I bet you guys thought I'd given up on poor little Inuki, huh::hands out cookies: Rest assured, this and the rest of my uncompleted stories WILL be finished. I have too much in store for Inuki to let him stop at 20 chapters. ;p This chapter is also 4-6 pages longer than usual to make up for the lack of updates. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Theyre not mine. Please don't sue me Takahashi-sensei.
Chapter Twenty-One : Tricks of the Trade
So this is the famous Shikon no Tama…
Katsuseki knelt in front of Sadako, holding out the ball. The blind girl's hand reached out, clawed fingers brushing over the smooth surface of the jewel. Katsuseki watched for any change in her, brushing away his red hair with his free hand. Finally Sadako pulled away, shaking her head.
"That means it's true then. What we thought about that brat hanyou."
Yes, I would say so. Inuki contains the Soul of the Jewel within his own body. The amplifying power of the Tama is gone. I feel nothing.
"I'm sorry, Sada…" Katsuseki said softly, cupping the girl's cheek. "I wish there were other ways to cure you."
The girl shook her head again, leaning into his palm. One arm, draped heavily in her long robes, came up to hold his. Do not feel sorry. She told him firmly, We will raise the Master and nothing will be ill anymore. You are helping me as quickly as you can. It is Inuki's weakness that hinders us.
"He wasn't weak when I saw him with this, Sada," Katsuseki warned, shifting on the tatami to sit straighter. Sadako's blank, cream-colored eyes centered on him questioningly, and he continued. "When he held this, his youki changed. It wasn't that of a hanyou, but a full youkai's. And his eyes were different."
I suppose then that this means even though the Jewel's Soul is inside him, it isn't dormant, Sadako mused, lowering her blind gaze to the floor. That gives us a chance then. But we should test this again first.
Katsuseki blinked, one eyebrow raising. "What chance?"
It was shortly before dawn when he awoke. His brown eyes snapped open as though startled awake by a strange dream, blinking rapidly in the thick darkness. A cold shudder ran over his skin, and Inuki raised a hand to his face, leaning into his palm. The hanyou could easily sense the presence of Souta, sleeping in the top bunk of the bed they shared. The box fan stood half-leaned against the dresser, its dull roar drowning out any noises that might keep him awake, and blowing cool air over him.
It was usually a perfect combination to put him to sleep. His mother had always had a fan in his room when he was a baby, and it had conditioned him so deeply that now he couldn't go to sleep unless the fan was on. Even odder was the fact that if someone turned it off, he snapped awake.
He wished it could be blamed on the fan that he was currently in the world of the waking instead of curled back up under his blankets, dreaming of ramen or some such nonsense. Tonight, the same as the past week, sleep had come slowly, and what came was hardly enough to be called good. On the outer edges of his consciousness, he could feel that he was shivering, and it wasn't because of the fan's air. He couldn't recall exactly what it was that had woken him aside from it being some frightening dream, and he was glad he couldn't remember it.
Blandly he gazed at his wounded hand. Kagome had put up such a fuss about it, but it truly hadn't hurt. He had removed the bandage days ago, and he stared at it in the manner a scientist has when examining a test subject. The palm of his hand was perfect, unblemished and flawed in no way whatsoever. The depression in his palm, where Kagome had said --and the others agreed-- the Shikon no Tama had been trying to enter him, was gone completely and the blisters that had once lay over his hand left no trace at all. Though it seemed like good news, worry stirred deep in the boy.
Youkai or not…I've never healed this quickly, or this well. I've always guessed that my powers were sleeping inside me, and I was grateful for it. I don't need youryoku in the 21st century. But now that I'm using them, they're starting to wake up…
He narrowed his eyes and poked the skin with his claws as if trying to make it hurt. Anything that would confirm against what he felt was happening to him. But his flesh seemed tougher than usual. Harder to hurt. It was just a little burn, but I've had minor burns before. It never healed like this. He closed his hand, eyes staring at the floor though not seeing it.
Does that mean I'm becoming more like a youkai?
"Augh, this is stupid. Why are we out here in the blistering heat looking for a relic that doesn't even do what its supposed to do anymore?"
Kagome sighed, adding a little whimper to emphasize how exhausted and exasperated she was by the hanyou's complaining. Inuki had known all week that they were coming back to the Sengoku-jidai to search for the Jewel --which Kagome never hesitated to remind him that they wouldn't have had to had he not flung it into the wilderness-- and he hadn't stopped bellyaching yet. He walked at her side, a disgruntled frown on his lean face, his backpack on one arm and Tessaiga slung on his back. Now that I think about it, Kagome thought, it looks really weird there… Inuyasha always wore it at his hip.
She readjusted her own pack's strap, as it was starting to slip from her shoulder, and groaned a little. Should've brought my bicycle, she muttered mentally, pausing to tap her sneakers against the ground. Then she turned to the boy. "If you hadn't--"
He cut her off with a loud, boisterous groan, stomping ahead. "I know, I heard you the first eighteen-thousand times: 'If it wasn't for INUKI, who flung it into God-knows-where, we wouldn't have to look for it anyway.' I get it, I get it, I get it. Shut the hell up already."
As intended, his last comment shut her up, but not for long. "What! How dare you yell at me like that! Don't act like this is my fault! We have to do this because it's our job!"
He turned back, and Kagome suddenly found her overzealous attitude doused with the cold vibe coming from him. Inuki leaned forward, bringing his face close to her own. "It's dead, Kagome. The core of the Jewel is in me, so what do we need the ball for? It's not like it can give youkai power now," he said for the seventh time.
That's true, Kagome thought to herself, then realizing another concerning little tidbit: if the core was inside Inuki, wouldn't it be safer to go back home anyway? Youkai would probably sense the aura of the Jewel and come looking for it, only to find a grumpy hanyou…. She shook her head.
"That's not the point. We have to try and get the core out of you and rejoin it with the jewel. We have to have the jewel for that," she argued, and Inuki grunted with exasperation. Kagome snorted, sounding skeptical. What in the WORLD does he have to be exasperated with ME for?
Now that she looked at him though, Kagome noticed subtle differences in the way he stood, the way he moved. He walked slower, shoulders sagging as if tired. His eyelids hung half-mast, and dark shadows were under his eyes. He hardly looked alive, much less capable of looking for a rock the diameter of an 100-yen piece.
That nagged at her worry center; Inuki slept a lot. Even Mama and Jiichan had noticed his unusual preoccupation with getting a good night's sleep. It seemed all he ever DID was sleep, and when he did, he was capable of snoozing right on through a storm. For him to be lacking in sleep was meandering off into Bizarroland. "Inuki-kun, didn't you get enough sleep last night?"
"No, I had too much on my mind," he replied, yawning and rubbing at his eyes.
Kagome frowned, looking disappointed. "Why didn't you say something? We could have waited until tomorrow," she folded her arms, looking down the road. He can be so much like Inuyasha sometimes, it's aggravating. Usually he's an open book, tells people what he's thinking. Something really gets on his mind though and up come the Inuyasha-like barriers.
Well, Kagome thought to herself with a sigh, nothing to be done about that. She adjusted her bag on her shoulder, pausing for a moment to glance around. Most of the area surrounding the path they were on was forest, and a small branch of the river flowed less than a mile away to the south. She knew for certain that a village was on the other side of the creek. Hardly too much of a distance to walk so that her exhausted companion could rest.
She turned to look at him; he was still walking, slower now, his head hanging and eyes closed. His breathing was deeper as well. Did he fall asleep while he was walking? She wondered in a dumbstruck awe, at the same time heading back towards him and giving his arm a gentle tug. "Inuki-kun, are you asleep?"
He didn't even open his eyes, and his reply was but a murmur. "Hm.. No. Just resting my eyes."
"Uh-huh," said the young woman skeptically, an amused smile on her face. "C'mon. There's a little spot by the river not too far from here. We'll go ahead and make camp and you can catch up on your 40 winks. Looks like you're about 37 short."
Inuki was snoring softly by the time they reached the first house, and Kagome was still in a state of mild awe how he could sleep and walk at the same time. She supposed it helped that she was holding his hand and leading him like he was a three year old in a mall, but she estimated that she would've swooned and collapsed by now regardless of assistance.
The town, at first glance, seemed like any normal village, but it was only as she drew closer that Kagome began to notice the awful shape the fields were in. Large ditches scarred the fields, half-grown vegetables strewn in broken clumps. Several houses were in a ramshackle state, others reduced to piles of broken wood.
In the center of the village, the townspeople were grouped around something of interest and children hung around the backs of the adults' legs like stray dogs, attempting to squeeze in past the adults to the middle of the circle. All of them were hollering and whooping, making a general ruckus, so much that she couldn't make out much of what was being said. What was clear to her though was the weapons --spears, swords, even farming hoes-- in the hands of every villager. Even the children carried rocks.
"Let mee GOOO!"
Kagome heard the shrill little voice as she came closer, and her joints stiffened. The strap of her bag slipped off her slackened shoulders, dropping down to hang awkwardly at the crook of her elbow. The sudden broken connection with her hand startled Inuki awake. "I'm not asleep," he professed.
Kagome let the bag fall to the ground and ran into the crowd, shoving and pushing past people. "Move, get out of my way! MOVE!" She broke out on the other side, half gasping, eyes wide as she searched the empty circle surrounded by the villagers, eyes blindly looking for the one crying out, desperate to know if it was who she thought it was.
The kit was bound around the arms with rope, sitting on the ground. Tears of fright were in his eyes, and he leveled brightly glittering blue eyes on Kagome, revealing a nasty bruise on the right side of his jaw. The instant he saw her, his eyes widened, and he yelped, mouth breaking into a broad smile. "KAGOME!"
The villagers' hollering and carrying on ceased almost immediately, and Kagome rushed forward, gathering the kit into her arms in a tight hug. He was bawling. "Kagome! Kagome!"
"Oh, Shippou-chan!" She kissed his tiny cheek, "I'm so sorry it took me so long to come home!"
"I missed you!" He wailed, "Miroku and Sango kept saying you might come back and so I didn't know if I could leave, but you stayed away so long, so I left but now you're back again! I'm never leaving again!"
Kagome was suddenly taken out of her heartfelt reunion when one of the more belligerent villagers grabbed her by the arm, whipping her around. "Drop that fiend!" he roared angrily, "We're going to kill it!"
"What has he done!" Kagome demanded, yanking her arm back. Never taking her eyes off the man, she untied the ropes that bound Shippou's arms and held him close, protectively. The kit, although having grown a bit bigger in the past few months, gripped handfuls of her shirt in his tiny fists and hid his face as though he were an infant. The angry young man looked about to spout some retort in reply to Kagome's question, but another villager, middle-aged and a far bit calmer, rested a hand on his shoulder. "Shokichi, lighten up." The man turned to Kagome, stepping forward.
"Forgive my young friend, he is a hot-headed one. I am the headman of this village, Einosuke." He gestured at Shippou, turning his own angry gaze on the redheaded young youkai. "That youkai's been destroying our fields, scaring our women and children for the past month. Now that we've finally caught it, we're going to exterminate it."
Shippou leaned forward to yell at the man. "I toldja, ya ugly old fart, I haven't even been around this area that long! I couldn't have done it!" The younger man, Shokichi, leaned forward to yell in Shippou's face as well.
"Who's gonna take the word of a youkai mongrel brat like you!" he demanded, and Kagome gently pushed him away, her brown eyes flashing defiantly at him. Her arms closed around Shippou to further guard him from the angry villagers.
"I will." A small gasp rolled through the crowd, but Kagome stood confidently. "Shippou-chan's like my little brother, I trust him. If he says that he didn't do anything, it means he didn't do anything." She felt a gentle, thankful nuzzle against her collarbone from Shippou.
"He's the only youkai around; who else could've?" cried a woman from the sidelines. A second man nodded, raising his sword up to emphasize his point as he hooted accordance. Kagome grit her teeth, looking at the woman who had yelled at her and preparing to chew her out when abruptly, a chorus of cries came from the back of the group.
"Uh.." Kagome made a quiet half-noise as she watched villagers being shoved and pushed aside. Inuki carelessly tossed them aside by the backs of their shirts in his blind effort to reach her, leaving a wake of angry and embarrassed people.
The sleepy hanyou didn't so much as blink; he just marched onward with a dazed, exhausted expression, stopping right in front of Kagome and glaring down her. "You said we were going to ask them if I could sleep here, not start a fight."
"Ah…" Kagome looked down at Shippou at his sudden sharp intake of breath. The kit was staring in shock, his bottom jaw shaking, eyes quivering with more tears. Kagome realized instantly the cause of his sudden catatonia. This is the first time he's met Inuki-kun… Shippou-chan loved Inuyasha as much as I did.. he was like his older brother…
"Kagome" Inuki whined, and the miko turned to him, looking incredulous. "I-nu-ki-KUN! I don't know if you noticed, but I'm having a bit of a situation here! If you could descend from your you-oriented cloud of selfishness, could you maybe help me out a bit!"
"Alright, alright, you don't have to yell.." The teenager turned, allowing his bag to fall to the ground. He drew Tessaiga from his back, aiming the demon blade at the villager in front of him. He seemed to forget that his center of gravity had changed, and his sleepy body swayed slightly, toppling forward. He groaned, catching himself and then spreading his feet apart to steady himself. He nodded at Shokichi. "Okay, let's do this, I wanna go to sleep."
"What the hell is this?" Shokichi asked, not quite sure what Inuki intended to do. His eyes were still closed, and from the look of the blunt, rusted over sword in his hand, the kid wasn't planning on doing much damage.
"If anything you are making it worse!" Kagome screamed, letting Shippou drop to the ground and stomping over to grab Tessaiga's hilt and try to pull it away from Inuki. Even being half-asleep, the boy had a grip.
"Kagome, leggo, this is my sword!"
"Not right now it isn't, you're holding it at a human! It won't even transform for you, you idiot!"
Inuki opened his eyes, looking at the sword. His eyes opened slightly, his eyebrows raising in an expression of surprise. "Oh, yeah. I didn't notice." He allowed Kagome to yank it away from him, and just stood there looking dazed. He yawned while Kagome frantically resheathed the sword, and then looked at Einosuke, the headman.
"Sorry about him, he's exhausted. Listen," she clasped her hands together pleadingly, "We'll find whatever youkai is doing this to your village, but I swear that it isn't Shippou-chan. If you'll let us have a room for today so my companion can sleep, we'll track down that youkai tomorrow morning."
"How do we know we can trust you, and that you're not this kitsune's parents in disguise, trying to get him taken home?" Shokichi demanded, and Kagome grimaced, cursing the wariness of the villagers.
"Fine," she sighed, shrugging. "We'll sleep in the woods tonight--"
"That still doesn't do anything for my theory that you're the adult kitsune," Shokichi said darkly, crossing his arms. Kagome raised one eyebrow, both annoyed and impressed by his obstinacy. Even as much as Einosuke had quieted the hot-headed younger man's attempts at intimidating the young miko and her crew, Kagome frowned when she realized he agreed with Shokichi's point and was giving her an apologetic but stern glare. Shippou leaned close to Kagome's ear, putting his hand up to hide his whisper.
"Kagome, I could use my magic and sneak us out of here."
"True, but that would hardly do anything good for their trust in us."
Shippou sagged, knowing she was right, and Kagome turned to the mob. "What would you prefer?"
"Somehow, I hadn't expected… this."
Kagome stared at the door of the tiny hut as if it were a difficult algebra problem she had to solve. The wooden door was covered in o-fuda, as were the walls and the roof. There was only one small window to let the little room breathe, but not a great deal else was left. It was the shed the village used to keep their winter stores, and thus it stank of pickled vegetables. But it was nearly empty, Kagome noticed; most of what was inside was just hay, and it littered the floor as their makeshift beds for tonight.
It was still midday, the blue sky and warm light outside was proof of that. Shokichi and a few other young men had been ordered to tie Kagome, Shippou and Inuki up, even though the hanyou was already sawing logs and therefore hardly a threat. While the village miko had sealed the shed, Inuki leaned against Kagome's shoulder and slept on until they were untied and forcibly shoved into the shed. It was then sealed from the outside and after that, no one disturbed them.
They must've forgotten us, Kagome thought with an angry expression, I hear them toiling out there without any thought to if we're even alive in here.
"This reminds me of that week Inuyasha shoved you down the well for," Shippou said suddenly, and Kagome turned to look at him. "Really?"
The kit nodded, sitting on a pile of hay near Inuki. He was glancing every so often at the hanyou as he spoke, his small face showing sadness and nostalgia far too old for his young years. "Inuyasha wouldn't sit still and let his wounds heal, so Kaede and Miroku put him in a sealed hut just like this one." Then the boy smiled, sounding embarrassed as he added, "He got upset when I turned into you to try and calm him down. He really missed you, but he was so stubborn. He wouldn't admit it."
Kagome chuckled, leaving the door and settling on the hay next to Inuki. She reached into her backpack and dug through it, finding some bottled water and a few bags of chips for them to munch on, and she handed one of each to Shippou. "Here. Doesn't look like they're going to be feeding us anytime soon. They still think we're youkai."
"Well, I am," Shippou reminded her, and Kagome looked irked. "Well, that's true. You probably couldn't get out of here then, huh?"
The kit shook his head, his mouth stuffed full of chips. Swallowing, he gestured to Inuki, who was snoring lightly, stretched out on a mat of hay with a sort of reckless abandon, even in sleep. "What about that guy?" Shippou wondered. He inched forward, hesitant about the new stranger that looked so much like his deceased friend, and sniffed at Inuki. "I smell youkai in him. We're screwed."
"Well, I can get out, I'm human," Kagome said, "But I really don't think getting out is an option anyway. We came in here to build their trust in us. If they open the door and one of us is missing, they'd be really upset." She went poking through the bag, setting things aside. "I only brought enough food for me and Inuki anyway, I'd hate to use it all up in one night…"
"He smells like Inuyasha…"
Kagome blinked at the sudden change of topic, and looked down at Shippou. He was staring at Inuki, tears welling up in his eyes. The kit sniffled loudly, rubbing his nose. "I mean, it's enough to tell he's not, but it still sorta smells like him." The kit looked up pitifully. "Is this guy… Inuyasha's reincarnation? Like you were with Kikyou?"
The girl nodded absently. Shippou frowned. "Do you still cry about Inuyasha? I mean before you left, if anybody even said his name you would start crying… and a little while ago when I was telling you about that time, you didn't even look sad, you smiled!" Shippou looked a little disappointed, and definitely confused. "Don't you miss him anymore?"
"Every single day, Shippou-chan," Kagome admitted, her voice quieting with the weight of her grief. "I never stop thinking about him." The kit nodded, his head hanging.
"I never stop thinking about him either." She heard the tell-tale snuffle as he wiped his nose, and Shippou glanced offhandedly at Inuki. "After you left, I just felt so.. alone. Inuyasha was gone, and then you left me too. Even though Miroku and Sango were there I couldn't help but feel like I did right after Okaa and Otou died. I hated it."
Kagome looked down, biting her lip. I'm so sorry, she whispered, so softly that even a youkai's hearing wouldn't have caught it. The next words were still only a thought in midway between her mind and her throat. I'm sorry I left you. I don't know how I can make it up to you.. if I even can. I shouldn't have left you…
"After awhile, when you didn't come back, I finally just realized that I had to grow up. That when you did come back, I had to be different. I couldn't be the same little brat you left, that Inuyasha used to pick on. So me and Myouga-jii took Otou's fur and went back to my home to make a memorial for him. I was on my way back when these guys grabbed me," Shippou concluded, and Kagome nodded absently, taking in the kit's words, digesting every syllable until her head snapped up.
"Wait, Myouga-jiichan was with you?"
Kagome narrowed her eyes with a somewhat-annoyed grunt of disapproval. "He probably ran off when you got lynched, huh?" Shippou nodded knowingly.
Something was itchy in his shirt. Inuki squirmed where he lay, trying to fight off the antagonist, but that seemed to only irritate his back even further. He finally sat up with a gruff, aggravated glare, taking off his shirt and shaking it in one motion.
A few pieces of straw slipped out and he glared at the inanimate objects reprimandingly, tossing the shirt aside and falling back onto the straw and mostly back to sleep. That was until he felt another itch.
This time it felt like a prick into his skin, growing more and more irritating with every passing second, and its motions more and more like that a of a bug. He slapped it.
"Ow," he heard faintly, and instantly his curiosity --though subdued greatly by sleep-- was piqued. He lifted his hand and glanced down at his bare chest where a bug about an inch tall sat, flattened by the force of his slap. He had a little round, mostly bald head and four arms. No mouth, just a pointed sucker and antennae in addition to huge, bulgy eyes. The old-man bug-thing puffed himself out and grinned at him.
"Inuyasha-sama! It's so wonderful to see you, I thought you were--"
"This is a weird dream," Inuki mumbled, yawning as he slapped the bug-man again. The creature leapt out between clawed fingers.
"Inuyasha-sama, this is not a dream! It's me, Myouga!" With that, Inuki reached out, plucking the whatever-it-was and holding him between two fingers. Gently squeezing, he glared.
"Look, I'm not Inuyasha, for one thing. Secondly, I don't know any Myouga."
"Is that so" Myouga whimpered as his eyes bulged out even more, desperately hoping the enormous hanyou holding him would loosen up the squeezing. Inuki did so without having to be asked; he dropped him onto a pile of hay nearby. Landing without even so much as a sound, Myouga looked up at the young man he'd mistaken for his master. "I was so certain you were Inuyasha-sama though. You look a great deal like him, though you don't have the same eyes. But now that I think about it, your blood tastes similar, but not the same. So who are you?"
"What does it matter to you?" the boy asked, still quite a bit befuddled by this whole experience. He grimaced as he caught the rest of that. "And what do you mean my blood? What are you, a vampire demon?"
"That's stupid," Myouga said reproachfully, "I'm a flea demon. My name is Myouga. I was Inuyasha-sama's retainer from the time when he was very young, up until his untimely death."
"Uh-huh," Inuki grunted, raising one eyebrow as he quickly pondered that mental image: Inuyasha, a dog demon, having a flea demon as a servant. Figures that he had fleas… Guy probably scratched his ears with his feet and drank out of the toilet too. "Look, this is all very interesting, but I was catching up on some sleep, so if you'll kindly go do something else…"
"Inuki-kun?" Kagome's voice wafted over through the dark room, which Inuki only now realized was indeed pitch-black. Where the day had gone, he was uncertain; probably slept through it now that he remembered how exhausted he'd been when they arrived. It only then occurred to him he could see perfectly in the dark. Probably another one of my youkai powers... he thought uneasily.
Kagome was curled up against a pile of hay across the room. She'd pulled off her windbreaker, and had it laid out over her as a blanket. A tiny body was curled up next to hers, a fluff of chestnut brown tail sticking out of one end. "What's that?" Inuki asked.
"Oh. Shippou-chan. You don't remember? The villagers were picking on him when we got here."
"Oh. No, I guess I was really tired…" Inuki stood. He made a sound under his breath that sounded aggravated, and then reached into his pocket, pulling out a lighter and flicking it. Instantly the flame lit everything in the small shed, and Kagome squinted at the sudden invasion on her eyes. "Oh," Inuki frowned, cupping his hand around it to shield her from it. "Sorry…"
"No, it's okay," the miko replied, smiling at him. He didn't return the gesture, and from the look on his face, it was obvious he didn't know where he was, so Kagome explained. After she was finished, the boy grimaced, making another of those grunts that told her in so many volumes how annoyed he was.
"So… stuck in a shed. Well, no offense, but I have to take care of some business, so I'm going to get out of here." He left Kagome making a disgusted face at the inclusion of his "business," heading over to the door. His fingers mere inches from the door, Kagome finally thought to say out loud,
"Inuki-kun, I don't think that's a good--"
"Ow!" He flinched back from the door, a harsh sizzling and a bright crackling of electricity shooting between his hand and the door. Faint trails of smoke rose from both the wood and his flesh, and Inuki looked down at his singed fingertips. They were bright red.
"--idea," Kagome finished. "There're wards on the door that prevent demons from escaping."
"Well, we've got to get out of here." He stood quietly for a moment, and Kagome could almost see the lightbulb flicker to life on top of his head. Inuki handed the lighter to her and she held it up, allowing the light to wash over the dark room, and she watched him turn and go back to the straw he'd slept on.
With a wicked grin, the hanyou drew the nicked blade he had inherited from his previous life and aimed it at the wall. "I'll bust down the door!"
The scream that came from outside startled them all, even waking Shippou. The kit sat up with a yelp and looked about the room in a fright, and Inuki frowned at the door, having only his imagination to help him wonder what was going on outside. "What the--"
"It must be the demon!" Kagome cried, pulling herself to her feet and snatching up her bow and arrows in the same motion. She darted past Inuki and flung open the door, running outside even as the startled hanyou stared in horror at the open door.
He followed three thoughts later, sounding irritated. "I thought you said we were stuck!"
Kagome ignored him, looking around for the source of the screams. She didn't have to wait long before yet another scream sounded, closer this time, and the three of them spun. Down the street, a thick cloud of dust was rising from the rapid motions of something fighting against the villagers.
They ran towards it, gasping when they recognized Shokichi amongst the wounded sitting underneath the trees. Kagome jogged over to him, kneeling and inspecting his shoulder. "Shokichi-san!"
"You guys…" Shokichi said in wonder, his face changing in the instant after to anger. "How did you get out of the shed…?" Kagome didn't reply; instead, she looked up at Inuki, giving him a meaningful nod. The boy nodded in agreement to her unspoken suggestion and ran ahead. Kagome turned back to the wounded villager, tightening the bandage on his shoulder to hinder the bleeding. For a moment he just glared at her, his expression part angry, part stupefied.
"I… I don't understand," he finally mumbled, his eyes betraying the deep wariness he felt. Shippou was sitting on Kagome's bag, watching her work quietly. He grimaced, sending a rather nasty glare at the hot-headed young villager.
"Kagome's human, idiot," Shippou told him bluntly. Kagome nodded, finishing her tending and adding, "We're demon hunters. I wish you had been able to trust us beforehand, but that's the way it goes. Flex your fingers for me, is the bandage too tight?"
Shokichi shook his head, clenching his hand as asked. Satisfied, Kagome stood, looking down the road towards the battle taking place. Unconsciously reacting to her worry, her hand tightened to a fist, and then she looked at Shokichi. "What kind of demon is it, do you know?"
"Like him," the villager replied, glaring at Shippou.
Huh? Kagome looked at Shippou, and the kit looked surprised. "Me?"
Despite the obvious damage to the village and the wounded townspeople, Inuki couldn't help but gape at the demon, stupefied beyond speech at the whole thing. You… have GOT… to be kidding me…
A large pink bubble-gum ball with bulging beady eyes floated in front of him like a huge target, its annoying little voice laughing sarcastically, and for a moment Inuki thought he was dreaming. Surely there was no youkai who actually thought this intimidating. The blue ethereal flames that surrounded the area certainly made the possibility that he was dreaming much more of a likely reality.
"OI! You stupid idiot! You wanna take a swing at me, little punk! I dare ya!" the thing croaked, the speaking style rough and informal, like a country boy.
Somehow, that voice is familiar and annoying at the same time, he growled to himself, readying himself to attack. The creature didn't really seem all that menacing; he's probably all mouth. Doesn't seem to have any strength behind him at all.
Taking off again with a roaring battle cry, Inuki swung the Tessaiga downwards, cracking the youkai in the head. It let out a squeak of pain before suddenly disappearing in a puff of smoke. When the smoke cleared, Inuki could only gape again at what was floating before him.
"Heh, so you have some strength after all! Take this then!" The Shippou lookalike transformed again in a second puff of smoke, and this time when it cleared a comical abstract of a great bear was in its place. It attacked immediately, and Inuki found himself struggling to dodge; the creature was much faster than it seemed, its cinderblock sized paws swiping at everything it could reach.
"Inuki-sama! Use the Kaze no Kizu!"
"Eh!" Inuki's ears perked, and he turned about in wonder, unsure of where the little voice had come from. He recognized it as Myouga, but before he could ask where the damned flea was, the bear's claws tore into his shoulder.
"AGH!" Inuki clutched at his shredded shoulder, and he darted around the bear, propping himself up on Tessaiga. Dammit! This thing is fast! I can't even begin to get a hit in! As the demon began to turn its massive bulk, the boy swung out towards the bears' spine, but it darted forward and out of his range, letting out a roar of incredible ferocity that made the hair on the back of Inuki's neck stand on end.
Despite the fear coiling in the pit of his stomach, he couldn't help but feel excited. With every dodge and half-swing, his blood heated up more and more, rocketing through his veins and sending the fever of battle to the surface. A feverish hunger for fighting, for blood, that he had never felt before was beginning to swell in his chest, and the hanyou had to pause to regain his focus.
Dammit, it's happening. He looked down at his hand with wide eyes; the nails were lengthening. His demon energy was collecting around him in warm waves, and he saw red. He shut his eyes. No, I'm turning into a youkai again! WHY?
"Inuki-kun, watch out!"
Kagome suddenly yelled out from somewhere behind him as if reaching out for him in the dark, and Inuki gasped out loud, feeling the transformation fade. Snapping back, he saw the bear looming on its hindlegs over him, preparing to strike.
I can't move!
TWANG! The sound of a bowstring being plucked echoed in his ears, and the next instant, Kagome's purified arrow was embedded in the demon's arm. The bear gave a short grumble of pain before disappearing in another puff of smoke. The group watched the Shippou-lookalike squeal in agony before it dissipated into nothingness.
The Shikon no Tama dropped to the ground with a soft clink and rolled out of sight down a nearby hill. Inuki grit his teeth, growling under his breath. It had the jewel.. That's why I was about to transform…
"Inuki-kun, are you alright?" Kagome dashed to his side, undertones of worry in her gentle voice. She knelt by the panting teenager, and her breath caught in her throat when she saw the purple stripes fading on his cheekbones. "What happened?"
"The thing had the jewel," he groaned, "I don't know why I was transforming, I wasn't even holding it.." He took a deep breath, thankful to let the rest of the transformation die away. He sat up, gesturing with his chin in the direction of the jewel. "It landed over there."
"I'll get it!" said Shippou, the real Shippou this time, and scampered out of sight. Kagome took Inuki's arm, helping him to his feet, and he levered himself up with Tessaiga. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a tiny speck bouncing up onto Kagome's shoulders from the ground, and he snatched it from the air mid-pounce.
"YOU! Where the hell were you! Yelling out "Use the Kaze no Kizu" like I know what the hell you mean! You're over there by the sidelines! What kind of a retainer are you?"
"Gamyou" Myouga croaked, his eyes bulging out even more than usual as Inuki squeezed him. Kagome chuckled softly, patting Inuki's forearm and leaving him to his business. She headed down the hill where she could see Shippou moving from spot to spot, looking for the jewel. Lucky! She thought to herself, First day out and we've already found it! I wish looking for the fragments had been this easy!
"Did you get it yet Shippou-chan?" she asked, and the little kit looked up, a frantic expression on his face. "Kagome, it's not here! The Jewel is gone!"
From the cover of the trees, a youkai watched with dark eyes, rolling the Jewel back and forth between its palms.
…To be continued
a/n : You know, aside from the general difficulty of writing this chapter because of the not-knowing where I wanted to go with it, the hardest scene to write was Inuki's sleeping scenes. Im sort of like a method actor; I internalize emotion and find that situation in myself in order to write.
So I kept falling asleep while writing it. :yawn: Do you know how hard it is to concentrate when every three seconds, you have to yawn, and blink water from your eyes, and stretch? Ugh. Not to mention that yawning is contagious; all I have to do is READ the word "yawn" and I'm yawning. Ugh part two.
But you have the result of my.. tiresome work in your hands. (Figuratively speaking, of course.) I hope you guys like it. You should know that I HATE this chapter. I think it's the worst piece of "telling, not showing" drivel I've ever written. But I need to get past it to get anywhere with this story, and I don't wanna let you guys down after all. I'd hate to leave this incomplete. ;)