October 17th, 2005

Author's Notes – Hiya guys! Yes, yes, we're alive and back in business… sort of. My computer is still out of commission and I've been forced to write this update by hand with the Divine Nataku hovering over me poking me with the Mighty Pen of Justice…

The Divine Nataku – That's right, that's right! Write, damn you, write!

Miss Chang Po - :narrows her eyes: You could have written out this chapter, y'know

The Divine Nataku – True… but I hate writing by hand… :Miss Chang Po gives her a bland look: Well I do…

Miss Chang Po - :sighs: But anywho… thanks for being so patient, minna-san! We hope this chapter makes up for the wait…

The Divine Nataku – What's it been, like a year?

Miss Chang Po – For 'Tandemonai' maybe…

The Divine Nataku – Ack! No it hasn't! Not listening, not listening… la la la la!

Don't You Dare!

Chapter 18

"How many do you think there are?"

There was a pause. "M'not sure… but however many there are… the jyaki they possess isn't all that strong."

"Mm, that's true, but you have to take into account the other jyaki further behind the first… I believe that to be the one containing the Shikon shard."

Sango pondered this as she held the Hiraikotsu at her side. She closed her eyes briefly, rotating her shoulders until she heard a small, satisfying 'pop'. "You're right," she agreed, sparing the monk beside her a look before turning her gaze back to the inky darkness of the forest before them. Her stance remained relaxed though she was ready to make a move at any moment. "It kind of makes me wish the others were here…"

Miroku nodded in agreement; Kagome's ability would have allowed them to locate the shard almost instantaneously. He was skilled enough to sense the shard's presence, but there really was no way for him to tell exactly where it was. Weak though their foe seemed to be, achieving their goal was sure not to be an easy task.

Shifting his shakujo from one hand to the other, Miroku reached into the folds of his robes with his free hand. A solemn expression made its way across his face.

"I have a confession to make, Sango-san…"

The taijya beside him glanced over at him and tensed, her expression one of trepidation. "Y-yes, houshi-sama?"

"We've been waiting here for twenty minutes for these youkai to make a move, wouldn't you say?" His eyes darkened and from the folds of his robes he removed three ofuda. "I feel it's time we give them a little incentive."

Sango gave a little sigh of relief, her game face slipping back into place as she nodded her agreement. "The sooner we take care of these youkai, the sooner we can find those missing villagers."

'If they're still alive,' Miroku thought morosely. Glancing at Sango, beneath her battle-ready poise and attentiveness, the monk could see the tenseness of her shoulders, the anxiety burning behind her eyes. It was not an expression he was unfamiliar with either. In many of their travels, their rag-tag group had come across many villages in and on the verge of peril. Naturally they always did everything in their power to help them (despite Inu Yasha's halfhearted protests). However, each time they came across a demolished village, he could see the despair in Sango's eyes for what it actually was. Knowing her background as well as the feeling of watching a loved one die before your eyes, he knew what she saw was the fate of her kinsmen over and over again. It pained her, he knew, to think of all the people she had lost, all the faces of those she would never see again, and whether things could have turned out differently.

Miroku swore this time they would.

"You ready?"

Sango hefted her boomerang almost effortlessly, nodding. "Do it, houshi-sama."

Channeling some of this spiritual energy into the thin straps of paper in his hand, he flung them out into the shadows with a quick chant. Moments later the dark forest lit up with their power, revealing several youkai writhing in pain.

"Now, Sango!" he called out, several more ofuda in hand.

She needed no more cues. The bone boomerang twirled over her head once, twice before she let it loose with a loud cry of "HIRAIKOTSU!"

The heavy weapon sailed through the air, plowing through everything in its path. The two fighters followed right behind it in the path so neatly laid out for them.

The battle was now afoot.

000

"The one in black is cute."

"…You're talkin' about the woman, right…?"

There was a pause. "Oh, they're both wearing black, aren't they?" An indifferent sniff, "Yeah, she's kinda cute, too…"

A groan. "You…"

"What? Don't get mad just 'cuz my preferences are different from yours."

"Ugh… stop… Just stop."

"Must you two always bicker?" Lurking in the shadows of a tree overlooking the arguing pair, a third figure – a youkai only slightly less reptilian looking than its two companions – gave them each a suffering look.

"I'm allowed to state my opinions." Replied the first youkai, frowning when one of the others muttered 'since when?'.

"And I'm allowed to object to them," said the second youkai.

"Human females are for eating," sniffed the first. "It doesn't matter what they look like so long as they taste good."

The third youkai grinned, revealing two rows of sharp, yellow fangs. "Is that why you chose such an ugly human to possess?"

The first youkai, though reptilian in most aspects (scales, eyes, tail), did bear the body of a rather large, awkward human male.

"That's not fair, Aniki," he pouted. "You two got the better bodies."

The second youkai, equally as large as the first, though not as ugly, hissed his forked tongue in displeasure. "That's what you say," he scowled. "I still think Aniki got the best body."

At that, he and his equally large companion looked at the third youkai; a lean figure with long, rich hair pulled back in a high, almost aristocratic ponytail. Aside from the reptilian eyes and skin, its features were strangely effeminate.

"So, you gonna tell us whether that new body o'yours is male or female, Aniki?"

'Aniki' scowled. "Mind your own damn business. It serves my purposes well enough – that's all that matters."

The other two youkai exchanged looks before grinning amiably.

Not too long ago none of them would have been capable of such things. Only extremely powerful youkai possessed the ability to take on human form. In the hierarchy of youkai, the three of them had been among the lowest of the low – possessing sentience but not much else. They were the hebi-jin, the Snake People. They could control snakes and other lower serpentine youkai, but individually they were weak. They lived in the forests like common animals, feeding off of the scraps larger and stronger youkai had left behind.

Of course, things had changed the night they discovered several slivers of a strange pink stone that gave off immense power. They may not have been exceptionally bright, low level youkai that they were, but it did not take them long to realize that would they had in their possession were shards of the infamous Shikon no Tama.

'Aniki' as the others called them – only very powerful youkai took on names – immediately set their plan into motion. The shards were not strong enough to give them the power to shape-shift, so they had to go with the next best option. Raiding a nearby village, they rounded up several humans (Aniki's human had to be a woman, it had to be) to use as their hosts. They would make their way across the countryside making all fear the name of the Three Brothers.

Unfortunately, humans were so frail that they could only withstand possession for a certain length of time. Aniki quickly realized they would need more humans in supply for their plan. But then, with a whole village of adults under their thumb and nothing but little children too scared to leave their parents behind, there was really nothing to worry about.

"We need names," replied the second youkai, looking a bit put-out.

"We have a name." 'Aniki' answered idly, surveying the battle in the distance.

"Just our group name," countered the second. "Now that we have these humanoid forms, shouldn't we each have names?"

The other youkai merely looked at him as if he were an idiot.

"Fine," 'Aniki' sighed. "I shall be Eldest Brother, one of you shall be Middle Brother, and the other shall be Youngest Brother!"

There was a pause. "Which one of us is Youngest Brother?"

"Sigh…"

"Houriki!" A holy sutra flew out of the shadows, attaching itself to the second burly youkai, eliciting a howl of pain. The other two jumped back in shock, watching as he writhed and thrashed about, his reptilian body being forcibly torn from his human host. Once separated, he and his human dropped to the ground unceremoniously, smoke rising up off of their bodies.

"Even without his presence, this human is still pretty ugly."

"Damn it!" Aniki hissed, his head snapping up to the two humans approaching them from the distance. "I didn't know they had holy powers!"

One of the approaching figures was steadily pouring more power into another ofuda.

"What do we do, Aniki?" quailed the other youkai.

"Grab Middle Brother," He squawked at being nominated Youngest Brother, but a look from his Eldest Brother silenced him. "We can pick him out another host when he wakes up." A feral grin made its way across his face. "So long as we've got shards we're still in the game." He summoned a large snake youkai to him out of the darkness, ordering it to the village.

"Those humans think they can scare us with some holy man?" sneered Aniki. "We'll teach'em what happens when they mess with the Three Snake Brothers."

"I thought we were just the 'Three Brothers'."

"Just shut up…" Tossing a quick look over his shoulder, 'Aniki' bounded up into the dark canopy, Youngest Brother with an unconscious Middle Brother at his heels.

Just as he vanished, the exterminator and monk came into clearing.

"Damn, we just missed them!"

Miroku was about to comment when he heard a low groan coming from the man on the ground. Rushing forward, he knelt down beside, placing his fingers to a point on his neck to feel for a heartbeat.

"Sango," he breathed out. "This one is still alive!" He looked up at her, straining himself to keep from reacting to the spark of hope that entered her eyes.

"Could he be one of the villagers?" she asked.

"It's a possibility," he answered, pulling the man's prone body into a sitting position. The action, however, was proving to be a difficult one. "Buddha's sake, he's a big one, though!"

"I suppose we'll need Kirara to carry him back, then?" The only response she received from the monk was another grunt of effort as he vainly tried to lift the cumbersome man off of the ground. She shook her head with a sigh, placed her fingers to her lips and let out a loud whistle.

000

Back in the village, the luster of Miroku and Sango's grand exit had finally worn off, leaving Shippo and the others eagerly awaiting their return.

"I hope the two of them are all right," Chiharu murmured, her hands clasped together in prayer. Mimiko hovered by her side, worry evident on her young face as well.

Despite the hope Sango's words had instilled in him, Hiroshi snorted. "They prob'ly got eaten," he muttered, earning a cuff over the head courtesy of Misao. "What the he—?"

"Hiro-chan, language!" Chiharu exclaimed. The boy looked briefly chastised before turning his attention back to the younger girl currently glowering at him.

"Bokushi-sama will not be eaten!" Misao exclaimed. "Taijya-san said so!"

He opened his mouth to form some kind of retort, but seeing her distressed expression, Hiroshi turned away muttering under his breath.

Shippo meanwhile sighed, rolling his eyes in exasperation. 'Sheesh… these two are exactly like Kagome and Inu Yasha…' He turned to voice his comment to Kirara, but the fire cat was on its feet, eyes and ears alert.

"Kirara?" he questioned, his large eyes darting around nervously. "What's the matter?"

The fire cat only let out a soft chirp before bounding outside, transforming, and loping off into the forest.

The four humans blinked in surprise.

"What's going on?"

"What's happened?"

"Where is Taijya-san's kitty going?"

Shippo rushed to the hut door, his eyes nervously scanning the air. His ears twitched, picking up the high whistling coming from the forest. He sighed in relief.

"What is it, Kitsune-san?" Chiharu asked.

"I think it's okay," he answered, coming back inside. "Sango must've called for Kirara to come to her – that's why she took off." Accepting the answer, the woman nodded, re-clasping her hands in prayer.

"They are all right, aren't they?" Mimiko asked softly.

Shippo opened his mouth to answer her when he froze, his young senses alerting him to the danger rapidly approaching them. He bolted to the door once again, his eyes widening in surprise.

If he did scream, the loud roar deafened the sound.

000

Despite his outwardly calm demeanor, Miroku's insides rolled with anxiety. His staff jingled at his side in a white-knuckled grip as he ran alongside Kirara and her unconscious passenger, vaulting over anything that happened to lay in his path.

They'd been making their careful trek back to the little village with the unconscious man draped over Kirara's back when they heard the ear-splitting roar that set them on their guard. When they realized they weren't in any immediate danger, it didn't take long to figure out where the sound had come from.

'Damn!' the monk's placid façade was starting to fall away as he pushed his body to move faster. They'd fallen for one of the oldest ploys in the book, leaving their weakest flank vulnerable to enemy attack.

Not to say that Shippo was weak. He was a youkai and a clever one at that. He'd proven many a time that he could protect himself well enough, but four frightened and defenseless humans as well? He was a child, damn it! If anything were to happen to him, Kagome would never – he would never forgive himself!

They reached the forest edge within minutes, Miroku's hand automatically going for one of his ofuda.

"Sango," he called out. "The village man—"

Sango did not stop. "Kirara will protect him," she cut in, leaping over bushes into the village clearing.

Chiharu's little hut collapsed in on itself, folding into a heap like a house of cars, its wooden planks snapping under the thrashing weight of the youkai intent on wiping it from existence.

Sango made a slight strangled sound and Miroku's hand went for the beads around his Kazaana.

"Houshi-sama, wait!" Sango's hand caught his, allowing the rosary to fall back into place. "We can't risk the other children."

Yes… there were other children hidden in the village – they had to protect them. Just when had this mission become so complicated?

'Shippo…'

Satisfied in its demolition, the youkai looked up and spotted the two humans standing at the edge of the village. Marking them as its new target, the youkai let out another loud roar, rushing towards them with its fangs bared.

Sango lifted Hiraikotsu, hurling it towards the creature with all her might. The heavy weapon sailed through the air, colliding with the youkai's head with a heavy 'thunk!'.

Miroku stepped without missing a beat, flinging out two ofuda. Upon contact, the youkai dissolved into nothingness. Barely surprised by the amount of energy he had poured into each sutra, the monk said a quick prayer to Buddha merely out of habit, his real thoughts with the five souls trapped beneath the rubble before them…

He had insisted that Shippo accompany him, he'd thought it would do the boy good to feel as though he could help out in some way… It would break Kagome's heart when they told her – having Inu Yasha's life at risk was bad enough… what would the news do to him?

Pulling her boomerang out of the ground, Sango trotted over to the wreckage, jamming the bone boomerang underneath a large, split beam in attempts to wedge it loose. Silently, Miroku joined in her efforts, using his shakujo as a lever.

"Damn it! It won't budge!" Sango exclaimed, her grip slipping.

"Don't give up!" Miroku grunted, pushing down on his staff and hoping it wouldn't snap under the weight.

"Sango! Miroku!" A distant voice called out. "Guys! Where are you!"

"He's alive!" the monk started.

Sango's eyes lit up and she doubled her efforts. "Don't worry, Shippo!" she called. "We'll get you out! Kirara—!"

The fire cat let out a soft growl, her attention skyward. The two humans blinked in confusion.

"Kirara?"

"Miroku! Sango!"

"Taijya-san! Bokushi-samaaaa!"

Above them, floating harmlessly in midair was a slightly larger version of Shippo's pink balloon-form with Chiharu, Mimiko, Hiroshi, and Misao safe and sound on his back. At the sight of them staring up at him in bewilderment, he grinned and waved his little stick arms at them happily. "Here we are, guys! We're okay!"

"Oh thank Kami-sama!" Sango laughed.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Miroku scratched his head, grinning impishly as all his dark thoughts vanished away. "I knew it was a good idea to bring him along."

End Chapter 18

Author's Notes –

Miss Chang Po – Whew! Man, am I rusty at this! My fingers are soo stiff!

The Divine Nataku – That's cuz it's so freakin' cold! What the heck is up with this weather? It's not supposed to be this cold out yet!

Wufei – Stop your womanish complaining :all decked out in his long white, oh-so cool looking white jacket: If you think it's cold now, just wait until December – ack!

The Divine Nataku - :makes off with his jacket: Yoink!

Wufei – Kisamaaaa! Give that back! It's freezing out here!

The Divine Nataku – Oh, so now it's cold?

Wufei – Injustice!

Miss Chang Po - ……… Um, yeah… like I said, I'm really rusty at this… Nataku insisted I write this chapter, because she really has no idea how to write Miroku and Sango and sad to say I'm realizing that I don't know either… I really wanted to show them progressing a little in their realization of their attractionto each other, but the action just kinda got in the way (I introduced actual villains! Crap!) Hopefully their next chapter will possess more of the fluffiness I'm so looking forward to, but in the meantime, we have to get back to Inu Yasha and Kagome. The story was supposed to focus on them, after all. Suffice to say, Divine Nataku will be writing that chapter… so it should be out soon.

The Divine Nataku – :laughs nervously: Now when you say 'soon'…

Miss Chang Po - :sigh: TT;;