Disclaimer! I do not own Inuyasha. Were this not the case, I would be writing this fic on a much nicer computer. Okay, well I am back, and this time I have decided to pull an Inuyasha story out of the hat. I love this series, pure and simple. Now this chapter is pretty much the prologue to the real fic which is in progress now. I wanted to do an alternate universe story, but I hate how so many alternate universe fics just jump in and don't clarify the event or events which diverged the fic from the original timeline. I have labored to plot out a feasible means of getting to the AU. So this fic takes place in the original Inuyasha timeline, the next chapter (which is being edited now ) will be AU.

Okay I also want to warn you, this chapter is angst and stage setting. Also a good deal of Naraku worship. I love a good villain and naraku exceeds every expectation. He's clever as all hell and evil in carnation. bliss So yeah, this chapter is rough, but please, have faith in me not to let angst stand. Okay, to sum all that babbling up, stay with me on this one, the good stuff is coming.

As with my last fic, this was edited by my adored tormentor and resident grammar-gestapo: Stephanie -the all powerful lord of the green marker (apparently green is less abusing to the writer's psyche then a red pen would be.) I've said it before Steph, I would be hopeless without you. You're the distiller which gets decent writing out of my usual literary dribble. I plan to continue abusing your generosity for many, many, many years to come. Hehehe.

In short: you're screwed so get to work on the next chapter! -

okay, well I hope this fic doesn't confuse anybody, it does jump around in its chronology at times. Let me know what you think at: logan91235aol.com

Twilight of a Shadowed Past

by Logan

edited by Stephanie Gonzalez

"Please don't leave me, Kagome..."

The words were broken and fractured through the sobbing as he buried his head in her hair. His weeping came in almost violent seizures as he made the keening noises of a dog alongside the more human sounds of agony. The union was utterly heartbreaking.

His silver hair cascaded down over her chest, obscuring the redness, which pooled across the white of her blouse. Held in his arms, she was like a broken doll of porcelain; beautiful even in destruction. She wanted so badly to talk to him now, knowing all too well that this was their last conversation and that soon she would die. The cruelty struck her as vicious, that she could do nothing for him now, not even tell him once again that she loved him more then anything. Tell him that her life only began when she first saw him there against the ancient tree. It was their last chance to say goodbye and she couldn't make a word.

She hurt, but the physical pain was receding into the numbness of both death and indifference. She wasn't afraid; as she had never before been afraid when he was holding her. Inuyasha would shield her from death itself if he could. He would fight whatever emissary of the underworld would dare claim her. She smiled inwardly with bitter humor. If only he could protect her from this.

She felt Inuyasha tighten his grip around her hand. He was begging her not to do this to him. Begging her not to leave him alone again. He was frantic in his anguish, making mad promises to let her go home whenever she wanted, to be nicer, to indulge Shippo... he was promising her everything he had to give and even more that he didn't, if only she wouldn't die.

The light stung her eyes, yet she looked up to her mourners despite it. Miroku clutched his ruined hand while Sango crushed herself to his robes. Her eyes were glassy with unshed tears; hidden under the mantle of the Taijiya. She was the last of the fabled demon hunters, still was bound to the same code of strength that took root back to the origins of her people. She couldn't cry for Kagome, though she trembled with the effort.

Shippo wailed as he clung to her forearm. There could be no hiding the fact that he was once again orphaned. And through the squeaks and wails of his grief the others could catch the faintest references to "mother". He clung to her with a desperation and panic that was mirrored in Inuyasha.

Such odd thoughts passed in the twilight. She was feeling embarrassed over how high her skirt had ridden up on her thigh, and that everyone was making such bitter fuss over her. If she could still speak to them she would surely apologize for dying on them like this.

Inuyasha kissed her tenderly on her lips, wincing at how cold they had become. He had never really kissed her in front of the others before. The most he would ever do was a quick peck, which Miroku always laughed at, then made note of how virginal he was. He seemed so shy sometimes, embarrassed to show his tender side in front of them. He was too distraught now to even notice that they were there.

Kagome smiled up at him weakly and tried to touch his lip. She couldn't raise her hand all the way to his face. Inuyasha caught it and forced it open. His face flashed with a mad scheme that was quickly acted upon. He slipped something into her hand and then closed her fingers over it. Looking down at her desperately he yelled something at her. She couldn't hear him. Everything sounded so far away now. The same was true for her pain. She was so detached now that she could feel almost nothing of the piercing shaft in her chest.

Her mind wandered even though she willed it to stay with him. Concentrating was hard for some reason. She saw Shippo mewl against her, his little hands on her bare skin. His anguished cries had broken away to a more basic kind of despair. He would recover from this, where as in all likelihood, Inuyasha would not.

Poor Shippo... he was such a baby. She wished that she could have seen him grow up. He would have lived a very long time. So long in fact that he might have actually lived to see her time for himself. But then... that would not be.

There were no youkai in her time. Just the occasional cursed item or ethereal spirit. Flesh and blood youkai had been long gone by the time man started keeping scientific reports of his surroundings. None of which made reference to beings like youkai. Shippo would share the mysterious extinction that would claim his species just as all the other youkai would. Just as Inuyasha would.

Though the pain of her wound had deserted her, she felt a pang of a truer pain at that thought. Her Inuyasha would die. Her gentle lover and fierce protector would die before her world even began.

She would never have told this to him, but she always imagined he would outlive everything else. She took a kind of comfort in the knowledge that long after old age took her, he would still be there. He would still be living somewhere, forever with the same consistency of the sunrise. She was immortal as long as his heart still held a piece of her. When a human dies and all their monuments fall or fade, they cease. No proof would exist that they ever were... but Inuyasha's memory of her would have been eternal. In ten thousand years he would still love her. The idea that he could die added fresh agony to her burden No... Not could die.... he would die. She knew that there were no more youkai in her time... no more hanyou either.

She looked between Inuyasha, Shippo, and then to Kirara who hung by Sango's ankle haggardly. All these youkai loved her, and she loved all of them. And she loved those who were not here. Kouga, Jeninji, Totosai and Myoga. They were all precious to her. They had all enriched her life in the same way many humans had. They would all die before her time. How she wished that this fate could be changed. That youkai would not fade away into mythology.

What a wonderful dream to die with. The fantasy of a fairytale kingdom where Inuyasha and she could live together forever in a land of such precious peoples. She looked up at him and mouthed out the words as best she could. He responded by collapsing against her and echoing the vow they had shared for such a short time. She felt strange. Her body was numb almost all over. She felt the heat of his tears as they ran down her face, but oddly, she also felt warmth in her hand.

The light amazed her. The luminosity of everything. She had heard that people see white light when they die, but never had she heard of rosy light preceding death in such glorious splendor. She felt him tighten against her as he faded against the blushing coral pink light, which pooled in her eyes.

Then, the world disappeared around her.

Topaz and sapphire faded into their softer shades as the light receded and took on the recognizable forms and shapes of trees swaying against a pastel sky. Wispy clouds moved across the fathomless sky with a lethargy that never failed to enchant Kagome. She could smell the grass and feel the weight of the sunshine on her shoulders as she climbed from the well with an effortlessness born of repetition.

In this time the well was not shielded from nature, but a part of it. She sat on the wooden lip of the well and felt the shifting breeze rake little shoots of flowering grass against her calves. This whole place was thriving in the middle of spring. The air was sweet and tasted of the mingling perfumes of the grass and the buds. She heard the soft sounds of birds singing in the sakura trees which grew naturally here despite the odds that the larger and fuller trees would drown them out.

This was a forest of life. Youkai avoided it since Inuyasha frequently hunted its glades for game, and had exterminated the local predators as part of his continuing truce with the village. These woods which had bore his name since he had been sealed here were considered haunted by the men in the neighboring villages, a cursed place that would be the grave of any who would dare transgress. That always amused Kagome for she could imagine few places safer than these woods.

She had lost her virginity to Inuyasha here. Under the whisper of the creaking trees, on a bed of soft grass she had committed her heart as well as her body to him. Amazing how you can grow up with this perfect little picture of what your great romance will be like, but it falls short. Kagome had never fantasized about being made love to on the ground by a hanyou, and though her moments with Inuyasha were seldom ravishing, they were better then a thousand candles beside a bed of rose petals.

He was still her old Inuyasha, rash and rude to everything and everyone. But she had grown to know him better now that she was privy to the deepest parts of him. He was sad more then she had ever guessed before. He mourned Kikyo constantly, and hated himself for loving Kagome while Kikyo still lived in a manner of speaking. He felt that it was a betrayal to his first love, and though he was unable to avoid happiness with Kagome, he did have bitter moments because of them. His loyalty was epic, and he now was loyal to two.

The greater shock was when she learned why he was so adamant about her not going home whenever he could help it. He was lonely. Kagome had finally learned the truth that when she was gone, he was epically miserable. Just like a puppy, Kagome had thought. Inuyasha now frequently followed her back to her time and waited at her house for her. He still hated it, but it was a little easier on him being surrounded by her scent and her family. They all loved Inuyasha, and made efforts to tolerate him if it would help him endure the loneliness. Whether he agreed or not, he needed people around him.

But oddly enough he had too many people around him in some ways. He was a hanyou, but not a true hanyou if such a thing actually existed anymore. His mother had raised him after his father died, and since his brother would certainly not help, the poor woman had no way of knowing how to raise a youkai as a youkai. He was humanized, and though he occasionally gave into instinct or peppered the occasional sentence with a word like "mate" or "bitch", he was human in most ways.

That made Kagome a little sad since she had wanted to know the other side just as well as the human half. Youkai women were beautiful and strong, fierce in battle and supposedly in love. It was kind of a romantic notion to her, and she had wanted to learn about the other side to her love's culture and heritage. Maybe even take on some of the roles herself. The thought was a little intriguing to her, actually. Would she make a good youkai mate? She loved Inuyasha completely, but she was a little sad that they both had been denied the chance to learn the ways of his ancestry.

"I wouldn't go that way if I were you." Inuyasha teased from overhead. She gave a token jump, but in truth had suspected he was near since leaving the well. He lazily dropped from a tree branch and landed with feline ease on all fours.

"The whole village is frantic about celebrating your anniversary." he righted himself leisurely and stretched.

"You think they wanted it to be a surprise?"

"Naw, the old hag hasn't sworn me to secrecy or anything. It's just that with the way things look over there, they might put you to work for hours."

"I really should help them if they are that busy."

"Keh! They were the ones who decided to honor you with this thing. Let them do the work for it." he shrugged.

"Inuyasha you are such a jerk."

"Like I care. Besides, there are better ways to spend time."

"What?" she asked with an arching of perplexity to her brow. He grinned at her with a single fang peeking from under his lip.

She felt him move around behind her and slip his arms around her chest. Then with a low rumble, he ran the side of his face against her bare throat in an action that could only be classified as a nuzzle, but seemed far more seductive then that. He inhaled as he reached her hair, and she moaned gently. There was something so epically seductive about how he could do this to her. Coax her into anything with wordless gesture. She slipped an arm free of his loose embrace and reached up to stroke the velvety fur of his ear. His moan echoed her own as she allowed him to guide her to the ground and sit amongst the grasses.

She leaned back into him and smiled contentedly as he growled gently at her. Inuyasha was a royal pain sometimes when he was showing off, but in these quiet moments it was so easy for her to see why she loved him so completely.

"I thought you were going to go help them with the preparations?" he offered smugly as she halfheartedly elbowed him in the ribs. He smirked and flicked her nose.

"Someone should keep you under control."

"I've been a good boy." she had nowhere near enough restraint to stop herself from acting on the impulse to reach up and scratch his head.

"Yes, you're a good boy..." his ear pivoted towards her and then flattened as her finger brushed it.

"Keh" he huffed.

Shifting positions, he laid his head on her breast as a child would to a mother, smiling contentedly he growled softly at her. His eyes slipped shut and she felt his taught form relax. She continued her gentle stroking of his ears, smiling as they jumped when she hit a particularly good spot. She continued her treatment of the soft snowy ears for a few more minutes before letting her hand fall to his collarbone, tracing the delineations of muscle and bone. As her hand wandered close to where his head lolled, he leaned into it and tentatively licked her hand.

He rolled so that he was no longer facing the sky, and instead was nestled more closely against her chest. He was listening to her heartbeat. She ran her fingers through his wintery hair and delighted in the soft purring growl. She could feel his breathing grow steady and knew that his eyes had closed. His nose twitched a little and Kagome smiled. He was sampling the air, assuring himself that they were alone here in this perfect place and safe. He smelled like nature himself, a subtle musk mingled with grass and tree sap. The union of scents was earthy and comforting. As the sunshine rained down on her, warming her, she felt as though this were no more then a wonderful dream. And in a way it was just that. She was safe and happy, and for the moment sure that it would last forever.

Sesshomaru walked through the open field without the slightest fear of anything. His steps were broad and regal upon the crunched shoots of long grass. He seemed out of place in this world, so ethereal that the sight of him is unnerving where in a lesser extent it might be enchanting. Long strands of silver hair lashed freely in his wake as the wind shifted suddenly.

He was followed by his human child Rin, her youkai steed, and his groveling vassal: Jaken. The green imp was chattering noisily, so enveloped in his pointless rantings that he failed to notice his lord's halt. He walked right into the back of Sesshomaru's leg, and in a quick flash of speed was kicked backwards. Jaken had grown stupid as of late, he should know not to touch the person of Sesshomaru. Were he not so amiable, Sesshomaru should have killed him right there for such a stupid transgression.

"I'm sorry my lord!! Please forgive me-"

"Take Rin and get behind me." The icy words sent Jaken rushing to comply just as Aun raised a sharp whinny of alarm. He had caught the scent as well.

They stood too close to a sloping black tree. The branches and trunk were devoid of leaf and life, as though it had been burned. Sesshomaru reached to his sash and touched the hilt of Tokijin, ready for what was to come. This tree had not been here a moment ago.

"Greetings great lord." Naraku bowed from his place on the branch, his pale baboon pelt looking as sinister as ever as he sprawled against the skeletal limbs of the tree.

"You have saved me a deal of trouble, Naraku. I had thought to hunt you across the lands, not find you so ready to come to meet your death. This Sesshomaru thanks you." He seized the tokijin's sheath but paused as Naraku uttered the name of Inuyasha.

"Why do you speak that name to me?" Sesshomaru questioned with an erudite frown.

"Because it is a name of great consequence to both of us. It's a name spoken far too frequently nowadays." Naraku glowered within the obscuring pelt of the baboon. Before you attempt to strike me down, you would benefit from listening to me." His voice was serpentine as he stared expectantly at the elder Inu youkai.

"Explain yourself." He took his hand from the hilt and rested it against the golden ring pommel. He shook his head slightly, casting his hair over his shoulder so he could view the dark figure un-obscured.

"Speak quickly Naraku, I would have your blood on this field soon, regardless of if you have more to say."

"Of course... I've come to you with a proposition: we will kill the hanyou."

"You've wasted my time. Inuyasha shall die soon enough, but not before you. For it is you that have insulted me far more heinously than that whelp" Naraku smirked from the shadows.

"I don't propose this as a means of righting insults. I propose he die for both our sakes."

"You're a fool and a coward. I am not so mindless as to remain oblivious that you are on the verge of defeat. And I will not be subjected to such embarrassment again. Inuyasha in all his pathetic efforts has pushed you to the edge of ruin. If he persists, you will lose all you have managed to amass since your awakening. That is of course, if you live through this meeting." Sesshomaru's lip inched upwards in a wisp of a smile. Naraku glowered hatefully.

"True enough Sesshomaru. Inuyasha has put me into a difficult position. No matter how many foes I send with any number of shards, he always triumphs. I have lost too many shards in this pursuit."

"Your faith in those fragments was always a great weakness. Strength is not found in pieces of red glass. " Sesshomaru shrugged. "You waste my time with such triviality. I fail to see how this applies to me."

"You need his death just as desperately as I do. Don't deceive yourself into thinking that is not so." Naraku rose to his full height on the branch, the off-white pelt fanning out under him like a cloak.

"Do you hear them Sesshomaru? The humans cry out for protection from the youkai. And the youkai cower before a name." Sesshomaru's eyes narrowed in expectance of what was coming next.

"Inuyasha. The great Inu youkai. It's him who saves them. Him who kills them. The weak look to him as a protector while the strong fear his coming. Youkai and humans alike know him." He paused while Sesshomaru's expression darkened ever so slightly.

"Do they call to you anymore Sesshomaru? In your hunt for me, you have forsaken your responsibilities. The western lands would have fallen to lowly youkai were it not for the great Inuyasha who keeps them at bay. The people look at him and see the great Inu youkai reborn. How odd that your father should be mirrored more in the half-breed then in the pure blooded..." Sesshomaru's eyes froze over in bitter coldness.

"You go too far Naraku! Scum like you should not speak of a god in such a manner!"

"I go as far as I chose, and it is you who should know the shame of what has happened. The great lord of the western lands has been cast down by his brother without a battle. He was so weak that a hanyou could steal his great destiny." Naraku saw the rage swirling within Sesshomaru like a leviathan under still water.

"All the more reason to kill you now so that I can go deal with him."

"Fine, kill me if you are able. But will it stop then? For a time it will be known that you were the one who killed the great Naraku. But in time the story will change. It will simply become the dog demon who slew the great evil. And finally, once Inuyasha is gone, his stories shall become intertwined with yours. They will have forgotten your name, and instead it will be Inuyasha who defeated me." Sesshomaru's silence was complete.

"The great Inuyasha who saved the world from the demon Naraku... only to be killed himself by his wicked brother. It shall become a tragic story and forever cast you as the loathsome villain. How poetic..."

"You propose… what?" he asked with a voice so faint that it was little more then a whisper, albeit a whisper heavy with hatred. Naraku smiled.

"That you join with me. That you kill Inuyasha."

"What are you putting at stake for this?"

"Inuyasha has allies of great power. I will set the stage for you and insure that there are no interruptions. When Inuyasha meets you in battle he will be separate from his strengths. No monks with kazanaas... no purifying arrows. They will be quite busy, I assure you of that.

"I have pooled an army of youkai who seek the same ends as we do. All I ask is for you to be their general. I have already contracted another who will act with you. One who seeks the destruction of these seekers of the shards."

"Your military prowess fails to impress me, Naraku. I will not lead an army against Inuyasha and I don't care who you've contracted. Inuyasha shall die by my hand alone, not by your cowardly means."

"Very well great lord, Sesshomaru. We have an amiable agreement?" he smirked.

"I have agreed to nothing."

"You try my patience Sesshomaru."

" I am not blind. You are trying to use me... " Naraku cast the pelt from his face so that his features were clearly visible under the sunlight.

"Of course I am... but who is to say you are not using me as I am using you? Take my offer, and then, once Inuyasha is dead you may resume this foolish quest of yours."

"I have a final term for this pact. I would have you present." Naraku raised an eyebrow in interest.

"No detachment, no puppet, no hiding in the shadows. There can be no bargain if you are unwilling to invest your life as well."

Jaken suddenly broke from his hiding place and ran to Sesshomaru's side. "Please my lord, do not make this bargain with such a lowly creature! He will surely betray you!" He looked up frantically.

"I fear for you my lord! Naraku is an untrustworthy fiend! Surely he has some plan--" he was silenced as Sesshomaru smacked him to the ground.

"How dare you overstep your bounds once again Jaken! Am I your master or a fool?" The imp begged forgiveness while Naraku chuckled low.

"Then it is done. You shall kill the hanyou while I ensure the deaths of all who follow him."


"In four hours you will find Inuyasha in a village to the west. Near that damned girl's well."

"Well?" Sesshomaru questioned.

"Oh? Pay it no mind. You know the tree where he was killed by the shrine maiden so long ago? In that forest he waits for death." Naraku failed to conceal the grim smile as Sesshomaru revealed a degree of ignorance to his enemies. Kagome was a mystery to him where as Naraku had made it a point to know her. The girl who overcame time itself.

Before Sesshomaru could utter another word, Naraku was gone. Things were going perfectly. Sesshomaru was ever the fool, so easy to manipulate. His pride made him the perfect tool with which to work this scheme. But the alliance of one Inu youkai was hardly enough to bring down the fabled hanyou. Were as Sesshomaru was convinced Inuyasha was little more then a whelp, Naraku knew the truth.

He was strong because of his allies. Oddly, it was the humans that gave him the power to become such a force to contend with. The monk who had turned a curse into a weapon. The Taijiya who used grief to fuel her skills as a slayer of youkai. And most of all there was Kagome.

The girl Sesshomaru knew nothing of who by all rights was stronger then Inuyasha himself. Her powers as a Miko grew monolithically during the time that they hunted him. She had already matched Kikyo's former strength and surpassed it. But where as Kikyo could only maintain her power as a Miko through cleansing rituals and the maintenance of purity in every form... Kagome did not. The girl from the future was not pure. Naraku himself had watched her roll on the ground with her hanyou lover only to find that chastity was in no way related to her strength as a Miko. She was the threat beyond threats and thus she was the one that Naraku had to destroy.

He skittered through the tree branches with great stealth. Inuyasha was in this forest and he would be alert to Naraku's scent. Concealing himself had always been a talent for Naraku. Since his dark birth he had discovered a natural propensity for stealth and cunning. It was those skills that he favored above all others they would finally destroy the Miko from the future and her accursed mate.

He paused on a branch to look down over the small clearing which encircled the well. The structure was old and brittle in appearance, but from within the dark opening... there was a power here.

Naraku had witnessed Kagome's departures through this well. She simply jumped in and vanished into a strange blue light. Crossing was difficult if not impossible without a shard of the Shikon jewel. He reached into his hattori and withdrew the fragmented sphere. It had once been much larger, but due to Inuyasha's meddling it had grown small as of late. He laughed softly to himself. It was still enough for what he had in mind though.

With a quick leap from the besetting tree line he was at the lip of the well, peering down into the somewhat more finite depths of the well. Youkai bones littered the bottom, each stripped of all flesh and tissue. They gleamed like daggers in the dimness within. Naraku feared little in this world for there was little he failed to understand. He did not fear Inuyasha because Inuyasha was half the mystery which Kagome was. This well was unknown to him. It cloaked mystery upon mystery. He could very well plunge through into a time where man and youkai had eventually faded into extinction. Kagome used this well frequently; it could conceivably purify him, ending this drama before he could even step upon the stage. The youkai bones didn't bode well...

If this was to be a war, better it be a war of sorrow. He darkened his soul so deeply that no fear could shine through its veil. The world faded into sapphire as he plunged into the well with the jewel clutched in his hand.

Sesshomaru knelt before Rin and touched his sleeve to her tear soaked cheeks. The child trembled as she stared up at him with eyes that could cut like a fang. She was fragile and innocent, so fleeting by design, and yet in some ways more alive then he would ever be. Sesshomaru ached for her, ached that she was so insistent that he not leave her.

A human. A human child. Had Naraku been so right? How far had the great lord fallen from grace where he now melted at the touch of a little human girl? He could crush her right now, just close his hand over her and destroy her. The thought alone grieved him. The idea that this child's eyes should ever grow dim again. Death should not take her. It had tried once and been slain by Sesshomaru. He would slay it again and again each time it reached for her.

A fool. That is what this human child had made of him. He could revive her again and again with the sword at his side, but he could not kill age so readily. She would live to grow old, wither away until the sword's power would be a curse on her instead of a blessing. If she asked him, could he let her die?

He loved her. There was no secret in that now. He treasured her and adored her light. She was his human child. His petite love. His treasured weakness.

"Why do you have to fight the doggy man?"

"Because he is my enemy."

"But why! What if he bites you!? Rin will be sad if he hurts you again!" She reached out and seized his empty sleeve. She held it in her arms tenderly. Jaken should be made to suffer for this. Rin should not know about how he lost his arm. He would have turned to inflict pain upon the toad, but Rin would not respond well to it now.

"I must Rin. Inuyasha should be taught his place. The place of all hanyou."

"But isn't he your brother?" Jaken needed to die.

"Yes." this situation would have been better were Rin not so knowledgeable as to the particulars. As a child, and a human one, at that, she would not comprehend the duties of a youkai lord. the girl was simple and innocent, she loved him without comprehension, and somehow he knew a depth of great devotion for her, though, by all logic she was a hindrance at best. He growled low in his throat with thoughts of Jaken. his gossip was harmful to Rin, she wept now because his greasy toad lips could not stay closed.

"Is he a bad hanyou?" she looked up to him in perfect trust. She would believe a lie utterly. He didn't lie to her.

"No... "

"Rin doesn't understand." she pouted.

"Rin does not need to understand. Have faith that I know what is right."

"Yes, Sesshomaru." she nodded solemnly. He smiled at her secretly so that jaken couldn't see. She liked his smiles.

"I will be back very soon, Rin." he turned to jaken and gave him a terse command that Rin was to be protected in his absence and that she was not to be told stories. He walked away without looking back, fully aware that Rin was waving to him.

As the swirling blues and silvers faded away to nothing more then a dim glow, Naraku leapt from the well. It seems that a small shrine has been constructed around the well, locking it in a perpetual shade. He walked hesitantly to the door and slid it open, casting a sharp knife of golden sunlight into the gloom.

The world had changed. Down the sloping hill to his right, Naraku could see massive structures that looked like the gray spires of hundreds of fortresses. Could man build such things? Such great phalanxes of stone?

He allowed his presence to swell outward like an invisible smoke which stretched out and around these structures and their inhabitants. He heard their heartbeats mingling into a sound that only found parallel in rain falling over metal in noisy little impacts. There were so many humans in this time that it was startling. What's more, there was not a single whisper of youkai. He paused on that thought for a moment but suddenly found his thought process blossoming into a new level of inquiry. He once again scanned the psychic ebbs and flows of this citadel of man.

The results brought a wicked glee to him that he hadn't known in quite some time; there were no holy men either. He probed as deeply as his faculties could manage, finding only latent skills in children. The purity of body and spirit required to channel the powers of a regular monk or a Miko was taxing. The strong ones had to purify themselves again and again with ritual, all the while abstaining from the distastefulness of normal human life. There were less then two adults in all the area who maintained some degree of power. The rest had forfeit it to carnal pleasure and immorality of varying degrees... this was most certainly not the Japan he had known... this was an era of defenselessness.

A red carriage swooped around the road's bend; its form was utterly alien. No horse pulled the thing, yet it moved with the smoothness of a snake on the water. Naraku was alone here; he could sense no life from either of the structures surrounding the well house. Pausing for a moment, he debated staying to wait, but oh how much he wanted to explore this world. Naraku was composed of thousands of youkai, and youkai are curious creatures.

Curiosity often yielded great rewards, and thus he drew his cloaking pelt higher upon his shoulders and descended the large stairwell leading to what he could only assume to be some shrine. The streets were amazing and he rather liked the sound his sandals made against them. Another "carriage" passed and he resisted the urge to jump at its passing. It was a means of transportation, no more threatening then a horse. It stopped a few feet away from him and the occupant slid from a portal in the side. The man was large and smelled of a peculiar form of smoke. Naraku approached and lay his hand on the smooth metal form. How wondrous the smiths must be in this time to construct such feats with steel! He knocked his hand against it and marveled at the little dent he formed. It was hammered so thin.

"What the hell are you doing!" The smelly owner seemed only now to notice him, and as he did, he rounded the carriage and loomed in Naraku's face.

"You just put a ding in my car! What's your problem!" He took a moment to look at Naraku, and his anger softened to perplexity. "What the hell are you supposed to--" Naraku had enough of this human's voice. He behaved just as any feudal lord might, rude and obnoxious. He reached over suddenly and touched the man's larynx. The tiny barb he drove through the organ was no wider then a hair, but the second it was embedded in the human's voice box, he began convulsing and making amusing little wheezing noises.

Naraku watched as he groped stupidly at his throat, the fool was actually trying to pull the little needle from himself. In his throes he was stumbling backwards. He staggered into the street and in an amazing spectacle, was hit by one of these amazing "cars." It was reminiscent of watching a child struck by an Oni. The collision was bone-breaking, sending splatters of blood raining upon all those who were close enough. Naraku gave a quick chirp of amusement as the ruined thing was flung from the first car and sent rolling under a second.

A woman screamed and a crowd quickly descended upon the gore. It would seem that people were fascinated by carnage in this time. Naraku liked that thought. He began walking away, invisible before the spectacle. He did like these cars, maybe when this was over he would attempt to operate one.

The city was vast and thrilling, but sadly he lacked the time to explore it all. He was being guided to his destination, stretching out his presence and feeling for the subtle vibrations of the damn girl. But as he passed, he observed. He listened to them talk, learned the gestures and mannerisms as best he could. He also discovered his manner of dress was quite out of place and frequently assumed to be some performer's costume.

He had followed the vague trail of her aura which was only slightly more deeply rooted then some of the others, it lead him several streets and then to a curious structure. There was a great hulking building which would be on par with any feudal castle in size. It was constructed out of tiny little bricks of hardened clay, and surrounded in part by fences made of metal links. Did people of this time have no fear? Such a fence was inadequate for keeping anyone out and would barely be able to keep an aged cow inside. There were no cows inside the corral, but instead humans. They were playing like children, mostly with balls. The real surprise however is that all the females were dressed in the strange attire that Kagome so frequently wore. He was here.

"Umm... may we help you?" He turned to face a young girl who was looking at him with a befuddled expression. She wore the same uniform as Kagome, but looked much younger somehow. This child had never seen death, never known agony. She smiled at Naraku good-naturedly and he returned her grin with a perfect imitation. She blushed back at him.

"Yes... I was wondering. Do you know a girl by the name of Kagome?" He tried very hard to not look sinister. He was looking forward to this part. Her face brightened immediately.

"Oh yeah, she's one of our friends from school!" A second girl approached and put her hand on the first's shoulder.

"Ayumi... you shouldn't just go talking to--" Her face darkened suddenly. Naraku wondered if this girl had some spiritual power, did she sense the truth of what he was?

"You're not that good-for-nothing delinquent boyfriend are you?" Naraku raised an eyebrow.

"This is Eri. She's Yuka. I'm Ayumi." The friendly girl punctuated each name with a gesture to the group members who were now all centered around Naraku. "It's so nice to meet you! Kagome has told us all about you! Well... she's kinda told us all about you."

"I didn't know delinquents wore eyeliner..." Yuka remarked in confusion. Her face blossomed in horror. "Kagome's dating a drag queen!?"

"Yuka!" Eri scolded. Naraku chuckled.

"You must mean Inuyasha..."

"Inuyasha?" all three chorused.

"Who's Inuyasha?" A young man strolled up leisurely. He glanced at Naraku and stiffened slightly.

"Oh he's--"Ayumi frantically jumped in.

"He's Kagome's lover." Naraku remarked casually, watching as all three of them responded as though struck in the face.

"Kagome's lover?"

"Yes, his name is Inuyasha... surely you've been introduced." Naraku smirked.

"No..." Eri remarked softly. Hojo looked as though his heart were breaking into shards much smaller then the jewel's. The girls, however, appeared to mainly feel betrayed by the secrecy that apparently had been going on. The loudest of the three appeared to be cast into despair over failing to stop this thing with Inuyasha. She was clearly against their mating. Naraku sensed the turmoil in the three females, but such was easily overpowered by the boy. This one loved her and now reeled in agonies that thrilled Naraku to his core. He was all too aware of his primitive aspects; he enjoyed the pain of others with the malicious zeal of his Youkai components.

"I'm sure she meant to."

"Who are you?" Hojo asked suddenly, his voice broke. Naraku smiled and bowed regally. "My name is Naraku. I'm an acquaintance of Kagome's."


"It's my character's name." He added quickly. They looked at him with a degree of comprehension. "I'm playing a part in a great dramatic tragedy..." He smiled.

"You think that I dress like this for fun?" He motioned to the pelt. The girls laughed a little out of politeness while Hojo did not.

"So what role are you playing, Naraku?" Hojo asked with bitterness.

"The villain." He grinned broadly.

"I'm sure you're very good at it." Hojo replied.

"I have my moments." He paused for effect. "Perhaps you can help me?"

"Help you?"

"Yes. You see my character plays opposite Kagome's and I'm in a bit of a bind." He watched them bend to him with a degree of satisfaction. It was clear that these foolish children loved Kagome. Loved her so deeply that all it took was her name to command them. Even the beautiful young man, who was destroyed in her name, listened intently on how he could help her. That in and of itself was proof of how dangerous this girl was. She won allies too easily, and in this war that could be enough to tip certain scales.

"Kagome's in a play?"

"Oh yes. She's the heroine, and Inuyasha would probably be the hero, though my position somewhat makes me biased against him. He is trying to stop my evil ways..." Naraku laughed with amusement over telling them so much and yet so little.

"That's wonderful! Kagome has the lead!" The cheerful one remarked. She made an effort to brighten the mood; the others failed to respond too epically. Each was still licking their wounds. The humans of this day were sheep fresh for the slaughter, they smelled clean and vaguely floral... not a trace of blood. Their faces were perfectly lovely, smooth with youth and devoid of scar tissue.

"What can we do to help Kagome?" The boy asked, his soft voice a veil of sadness.

"The performance takes place in a few hours and we're in need of actors."

"But how could we possibly learn a role in such a short time?!" One of the girls cried.

"Your parts would be very simple. No dialogue... no movement..." He felt a tremor of excitement as the sweet one spoke.

"But what parts will we play?" He reached out and touched her cheek. She blushed at his delicate touch ran over her childlike face. The others stared as he leaned forward as though he might kiss her. She didn't push away.

"You get to play my victims."

"We don't have time, Souta!" She yelled over the commotion, her voice muffled by cloth. He wanted to make sure his friend Hitome was alright. She wanted to embrace her son, but there was no time for that now. She had to drive, and though her father was also in the car, he was by no means as fast a driver as she. The sports utility was new and it handled well as it swerved through the littered streets. American and Japanese all at once, the SUV was a true testament to a product created through collaboration between nations.

It was stolen from a dead woman.

They were driving down a street of the dead, swerving around the corpses who lay strewn across the street. She had pulled the vehicle's true owner from behind this wheel with a degree of toughness that she wouldn't have imagined herself to possess. The dead woman had fallen on her face with a nauseating thud. She wore a brand name dress and had jewels on her throat. She fell dead to the ground and wasn't even noticed for the panic.

Her poor baby. Her brave little Souta would be scarred from this. She dared a glance into the rearview mirror only to find him quieting down into a bleak stare out the window. He was looking at them. A man was running from a bank, coughing madly. His movements were not entirely the movements of panic; he was having seizures. She sped up and winced as the SUV drove over the leg of one of the dead on the street. She was sure that she would be scarred too after this.

"It's supernatural... " Her father mumbled as he looked out his window at the dead and the dying. He held a towel to his mouth and nose as she did. Little Souta was the only one who wore a full gas mask. They had been lucky to get just one. This all sprang up so quickly that the firemen and paramedics quickly ran out of masks and gas masks. Then they died as the panicked crowd jumped atop them and stole theirs. Rioting would start wherever anyone tried to help, but was limited mainly by the fact that everyone was dying.

"That' enough dad!"

"What else could it be!?" She was silent, so he continued. "It's a curse... The gods are angry..." He began to ramble, all the while maintaining his visual out the window. There were corpses piled atop one another, all horrible and disfigured by what looked like acid. It was becoming more and more rare to see someone dying as opposed to already dead. The car swerved in jerky motions down the littered road while the air inside it became more and more unbearable. It was suffocatingly claustrophobic. There was a general impression of despair among them now, Souta betrayed this with a trembling while his mother's silence grew all the more noticeable. When she did speak, her voice was different. She wondered which was worse, her own silence, or her father's rambling. He proved unwilling to stop muttering about curses and evil spirits, talk which had grown progressively more frightening. Finally she could stand no more.

"There are no gods. And what god would do this?" She snapped at him. Her expression softened as he turned to look at her, his eyes bleak.

"This is a virus outbreak... or maybe a chemical leak." He roused with anger over her explanation.

"It's ancient poison! It's Miasma! And you know it! You are my daughter! You were raised to recognize Jaki when you feel it!" He gripped her shoulder and stared into her beseechingly. She looked forward more intently.

"That's myth. This is reality. These people aren't dying because of some black magic! Can't you quit that for a minute!? Kagome-!" She fell quiet for a moment as she swerved around a dead man.

"Kagome doesn't know about this. She could just come out of the well and..." She shivered with fear for her child. She believed all too keenly that this wasn't what the radio was speculating to them. Something was killing people, killing them by the hundreds. Please, let this be a chemical spill or a terrorist attack because if it isn't, then in all likelihood it crawled out of their very shrine.

There were shelters of course, but nothing seemed to protect them from this nearly invisible killer. The sky was swirling with strange lavender hued clouds that in no way were beautiful.

It started twenty minutes ago and already fatalities were estimated at the hundreds and climbing. People just started dying, the air was acid in their lungs. They choked and smothered, then spasmd and died badly. Some asphyxiated the second they came in contact with it, others died of nervous system failure. Their capillaries ruptured as they died. The corpses left were smeared with blood tears running down their cheeks.

"How can we protect Kagome? We can't even get word to her unless she comes through. By then it would be too late." He reached over and squeezed his daughter's hand.

"We have to seal it."

"But Kagome wouldn't be able to come back!" Souta cried suddenly, his eyes were full of tears behind the glass of the gas mask. He'd been crying for a while now and it sent a javelin of sorrow through her that she hadn't noticed till now.

"It must be done." His grandfather replied quietly as he turned to take Souta's hand.

"How can we do it though?" he asked.

"Your charms won't work. We don't have time to mix concrete or even throw sand in it." She turned onto the adjoining street to their own. "We burn it down." she said suddenly. The old man's eyes widened in horror.

"It's been in our family for-"

"It's the only way. We burn down the well and the well house. The debris will fall into the well and it will cave in on itself. She'll be safe." She wanted to cry and scream all at once. If this worked she would never see her daughter again.

"There's Miss Ijoji." Souta remarked quietly. They looked to his side of the car only to find the woman sprawled across the little fence she had erected around her property. They sped up.

"Okay, dad! We need gasoline or lamp oil. Anything that can start a big fire." she raced to the piled bags of leaves which had been swept the day before yesterday. They would make good kindling. This shrine was her home, and she was frantically engineering its destruction. The well house would burn, and the flames would inevitably spread out and claim more tinder. Her stomach churned with nausea.

"Mom, Buyo! Let me run in and get him!"

"We don't have time. You should be in the car waiting."

"Please mama!" He was crying again, but this time there was something more behind it. He was not a baby; he had understood their planning in the car as it had driven up the hill, through the fence, and into the shrine. He knew that if this worked, he would never see his sister again. There was desperation in his voice now; he wanted to save the cat because he couldn't save the sister.

"Be quick, Souta. I want to get this done before the wind changes and brings more of that gas towards the shrine. We need to get away from here as fast as possible!" The boy nodded quickly and ran for the house. She cast a quick glance at her brave son as he ran towards the open front door. She turned over another bag of leaves and yelled for her father to hurry.

He ran to her from across the shrine with a half full contained of lamp oil. It wasn't gasoline, but it would have to do. He was going too slowly as he lugged the can. He favored his left leg ever so slightly; his age never seemed this apparent to her before. He was slow, and time was of the essence now. As each second bled into the next, the urgency deepened into both nameless and fathomless dread.

She thought of her husband for an instant. How easy it would be if he were here, then he could be strong instead of her. Now she would have to run back to the storehouse for more lamp oil. Kagome. Kagome was the strong one now, and how she wished that her daughter could be here. She kicked over the last of the bags and prepared to go for more oil. She was broken from her work by a scream from within the house.

Like tiny jeweled figures the dragonflies skimmed across the open field, snatching up their prey in a beautiful display that looked less like hunting and more like dance. The sun had slowly drifted across the midday sky in a lethargy that seemed almost contagious. The air tasted of the blooming shoots of wild flora clumped together in unabated growth.

Kagome lazily stroked Inuyasha's silver hair while listening to the chirping of hidden birds and cicada. The air was pleasantly warm and filled Kagome completely within. Inuyasha's hair ran smoothly between her fingertips where it once would have knotted and tugged. Grooming him was a pleasure that she frequently coaxed him into indulging. He always snorted and fidgeted, but, with patience, would soon yield against her ministrations. After all these months it was finally beginning to be less of a chore to force him into good grooming habits.

It was unofficially accepted that the only way he would ever willingly be shampooed is if she bathed alongside him and performed the process on him herself. She liked that too; the feel of the lathered shampoo as she massaged it into his scalp. He needed a good shampoo frequently, and his whining about smelling too girly was more cute than annoying.

"Would you like to go do something? This has got to be a pretty dull way of celebrating your birthday." He remarked halfheartedly without making the slightest effort to move from the sunshine. She scratched his jaw line with her nail and giggled as his leg twitched slightly.

"This is fine for now. I like playing with you." He frowned at her and made a dismissive gesture with his hand.

"You sound like the pervert." She reached down and grabbed his butt. He yelped and muttered something low about wanting to borrow Sango's weapon. He reached up and made a playful attempt to swat at her face.

"Touching..." Both Inuyasha and Kagome were on their feet in an instant. Inuyasha stepped to the forefront with his hand already gripping the hilt of the Tetsaigah. Kagome was without bow or arrow, and thus more or less helpless.

The voice was familiar, of course, identifiable with the first syllable. The question, however, was where it had come from. Inuyasha, knowing both his limitations and Kagome's strengths, cast a quick glance in the direction she was poised. She never failed him when it came to bravery. She stood there at his side, ready to fight regardless of her inherent helplessness.

Her eyes were focused in the direction of the well, and soon a figure began to emerge from the silent tree line. He strolled leisurely to them; the ivory pleats of his furry pelt shifting with each slightly swaying step. He was virtually strutting to them with all the manner of a cat, fresh from the kill. In his arms he carried a bundle of cloth.

"Hello, Inuyasha. Hello Kagome." He spoke again, and as before his voice was projected upon them from great distance and seemingly impossible direction. It was as if the trees and grass were all speaking in the unified voice of Naraku.

"What the hell do you want?" Inuyasha snarled through clenched fangs.

"It's a day of some significance. I came to wish Kagome a happy anniversary, and give her her birthday gifts." Kagome stiffened at the casualness with which he mentioned her birthday. Naraku should not know about that, and the manner in which he carried himself was all the more troubling. He looked proud of himself.

"Stay the fuck away from her, bastard." Inuyasha snapped as he prepared to draw the sword. He halted suddenly and muttered something so low that Kagome couldn't hear it. He was staring at Naraku with wide eyes as the figure came to a halt before them.

"Really Inuyasha... you thought I wouldn't know where she goes and how she returns? That little well of yours is quite interesting, but not overly selective. All it takes is a shard." Kagome's horror blossomed suddenly as Naraku nodded to her in acknowledgment of what Inuyasha's sense of smell had already told him.

"You come from a magnificent era, the cars and the buildings. The people..." He paused, tossing the uniforms of Hojo and the girls, one by one at Kagome's feet. "The people of your time are fools. Ignorant to Youkai and as trusting as cattle. They thought so highly of you too..." He wore a sly smile as he leapt out of the arc of Inuyasha's swing. The tetsaigah glowed angrily in his hand while he glowered up to where Naraku perched. Naraku tossed the remaining articles at their feet, making a special show of the one little light blue shirt.

"And this one... He died with 'Inu-niichan' in his mouth."

"Souta!?" Kagome screamed as she rushed to the perfectly intact shirt. She stared down agape with horror at her mother's blouse and her grandfather's watch. Both were perfectly preserved, but reeked of the psychic spores of miasma.

"You killed them. Your persistence with this quest to destroy me killed them. Surely you didn't think that you alone bore the risk? No... No one you loved there was spared. And by the end of today, every last person-" he looked down at Inuyasha with a nod, "-or animal, you've ever cared for will die."

"The only one who's dyin is you!" Inuyasha barked savagely as the tetsaigah separated Naraku's head from his shoulders. The tree upon which he was perched also toppled over, though it's crashing descent seemed far more muted then the thud of Naraku's severed head. The bleeding orb came to a rest on its side, veiled in its own dark hair.

"A puppet?" Inuyasha asked hesitantly, but found Kagome still staring blankly into the cradled fabrics. With a suddenness that surprised him, Kagome flew to her feet and began running in the direction of the well. He too took to the treetops with the pinnacle of his natural speed, finding himself crashing through more branches than he avoided as he quickly overtook Kagome, and then pressed on the remaining distance to the well.

He found the well in perfect condition, but did detect the scent of Naraku from within. he wanted to be back through the well by the time Kagome made it there. Without a second thought to the wisdom of the act, he plunged from the tree line, directly into the well. The topaz lights still shined with the queer spectral radiance as they always had in his past sojourns between the eras, but this time, as he crossed the threshold of time, he emerged into a land of death.

Kagome was to the clearing near the well just as Inuyasha returned from within it. He looked pale and haunted as he quickly seized the girl by the shoulders and tossed her away from the portal. She landed in a crouch and shot forward, only to be seized by him again and embraced.

"Let me go dammit! I need to-"

"They're dead, Kagome." he whispered gently. His voice broke against her name and splintered further as she stared up at him in grief driven panic. He could see the subtle twitches of her brow as she fought for another way of interpreting what he said.

"Inuyasha! Let me through!" She kicked him sharply in the thigh, trying to break past him. He held fast and gave no sign of registering the pain.

"They're dead, Kagome!" he trembled.

"I have to see!" She struggled against him once more, but found her strength rapidly deserting her.

"You can't. The miasma is so thick... Kagome they're all dead. I didn't think that much miasma was possible." He sank with her to the ground. His head buried itself to her throat in the same canine show of devotion that he always did when he needed to comfort her. "Everyone is dead. There was no sound. And the miasma was so strong that the wind would move it. Japan is empty."

"That's not possible!" she argued, half hearing him at all. Her eyes fixed on the well which loomed behind him; so close! She looked up at him fiercly, then seeing the despair that hung over his ashen face, blanched as fear ripened into realized horror. That wasn't possible, Souta, Mama, Grandpa, everyone from her time couldn't be dead. it wasn't possible! She had never wanted to disbelieve Inuyasha so strongly

"Kagome, Naraku will pay. I swear to you he will! I'll tear him to pieces, I promise you!"

Inuyasha had watched the deaths of countless in his life, some were enemies, and some were friends. He had lost parents and a lover once, but never before had the grief seemed so sharp, or his failure so obvious. Kagome trembled against him, and he almost cried along with her; the same weakness as any human might possess. Kagome's time was no more, and though such a thought seemed utterly impossible, he couldn't doubt it after looking out across a utterly silent skyline. There was so much death that it boggled the mind.

"I want to go home…." she wept against his hair.

"There is no more home." Inuyasha's words rang out bitterly as she stared fixedly into his misery filled eyes the words came back to her again like a sadistic eco inside her empty soul.

'There is no more home." It struck her, sending her reeling, and as her mind swirled with a blurring panorama of anguish, she believed him. Her face nestled into his chest as she sobbed soundlessly. Inuyasha wouldn't say something like that unless. unless it were true. They were all dead, and she could never go home again. Something broke inside her, but she didn't know what it was.

"Kagome... we'll kill him. We'll give him what he deserves. You and I." She looked up at him from his chest. Her eyes were red from tears and probably a mirror for his own: weak, yet on the verge of some unknown.

"You and I will kill Naraku. We'll make the son of a bitch suffer like no one has ever suffered before." It was only now that they became aware of the sounds of hooves. Five riders were racing to the clearing, and as they broke through the bending path, Inuyasha recognized them as men from the village. Miroku rode at the head, his demeanor screamed urgency. He literally jumped from the horse as it came to a halt before them. Almost ready to erupt with his news, he took note of the fact that Kagome was staring past him in the direction of the dead puppet. She looked like a different person.

"What happened!? Are you both alright?"

"Naraku... he's gone too far." Miroku's expression slackened as Inuyasha cast a cursory glance at the well.

"He went to Kagome's time. He killed everyone."

"Oh Buddha..." The monk blanched as he noticed the child's shirt cradled in the crook of Kagome's arms. He looked like he wanted to say something to her, but was at a loss.

"How's that possible? That bastard destroyed everyone in Kagome's time... why not here?" Inuyasha asked as he stood to meet Miroku eye to eye. He looked angrier than anything else now, and that anger was so immense that it could almost make him capable of lashing out at random. Miroku took a step back only to have Inuyasha seize him by the shoulder in a vice grip.

"Kagome's Japan is just as big as ours. There are more people... but what's that to miasma? Why hasn't he just killed everyone here, in this time!?" His words were more like barks and growls than normal language. Miroku thought feverishly for it was obvious that Inuyasha was not going to be patient much longer.

"From what Kagome has told us of her time... there are no Youkai. It makes sense that since there are only the occasional evil spirits there would be less need for monks or mikos." He attempted to look sure of himself.

"And what does that mean?"

"Think about it Inuyasha! There are shrines at every village here. There are many monks and mikos wandering from town to town. They do it because of the Youkai, because there is a threat there. In Kagome's time there are no more Youkai, there is no need for so many shrines and holy men. If Naraku tried that in our time it wouldn't be half as successful. The Reiki that each temple, monk, and Miko give off would buffer such Jaki. It couldn't spread and would dissipate very quickly."

She looked up at him bleakly. "But in my time there's nothing to slow it down. We weren't prepared for something like him..." Miroku bowed his head darkly as she managed a sad smile. "What's happening at the village?"

Miroku bowed his head solemnly, torn between the urgency of the situation and the grief he shared for his friend. Kagome rose up from the ground and took his hand in a squeeze that only trembled briefly. She smiled again, and this time it was more assuring then the last.

"Naraku has moved against the village. Or is about to." Inuyasha's ears rolled back and flattened against his head in accompaniment of a low sound of displeasure.

"It would seem that Naraku planned to attack when you were grieving. That's like him..." The monk flexed his cursed hand absently.

"For all his planning he is such a fool... killing them... he couldn't have done anything to make me want him dead more. If he thought I would be doubled over with grief, he's got a surprise coming." Kagome walked over to Miroku's mare and removed the bow and quiver of arrows from where it was bound. The horse whinnied as the girl withdrew one of the cylindrical weapons in appraisal. The edge was freshly sharpened and cut easily as she let her thumb graze the edge.

Inuyasha's nose quivered faintly as the smell of blood hit the open air. He stared pointedly at her as she let her blood drip upon the arrowheads. Miroku watched with interest as she closed her eyes and muttered. Inuyasha repeated her words since they were far too low to be adequately heard by a human's ears.

"Let the blood of the Tetsaigah mingle with Naraku's as this arrow pierces his black heart."

"A prayer?" Miroku questioned.

"More of a promise." Kagome replied.

"How many Youkai are coming?" Inuyasha reached over and took the mare's bridle in his hand. The horse's breath exploded from its nostrils as it beat its hooves against the ground. He motioned for Miroku to mount his steed.

"There has never been such a force... it's poised at the edge of the forest to the north of the village. They're mostly low Youkai, but a hundred Oni is not a trivial thing. Kaede is organizing the men, but we need Tetsaigah to have a chance against them." He mounted the cinnamon-colored mare and took the bridle from Inuyasha.

"The kazaana is useless... there's a dark cloud of Saimyoushou over the whole procession. This has to be Naraku's last stand. He has them all waiting there even though it's against their nature. He wants us all there when he lets them lose. He wants a bloodbath."

Kagome was about to climb onto Inuyasha's back when the hanyou suddenly shot between them and the tree line. The Tetsaigah roared to life as a great golden ribbon arced horizontally through the trees in a great slicing wave. The steel fang met the shimmering edge with a clang. Inuyasha heaved forward with the sword, changing the direction of the vivisecting whip. He spun around and flung Kagome atop the panicking horse. She clutched Miroku frantically as Inuyasha swatted the horse, sending it bolting away towards the village. The other riders followed suit in a panic as Inuyasha called out that he would be with them as soon as he could.

The trees now crashed all around him as gravity pulled the sliced trunks from their stumps. Birds screamed as animals fled, and at the other side of the newly made clearing was made Sesshomaru looked to Inuyasha with cold indifference. His claw still glowed in the dangerous golds of his unique take on a very old Inu attack. The "whip" was in fact, the single slash of one clawed digit.

"Sesshomaru!!?" Inuyasha howled after him.

"Inuyasha... you will not live to save them from Naraku's wrath, a promise from this Sesshomaru." With a sharp flick of the claw, the whip lashed outward and down at Inuyasha as if it were a golden bolt of lightning. The hanyou slashed upward at the curvilinear beam, once more driving it off target. He dashed forward and over the ruined trees as Sesshomaru projected himself forward and met the hanyou more then half way. The impact sent Inuyasha sailing backwards and landing in a crouch.

"You're with Naraku!?"

"That is trivial" he replied as he withdrew the tokijin from his sash.

"Like hell it is!" he lunged at Sesshomaru, who avoided it with infinitesimal effort.

"Why the fuck would you team up with that bastard?! You fucking hate him just like the rest of us!"

"My hatred for Naraku is little when compared to my hatred of you, little brother." They fell against each other once more, and once more Inuyasha was forced to pull away due to his brother's epic speed. Inuyasha panted faintly as he came to a stop against the bough of a overturned tree. The Tetsaigah hung ready in his hands, but still gleamed in the light where as the tokijin was already laced in crimson. Though Inuyasha knew he was already cut, he couldn't feel the actual location of the superficial wound.

The smell of the blood hit the air in a way that only an Inu might appreciate, the subtle coppery flavor and general saltiness... it mingled with the strong aroma of pine and sap into a concoction that thrilled him in the deepest corner of his heart. He still felt the grief for what Naraku had done, he still worried for his human pack, and he still was nearly frantic over this battle with Sesshomaru, but blood and earth thrilled all the same. He wondered vaguely if Sesshomaru might be feeling this too, for surely a full Youkai's senses were far more adept at tasting the air. He had to physically force his exhilaration back, reminding himself that the longer this went on, the more likely that Kagome would be killed by Naraku's host of Youkai. His Kagome was in peril and his damn brother was playing war.

"Why now? Why fight now!?" He stood more upright as he lowered the Tetsaigah an inch in a show that he was not afraid. "Why fucking fight at all!? You say you're so much better then me, but who's saying otherwise!?" Sesshomaru blinked.

"You'd hafta be insane to think I'm a threat to you! I don't care about the western lands; you can have them! I don't have time to argue about father! If you're so damn high and mighty, then why do you waste all your fucking time on me!?" Sesshomaru frowned.

"Cowardice as well? How dirty your blood must be..."

"Cowardice nothing! I've got people to protect! I've got Naraku to stop! I just don't have time for this rivalry of yours!" Sesshomaru's frown rippled for a moment.

His eyes darkened quickly and he drew back the tokijin in preparation for the next strike. Inuyasha too drew up the Tetsaigah, ready to defend against his brother's next onset.

"Damn you... you use the words our great father might have... no. You are not father!" His words rose so sharply from their normal whisper to a bark that it sounded like thunder. Inuyasha barely had time to jump aside as the tokijin flew from Sesshomaru's hand and buried itself in the tree where the hanyou's head once was. No more then a foot behind the blade, Sesshomaru dashed forward and slashed the hanyou from the sky. Inuyasha rolled quickly away as a mist of green poison splashed against the tree he had collided with mere seconds ago. The bark ignited instantly as Sesshomaru reclaimed the tokijin. The whole act had seemed like a single motion.

The Tetsaigah exploded with yellowish fire that cleaved the sky itself. Sesshomaru evaded with an elegant leap into the sky. He seemingly hung there, staring at Inuyasha with quiet disdain. Inuyasha pressed his claws to his own bleeding chest, then flicked crimson blades at Sesshomaru. Tokijin responded with shards of yuki, overwhelming the blades of blood. Inuyasha was on his feet by the time Sesshomaru landed.

"You would do well to be silent, whelp. Your barking is a misuse of breath that you would be wise to savor. I have paid too heavily for this battle to be dissuaded by the words of a worthless hanyou." He rushed at Inuyasha, set on impaling him atop the tokijin, but was thrown back suddenly. His shoulder stung faintly, and as he looked, he was astounded to find it smeared with the faintest tinge of crimson. The Tetsaigah had landed a small hit. How such a thing was possible was beyond him.

Inuyasha was staring forward at him with a deep frown on his smooth and youthful face. The image was more shocking than the wound.

He was no longer hanyou, but Youkai.

And no longer Inuyasha, but his father.

The fierce light shone in the golden orbs of the young hanyou, a light that existed only in memory now since the great lord of the western lands had died. The image faded quickly, but still burned in Sesshomaru's mind with a renewed heat. It was as if Sesshomaru had peered down into a lily-entangled pond, then for an instant, pushed the vegetation aside, seeing down into the depths.

"What price?" He stared blankly at Inuyasha, further fueling the hanyou's wrath. "What price!?! what did you offer Naraku for this?" inuyasha roared, his eyes gleaming daggers.

Inuyasha's eyes burned like no hanyou, human, or Youkai's ever had. His voice was louder by several notes, but deeper in a way that should not be possible for those vocal chords. Inuyasha whined and snarled, he barked but never took on that terrifying superior timbre.

He didn't ask, he demanded.

Though Sesshomaru knew that this half-blooded mongrel was no stronger now then he had been moments ago, he did answer. As the brief reply escaped, he found that he needed to continue. He needed to speak these words as a human might recant their sins upon their deathbed in a pitiful plea for atonement. The parallel nauseated him.

"Jaken...Rin...." Sesshomaru whispered softly before he managed to right himself and regained his poise. Inuyasha stared after him.

"I will not give up this moment Inuyasha... Jaken and my human child were killed for it. I blundered into this covenant with Naraku, and realized too late that Jaken and Rin were helpless." He looked down at the tokijin which vibrated hatefully in his hand.

"When I returned to them, they were dead. One of Naraku's wooden puppets lay atop Rin's face. I took up the Tensaigah, but when I tried to revive them, it burned me." His voice was so soft that a human wouldn't be able to distinguish it from the open air. It was also heartbreakingly defeated. He laughed bitterly to himself.

"Our great father has abandoned me for this union with Naraku. He will no longer allow me use of my inheritance. They are dead, and I cannot resurrect them. My great father has cast me down. I have forfeit all the greatness of my name for this answer. I will have it."

"What answer?" Inuyasha lowered the Tetsaigah. Sesshomaru looked up at him with fierce eyes.

"Why he chose you. Why a creature with only half his blood possesses all of his spirit. I have forfeit my very soul to understand this. Inuyasha, whose blood is dirty, yet has the eyes of a god! I shall understand this! How have you surpassed me and become the true heir to our father!?" Sesshomaru snarled out into the open air.

Never had Inuyasha seen such purity from the lord. Much less heard such emotion. That was it to its core; there was emotion. There were all the same emotions that Inuyasha himself possessed, far more hidden, but just as real. The way Sesshomaru's voice rose in a way which was so inaudible that no mortal could hear it as he spoke the name of his human child. It was the same as when Inuyasha spoke Kagome's name, with a reverence and tenderness that no human could hear. It was love... and that alone convinced Inuyasha to put Kagome from his mind lest he be killed.

Sesshomaru bore his heart, and the fact that he was now letting so much escape was proof that his restraint was cracking. He was looking to Inuyasha now with expectation for whatever the hanyou might say while Inuyasha mutely sized him up. Sesshomaru had never before fought as if the battle truly mattered: he gloated, he provoked, but never had he raised a claw in grief.

Never had he seemed so dangerous.

The village was a tumult of activity as people darted from house to house, toting spears, swords, and the gardening implements that might serve some aid when the Youkai came. The women and children were being ushered into the larger communal huts towards the back of the village, farther away from the distant army. Kaede, who stood atop a cart shouting orders, organized the men who were capable of fighting into a haphazard formation.

The aged Miko clutched her bow tightly in her fist, using it as a means of directing the men into position. She was an old woman, especially for these times, but she had never seemed so young to Kagome as she and Miroku rode up into the midst of the uproar.

The efforts were well underway as the men heaved up great wooden blockades that had been pieced together from the splintered remains of one of the banquet tables that would have held trays of food in honor of Kagome's celebration. A quick glance around as she dismounted the horse broke her heart. There were great sloping strings of vibrantly colored Maru lanterns. And a little farther into the core of the village there stood a small stage where musicians and dancers would have performed Kabuki. A Sitar lay on its side against the stage, obviously abandoned in favor of a weapon. They had wanted this day to be a celebration of her but now it looked like she was the reason they were going to be annihilated.

Kaede looked down at the girl as she ran up to her, she made a quick gesture for Kagome to climb atop the cart with her.

"Thank Kami that you're safe, child. We feared that Naraku had come for you first. The monk was fast finding you..." she sighed in relief, but then started as she looked around.

"Where is Inuyasha! I had thought the two of you would be together!"

"We were attacked." Miroku replied. "Sesshomaru has joined with Naraku and now Inuyasha is fighting him."

"Such horrible tidings... for us to have even the slightest chance at holding the line, we need Inuyasha at the front line." She directed a young man to pull a wood laden cart into position aside one of the pylons.

"Naraku has rallied every unclean thing in the land against us. Never have I felt such tremendous Jaki..." she shuddered faintly. "Inuyasha is a sign to these people. For years he has protected this village. Without him I fear that they will lose hope."

"Is this all we have? There are less then a hundred..." Miroku questioned as if he were seeing the villagers for the first time.

"This village was one of farmers. Look at them... the armor some of them wear is antique. Many have no armor to wear at all. Many of them are too old, and many too young. We are not a village of warriors as Sango's was, but each man here is willing to fight for his home." Kaede replied.

"Not just every man." Sango replied as she strolled up to them in the coral-laden raiment of a demon slayer. Her mask hung around her neck, but aside from that she was ready for anything. The lethal "Hiraikotsu" was slung over her arm in a manner that didn't impress as comfort. She was holding it higher as a means of making it more visible. The transformed Kirara kept pace at her side, looking very close to epic with her head held high and ears pulled up and erect. It occurred to Kagome immediately that this was done for their benefit. She was mustering all the courage she could for them, assuring them that when that cloud of Youkai broke it would be met by a seasoned warrior. This was the same reason that Kaede had asked her to stand with her atop the cart. Kagome was an icon to these people.

"What do you mean, Sango?"

"That more then just men want to fight for their home." She motioned behind her to where a group of five village women stood with obvious apprehension.

"These women are widowed, they have no men to fight for them. The youngest of them has spent two years without a husband. Two years pulling her own weight in this village. They want to fight too."

"That's ridiculous!" One of the old men in faded armor bellowed. "Men make war and women are put here to make children. Such nonsense." Kagome looked over at him and cast a dark look.

"You are new to this village I take it." Miroku posed, looking as dignified as possible. "I personally believe that a woman would be far more happy tending to a man she loves, but this village does appear to be an exception. Kagome, Sango, and Kaede are all women, would you ask them to go cower in a hut?"

"I thought this village was protected. Where is this pet Youkai of yours?" The retired soldier scoffed, avoiding the question.

"Inuyasha is no one's pet. He's a member of this village." Kaede warned quickly, wincing as Kagome hopped down from the cart.

"I came to this village because it would be safe from all these unholy creatures. Now you say that the domesticated one is seen in the same class as a human?" He faced them with a withered look on his broad face.

"I've seen Youkai... creatures so horrible you wouldn't believe me if I told you about them. I've killed my share, and believe me when I say that if you let one think it's the same caliber as a human, it will become more trouble then its worth. If this Youkai of yours isn't thoroughly broken, it should be put down now." He took a step away and looked out over the hillside and to the enemy beyond.

"This is what tolerating Youkai gets you. Hell, your pet probably is the reason this is happening at all. You'd think that a village with two Miko, one monk, and a Taijiya would know better then to let this Youkai of yours run free." He turned back to find Kagome staring up at him with a very displeasurable expression on her face.

Before the man could react she had turned her back to him and lifted her shirt to her shoulders. Her pale back was laced with shallow and pale scars, claw marks. She dropped her shirt and turned back to him with a deadly expression.

"Inuyasha is not my pet. Inuyasha is my lover and mate." She punctuated the Youkai word heavily. "Inuyasha protects this village as well as all the others in the area. If you have the faintest chance at surviving this, it will be because of him."

"You stupid girl. How sickening that someone claiming to be a Miko could let a youkai violate her in such a way. Just look at your back, your scarred from being taken by an animal. Those are not the marks of a lover, they're wounds inflicted by a creature."

"If you doubt my abilities as a Miko, I can demonstrate that I'm just as dangerous as those things that are going to come over that hill soon. Maybe more so." The old man started at her in a kind of silence that was not standoffish or comfortable, but instead more the blinking bewilderment of an animal, stricken with an arrow before it comes to recognize the situation.

This girl --who was little more than a whore to a Youkai-- was standing before him, a full foot shorter and clad in the most ridiculous of garments conceivable, yet something in her expression reminded him of the Youkai he had encountered in his time with the army. She was utterly devoid of intimidation, and in possession of some primal strength that was either holy or demonic in its immensity.

"Child, come back up here with me. The people should see you." Kaede touched her shoulder, drawing her away from the old soldier. The Taijiya stepped forward with her host only to have Kagome smile at them.

"You understand that in all likelihood you will be killed? No one is going to be there looking out for you." The young Miko's voice was soft and measured, gentle in spite of subject. As the women replied with cultivated affirmation, Kagome turned. Her movement was swift and somewhat startled, she looked out desperately across the ramparts of wood and earth. The others tensed along with her as she spoke lowly and with great urgency.

"Take bows, get as high as you can and remember to aim a little high of them. We don't have a lot of arrows to spare, so once you're out, run." As shrill howl echoed across the blackening forest, every man halted their work and stared up in fear to the distant groves.

The woods hung silent and dark before them, sweeping out to either side and bathing what lay beyond in an oppressive darkness. There was no sound in the aftermath of that one shrill howl which lingered and reverberated in countless echoes against the scenery.

"Take positions quickly! They're right ahead of us and to the left! They're going to make a mad charge as soon as their leader gives them the go-ahead! Don't panic!" Kagome's voice exploded against the stillness, breaking them from their stupors and forming them into phalanxes of living shielding.

From the center of the forest he rode, the white fur of his pelt fanning out over his slumped demeanor. He looked like an old man wearing furs for warmth, but the shadows were all wrong on him. He looked more sinister there then if he had worn the full plate-mail of a samurai drenched in the gore of battle. The horse he sat atop neighed frightfully and tore at the ground with its hooves in agitation. It knew the nature of the beast that sat atop it and trembled with a wild and suppressive terror.

The Hanyou Naraku paused there, more sinister in his silence than the whispered noise of the army which lay girdled amongst the trees like a nest of vipers. He looked down the hillside to them, staring through the embankments at the face of Kagome. She didn't flinch from his gaze, but held it with icy resolve. The men most near the young Miko looked upward to her, horrified that she would so readily meet the gaze of such a Youkai. There was a jinx that for one to look into the eyes of a Youkai one would forfeit their soul to that Youkai.

The fact that Kagome was now doing it was both a thing of great horror and awe. She was meeting the eyes of her enemy as though he were a man and not a Youkai. She was pitting her own soul against his. Would lady Kikyo have done the same while she still lived? The old soldier who mere moments ago was ridiculing the girl for her unclean love of Inuyasha now looked at her in a shamed reverence. A Miko who feared no Youkai with all the courage of a man and all the cunning of a woman. Her hand did not tremble as it held the arrow to the bow.

The distant figure raised both his perfectly human hands and made a gesture behind him. He motioned to his army which remained hidden as nothing more obvious then a sense of doom among the darkened canopy. With a swift and minute drop of his hands they were loose and running through the forest. The men cried out suddenly as entire trees were flung skyward in the great forward scramble.

When Youkai mass together they form a veritable sea of slithering and diaphanous forms. Such ethereal radiance might be beautiful were it not for the fact that each terrible, primitive, form was quite visible amongst the glow. They poured from the tree line like the breaking of a dam. Their emergence was destructive as many of the Youkai opted to tear through the trees as opposed to going around them. Though they parted for no stone tree or animal, they gave Naraku considerable space on all sides as they ran howling down the hill.

The humans waited until they were close before the defense took form. Kagome's was the first arrow to fly, and as it kissed the open air it erupted in amethyst flame and nearly tripled in size. Where as most arrows arc downward with gravity, this arrow followed the same horizontal trajectory to conclusion. It also varied from the other arrows because where at best a single arrow could take a single like, one of Kagome's arrows killed dozens as it streaked through the procession as a great purifying bolt of light.

The other arrows rained down on the scattered survivors with a somewhat less lethal effect, but a respectable one none the less. Kaede knocked her own arrow and as it flew, it as well took on a radiance of purity that proved quite lethal to the advancing hordes. Though it reaped a far smaller death toll, it still was grounds to give some Youkai pause in their advance, and as they looked again, Kagome had knocked another arrow, and with it, carved a slice from the charging legions. Those who had given pause at Kaede's blast now turned and attempted a full retreat at Kagome's sunder. They ran back towards the trees, but skidded to a halt the second they caught sight of Naraku who waited patiently at the end of the procession.

There was chaos between both sides.

They had time for a fourth volley just before the Youkai met the first walls. The impact was epic as wood exploded against the quicker of the Youkai hordes. The second they careened with the stockades they were pierced and skewered by naginata and the more primitive farming weapons that were forced to make the transition into spears. Their momentum alone drove the weapons through them in great geysers of reeking blood, but before the weapons could even be cleaved from the twitching forms, more had ran atop their comrades and fallen upon the humans in a hellish butchery with claws fangs, and barbarous cutlery. Youkai blades chopped down through the farmers with horrific ease, rending limb and flesh in a simple downward motion. Swords swung back against the Youkai, slicing them to ribbons with an abundance of energy that told just how early in the battle this scene was. They would all be weary soon enough, and the swords that now met Youkai blade and flesh would feel like raw iron ore in their tired fingers.

The forms of Youkai and men mingled in a maelstrom of chaotic shrieks and clangs. It was impossible to tell the men from the beasts as the ranks had broken and now mingled in bloody paradigms. Kagome barely had time to jump off of the cart as Kagura made her presence known in a series of eviscerating gusts of wind. She hit the ground hard on her shoulder and rolled with the momentum as the cart was sliced to kindling. She managed to just barley catch sight of Kaede doing the same, though on her old bones the feat must have been agony.

Kagome would have made an effort to regroup with the elder Miko, but was quickly cut off by the tide of Youkai who streamed between them like a flooding tributary near a river. She was forced to deal with the more immediate threat first, and thus seized another shaft from the quiver at her side.

"Are you alright Kagome!?" Sango called out from her side. Kagome had lost track of the Taijiya during the battle. Sango heaved the great weapon, her trademark, against a nucleus of Oni which soon found themselves upended in a bloody moment.

"Yeah! Kaede and I were separated though!" she called out as she was nearly bitten in half by a reptilian Youkai. The creature however was ill prepared for what close proximity to Kagome could do to a lower Youkai. Before his fangs met flesh he had caught fire and now howled on the ground amidst the flames.

"Miroku and I were too!" She swiftly pulled her wakizashi from her side and used it to slice out the throat of a nearby Youkai. A large lavender Oni seized her bow tight in his claw and prepared to wrench it from the girl's hand. Kagome, took a page from Inuyasha's guide to dealing with pissy Youkai, and decked an Oni in the jaw. She was quite sure she broke her hand in the effort, but once again her spiritual power made the contact quite lethal to such a primitive creature. She seized the polearm the creature was using and drove the crescent moon shaped blade into the back of another Youkai's neck.

"Where is Inuyasha? We're not going to be able to keep them like this for long." Sango led Kagome to a more secure position where her back would be to a wall as opposed to a churning tide of men and Youkai. Kagome knocked another arrow.

"No clue! But we can't really ask them to wait on him." Another line of Youkai perished in the arrow's wake.

"You're right. But that sword of his would be very useful."

"No argument."

"Happy birthday Kagome."

"Yeah, really," she grimaced as she reached behind her for another arrow.

It's harder being brave while hiding than you might think it would be. The men who were out there fighting Youkai were brave in one way, but the harder part was what was going on in here. They didn't have to be quiet and still while those who huddled together inside the hut most assuredly did. The quiet inside was equal to the noise outside, oppressive and smothering. Each breath sounded like a trumpet and the shaking couldn't be stopped for anything.

The women were huddled in the farthest corner of the long hut, trembling in the darkness. There were three mothers with babies and now each held their tiny little human to their breast in an effort to keep the child silent. The children who were too old to be quieted by the need to suckle and too young to be aware of the need for hush were pressed in the arms of their mothers and soothed as best they could be. Those who fought the urge to cry out too fiercely were gagged; the act tore the heart of their mother to pieces.

The hut was a basin of darkness, barricaded heavily enough to give most humans trouble, but to a Youkai the fortification of the door was probably a futile effort. In all likelihood the walling in of the door was more to give the occupants inside the impression of defense when in fact any of the Youkai out there would be able to rip the wood from the entryway as easily as pulling cloth aside.

Shippo hunkered by the barred door and peeked through the small gap towards the bottom. The opening would be big enough for him to squeeze through, but there were not likely to be many kitsune sized Youkai descending on the village. He peered out into the battle and shivered at the smells and sounds that flashed through his senses. He could smell blood, of course. Even a human would be able to smell such a distinctive scent when there was this much of it to smell. They might have a little more trouble picking up the smell of sweat or excrement that tinged on the edge of the more deep coppery scent. All heard the sounds, but only the little fox could pick up the smaller noises mingled to the bigger ones. He heard the incessant roaring of the Oni, but also the mewling whimpers of creatures of various species who now lay crippled and dying upon the ground.

He flicked another acorn out through the crack, watching as it flipped away and then exploded into a cloud of smoke which left a various illusion in its wake. The fox magics of trickery were short lived, but at the right time they did prove distracting to the Youkai who snapped or lurched away from one in surprise. This pause usually gave a human enough time to get away or to strike out at them with very unhonorable attacks.

He saw Kagome in the distance; fighting bravely and kicking the tail of whatever Youkai came her way. Sango was right beside her, and Kirara not farther away. Miroku was out of sight, but probably up to his neck in trouble. That or molesting a village girl. A large slithering creature collided with the earth in front of the hut and was promptly impaled by a spear. The poor man who was holding that spear was now being dragged along by his stricken foe who had given up attacking and decided to attempt fleeing. By the time the duo were clear, Kagome and Sango had vanished into the fight.

The snake Youkai tossed the villager back down in front of Shippo and lurched forward to bite him. Shippo tossed an acorn in his face, promptly taking the form of a carbon copy of himself. The fox grabbed the snake by the face and clung as the creature attempted to pull away the nonexistent fox. Before the illusion faded, the man had pulled a bladed weapon from his sash and used it to take the head from the vile creature's neck. It thrashed and gurgled on the ground as the man looked towards Shippo and smiled.

Just as he smiled, he fell forward like a stone. Shippo cried out in shock only to clamp his hands over his mouth, smothering the scream since silence was such an important issue. He assumed that the man had been previously injured, but soon other humans began dropping like bricks.

He caught the first faint wisp of her from the corner of his eye as she walked like a lonely ghost over the battlefield. Her presence was such a void that even though a war was being fought around her, it all seemed impossibly slow and silent in her wake. She held a mirror over her chest and as the reflections of the villagers fell upon it, they slumped in death. She was not much taller then Shippo himself, actually, though her veneer was notably more unnerving.

The child was as much a piece of glass as the pane of mirror she bore before herself. Her hair was only slightly less pigmented then her skin and was utterly and completely devoid of the slightest flush of color. She wore a perfectly white kimono that trailed down to her tiny bare feet. The only real darkness to her was in her eyes, but unlike the common elliptical orbs of the Japanese, Kanna's eyes were as full of life as the twin orbs of a well made doll. She walked amidst the battleground like a lonely specter, swallowing up the souls of the humans as she passed.

If Kagome were seeing this, then she would no doubt see the actual souls as they were wrenched loose of their mortal frames and then drawn into the mirror, but since Shippo, -for all of his power- was blind to the invisible, he saw only the slumping of every human who fell into range of the demonic mirror.

There was a loveliness to the soulless child that did pull at the fledgling desires of Shippo's prepubescent mind. He might have been tempted to play with her were she not so vacuous and the setting not so horrible. She was a child of Naraku, born from his own flesh as well as his own evil. Nothing good could grow from such crop, and thus Shippo easily reminded himself of how wicked she was in her silence. She wasn't a tiny snowflake on the wind, more like a lethal frost.

She turned to the hut and peered inward as though the slats of wood were no more substantial than haze over a forest.

"Hello, Fox." Shippo's blood froze in his veins as he hunkered down in silence, hoping she would take his silence as her own mistake. Maybe she just felt a fleeting wisp of kitsune in the air.

"You don't need to hide. Naraku told me to kill Kagome, Inuyasha, the demon slayer, the monk, and whatever humans I came across. He didn't say anything about killing you." Her words were so quiet and tepid that it sounded as though she were talking in her sleep.

"I'm sorry, but I need to go. I would hide from the others though, they seem to enjoy the killing too much. Not all of us follow Naraku's directions as well as I."

A flash of amethyst light bid her turn.

Kagome's arrow.

"No, don't hurt, Kagome!"

"But I must." She replied without even turning away. Shippo rose to his feet, withdrawing a top from his tiny vest, and then threw it at her feet. The tiny spinning toy erupted in a whoosh of smoke and grew exponentially larger until it was a full head over Kanna. The snowy apparition regarded the warning shot with little interest and turned back to Shippo.

"Illusion magic won't stop what Naraku has commanded. If you insist on fighting me, I will have to take your soul too." Shippo trembled at the idea of having the life pulled from him just as all those men had. She stared through him as he shifted his weight anxiously from one paw to another, looking frantically for some answer. What chance did he have? She was a spawn of Naraku; the first detachment!

The mirror caught the light as it vanished behind a cloud, and as it did, stirred a memory that gave him an idea. He had seen many mirrors, but few struck him as sinister. But all mirrors were just polished glass really.

Before meeting up with that jerk Inuyasha, and making friends with Kagome, Shippo had not been a tamed Youkai. He did what all other foxes so frequently did, caused mischief. Little girls were nice, and Shippo liked them, but they had once been his prey. He liked to steal their ribbons and put bugs in their hair, and he had once--at his worst--broken a little girl's cherished mirror.

It was that memory that sent a tiny shiver of hope through him. Kitsune were natural born tricksters, and this particular kitsune had a Kagome to save. Though he normally would have been bristling his tail in pride by now, he instead hung his head. The mirror girl watched him with nearly limitless patience as he shuffled his feet in mock deliberation, his eyes scanning the ground feverishly.

He found the stone a foot before him, and was on top of it in a sudden stumbling collapse. He cried piteously as his paw clenched over the small rock. Kanna's eyes moved to his paw effortlessly.

"Do you intend to throw that at me?"

"You won't hurt my mom!" The moment that the stone hit the air, it multiplied into hundreds, and then hundreds still. It was really an impressive barrage, and even Kanna seemed ill prepared for such a well-crafted feat of illusionary magic. Her mirror glowed brightly in a reflexive manner as it attempted to deflect the phantom hail.

As each stone proved to be phantasmic, the barrier reflexively fell, but only in time for the tiny kitsune to run over and hurl his entire body at the snowy little girl. Caught off-guard by the hail of stone, she was completely blindsided by the impact of a body that was very close to her own size. She stumbled backwards as Shippo hit the ground with a thud, then with a sudden roar of kitsune rage, Shippo hurled the tiny stone, which had never actually left his paw, into the bare plane of the mirror.

The crack was small, but it spidered outward like laden thin ice on a pond. A fierce light shone behind the glass, and as the mirror shattered, Kanna looked at the fox with the most vivid expression of her preternatural life: shock. Like shooting stars, the souls fled the mirror, streaking across the sky in search of their true vessels. The Oni had probably killed most of their human shells by now, but for some there might be hope. The breaking of the mirror sent Shippo rolling backwards like a leaf in a strong gale.

As the mirror broke and fell away, so as well did Kanna. Her flesh grew translucent then faded to nothing more then the sun-bleached ivory skeleton of a human child. That too was short lived as each bone crumbled away like shards from a mirror. With Kanna dead and Kagome saved, Shippo fainted face first.

The knife-edge of the foot broke on Inuyasha's cheek, sending him crashing to the ground again. Sesshomaru regained his balance and then kicked him again, this time sending him flying backwards clutching his ribs. The force of these two blows would each have been fatal to even the strongest of mortals. The shot to the head would have been a veritable decapitation while that particularly vicious kick to the chest would most likely have divorced upper from lower torso.

"No, Sesshomaru." Inuyasha's words were hollow and slightly wheezing.

"Damn you, hanyou!" He was atop Inuyasha in a heartbeat, seizing him by the face, and throwing him head first through a rock. A pissed off Sesshomaru was not an enemy Inuyasha enjoyed fighting. The impacts were starting to add up, and Inuyasha felt the blood running down his face, matting his silver hair. He was aware of all the wounds in his body, most prevalent were the broken ribs that now poked his lungs with each breath. Were he a human, his lungs would not heal fast enough to remain intact. Already his ribs were attempting to mend themselves, but each impact or movement defeated the effort.

"Fight back worthless hanyou!"

"No, Sesshomaru. I get it now. I understand." Inuyasha spat blood miserably as he held his tormented sides. "I'm not going to fight you just so you can kill me or so I can kill you. That's stupid. It's worse then something animals would do."

"You are a fool, Inuyasha. Speaking such garbage when you, yourself, are an animal."

"And you're not? You're acting really human right now, brother." He winced as the lashing beam of Sesshomaru's claw cut a gash across his face. The blood flowed down his face like cascading water from a fount. But even now he saw how Sesshomaru wouldn't kill him. That could have taken his head from his shoulders, no doubt, but all he got was a vicious wound.

"See," he gurgled. Sesshomaru was silent. His eyes lowered to stare at the Tetsaigah that lay sheathed at Inuyasha's side.

"You truly will not fight me? You would rather have me kill you?"

"I won't give you what you want. I won't murder my last family just to please some insane honor thing with you. And you won't kill me. If you killed me while I didn't try to fight back you'd lose your only chance at figuring this question of yours out. My death would mean shit to you if I died without trying to fight back." Inuyasha groaned as his ribs popped back into place.

"You are a coward Inuyasha. A worthless hanyou born to a whore of a human."

"You don't believe that, though. If you thought I was just a worthless coward you would have killed me by now. I'm alive because you think I'm more then that," he replied as the last of his wounds scabbed over. "And my mother was the wife of your father. Calling her a whore insults dear ol' dad a lot more then it does me. I hardly remember either of them, so it doesn't really matter what you say, brother." Sesshomaru looked eerily calm.

"You are right. You are the true son of a Youkai god, and the more worthy of the two. You may be a coward; you may be the true lord to the western lands. I now know my place in this drama... I shall be the villain if it answers my question." Inuyasha started slightly as he said that.

"Do you hear the sounds of battle, Inuyasha? Do your pathetic little hanyou ears hear the screaming of both Youkai and men? Mine do. And this vow I now make to you, my dear little brother." Inuyasha felt the fear before the words were even uttered.

"I am leaving this worthless battleground of ours for another. I will go to that little human village and put an end to all the things you once loved. I will end every life you have touched, destroy every soul you have saved. I shall unleash death and suffering without limit on everything you love. Your female, the Miko with the odd kimono who smells of your flesh. I will go to this human and carve out the womb from her body so that your seed will perish before it even really lives.

"That is my final offer to you Inuyasha. If I live, I will kill your mate, and the pup she hides inside her even now. I will purge the world of every memory of the hanyou Inuyasha. My soul is lost already, as dead as my child and my servant... What have I to lose now by bringing agony upon you?"

Inuyasha had never cried over his brother, but as he seized the tattered hilt of the Tetsaigah and felt it transform in his hand, he wanted to wept for what was now inevitable.

Sesshomaru smirked mirthlessly and seized the tokijin by the hilt and charged at the bloodied hanyou. Each footstep like thunder across the heavens. The tokijin rose over Sesshomaru's shoulder in preparation for a downward swing, which would split the hanyou as well as the earth itself. Inuyasha watched each muscle in Sesshomaru's arm tense, watched the nearly invisible hair on his arm rustle in the wind as each fold of fabric bend and turned in such epically slowed motion. Inuyasha had never been able to see Sesshomaru when he was moving at his full speed, but now he looked completely still as the tokijin began its downward arc.

Sesshomaru had never known a being capable of matching his own speed. And when Inuyasha vanished a mere inch away from the tokijin, he couldn't fathom it. A flash of crimson that could have either been fire rat fur or blood flickered before his eyes as he felt the horrifically familiar sensation of having an arm removed. The Tetsaigah had bitten the hand at the wrist, separating the stricken lord from his sword in such blinding speed that it had been invisible to him.

Inuyasha had already flipped behind him as the tokijin embedded itself in the trunk of an overturned tree, the hand still clinging to the hilt, the blood not yet flowing. Inuyasha ran the blade against the backs of Sesshomaru's heels, cutting tendon and muscle in such a way that his legs would now be incapable of holding him.

Sesshomaru didn't even feel the pain as Inuyasha appeared before him once more, just as his crippled legs gave out beneath him, and drove the Tetsaigah through the center of his chest. Inuyasha started at him in that surreal moment with surprise and anguish in his golden eyes. Sesshomaru had witnessed Inuyasha's ascent from lowly hanyou, to the true lord of the western lands in that tragic instant that their eyes locked. It was with grim determination that Inuyasha spoke the final blow, forever ending Sesshomaru's bitter journey through an orphaned life spent in the shadow of the father he would never know.

"Kaze no Kizu"

Destroying and pulverizing, the golden shards of pure yuki tore through his stricken form. It was odd to feel the sudden absence of one's body and then the impact of what little still remains hit the ground in a disconcertingly light thud.

He had been maimed, crippled, impaled, and then torn asunder. That might have been commonly assessed as overkill, but in a small way Sesshomaru found it to be a term of respect from the young Inuyasha. He knew Sesshomaru was such a powerful foe, that no one of these wounds alone might destroy him, thus he would combine them into one devastating union.

And if this was not the case, then what else had Sesshomaru imagined for himself other then total oblivion? He had threatened a superior Youkai's mate and his pup. Such would be an invitation for carnage in any Youkai circle.

Inuyasha dropped the Tetsaigah on the grass and staggered to where Sesshomaru's head had come to lay. The head was shrouded in a veil of silver hair that singed as it grew closer to the point of Kaze no Kizu. He looked surprised that he had won. He clearly had no grasp on the power he possessed.

"And the hanyou Inuyasha triumphs." Sesshomaru spoke. Inuyasha was startled slightly as the severed head of his brother now spoke to him without either lung or breath to really do so.

"This wasn't a victory. I just killed my brother." he remarked quietly.

"You answered the question, Inuyasha. How is it that a hanyou could be the embodiment of our great father? I understand that now. I was a fool to be so blind to it for so long, the Inu... we are creatures of great strength, but our strength pales to our great loyalty. Your strength was your love for the humans. That is what you and father understand, but I did not." Inuyasha didn't seem to care about the answer, just the fact that he was now truly the last of his bloodline.

"I didn't know about the pup. It's going to be born never knowing so much. It will be a hanyou, and I can't teach it anything of our kind. It will never know you, my brother, the great lord of the western lands." Inuyasha paused to debate something, then spoke his thoughts. "I will never know you either."

"The great lord Inuyasha. The hanyou Inuyasha. All I could have taught you of myself would have been poison to you. I was a fool to abandon a brother and to then hate him for surpassing me. I have only regret now." he smiled.

"You were the great lord, Sesshomaru." Inuyasha remarked softly.

"Were I given another chance at this life, I think I would have lived it better. The only joy I have known in it was the love of my child, Rin and the devotion of my servant Jaken." he paused. "And this moment, when my brother defeated me before I had time to further sully my name. Were I given another chance at this life, I think I would have liked to be a brother to you." Inuyasha had never seen a smile so genuine on Sesshomaru's face before.

"Yes... that is the wish of this Sesshomaru."

The great lord Sesshomaru died and his brother, Inuyasha took the Tensaigah and laid it at his side. With no further pause, Inuyasha ran off in the direction of the battle.

It was a shitty day.

Here he was, surrounded not by thongs of beautiful women with wide hips and ample breasts, but by savagely grotesque Youkai with muscular hips and breasts that he dared not attempt to picture. Some of these Oni were, in fact, female, though not a single one of them made him feel like grabbing their bottom.

He was separated from Kagome, the others, and Sango. He was missing Sango's company on so many levels now that it was purely depression at this point. First and foremost: she was more then useful in situations where you're surrounded by blood lusting Youkai. Here he was, dancing around the battle in a constant effort to keep from getting attacked from behind. Sango would make this battle much easier.

As useful as she was on the battlefield, what drew him to her was not found in the fact that she wore armor, but instead how well she filled out that blessedly tight Taijiya uniform. How perfect a wife she would be, kind and nurturing to the children, but undoubtedly a tiger in the bedchambers.

Perfection in spades.

Oddly enough, she was one of the only women in all the world who he would be willing to remain chaste with. Thank god, however, she had not made that a requisite just yet. They played their game, he would get a little handful of heaven, and she would assist him with atoning for his sinful ways. It was nice, and in a strange way, he did enjoy the pain that followed. It just didn't seem right anymore without that bone-crushing declaration of affection. He wondered about that as he drove his staff through yet another of Naraku's soldiers.

Did Inuyasha enjoy being "sat"? The subject seemed a little inappropriate since Inuyasha was very secretive about his more intimate moments with the young Miko. In fact, all he did elude to was that she was taken, and as such, a groping would be met with a gutting should he happen to get a little too close to Kagome. He sighed miserably as he pressed an ofuda into an insectoid Youkai's throat, burning a gap between head and torso.

Why of all the traveling companions in all of Japan did he end up getting saddled with two gorgeous women and one epically puritanical hanyou? Since Kagome and Sango always bathed together, he couldn't even peek at Sango since Inuyasha felt he might also catch a little too much of Kagome's pleasant silhouette. Sango loved it.

Damn mutt, getting ethical just to spite him it would seem.

Now that was harsh. Inuyasha was among the truest friends Miroku had ever known, and he had a right to be protective over the woman who would someday house his offspring. This was just a shitty day, and somehow fighting endless throngs of demons lead by the one Youkai who had managed to set in motion the extinction of the Miroku line always seemed to put him into a crappy mood.

It was then that Miroku noted a sudden pause in the combat; a small lull that sent him into high alert. He looked upward only to find a dark cloud of Youkai had amassed in the sky overhead. They were reaching their upward arc, and then would plummet downward atop the village in a epically final strike. There might be or might not be a third wave at this point, because once they careened downward it was clear that they would not live to know.

"Oh gods be with us," he muttered gently.

The distant pulse of lavender light gave immediate proof to him that Kagome was behind him by some distance. He could feel her spiritual power quite clearly. Sango, however, was completely invisible to him given her lack of spiritual power. That hurt him far more then any of the battle wounds he had received in this war; here he was; forced to do something so heartbreakingly brave and she wouldn't even be a tingle in his spiritual compass. He sighed miserably as he took his cursed hand, and tossed of the bindings, letting the fathomless dark abyss explode outward in an all-consuming maw.

He had no children even despite all his effort, and here he was preparing to meet the same terrible end that had befallen his father and grandfather before him. The line died today, and the woman Miroku wanted most to die next to, was off fighting in total ignorance of what was about to happen.

The kazaana swallowed the sky itself as Miroku held the vortex facing upward. Feeling nauseated by the lightness of his stomach and the weariness he was only now becoming aware of in his arms. The hole was spreading quickly as it swallowed up half of the second wave, and as it neared three quarters of the advancing foes it had become clear that he was going to die. Never had he consumed so many.

He had fallen to his knees as the last of the wave was plucked from the sky, but the hole was now far too large to be contained by his former measures. He smiled grimly as things were swallowed up around him and thought of Sango and how he would never look upon her elegance again.

This was a very shitty day.

In the distance a song of agony and death rang out in such beautiful symphonics that it was distracting. A plan's maturation was always a pleasant time, but rarely was it so wondrously choreographed. Each cry into the open air was the sound of an obstacle's destruction. Perhaps one of them would be Kagome's last scream as she perished on an Oni blade.

Wishful thinking.

When someone with Kagome's power dies it is felt. And as of yet, there was no shockwave to signify her soul's untethering. It mattered very little really, the plan wasn't contingent on some Oni getting lucky.

The air's scent was overpowering. The splintered trees perfumed the wind with their pleasantly natural scent in such magnitude that it was nearly choking to a Youkai. Naraku was a creature of many Youkai, and among many Youkai, a good sense of smell was prevalent. It was through this faculty that he caught the scent of Inuyasha and Sesshomaru's blood amidst the overpowering stink of tree sap.

The battle had made a clearing out of what once had been a dense bush, and now sprawled in the very center of the decimated forest there lay the tattered remains of the proud Sesshomaru. The white linen of his hakama now a stagnant coppery black while bits of flesh lay strewn about the grass. The lord's yuki was still quite present, even though he himself was now dead. Normally such a feast of flesh would draw carrion Youkai or animals, but the intensity of his presence would keep the vultures at bay for days until it dissipated.

"The proud fall like the weak, they just seem to do it with more excess." Naraku remarked as he drew up his hand and summoned the eel-like wraith, Shini-dama-chuu.

The ethereal serpents bled from Naraku's upturned wrist and began gathering the lumps of flesh. Kikyo's little pets were not unuseful at times, though dispatched quite easily, they were quite useful when dealing with the dead. In fact, Naraku himself was composed of several such Youkai.

He had once toyed with the idea of taking all of the fallen miko's Shini-dama-chuu into himself and watching her grow still and cold. Such however would not be practical, and though a shadow of her former self, those arrows were a nuisance. Thankfully there were more than enough soul catchers in the wild; he had no need to rob her of her little friends just yet.

From his wrist they flowed, seeking out the tiny fragments of Sesshomaru and arranging them together. Their work was fast and soon the piecemeal lord was piled in a recognizable shape. Naraku motioned for the eels, and like a flock of serpentine birds they shot off to do his bidding. While they were gone he walked up to the tattered carcass and kicked the Tensaigah away.

A sword with a loving soul and enough spiritual power to slay the immaterial demons of the underworld.

How useless such a thing was on such a day. The fang rolled away and came to rest in the laurels of an overturned tree like the trash it was.

Naraku knelt before Sesshomaru and very slowly drove three shards of the jewel into his cold forehead. The tiny fragments slid under the skin easily enough and then glowed faintly. The first of the soul collectors arrived and descended on Sesshomaru, inserting a soul into his chest. Five other souls followed before Naraku took the creatures back into himself.

The marks began to fade, and with a start Sesshomaru lurched upward, eyes wide with bewilderment.

"You've proven yourself to be a failure, Sesshomaru."

"Naraku!" He sliced Naraku down the center with the Tokijin that had never left his hand. The blade cut Naraku as though the Youkai were water, instantly mending as though the sword never passed through him.

"Fool." The shards in Sesshomaru's forehead pulsed brightly, sending the lord down to his knees in agony.

"How dare you pollute this Sesshomaru with your vile jewel!" he roared, but proved unable to pull the pieces out. Each attempt was met with epic agony.

"A dog who would bite the hand of his master should be leashed and muzzled." He opened his hand to Sesshomaru, and the Tokijin leapt from his hand and to Naraku.

"You used the fang of my most loyal child to make your blade. He would obey you against any foe but one. The Tokijin could never strike me." Sesshomaru hissed with pain as he lashed out with his claw, only to have insult and injury combined as the Tokijin sliced the hand with a bolt of its own yuki.

"Too long have you been used by fools, Tokijin." He raised the blade over his head.

"Now, Sesshomaru, witness Tokijin's strength when wielded correctly." The blade bent and twisted, then sprouted outward like branches from a tree. The straight blade now wrenched outward into seven offshoots, each warping into a wicked protrusion. The cold gray steel of the former Tokijin now seemed faintly darker and vaguely radiant. It was a living sword, and like a moth from a chrysalis, it emerged transformed. As the sword finally settled, it was transfigured into a demonic Shichishito sword, gleaming with a faint sheen of miasma.

"You will die today Naraku." Sesshomaru growled, his eyes never leaving the Oni's fang.

"Not by your hand, great lord." Sword still in hand, Naraku's form exploded into a thousand insectoid protrusions, descending upon the resurrected Inu Youkai. As Sesshomaru prepared to fight back, the three shards ignited in his brow in black geysers of flame. And as Sesshomaru was engulfed in epic pain, Naraku seized him.

The light died as the squirming mass of Naraku battled with his prey. The shards maintained their assault as thousands and thousands of serpentine and insectoid protrusions seized and engulfed the Inu Youkai. It was as though Naraku were more an environment then a single being; his components were both land and air, smothering and endless. Sesshomaru clawed and tore at them with all the strength he could manage, with the burning shards in his brow stealing his strength and twisting agony through every tendon and fiber of his ancient flesh.

The human form of Naraku stood there watching as more and more Youkai poured from his chest atop the fallen lord. Now and then, the slithering mass would part enough to see Sesshomaru as he struggled within; there were Youkai inside him now, slithering through his flesh as he pulled and clawed them out. Proud to the end, and though Naraku had little fear of the effort failing, he did have other obligations today. Sesshomaru was a necessary thing in the battle with the Miko and her mutt, and though Naraku's power could dwarf any other Youkai, he was still just a very well managed mass of lower Youkai. Sesshomaru would prove to be his strongest resource, a Youkai lord with all the strength one such as himself could amass in centuries of effort.

Naraku grinned at that idea. Sesshomaru's poisons would greatly augment the miasma; his speed would become Naraku's own... Sesshomaru's strength would finally be blended with Naraku's cunning, and from the two halves a new and more perfect Naraku would arise. Already he could feel the Youkai's presence inside him; already he could feel the changes taking place within each cell within his body. But this battle was tiring and taking far too long. Naraku walked over and drove the Tokijin into the mass and straight down through Sesshomaru's chest.

He was absorbed before the heart stopped beating.

It was in the distance that she saw him fall back onto his knee and raise his palm up to a swirling sky of Youkai. The telltale backs and violets flared and the pull took hold. The kazaana was chilling in its magnitude, power that even Naraku himself had never made use of in his battles with Inuyasha. Now as Miroku stretched his upturned palm to the advancing tides of malevolence she watched the Youkai around him flee while others froze in their attacks to watch the horrific spectacle as hundred upon hundred of lives were swallowed up into the maelstrom curse. Both Youkai and men ran from the monk as he plucked the Youkai from the sky. Something was amiss here, had the kazaana glowed so radiantly before, had it swallowed so hungrily?

As she realized the full scope of what was happening she learned a familiar kind of horror. A horror that she had already tasted twice. She knew this agony of the spirit when she watched her family fall dead in splashes of blood during the last hunt of the Taijiya. The second taste had been when she watched her innocent and yet corrupt little brother defy his master. Kohaku had been brave in a way so few could ever be, when faced with the task of eliminating Naraku's enemy he had faltered in the best way possible.

She remembered the look that passed over his once vacant expression as he had prepared to kill his last sister, the sudden and subtle tremble of his lip as he dropped his weapon and screamed out "sister!" again and again. He had screamed the word until finally the agony, which was Naraku's will, broke within him and all the memories flooded back through his body as though it were a breaking damn refilling long dried rivers.

She had felt joy when his chanting turned to a rapturous mantra, his freedom pronounced in one single word. But just as he was preparing to run to her, Naraku once more seized him. He lurched forward with his hands on his temples fighting the will. Sango held back, afraid to do anything for fear that it might distract him from his internal battle. And once more he spoke the word, but this time there was no joy in it. Only the grim shadow of knowledge that there was a piece of Naraku inside his mind and that he could push it back, but never be free of the insistent pressure inside his mind.

He smiled weakly to her, withdrawing the wakizashi from his sash. Sango cried out to him, but her cry was not truly a plea for him to stop. And she realized, just as he did, that he was doomed to go mad if made to fight Naraku every second of every day in the battlefield of his own mind. She cried out his name as the tip of the blade pierced his shoulder and cut the jewel from his back. The second the life-giving shard was gone, the life faded from his face and the boy fell unceremoniously to the battlefield, his chain clinking almost musically as it came to rest beside him. This was a victory for Kohaku, that couldn't be denied; he had fought the most epic of Youkai and won. He would not be the instrument of Sango's demise, nor the catalyst that would send her spiraling into a darkness beyond fathom. His bravery and will had thwarted Naraku, yet Sango was still missing her younger brother, and thus her heart wept so intensely that the Hiraikotsu felt impossibly heavy.

And now Miroku lay there on the bent knee of a man pushed beyond all measures of strength and driven onward on will alone. Miroku's face was contorted in both pain and fear; his hand was splitting under the kazaana's pull. He was single-handedly decimating the next wave of the assault, but he was in mortal peril on two fronts. The kazaana was spreading, soon to swallow him, and surrounded by some Youkai who were not as afraid of the void as the others.

Seeing this, Sango charged into battle loudly. Taijiya were silent in their kills, noise alerted Youkai and would draw them into a full frontal attack. Most Youkai were stronger then humans, and often the wisest way to slay one was to be swifter and more cunning, moving in from the sides. This knowledge well in mind, she roared out at them as she dashed along the bloodied ground, her arm already hefting the lethal Youkai bone weapon and then hurling it forward without losing a step. The weapon flew swift and lethal as it tore through eight of the Youkai. Before their vivisected carcasses even hit the ground, she was atop them with sword in hand. She cut the head off an olive green cycloptic brute. They were all aware of her now, but when the first attack was launched, their numbers were already halved. She evaded and ducked by them, butchering them as she went. Her family would have been amazed to see her in such a state, moving with all the grace and poise of a lifetime of conditioning, hacking and severing with a fervor that only a woman in love could muster.

She was protecting the man she treasured more then any other, and let all the gods have mercy upon whatever Youkai or man might dare try to harm him.

Miroku looked over at her with glazed eyes as she cut the stomach of another Youkai, sending it slumping to the ground in the throws of anguished death. The last Youkai fled from either the swirling vortex, which killed legions in seconds, or the mad Taijiya who was massacring as though she herself were a Youkai in the worst of rages. It was as the last of them fled that she collapsed to her knees beside him and yelled into his ear.

"Miroku, stop! Close it before it gets too big!" There was a panic to her voice that softened his expression as he looked at her.

"It's already too large to be closed up. Sango, I want you to leave me now, the kazaana will swallow everything around me into it, and you'll be pulled in too.

"I won't leave you to die here!" They were both yelling now due to the growing roar of the winds.

"I won't abandon you here to die, Miroku."

She had been using his name for a while now, and it touched him to hear her pronounce it with such tenderness every time; so much of this nightmare touched him. He would die fighting, and with his only true partner there to witness his ascent from pervert to martyr.

"I can't die knowing that I would die with you, beloved." She stared at him as he smiled bitterly.

"I can't live knowing that you died without me." She smiled ruefully as she slid up behind him and wrapped her arm around his, helping him stabilize his arm as it tore at all things with a monstrous hunger. There was finality in that smile, and an answer too. He thought back on his father and grandfather before him, both had died alone in monuments of their own making. They had done their duty by siring a son to preserve the line, but where they had succeeded Miroku had failed, and where they had died alone, Miroku would die in the embrace of a woman who was both brave and in love enough to stand beside him and support him as his cursed hand split farther down the middle in an all consuming vortex.

He was content.

The aged Miko stood readily beside the whirlwinds, which erupted like pillars of livid motion. The sky swirled in turbulence as each traced back to the figure hovering in the sky, suspended by the very winds that flowed from her. She hung there, arms outstretched and embraced by the serpentine coils of swirling wind. The vibrance of her clothing seemed a flock of brilliantly hued birds ensnared and struggling in a web. There was beauty in her form, just as all of Naraku's offspring possessed a beauty that fit to their breed, but like the others, there was a hardness to Kagura's figure. The curves and swells of her obviously female form were all slightly sharper then one might imagine, her high cheekbones cold and unyielding. It was only now, in the midst of this great tumultuous windstorm that she looked at home. But even the sheering and blustering of the wind did not soften the bitter scowl.

Kagura was irate, and making such known quite clearly through her abundant zest for lashing the landscape with her winds. She bobbed up and down as she floated amongst the maelstrom of gales as trees and housing splintered needlessly. Kaede, however, took great care in maintaining her composure as she smacked small pieces of debris away from her with her bowl. The wind was charged with yuki, and as such effaceable with Miko powers.

"How unfair! That bastard sends me to kill a crone!"

"If you hate Naraku so deeply, why serve him?"

"That's none of your business, now shut up and die, once I tear you to pieces I think I can have a little more fun with some of the more virile humans." With a flick of her fan, three blades of wind and yuki hurtled down at Kaede. The old Miko made a gesture to her left with her hand and deflected the three by way of an angled barrier. They sliced harmlessly into empty soil.

"You are quite young, even for a Youkai. You best take this seriously," she remarked sagely.

"Deflect this, hag." Kagura made several sharp slashes with her fan, yielding twelve blades. Kaede performed the same trick, but on the last two had to jump from their path.

"You're not so powerful that you can keep evading me! I am the wind, I'll erode you like a stone."

"My powers are not quite what they once were, unfortunately." She dusted herself off as she rose slowly from the ground, her hand bracing her back. She shambled over to where her bow lay. Yet as soon as Kagura realized that was what she was going for, she hurled a blade intent to cut the weapon in two. The weapon itself leapt from the line off fire and directly to Kaede's open hand.

"Quite the tricky old bit--" She was cut off as a purifying arrow grazed her cheek. She stared blankly at Kaede as the old Miko knocked another arrow.

"My aim is off today," she remarked simply.

In truth, the cataracts were already blurring her vision in her last eye. She was firing not by sight now, but aiming instead for the Youkai presence. Kagura however was so much like the wind that her presence was in constant motion. One of the most important lessons with Youkai was always to maintain an air off nonchalance about the whole affair. When a Youkai senses weakness, they tend to be a little harder to kill. Kagura was a powerful detachment and Kaede had most certainly passed the prime of her power.

It's interesting how the tides of a battle move, the powerful combatants often end up meeting each other in the center of a densely populated field, then as the two begin to do battle, the smaller and weaker Youkai, who once populated the dense battle, spread out and make room for the two. In a human battle, such would be the opposite; many soldiers would converge on one general, cutting him to pieces with sheer numbers as opposed to skill. Kaede was grateful that the Youkai were so primal that their instincts literally forced them to keep a distance from Kagura and herself.

Kagura's winds bit and pulled at Kaede, threatening to uproot her and throw her into whatever debris might be standing in the midst of this now ruined village. It was her own skill with barriers that kept her anchored, but it also limited a great deal of mobility.

In a sudden gust of hurricane force wind, Kagura shot by Kaede and made a swipe with her fan, sharp as a stiletto and with such momentum that it would easily sever a limb. Kaede bent out of the way of the dive-bombing assault, and then fired an arrow after her. Her arrows were being thrown off course by the very whirlwind that Kagura road upon. She fired again as Kagura doubled back to try the guillotine slashing once more. The wind user dodged, and was able to land a blow to the bow in her hand. The wood split as though it were a reed, and fell apart in her hand, a useless item tethered by the still whole bow string. Kagura rose back up into the sky and glowered down at her.

"You are a nuisance I have grown tired of, hag. I'm going to take a lot of pleasure in killing you."

"This is not yet over, child."

"And how is that exactly? You plan to toss those arrows at me by hand?"

"I wonder. Do you know the meaning of my name?" Kagura stared at her, her brow furrowed. The old hag has gone senile.

"You see, Kaede means a type of tree."

"Fascinating." The winds encircled Kaede, eight serpentine cyclones now danced mere feet away from where she stood, prolonging the moment of the kill.

"Kaede: maple tree. You see the wind is an element to respect, but to an old tree who has set its roots deeply, the wind is not a threat. So it is here, you are wild and powerful, but I have deep roots and the patience of all my years. And more importantly, the wisdom of all my years."

"You're delirious, but alright. Be a tree, and watch as I pull you from those deep roots of yours." She made a show of drawing up to strike.

"And it's that wisdom that lets me know that every single one of these winds is connected directly to you." She reached to the leather purse at her side and dumped the white contents into the wind. The purified salt was carried by all the winds in a great swirling ebb. And before Kagura could realize it, the sacred dust was to her.

Contact with the sacred salt was explosively felt as Kagura was assaulted by it. She shrieked sharply, but was all to quickly silenced as the snowy powder ignited into topaz flame upon her. Swirling and spinning she went, careening through the air in wild contortions as her body vanished in spectacular light and nearly silver flame. The winds raged with epic fury for the last instant, then perished, along with their mistress, to the dull stillness that followed her tempest. Kaede bowed her head silently in a quiet prayer for the wind user's spirit, as was the custom.

"Quite the show, brat." Kaede turned to Naraku, who was less then a foot away from her. He wore the same stolen face, and the same baboon pelt, now draped along his shoulders like a monk's shroud, but he was different somehow. His cheeks bore faint stripes of paler flesh that almost could have been scar tissue, but such markings were unique to the Inu Youkai, and it was only after she made that connection that she realized.

Four shimmering shards of the sacred jewel now splayed across his pale forehead, glowing with a particularly great sense of malice, the last four shards were blackened with all the evil he had been able to pool into them over the course of the years. The traces of Inu Youkai were subtle in his appearance, but no doubt were deeply interwoven into the matrix of Youkai who formed his abilities and power. He smiled at her, and she saw the telltale fangs of an Inu Youkai.

"You've killed Inuyasha's brother haven't you?"

"Oh, and what makes you think it wasn't Inuyasha himself who I absorbed?"

"I see the markings of a pure blooded Inu Youkai, also, Inuyasha would have killed you."

"Such faith in the hanyou who murdered your dear sister. What kind of Miko are you to put such Faith in a Youkai? One who is trying to collect the remains of this great jewel and use it to transform himself into a creature like myself... You are misguided."

"It was you who killed Kikyo, and I have faith in Inuyasha. His heart has been healed by Kagome, and should he use the jewel to become a true full-blooded Youkai, I have faith that the creature he would become would be a noble god; nothing as wicked as you, Onigumo." she replied as she lay her arms at her sides. He smiled at the gesture and reached out with his slender fingers, touching her cheek tenderly, then laying his palm on her head.

"I remember you from my past life, you were nothing more then a simple child then, living in the shadow of Kikyo. How you have grown in that time, from the scared little orphan to the mentor of the hanyou Inuyasha and the anomalous Miko from the future. You have come so far, how sad for you to look upon me and know that all this was in vain. The hanyou will die and the Miko shall burn to soot in my miasma. I almost would spare you long enough to see it."

"They will kill you, Naraku." And as she spoke it, she was engulfed in a thick fog of lavender and black miasma which consumed her in a heartbeat. As the dark clouds parted, the pale hand which once had touched the old woman's face, now clutched empty air.

"Bastard!!!" Kagome screamed as she sent an arrow into his chest, still screaming in agony as she let another fly. Naraku laughed despite the pain as he leapt away, plucking the searing arrows from him as he did. His hand and chest smoldered, but it was clear that he had perfected himself for this very confrontation.

Kagome stood there trembling with rage and grief, the crystalline tears running down her dirty cheeks. Such glorious agony and malaise, and hate. Oh the hate was stunning, her powers were so charged that bolts of purifying energy were lashing out at random Youkai, killing them effortlessly. They ran from her now, tearing and clawing over each other to escape the girl whose very presence was death to them. Was there no thing in all the world that could weaken this girl's power? She made love with a vile hanyou on the very floor of the forest. She didn't undergo a single ritual of purification, and now she stood here, charged with divine wrath and seething with a hatred that so few can delve as deeply into, and through all this her power nearly doubled in potency.

The smoldering wounds were great holes in his chest, burning with embers and ash into the dark cavernous body, but even now they mended, the flames died out and the wounds closed. How long it had taken him to adapt this mechanism for processing such formidable spiritual powers. Were he any lesser Youkai, he would be dead by now. But he was Naraku, the great dark cloud which spread across all the lands and swallowed up all that it could use. He was beyond a mere god of Youkai descent; he was an element himself, irreproachable in his omnipotence.

"Such grief for one fallen Miko? Does this new pain dwarf the murders of your mortal family? Kaede was a Miko, a warrior against the likes of me, but your family was killed for no other reason then the fact that they knew and loved you. Were I capable of such feeling, and in your position, I would be more grieved over the deaths of your time."

Again an arrow flew, but this time Naraku smacked it away with a demonstration of Sesshomaru's great speed. The arrow touched the back of his palm for no more then a second, but the power already had stripped his hand of some flesh, leaving it bare bone. It mended quickly.

"You've killed so many people Naraku, so many innocent people. There isn't a hell horrible enough for you." Naraku laughed.

"Send me to hell then, Miko. Send me into the most horrific place you are able, and watch as I swallow it up into myself, growing all the more powerful. You have no power over me; no Miko can purify my evil! The sky will darken with my miasma and there is nothing you could possibly do to stop it."

From his very body he drew the horrible Tokijin, reformed and ablaze with wicked energy. Kagome recognized the sword's black spirit the second it was cleaved from the bubbling flesh. Naraku held it in his hand appraisingly, watching as his own flesh and blood slithered down the blade and back to his hand where it merged back into the mother mass like two beads of liquid mercury rejoining to one.

"You killed Sesshomaru?"

"No. His brother murdered him. I used Inuyasha and Sesshomaru to my own ends. The stupid lord will fight his brother for pride, and with the right incentive, make the battle to the death. Inuyasha will kill his brother, for the mutt can only die by my hands. A dead Sesshomaru, resurrected by the black shards of the jewel, would be no trouble for this Naraku to consume. Inuyasha is my pawn, my most loyal and stupid slave." He looked to his side just as the golden bolts of yuki tore him into pieces. The scattered remains fell with wet noise to the ground, splattering a tar-like fluid, which must serve as blood in Naraku's horrific body.

Inuyasha stood in the distance, the Tetsaigah radiating with golden flame. Kagome ran to him, but stopped and turned suddenly as she felt a sudden spike in Naraku's heavily masked presence. The black blood trickled upward and over the fragmented hunks of flesh, covering each in a shimmering black lacquer. As liquid tendrils, the goo reformed as Naraku, clad in his pelt. He laughed gaily as he threw back his hair and pelt from his face.

"Welcome Inuyasha. I've been waiting. Kagome and I have been chatting about how you delivered your brother to me, thank you for that." He paused then started suddenly with a beaming grin. "You do smell Kaede, correct her singed flesh and sizzling fat? She died so short a time ago that if you used that speed which you used to kill Sesshomaru, you might have saved her. Too bad you're so new to it, you'd need to practice quite a bit before you could do this!" In an instant, Naraku had bridged the distance and driven the Tokijin through Inuyasha's stomach, then hurled him away with a great swing. The blood splattered hanyou collided with a hut, sending the dwelling teetering from its stilt legs and crumbling to the earth.

Kagome cried out as Inuyasha rose up and cut the wind with his sword. The ribbons of obliterating energy raced along the ground until they met Naraku and Tokijin with a great clang. The Shichishito swung against the Kaze-no-Kizu and deflected the blast to his side.

"Sesshomaru had no idea how to use his own power, never have I felt such strength at my command." He leaned back as a purifying arrow shot through the open air where once his head had been. The heat from the arrow sizzled his face and ignited his hair for the seconds until it was healed.

"Ah, perhaps Kagome would like to feel the same miasma which melted her family and mentor?"

He was upon her in a heartbeat. Inuyasha cried out and rocketed for him with the same speed he had used to dismantle Sesshomaru, but Naraku was clearly more in control of Sesshomaru's speed then even the western lord had once been. His hand was already outstretched when much to both Youkai's surprise, Kagome had lunged forward at him, plunging an arrow into his eye. Naraku screamed as the purifying weapon ignited his face like a bonfire, Inuyasha was to him in a moment and with a great sweeping slice from Tetsaigah, beheaded him and sent the flaming ball of bone hair and flesh rolling across the ground.

The body of Naraku vanished in a flash of sulphurous smoke, only to reappear atop the head, reclaim it, and rip the arrow from the hollow charcoaled socket. The flesh mended and finally, the jellied eye formed within the cavernous hollow, knitting itself into his brain and restoring the orbs vision.

"You bastard, come on and show me how you use that thing!" Inuyasha propelled himself forward, the Tetsaigah hitting so hard that Naraku staggered backwards. Naraku was not a natural born fighter, but possessed enough Youkai to make up the difference. Sesshomaru's natural skill was also at Naraku's disposal, but it was still close enough for Inuyasha to push his experience and send Naraku into a defensive position. Again and again the Tetsaigah clanged against the Tokijin, Naraku, still not fully healed from Kagome's horrific attack was staggering backwards, parrying each swipe, but not making too much ground himself.

Such began to look hopeful as Inuyasha ducked to the side, watching in awe as three purifying arrows flew over his shoulder and buried themselves in his chest and throat. Tetsaigah split him halfway down his middle.

Drawing in on himself and with a sudden pulse of his yuki, he sent each sacred arrow flying out of him. The still split Youkai flung himself at Inuyasha, and used the Tokijin to send him hurtling away in a swirling fount of blood. Inuyasha landed in a crouch just in time to pounce forward as Naraku descended from the air and drove the sword into the ground where Inuyasha had been no more then a moment ago. Tetsaigah slashed at Naraku's back with limited satisfaction, and the dance resumed. Every opportunity Kagome got, she planted a number of arrows into Naraku, only to have them expelled in what had to be an agonizing act.

"You can't defeat me hanyou. You and your whore are nothing to me." With a flash of epic speed, Inuyasha sent Naraku flying backwards, bleeding from his throat. He landed in a perfect crouch; pelt fanning out behind him like regal robes.

"Come on you fucker! I'm going to end this once and for all!" Both combatants propelled themselves forward with inconceivable speed, both driving their sword through the other's chest.

Miroku watched as the swirling dervish of blacks and violets mingled with silvers and azures, swirling together in a tumultuous kind of beauty that was as lethal as it was breathtaking. Already he could feel the pull turning back on him, gentle, yet insistent, but rapidly increasing.

Sango clung to him, her arm wrapped across his chest and lost in the fluttering folds of his robes, her other hand remained laced to his own, holding it upward so as not to kill any unfortunate bystander who might wander too close. Miroku felt Sango's hair as it lashed his cheek in the wind, sweet stinging little lashes that he savored almost as deeply as the feel of her warmth molded to his back. The vacuous pull made scent impossible for him, but he savored the memory of Sango's fragrance. Her head was tucked on his shoulder, but her eyes were to their joined hands, watching the beauty of the kazaana as it pulled the clouds from the sky and into itself.

The pull increased and began that last horrific moment that Miroku had thought of so frequently in his morbid youth. He knew he was going to die from childhood, and he knew how as well. He had seen the great domed craters on Mushin's land, seen the final scar left by the cursed hand. How many macabre nights had he lain there on his mat staring up at the ceiling, wondering what it must have been like. The agony of being bent and pulled into your own hand. He had imagined it being excruciating, and as the pull reached the point of self-consumption, he knew it would be.

Sango felt the trembling as he took his good hand and laced it around hers, pulling it away from the cursed void. She almost fought him, but seemed to mellow as he took her hand and squeezed it tightly. She knew that the moment had come.

Like a nightmare it happened, his fingers bending and twisting forwards, the tiny phalanges snapping and coming unjointed all within his stretched skin he pulled back against the pull, but found that it was impossible, his hand was crushing itself and being pulled towards the vacuous threshold. He cried out in pain as Sango crushed herself to him, expertly unsheathing her sword as she did.

Kagome screamed out in shock as both Naraku and Inuyasha staggered in the horrifying embrace, bloodied points sticking out either of their backs. Inuyasha leaned forward so that his face was almost touching Naraku's.

"It seems like this is a fight between hanyou, eh?"

"Don't compare me to something as flawed as you. This will end now!" He made a gesture as though he were going to explode with miasma, yet halted as Inuyasha drove his claws into Naraku's chest, grabbing him by the collar bone and pulling him so close that their foreheads touched.

"You know what makes my Tetsaigah stronger then the Tokijin? It's able to get tougher with everything it kills."

"Oh?" Naraku hissed as he drove Tokijin deeper, much to Inuyasha's agony.

"Yeah," he replied through gritted teeth, "When it drank the blood of that damn worm, Ryukotsusei... it became able to do the Kaze-no-Kizu whenever I wanted and learned the Bakuryuuha. It drank the blood of those bat Youkai and was able to chop through barriers... and now it's in you." He heaved upward so that the entire blade now shimmered with Naraku's blood. The black blood sunk into the blade as though it were water on a sponge.

"You may have gotten really tough, but I bet that if my sword drains you a bit, you'll be taken down a few notches." He tightened his grip on the stunned Youkai's collarbone.

And whispered into his ear:

"This is for everyone you've used and destroyed, bastard." He smiled even as blood ran down his lips.

"And remember, a hanyou was the one who killed you..."

Using the collarbone for leverage, Inuyasha tore Naraku upward and off his sword, tossing the stricken Youkai high into the air. He turned and yelled to Kagome as he drew up the Tetsaigah. The arrow was leaving the bow even as he spoke her name.

The Bakuryuuha was normally a backlash of a Youkai's own power, but in truth, the attack drew whatever power it came in contact with into itself. As it mingled with Kagome's arrow, it joined with it in a way that poets might have fun putting to verse. Youkai power and Miko energy mingled and transformed the attack into a blast of crimson and silver which streaked across the sky like a bolt of celestial flame. It hit Naraku full force and in that magnificent moment split the heavens with a radiance that blinded both the eyes and the soul. The shadow Naraku perished under such intense light, leaving nothing more then a snowfall of shimmering embers.

The sky exploded with such light that Sango dropped the sword and shielded her eyes. Never had she felt such power. As a human with no spiritual power of her own, the blast should have been nothing more to her then a strobe of intense radiance, but it was more then that. As the sky ignited in rosy flame, she felt the impact as though it were a collision. Miroku too managed to look up in spite of the pain, muttering something that Sango couldn't quite hear, but suspected to be a prayer.

And apparently the prayer went answered; the winds faded and then died away to nothing more then a faint whisper of a breeze. Sango and Miroku fell backwards suddenly. Sango grabbed Miroku's wrist, wincing at the damage that would leave him crippled forever in the hand. But sure enough, beneath the claw of broken fingers and malformed palm, the black elliptical portal was mending itself with flash, closing over as though it were a wound healed without scarring. Miroku clutched the broken thing at his wrist, rolling on his side with agony, yet his weeping was now tears of joy. He cried out praises to Buddha but most heavily to Inuyasha and Kagome, for it was clear that the only thing this could mean was that Naraku was dead, and they had been his murderers.

Sango crushed him in an embrace, rolling on the ground like children lost to rapture. She laid kisses upon his lips and vows of love that went muddled as they were spoken into his tear soaked robe. Miroku had lost a hand, but gained a future.

Inuyasha fell to his knees and wrenched the Tokijin from his chest, tossing the wicked blade away from him. The hateful steel clanged softly as it scraped across the ground. Like a rainstorm of shimmering embers from a fire the little sparks of blazing soot floated downward lazily on the breeze. Naraku was dead, dead, gone, and scattered to the winds, never to return. The Tetsaigah was resonating strangely, and as Inuyasha looked down over the blade, he found it shimmering with a kind of purplish black light.

The sword was responding to the presence of Youkai, swirling in the air in a chaotic frenzy now that Naraku was dead and no force remained to control them. Kagome must have noticed too, because she let out a sharp cry of warning to Inuyasha, unaware that Tetsaigah had learned some new tricks now that it had drank Naraku's own formidable blood. He could sense the shikon shards that lay very near to them, ripped from Naraku's own brow by that shocking variation of the Bakuryuuha.

He sniffed the blade, wincing as he detected a faint sulphurous hint of miasma. "Oie, Tetsaigah, you drank a little too much of that, bastard," he remarked as he lazily rose to his feet, feeling certain that his sword's pulsing was a whisper of something new.

He drew back on the sword, resting it beside his ankle and taking it in both hands. With a great upward slash -the blade which flared red when breaking a barrier- glowed onyx. From the curved blade a new attack most certainly did erupt, swirling and gaseous, but still reminiscent of the Kaze-no-Kizu.

The last of Naraku's army was dissolved instantly in the bitter wind of the black miasma Inuyasha's own sword had created. He watched in awe and discomfort as the Youkai rained down as little smoldering fragments of bone and gristle. He looked down, a little frightened by the sword using such a distinctly Naraku-like skill. He was grateful, however, when the black faded away back to the normal steely coloration. He would have to have Kagome and Miroku look it over to make sure that this new ability to sense shards and generate miasma was not something Naraku himself might approve of. He'd seen far too many cursed weapons in his travels to accept this new endowment to the Tetsaigah without concern.

Slipping the sword back into its sheath, Inuyasha turned towards the remains of the majority of the village, it was a ruin of what it once was, now little more then lopsided structures, rubble, about two hundred tons of corpse-meat. The surviving villagers were peeking staring at the sky, still smoldering in the spot where Naraku was killed, others were beginning the arduous task of digging out survivors and the wounded from the rubble. He saw Miroku and Sango shambling over the hill, Miroku leaning on Sango's shoulder. He felt an odd aura to the southern end of the village that he knew almost intrinsically to be Kirara. The fox brat was also around, though the Tetsaigah could sense him less due to his low yuki.

He looked over at Kagome, smelling the sweat running down her back, nearly reducing him to swooning. Her scent was far better then the ability to sense her aura, he didn't care that Tetsaigah could find her by her spiritual power; her scent was so much nicer. He broke into a smile as she broke into a run to him, all the while screaming, "We did it! We won!" Sentiments that he was trembling with down to the pit of his stomach.

Naraku was dead; the jewel was theirs! They had finally beaten the bastard, and she was his! She was already carrying his pup! Soon he would be able to smell the change too, just like Sesshomaru had.

He abandoned the idea of waiting for her to reach him; bravado was nothing to tasting her now, to smelling that scent just a little more clearly. He was three bounds towards her when he sputtered to a stop, his eyes widening as her chest exploded in a splash of blood right to the left of her heart. The arrowhead gleaming red as Kagome's white shirt soon came to mimic.

The arrow was already poking through her chest as she faltered in her step, stumbling briefly and then standing there in a daze. She looked over at Inuyasha questioningly as to his horrified expression, wondering what the sudden wrongness in her chest had to do with the sheer terror that passed through her lover and friends as they barreled down the hill.

Kagome fell down in a heap, coming to rest on her side. Inuyasha stared up blankly at Kikyo, who stood in the distance, her bow held aloft, string vibrating. Her expression was as always, a mask of such aloofness that it appeared to be incapable of movement. She was cold and icy as she stood there, slowly drawing down her bow, taking the gradual strides forward, towards the paralyzed hanyou. Her skin shone in the dappled panorama of light and shadow like pale china. She glanced superiorly downward upon the three mourners who had fallen around Kagome clutching her desperately. Sango glared up at her with murder in her eyes as she passed, the fox Youkai wept.

Kagome was still sputtering broken words as Kikyo met Inuyasha where he stood transfixed by the pale Miko. She smiled mournfully to him.

"You've killed that villain Naraku, as I knew you must." The flowing rivers of her ebony hair swept from her face as she tossed the bow to the soft grass underfoot.

"I made the alliance with that villain, because I knew that with me at his side he would surely fall victim to overconfidence. He was, after all, a foolish scoundrel."

"Why have you done this Kikyo? I thought you wanted me dead... not Kagome."

"My poor beloved Inuyasha, I have outgrown that hateful ambition. There can only be one of us in this time, and I have chosen to live. I will take back my soul as it leaves that body, I will be restored and we can be--"

"Doesn't it matter that Kagome will die to you! You shot her! You're a fucking Miko!" Inuyasha screamed in exasperation. She remained undaunted and reached to stroke his face.

"No, it doesn't matter. In the wheel of time such is a small matter. Kikyo or Kagome, all that matters is that there must be one in this time. And I was here first." He shook her hand from his face and raised his claw menacingly at her.

"How could you! I love her! She's my mate and you killed her! How could you think that I would just forgive you for that!" She smirked sharply.

"And what will you do Inuyasha? Kill me with your own claws? You loved her? You loved me as well. I was the one who saw something human in a hanyou; you can never forget that. I will forgive your disloyalty to me; you are flesh and also tempted by certain savage parts of your nature."

"What did I ever see in you?" he remarked darkly, pain laden through his voice.

"Tell me Inuyasha, answer me honestly. When you laid with her in that little fur-laden den of yours, when you rolled with her on the grass like two animals in heat, when you whispered vows of love in her ear... did you ever once not love me? Or was there always a part of you that longed for me?" He was quiet as he stared at her, aware that Sango Miroku and Shippo were watching him in grim speculation. They physically lurched in horror as he reached over and kissed her.

"I always loved you," he remarked sadly as he pulled away. "But that part of me is dead now." His voice turned to ice as he drove his clawed hand through her stomach, meeting her stunned gaze with his menacing eyes.

"Dead and buried"

With a sharp snap of his arm the others blanched in horror as the two halves of Kikyo fell to the grassy floor. The Miko, who was at heart a Golem of clay and grave soil, splintered and fell as though she were of no more consequence than an upended clay statue. She sputtered on the ground, her fingers clawing piteously at the soil which was, ironically, not too different from she herself.

Inuyasha walked away from her with slow and measured steps, not even flinching as she sputtered his name. She was not evil, just misguided and corrupted by this half-life. How broken she had become... by shooting Kagome, killing her, Kikyo had proven herself to be little more then a wicked shell of the woman she once was. She had thought life was inconsequential. Kagome or Kikyo, it didn't matter which, just so long as there was one left.

"Inuyasha... Kikyo is still alive, should I finish her so she passes peacefully?" Miroku offered.

"No, let her live. I don't care that she's suffering; I don't want her going in peace. Not after this." he muttered venomously.

Inuyasha fell to his knees before Kagome, taking her gently into his lap where he cradled her head and shoulders. Sango had flung herself into Miroku's arms, crushing herself against him, she trembled in quiet wracking dry sobs as he tried--with all the strength of his being--to console her in her grief. Shippo was sobbing bitterly against her, careful to avoid the arrow.

Inuyasha spoke to her desperately, feeling all the restraint he had used when walking away from Kikyo crack and splinter away to sand.

"Please don't die Kagome..." he begged her, gently touching her face.

She made the gasping fish noises that one makes when their lung is punctured and deflating. She was dying, and in the bleakest part of Inuyasha's mind he could not deny that. She tried talking only to burble at him in incomprehensible sounds. Inuyasha's heart broke and he noticed, for the first time, that he was crying.

As the tears rolled down his cheeks, alien and frightening to him, he broke down on her. He began babbling madly about how she couldn't die. How much he needed her. He made promise after promise about giving her everything she had ever wanted, being nice and letting her go home more. He was only half aware that she no longer had a home to go to, but still he promised it.

He lost track of all time as he sat there before her, talking to her and touching her as everyone cried over her. The entire village was there, and through a quick sonar-like pulse by the Tetsaigah he was sure that even some of the dead villagers were there watching over her miserably. She was so loved...

The Tetsaigah pulsed again, flashing a quick glimpse of the souls of the departed, but also the shards of the jewel Naraku had died with. The fragments lay on the ground glittering.

Inuyasha's eyes widened suddenly as he turned to Kirara and with a canine noise that he knew she would understand sent her scampering off to collect the three remaining pieces.

No sooner had he gently removed their jewel shards then she returned. The tiny glowing orb glittered in his hand, and as he carefully dropped the last three shards into the craterous gouge in the otherwise perfect sphere, the jewel mended itself back into wholeness. Even to hanyou eyes it was impossible to see where the fragments had come together.

He took Kagome's cooling hand and slid the jewel into her palm.

"It's okay Kagome! It'll work! Wish to live! If you wish it, the jewel will save your life!" he yelled into her ear, frantic now, as her face had grown ashen with blood loss. He screamed again.

"WISH DAMMIT!" Her cloudy eyes looked at him sleepily and grew fixed. Kikyo hissed his name from where she lay, less a word and more a vocalization of hatred. He was faintly aware of the panic that was washing through him with exponential jumps, as Kagome looked more and more dead. But just as he was at his darkest, he noticed the jewel flicker into life.

At first the jewel did little more then glow gently, but within moments it was hard to see the shimmering edges for all the light. Sango and Miroku made sounds of shock while Shippo's wails abruptly stopped. Inuyasha was praying to gods he had heard of and some he hadn't. Brighter and brighter the light grew, engulfing Kagome in a rosy bloom of flittering light.

Kikyo made another indistinguishable sound of anger, but was not noticed for the fact that the jewel's light was pulsing outward so brightly, that it began to go from dazzling to blinding. Inuyasha held Kagome even as he felt himself changing, somehow lighter. The feeling was disorienting beyond all comparisons Inuyasha knew, he couldn't hear the others now, and his sense of smell was fading as though this were the night of the new moon. The rosy lavender color had finally bled away into white. Inuyasha was now sure that his feet were no longer on solid ground, they tingled as though he were in the air, falling or flying for all he could piece together.

Kagome was gone from his arms, though he was hardly sure he had arms anymore at all. And as the feeling finally did return to him, he was amazed by what his reawakening eyes were now seeing. His mother was smiling at him; beautiful and aristocratic, but still so warm and kind. To her left there stood the unmistakable figure of Sesshomaru, his great and terrible brother who looked a little bored. And more stunning still was the distinctly male figure, dressed in armor that gleamed with ancient beauty and a fierceness that was undeniably that which a Youkai lord would wear. He turned to face Inuyasha as though he were a mirror to both him and his brother. Ancient, and yet still in possession of the beauty a Youkai can maintain despite any age, his father looked into his eyes, stern yet gentle. He smiled.

The strange, nameless girl with the kind eyes, long black hair, and silly kimono was little more then a faded memory now. It was like looking back upon a dream, which ebbs quickly upon waking. The fading image of her face touched him in a way that caused his cheeks to blush, but she was just a phantom of a midday nap and as he looked out over the sweeping panorama which was the western lands. His lands. She faded completely as all good dreams inevitably will, into the twilight of the waking world.

Look upon the twilight and see the craftings of the divine as day is pieced to its antithesis.

Look upon it as that which was day fades into that which is night and see if your eye can catch the threadings. Picture now all the more subtle unions which transpire in perfect anonymity.

Let your mortal eyes seek out the science within the sorcery and be delighted in each failure.

Few should be so cheated as to catch the magician in his reflection.

Prelude's end, the story's beginning.