AN: I'm trying to wrap this up, if only to finally get it out of my system. Kagome and the OW gang have dwelled in my head so long I'm afraid they might take up permanent residence if I take any longer to finish. (Let's not even talk about how many times I've doodled and drabbled them doing things that aren't even part of the story. How can you even have fanfiction of fanfiction? (But wow, do I want to write Yoshi's back-story so much.))

Chapter Thirty: Clarity

"We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present."
- Anais Nin

-- Translocation --

:: It never ceases to amaze. :: She heard as pain rushed through her, magenta-streaked pink surrounding her. The pain died down as the presence made itself known. :: The arrogance, the heroics, the martyr-syndrome, the disaster-prone. How you scions ever lived long enough to breed continues to remain a mystery.::

"I thought you were gone," Kagome said.

:: We have a little time, thanks to the taiyoukai. Not nearly enough. And now, let us set aside our standard games and do something else entirely. Ask your questions, little miko, and I will answer as best I can. ::

"What's the catch?"

:: Merely your word that you do not wish upon the Shikon no Tama after you retrieve it. ::

"Easy enough," she said. "But the legend says that if you simply make a pure wish on it, it will be destroyed. Why are you telling me not to make a wish?"

:: It's not that simple. You see, miko, the simple act of making a wish is impure. Thus the fact that the Shikon no Tama continues to exist to today, even though countless miko have guarded it and tried to make pure wishes upon it to cease its existence. ::

"Then what I am supposed to do with it?"

:: Why do you think Chame asked if you were really a guardian? You are supposed to guard it. ::

"Is there some sort of time limit on this? Or can I expect things like this to keep happening now that its existence is out?"

:: Your death ends your guardianship. Nothing else. ::

"Great, a curse. I should have guessed."

:: Burden though the jewel may be, it is not cursed. Not for its Guardian, anyway. Anyone else who tried to use it would have their wish backfire on them. Which has, unfortunately, happened before. Take your hanyou for example. ::

"But Mischa didn't know about the jewel. She just knows she's my protector."

:: You don't know just one hanyou, miko. I speak of the inu. ::

"He didn't mention that part of his story," she said.

:: He knew one of the previous guardians. The one who finally managed to destroy the jewel's physical body. I have not decided whether that was a good or bad thing. ::

"The miko from the story. But if she destroyed it, why did I have it?"

The being chuckled in dark amusement. :: Ah, little miko, your naiveté never ceases to amuse me. ::

"It's a valid question."

:: But I have no answer to give you. ::

"You don't know or I'm not allowed to know?"

:: You are moving into waters too deep for you to swim, miko. Ask another. ::

"Why me?"

:: The Meirin family is descended from the creator of the Shikon no Tama. It goes to the firstborn of each generation once the previous Guardian dies. ::

"But Mischa is older than me."

:: She is also part demon. She cannot have magic, and thus cannot be a true Guardian. Which is why she serves as your protector. A less noble job, to be sure, but exciting all the same. ::

"So only a human of my bloodline can carry it?"

:: Yes. Your family has the happy misfortune of being unable to rid itself of human magic. You, for example, are a miko. Your aunt is also one, not to mention having the gift of foresight. Your brother, though he has little training, is an elementalist. Had the wolf's father been human, she would likely have some ridiculous magic to play with as well. ::

"And my mother?"

:: Is a perfectly normal human with an overdeveloped sense of empathy, of course. I would have thought you would have picked up on that by now. You have a similar gift yourself. However, we are out of time. Remember, Kagome. No wishes. No matter what may happen. ::

The pain that had faded while they spoke returned full-force, and Kagome materialized back into the real world screaming, Yoshi slumped unconscious in her arms.

-- Evening, May 23, Niigata, Japan --

"That would be my fault," a masculine voice said from behind them.

The three whirled to see a nine-tailed kitsune standing where Chame had been laying. Sesshoumaru nodded his head. "Yoko-sama," the taiyoukai said. "This Sesshoumaru had wondered how long you were planning on playing dead."

Fukii glanced over to where a dark-haired kitsune lay dead. How long had the two been playing their alternate roles? And how would the genko have been able to impersonate someone so powerful as Yoko without the other taiyoukai noticing? Unless they had been in on it as well. Fukii raised a clawed hand to rub her forehead. Conspiracies within conspiracies, seeing plots and spies everywhere. It was enough to drive one to paranoia and madness.

"It was a trifle more difficult to remove the bonds than I had expected," the redhead explained. "It's been quite some time since someone fooled around with divine magic."

"That has been taken care of," Sesshoumaru said.

"Kinda doubt that," Inu-Yasha disagreed, nodding his head back towards where the dragon had dissolved. "That ain't normal. Not to mention the kid using a power word on him and it working."

Yoko smirked. "My fault," he repeated. "Working through her was easier than doing it myself- she hasn't come into contact with the wolf hanyou recently. I have."

"Where's all that fucking energy going, then? I thought the dragon was bleeding it off of her, with that stupid ceremony you lords were fussing over."

A small frown creased Sesshoumaru's face. He had not stopped the ceremony in quite enough time- the dragon had freed Ryukotsusei from the mountains that had entombed him, but there had been no time to transfer his mind and all the energy of the seals to his original form. Ryukotsusei's mind had died with his brother's body.

"I think," Yoko said, tipping his head backwards to gaze at the sky, "that it was the other way around."

"What are you talking about?" Fukii asked, confused.

"You are aware the wolf hanyou went rogue for a time?" Yoko asked the wolf-girl. She nodded, though Sesshoumaru arched an eyebrow in surprise. "In that form, it appears she has the ability to create youki sinks. And I sensed nothing of that when she appeared here in human form. She should have been brimful of youki, even with the sealing spell the miko had placed on her."

"The dragon had been using her in his ceremony," Sesshoumaru said.

"I was under the impression he would be using Kino's children- their energy would be closest to what he was trying to free, and each controls a different element."

"The phoenix apparently killed the boys. The daughter was there, though."

"Who was air then?" Yoko looked concerned.

"Another scion, it looked like. He had a familiar scent, and a look of the miko. Unconscious, though. The ceremony was pulling all sorts of power from everything in the area."

Fukii's nimble mind made all the connections. "Shan has it. All that power had to have gone somewhere, and if the ceremony was incomplete, it would go to whoever was the nearest match. Souta fell unconscious earlier- someone had tried pulling his mind from him. If that someone had also pulled in Shan-"

"They would only have gotten pieces, since her mind was already split," Sesshoumaru continued. "That was undoubtedly the extra power behind the seals, then."

"That sort of power will crush her mind," Fukii said, wide-eyed. "No mortal- no youkai even- could hope to control it."

"And you people couldn't be bothered to stop him before it came to this?" Inu-Yasha growled, disgusted. "You've signed her death warrant, you bastard."

-- Maebashi, Japan --

Screams woke Souta. He sat up, lifting one hand to his aching head, feeling for a bump. Not finding anything, he looked around blearily.

Bright light was all he noticed first. Strong magenta in one spot, then a plethora of others spiraling into a white beam. He realized the light was the source of the screams. Squinting, he could make out two forms in the magenta, and the spiraling light was heading in his direction. Further out, he could see Ayame, curled up into herself as far from the light as she could get. Figuring she had a reason for it, he scooted backwards, away from the beam. He hadn't gotten very far when he bumped into something soft. He turned to look, already knowing what would be there.

Mischa was curled up into herself, the white energy pulsing around her. Strange choking noises were coming from her throat- like she had completely abused her voice box and no more sound would be forthcoming.

Well, shit.

He reached a hand towards her face. Strong fingers grasped his wrist, stopping him. Souta looked up to see Ayame, a deep frown of concentration and pain on her face.

"Don't touch her. It will just pull you in as well," she explained. "I don't understand what's going on, but we need to get as far away from here as possible."

"I can't just leave her like this," he said, trying to pull out of her grip.

"Souta-kun, no mortal can hold that amount of energy without breaking. It's a miracle she's held out this long- and the amount of energy going into her is only going to grow. If we don't get away from here, she's going to take us with her when she snaps. And I've had as many brushes with death as I want for this decade."

Souta glared at his friend. "I'm not leaving her. You can't make me."

Ayame cocked her head, a sad look on her face. "So be it," she said, releasing his wrist. Her tail smacked soundly into his head, and the last thing he heard was "Sorry."

Ayame scooped the unconscious human up into a fireman's carry and backed away from the glowing woman.

"Sayonara, Meirin-san," she said. Ayame looked over at the two newcomers. She could only hope the surging power around them was enough to contain the damage. She knew none of them would survive it, no matter what happened.

Ayame limped slowly out the glade.

-----

Kagome finally managed to pull her thrashing powers into her. She hadn't taken Yoshi's warning seriously enough. She could feel small tremors running through him as she supported him.

Something deep inside her said that, had anyone else tried what he had, they would have been dead.

Yoshi extracted himself from her arms. "Apologies, Kagome-san," he said weakly. "That was even more unpleasant than expected." He turned his head sharply to stare at a prone form.

"Mischa," Kagome exclaimed, startled. She ran to kneel beside her glowing cousin, and magenta light surrounded the women, warding them from the energy storm swirling about the earth elementalist.

"Kagome," Mischa said in a hoarse, barely audible voice, eyes wide as the younger woman eased her into sitting up. "You shouldn't be here."

"Here is the only place I must be," Kagome said, smiling. "Let's see if we can't do something about all this power, ne?" She gently took hold of her cousin's wrists.

"You don't understand. It has to go somewhere," Mischa said urgently. "With the dragon's manifestation killed, it must go to the next closest match."

"You're not even youkai right now," Kagome said, frowning with concentration.

"That's the youkai half of my soul in there," the dark-eyed woman said. "Something reopened the tear, and imprisoned her in there. You can't stop my soul trying to recombine."

"Mi-chan," the miko started, confusion evident in her voice. Her wards flickered as she lost her concentration and Mischa hissed as the chain around her neck burned, overloading as it tried to suppress too much youki.

"I understand you thought the seal was necessary, but you were never in any danger. Not from her. We were split long ago, but we still recognized each other as halves of the whole and would never endanger what belonged to the other. Why do you think Chame calls me Kage? I'm only a shadow of what I should be."

Yoshi watched the exchange in silence. The information was nothing new, but hearing her try to explain who she was was rather interesting.

The magenta wards were shrinking. Even Kagome's formidable powers dimmed in the light of the energies the dragon had released. Every seal ever placed on Ryukotsusei had lost its form and joined with the powers that Mischa's youki sink had brought, as well as the powers Kino had been summoning to break the seals.

A tiny breeze flickered about him, drawing his attention to a tiny sparkle of pink. The Shikon no Tama sat ignored on the ground, barely visible through the grass. It whispered of power unimaginable. He looked away, shaken, and returned his attention to the cousins kneeling in the rubble.

The silver chain around Mischa's neck was melting as miko magic slaved to suppress the horrendous load of magical energy the energy storm had thrust into her. Kagome's head throbbed as she tightened her grip on Mischa's hands. Mischa's eyes were squeezed shut, either in pain or concentration, he wasn't certain.

The visible light of the magenta wards was almost completely gone.

The miko was losing. The sink had stolen all of Matsuro's energy, much of Kino's and Chame's, and a medley from Sesshoumaru, Hizashi, and the countless youkai she had killed in her Tokyo spree. Combined with the powers that had bound Ryukotsusei, it was only a matter of time before Kagome overextended herself and Mischa's already-fragile mind broke.

She opened her eyes. Even at this distance, he could see that her brown eyes were ringed in silver.

"You're going to have to kill me," she said bluntly to the concentrating miko seated in front of her.

"We can do this," Kagome retorted, sweat beading across her forehead.

The silver in her eyes grew more prominent. Mischa was going straight from human to youkai, the demon energy far too much to be contained in either a human or hanyou shell. And once she hit youkai, her Tokyo spree would look like a nice day at the park. And it wouldn't be just youkai she went after.

A wince of pain ran through him. Mischa was right. She had no way of releasing the energy unless she was in youkai form, and before that happened, either her mind would snap or her body would.

Her eyes flickered over Kagome's shoulder to where he stood quietly. Their gazes met, and he nodded, face impassive, shielding his thoughts, but both knew he wasn't fooling her. Silver-brown eyes moved back to meet stormy blue.

"Kill me, Kagome," she said solemnly, "before I kill you."

He spared a moment to wish she had a sense of humor and that she was telling a joke. But his serious Shan rarely saw the lighter side of things, and she was, well, dead serious about the fact she would kill Kagome- and everyone else she could- if all that energy succeeded in gaining control of her body. Her split mind had kept her demon blood from driving her completely crazy, but millennia of power was trying to merge with her, and even the borderline insanity of her alter ego was still far too sane to be able to handle the power. Once it gained control- and it would- there was no telling how much destruction she could cause before a taiyoukai or miko succeeded in killing her. If they even could.

And the only miko powerful enough to stop her was currently doing everything she could to keep from having to face that outcome.

"You wouldn't," Kagome said. He wished he could see her face, but he could tell even from behind that she wasn't certain. She knew what the silver meant, but didn't seem to be able to work up the courage to do the only thing anyone could do about it.

"I won't have a choice," the woman replied. She grimaced as Kagome's strengthening emotions distracted her from focusing her powers on suppressing the demon energy trying to force itself into the older girl's form. Mischa's eyes were almost completely silver and twin jagged stripes were forming across her cheeks.

Pain lanced through him as he realized the miko wouldn't be able to kill her. Kagome was too young to be able to close off her emotions to do what had to be done.

He wished he had never moved back to Japan. Things had been so much simpler in the monastery in China. But with the Communists eradicating all traces of religion in the country, he hadn't had much of a choice, not with Yoko already strongly suggesting he take up residence in his homeland once again.

No wonder the old kitsune had told him not to get too attached to the people he met. Even in human form, he still had youkai youth and immortality. He had thought she would be safe, being hanyou like him. But he hadn't thought about outside influence.

("So young to have to do such a terrible thing to the one you love.")

The woman had known even before her daughter's birth how her daughter would die. She had tried to warn him, but he had never connected her words with Mischa, even after she had accepted him.

Heart breaking, he summoned the winds. They whirled about him with hurricane force, steadily slimming down into narrow, sharp threads of death. And master that he was, even weak as he currently was, hitting one woman and missing the other was far too easy.

Mischa met his gaze boldly, brown fighting silver for control. Kagome was too focused on trying to do the impossible to notice the power rising behind her, but Mischa had given in to the inevitable long ago. The smile that lit her face as the winds stopped circling him and raced towards her was painful in its sheer joy.

He had never been enough to make her wanto to live. No one was.

Kagome stiffened as she finally noticed the magic, but it was too late. Mischa's body jerked as sharp winds sliced cleanly through her body. She was dead before her body collapsed into Kagome's arms.

He bowed his head in grief as the area exploded in an energy storm, the excess powers still searching for someplace to go.

--Niigata, Japan --

Hizashi appeared in a burst of hot red flames beside the kitsune.

"There is nothing we can do now," Yoko said to the enraged hanyou. "Something far greater than us is at work here, and interrupting it would only kill us as well."

"It has begun," the firebird said. "I had hoped forcing him to use others would lessen the damage, but it appears I have made things worse."

"What was the meaning in participating in the ceremony?" Sesshoumaru asked. The others' heads snapped to stare at the four-winged woman.

"My humblest apologies, Sesshoumaru-sama, but I had hoped to manipulate the energies Kino was calling upon. As a descendent of Suzaku, I would not have been bothered by having to control so much energy. I did not consider the fact part of the hanyou's soul had been bound into the working earlier."

A great burst of energy exploded far to the south. The three elder taiyoukai looked solemn.

"The sacrifice has been made," Yoko said softly. "But will it be enough?"

"What in the nine fucking hells could need that much power?" Inu-Yasha swore.

"Why," Fukii said slowly, trying to draw connections, "would a dragon need the Shikon no Tama to release his seal? There are more stable forms of magic to call upon, even if they are less powerful. Not to mention using a holy object on youkai workings isn't the safest thing to do."

Yoko glanced slyly over at the tiny redhead. They were going to have their hands full with this one, once she came into her power. "Now that question, wolf, should have been the first Ryukotsusei asked himself. I'd wondered when anybody else was going to notice that."

"The jewel isn't just holy magic," Inu-Yasha argued. "It was made up of youkai as well."

The kitsune shook his head. "No, the Shikon no Tama is far older than that. Midoriko merely gave it form. She had always held the power within her. Why do you think she was such a potent miko?"

"How the fuck can something exist if it doesn't have a form?"

"As the body houses the soul of course," Sesshoumaru said. "Really, little brother, I had expected better of you."

"Oi," Inu-Yasha said, whirling on the older demon.

"Then whose soul is caged within the Shikon no Tama?" Fukii asked shrewdly, interrupting the fight Inu-Yasha was trying to pick.

"That remains a mystery," Yoko said with a concerned look. "It dates back to my childhood, and my years are too plentiful to remember everything."

"We know it is divine in nature," Hizashi said. "Youkai were to the gods as humans are to we youkai. And nothing so powerful dating from then could be of youkai make."

"If you think about it, there's only one thing it could be," Fukii said, her eyes narrowed southwards. "Someone divine, someone draconic, and someone either dead or missing."

"Ryujin," Sesshoumaru said in understanding, staring at the young redhead. Something else spoke through her- Tsukikage had mentioned her granddaughter was bright, but leaping to conclusions like this was something the taiyoukai had seen only in seers and prophets, and the wolf decidedly wasn't one.

"The Dragon Emperor of the Heavens? You've got to be shitting me. No way could something that little contain the him."

-- Maebashi, Japan --

Magenta shields sprang around Kagome as energy exploded from the woman in her arms. Through magenta-hued light, she could see it rebound off the air master she had turned her head to stare at and he fell to his knees, head bowed low with pain. Vaguely she noticed his silver earrings falling to the ground, and red streaking through his brown hair.

And just as suddenly as the storm had started, it disappeared into the grass. Faintly, Kagome could make out a pink glow where the energy had gone. She let her shield drop.

The Shikon no Tama. Her family's heritage and its curse.

Hatred burned through her veins.

Gently, she set her cousin down. Her eyes stung, and she wiped one trembling hand across them, rubbing away the salty tears. She stood and paced towards the seemingly innocent jewel and picked it up, studying its shimmer.

This was what the fuss was about? This stupid little pink ball that could hold endless amounts of energy without being destroyed? What was the point of this obsession? Who had the appalling arrogance to believe they could control that amount of power?

"I hate you so much," she said. "Anybody with any common sense would know you're worthless. They don't control you, you control them. What did my family ever do to you? What did my friends ever do to you? They sacrificed so much. And for what? A continuous loop of pain, lifetimes of it."

Anguish ripped through her. How many had died because of this insignificant bauble? Mischa. Matsuro. Three-quarters of Tokyo demolished. The Niigata wolves. Mikomi.

She clenched her hand around the jewel.

"I'm no better," she whispered in a choked voice. "I keep trying to fix things, and I only make it worse."

She could remember the last time she held it like this. Everyone had been dead then, too. Inu-Yasha. Sango. Miroku. Shippo. Kouga. Even Kikyou.

What had any of them done to deserve their fates? What was so important about the jewel that it had to hurt everyone who came into contact with it?

"I hate you," she repeated. "I hate you. You're evil. You just keep making our lives more and more miserable. It's never enough for you. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. I wish," she choked, made a broken sobbing sound. The one thing she couldn't do, the presence had warned her.

"Gods, I wish," she said quieter. "But you're just waiting for that, aren't you? Another wish, another chance to break us again. Sango-chan's soul is completely gone. I can't sense her. I don't think Mischa will be back either. One too many scarred lives. Well that's not going to happen again. I had the right idea last time. I just went about it the wrong way."

Purely magenta light surrounded her. Gone was the pink of her miko powers. She had sensed it last time around, in the Sengoku Jidai, but hadn't understood what it meant. Now, though, she knew what it was.

"No more wishes," she said in a low, angry voice. "No more selfish requests for power, for revenge, for greed, not even for peace of mind." There was no such thing as a selfless wish, she knew. How many times had she lived this moment, searching her mind for something to ease the pain she felt, the pain the Shikon no Tama radiated?

She threw the jewel with all her strength away from her. Magenta energy snapped whip-like towards it. Descendants of the creator of the Shikon no Tama, supposedly. Kagome knew better now. Midoriko had been like her, simply keeping the jewel inside her body. Who knew how the jewel had come into physical existence; but that existence was peripheral to the true Shikon no Tama.

She had broken the jewel physically in Sengoku Jidai. Its power had remained in its physical shards, divided among them. This time, she would break it completely- destroy the energy itself. No one else would ever lust after the whispers of power it seduced with. No one else would die for it.

The magenta energy was the key to the lock of the Shikon no Tama.

The jewel shattered and power once again ripped through the broken glade.

In a silent shrine in Tokyo, Goshinboku, the God Tree, cracked.

The world lurched.