"Thank you, Lord Sesshoumaru, for your help," Kagome said.

A minor skirmish had suddenly turned ugly, the half-dozen low-level
youkai suddenly reinforced by a swarm drawn by the smell of blood
and the aura of the Shikon shard at Kagome's throat. In a matter of
moments they were hard-pressed, Inuyasha belatedly struggling to
free an arm to pull his sword-—and then Sesshoumaru was there,
Toukijin flashing in the sunlight, and where there had been a cloud
of demons there was only a mound of demon parts.

Now Kagome bowed politely before the demon lord. He regarded her
coldly for a moment, then spoke over her head to Inuyasha, who
stood, arms crossed, his back to the rest of the group. "There was
no intent to aid your party, Inuyasha," he said. "This Sesshoumaru
chose to travel on this road, and those insignificant low-lifes were
in the way." Ignoring Inuyasha's disgusted snort, Sesshoumaru turned
and swept away down the road, staring at the low hills that formed
the horizon.

Which was probably why he didn't notice that his long white fur
piece was tangled around his ankles.

For a moment he seemed suspended in the air, his lone arm circling
helplessly, and then he crashed face first to the ground.

Time seemed to stand still. Kagome held her breath and mentally
recited the multiplication tables, willing her face not to change. A
few paces away, Miroku looked as he always did, his expression
enigmatically serene, his gloved right hand almost entirely covering
Shippou's face, holding the little kitsune's jaw firmly shut. Sango
had clapped her own mouth into a thin line. Inuyasha didn't appear
to waste so much as a glance at the others.

Sesshoumaru slowly stood up. Little pieces of dirt clung to the
front of his body from the crescent moon on his forehead down to his
ankles. A largish clod of turf was stuck to one of the points of his
spiked armor. He had hit hard; his nose was turning purple and there
was a tear in one of the grass-stained knees of his hakama. His face
wore an expression that seemed to suggest he had meant to do that.

Kagome blinked. Four times seven is twenty-eight. Four times eight
is thirty-two. Inuyasha stared at a small thicket of trees some
distance across the plain. Miroku's face was tranquil, as though he
were in prayer; in his graceful hands Shippou struggled fruitlessly.
Sango's face was pink, shading to red.

The demon lord paused for a moment, and then began slowly walking
down the road. He passed his brother, each ignoring the other.
Kagome stood silent watching him walk. Five times nine is forty-
five. Five times ten is fifty. Shippou had stopped struggling in
Miroku's hands, and it occurred to Kagome that he might actually die
before Sesshoumaru disappeared into the far-distant hills.

Oh, well.

Six times four is twenty-four.

Sango's cheeks seemed to be filling up with air and her complexion
was quickly changing from pink to red to purple. She looked like her
head was going to explode.

An impossibly long time had passed and Sesshoumaru was only halfway
to the hills that clustered at the edge of sight. Seven times six
is forty-two, Kagome thought.

Miroku was the picture of enlightenment, Buddha holding a limp

Without turning around, Inuyasha said, "I kinda wish Kikyou would
show up."

Kagome kept her voice neutral. "Kikyou?" she asked. Eight times six
is forty-eight.

"Yeah," he answered. "I figure if I was to die right now, I'd go to
hell a happy man."

"Mmm," said Kagome. Nine times one is NINE. Nine times two is
EIGHTEEN. Nine times three is TWENTY-SEVEN.

They all watched the white figure dwindling to a speck far down the

"Perhaps the ladies should look away," said Miroku, "because as soon
as he goes over the horizon, I'm going to wet my fundoshi."

"Mmm-hmm," Inuyasha agreed, nodding slowly.

TEN times FOUR is FORTY, thought Kagome. TEN times FIVE is FIFTY.

Sango was making the noise a balloon makes when you don't tie it
tightly enough.

The little white speck was almost to the horizon.

The companions could hardly wait.