Disclaimer: I don't own the series, characters, or the rights. Well here is the second chapter, it was actually done ages ago, but my Grammatical gladiator of an editor refused to let me post until she was done giving it one last look through. (No faith in me at all) sadly she is only editor by night, during the day she is a mild mannered and insanely overworked college student. I think she just has more ambition then me. So yeah, hopefully you remember what happened in the last chapter.

Well here is where the alternate universe part kicks in. I apologize for the blog of backstory, but this fic is more about the history then a lot of others and you do need it to set the stage a bit. Hope you enjoy it, and fear not, the next chapter is done too, it is getting edited now so it hopefully won't be too freakishly long.

Let me know what you think at:

Twilight of the Shadowed past

part 2

By Logan

Edited by Stephanie (the yellow dart) Gonzalez

The darkness had passed.

Or so it was said from every land, province, and territory within the kingdoms of youkai.

Every great house had suffered under the long and bitter wars; every family had lain to rest a son or daughter who had perished in the last seven generations of fighting. There had come such celebration when the last house of man fell into the flames of its own forging. But a new issue had arisen that had never before needed considering: What to do now with the tiny, short lived race which had so nearly overthrown all the houses?

In the beginning, man and youkai lived together in uneasy peace. Man, a primitive creature with abundant hair and savagery that was befitting only the lowest of youkai, did change over the centuries. Where once he had been little more then a balding primate, man had come to wear a form similar to the highest class of youkai, notably less hairy, lean of build, and most troubling of all, clever. Man had evolved into a thinking beast who soon began creating crude cities from what once was dense forest.

From the very moment that man began making his own territory, there was blood on his mind. Man warred against his kin, and rallied together to war against the youkai they had once worshiped as pagan spirits. War against the youkai was a laughable thing in those days. Man would throw spears of wood and stone, and lash with rock knives that later evolved to steel ones as they began smelting steel from the earth. A single youkai of no great breeding was more than a match for hundreds of humans, and thus the first war ended.

Youkai--ageless creatures--seldom fought the same war twice, remembering all too well previous campaigns and their outcomes; man (which died off and passed the torch to the next generation) proved to be not so patient. The nations of man--for their numbers exploded with every new year- -banded together and organized themselves against their youkai foes. With swords and armor they fought, only to be defeated and sent back to nurse their wounds.

As the sun rose and fell over the ages, so too did the battles continue between youkai and man. Their futile efforts continued to be a topic of humor among the youkai lords, but even as they were defeated, the wars were proving something: man was thinking of things the youkai had not.

Around the fourth Great War, man began using incendiary devices which flared and exploded, shot metal fragments outward, and poisoned. This was dealt with simply, but the cleverness of mankind was becoming a thing of some talk; their magics were nothing more than simple mixings of minerals and resins, things youkai could have thought of with ease, but had not.

The fifth war involved curious projectiles that erupted into the sky and rained down upon the youkai in great explosions. Though only the weakest died in these attacks, they laid considerable waste to many great youkai structures. Man was stomped back into the earth with far greater ferocity. He was still an insect when compared to the great youkai lords, but by the seventh Great War--The Cry--no youkai laughed again at mankind's machinations.

The older ones still tell tales of the Great Cry which echoed throughout all the houses and all the lands. Man had come once again to make war against his old adversary, but this time he had claimed victory in the most horrific of battles. Man's new technology mimicked the natural abilities many youkai possessed, bolts of searing lightning, charring heat, strange beams which lashed and tore like the most horrific of gales... Humanity rode to war in great monolithic barges that hovered in the air as if they were dragons. They erupted from the sea like leviathans, laying waste to youkai ports. The army of man walked into battle with weapons capable of making them an equal to the youkai.

For the first time, the youkai houses knew fear from a creature that was not of their own kind

The battles were brutal and vicious with many dying on both sides. For years the wars raged until finally, and through much hardship, the youkai nation triumphed again. There was no laughter or celebration for the youkai houses now. Man had very nearly won, and the history of the wars told them that they would be back again in only a few generations, stronger than ever before. If man rose again, the houses would fall; the youkai would be destroyed. Efforts had to be made to permanently cripple mankind, lest it rise again and resume the production of its dark technology. Each land was left to accomplish this as they saw fit.

The Naga, a snake people who hated mankind deeply for man's murder of a single great youkai, eradicated every human in their land. Others mimicked the wolves' position and kept man as prey, and in some cases concubines. Most took humanity as slaves, breaking the human spirit from infancy onward, determined never to let the race rise again. All mankind's weapons were destroyed, his laboratories burned and buried. Though youkai did put mankind's ingenuity to work in their service, great watch was kept on it, lest it grow dangerous again. The wicked alchemy must never be rediscovered lest all the nations fall into chaos.

And so it was through all the kingdoms and houses that mankind's strength was either yoked or destroyed, but always broken. The last dying tribes fled, and The Cry ended at last.

It was during the last of the wars, among the Inu, that their great Lord bore his first son. The pup was cursed from birth with death on his hands, as it was his poison that murdered his mother while he was still in her womb. His father had extracted the pup, and took him before the great Shikon shrine where the oracle would name him, and with that name, whisper a prophesy as to what his rule might yield.

The pup was named Sesshomaru, and the people wept upon hearing it for it meant the destruction of life's circle should this child come to rule. For nineteen years the Inu prayed for their lord to take a new wife and sire a new pup who might someday take the throne.

Their prayers were answered.

The lord of the western lands did indeed take a second bride, but much to the horror of his people, he took a human as his mate. And from their union she bore a half-blooded pup who held little esteem in the eyes of the people. If their first heir, a full-blooded youkai had proved himself to be named after a curse, what could they expect from such tainted blood? But still the kind father, their lord, took his family to the shrine of the Shikon oracle, the most sacred ground in all the kingdoms.

A large and ancient tree towering over all others in the forest surrounding it crowned the shrine. It's ancient roots had come to cradle the small shrine of stone which lead downward into a burrow of sorts that caverned outward into a dense catacomb that bulged and sloped with the tree's massive network of roots. At the very core of a colossal hollow, the roots curved upwards and formed a kind of shrine to a tiny gray stone which lay embedded in what could either be the tree's wood, or pale stone.

It was ethereal down in this holy chamber, surrounded by the living roots of the great tree ancient even when youkai were young to this world. The chamber glowed faintly with hundreds of ivory candles perched and melted over the breaching roots enshrouding the chamber. No one knew who put the candles there, but in all the years that the Inu had acted as custodian to the shrine, no one had ever been seen changing the candles. It was almost as if they burned eternally, not subject to time as all things were. Flowers lay strewn along the floor of the stone and wood chamber as well, blooming like moonlight from the very floor, taking sustenance from the great tree itself.

The shrine held several ancient arcana from the shadowed past, but the legendary fang lay petrified to stone and entombed far deeper in the catacombs. The tree allowed some to venture down and look upon it, but not all. The god tree guarded its secrets well.

As the Inu lord walked down the hollowed passageways, his footfalls echoed down the halcyon corridor. He was carrying a squirming red bundle in the crook of his arm and followed closely by his human wife who walked hand in hand with his older son. Sesshomaru was tense as he walked down the sloping path.

"Mother, it is as though this place has eyes." The elegant woman turned down to him as he walked, squeezing his striped claw gently.

"I think it does, but don't be frightened Sesshomaru. I can feel great goodness here."

"Who said I was frightened? I merely made an observation," he replied smugly.

"Forgive me? I know you're very brave and also older then you look, but I'm still accustomed to thinking of you as a child. You look no older then sixteen compared to a human child." He snorted indifferently to her. Sesshomaru had adopted his stepmother slowly, but now had come to love her as the only mother he had ever known.

"I hope he gets a good name..."

"Would it matter to you if he didn't? Would you still protect him?" she smiled at him as he jerked his head to her shocked.

"Of course! He's one of our pack; a brother. I was just saying that I hope he gets a good name, one that will be honorable. Not like mine." She ran her long fingers through his mane of long snowy hair, and even though he fought the urge to swoon at her caress, he did nudge her hand subtly.

"Silence, both of you. They're coming."

Taking his place beside the altar, Sesshomaru lead his mother to his father's side, taking position himself and trying to look regal and intimidating as the Taijiya lead the people in. The tarijin at the head of the procession wore a mustard yellow plate over the black skins which covered nearly his entire body. He carried a long pole that terminated in a sweeping glaive made of centipede exoskeleton. He was flanked by eight additional Taijiya, who walked alongside a long procession of Inu, and then began directing them to take position within the great cavern.

In thirteen minutes they had organized a hundred and thirty Inu into the chamber, and kept additional subjects in line as they looked down on their lord from the various alcoves that looked down over the procession. The lord waited patiently until the captain of the Taijiya knelt before him and then informed him that they were ready. There were more of his forces outside the shrine, maintaining order over the rest of the subjects who waited to hear the name of the pup.

The crowds were chattering noisily with speculation and no more so than those who waited outside the shrine in the large mass of Inu. There were many human slaves there as well, dressed in robes similar to that of their masters, but among them it was not uncommon to come across a wolf youkai or a Neko. Many of the other kingdoms had sent subjects to hear the name of the pup. The Inu lands were massive, and their army fierce. Taijiya elite guards and legion upon legion of soldiers made the Inu one of the more formidable races of youkai. Should this pup receive a cursed name, it would be wise to know long before he took command of the Inu's forces. Better to know if an ally was prophesied a betrayer than to find out the hard way.

It was in the shadow of a blackened tree that one figure waited, his white fur pelt hanging over his face, rendering him nearly invisible in the commotion. He would only be seen as a trader or a wandering youkai, which was not uncommon and hardly worth notice. He slipped through the crowd now as he had for Sesshomaru's naming, and as he had for the naming of Sesshomaru's father, watchful of the one pup he was destined to kill lest that pup eventually kill him.

"I have bad feelings, Kar. With such tainted blood what can we expect for a name?" an Inu in gray remarked, giving Naraku pause as he slid through the crowd.

"Who doesn't have misgivings? He's only a half breed! But his father won't do right and kill him," his comrade, Kar, remarked sadly, "Our lord is too kind, he takes a son who is destined to destroy the world itself, should he take command, and keeps him under the very roof he, himself, sleeps under. A pup like that might very well kill him in his sleep to force succession. Now we've got this one, half human. He'll either be named for foolishness or weakness."

"The lord has made a life mate out of the human you know?" remarked a female to Naraku's right.

"Dark future ahead, I can only hope this half-bred fool will make a pup with a true youkai and then maybe there will be hope of salvaging the line. If the great Hanyou is kind, he'll let this runt take a mate before he's twenty!" The female laughed both bitterly and scandalously but Naraku was not sharing even half that much mirth.

The great Hanyou, their prophesied savior and almost deity. It would almost be amusing to Naraku that they were tossing around the word hanyou and condemning a half-blooded youkai in the same breath. The word hanyou was still a mystery to them, if they knew that it actually meant half blood, they would probably be cheering. Dread filled Naraku's veins with ice water as he waited for the runt to get a name, and thus either confirm or negate his misgivings.

Meanwhile, the lord of the Inu, unclothed the squirming pup from his red blankets leaving him bare and exposed as the congregation of Youkai and humans paused in appraisal of the tiny pup. He had white hair, as all true Inu did, but it was clear from his absent markings and softer form that he was not entirely one of their own. His father took the pup and walked over to the altar, placing the tiny infant upon the branches and stepping away.

The little pup squirmed noisily, turning its head and peering around itself as only a newborn youkai could do. The child was small and helpless, but already it had the wisping strands of snowy hair that was so common to his people. His pudgy little digits were faintly pointed in minuscule claws, and as he made a loud yip he revealed that his mouth did indeed contain tiny little Inu fangs. On top of his head he wore two little triangular canine ears, which shone with the same fluffy white as his hair, a unique feature even among the Inu.

In the hushed quiet that followed, no one noticed two hooded Neko who silently took position at the back of the crowd. The figures wore folded cloaks of matted brown suede with white silk lining. Clearly of impeccable craftsmanship, there hung a wispy cowl over the other, wrapped over their brown cloaks like cloth spun from shadow. The only thing that gave them away was their glowing feline eyes that stared with great intensity at the wriggling puppy.

The branches surrounding the altar shifted slightly, and the tiny gray stone glowed faintly pink. The cavern itself seemed to grow brighter and no one part more so then the altar where the tiny infant squirmed. The stone was the pinnacle of what came to be seen as a long flowing system of roots in the very stone itself; alabaster pale next to the darker gray stone. Each tributary terminated at a medallion-like marker inscribed with a name written in strange glyph. Down and down the trail branched, terminating in some medallions, and growing farther down in others. In some it split into several rivers, in others it died altogether, but down the floor it went, the great tree of the Inu royal house which dated back to ages before the Inu were aware; back to the ages when all youkai were little more than what now is called carrion youkai, scavenging and hunting in filth.

The jewel glowed brightly in one flash, all it's light rushing from the orb and down the wall, following the line which all lords of the Inu lands took parentage from. The glow moved on the line with all the speed of a serpent, but a nearly clairvoyant perception of the one true path, snaking back and forth through the line, but never diverging toward a line that broke. It suddenly shot downward toward where the pup lay squirming. The pup's mother gasped sharply, but found a reassuring hand from her mate on her shoulder. The rosy light converged on the child, flickering over him in stellar sweeping patterns for the instant it passed over him, then down it shot. Down the same track where it passed through the marker bearing his father's name. As it touched the marker it flared brightly. When the flash faded to nothing more then a splotchy series of stars in the eyes of all those who had watched it reach its end, there stood a new tributary beside the one which bore the name of Sesshomaru. The blank medallion sat there for a moment, but then with a sudden geyser of smoke and pink light, the name burned itself into the stone. They all watched in awed silence as each curve of the kanna burst to life with volcanic splendor. A symbol ended and a new one erupted in similar fashion, all watched in complete silence as the name was revealed in one final blast of mystical pyrokinesis.

The edges glowed with heat as wispy curls of steam rose from the etched engravings, and as all stared at the new marker, the jewel faded back to the alabaster gray. The lord knelt before his son's name, eyes wide and gleaming. He whispered the name as if he himself didn't believe it. The symbols were familiar ones and no work would be needed in translation, but still he trembled as he stared down on the smoldering marker, the name of his child as ordained by the radiant Shikon jewel. Voices that once had been loud with bitter speculation now fell silent as the name was spoken. The pup yipped loudly, wanting his mother. He was just a pup, but in the instant that the name was spoken, it was clear that many lives would be bound to this one tiny infant; and clear that many lives would end for him as well.


Seven hundred and twenty-six years later

Kagome lay sprawled on the terra cotta tile roof of the shrine, basking in the sunshine with immense lethargy cultivated over a long winter. Mt. Hakurei was warm this time of year, and after such a bleak winter, Kagome could think of no place she would rather stretch out than on top of the roof, reveling in the sun. Her shrine robes were pulled so loose around the collar that it would surely be quite the scandal if anyone saw her.

"Miko are not to look like loose women"

Kagome had never met a 'loose woman,' but she had her share of scandal and that was really nothing too epic. The old woman would scowl, the men would talk, grandpa and mama might scold her, but really, by seventeen she was past caring about what everyone thought. So what if she wore her robes loose enough to catch a draft, so what if she blew off a few lessons and snuck out to go swim? It's not exactly like they'd kick her out of the village.

She peered over the edge of the roof and looked down over the village that she had looked over so many times before. Wood and stone buildings of simplistic design lay encompassed around the very shrine she herself now lay atop. The shrine was a place of worship, but also the school that trained the village warrior priestesses. For as long as Kagome could remember, her village had been defended by the miko. Powerful youkai were not common on the mountaintop, but in a world ruled by their kind, a strong defense was the only thing that kept the village surviving for the last forty years. One god youkai or a hundred carrion youkai, both would result in the exact same end: the village would be destroyed and the humans would be futureless. It was this understanding on the part of the villagers that kept this one structure so well adorned and maintained. While every other building in the village bore some trace of the elements, the shrine was beautiful.

The men were primarily out working--what fields there were to work--on top of a mountain with very limited topsoil and a great abundance of stone. Mt. Hakurei was abundant with water, but the little earth there was to plant with was a constant worry among the elders. The soil required constant fertilizing and had to be worked tirelessly if it would keep yielding food until the frost came. The men would be busy for almost the whole season.

She looked over in the directions of the rice paddies and grimaced. A young man was lugging a heap of human made fertilizer down the road toward the processing cavern. She was thankful that she wasn't close enough to smell it. Of course there was merit to both horticulture and sewage systems. If her people hadn't figured out how to use the carrion youkai to convert human waste into viable fertilizer for the crops, there would be no food during the winter, but it still smelled horrific.

She looked away from the heaping cart and back to the village, more precisely to the large wall of steel stone and wood stretching from one edge of the cliff to the other. Two miko would be up near the guard tower keeping a questionable lookout for danger. There was very little danger to be had; the only youkai who lived on the mountain were the wormlike carrion youkai, and at this time of the year they would be massed together in caves along the mountainside entangled in gigantic slithering orgies and egg laying. They were not likely to stop either activity unless someone bothered them, and with the elders putting bans on the various swimming ponds, springs, and lakes during their breeding season, that was unlikely. Kagome hated those worms; if they didn't have to crawl into every hole in the ground they could find to couple, she could be swimming right now.

Kagome wished that something a little bigger might come wandering by. If a boar youkai wandered too close then maybe she could go and kill it. As one of the most powerful miko in the village, she would be able to go outside the walls and enjoy a little freedom while she hunted it. Boredom was such a common occurrence during the days when the wall was up. The other girls who were either studying to be miko or already priestesses would be out purifying themselves in the nearby falls which were great for bathing, but too shallow to do anything else in. Kagome didn't purify herself this morning just as she didn't the mornings prior. Of all the miko in the village, she was the only prodigy who didn't require ceremony to maintain her powers. She smirked at how much that must irritate all the others. They had to work so hard for what the village rebel obtained so effortlessly.

Grandpa was giving a lesson on ofuda to ten young girls a floor lower; tomorrow they would be taking their ofudas and plastering them on the great wall, adding their charms to the countless others which made the wall lethal to youkai who strayed too close. Kagome rolled over with tedium and peered over to where an old woman was walking with her fifteen-year-old granddaughter.

The girl was familiar. Kagome had been finishing the last of her formal training in the miko arts when the girl was entering her last year of formal education. She was like so many other young miko; honored and proud to take on the role and full of piteous indifference to the indignities miko endured, as well as all the things they were giving up. It was in this way that she was so different from Kagome; Kagome was proud to be a miko, but she mourned the title as well. Miko were constantly purifying and training, always studying and always working, yet never living. Kagome loved life; she loved the sun on this roof and swimming in the lakes by the village. She loved being a miko too, but differently from the way that all the others did. To her, being a miko meant defending and protecting. It was a form of love for her people to her.

Loving the people as she did, she still was irritated by them; irritated that she seemed to be the only one who rebelled and questioned. Miko were not meant to be zealots, Kagome was sure of it. She was a powerful miko, and she was half sure that the reason for it was because her motives were different. Not that motives mattered. She was respected for her power, but ostracized for it as well. The girl before her was a little different; she actually laughed when Kagome tried to be funny, and she got glared at when she didn't stifle the giggle fast enough.

Kagome leaned over the edge and waved to the girl. The girl was a miko now; learned in all the incantations and rituals that the warrior priestesses required. She would still attend class among others her age, but the schedule and format were different of the young girls who now trained. The girl waved back with a stifled giggle at Kagome's hair that was completely obscuring her face with its mass as it hung down like a shawl. The old woman--which Kagome knew never really liked her--followed the girl's gaze up and met Kagome's smile with a bitter scowl.

"You act like a irresponsible boy, girl," she remarked as she adjusted her robes, bothered immensely by Kagome's lack of modesty.

"I do try, Kida. Boys have much more fun. No one raises a single hackle if they go off half naked. But I guess it's a very dire responsibility to go alternate digging in the dirt and trying to rob young miko of their virtues; I shouldn't tease." The woman stared aghast, though Kagome wasn't sure if it was the informal use of her name or her flippant response.

"Child of Kikyo! You are a disgrace to those robes. A miko who says such slanderous things about the men who supply the food you eat!"

"And try to peek at me as I bathe as well?" she replied smartly. "If any group in this village are children of Kikyo it would be them. They should respect the women who keep the youkai out of their fields, not try to mount them all the time." Kagome said with a certain edge to her voice. She'd gotten into her share of fights with certain amorous villagers who had known her since she was a girl. She had known several young apprentice miko who lost all their powers because the village boys couldn't take being cooped up so long. Beauty was a curse half the time, since most of the teenage miko in this village were too beguiling and weak willed to ever lay down the law if things got out of hand. Kagome was dreading the day when she would have to marry from such a group.

"You were named for the great mother, and you talk like that. I suspect from the way you behave that you're no stranger to such things." She began to walk off with the young girl in tow. Kagome called back to her.

"What does it matter what my mother named me? And what does it matter what a failed miko accuses me of?" As Kida winced and addressed her robes once more, Kagome regretted saying that. Kida had been one of those miko who allowed themselves to be ravished by young village men. She bore a son from him, but was never wed. She had lost all her powers and bore the shame as well, as much as the old hag was rude, she was also a thing to be pitied.

Kagome watched them walk off down the street, the girl turned and made a rude gesture to Kagome. What did that matter? Kagome had long ago accepted that she was to be isolated from the other miko of her age group by both the power she possessed and also the lack of maintenance it asked. Had she become cruel over the years? She said such a mean thing to that woman, and had never shown much respect to anyone. She was arrogant with her abilities, yet they continued to grow with each season. Soon she would be the most powerful miko in all the histories of her village, she could kill youkai with nothing more then her willed presence, an arrow from her bow could do far worse.

Kagome was named for the fabled great mother, Kagome, the woman who wished the world into existence from the shadowed past. Many thought that Kagome's mother had been too proud of her child, and that by giving such a name she would anger certain spirits that kept humanity humble. Seventeen years later, Kagome was living up to the name. People talked of her disobedience, her rudeness, her irresponsibility, but they also talked of her as though she were her legendary namesake reborn.

She caught sight of her brother as he shambled down the street, arms laden with scrolls and herbs that would be dried and then ground into ink for the ofudas. At thirteen, Souta was already looking to be a very desired man. Baby fat had given way to some muscle and a sharp and handsome face. His eyes were clear and piercing; seeing the spirits in ways even some miko could not. It was very rare for boys to have spiritual power, but Souta and Grandpa had both been exceptions. They were already talking about arranging a marriage for him; one with a noteworthy miko who could have children more adept with powers than if they were to make children with a farmer or a metalworker.

That bothered Kagome more then she let on. Her little sensitive brother was already having his bedroom affairs planned out. It was customary to wait until the late teens before marriage became an issue, but Kagome suspected they were going to try bending the rules with Souta since he was already on the verge of being able to make children himself. It was common knowledge that with so few humans passing through the mountain range, new blood was rare. Most marriages were between distant cousins, and with each generation it became more and more of a danger that inbreeding might be what eventually destroyed the village where youkai had not.

Souta and Kagome's father had been the exception. A traveling monk of the 'Bound Hand Order'-- as the villagers dubbed it--had happened upon their village on a pilgrimage. They took him in; a year later he married a young miko and unclothed his hand, renouncing his order. He remained faithful to their mother until sickness took him, but by then he had fathered two very gifted children.

It was probably due to their father's blood that both children proved to be so powerful, also why his son was growing up to be so handsome and smart. Mama often said Souta looked like his father and Kagome often winced as she said it. Mama never talked about the boy's marriage prospects, but if he was that powerful and that attractive, there was worse in store for him than being forced to chose a wife. He would be pressured to spread that new blood around to more than just one woman by the village men, and if he was attractive, the women wouldn't object. Kagome knew boys well enough to understand that many would be thrilled by the idea, but her brother was different. He was gentle and sweet, a crybaby with no desire to learn a weapon, and who would love his wife even if he were forced into the union. Souta would want to please the village, but he would suffer great anguish over being unfaithful.

That was the only upside to Kagome's marriage prospects. Though she would absolutely be required to have children, she wouldn't be pressured into whoring herself out to have different children from different men.

Trying to break herself from her depressing musings, she tossed a pebble at her brother who jumped in surprise at it flicked his ear. He stared up at Kagome and frowned.

"That wasn't nice, sis."

"Going to cry about it?" she remarked comically as she slipped down the roof and landed beside him, ruffling his hair. He smiled at her and she took some of the scrolls from his arms, helping him get a more comfortable grip on the herbs.

"I saw Kida and Tomea on the way over, they seemed angry when I said hello."

"They're moody women." she shrugged as they begin walking up the shrine steps.

"Tomea muttered something about offensive blood in that family." He lead off, looking pointedly at her as he was crossing over the main shrine and toward the storehouse. "Why do you have to be so mean to everyone, Kagome?" he continued.

"I suppose I just am tired of being fated to stay with these people until either I die or they die. We haven't heard from another free human village in years. I'm starting to think we may never see another new face again." They deposited the supplies in the storage bins and left the shrine, intending to go take a walk and chat.

"I don't think there are any free villages left, they all are youkai slaves now. Or dead." he replied sadly. It was a fear that was growing more and more momentum with each season without word. As each passing traveler confirmed for them again and again that they had not come across a single human settlement, the dread was becoming a tangible thing, and though no one spoke it outright anymore, they all feared that they were the last.

Together, brother and sister walked down the winding street, feeling the heat upon their shoulders and in their hair, discussing things far more trivial the farther they went. Souta had spent all morning assisting with the ofudas, one of the most dull things that Grandpa ever asked him, since all that really meant was passing out the inks and scrolls. They came to rest by a fruit-bearing tree. The tiny morsels were not yet ready to eat, but the shade was inviting and Souta very nearly collapsed under its curving bow.

"Hojo asked about you again. He seems nice." Kagome looked over at the young boy with a somber expression. Hojo was the apprentice metal crafter for the village, a kind but boring boy.

"He'd be better off with Eri."

"Why don't you like him?" Souta pressed, he was worried that Kagome's lack of enthusiasm could get her forced into a marriage with someone who was worse.

"You worry about things too much." she remarked, but continued before he could ask. "Hojo is nice, but he's settled. Do you ever listen to them talking about what we should do here? The old men talk about fortification even though it's been eight years since anything more powerful then a mantis youkai approached. The young men talk about expanding our territories and taking on more farmland. It seems like everyone has their own ideas on our future, but have you heard what Hojo says?" Souta shook his head.

"Nothing. He has no opinions over our future at all. I want a man who has a mind of his own, not just a mentality to follow whoever makes the rules. I can't love someone with such a weak mind." Souta hugged her suddenly and fiercely. She recovered from her surprise and stroked his hair.

"I'm worried over you, Kagome. I think you're setting yourself up for sadness."

"Sadness isn't important, Souta. I'm a miko. I will survive anything regardless of if it's difficult or not."

"Maybe they'll just stop trying to care about whatever incest rules they have left and let us marry. I promise I'll boss you around all the time, sis." he grinned deviously and tried to tickle her. She pinned his hands easily.

"You're such a sick little boy, I think I should forget about youkai and start trying to purify that mouth of yours instead." She started to tickle him as he giggled insanely, but both froze as the shrill clanging of the bells rang out through the village. Kagome instinctively looked over to the wall and saw the distant figure of a miko slamming a hammer into the metal gong that acted as their alarm. They heard shrill cries as the village women ran for their homes; the men would be running down the hill from the farmlands.

Kagome was to her feet in an instant, and Souta needed no encouragement as both siblings began running down the panicked street toward the shrine. Kagome's bow was in her room; she couldn't join the other miko until she had it.

As they tore down the stone laden road they already saw the miko taking position on the wall, double lines of bow carrying women in identical robes stood in tight formation, looking off at whatever had caused the alarm. Kagome skidded to a halt before two women who were peering through a large gap in the monolithic wall. She grabbed one of the women by the shoulder and spun her around.

"What is it!? What's out there!?"

"Dammit girl! You're a miko! Get on the wall!"

"What's out there!?" The second woman turned to her.

"Youkai, a hundred carrion youkai. They're all hanging back behind two. One is an Oni, the biggest I've seen, and the other is what looks like a man on a horse. He's wearing white pelts. Now get up there! They're about to let the first volley fly!"

Kagome broke back into a run for the shrine and her weapon. This was bad. Carrion youkai wouldn't behave like that unless they were forced to by a bigger youkai, and the Oni are dangerous youkai. Perhaps the most dangerous sign however was the fact that Kagome couldn't sense anything outside the barriers. A youkai with a human form and the ability to mask his Jaki was proof that he was much higher then any of the other youkai they had come across in many generations. Youkai that looked human were some of the most dangerous youkai out there.

A miko let out a cry of horror and Kagome and Souta turned back to the wall just in time to see the body of the young man who had been carrying the cart of fertilizer out to the cavern come crashing down mere feet ahead of them. The limp and blackened corpse was skinned and hit the stone pavement with a wet sound followed by a snapping noise that was his spine. Souta screamed and Kagome drew him back to her. The corpse landed so that it was staring at them with a gaping and torn mouth and two clouded eyes. Kagome could sense the faintest traces of miasma on the flesh. The skin had been melted off.

"But Kagome! The barrier! How could they throw that in here if the barrier were up!" Kagome didn't answer, but pulled Souta tighter. The first sign of alarm should cause the miko to cast up their holy barriers around the village. This youkai in white could break miko barriers.

"It's okay Souta!" Kagome called out to him even though he was just inches away from her face.

Kagome suddenly made a run for the wall. She had to see the youkai for herself. She came to the wooden gate all the miko stood upon and peered through a gap in the planks and steel. She saw the youkai in white instantly. He was sitting on a black horse that looked terrified by the creature atop it. Kagome could sympathize. The youkai was human looking, wrapped in snowy white furs and wearing baboon's head over his face. He was talking to the colossal Oni beside him, a purple and black monster with wiry white hair and two jagged horns. The Oni was impossibly proportioned with great spindly arms and small, squat, legs. It was eyeing the gate hungrily, but obviously waiting for the youkai in the pelt to give it leave to attack.

The miko were preparing to attack, but by the time the order to knock their bows was given, the one (who?) reached out toward them, tossing a handful of dust into the air. Kagome grabbed Souta and buried his face into her chest, trying to shield him from the rapidly expanding cloud of lavender dust. It spread quickly and descended upon the village, bathing everyone in a shimmering powder that proved to not be poison at all, much to Kagome's shock. She expected toxins from a youkai who had miasma, a very rare and lethal form of poison. The powder, however, was seemingly benign, completely devoid of ominous jaki.

The one in white nudged his Oni companion and motioned toward the wall. Kagome tried to scream out a warning as it hit her, but it was too late. The miko were given the order to fire.

As one, they let their arrows fly free, but instead of unleashing a volley of shimmering lavender bolts, there were explosions. The arrows and archers both burst into infernos of swirling flame the second the arrows were charged. Kagome screamed and flung herself over Souta as the ancient wall was compromised. Each miko was swallowed in white-hot fire and tore searing holes out of the alcove on the wall. Though the wood and steel had been fitted with hundreds of ofudas, it was still susceptible to something as simplistic as fire. A young miko fell several feet away from Kagome and Souta, a ball of flame that rolled on the floor for no more then a second, then grew still. There was so much screaming that Kagome and Souta were drowned out in their own, non- agony fueled cries.

A sudden impact struck the gate with a loud thunk and was followed by a slithering noise and the groaning of wood. Kagome grabbed her brother by the shoulder and heaved him up from his knees where he had been weeping and hauled him into an awkward run. They ran around the burning corpse of the one miko who was now black and wet amongst the flames. They ran along the wall, sprinting for the shrine.

A sudden crack signaled that something had broken through the gate, and not daring to look back, Kagome knew that the gates and barriers her people had spent generations erecting would all soon be falling. The youkai in white was different from all the youkai Kagome had ever learned about before. While many youkai were intelligent, this one was lethally so. It was a miko killer, if ever there were such a thing. This one in white had engineered a way to render barriers and walls ineffective; he had killed virtually all the miko in the village in one tragic moment. The village was on fire already; the air clogged with soot and smoldering tar smoke.

"Come on Souta! We have to get to mama and grandpa!" The shrine was in sight when Kagome heard the gate come crashing down to the ground. She didn't look back, but as a sudden howl of malicious glee lit through the air like a thunderclap, it became all to clear what had just happened. The one in the white pelt had set the Oni loose.

Kagome and Souta ran for the shrine, fueled by both adrenaline and terror as they heard the cries of their neighbors. The fire was spreading faster then Kagome thought possible; the houses had caught and soon the village would be cinders and ash.

An arrow flipped by the siblings and thunked into a door, the archer screamed. They exploded into the shrine and Kagome heaved the heavy doors closed with more strength then logic would dictate her muscles capable of. The doors were not Oni-proof, but the illusion of a barrier was almost as valuable as the real thing when you're as close to a heart attack as the siblings were by this point. For a frantic instant, both were silent and pressed against the door, listening to their ragged breathing and the distant noise from outside. They heard noise that could only be described as an avalanche of stone and steel crashing down as though it were pelted from the heavens.

"It's killing them..." Souta whispered.

His words were the jolt that broke Kagome from her horrified trance. She grabbed the boy by his shoulder and pulled him away from the door. She called out to her mother and grandfather, but before she was done they were already in the room, both with panicked eyes and pale complexions.

"Mama, the wall has been torn down! All the miko were killed!"

"We saw. Now quickly Kagome, pay attention. We don't have a lot of time before that Oni comes here. This is the biggest building in the village, he will think to come here soon," her mother said with a hurried tone while she busied herself going through one of the storage closets.

"The village is going to fall. That youkai in white knew how to kill the miko, and without the miko we're all dead."

"That's not possible, the village--" Souta trailed off.

"Mama, I'm a miko, I can fight."

"No, listen Kagome, there's nothing one miko can do. Don't use any of your power, I saw what happened when the other's tried.... the one in white knew how to stop miko energy." Her grandfather cut her mother off.

"The Oni is more powerful then anything we have read of in scrolls. He's attacking us like he knows our minds, like he knows what we are going to do before we do it. He's a devil, but he's not a god. He's not invincible, but he is more then enough to destroy the village. We've watched the Oni; he's killing every living person here, babies to the old. He's looking to exterminate every last life here, I doubt he will stop until everyone is dead." Her mother handed a satchel to Kagome and began filling it with dried meats and a jug of water before turning back to the storage closet to retrieve more.

"Head west. You will pass through a forest and then pass by the foot of a mountain. The mountain is wolf youkai land so you must be careful. Once you pass the mountains, you'll come to a forest with no carrion youkai. The forest is the edge of the Inu youkai kingdom." Kagome's heart froze. The wolves were ferocious, but the Inu youkai are the most fearsome of all the youkai breeds. Kagome could remember reading about them in the texts: pure white hair and golden eyes, fangs that can crush steel, claws that can slice through armor, little wonder they were so feared. There had been an ink illustration that showed all these proportions in great detail. They were beautiful but horrific creatures.

"The Inu youkai are feared even among the other youkai breeds, I don't know who sent these youkai, but they wouldn't pursue you through Inu land."

"But Grandpa..." Kagome hiccupped.

"You must pass through the Inu lands without being caught. Inu youkai are dangerous to other youkai; to people they are even worse. Keep going until you reach the sea, then look for rumors of human villages where you can go. Do you understand?" The old man asked, a tinge of panic in his voice as he kept looking back over to the door.

"But, you can't want me to go alone!?"

"Take Souta, and do exactly as I say!" Her mother had just finished cramming the last of the first aid supplies into the cloth satchel. She fastened the ties meticulously. Her eyes watered as she went to work on a second pack that she handed to Souta.

"You're coming though, right?" Souta whimpered.

"Here, Kagome. These are the only three we have, but they might help." Grandpa slipped Kagome a second pouch with three large painted gourds nested inside. Kagome recognized the red markings to be warnings. These crude explosives were used to break rock and uproot trees for the farmers when the obstacles were too imposing. Her grandfather made them, and she was well aware of how powerful they were. Souta was crying now as his mother fussed with his pack.

Kagome made for her room up the stairs; she wanted her bow and also something more formidable to wear then the miko robes. She wanted a jacket with thick material that could shield her from many of the small scratches and nicks that you get from traveling over open land. She also thought that she should get one for Souta. Her hands were trembling as she thought over the instructions and her brother's whimpered question.

Was she going alone?

The door lurched and cracked as something hammered into it. Kagome spun around and watched as the second impact tore its hinges. A large purple skinned claw was holding the pulpin remains of a villager he had used to crash through the door. The body fell from his open grip unceremOniously as the creature peered inward, his livid red eyes gleaming as he ripped the last of the door away.

Grandpa and momma grabbed Souta and scrambled back from the hulking Oni as it ducked in through the door. It was colossal and misproportioned, with oddly jointed limbs that hung nearly as long as his body was tall. Its hindquarters were small and thick with muscle. The creature's torso was immense and thick with musculature and odd indentation of bone. Vaguely reptilian, the Oni's head was set lower on his torso, giving him the impression of a humped back.

It entered on its hind legs, but soon dropped down to all fours, leering at the humans with its crocodilian mouth. It moved slowly and with a degree of anticipation as its minuscule tail swished back and forth. It looked at them as they hunkered back farther and farther away, gradually putting as much distance as possible.

"Naraku wants you humans dead, but one above all the others." Kagome gasped, she hadn't thought it capable of speech. It glanced at her and grinned.

"The others' minds pointed me here, and they were right. You might have lived a little longer if you had just ran away, but you came home. You kept thinking: 'I've got to get to mama and grandpa' and 'my bow is in my room, why didn't I have it with me?' and here you are. But don't try and go for the bow, that powder is still on you and I want to kill you, not watch you burn." The Oni reached up and took hold of one of the rafters in the ceiling, effortlessly pulling it, and part of the roof down atop both it and the doorway. It shook off the stone and wood easily, but the door was now inaccessible.

"How did it think to do that? It's just a big Oni! Oni are stupid, this isn't right." The creature mocked, peering down at Kagome's mother.

"Souta is just thinking about how everyone in the village is dead, how sad he is for them. You almost are looking forward to me eating you." He sneered.

"And the old man... he's thinking that I am somehow able to read minds, he's trying to figure out how he can kill me if I know what he's thinking. He's trying to figure out the best way to get out now that the door is gone. Oops, the Oni is hearing everything I think." Goshinki laughed.

"Why am I here?" he addressed Kagome's mother.

"Yes, why are you here?" The shrine maiden questioned darkly, summOning up all the courage she could against the terror that was welling up within her. The Oni moved forward, close enough so that the woman could smell the flesh on its breath.

"To kill the girl called Kagome." He turned for Kagome, but leapt away as her mother had just tossed an ofuda where he had been. The creature seemed very amused by their surprise at its speed.

"Kagome, take Souta and run as soon as you can." Grandpa replied as he began walking along the edge of the room, flanking the Oni. Mama had done the same, from the opposite side. The Oni looked very amused. Kagome inched over to where Souta was, hugging the wall with her every move, wary of the creature.

The purple behemoth made as if it were preparing to lunge for them, but spun around instead to face Grandpa, who was looking at it contemptuously, yet with an air of triumph. The creature looked confused, then leapt back towards the ruined door, this time peering at mama, though Kagome had no clue why. She grabbed Souta and started inching back towards the stairs.

"You're very dependent on that mind reading trick of yours. But if we send you flashes of images, how can you tell if the other really does have an arrow flying at your head or not. We have defended this village for many years, Oni, and we know you're not invincible." Grandpa replied as the Oni flinched again. It was obviously not enjoying this trick.

His reply was cold and malicious where as before it had possessed a degree of playfulness. "That's easily solved, all I have to do is kill one of you, then I can focus on the other." He suddenly launched himself at grandpa, seizing the old man in his claws and bringing him up to the wickedly lethal mouth. Kagome cried out as she suddenly seized her brother by the scruff of his neck and made for the stairs. The Oni flinched and turned to find Kagome's mother throwing a decorative lance from off the wall at it. It avoided the lance easily, but turned to find the old man lunging for its open jaws. He snapped down on the arm, severing it easily, but suddenly in agony along with the old man who was thrown to the floor with bone crushing force.

Kagome ran up the stairs, Souta screaming for his grandfather and protesting being pulled away. Kagome's heart tore in two when she watched his jaws close over grandpa's arms, but this was the only chance she and Souta had to escape. Her room was too far away, so she shot straight into Souta's, heaving the door shut and knowing that it was pointless to lock it, but faithful that any barrier between them would be well placed.

The Oni roared in agony, clutching his throat and shrieking curses. The old man had shoved an ofuda down the creature's throat. The tiny spell scroll burned like fire inside the Oni, who now crashed about the house in a frenzy of snapping jaws and slashing limbs. He stomped the old man and flailed for the woman, only to have a new ofuda thrown in his face, igniting on impact.

The scroll was quickly rent away, but already the flesh was bare and blistered. The ofuda had made mind reading impossible now; its searing energy was pulsing through the Oni, a constant tumultuous blaze of agony and flame that would prove too distracting when it came time to focus in on one mind's voice. He turned on the woman and seized the decorative lance from the ground, then hurled it into her and hissed with contempt as she glowered at him even as her heart fell still.

The children. He had to kill the children.

Naraku wanted Kagome dead!

He set off up the stairs, hobbling and crashing through the rafters, too disoriented to evade them now. His mind lubricated only by the thought of the girl's blood. Once Kagome was dead he would finish this nest of humans, and then Naraku would remove the ofuda from within him. His master was kind to those who served him most unquestiOningly, but not those who failed him. He would bring Naraku the flesh of this child foe, and prove himself to be the right hand of his lord.

Kagome unlatched the shuttered window, swinging the wooden doors open. Light pooled in across the floor in a slash of gold. The smell of burning flesh and wood filled Kagome's lungs and she gagged and sputtered, but forced Souta through and onto the roof which she prayed was still as sturdy as it had been before the Oni had pulled down so many rafters.

Souta was through the window when she heard the sound of the creature ascending the stairs, making wild animal noises and randomly striking walls. She wished for her bow, but less than she wished her skin would remain attached. She dove through the window and scrambled along the roof, redoubling her effort as she heard the Oni punch through the door and wall without the slightest effort at trying it for a lock.

Thankfully, Souta had already started his dismount down the drainage pipe, which caught the rain and siphoned it away. He scuttled down it like a little monkey with his sister very nearly on top of him by the end. Kagome heard the Oni on the roof now; it was having trouble with the tiles that had easily supported the siblings, but broke loose in sheets under the weight of a creature a massive as that which now tried to run across the roof. It was out of site, on the adjoining roof, but that would hardly be enough distance to keep them alive.

Souta hit the ground feet first from a little higher then he should, Kagome jumped from higher than he and winced as the shockwaves of a very solid ground rattled up her legs and into her pelvis. Souta was looking at their house with a kind of lament that was gentle and tender, but at this moment very near suicide. Kagome shoved him hard and he stumbled in the direction of the nearest house. They would use the houses for cover, hoping that the Oni wouldn't be sure of the direction they fled since he wouldn't be able to see them. They heard him fall off the roof, obviously a victim of the tile. He cursed in a tongue far more primitive then any Kagome had ever heard, but took little joy for him being hurt by his topple from the roof. A fall from that height wouldn't be enough to kill him, and he was now on the same level as they.

She lead them in a run down the alleyways, careful to always be flanked in the shadows of the houses still standing. She heard the Oni as he shuffled along the houses too, not quite on their trail, but close enough to pick it up if they were announced. Kagome tried not to let Souta stay still long enough, ducked under the awning of one of the simplistic homes. The ground was littered in the dead and she needed him as mobile as he was able if they were to survive this. The shade of a single level building turned from warm to ice as they heard paused to get their baring and heard the deep panting breath of the thing they had been fleeing. It was on the wall right next to them, if it turned the corner they would be feet apart.

Souta's eyes widened as he heard the breath flowing from the reptilian nostrils like gusts of sulfur from the nostrils of a volcano. The breath whistled faintly as the creature shifted on his hind legs slightly, knocking over a vase, which splintered to ceramic fragments on the ground. Kagome seized Souta by the shoulders and held him immobile. If he tried to run now, they would be heard. It wasn't running at the instantaneous speed it had demonstrated back in the shrine, but she didn't want to engage it in a footrace.

Its mind reading must not be working now, for Kagome's mind was screaming in panic as she heard the knife-like claws scraping at the brick and mortar nervously. It hissed low in its throat and dropped down to all fours, further upsetting the fragments of the vase. It began sniffing the air.

Just as Kagome was steeling herself to run the opposite direction and risk the open pursuit that she knew she had no chance of, the Oni tore off in a gallop southward, the sound of its footfalls growing more and more distant. Kagome pulled Souta forward with more force than she thought possible, since the boy was horrified of running through the open street. Sadly, there was no choice about it; the street separated them from the last row of houses that bordered the now shambled great wall. The Oni had seen people fleeing in the south, probably mistaking them for the siblings. They had bought this moment with the lives of those people.

Souta ran lamely with his hand viced in Kagome's. His legs were stiff and awkward, but the will he had was augmented by his sister's grip, assuring that if he fell now, he would be dragged to cover across the bare stone. They passed the road without hearing a howl or screech to signal the Oni had seen them and now giving chase. They made it to the shade of the house, but Kagome denied Souta the chance to stop there. The people that the Oni had seen now screamed in agony, and were silenced. The creature was looking for them again.

The wall was on fire, and would need to be transgressed safely. Once that obstacle was overcome, there were two possibilities laid out for them beyond the burning remains of that which once had given their people a sense of safety:

There was a long stretch of open country that would facilitate a breakneck run with little chance of stumbling or falling. Once this area had been a farmable area, but erosion had made it a difficult field to maintain. Every time the winter snows melted, they would wash away much of the precious soil, thus fences had once been constructed to hold back the precious earth. These fences needed maintenance and had to be restored when there was still snow on the ground. They were more trouble then they were worth, so they were abandoned for the fields nestled between the two cliffs and defended by the great wall. Soil had been taken in mass from this open field, what they couldn't manage had been washed away except for certain spots where the geography held onto a little of the soil. Those spots were now bustling with tall grass that Kagome and Souta could duck into if hiding became a priority.

The second option was the more difficult rocky road. They would first have to ascend a ten-foot cliff of pure rock. This was a lot easier than it sounded since all the kids in the village knew how to find footings at certain places; this was the most direct route to the swimming ponds, lakes, and falls. From there it would be a matter of working your way through low hanging tunnels and sharp turns along a winding cliffy road. Running top speed would be impossible, but for a creature as big as the Oni, it would be either a matter of circling around the long way and risk losing them at an obscure turn off, or crashing and squeezing through passages that were barely big enough to accommodate a human. If they had a chance, it would be here.

Kagome looked around at the wall of flaming wood, finding what she could use close by. She saw a broken off panel of four boards that had survived the fire as the wall had fallen. Kagome ran to it and dragged it to the flaming wall. Tossing it over the flames, she called out to Souta, who thankfully ran for it without excessive coaxing. The wood was already starting to catch fire as Kagome ran across it, flanked by fire on both sides. She was leading Souta over the mossy ground toward the stone wall when she heard a shriek of triumph. She didn't have to look over her shoulder to know that the Oni was coming for them.

The rocky ridge was steep but yet never so easily scaled as it was now. Souta, aware of the danger and somehow possessed by a will to live that transcended his natural will to grieve, scrambled up the crag as though he were more primate than man. Kagome followed suit, thanking god with every footfall that he was doing so well; she was dreading having to pull him up. Souta was staring behind her with pallid fear as Kagome made it to the top and grabbed him by the shoulder, grunting his name as she ran. Her ebony hair was plastered to her face with sweat as she ran for the nearest passage in the stone. The opening to the shallow tunnel was small, narrow and low; Kagome would have to crouch while running to make it in.

The Oni thundered behind them as it leapt eight feet from a gallop and careened with the rock face above the shallow ridge. He landed on all fours, embedding himself into the stone. Kagome sprinted the remainder of the distance, taking her brother under both arms and throwing him into the opening. Rolling, he hit stone and cried out with pain. With a sudden snarl of her own, Kagome leapt for the hole, feeling claws graze her ankle as she passed. She struck the ground and rolled, yelping as her shoulder smacked into the eerie geography of the dry cavern. Souta had scrambled away from the opening, but now had inched forward to pull his sister by the leg away from the entrance. The Oni crashed into the entryway; his colossal form far too immense to be facilitated. He hissed and snarled as one colossal arm delved in after them snatching wildly into the abysmal dark. Kagome clutched her shoulder in agony as she scooted with Souta out of arms reach.

The boy was trembling fiercely and at a glance through her squeezed-shut eyes, Kagome found his face mottled with clumps of caked dirt and blood. He had hit his head when she threw him in, but a second longer would have had them both looking far worse. Souta had released her and now cradled himself in a niche on the rock face. The tunnel wasn't very massive, but it was sufficiently long, and sculpted from the pass itself. The Oni wouldn't be able to slip around to the other side easily.

"S-Souta? Are you alright?" she winced as she tested her arm. It wasn't broken, but it was agony to move. The boy said nothing, but did look at her. His dark eyes were terrified, but not the eyes of an animal scared out of his faculties. Kagome looked down at her ankle, blanching at the twin scratches. The Oni had come so close that dumb luck was the only reason Kagome now had a foot at the end of her leg.

The Oni snarled and raged as it clawed at the ground. There were words she could identify to be her own native language, but so muddled with hisses and roars that they were veritable noise now. It took back its claw, apparently resigned to not catching them like that. Instead it peered in from the opening, it's great read eye full of radiant hatred.

"You're going to die, children. I am going to meet you on the other side, then you will die." He looked at Souta intently. "I am going to peel the meat off you while you're still alive enough to feel it. The last thing you'll remember is the feeling of me eating you piece by piece." Souta's trembling seemed enough confirmation that the Oni was believed intrinsically. They watched as the great purple creature rose up onto its tiny hind limbs, listened as its claws ticked on stone.

And then there was silence.

"W-we're going to be okay, Souta. You know that. Remember what grandpa said, he's just powerful, he's not a god, he's not invincible. He can die, and we can beat him." The boy looked at her, his handsome and youthful complexion haunted. "Souta, believe in us," she urged desperately, taking him into her arms as though he were her child instead of her brother. She touched his blood soaked cheek, wincing at the abrasions. She kissed him softly on the face, whispering to him again and again that they would be all right, that they weren't going to die here. She found that with each promise she made, she believed it a little more. Souta was her child now, and she would defend him as though he had come from her own body.

She stared fiercely into him, feeling more a miko now than she ever had before, loving the boy as a mother and as a protector, especially as a protector. If she had to, she would die for him, and as she stared into him, into the boy's gentle and terrified eyes, she made that clear. She would defend him at any cost, for he was hers: a boy on the edge of manhood, but still the little brother.

"Believe in us, Souta." The Oni heaved a bolder against the entrance, sealing it in darkness.

"Believe, Souta," she whispered as he touched her hair tentatively. To her that was the best assurance he could have given.

Kagome lead him through the narrow passage and stooped upward as the familiar bend relinquished pooling light. The other end of the tunnel was stretched out before them. Sweet smelling air waited beyond, sunshine as well; was an Oni waiting for them there too?

Kagome lead him to the threshold, holding her breath as she did so. She came to pause before the passage, she was easily within grabbing distance now, but if the thing was waiting just outside there would be no way to see him until it was too late. She looked out through the opening, seeing the rocky path ahead, dusted periodically with spiky shoots of yellowish green grass. She made to pass through, but was pulled back by Souta. She looked down at him to find him terrified.

"What if he's out there?" he asked piteously.

"He isn't. I'd feel him." She wasn't sure if she could, she hadn't sensed him during their chase through the village, and he had been merely feet away from her then.

"He can't fit in here, Kagome. What if we just stay here, he couldn't get to us." He looked up to her intensely, afraid and yet willing to follow if she did press forward.

"We can't, he could seal us in. We'd suffocate or starve..."

What she was really afraid of would be that the big purple one would call the youkai in white. The youkai in the furs could fit in here, but somehow she suspected that he could do far worse then just inching into close quarters with them. She recognized a lethal danger in the Oni, but the second youkai sent chills through her.

"We've got to go Souta, I want to get as much distance from the lizard as possible." She lead him out into the sun, wincing as it passed over her in blinding light. She waited, yet nothing shot down on her. She felt the coolness of the air and the warmth of the sun, even the gentle flavor of the water in the air.

As her eyes finally readjusted to the brightness of day, she looked around to find that her hopes were founded. The Oni wasn't here, it would have a hard time guessing the right paths to lead around the tunnel, the mountain would be an obstacle to him for what Kagome hoped would be hours.

She began walking at a pace that was more manageable than the out and out run they had been managing since the wall came down. The path winded and forked away, yet having spent their whole childhoods playing among such passages it was no more a mystery than the layout of their own shrine.

The ground was even, carved into workable paths long before Kagome's birth. Many were in disrepair and most were uneven, yet there was a flat surface to facilitate travel with more success than if it were just open stone. They had put an entire cliff between them and the Oni, yet Kagome had no intention of dawdling away the head start they had won. She walked forward with a slight quickening of pace, ignoring the dull throb in her shoulder and trying to focus on the stone ledges and tiny plateaus which in some cases she had to duck to avoid.

"We'll never be back here." Souta remarked.

Kagome hadn't thought of that, they wouldn't ever be back. Souta had the luxury of being able to point these things out, but Kagome was leading and she knew that if she did take time to think on how she would never lay on these rocks again and let the water lap at her ankles she would cry until that thing was digesting her. She felt numb over the whole affair, orphaned and homeless, but if she did think too deeply on it she might as well as murdered to that list. She ignored him.

They were to go west, and continue on until they reached the ocean. They might not make it that far, but if they did, there would be only the faint chance of finding another human settlement. But either way they really would never be home. Kagome looked up at the cliffs that flanked the narrow little path. There were caves where the carrion youkai nested, some were occupied, others long deserted. She always wanted to explore them as a child to map out the hidden geographies of the dead-ending caves, delving and prodding the slick caverns where youkai hatched and incubated. She knew that she would never be allowed to do such a thing once she reached an age of understanding, but it never seemed more impossible than it did now. She would never climb these walls just as she would never know their secrets.

The lakes and pools were nestled along the path they now walked-she wanted to see them again-- but that was just a child's desire, nothing more than the will to see those caves to explore the forbidden areas. She was an adult now, and she had to take care for her brother and her own safety. The Oni must be escaped.

She looked back longingly to the cliff that jutted upward, a monolithic wall of much stronger metal than the wood and iron that had once protected their village. She let her eyes wash over it, but spun around in horror as she saw the Oni clutched to the wall like a gecko, descending slowly, but with an inhuman ease. It hadn't tried to go looking for the paths that lead around the cliff, it had gone over it.

She cried out to Souta to run, and the boy did with much gusto. His fear made an excellent fuel to his legs, and soon the two siblings were scrambling through brambles of dry wood and ducking under ledges. The path was irritatingly difficult to run through, but Kagome thanked every low hanging bridge of stone. Each would slow the youkai's pursuit, each would buy them time.

They were past the first pool of volcanically heated water by the time the Oni was on ground level. They were past the second by the time they caught sight of it again. It was galloping for them, leaping from rock to rock, but having a hard time with some of the tighter areas.

They ran for their lives.

The fourth was one of Kagome's favorite pools, and also the one that she was running for. The sprint had been matched only by the frenzied turning of Kagome's mind. A rabbit runs from a fox blindly, but a human can out think the fox. She was terrified, but she was also determined not to let herself lose the only solid edge she had. If she lost herself to her fear then they were just rabbits to this thing, and rabbits were nothing more then food to most things.

The fourth pool was reachable by a ledge. It was fed by a spring that bubbled up from inside the mountain itself. The falls fed into a large lake that was fathomlessly deep. The older children of the village would test their courage by jumping from the ledge and into the lake. It was a massive freefall that would put a lot of distance between them and the Oni. There was a trail that led away and out to the open plains waiting at the foot of the mountain. This trail was different from the one they were on now; it was smooth and easily traveled.

They made it to the ledge and Kagome panted as she spoke.

"Okay Souta, I want you to go first. Jump in and swim for the pass. Once you're there, run."


"Grandpa gave me some explosives. I am going to blow the opening closed so it can't follow. When the bombs go off there will be a lot of falling rock, the ledge will probably break off too. You need to be at a safe distance, I'm a faster swimmer then you." She smiled at him.

"I'll be able to catch up with you on the path, but don't go anything less than full speed. You slow me down when I have to stay with you. The farther you get before I can catch up, the better." Souta looked hurt by the idea that he was slowing her down.

"Go on, hurry now. I'll set the bombs." He nodded bravely and turned to the opening in the cliff. He had done this a hundred times with her when they swam together. Kagome watched as the boy leapt clear of the ledge, taking a perfect dive form, and plummeting down for what seemed like forever until he met the water in a great splash. Kagome smiled brightly as he looked up at her and began to obediently swim for the shore. That would be the last time she ever saw him, she knew. If she had told him her plan, he wouldn't have left her willingly. She wanted to yell 'goodbye' but calling out to him would only make him dawdle and inevitably begin to weep.

Kagome looked away from the boy and began setting the gourds into the natural crevices along the edge of the opening. She hoped to bring down as much rock as possible. If the Oni was able to climb a cliff like he had, it was clear that this little detour wouldn't slow him for long. But she found hope in the knowledge that this creature was pure predator; it knew which of the two siblings was favored to better escape its jaws. Kagome was faster, cleverer. He would want to kill her before going back for the little boy.

It growled at her from around the bend in the path where it now had come to stand. Kagome cursed under her breath as she reached into her bag and produced an heirloom to the Higurashi family. It was a remnant from the days of the great wars, back when humanity invented and worked with magical technologies. This tiny bauble was worth a house among certain traders. She knelt, oblivious to the Oni who was now leisurely advancing, sure of its ability to be on her in a moment if she tried to flee. She clicked the trigger and thanked all the good spirits for the reliability of the relic. The flint clicked together and breathed life into the tiny spout that drank from a reservoir of flammable resin. The jet of yellow flame had the three wicks burning in a moment. The fuses were not long, and as soon as the bombs were preparing, she began to act.

There was a slight over-dramatization to her backing away in horror, facing the Oni, but keeping an eye on the tiny embers of flame, which traveled smokelessly down the wicks, and to the gourds. The Oni advanced after her with leisurely steps, arrogant in a way that identified it as male as clearly as if she spotted the specific organs which this creature apparently kept internally. Kagome suddenly threw herself onto the ground and rolled behind a bolder, hoping that it would offer her some shielding.

The Oni realized the danger only a moment later as the bombs exploded with jarring force, tearing the cliff face down upon the gap, and serendipitously, the Oni as well.

The dust blinded while the tiny shards of falling stone pricked like biting insects at the back of Kagome's neck and along her calves. She clutched herself tightly; taking great effort in shielding herself from the possibly crippling stones that might fall atop her if fate seemed set on it. The last thing she had seen was the purple Oni taking a bolder to the chest. The impact had toppled the creature, and Kagome was sure that it was only one of several such collisions since he had been standing right at the spot she had aimed the deluge of stone for.

The echoing crack of the bombs began to fade to a low ringing in her ears and she stopped feeling the tiny pelting of pebbles. She opened her eyes and stared with amazement; the cliffs had fallen in ways she hadn't expected possible. The opening was buried by tons of rock and as the mountain wind shifted the last swirling cloud of dust, she saw that the Oni was partially buried under several boulders, which would have made pulp out of a human.

The creature hissed piteously as it shifted lightly. Not dead, but not having fun, it was apparent that the Oni would be in bad shape when it resumed the chase. Kagome got to her wobbly feet and began running again, aware of the sounds of the creature trying to shift some of the rock off of it's legs. She wondered if it was hurting as much as she? Her shoulder was pulsing with pain, her legs ached, and she was becoming aware of a stitch in her side, but then again, she hadn't been crushed under a few tons of stone.

She smelled something in the air that made her guts twist a little with nausea, the oily stink of dead meat and the lacquered pulsing egg sacks of the carrion youkai who nested among the caves that Kagome now passed. In the past, after the creatures had abandoned their dens, Kagome and Souta had gone exploring, looking at the remains of the slimy and coccineus egg sacks from which the wormlike creatures had hatched. The creatures were breeding and laying in this time of the year, and would be in a kind of trance. Both acts would be so completely consuming, that the youkai would fail to feed and the weaker would often die there amongst their eggs. The others would couple on top of the remains, laying their eggs over the fermenting cadavers, and when their larval young hatched, they would consume the festered bits of flesh.

They were only a danger to Kagome if she threatened one. They would be blind to any trespasser, awakening from their hazes only if they caught the scent of their own blood. When Kagome was nine there had been a boy who slipped out of the village to go and swim, he had stumbled into a nest and accidentally crushed an egg. They had found his remains several months later, encrusted with remnants of a nest and the markings of gnawing carrion youkai all over his black skeleton. The adults had loved to tell that story; it reinforced every rule they had.

Kagome came to a halt as a roar echoed through the cavernous pass. The Oni was close and there was little chance of a run saving her. The next section of the pass would be big enough to let him follow without impedance. She didn't have enough distance to make it to the next area that could slow him down.

She heard him coming, quick and fueled by wrath in its most primal distillation. She backed up against the wall. She heard the churning and clicking that were notably inhuman. To her left was a cave, and from the noise, it was occupied. The opening was too big to keep the Oni out, all that it would be was a dead end filled with lots of things that would clean her carcass after the Oni finished rending it into pieces. Still, the smells might mask her scent. Perhaps the Oni would pass, and she could slip back out the opposite direction.

The cave was cool and dark, dripping with moisture and reeking with the excrement and nesting fluids. She walked with great care to her footing, for if she crushed even one egg, she would be dead before the Oni made it to her. She could only imagine what kind of disappointment that would be to him, having invested so much time, yet robbed of that satisfying crunch. She saw the slithering mass cling to the far wall and ceiling. Forty at least, possibly more, and all were engaged in one giant slithering youkai orgy. The carrion youkai were grub-like, pale and slithering; large black pincers pulsed as they mated, as though each were chewing whatever thing had died and left this smell.

Her stomach churned in nausea and she looked to the wall closest to her. The wall was encrusted with brittle structures of solidified mucous excretions on the part of the females. The structure looked like a fungus, but was actually comprised of thousands of pear-sized eggs, nestled and undulating in a manner that seemed reminiscent of the slithering spectacle several feet away.

"Hiding in a hole?" the Oni hissed, drawing her attention to the entrance where it waited, a frightening combination of the golden sun, oily shadows, and scarlet eyes. Kagome slunk low, her knees in the slime runoff of the eggs. Her eyes widened suddenly and she turned to the slimy structure.

She gently took one of the pulsing things in her hands, rocking it back and forth, trying to unfetter it without causing the amniotic fluid to spill, invoking a most painful death when it did. The Oni was entering, slowly and with a notable limp. The rocks had hurt him, but not enough.

Back and forth, back and forth, then side to side. She worked with a greater sense of time, breathing through her mouth, as the eggs smelled worse then the sludge on the ground. The Oni was almost in striking distance when the egg came loose in her hand, intact. The tiny larva was wriggling gently inside its womb of lacquered filth.

"Your corpse shall belong to Naraku, Kago-" She chucked the egg into his jaws, which reflexively snapped shut over it. The Oni gagged and sputtered at the taste, but halted as dozens of carrion youkai launched themselves from the back wall at it. Kagome barely had time to drop to her stomach when they blind-sided the Oni in mass. They bit and tore at his throat, stomach, legs, and face. Each hissing and chattering with insect noise as it wound itself upon the massive creature. The Oni shrieked as it tore them away from itself. Dashing them against the stone walls of the cave. Stomping madly and slipping on the muck.

Kagome crawled on her belly along the edge of the cave, passing the raging Oni by feet, then bolting out of the cave and down the perilously unprotectable path. The Oni shrieked her name, tearing the things from his throat. Kagome had never pitied a youkai before, but she did feel a pang of something at what she had done, even though it was just to save her own life and not out of cruelty.

She had killed the infant youkai, and forced its parents to certain death against an Oni, and though they were both youkai and mindless, they were dying because of her. She focused only on the path ahead, rejoicing as she begin seeing more of the ledges and bridges of stone, shallow tunnels and other things which would slow her pursuer as soon as he finished killing off the worms.

Kagome was past the second hurtle when he came for her, stumbling in his gallops and looking much worse for wear. Carrion youkai were not venomous, but their jaws were thick with so much bacteria that they might as well be. Most humans who were bitten died; the survivors usually lost a lot of flesh near the bite. She couldn't count on the numerous wounds killing the Oni, but they were obviously making his chase difficult. Kagome caught sight of him from the corner of her eye as she climbed over a ledge of shell, her shoulder exploding with pain.

The Oni was torn and gashed all over his chest and throat, two carrion youkai were still latched on at the jaws to his throat and shoulder, clinging and dead. His skin was peeled back over his shoulder, leaving the pink and dangling musculature open to the air and raw.

He definitely was going to be quite displeased with her after this was done.

She was three ledges and two drop-offs ahead of him when he crashed headlong into the first stone bridge, which crumbled under the impact. He hammered his claws through the second, howling in agony as the sharp stone cut him. He slipped and lost his footing under the following drop-off, then crawled under the next ledge. Kagome was moving much faster than he under these circumstances, and soon caught sight of the large and gaping opening to an open cave eroded notably over the centuries. It was massive and pierced by light at the breached roof.

She ran up the short path, which lead to the cathedral of weathered rock. There was no defense here; it was open from all angles and would accommodate the Oni if he were twice as big as he actually was. Kagome ran to the far opening, panicking and jumping back as she stared down at the massive drop-off which awaited her had she run headlong through. It was a deceiving pitfall that would have sent her plummeting several stories onto a bed of sharp rock.

She panicked at the idea of a dead end, but caught sight of a small ledge four feet below the path's end. She could hop down and land safely if the ledge was sturdy enough. The Oni snarled with victory as it leapt over the last obstacle and broke into a gallop for her, its tongue lolling out of its mouth with an almost canine impression. It was tattered and bruised, but still willing to pursue, and with good reason. She wouldn't be able to out run him on the narrow cliff; he would have her in two strides.

Desperate times called for insane measures. She faced him, taking up position in front of the opening, careful to put her heels right at the precipice. The Oni was running madly, jaws open and gaping with dozens of hooked reptilian fangs. His remaining eye was murderous as he shrieked one final cry, entering the cavern at a frantic pace. Kagome stared at him, stared at the jaws. This was the destroyer of her village, the murderer of her family. He leapt for her, flying through the air with outstretched claws and a gaping maw of razorblades.

Kagome stepped backward and fell.

Landing on the thankfully solid ledge, she ducked as the Oni flew past her, hitting the crumbled remains of the path that had appeared whole from inside the cavern. He yelped in shock and pain then tumbled down. Kagome watching with every prayer she knew on her tongue. The creature rolled twice in the air, shrieking, then hit the ground.

He had landed on his back, colliding with a vertical rock formation that snapped his spine in an echoing crack. The stone split through his chest and stomach, spilling blood and organ out of the creature's now twisted form. It lay there twitching and limp as Kagome slowly walked down the ramping ledge, coming to stop right in front of the Oni. Its face was torn and shredded, burned by the ofuda, and now moving soundlessly.

It looked at her upside-down through its good eye. The jaws moved and broken teeth clicked against each other as it tried to form words, but failed. One of its horns had shattered in the impact and that which had once been so terrifying now looked at her with something primal and familiar: fear. Kagome wasn't sure what it was so afraid of as it looked at her; it either feared her, or it feared death. She suspected the latter given the kind of existence it had led. It was in unspeakable pain, dying in front of its murderer in a graveyard of parched stone. Kagome felt no pity for the thing, but she also felt the hatred dying away within her. With each shallow and wet intake of air, she came to see it with more and more detachment. It was like looking on a dying animal, not a sentient creature. For a fragile moment she wished that she were dying with it.

Its whistling breath grew silent and his gaze fixed with the milky stillness of death. Kagome had maintained strength through that last moment when he had looked at her and she back down at him. But now that he was dead and no longer able to see his destroyer, she slumped to the stone ground and wept with both grief and exhaustion.

The walk down the mountain was uneventful and full of some of the most bitter introspection Kagome had ever known. She walked, aware that each footstep would never be retraced, aware that home was gone and that her destiny was out there, beyond the mountain pass and the flanking grasslands. The thought of the western lands made her heart heavy in her chest. She had always hated these mountains because they were a veritable prison to a teenage girl, but they were home, and now they were being forever abandoned. She would go west and try to live, as painful as the thought was.

Her mother and grandfather were dead. They were dead and abandoned, left to rot where the Oni let them fall. Kagome shuddered with almost tangible grief. The scavenger youkai, nesting along the mountain, would eventually creep into their village and then into their shrine. In a few years there would only be the faintest traces of the village that once had stood there. The winters were hard on the mountain. The wood would go first, stone would fall under a few heavy winter seasons. The shrine would be the last to go since it was the most carefully constructed, but in time the tiled roof would grow bare and the snow and wind would do their work on the holy altar.

There would be nothing left.

The western lands. The kingdom of the Inu youkai. Kagome thought back over old texts and long antiquated maps of the land. The Inu kingdom was massive. The city's name was unknown, but its dimensions were sketched out in some of the old scraps of parchment preserved within the shrine. The main city was monolithic when compared to the village Kagome had known, and unlike Kagome's village, the city was near the sea, nestled into a crescent shaped canyon, which long ago had thwarted several human attacks. There were supposedly dense forests surrounding the kingdom, and Kagome had hoped that she could keep to the dense wood and slip around the crown of the Inu kingdom.

She kicked a stone as she thought about the land destined to be her home. There would be more youkai in the area, more danger. She would have to be cautious if she were forced to settle near a kingdom. Kagome was prepared for such grim possibilities, but she had hope it wouldn't come to that. She would find a human land, another city, but one of humans. A village where she could be among her own kind and safe from the wicked creatures that destroyed her world. There would be a sea after passing the Inu lands. She had never seen the sea and was a little anxious to behold it. Maybe the humans lived on an island? Maybe she would take a boat to her new home. Her father was a monk of the Order of the Bound Hand, a human who could pass through youkai kingdoms with far less caution thanks to his Order's influence. He had probably seen the sea and ridden on many boats.

She tried to think of him, that mysterious face which she had never seen, but liked to imagine watching over her. The thought warmed her heart a little. He would have been a kind and wise man, and probably a lot like Souta since so many people who knew him had compared him to his son.

What little warmth the image of her father had generated froze over as she thought of her brother. Souta was beyond reach now. The path he could take would lead him west, but also down a much more traveled road. He would be caught if he traveled over the roads. She ached to be with him, her little brother, and now last family. She ached over the helplessness she now felt for him. How she wished that she could be with him, protecting him. She had saved him by tricking him like that, but she cheated them both of what little comfort they could give each other.

The grassy plains, which encompassed the mountain on three sides, were beautiful in the sunshine. Alive and moving with each breath of cool mountain air, shimmering like amber water on a lake. The grasses came up to Kagome's thigh; tiny grasshoppers jumped on her bare skin, and then fled away in a single bound. She listened and heard their tiny chirping. In the distance she could see the verdant green canopy of the forest. She would travel through these woods as far as possible, using them for cover and shelter.

The grasslands ebbed away into flat ground and she stared into the shadowy fathoms of the forest. The tree trunks were ashen gray and white, dappled with shade and blanketed in the spotty carpets of moss and earth. This forest was visible from the mountain, and it had always been a place of majestic beauty and ancient glamour to Kagome. Though young compared to the forests near the Inu kingdom, these trees were nonetheless markers in time.

She walked boldly into the forest.

She was a match for most youkai, even without a bow she would be enough to frighten them away. The only real anxiety over her situation took the form of the youkai in white fur.

The one the Oni had called Naraku.

That youkai was dangerous to the strongest and most heavily armed of miko, and he had come with a host of lower youkai, stupid but savage.

Naraku scared her so deeply and she didn't quite understand why. The fear she felt for him transcended the normal and healthy fears a human might have for a powerful youkai; she had been nearly petrified by him. The pelt of white fur and the dried flesh of a baboon's face, which looked more bluish gray than she would think normal. His image sent icy needles into her spine, prickling her hair and also teasing a vague sense of familiarity. She had never seen his like, but there was something familiar about him.

The forest made all the normal noises a forest supposedly would make at this time of day. There were the chittering sounds of insects hunting or looking for a mate. There were the familiar noises of birds at roost. She sensed no Jaki of his magnitude in the air, so Naraku couldn't be here in this forest with her. The dappled shadow and random beams of golden sunshine washed over her as she made her way through, sensing the air with what she would just a day ago called paranoia.

Part way through the woods, she came to what appeared to have once been a camp. There was a long dead fire, now partially buried with leaves. She poked around further and found that the only other relics were the tattered remains of a discarded sleeping mat and a walking stick that could have been easily overlooked. She took the quarterstaff and noted that it was not actually wood, but bone. Bone crafted and carved to a perfect shoot of ivory, twisting at its crest in knotting design. The craftsmanship was stunning, but the sheer size of the bone that had supplied its material was troublingly apparent. A youkai staff made of youkai bone.

She tossed the relic aside, grasping for the first time that this had not been a human camp, but instead a youkai one. It was unnerving to think there had been youkai so close to home that went unnoticed. She had always thought the ones which made things like the staff would have been much farther from the mountain. Survival might argue that keeping the staff was wise: youkai bone was hard as metal and several times lighter, but she made no effort to take up the relic. These woods had sheltered many things before Kagome walked amongst them, and now they seemed sinister.

For four days Kagome had walked. By the third, her food was gone and she had been forced to begin seeking out what food the forest could offer. Without a weapon, there was little hope of meat and so the edible herbs and roots became a staple. This diet would not sustain her long, and the farther she went into the darkened depths of this forest the more obvious it became that the woods were changing.

In the beginning of her journey, she had caught sight of youkai lurking in her wake, sensing prey, but also sensing danger each time Kagome became aware of them and let her presence swell. These youkai were lowly, scavengers and stalkers, and as such ruled by primal fear. They felt Kagome's power, and they fled it. But now they were gone.

The forest did have all the old sounds and signs of animal life, but the youkai were gone. Not even a whisper of jaki rippled through the trees. Even up on the mountain she had sensed the low pulse of carrion youkai, but now it was vacant of all such lower life. She had read of such things in the old texts.

The powerful kill off the weak.

As she came to a clearing, the realization was made plain. The human mapmakers called the mountain Daken. It borrowed a word of the ancient language, a word that no one understood. Perhaps it meant majestic or vast or sinister; Kagome could only guess. She knew more of the language of the shadowed past then many, but that was at best a handful of words to which Daken was not included.

The mountain was sloped as though it were actually a great hill, but then erupted upward with a large projection of granite, speckled with large barren trees on one side. The mountain was not as big as hers, but where as hers had been mostly stone, this one seemed more a marriage of plant life supporting topsoil and rock. The whole affair looked vaguely like a claw erupting from the earth. Daken was the home of the Wolf youkai. Though spread out, this was the front territory of their kin, and that meant that the forest Kagome now walked through was theirs. They had killed all the lesser youkai, as was the custom among their kind.

Kagome began walking again, this time much more alert and with much more effort put to masking her presence from a youkai who might notice a strange air from the forest. Wolf youkai were distant cousins to the Inu. Several thousand years ago one branched out from the other. Adapting and growing until they were different species. Wolf youkai were less attractive then their cousins, where most Inu were lithe and stunning with long white hair and delicate features, wolves were the veritable opposite. Strong features and thicker musculature. Their bodies were much thicker and chiseled. Wolf youkai had claws and fangs; their hair was bristly and black. She had even read that some of them were born with tails! But looks aside, they were cruel creatures. Humans were prey to them, either for flesh to eat or for their drive to mate. Both were ultimately the same since after satisfying their needs, they would kill and consume their partners. If it came down to either option, Kagome would try for the former as opposed to the latter.

Kagome went the longer way around the clearing, keeping in the shadows of the obscuring treetops. She thought back over the map, praying that in the years since its creation the territories had not shifted. The wolf youkai had a small section of the forest; their range was more a mountainous one. With luck she would be out of their territory in less than an hour. She didn't know how long she had been walking through their land before realizing that there was no lesser youkai; perhaps she was almost out now. The Inu forests were much more vast, and perhaps whatever youkai hunted them would be more spread out and less likely to cross her path.

She was in a slumped jog when she first heard the distant and bayful howl. The noise seemed as though it were echoing off from miles away, but it was soon joined with other howls from up on the mountain where a den must lay coiled within.

Kagome ran.

For ten minutes she made startling headway through the foliage and brush, halting only as a new howl sang out from somewhere ahead. The wolves had gotten around her, circled in. She made a few more steps forward before she saw the shadowy lupine figure among the trees. It was an actual wolf. Kagome had a moment of relief seeing the distant and yet unmistakable form of a four-legged predator as opposed to a two legged one. The relief was short lived, however, as it began advancing with slow and purposeful steps. Wolves were pack hunters; several others would flank this one. The beast was muddy brown with fierce yellow eyes. It kept its progress towards her apparent. It was keeping directly in front of the western expanse, meaning to drive her back. Drive her back to where the pack would most assuredly catch her from all sides. This was not a simple predator; this was a thinking creature, demonstrating a cunning that clearly showed a youkai mind. It was trying to keep her from advancing west, keep her from entering the western lands where the Inu alone reigned.

That could mean that she was close to the border. But close was very little when faced with creatures that could move as swiftly as these. If it were a minute run it would still most likely be too far away. Kagome looked around wearily. She couldn't allow herself to be pushed back. She tore a limb from a low hanging tree. The wood cracked under her full weight as she heaved it away. The club was hardly a bow or a blade, but a club would have to suffice. There was no hope in climbing a tree. All that would be doing is assuring that the pack would have time to settle in around her. Going back would be just as suicidal; walking into the open jaws of this mangy creature's pack.

Steeling herself as best she could, she ran at the creature, club held high and ready to smack down across its skull. The wolf seemed surprised to have prey behaving this way, but ultimately it favored its own strength to weather the stick's lash. It was youkai enough to have a youkai's arrogance. The club flared with a rose colored flash as it struck the wolf in his side. She dropped the club and hissed in pain as the wolf yelped and rolled across the grassy earth. Her palm singed with smoldering wisps of smoke.

The dust, which had rendered her village helpless, was still present, diluted by days of sweating and mopping against her clothes, but she had not been able to really bathe since the attack. This dust was formidable, days diluted and yet still it clung valiantly, igniting a little as miko energy passed through her hands into an object. The club was burning on the grass now, the wolf looking far worse. The creature's whole side had been crushed by the impact of the club, leaving it a whimpering and twitching spectacle.

Kagome ran, but didn't get far before a large impact sent her sprawling to her stomach. Another wolf had caught up to her. She felt tears in her eyes as she began scrambling for the cover of a large and ancient tree. She had come so close only to die now.

She made it to the tree as the wolf caught her by the cloth of her pant leg and began shaking her violently. She kicked madly at the thing's face, hearing it grunt with each impact. A particularly vicious blow to the eye forced the wolf to let go. Kagome spun around with her back to the tree, panting and smeared with dirt and sweat.

The wolf she had kicked was in front flanked by three others. They all shared the same ruddy brown coat as the one she had crippled. Their eyes were hauntingly enraged, staring at her with a malicious intent to kill and tear, to avenge their fallen and savage the flesh of his attacker.

Kagome watched as time slowed while the wolf jumped for her throat. Watched as he leapt into the air with lips pulled back into a wicked snarl of ivory fang and pink gum. She watched as death lunged down for her and took some solace in the fact that she would die facing death instead of fleeing it. It was in mid air when a ribbon of golden light flickered across the wolf, splitting him in half in an epically grotesque spectacle.

The fragmented canine fell to the earth in a wet and twitching spectacle. Kagome blinked as the tiny mist of blood speckled her cheeks. The radiant and vivisecting beams lashed out from the treetop again, this time taking out the remaining three wolves in a single moment, shredding them to bone flesh and fur of no distinguishable origin.

She looked up and saw him sitting there on a branch from the very tree she now rested against. He was looking down at her with golden eyes through a hood of silver hair. He was an Inu youkai.

The Inu looked no older then Kagome herself, still smooth faced and devoid of facial hair-- assuming Inu do grow beards. He was startlingly beautiful, ethereal in the way all youkai were, but not ghostly in his allure. He wore a red Haori with matching Hakama pants, both of some unknown fabric, which radiated redness as though it were of sewn flame and not of any plant or animal. His feet were bare and draped lazily over the branch.

Her rescuer flicked his claws delicately, cleaning them of whatever wolf blood might have still clung. Each finger terminated in a ferocious razorblade of a claw, hooked and formidable, then shrunk back to a more natural point and size. His hair was as long as Kagome's, trademark to his species, but his head crowned in a pair of fluffy dog-ears where all the images of Inu youkai before did not possess. He saw her eyes waver to his ears and he flattened them to his head, growling low. She regained eye contact, trembling with the intensity of his eyes. They were beautiful eyes, but just as fierce as the scrolls said.

The staring contest only ended as a voice snarled out at them from the direction of the mountain. The Inu shifted his gaze from her and to the two figures who now snarled up at him, surrounded by seven more of their lupine pack. These were true wolf youkai, almost human in appearance, betrayed only by the claws and dominant fangs. Neither of them had tails.

"Inu bastard! You killed our brothers!" the first of the two roared. He was a short male with gray hair striped with black. His lips were pulled back in a fearsome snarl. Kagome looked up and found that the Inu was not intimidated. He continued to gaze at the duo lazily.

The one that spoke wore maroon armor that didn't look like it was made for him. In fact it almost looked human in origin. The iron was piecemeal and mismatched at that. Primarily he was clad in wolf skins of the same brown as the wolves, which ran with them. Tiny braids of leather held his makeshift armor together.

The second of the two males would be bald if not for the curious Mohawk of gray, which ran in spikes up his cranium. He wore the same style of piecemeal armor, fur, and leather strippings with the addition of a piece of thick chain, which Kagome could not derive a single purpose for. He was making wolfish noises to his four legged cohorts, anxious and keening noise fluctuating between rage and anguish. The wolves mirrored his noises.

"Well say something!! Don't just look at us, you've stolen our prey and murdered our kin!" the noisy one cried out. Only now did the Inu seem inclined to respond. He indolently let himself fall from his branch. Landing closer to Kagome then she would prefer with considerable ease. "You're trespassing on Inu land. I would think that idiot Kouga would have thrashed the difference between wolf territory and Inu territory into your heads by now. This happens too damn often." his voice conveyed notable irritation with the wolves, but not a single shred of intimidation. Kagome glanced to the gory wolf carcasses and guessed why.

"Our prey ran here. And she didn't get far!" the mohawked one cried out. His fangs pulled back in what Kagome thought a difficult posture, given his speaking.

"Do you damn wolves even have fucking noses? These trees are not your territory. They are Inu territory. It doesn't fucking matter if she was a step into our lands, she's not yours anymore." The wolves snarled at him. The Inu youkai barked suddenly and their snarling quieted.

"You're thinking you can fuckin scare me away in my own forest? You're lucky I don't carve up another of your fleabags for that. This bitch smells of your forest, she's been in it long enough for you to have done god knows what to her a hundred times. It's not my fault that you're incompetent."

"Give her back now! We demand compensation for the brothers you've murdered."

"No. I owe you nothing and I certainly wouldn't reward you for trespassing."

"Filthy half-breed!" the first one snarled.

"You're one to talk, you're not full-blooded wolves. Judging by your scent, there is a little Inu blood in both of you. I seem to recall a traitorous female leaving our lands for yours. As I remember, she bred a few mutts." The Inu smiled, his fangs horrifically apparent to Kagome. "So shall I tell Kouga that it was Hakkaku and Ginta who were caught trespassing and poaching on Inu lands? Your kind are pretty fucking stupid, but at least Kouga realizes what kind of enemy the Inu could be. I doubt he would value your lives enough to start a war." Both of the two winced.

"Let's leave Ginta. We wouldn't want to deprive the pup a chance to live up to his lord's example."

"Excuse me?" the Inu replied dangerously.

"He said that your king is a disgrace to all youkai for taking a human whore as a mate. For siring pups like yo-" He was cut off as the Inu's hair bristled and his eyes changed from gold to black ellipses surrounded by pure red. He took on Inu youkai markings and seemed to grow a thousand times more terrifying. Both wolves blanched as the Inu raised his stiletto tipped claws at them.

"Wolves... should know their place. And they should know that if they ever insult my parents like that again, I will butcher them and string their insides along the border between our territories." He seemed to have difficulty forming the words.

One of the wolves trembled violently and whispered the name: Inuyasha. Then the pack fled. Kagome contemplated running too, but something told her that there wouldn't be a chance of getting three steps away from him. He didn't turn to face her looking like that, but instead let his fearsome transformation ebb away. He only looked back at her when he was back to being beautiful and clear of eye.

"You speak, human?" he asked.

"You're going to kill me?" she asked, trying to steady her voice as best as she was able.

"You are in Inu territory, and as such, are Inu property." Kagome felt her stomach fall out from her as the words registered. He continued. "You will be my slave."

"Like hell I will!" she yelled at him, finding her voice in such a way that startled both of them. The Inu looked positively stunned.

"I am Kagome Higurashi! I am not a slave, and I will not be a youkai's slut! You might as well kill me now or let me go. I'm not going to give you anything you want." He grabbed her by the arm, pulling her to him and smirking as she stared up at him defiantly.

"And what is it that you think I want?" She kicked him in the groin.

He winced with pain, but the result was nowhere near as staggering as she had expected or hoped. His brow twitched and he growled a little at her. He looked at her hands, taking in the burn damage.

"That hurt a lot, bitch."

"My name is Kagome, not bitch. Ka-Go-Me!" She bit his arm only to once again be disappointed. The sleeve of his haori was like woven steel, which gave under pressure but didn't break. The Inu cocked his head at her quizzically, his ears pivoting toward her.

"Are you always this friendly?" He grabbed her other hand as it attempted to slap his cheek. She shot him daggers as she begrudgingly released his arm from her now aching jaws.

"Your hands are pretty burned, Ka-Go-Me. How?" She scowled at him, resigned to the fact that he was pretty much impossible to hurt. He smirked boyishly and flipped her around while sitting so that he ended up with her wrapped in his legs on the ground, incapable of running or kicking. His weight seemed obviously moderated, just enough to let her know he was in control, but not too much to be painful. She was quite frankly stunned by the ease at which he maneuvered her into this position.

"Please resist the urge to try tearing my tongue out. You won't." He took her hand and forced it open with some degree of care as to not hurting her excessively. It was the first chance Kagome actually got to see her hands. Both were burned terribly on the palms and she winced to see the singed flesh. This, Inuyasha (as the wolf had called him) then proceeded to lower his face to her open left palm and start licking the wound. Her eyes shot open with revulsion and she tried to pull her hand away. It didn't budge in his grip and he continued lapping at the raw flesh and blood.

This was probably a prelude to biting. Any second he was going to tear a chunk of meat off her hand and swallow it in a single gulp as if he were a reptile. She felt dirty and violated as he continued to lick every inch of her screaming hand. The pain began to recede and she blanched at the idea of him working some youkai magic on her. Her hand would surely turn into a claw when he was done with it.

Most infuriating of all was the fact that it began to tingle and start feeling good under his tongue. Inu saliva must have some kind of numbing agent; she tried to list of the reasons for such a feature. It would probably aid in digestion. It would make the prey docile while he fed. It probably had some function in Inu youkai mating practices. She stopped with that one and tried not to focus on the trance like intensity of his expression a he licked and how it might very well be a prelude to mating instead of biting. He moved onto the right hand and Kagome examined her now wet hand. The bleeding had stopped and amazingly, the wound seemed much better in addition to its painlessness.

Twenty minutes later Kagome's hands were cleaner then they had ever been in her life, and also painless. Inuyasha rose up to his feet, taking her with him effortlessly.

"Every hour I plan to do that. If you don't fight it, there won't be any scarring. You're temperament is horrible enough without you being lame too." he replied nonchalantly as he lead her through the forest and to a small winding path. Three steps into it she tried to bolt for the treeline, only to have Inuyasha leap in front of her and grin.

For the first twenty minutes she had tried escaping him several times, each one was playfully defeated, much to her wrath. She was definitely starting to hate this Inuyasha and thinking that every Inu youkai must be a total monster if they share blood with him. She had learned a few things from their time together thought.

The wolves had called him Inuyasha, and though that might be either a title or an insult, she suspected it was a name. They had also called him a half-breed, and when he transformed, he had said that they were not to talk about his parents like that. The wolves had called his father a lord and his mother a human whore. It fit. Though she was not well schooled in the Inu youkai political system, she did recognize the significance of how they had talked about lords and kings, then how Inuyasha had defended his parents; Inuyasha was of royal blood.

More like a royal pain in the ass, Kagome decided, upon the foiling of her third escape attempt. In her life she had come to resent a lot of young males because they were prideful and arrogant little brats who were so sure of their own charms that they proceeded to hit on her relentlessly. Inuyasha left them all in the dust. Every single time she attempted to throw herself into a dead run down a narrow trail along the road, or slip away amongst the brush, he had managed to materialize right in front of her attempted escape rout.

"You are such a..." she growled suddenly as he managed to slip around her, interceding yet again. The bastard wasn't even giving her the chance to run, he was catching her before she tried. At least the damn Oni had the courtesy to chase!

"Such a what?"

"My vocabulary is nowhere near dirty enough to finish that sentence," she grumbled as he grinned. He had a very nice grin even though it was a strange one, slightly lopsided and punctuated with a protruding fang. Kagome scowled yet again at how he just had to be breathtaking.

"You know how I know when you are trying to run?" he offered.

"Excuse me?"

"You keep looking around from left to right. You're scanning the road for paths where you would be able to run and I wouldn't be able to jump after you. I can kinda guess where you're planning because you look at it for a while longer then normal, then try to throw me off by going back to looking around." He chuffed. "You bunch up your muscles when we're close. You might as well just tell me when you're planning to make a break for it." He was definitely more arrogant then the men of her village.

"You are an ass."

"I've been called worse."

"Limited vocabulary, remember?" She smiled wickedly at him. They continued walking and Kagome begrudgingly stopped trying to focus on some means of escape. She wouldn't be able to get the drop on him, and the more she thought about it, the more clear it was that it would be a mistake to try too hard now that he was expecting it. She would try again once the situation changed and he wasn't too ready to chase.

"So how is it that you killed the Oni?" he asked suddenly, catching her off her guard.

"Oni?" She was suddenly very afraid. How did he know about the Oni? What if he were in league with the youkai in white? She could be walking right into a bigger danger than she thought.

"You smell." he replied simply.

"How could I have killed an Oni? I'm just a human, right? I'm good for nothing but eating, serving, and serving whatever sick little needs you have. That's all humans are to your kind aren't they. Food and whores, right mutt?" He stopped and took her by the shoulder in a firm grip.

"Listen to me woman. I am not a stupid half-breed." For the first time, his eyes were mean when he looked into hers. She winced, but did not back down.

"My name is Inuyasha. I am the second born son of the lord of all the western lands. Don't think just because I am half blooded I am weak or stupid. I smell the Oni on you. I smell his death on you. Don't lie to me! And I don't eat human; I'm fucking half human! You're not my damn concubine either. I don't have to steal my women. Don't you dare accuse me of such dishonorable things! I'm not a demon!" he growled. Kagome stared in shock; she had actually wounded him.

"I don't believe you." she remarked quietly, watching as his eyes darkened on hers. She expected him to crush her shoulder or to savage her throat; he did neither. She watched as his piercing eyes lowered. His hand dropped from her shoulder as his ears drooped on his head of snowy hair.

"Come on." He started walking again and Kagome followed. She was stunned by the change in him, stunned that his arrogance could be shattered so easily. She wondered if she could run away now. He looked notably less willing to leap in front of her.

He was a youkai, probably ancient given the ease with which he had carved up those wolves and threatened their masters. He had claws on each finger, fangs in his mouth. He was an animal, but something about the way he was walking made her regret what she had said. He was her enemy, but he had not been a cruel enemy, whereas she had been.

"I lived in a human village. We've never had a youkai lording over us. We were free of your kind, free and happy. Then an Oni came and destroyed it." His ear craned around on his head, listening to her as she spoke without looking up from the path.

"The Oni killed everyone in my village. My brother and I escaped, but the Oni separated us. I don't know where he is and I'm scared that he's going to stumble into a youkai's den and get eaten. I killed the Oni by luck, but the youkai who sent him is still alive. I don't know what they wanted with our village, it didn't have anything. No good fields, nothing worth mining. We just lived free and didn't get involved. We should have been safe." she spoke softly, finding that the words flowed from her like water from a fount.

"The youkai you killed was named Goshinki. I recognize his stink. He was a child of Naraku." Inuyasha spoke the name and watched as she stiffened at its utterance.

"He wore white fur."

"A baboon pelt."

"So you know him? Is he a friend of yours?" she asked tentatively.

"Every youkai house knows that bastard's name. He's everyone's enemy, and has been for thousands of years." Kagome stared.

"Naraku is one of the oldest youkai, he's impossibly powerful and a real prick." Inuyasha scoffed. "He bided his time during the wars, let all the other youkai fight the humans. Then when the wars were over, he started taking our lands. He got a lot of them too. But all the houses joined together in an allied front against him. He may be strong, but the bastard wasn't able to fight all the houses at once. We pushed him back to his small little territory, and have managed to keep him there." Kagome tried to imagine all the youkai houses united against a single enemy. How powerful could this Naraku be if it took all the Daiyoukai and their houses to stop him?

"Like the Holy Wars?"

"Humans call the wars holy? That's sick."

"I call humans fighting against creatures who would have themselves seen as gods, holy, yes." she replied defiantly.

"I think you don't have a full grasp on what the wars really were about, Kagome. They were before my time, but my father fought in them. He wouldn't fight for an evil cause." Inuyasha replied simply.

"You don't think it's evil what all the youkai lords have done? How humans are slaves? You're half human, don't you think that it's wrong for your mother..."

"Don't. Just because a couple of flea-ridden idiots speak doesn't make it true. My mother is lady of all the western lands, not a whore.

"You want to paint one side of the wars evil? Look at what mankind has done in his victories. He slaughtered, he destroyed indiscriminately, and he marched into this forest and tore the sacred trees from their roots."

"It was war."

"Is war an excuse for evil? The humans called it holy, but their means proved that they, themselves, were wicked even if their cause wasn't. I didn't see the wars, I was a pup when The Cry ended, but the evidence suggests that whatever it was, it wasn't holy." Inuyasha didn't walk like a prince; he sure as hell didn't act like one. He was Inu, and thus ethereal, but he surprised her as he spoke. He was just as smart as he was strong.

"You said the sacred trees were uprooted?"

"When youkai die, their remains still possess their yuki. It fades over time, but for at least a month it's potent. My kind buries our dead here in this forest, and then plants a tree over them. The yuki frightens away all the predators and nourishes the tree. A sapling will grow at four times the normal speed if it is feeding off yuki." He reached over and touched a majestic gray tree, letting his fingers glide over the smooth bark.

Kagome paused beside him and touched the tree as well. It felt like any other tree tactually, but she came to recognize that it did indeed have a kind of yuki. The yuki felt different from all the other youkai's she had encountered, even different from the wisps of Inuyasha's own presence. She closed her eyes and felt the gentle breath of the forest against her skin. The birds made tiny animal noises overhead and the branches creaked with the wind.

The yuki was different; it was purified. She stepped away from the tree with her eyes wide. The trees were more then just alive; they were vibrating with youkai energy. Purified to the point that Kagome had barely been able to recognize it as a youkai's power at all. She looked over at Inuyasha to find that he was watching her.

"The yuki is preserved in the tree. It doesn't fade, but becomes a part or it, just like the physical remains get wound into the roots and become a part of that too. The dead can't talk to us, but they still exist. I can smell Inu youkai who died centuries before I was born." He scrunched his nose a little. Kagome could understand the sacred part now. Tearing down these trees would be desecrating graves. The humans wouldn't have known that though. They would have just seen trees, not monuments.

"Hey, it's time for me to clean your wounds again." He had already taken her down upon the grass by the time she realized what he meant. She struggled as he took her hand and began to lap. He growled and she loathly complied, once again experiencing the strangely pleasant sensation and hating herself for letting a youkai touch her.

"So then he charged; flew right over the edge and down onto some sharp rocks. He hit wrong and got his back broken then died." She shrugged as she walked. Inuyasha listened with rapt attention. He seemed very interested in how she had killed Goshinki; often probing for more detail when she tried to gloss over aspects. Kagome knew enough to leave out all the miko aspects; that would be all she needed. Inuyasha digested the account, scrunching up his face at moments in what Kagome hoped was not stringing together too many holes.

"Keh, you're pretty tough for a human bitch. Goshinki wasn't a lightweight."

"So tell me more about Naraku. Why would he want my village?"

"Bastard probably just needed the untainted land. Naraku lives and breathes miasma and shouki; it kills everything. You should see his territory; it's nothing but scorched earth and rivers of poison. A lot of Naraku's detachments can't survive with that much poison at first. He makes them strong, but he can't really birth an army and keep a barrier around each of them all the time. Maybe he was going to use your mountain as a place to keep his detachments, you did say it was isolated." Inuyasha reasoned.

"What's a detachment?" Kagome asked a little peevishly.

"It's what makes Naraku such a bitch to fight. He doesn't really have a species of origin; it's more like he's made of millions of other youkai. He can take some of those youkai out of himself, and then improve them. Naraku can give his detachments whatever powers he wants; it's not like he is limited to what naturally comes to one species of youkai, he can mix and match them up so that they're a bitch to fight."

"I hope he really grieves over Goshinki then. It would be like losing a son."

"Keh, I don't think that bastard works like that. He doesn't love anything; but I think he did favor Goshinki, he was one of his more trusted detachments." Inuyasha smirked a little with pride though Kagome couldn't even begin to understand how he was proud for anything she did.

"Let me go, Inuyasha." she said suddenly.

"You're mine, you can't." he replied slowly.

"I'm not going to be a slave. I'll kill you in your sleep if you let me." she threatened.

"Key word being 'let.' I won't go chasing you off a cliff."

"You're a bastard." She felt good hating him again, it was too easy to let herself be civil and forget that he was kidnapping her.

"Where would you go if I did let you run? In that direction," he motioned to the north, "You'll come across the thunder empire. Ryukotsusei isn't very nice to humans. You'll either be killed or polish weapons until you die of old age. He also is one of the youkai who condones humans as recreational slaves.

"Over there is the wolves, you know them already. Past them is the Mouchou. Abi and her mom are flesh eaters. You'll end up as a skeleton in a nest.

"To the southeast you'll meet the Naga most likely. They hate humans more then any other race, even Naraku. During The Cry, humans killed an ancient friend of the Naga, Totosai. The Naga kill any humans who are fool enough to pass their border.

"And if you pass the Inu lands you'll pass close to Koumori's territory. Bat youkai are broken into tribes. Some are fruit eaters and will ignore you if you don't piss them off. Some are blood eaters; they would come down in the night and take you. Past them is the ocean, and past that is the Neko's territory.

"Cat youkai are difficult to gauge, all I can verify of them is that there are no humans on their land." he shrugged arrogantly, grinning a little.

"There are of course a lot of rural lords out there, rat youkai, reptiles, a few others. You're not going to just walk right into a human kingdom."

"Are there any?" She regretted asking immediately, she knew he couldn't be trusted as honest, an also she sounded way too weak. He didn't respond, just paused.

"We're here."

"Kagome found herself standing atop a hill beside Inuyasha, her eyes widening at the spectacular vista.

Massive swaying crops moved like verdant seas. Other crops were golden, and others were of herbs and roots. In the distance she saw the dug paddocks, which had been filled with water and now grew rice. There was more field-land here then she had ever seen before, rich and yielding earth bearing up more food than her village would have needed in two seasons. There was an orchard of fruit-laden trees to the left; she saw youkai and their human slaves walking among the groves, picking and gathering what appeared to be juicy and golden citrus fruits.

The youkai wore the same brown tunic and pants as their human slaves, obviously a standard uniform for the dirty work of farming. No doubt as soon as they were done managing the slaves, they would slip back into the regal finery that she suspected all Inu youkai wore, while the slaves would return to their rags. The slaves were far away, but she saw no faint figure in the distance with a whip and no feeble and half dead human crawling across the dirt, fleeing his Inu master. At least they weren't being cruel; in fact, some of the Inu appeared to be working as well.

The air smelled sweet, the orchards were obviously blooming. There was a breeze, which tousled their hair; Kagome pushed the ebony from her eyes to continue her appraisal of the Inu kingdom. Past the farmland she saw houses of stone and wood, nestled against trees, and in some cases entangled within them. The dwellings were small and humble, obviously the homes of farmers. Each, however, was more luxurious than any of the homes in her village. She saw tiny gardens at the sides of several houses. There were several Inu walking among the houses. She suspected several were female, though given the look of the average Inu youkai distinguishing gender would be impossible at a distance. They wore various colors, some pale pearly whites and others stunning blues.

Animals grazed in distant paddocks, she recognized horses and oxen, but there were some creatures that obviously bore youkai origin. Her gaze traveled down the main road and noticed as the houses began to bunch closer and closer, doubling in height and growing more luxurious. The city was set on a hillside sloping upward. She saw banners arched and flapping in the wind. They looked red, but she suspected intricate design that she couldn't see from such a distance. A little higher up and the buildings changed from wood and stone to just stone. The entire kingdom was nestled against a massive cliff, and as they met it, they appeared to be carved from the cliff itself. These houses were breathtaking, carved with such ornate detail that Kagome actually wanted to go deeper into the Inu city just to stare up at them. But even these amazing structures were dwarfed in both the beauty and scope of what she recognized to be the Inu castle.

It looked like the shrine, but was carved from the mountainside, whereas the shrine had been laid brick by brick. Like the shrine, the castle had a slanted tile roof, which shone like the scales of a dragon in the midday light. Massive and ancient trees grew up around it in impossible size. The trees wrapped around the castle and grew right up into the cliff face. Leafy branches stretched out and shrouded parts in shade and foliage. The trees were alive and leant a new depth to the majesty of the Inu castle. In the distance a lone monolith of a tree spired upward from the forest. She somehow suspected that it was of great significance.

Inuyasha laid a clawed hand on her shoulder; she was too stunned by it all to brush the hand away.

"Welcome to my village, Kagome" he grinned.

To be continued...