CHAPTER 1

            He felt its absence immediately—that familiar tingle, that ever-present ripple of power and energy that wrapped itself around his side like a banner sleeve.  At first there was fear at the unfamiliarity, and then a moment of absolute joy.  He flexed the fingers in his left hand.

            When he realized he couldn't feel his fingers, terror fell back upon him.  Above his wrist there was a wall of pain… beyond it, nothing.

             "Don't look," a weary voice advised.

             "I'll have to look sometime," Miroku replied.  His thick and swollen throat wasn't quite enough to hide the anxiety in his tone.  "I would think you'd be the first to tell me to live with it and move on," he added, and not kindly.

            Inuyasha sighed, and stood up with a rustling of his robes.  He didn't take the bait.

             "Get some more sleep, monk.  We set out again for Kaede's village in three days, and if you're coming then you'd better start healing fast.  I'm going to go see the women and tell Kagome you woke up."

            Miroku waited until the hanyou was almost to the door of the tiny one-room hut—where had all the wounded people and the makeshift hospital gone?  He couldn't hear them, and was still not willing to look away from the black shadows of the thatch roof.  Ah, they were a worry for someone else, at this point—before speaking in return. "This kind of wound doesn't heal."

            Inuyasha snorted, unimpressed.  "Neither did the other wound, when you had it."  Bright light of midday poured into the hut for a moment, before the curtain slipped back into place and all was muted darkness once more.

            It would be several more hours before Kagome, limping with a crutch at her side and a Shippou in her arms, came to visit him, and the Lady of the village arrived long before then.  She looked in appearance like so many had met in his travels—not the prettiest, not the ugliest, both fair of locks and graceful of form.  She knelt at his left side, and placed her hand comfortingly on his shoulder.  It was a breach of etiquette that was meant to bring comfort, and in another time would have worked well.  But Miroku dared not turn and look at her as befit one of her station; he knew his eyes would make the inevitable drop to his side.  He knew that the moment he saw his crippled limb the loss would become truly real.

            "It was I who ordered the severing of your wrist from your arm, Master Miroku, and it grieves me beyond measure to inflict such pain one who has saved my people from a terrible fate in the bellies of the demons.  You and your companions are the reason that our village still stands and that our fields do not wither, or burn.  You have our eternal thanks, and will never lack for shelter here."

            Miroku sighed.  Suddenly it all seemed too much, having their great deeds read back to him while he lay there, recovering from wasp poison and too scared to look at his own body. 

             "It couldn't be helped, I suppose?"

             "No, it could not.  The beads seemed ready to shatter while you lay in a hospital full of two hundred souls.  And I would not have one of our saviors die when I knew of a way to save you."

            "You're lucky my curse didn't kill you all," Miroku snapped.  He immediately bit his tongue, and cursed silently before apologizing.  "I beg your pardon, Lady."

            "You are forgiven, Master Miroku.  May the gods keep you strong."  Carefully the woman stood, the warm hand leaving his shoulder.  Now that the safe touch of human comfort was gone, he realized he missed it already.

            "My Lady?" he called out quickly.  She paused near the heavy curtain door, much as his half demon comrade had before. 

            "Yes?"

            "One of my companions was a woman in warrior's clothing, a demon-slayer for hire.  Do you know how she fares?"

            "That one is two huts down, with the others of your band.  Her body is mostly whole, but she has not wakened in two days.  Rest, and you will surely see her soon."

            Miroku closed his eyes and nodded.  Time to stop feeling sorry for himself and face reality, it seemed.  He was not going to hide from the truth of his own body and the results of his choices when Sango did not even have that simple luxury of consciousness.  When he was sure the young matriarch was gone, he raised his left arm and opened his eyes.