Kagome was spent. Her breath came in ragged gasps that burned her lungs, and her legs were no longer obeying her. She stumbled her way forward, desperately seeking some way to leave behind Inuyasha, Sesshoumaru, and the possibility that she was losing her mind...

I can't run forever, she thought numbly. Blood seeped from countless cuts on her arms and legs, courtesy of the thick underbrush and tree branches that seemed to grope for her as she passed by. The places where Inuyasha had gripped her were throbbing with each thump of her racing heart…

The world was fuzzing about the edges, as if she needed to turn a knob or two in order to bring everything back into proper focus. When she would stop to blink and stare, the trees seemed to slip away when she looked directly at them. Fear gripped her and she would break into a desperate run once more. I can't take much more. I'm just not strong enough!

It may have been minutes or hours that passed as Kagome ran like one possessed, but due to the fact that time had lost all meaning to her, she was not sure. The disconcerting appearance of the forest had worsened, now taking on a sapphire glow. She made sure to not look in one direction for long, as the trees slipped about in her vision and the sky shuddered and lurched. There was a sickening, wrong feeling about the world that she could feel as surely as the terror that held her in its firm grip.

Suddenly the Goshinboku stood before her, as unchanged as the day she had first discovered a hanyou pinned to it, held in a deep slumber by a single arrow. Sleeping peacefully, until her voice had woken him.

Kagome fell to her knees, chest heaving as she panted, trying to catch her breath. The tree remained solid and true, and she could almost weep for joy at such a sight. How did I get here, she wondered, but was too weary to be as confused as she should have been.

"How did you get here?" A voice she knew penetrated through the haze of Kagome's jumbled thoughts. A voice she recognized instantly. Kagome cringed and rose to her feet, turning about to greet the person approaching her.

"Kikyou," she muttered, staring at eyes quite similar to her own. "I… don't know," she whispered, fighting back the urge to dissolve into tears. She couldn't- no, wouldn't- allow that in front of Kikyou, of all people. "I think I may have lost my mind," she muttered, and closed her eyes. Kagome wished she could just lay down and sleep, to surrender to the sudden urge she had to simply give up.

Yes, a voice whispered to her.

"Kagome!" Kikyou's sharp voice pierced the fog Kagome had found herself in, and her eyes snapped open. She stared blearily at the priestess.

"If you surrender now, all is lost. You must fight it," Kikyou said quietly. Kagome's eyes widened. "You… do you know what's happening to me? What this place is?"

Kikyou held her glance. "I have no power here. You must fight your own demons to free yourself from the demon that has you in his grip. If you give in to him, he will destroy you," Her tone was matter-of-fact.

"I don't know how to fight this! How can I fight what I can't even see? If I had a bow and a target, I would know how to fight back!" Kagome exclaimed desperately.

"Even without Inuyasha to protect you?" Kikyou replied coldly. Kagome's jaw clenched. "I don't always need to be protected," she protested, somewhat lamely. She heard the lie in her own words. She could never survive in the feudal era without Inuyasha to protect her. That was why she had broken the seal that had held him fast for 50 years; so he would fight a monster for her. He had protected her ever since. Until she had fallen… Her heart sank slightly at the thought of the hurt his failure had surely caused him.

Yet none of that mattered right now. She was frustrated at her own weakness. There was no Inuyasha here to help her now. No Sesshoumaru, for that matter.

"I may not be as strong as Inuyasha, as good a fighter as Sango, or have as powerful a weapon as Miroku. But I'm not a defenseless child, either," Kagome declared, hands fisted at her sides.

"Prove it," Kikyou said, and disappeared.

Kagome stared at the spot where Kikyou had been only a moment before. I'm not losing my mind. I'm in some kind of trap. I just need to find a way out. She turned her back to the spot and looked up into the towering branches of the tree, and placed a hand upon the ancient bark of the Goshinboku. She took a deep, trembling breath, then squared her shoulders and walked back into the forest.

The demon raged with a fury he had not felt in his hundreds of years of claiming victims. This… This small, insignificant little girl was fighting him, refusing to offer her weakened soul to him. How she had allowed that priestess into his domain he did not know, but now she was no longer full of confusion and desperation. And his time was running out… It was time to redouble his efforts.

You will not escape me!

"Inuyasha… When are you going to go get Kagome?" The bright eyes of the fox demon held him in their grip. "Why are you letting her stay with Sesshoumaru? Did you two have a fight?" Shippou asked with an accusatory tone. Inuyasha's jaw clenched and he threw the kit a furious look.

Shippou yelped and darted behind Sango, who was watching Inuyasha carefully from her side of the campfire. She exchanged a Significant Glance with Miroku.

From behind Sango, Shippou continued to throw angry accusations. "You made her mad, didn't you! Even when she was really hurt, I bet you were a real jerk like always, and now she doesn't want to come back!"

"Shut UP!" Inuyasha snarled, fists clenched, his face a storm. Shippou cringed away, huddling into the small of Sango's back.

"Inuyasha!" Sango exclaimed, surprised at the severity of the dog demon's response. Inuyasha turned away with another snarl, ears flat against his head.

"Calm down, Inuyasha. Perhaps it would help if you told us what happened. We care about Kagome as well," Miroku suggested, gesturing for Inuyasha to take a seat. There was some grumbling for a few moments before Inuyasha turned back around and sat before the dancing flames at the fire with a distinct huff. Sango was shocked at the sudden weary expression he wore. He looked tired, and almost… vulnerable.

"I didn't protect her," Inuyasha said flatly. His rage had evaporated as quickly as it had appeared, and his shoulders sagged. "I should have moved faster, fought harder- anything to have kept her from going over that waterfall. I told her before I would protect her. That day, I didn't. She could have died, would have if my bastard brother hadn't been the one to save her…" The fire danced in his golden eyes, his silvery hair shining in the light. His entire expression was one of pain and self-loathing.

"Stop it, Inuyasha!" Sango protested, appalled by the depth of his dismay.

"You can't blame-" Miroku began, but was cut off midsentence by Inuyasha's bitter laugh.

"Yes I can, Miroku! I can blame myself because it is my fault! I never should have let her stay in this time. I sent her back once, and closed the well behind her. It would have been better if she had never come back. It's too dangerous here, and it seems that I'm not strong enough to keep her out of harm's way. I'd rather she be safe at home with her family, than…" his voice trailed off as his eyes hardened.

"Inuyasha, I think that Kagome knows that by being here, she's going to be in danger. She made the decision to continue traveling here to help us, to help you, regardless of that danger! I'm sure that Kagome doesn't blame you for what happened. You are strong Inuyasha, but you cannot be everywhere at once. Kagome has too kind a soul to blame you for that," Sango said, almost pleadingly. "I'm sure you must know the most important reason why she comes here!"

Inuyasha looked away. "No," he grumbled, staring into the dark forest beyond their campsite.

Sango let out a strangled sound of pure frustration. It was easy for her to see why Kagome was always so annoyed with him. How much worse it must be to be in love with someone so frustrating! Her eyes seemed to dart over to Miroku of their own accord but she quickly looked away. Shippou stared from Inuyasha to Sango with his mouth slack, apparently struck speechless by the exchange.

Miroku rubbed at his temple, trying to think of the right words. He knew how he would have felt in Inuyasha's place, had Sango been the one to fall before he could catch her. Sango could take care of herself, of course, but still…

"Why don't we go to her, all of us together?" Miroku asked reasonably. His question was met with a forbidding silence. Inuyasha continued to stare into the darkness, the hilt of Tessaiga in one clenched fist. Shippou's glance darted from Inuyasha to Miroku, who was waiting with quiet patience for a response.

"Fine. Let's go." Inuyasha stood.

Sango exchanged another glance with Miroku. They quietly began gathering their things and quickly stamped out the fire. They made no mention of the fact that it was dark, with dawn many hours away. They wanted Kagome back, and had been waiting for quite some time for Inuyasha to declare that he was going to fetch her after he had arrived hours ago with the announcement that she was alive and well. Now wasn't the time to complain about traveling at night.

Kirara gave a yawn before transforming, appearing somewhat indignant at being awoken. Minutes after Inuyasha's decision to leave, they were headed into the night.

Ah, I did mean to get this uploaded a week ago. I'll try to get another chapter up next week. Enjoy!