory! Something feels wrong about this place..."

"Well, I guess we'll find out what's amiss once we meet this poor fellow's mother," Miroku mentioned, bravely approaching the small house and knocking on the front door politely. The demon had informed them all that his name was Shiroba, and that his mother lived to the east of where he was murdered, just a mile off the main road. The group had dutifully followed his directions, and an hour later ended up in at the this cottage, hesitant and bewildered.

They had all had started out quickly enough; eager to get this demon off their hands, no matter that they felt sympathy for him. however Shiroba had drifted in and out of consciousness the whole way, and eventually he had died en rout to the cottage.

Despite Kagome's last ditch attempts to revive him with her stunning first aid skills, Shiroba's wounds were simply beyond help, and it was decided among all that it was their duty to at least leave his corpse with his dear mother. No matter that his mother could be a very hungry, full-grown cat demon with claws that had the potential to rip your eyes out. Especially because they came bearing the body of her deceased son. But still.

"Coming! Coming!" a female voice sounded from behind the wooden door. Miroku and Sango traded skeptical looks - that was a demon? "Hold on just a second!"

From behind the cursed monk and the demon exterminator, Inuyasha and Kagome stood uncomfortably, Inuyasha holding the cadaver of the youkai in his arms, and Kagome nervously clutching a confused Shippou. This was awkward - how were they supposed to break it to this woman that her son was dead? Best to let Miroku do all the talking, it was more his forte than theirs.

"Why - hello! May I help you young people?" a woman said, throwing open the small door and immediately filling the entire space with her stunning presence, her very being seeming to exude a lively, if not extremely odd, aura. Miroku and Sango stared at her dumbly for a second. She was DEFINITELY not the demon they had been expecting! In fact- she wasn't even a demon!

She was a witch.

Shiroba's mother stood at about 5'1, with a head full of untamed, frizzy gray hair, and wide, twinkling brown eyes that even in her old age seemed to hold a bountiful amount of waywardness. Her face was a composition of wrinkles and large, stretched lips, almost touching a pointed nose. She wore a deep purple kimono, tied with bright yellow sashes, and on her feet she sported brightly decorated red slippers. Around her neck she bore the customary necklace and charm that signified she was a woman with powers that were to be trifled with - Miroku and Sango continued to stare at the witch for some time.

It wasn't everyday you got to see a witch! They were driven out of most towns they encountered because they were notably unpopular with the village people, nobles had no use for them when there were mikos and monks to serve their mystical needs, and generally witches were stuffy people who liked to keep to themselves anyway. Either that or they violently tore about the countryside, hexing everyone in sight for the most trifle blunders. This woman seemed to be partaking in neither witch-like activities, and it was notably befuddling.

The couple didn't know whether to be fascinated or worried by the fact that they had just stumbled upon this rare specimen, and suddenly felt even more worried over the fact that they had some rather crushing news to give her.

"Um- Lady..?" Miroku started out valiantly, recovering from his shock and standing up straight. They had promised they would give Shiroba's body to his mother, and he wasn't about to back down now!

"Itazura," the witch supplied, sticking out a bony, withered hand for Miroku to take. The monk did so, hesitantly, while contemplating the woman's name. Ms. 'Mischief?' That wasn't ominous. "What can I do for you young people?" she asked, speaking in a peasant's drawl, and smiling invitingly. Well, she didn't SEEM dangerous.

"Ms. Itazura, I'm afraid we come bearing grave news," Sango said, bowing her head regretfully. The witch frowned, allowing Sango to continue. "We encountered your son, Shiroba in the woods, mortally injured."

"Oh, my Shiroba!" the witch gasped, slapping at hand to her mouth. Was it true? Was this really the cat demon's biological mother?

"He had fought with a youkai in the forest near your house, and met a terrible end. His wounds were too great for us to tend to. and but a half hour ago. your son passed away," Miroku finished softly, respectfully. He and Sango kept their heads bowed low for an extended period of time, waiting to see what sort of reaction this gauged from the mother.

"Oh. oh my," she said quietly, slowly lifting a shaky hand to her throat, and clutching it firmly. Her eyes were wide and disbelieving, her smile wavering like the waves on the ocean as she visibly tried to come to grips with what these complete strangers were telling her. "Is this. true? Do you. would you. is there?" she stuttered in a shaky voice. Silently, Sango and Miroku stepped to the side, revealing Inuyasha and Kagome. with Shiroba.

"OH! Shiroba! My SON!" the witch wailed like a wounded lamb in her high-pitched tenor.

Throwing herself forward, she wrenched Shiroba from an uncomfortable Inuyasha, cradling her son's head in her arms as she sunk to the ground with him in a puddle of misery. She bowed her head forward and opened her mouth in a deep cry, rocking back and forth. "Oh. my poor child."

Sango, Kagome and Shippou watched the heart-wrenching scene with sympathetic eyes, Kagome simply being a empathetic creature who hated scenes such as these, and Sango suddenly remembering a certain village where many mothers had lost their sons. Shippou too was quickly forced to recall the mourning of his parents, clutching Kagome's shirt as he suppressed the nightmarish scenario which he had been able to banish to the back of his mind ever since he had started traveling with Inuyasha his companions as a family.

It was truly a pitiable scene.

Meanwhile, Miroku whispered something quietly in Inuyasha's direction, his tone almost undetectable, the soft sound reaching Inuyasha's ultra sensitive ears anyway.

"But, if this woman truly is Shiroba's mother. then Shiroba was a hanyou." Inuyasha said nothing, but mentally he agreed with Miroku, and quietly nursed a fresh loss of his own. The death of a rare someone who was in many ways - like him.

*

The group hadn't intended to stay at Ms. Itazura's house for any long period of time, but after seeing her so completely crushed by her son's death, they admitted they couldn't just LEAVE her there with her dead child, and had offered to help wash his wounds and possibly make her a cup of tea while she was gathering her scattered wits. The witch had accepted their offer graciously.

And so now Miroku and Sango found themselves in a back room of the cluttered house, cleaning the wounds of a dead youkai in preparation for his burial. Kagome was making some tea with Shippou, and was in addition, trying to figure out just what were tealeaves and what were poisonous substances that should be avoided. (Itazura's cabinet was filled with many herbs, spices, and miscellaneous poisons she vaguely remembered Kaede violently cautioning her against getting with ten yards of. Did witches actually USE these things?)

And Inuyasha sat in a corner of the wooden hut, arms folded into the sleeves of his fire-rat coat, a small scowl permanently fixed on his face, Tetsusaiga placed at his side. His golden eyes were following the elderly witch around the house as she traveled from room to room, gathering supplies for her son's funeral, sobbing wearily to herself, and thanking the whole group for helping out so much profusely all the while.

"Think nothing of it," Sango said, having finished cleaning the last of the deep gashes on the cat demon, and throwing the bloodied and wet rag quickly to the side. "I've had plenty of practice with things like this. Miroku too," she admitted, shrugging. The monk nodded gravely in agreement, now tending to some of the smaller scrapes, and trying to make the demon look as healthy as possible before he was laid to rest.

"Oh. but surely you want some payment for your deeds? You are going through so much trouble." Itazura reasoned, collapsing onto a chair, her exuberant nature toned down to a deep mourning, her lively eyes distressed and a little bit hysterical. Kagome came up behind her and firmly set a cup of relaxing tea in her hand, urging her to drink.

"It will help calm you down," she said softly, standing near the woman and gazing at her compassionately. Itazura gave Kagome a rather toothless smile, nodding thankfully.

"You're all being too kind," she explained.

"Hardly," Kagome said, now sitting in a chair opposite the woman so that Shippou could jump into her lap, nestling there happily. "We are very sorry for your loss." Itazura looked thoughtful as she sipped her tea now, her eyes red rimmed and blotchy.

"But could you tell me - who was it who killed my son? Why did he die? He was so strong." the witch asked. And although her tone was merely curious on the outside, Kagome could sense the bitter taste of a needed retribution lurking within the woman's words. After all, Kagome had encountered one too many vengeful beings on her journey in the feudal era - Inuyasha himself being one of them.

"He killed the demon that attacked him," Kagome explained quickly, thinking she might have caught a flicker of almost disappointment in the wounded mother's dark eyes.

"Well, that is good I suppose. Shiroba didn't go down without a fight. But still, what sort of a demon was this? To be so powerful as to take down my son." the witch said, waving her hand about and shaking her head, clearly confused, and obviously having a great deal of pride for her hanyou son. Kagome winced, but knew the subject had to be brought up.

"Well, actually, we think the attacking demon may have been using a shikon shard to enhance his abilities." Kagome admitted, sighing mentally as she watched Inuyasha's eyes quickly snap open at the mention of the shard. Finally, something he was interested in.

"A shikon shard?" Itazura said, her brow furrowing deeply as she considered what this meant for her. "I have heard the tale of this broken shikon no tama. But, pray tell, where is this shard now?"

"Still on your son, Ma'am," Kagome said honestly. "He claimed it with his death, and I would be able to detect it for you if you wish to take it back now." Inuyasha looked as though he were about to bite Kagome's head off from his corner; how dare the bitch suggest they give up the shard to this crazy witch! What was she thinking? Stealthily, he got to his feet and followed the couple into the room containing Shiroba.

"Yes, I would much like to see one of the famed shards for myself, thank you." Itazura sighed wearily, looking grim as she dragged herself into the room containing her son's corpse.

Moving to the side, Miroku and Sango watched Kagome as she gently retrieved a shard - which hadn't been enough to save the son, only allow him to survive for a little while longer - from Shiroba's wrist. Sango turned to Miroku with a worried look etched onto her features, her eyes dark and grave. This woman might be old and notably eccentric, but this was a shard. what would they do if she refused to let them have it? Kagome might not fuss, but would their hanyou friend be willing to give up a piece of his treasured shikon no tama? Miroku nodded slowly back in response, understanding the dark undertones in Sango's expression, and placed his full attention back on the witch, now gingerly taking the small shard from Kagome's hand.

"So." She said simply, eyeing the shard warily. "This is a shikon shard? This is what killed my son?"

"Um. more or less," Kagome said, shivering uncomfortably as she felt the cold aura of Inuyasha lingering behind her, watching the witch with a mistrustful eye. Apparently, he wasn't about to let this shard go.

"Hm," Itazura mused lightly, turning the tiny fragment over in her hand, and examining it closely for around two minutes. After a moment, she glanced up at the pretty girl sitting before her, her expression knowing. "Girl, tell me, what relationship do you and your companions have with this shikon no tama?" she asked blatantly. Kagome's eyes widened, and she shifted uncomfortably as Inuyasha gave the witch a contemptuous look from behind her. How did she know?.

"Well, truthfully? We are collecting them, in an effort to complete the jewel once more," Kagome said, deciding there was no point in lying at this point. They had never had to hide their goal from anyone before.

"I see," Itazura said sagely, nodding her head. There was a long, pregnant pause that drifted through the room for a time, everyone unconsciously holding their breath as they waited for Itazura to make her next move. Finally - "Then you may have it," and with that she deftly tossed the sharp in Kagome's direction, the Japanese schoolgirl being so surprised she nearly missed it.

"We can just. just have it?" she repeated dumbly, as Miroku and Sango exchanged startled looks off to the side.

"Well, yes. I have no need for it, and it is fitting payment for having not stolen it off my son's body. You can have easily robbed him of it, but you did the honorable thing and waited for me to see the shard myself, and for that you must be rewarded," Itazura reasoned, gazing off to the distance with a melancholy air to her, apparently reminiscing over her son once more. Kagome looked at the witch levelly for a second, before quickly genuflecting for the woman, a grateful smile upon her face.

"Thank you so much. You're too kind." she said softly, trying not to look too elated, as the atmosphere was most definitely not a cheerful one, currently.

"What are you talking about?" Itazura asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow with general curiosity. "I still owe you and your friends very much for your deeds, and plan to pay you all back in full," Kagome laughed politely, Inuyasha looking generally shocked that he had just obtained a new shikon shard so easily - not to mention when Kagome had just recently had all of hers taken by a certain undead miko - but neither thought much of Itazura's vague promise of future reward. After all, the group was rarely remunerated for their good deeds, and why should this case be any different?

*

Midday consisted of a short funeral, of which the small group, now guilt tripped because Itazura had so graciously handed over the shikon shard, felt they needed to attend.

"This is all going so fast," Kagome murmured to the demon exterminator standing next to her, who had shed her battle outfit for a plain kimono.

"It is witch custom. They do not linger over their dead long - services and prayers are done in the same day as the death, for the afterlife to them is nothing for one to fear. Their beliefs are very different than ours, Kagome-chan," Sango explained softly, watching Miroku and Inuyasha carefully lower the simple, wooden casket into a hole in the Earth. Behind them Itazura was fervently murmuring a string of prayers and customary chants, completely absorbed in her task - silent tears streaming down her withered, shallow cheek bones. It made Kagome sigh shakily, heat building up behind her eyes, so she averted her gaze and continued conversing with Sango, off to the side.

"But what about Shiroba's father? If he's a demon, might he not want the body taken to him, so it can be buried in the proper demon way?" Kagome pointed out. Sango shrugged dully, eyes distant; it was obvious her mind was currently other places, and Kagome had a feeling she knew exactly why.

"Who knows. maybe Shiroba and Itazura weren't talking to the father anymore. Maybe he doesn't want a half-breed son," she reasoned. Kagome nodded and absorbed these ideas, Shippou sitting glumly by her feet, crouching near an obediently silent Kirara, as the service came close to its end.

A light spring breeze drifted through the large field, apparently part of Itazura's property that would serve as the cat demon's burial place. Miroku and Inuyasha quickly began shoveling dirt over the grave, closing up the hole, while Itazura continued to sob and scattered a variety of flower petals over the coffin, as it was soon out of sight, covered by dark, moist dirt.

When the ditch was completely closed, Itazura kneeled in front of her son's marker, while Inuyasha and Miroku turned around to stand by the two females of their group. Everyone was silent as they uneasily observed Itazura finish up the service.

She muttered a collection of oddly warped sounding words in another language, hands clasped together, and a string of some sort of herb placed over her son's marker- a wooden stick carved into an intricate shape Kagome didn't recognize - these witch customs were definitely odd.

Eventually, Itazura stood - her prayers done, her wreath of herbs securing her son a safe passage into the afterlife, and her tears spent - she looked over to Inuyasha and his friends. They had helped her so much.

"Please, I really must thank you all," she said loudly, so that the group could hear her from where they stood, some yards away. They all nodded politely, seriously.

"Think nothing of it," Miroku replied, bowing his head, his good hand firmly clasping his staff, and weapon of choice.

"No." The witch Itazura said breezily, gazing once more upon her son's grave, her expression distant, her tone mysterious. "No. You truly deserve something greater. Your hearts are all pure - I can see it, and I refuse to let you leave without being justly compensated for your efforts." These honest, warming words surprised everyone slightly, and they simply stared at Itazura as she fixed them all with a level gaze, as if judging them. Finally, she nodded firmly, in a distinctly satisfied manner- as if they had all just passed some sort of personal litmus test.

"I will give you all two wishes. Just two wishes each - your greatest desires - your most fickle fantasies - or anything that comes to mind," she said loudly, so that there would be no mistaking her startling words. Everyone gawked at her some more after she was done with this statement, and even then Shippou was the first to speak.

"You can DO that?" he squawked. Itazura smiled crookedly, nodding her head ever so slightly.

"Why, yes, I believe I can," she chuckled darkly, although there was little humor in her tone. Miroku frowned - he had never heard of such powerful magic being attempted by a witch. Any two wishes? What was this?

"Ma'am, we appreciate your offer, but." he started hesitantly, wondering how to go about pointing out to the witch that she was most obviously bluffing. What sort of magical being could pull off two wishes on such a whim? And simply because she wished to repay a wandering group of warriors who had aided her in the burial of her son? Only something as deep and powerful as the shikon no tama could pull off such a feat.

"But you need some time to deeply consider these wishes?" Itazura supplied helpfully.

"Er-"

"Oh, I quite understand," she said loftily, turning her back on the stunned group, and coming to stand once more in front of the grave, gazing down on it despairingly. "And I will give you all 'till sunset to come up with your wishes. and then I will retrieve you and ask you to recite them to me. Think long and hard, because these wishes could forever alter your life if requested the correct way,"

Everyone exchanged nervous glances, and eyebrows were raised all around. Was she in her right mind? Shrugging, Sango turned around to head back to the cottage, understanding that Itazura most likely wanted these next moments to be alone with her son.

"We left our things at the house, we should go pick them up," she commented softly, yet forcefully, urging the members of her group away from the field. Quickly, everyone caught on and followed Sango away, briefly glancing back at the obviously mentally addled witch.

*

"She's totally off her rocker," Miroku stated firmly as everyone reentered the cottage, shuffling around the clustered, compact rooms and retrieving their belongings. It would be no short trip back to the village, and they had been low on supplies before - so now they had no choice but to return to Kaede. "There's no way a witch could perform a spell such as that without there being dire consequences. Or at least a major mistake,"

"Really?" Kagome asked, while flinging all of her scattered supplies into an impressively large pack. "That's too bad, I thought it was an fun idea. If not somewhat unrealistic." Sango laughed lightly, tying up her battle clothing in a bundle. In a corner sat her boomerang bone, Kirara purring gently and napping next to it.

"Oh really? And what would you have wished for?" she teased. Kagome didn't catch on to the joking lilt of Sango's voice, and looked generally thoughtful.

"Hmm." she said, sitting cross-legged on the floor, collecting all of her first aid supplies that had been used previously and stuffing them back into the little white box they came in. "I don't know - I suppose I'd want to be the smartest girl in all Japan so that I wouldn't have to spend all my free time studying for tests!"

Inuyasha, leaning against a wall, and who had just recently used up all of his goodwill for the day with the burial of Shiroba, snorted derisively at Kagome's innocently cheery comment.

"Better yet - why don't you just stop taking those damned tests all together? Like I've said before - collecting the shikon no tama shards is far more important than your silly 'high school'," Inuyasha stated in a snappy tone of voice. Kagome glowered at him, sighing deep.

"And like I'VE said before - though you seem to keep conveniently forgetting this - I refuse to fail all my tests and drop out of high school!" she explained defensively. "If you don't think my education is as important as your dumb jewel I don't know what to say to you."

"I wasn't saying it like that! You don't have to get an education by going to these schools of yours. why, I never went to school and I turned out fine!" Inuyasha said simply. Kagome rolled her eyes, and Shippou giggled tauntingly.

"Inuyasha - I don't really think you're a good example of an un- educated person making a decent living in the world," she said, fitting the last of her supplies snugly back into her pack.

"Oh - shut up!" he barked, folding his arms, and looking thoroughly gloomy.

"Well - what would YOU wish for then, Inuyasha?" Miroku inquired pleasantly, before this fight escalated to unreasonable pointless heights. The duo had the knack for fighting for hours on end about complete and utter crap, and he refused to sit through another one of their verbal sparring sessions just then. Inuyasha stared at Miroku, apparently contemplating his question seriously for a minute, before replying quickly-

"I'd wish my stupid half brother dead,"

"Really?" Kagome asked, head whipping to the side, sparkling brown eyes wide with surprise. "You'd be that spiteful as to kill your own brother?"

"You've seen him!" Inuyasha said defiantly. "He's a menace! He's always hurting you and the others - and not a day goes by when he doesn't make an attempt to steal the Tetsusaiga! It'd make my life a WHOLE lot easier to get him out of the way," Kagome still looked deeply troubled at her friend's words though - And Sango's next ones proved she too felt discomfited by Inuyasha's proclamation.

"Well, there are plenty people out there that I could wish dead - but wouldn't," she said firmly. "I hardly think it's an honorable way to kill someone, firstly, and secondly, many of the people I want dead. I would rather murder with my own hands."

There was an awkward silence, as everyone contemplated all the people they too would love to see six feet under, an uncomfortable theme in itself, before Inuyasha's words pierced the gap.

"Yeah. Actually. I agree. I don't know why I said I wanted Sesshomaru dead." Kagome's jaw dropped; had he just admitted to being wrong? No way! He had NEVER admitted to being wrong about anything! Well, except maybe to her a few times. but let's emphasize the 'few'ness of those occurrences.

". I WOULD much rather kill him with my own hands,"

And this point Kagome let out a deep sigh, rolling her eyes, but at the same time let a little smile shine in her heart - Inuyasha might act tough and cruel about hating Sesshomaru, but she had seen with her own eyes that when push came to shove - he would never actually murder the powerful youkai, even if the half brother had his neck extended. It had just chilled her to hear Inuyasha, who she knew for a fact had a pure heart, say such harsh things.

"Well, what about you Sango, what's your wish?" Miroku asked, taking a seat, and letting Shippou nibble on a piece of bread he had been partaking in.

"Um." the seventeen year old said, running a hand through her dark brown hair in an effort to hide her blush as she glanced at the monk innocently sitting before her. There were so many things she desired - so many things she would NEVER, EVER admit to wanting. Not in front of these people, at least. "I'd want to be a rich lady, with many silk kimonos!" Well, it may not be the most important wish, but she always HAD admired rich noble ladies, and often wondered what it would be like to feel real silk against her harshly abused skin, and this wish seemed innocent enough to talk about in such cheerful company.

"Oh really?" Miroku asked, the barest traces of disappointment lingering in his voice over the fact that Sango's wish had been so impersonal. "That's nice,"

"Oi! I just thought of a WAY better wish!" Inuyasha said suddenly, startling everyone.

"What is it?" Kagome asked, cocking her head. The group, deeply involved in their fun little conversation now, sat in a circle on the floor, holding onto their possessions and leaning in with interest over what people had to say. It was rare that the scarred, and rather dysfunctional group got this into discussing their personal lives. And even now it wasn't as though they had scratched anything particularly deep or meaningful. They were all just rather bad at communicating, when you got right down to it - and this game was an almost delightfully clever way to get everyone to admit some personal confessions and fears.

"I wish that Sesshomaru was a HUMAN!" he declared triumphantly. Immediately everyone broke out into shaking peels of laughter, imagining the proud, mortal hating demon lord reduced to the level of a feeble human.

"Oh, that's perfect!" Miroku commented jovially.

"Ha! You bet it is! Boy would I love to see his face if that ever happened!" Inuyasha said, cackling sadistically. Kagome covered her mouth to stifle her uncontrollable giggles. The image really WAS amusing, and she too, admittedly, held little love for the Inuyasha's cold brother. Eventually the laughter died down and someone else stepped up to bat.

"Well I would wish." Miroku said, his voice containing an all too familiar hint of lechery in it. ".To find a beautiful, willing woman who would bear me as many children as I wanted!"

"You pervert!" Sango cried, slapping the lecherous monk over the head none-to gently. "Can't you talk about anything without being nasty?"

"That wasn't nasty!" Miroku defended, rubbing his throbbing head tenderly. "It was a totally reasonable, wholesome thought! I want to start a family!" Sango shot him a glare.

"You don't want to start a family - you want to create a son who will be forced to avenge your family curse if you fail!" she snapped cruelly.

This, of course, gauged a shocked sort of pause from Miroku - while Inuyasha and Kagome tried to make themselves as small as possible. Uh oh. they were treading on thin ice here, and Sango had just jabbed at the tender underbelly of Miroku's psyche. Everyone KNEW why Miroku wanted someone to bear his child so quickly; they just never talked about it.

"I want a lifetime supply of Kagome's chocolate!" Shippou piped up in an effort to restore the happy atmosphere. However, his valiant attempt was wasted - for Miroku was staring at Sango in a rather crushed way.

"I ." he said softly. He quickly turned his head to the side, his soulful, purple eyes weary and introspective. "I know. No need for you to rub it in," he snapped, in a very un-Miroku like fashion. Sango, who knew she had crossed the line sometime back, winced visibly, and averted her stare to the ground, biting her lip.

"Sor-" she started, truly apologetic she had pointed out such a harsh reality while sharing such a lighthearted conversation. It had been uncalled for, and the only reason she knew how to get to him so well was because the two were undeniably close. It made her that much more sad to know she had just seriously insulted one of her only remaining friends in the world.

"So!" Miroku quickly cut in, before Sango had time to apologize. He apparently wanted to drop the subject very badly. "If we're going to get serious - and if we do in fact get two 'wishes', according to Lady Itazura- perhaps we could all admit a deeper, darker desire now? Hm?" he asked suggestively. Sango sighed and rubbed her head - well, at least he seemed to have recovered quickly. But you could never tell with Miroku. "Lady Kagome, would you like to start?"

"Er." Kagome said, laughing uneasily. "I don't know - we're not going to REALLY get these wishes anyway. it seems so silly."

"Why Kagome, are you backing down?" Inuyasha taunted, suddenly looking very interested in this little activity, his golden eyes twinkling playfully. "Are you scared of admitting one of your most beloved desires?" Kagome puffed her cheeks out, looking indignant.

"It's not that, I mean, I just." she shrugged uneasily. "I mean. if you really want to know."

"Yes Kagome, please tell us!" Miroku said, looking fascinated, Shippou nodding his head vigorously.

"Well." Kagome locked gazes with Inuyasha, who immediately saw some of her desires just by looking into those big brown eyes. His heart rate sped up a tiny bit. "I." Wish Inuyasha would be happy. "Think." Wish I wasn't Kikyo's reincarnation. "I." Wish all of my friends could have had easier lives to lead. " - Would wish for the shikon no tama to be whole, and in our possession, once more,"

Everyone pondered this, realizing Kagome HAD voiced a deep desire, something that plagued everyone in the group very profoundly - and by doing so also given the coversation yet another serious turn. Now they were really starting to get to the messy core of the groups atypical and painful lives, almost an unspoken taboo among them all, and it was a bit. uncomfortable.

"I see," Sango said, smiling weakly. "A good, powerful wish," Was all she could think of to say, finally.

Inuyasha kept staring at his modern day friend long after she had stopped looking at him, brows furrowed, and white, furry ears leaning forward attentively. He nodded his head a little before speaking.

"Well - in that case, I wish that my parents had never been killed. Then I wouldn't have had to grow up being nothing but a despised hanyou," Inuyasha said, referring to a collection of deep, childhood scars that lasted and lasted.

"Really?" Kagome quickly gasped in utter surprise. That was another wish she hadn't anticipated! "But what about becoming a full demon? Or bringing Kikyo back to true life?" What? He rarely talked about his horrid childhood - and it seemed an uncharacteristic thing for him to mention now. She knew it beleaguered him - but surly he was more concerned about Kikyo than-!

"Well I thought about that," he said proudly. "And I decided if you already have the shikon no tama after your wish - then I could use it to become a full demon and forever be rid of the damned jewel! So there's no use wasting a wish on becoming a full demon. But.You'd give it to me - right?" he quickly asked, as if just to be sure.

"Of course," Kagome said, without hesitating. It had never occurred to her to keep the sacred jewel from him, not since they had started traveling together. she knew it was too important to him. "And you'd want to become a full demon with the jewel, then?" she pressed. Inuyasha folded his arms once more and shrugged his broad shoulders casually.

"Depends," he said simply, elusively.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" she asked, frustrated. But when Inuyasha just shrugged nonchalantly once more, it occurred to the sixteen year old that maybe it would be better to continue this conversation at a later date - no matter how much she wanted to also get to the bit about why he didn't mention KIKYO in his wish - talking about it in front of Sango and Miroku would most likely just agitate the young hanyou.

"So, Sango, it's your turn." The dog demon said firmly, confirming Kagome's thoughts. Ah well, she could discuss it with him some other time. when they were alone. but when were they ever alone?

"Oh. I don't know what I'd wish," Sango sighed. Sure, she enjoyed the coversation enough when it was other people spilling their guts (She and Miroku being intense, closet gossipers.) but when it came time for her to admit something private. it was a whole different ballgame. Sango didn't like talking about her loss - and hated pity equally as much. "I wish." But she wouldn't lie. "That." And everyone knew about her home and the massacre. and since there was a rule against killing people, that ruled the Naraku idea out. "My village was still alive. I wish my family was back," she finally said in the smallest of voices.

Immediately everyone's gazes took on a compassionate tone they desperately tried to hide - they also knew that Sango hated pity. And while Inuyasha's gruesome childhood was terrible, his wounds weren't so raw and fresh. He had had time to dwell on his dead family, whereas Sango was still partially in shock.

Sango tucked a long lock of hair behind her ear, her face straight, and didn't protest when Miroku inched a little closer.

"A good wish," he said simply. And it indeed, did seem to sum up Sango's wish. "And, for my serious wish. I wish that." He gave Sango the most inconspicuous of despairing looks, before forging onward. "That my family had never had the wind tunnel curse placed upon us,"

"That's a good wish too," Sango said, smiling lightly. The two shared a brief moment of connection and loss, before a little kitsune quickly threw himself into his wish - apparently unable to wait any longer before expressing his deepest want.

"I wish that we would all stay together forever!" he squealed, a large, innocent smile stretching from one side of his face to the other, looking pleased with himself for having thought up such a wonderfully brilliant idea. He loved all of his new friends, just as much as his deceased parents it seemed, as the days went by, so why shouldn't they all be together and happy until the end of time?

Everyone looked briefly, intensely sad at Shippou's statement - billions of reasons as to why this could never come to pass flashing through their heads - family curses, deep vendettas, undead mikos, different time periods and unrequited loves. but then they caved in to the general, endearing naivety of Shippou's wish, and Kagome drew the little demon into a big hug.

"Oh Shippou, that was a wonderful wish," she complimented, burying her face in his messy red hair. "And that would be. very nice if it ever happened," she added. Everyone glanced around at everyone else in the room for a second, imagining what it would be liked if they all stayed friends until they were all old and cranky. before also breaking out into smiles. Yeah. That would be just fine.

*

"Ohmigosh!" Kagome gasped after a moment, dropping the ecstatic little Shippou and staring out the window. "Look at what time it is! The sun's about to set! How long have we been talking?"

"A couple hours I suppose." Miroku admitted, getting to his feet and wincing at the leg cramps he found upon standing. Inuyasha yawned and cracked various body parts while Sango quickly went to retrieve her boomerang bone, sensing it was time to depart. Kirara made a little mewing sound and awoke from her slumber in time to follow Sango out the door.

"Come on, we've already dawdled long enough here - we have to get back to Lady Kaede!" she called back.

"Right, well, at least this journey wasn't a total waste," Kagome commented, as she shouldered her pack and exited the cottage. "We got another shikon shard!" She tried to sound generally happy about the idea, rather than hesitant and a little depressed. ever since Kikyo had taken the shards from her and given them to Naraku. she had been feeling somewhat despondent about the matter of the shikon jewel, and could only thank whatever Gods were listening that Inuyasha loved Kikyo too much to be angry about the whole idea. She knew he would be raging mad if anyone had stolen the precious shards but Kikyo - unfortunately, that didn't mean Kagome was necessarily happy with the idea, and that thought had gone into her second wish.

"Yes, it was a good find." Miroku said, hopping onto the transformed Kirara with a still rather awkward Sango. She only hoped her guilt over her harsh words would soon disperse and get rid of this aching hole in her chest.

"Hey, what about Itazura!" Shippou asked as Sango pulled him onto the large cat demon. "Isn't she going to grant our wishes?" There was a sudden, long, uncomfortable pause as everyone stared at Shippou carefully.

"Don't be ridiculous, pup," Inuyasha finally said, once no one else volunteered to explain about the wishes, and folding his arms. "There's no way that witch could really pull off giving us our wishes - it's unfeasible!" Shippou looked notably crestfallen at Inuyasha's harsh words, and Kagome's heart instantly went out to him.

"Oh, I'm sorry Shippou," she said, realizing that the enlightening conversation the group had held back in the cottage may have meant slightly more to Shippou than she had first assumed. "I'll leave a letter for Itazura back in the cabin, thanking her for offering the wishes anyway - okay?" she offered, petting his head gently, her brown eyes shimmering.

"But. the dreams aren't going to come true?" Shippou asked, sounding crushed.

"Um- no. No I don't think so," she said apologetically, as Sango and Miroku winced from behind the little fox demon. They suddenly felt like really big jerks.

So, trotting back into the house, while retrieving a pen and paper, Kagome scrawled in her most neat handwriting a letter to the witch who was undoubtedly still attending her son's grave:

Dear Itazura,

We are all, once again, very sorry for the loss of your honorable son, and wish you nothing but happiness for the rest of your life. We must travel back to our village now - as it is getting late, but please understand that we thank you very much for letting us keep the shikon shard Shiroba obtained, and also thank you for the generous offering of two wishes each. Unfortunately we cannot accept this munificent gift, and must leave your home presently.

Our condolences,

Kagome, Inuyasha, Sango, Miroku and Shippou.

Sighing heavily, Kagome placed the piece of paper where it could be easily found by the witch, and then quickly jogged out of house, giving it one last glance. Well, it HAD been a nice idea, but.

To her surprise, Kirara and her riders had already gotten a head start on the village, seeing as Inuyasha was very capable of out running them, and now waiting for the Japanese School Girl alone was her hanyou friend, waiting by the moonlight for her to emerge. She smiled kindly, going to grab her heavy bag.

It surprised her a little when Inuyasha took the bag for her, throwing it over his back and then gesturing for her to come forward. However, she was notably more startled when the demon to her in his arms, with his hands on her back and under her knees, so that she sat facing him now. Acting on instinct, she threw her arms around his neck as he launched himself into the sky, flying in the direction of Kaede's village without a word, golden eyes flashing.

Blushing slightly, Kagome wondered what had spurred this sudden change in her friend, and the thought only made her want to address the business of Inuyasha's peculiar wishes, and Kikyo, all the more - what was going on? What was changing in him? Did she even mind?

And, glancing up at the hanyou as he flashed her a hesitant smile while continuing to travel along, a smile that almost asked 'Is this all right?' Kagome realized that, no, she didn't mind. This would be fine. Inuyasha always had his reasons for acting the way he did, and Kagome abruptly realized she would be willing to stand by his side no matter what decisions he made - Just looking at him made her happy. She hoped she had the same affect on him.

* And in the shadows of the cabin, a figure crouched low next to the window, waiting until the silver haired demon and his gifted companion had fully disappeared into the forest before standing up at scuffling into the house, frizzy hair framing her narrow face. Itazura was smiling.

It would be a hard job to pull off - no doubt about that - and the monk hadn't been lying when he said that granting wishes as powerful as these was extremely difficult and near impossible. But she COULD do it . most likely. Probably. Well Hell, she was going to give it a shot! As a witch, people rarely offered to help Itazura out, even in her most dire times of need, and for offering her their unconditional assistance, Itazura was determined to make sure the group was fairly rewarded. It was only what they deserved.

"Never fear, young ones," Itazura said softly, pulling from under her robes a glowing amulet that emanated a frost blue color. "You will get what you said you desired, and will live the rest of your days happily in a dream filled with your most treasured wishes!"

*

"Children!" Kaede called; hobbling out of her hut and into the dark, early morning as she spotted the six weary travelers who often resided at her village, return at last. They had been gone for a few months, and she had begun to worry about their welfare. Every time this group left, there was always the option that they might never return.

"Lady Kaede! Good morning!" Miroku said cheerfully, hopping off Kirara with Sango, to go meet the withered miko. The sun rested firmly behind the mountains in the distance; but the group had been traveling all night, and soon the sun would rise to greet the new day. Kirara yawned widely as she reverted to her smaller form, fully prepared to take another nap.

Inuyasha, who had indeed long since caught up to the group, let the sixteen year old in his arms down to the ground slightly hesitantly, feeling the distinct ache of loss as the soft, warm body separated from his, in favor of stretching her legs and laughing at something Shippou said. Did she too feel as though she had just let a part of herself, as valuable and arm or leg, disconnect to wander freely? It was odd that the girl affected him this much, but at least the look in Kagome's expressive eyes told him she felt the same way, at least a little. Mutual pain was something Inuyasha usually abhorred, but just then it gave him comfort.

"Sorry we were gone so long, but we ran into a shikon shard on the way back." Sango explained to Kaede as she and Miroku stopped in front of the woman.

"Aye, and did you gain possession of it?" she asked. She knew the troubles the group was currently having with shikon shards, and sympathized with them, honestly baffled with her elder sisters' actions.

"Yep!" Kagome called cheerily, approaching Kaede as well, and proudly showing off a tiny shard glinting in her hands. "One down. lots of others to go," the girl sighed. Kaede chuckled, her one eye scrunching up as she listened to Kagome moan about their lack of jewel. They had obtained so much! - only to have it stolen from them from the least likely of culprits. It must be hard.

The sky turned a steady golden color, as the sun slowly began to peak just above the mountains, bringing warmth to the day.

"Well, you must all be famished after your trip, and I have some breakfast back at the hut if anyone would like to partake?." the old woman offered knowingly. There was a quick exchange of enthusiastic agreements and thanks, as everyone began to follow Kaede back to her home where already the smell of rice and mouth watering spices were wafting from the hut.

And then the glowing, bright sun burst up dramatically into its rightful place in the picturesque blue sky, its powerful rays beaming happily down upon the Earth.

"Ah!" Kagome shrieked, feeling an electrical current shoot through her body as her limbs began to shake, quickly doubling over and staring at the ground with an open mouth. Inuyasha was at her side in a second, Shippou dancing nervously around the fallen miko as Kaede, Sango and Miroku looked on in horror.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha barked, appearing a little bit scared as Kagome continued to convulse in his arms. "What's wrong? Say something!"

"I-I!" she gasped, trying to control her erratic breathing as she stared blankly into the distance. "I can't stop it!"

"Can't stop what?" Miroku asked, his fingers curling dangerously around his staff as Sango put a hand to her mouth. What in the seven hells was going on?

And then, much to Kaede's horror, there was a blinding flash of blue light, that erupted suddenly from above the group and then zoomed down to encase all five people, everyone stuck under the umbrella of blue immediately beginning to shimmer with energy and magic. Kaede cried out in horror and started forward, unable to do anything as the blue energy began to tremor and shake the ground, eventually creating a small explosion that threw the village miko backwards.

Everyone screamed in fear, feeling their bodies begin to get lighter, thinner, less whole. they were drifting away from the Earth they knew and were desperately clawing onto what self they had left. They refused to be taken without a fight, but it was hard to battle when your soul was being sucked out of you, demanding that you follow and be quick about it. They were helpless.

Kaede looked up just in time to see the blue energy close in on itself with a final 'boom', shrinking into nothing and leaving the small residue of magic and power in its wake.

They were gone. All of them. Even Kirara.

All around Kaede village occupants were emerging from their homes in the early morning, blinking into the sun and nervously searching for the source of the explosion and unexplainable feeling of kismet that had just recently washed over them all. Was there a demon about? Kaede shakily got to her feet and wondered what she was supposed to do, or what she should say. How could one explain what had just transpired? Had her old eyes, dulled with age, even seen what had just happened correctly?

Or had Inuyasha, Kagome, Miroku, Sango, Kirara and Shippou really all just vanished before her eyes upon the rising of the sun, disappearing with a small Earth tremor and a blast of frost blue magic?

*

Author's Notes:

Okay, I'm not going to lie. The next chapter won't be out for a while. But I PROMISE you it's going to be really good and a lot funnier than this chapter. From here on out the real adventure begins, and it's all just going to be incredibly weird. I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and it would make me soooo happy if everyone would review. Thanks for reading and stayed tuned!

-Rio Grande.

P.S- Oh my God. I just realized I've never actually completed a story that I've started. Not even my one shots. It's like, physically impossible for me to finish any fics that I create! And that's bad! Um. Well. Anyway, have a nice day! Review!