:Chapter 2 – Mariette and Mika:

Later That Night…

She had allowed it. Why not? It was a part of the road. But she felt like she was twisting the road, meddling in other's lives. It didn't feel wrong, in fact, she was doing a bunch of people favors. She stirred the empty cup on the table and opened her eyes slowly. The tea dregs swirled around and came to rest. Looking at them, she realized there was a shape she didn't recognize. Pulling her pocketbook out from under her table, she flipped through the pages, frantically searching for the shape.

She stopped on the last page. Trembling, she stumbled outside. Her shaky hands cast herbs over a dying fire.

"What's wrong?"

"It's going to happen."

"We're on our way."

Early Morning…

Inuyasha was more surprised than he was angry to realize that Kagome had wanted to go back to the broken-down palace. She followed him back on her own, still limping, and it had made him wonder what she had been through. Her scent was a beautiful one, hidden under many different ones, and it was like working a numerous amount of difficult jigsaw puzzles at once.

First and foremost, there was remorse and fear. And tears. Bitter ones, the kind that you'd see and they would make your heart ache. Then there was the leering stench of blood, even though her blood smelled thin and –in a strange way- sick. Then there was a strong smell of forests and the cold smell of mountain springs. Under the earthy smells were the fading smells of concrete, dried blood, and the thicker, inlaid scent of fear.

And then there was the smell of sickrooms, of death and of healing. The actual scent, the foundation, was calming. It was like smelling a delicate blend of herbs and feelings; caring, cool as jade, and understanding, sweet as roses.

Entering her room, he watched her sleep for a little while. Her lower lip curled under her upper lip in fear, and she seemed angry. Her pale, thin face screwed up in a mixture of fear and detest. He crossed his arms and shoved his hands in his sleeves. He frowned and slid to the floor. What a puzzle this girl was.

"Give it up. You'll die if you don't."

She looked at her captor through her dirty bangs and spat at him, "I'll live longer if I don't."

He didn't find this amusing and he made it clear. His steel-toed boots were going to leave painful bruises if they didn't break any bones. After long, painful minutes, she finally cried out and he smiled.

His lips moved, but she didn't hear a word. She slumped against the wall, and felt him walk away. Other shadows moved in on her, and her fear began to build up. Dripping hands covered her mouth when she tried to scream.

The hands that muffled her scream were her own, sweaty hands. She was in her room again, she was safe, she was safe, she was safe. Taking a quick look around, she found a hanyou looking at her strangely. She felt her eyes widen and she brushed away tears.

"Kaede still wants to talk to you." He said, turning his head toward the window.

She was still wiping streaming eyes, "I know." She winced at her voice, hearing it crack with her own over-sensitive ears. Silence stretched between them

"Are you coming or not?"

Surprised, her eye swiveled to meet his irritated, golden ones. Her first impression: impatient, easily riled, blunt.

Remembering the pervious night, she added a mental note to herself. Very blunt. She nodded and moved to get off of the bed. Her feet were still sore, but she stood up on her own anyway. She pulled on the small black coat that Kaede gave her. She felt dirty and sick. She needed a bath.

Limping, she began to follow the hanyou down the wrecked halls. She didn't complain. She was going to be strong, being weak was what made her loose two of the most precious things in her life. She bit her lip at the second memory of the last night.

Inuyasha had been surprised that she had asked him if he minded her tagging along back to the White Palace. Hell, both Kaede and the hanyou were surprised; there was no lying about that. She was about to get ready to beg when the gruff teenager nodded and started walking away. She had given Kaede a quick hug and followed him.

He had led her back to the White Palace. Home. It didn't seem like it much now. They had entered through the front, passing two graves. She had stopped in her tracks and blinked at them uncertainly. She had knelt next to the little piles of stones, grave markers, she assumed. She had heard footsteps in the grass behind her. She didn't want to turn around, but she did.

Gold met brown and the moment suspended itself. For a second she had seen something almost sympathetic, almost foreboding, almost like he was afraid to say something. She had barely realized the tears coming down her cheeks. And then it was there.

He held out his clawed hand to her.

He held his hand out to the smelly, dirty, broken girl that was crying on the ground like a little girl. But what she herself did surprised her the most.

She took his hand.

He helped her to her feet. They stood there for a few seconds her hand resting in his. Then he had let go of her hand like it was on fire and walked very hurriedly to the entrance.

She shook the foggy memory from her head as she limped behind Inuyasha. They walked on the dirt road toward the village in silence. It was autumn, not half a year after the revolution was officially declared over. Those months she had spent inside, which couldn't have been more than three, seemed like years. Felt like years. She felt old and tired.

But she wasn't done yet. She had to do something.

Whatever it was.

At the Village…

"Kaede!" A high-pitched squeal rang through the village square, emitted from a long, bleach-blonde haired, pigtailed, hyperactive girl, "How's it-," She was stopped by an older girl, with darker blonde hair, who straightened the neck-tie on the girl's uniform. When she was satisfied that the tie was straight, she pulled at her own white collar uncomfortably.

"Not the best time, Mika." She brushed her brown tunic, obviously not used to the clothes.

"Mika. Mariette." The gnarly old woman bowed to them and motioned them towards her home, "Let us catch up inside, yes?"

"Yay! Indoors!" Mika, who was five-foot-two inches of hyperactive energy, raced down the road to the house. She kicked up dust with her heavy boots, causing her companion to frown. Kaede fell in step with the other girl.

"Anything interesting of late?"

"This road dust is nearly impossible to get out of these black pants. I have to say that these uniforms are utterly intolerable."

The old woman smiled at the nineteen-year-old, "As cynical as ever, I see."

Mariette gave her a crooked smile, "Any news I would tell you would be old news. Anyway, all the interesting stuff seems to be happening around here."

"Not for long."

This stopped the teenager. "I hate it when you do that." Before Kaede could ask what, she added, "Say something that implies you know what's going to happen before anything's set in stone. It drives me insane."

The old woman laughed, but gave her a broader smile instead of a reply.

At the house, Kaede served Mika and Mariette tea, poured a cup for herself, and put two more cups on the table. Mika, is her bubbly stupor, failed to notice any extra cups. Mariette, on the other hand, remained silent only because she hated the old crone's cryptic answers.

"So the fort is-,"

"Settled, for now. We're having some issues with these youkai called the-,"

"You sent another stupid pigeon." Inuyasha growled as he entered the house. His stubborn gaze traveled over the two teenagers.

Kaede smiled, "Good Afternoon, Kagome." The raven-haired girl stepped out from behind the hanyou and smiled shakily while Kaede kept speaking, "Come, take a seat, child. Mariette, if ye'd get yer kit please?" The darker blonde stood and walked into an adjoining room as Inuyasha sat on the porch, his back to the women. Kaede poured the seated girl some tea. Kagome put her hands around the ceramic cup. It was warm to the touch and made her feel calmer. Her feet still hurt, but they were healing on their own.

Mariette returned and seated herself next to Kagome. Without hesitation, she grabbed the girl's foot, nearly causing Kagome to fall over. "You need shoes," She mumbled, "I'm Mariette. The dorky, bleach hamster over there is Mika." She proceeded to unwrap and rub a balm on her torn feet. Kagome immediately felt the pain begin to fade as Mariette re-bandaged her feet, "I'm older than you, so do you mind if I call you Kagome-chan?"

"Um… sure… thank you."

"Oh!" Mika jumped up, knees still curled under her body, and scooted over with her arms frantically, "Can I give you a nickname too? Huh? Huh?"

Kagome, inwardly surprised at the sudden outburst, nodded.

"Hmmmmmm………." Mika's face scrunched up, like she was contemplating the most profound thing that she had ever thought, "AH! Kag-nee!" she whirled to look at Inuyasha, who still had his back to them. "And you'll be……… INU-NII!"

Without missing a beat, he growled, "I refuse to answer to that."

Mika was not listening, "Kag-nee, you probably feel really gross."

Mariette nodded in agreement and Kaede smiled, "There is a hot spring outside of town. Would ye like to go wash up?"

Kagome was quick to take her up on her offer.

"Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?"

Kagome, falling out of her thoughts, looked at Mariette, "I don't mind."

"Great." The older girl paused, deciding on her first question. Finally, she asked, "Where on earth have you been?"

The princess had seen that one coming by a mile, "Honestly, I have no idea. I was captured after they had stormed the palace." Before Mariette could ask another question, Kagome raised her eyebrows, "My turn."

"This way, this way!" Mika, who was leading them to the hot spring, interrupted momentarily.

Mariette smiled, "Is this a game of twenty questions?"

"More like asking questions until we run out… taking turns, of course. So when one person runs out of questions, the other has to stop asking." Kagome replied.

Mariette agreed and made a mental note to avoid a battle of wits with Kagome.

"Why are you guys here?"

"Well… Mika and I are partners, spies from Hito's Fort." She ignored the small intake of surprise at the mention of her home, and continued cheerfully, "Insurgents, I guess. We don't exactly like the new guy running things."

"Nope we don't! He's a…" Mika looked around and whispered, "…dumb ass." She covered her mouth with a high-pitched giggle.

"You know what I've always wondered? How old are you really, Kagome? They never give us an exact date, just an estimate."

Kagome smiled, "Last time I saw the calendar, I was fifteen. Will it count as a question if I ask what the date is?"

"No, no. It's August 19, the year after the 'revolution'."

"So… about six months… I'm sixteen…" The realization blew her mind. She was probably beaten the crap out of on her birthday. After a few very long moments, she asked, "So how old are you both?"

"I'm 19. Mika's 15 in a few weeks."

"A 14-year-old spy?!"

"YUP!" Mika giggled, "Kaede says to us both…" She covered one eye and hunched over, " 'I trust ye more than others... yer brilliant'."

"Hmm…" Mariette thought really hard about her next question as they neared the hot spring. They all stripped and soaked. Kagome, despite the gloomy birthday thoughts, was all smiles. It had to have been at least six months since her last bath.

They spent the bath exchanging tiny life details; family, friends, living conditions, hobbies and whatnot. Truly personal questions were rare, but it was a good chat for the start of a friendship.

An unrevealed location to inspire curiosity…

"We're being followed."

"Us? Followed? Never." The sarcasm dripped from the words like poison from a snake.

"Just shut up. We need to loose them."

"Them? I only see one."

"In the houses you dummy."

"Oh… My lovely, talented, brilliant, sexy friend…"

"You pervert." She whistled a series of short notes.

"Was that the 'come-and-save-us' code or the 'come-maul-him' code?"

She smiled at her old friend crookedly, "You decide."

"You wound me S-," A hand clapped over his mouth.

"No names. They don't know if we're actually who they want."

He raised an eyebrow, "How do you figure that?"

"They haven't attacked us yet."

He stopped in surprise. After a few seconds of turning the statement over in his mind, he exclaimed, "Ah."

Long time no see? I've been busy.

Hey that rhymed. I've also had writer's block… but I'm past that now. More soon…. Or later…

So I've (as in Evil Monkey) started a webcomic. It only has one page, but then again, my computer hates me. Called 'The Color Dark' and it's hosted on smackjeeves.