Ummm…. Yeah, it only took me seven and a half months to update this thing. I wasn't sure I really wanted to, but people kept wanting me to, and I wrote the second chapter because people wanted me to in the first place. So here we are. Definitely a bit bizarre, but I can't help it.

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Kaede appeared to be playing cards on the top of a very high pillar of stone. Coiled around the pillar was a looooooong demon, shaped like a doxen, or whatever they call those dogs that look like sausages, that had been stretched out on the biggest rack imaginable. The kielbasa of sausage-dogs. It had a woman's head and two pairs of arms at the top, and it was absorbed in the game.

"Old lady!" Inuyasha shouted, polite for him. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Eh?" Kaede said. "Oh, ye're back, boy. Hello, Kagome-chan."

"H-hello," Kagome said. "Where is everyone else?"

"Handlin' the fire," Kaede explained. "Before it spreads t' the whole forest. I'd be with them, but Hou-lin won't let me go."

"Hou-lin?" Inuyasha repeated, incredulous at the calm way Kaede was behaving.

"Me," said the hairy sausage. "Sorry about all the trouble, of course. Now give me your pieces of jewel."

"What? No!" Kagome exclaimed.

"Well, I need them, and Kaede is still my hostage. Put the sword away, poodle-boy. Kaede, straight flush."

"Bother," Kaede remarked.

"Old hag!" Inuyasha shouted. "You are a hostage! Could you take this a little more seriously?"

"Please?" Kagome added.

"Well, don't give them to her, of course," Kaede said absently, shuffling the deck. "Hou-lin, you cut." Doxen-lady cut the deck, saying,

"I'll talk to you when we're done with this game, poodle-boy."

The question is, Kagome thought, Does Hou-lin have some kind of spell on Kaede, or is Kaede just being herself?

"STOP CALLING ME THAT!" Inuyasha shouted, whipping Tetsusaiga from its sheath and leaping toward the card-playing pair. Hou-lin raised one and and hit Inuyasha square in the chest with a fireball, transferred her cards to one of her lower hands, and picked Kaede up with one of the top ones.

"Hoooos-taaaaage," she said to Inuyasha, swinging the old miko, speaking very slowly as if talking to a slow child. "That means don't attack me, see? Understand, poodle-boy?"

Inuyasha snarled. "Fine. So what now?"

"Well, since you've interrupted our game, I suppose I might as well get down to business." She hurled another fireball at him and smashed him back into the crater he had made the first time. He sat slowly up. His hair was on fire. Kagome dumped a bucket of water on his head.

"Where'd you get that?" he asked, staring at the bucket as he shook himself, spraying water in every direction.

"I come prepared," she replied, putting the bucket back into the Wondrous Backpack of All Things.

"Whatever," he said after a moment. He turned back to Hou-lin, leveling his sword. "Try that again, you…what're you supposed to be, anyway?"

"The product of an insane mind?" Kaede suggested, still dangling by the back of her kimono.

"None of your business," Hou-lin retorted, loosing another flaming missile. This one Inuyasha ducked under, making for Hou-lin with Tetsusaiga. She swung Kaede in front of her and he swung away, cursing the air blue.

A moment later he was encased in a cage with bars of fire. Tetsusaiga was jammed into the ground and he was balancing on it, just avoiding having the flesh seared off his bones. If he moved, he was in trouble. "Damn you," he growled from his precarious perch.

Hou-lin regarded him, tapping her chin meditatively. "You can't stay like that forever, you know. Sooner or later you're going to wear out, or lose your balance. Or your patience," she added. She turned to Kagome. "So what do you say, girl? Give 'em up?"

"Don't!" called Kaede and Inuyasha in chorus. Kagome bit her lip. Why had Inuyasha thought they needed her for this All she was good for was handing over the ransom, which he didn't want her to do. She didn't even have a bow….

She ran toward Hou-lin, her hands held up in front of her, and grabbed onto the long, smooth-furred brown body. Pinkness curdled around her hands in an attempt to 'purify'. Hou-lin yelped slightly.

"That stings!" she cried, thrashing and throwing Kagome away. The girl hit the ground several feet away and sat up, miraculously uninjured. Inuyasha's cage had wobbled while Hou-lin was distracted, and now he had a large burn on one arm and another on his back. His teeth were clenched. Kaede was beginning to go red in the face from being held by the collar.

Kagome swallowed. "OK," she said softly, "I'll give them to you."

"Don't, Kagome!" Inuyasha insisted. "I can whip her yet! Hang onto the stone!"

"You're more important than this bead!" Kagome shouted back. She pulled out the shards. "Here."

"Oh, don't worry about it," Hou-lin said, setting Kaede down. "I actually just came to irritate you and prove a point to Sesshoumaru. Jaa!"

"Hey -" Inuyasha began. She vanished the flaming cage with a flick and he hit the ground with a thud and some muttered imprecations. Kagome ran to him.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

"I'm bloody fine!" he snapped. "Just a little burned!"

"You're smoking," she informed him worriedly.

"I said I'm fine!" he growled. Kagome produced the bucket and filled it with water from a highly convenient stream. Inuyasha's eyes widened as she approached. "No you don't! I just got -" splash! "-dry," he finished dourly. He shook himself and then began swiping at his ears, trying to get the water out.

"Wow, Inuyasha, you're just exactly like a cat sometimes," Kagome marveled.

He glared at her. "WHAT!"

"Um, nothing, forget it, Kaede, how are you?" Kagome replied hurriedly.

"Well enough," Kaede replied, "all things considered. Come on, ye two. There's still a fire to fight. Bring yer bucket." She began to hurry off in the direction of the column of smoke.

Kagome looked at Inuyasha. "Come on," she said with a small smile, holding out her hand. "They need us."

He took it. "Yeah." He agreed.

The End.

Except there are no endings.