SECRET OF THE CURSED MASK
Chapter Nineteen: Story Behind the Wind Tunnel
"We finally made it! I was starting to think we'd never get out of that cave!" Kagome commented, being the first to exit the cavern.
After spending last night at Densuke's home, the group of nine headed to the cavern that Sokka revealed was a back road to their final destination: a suspicious castle plagued with problems that may be the work of Naraku.
"Come on, slowpokes! We won't get anywhere at this rate!" Inuyasha complained loudly, being the next one to leave the cave as he looked back over his shoulder at the dark cave opening.
"We're coming!" Aang announced as he, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Shippo, Miroku, Sango, and Kirara soon climbed out of the dark cavern's opening, being temporarily blinded by the bright afternoon sun.
As Katara rubbed her eyes, she was a bit startled by the slight movement of some nearby bushes, even though there wasn't even the slightest breeze in the air. "What was that?" she asked when a faint rustling broke the silence of the surrounding forest.
"Eh, it's probably just a deer or somethin'," Inuyasha remarked as he quickly glanced around. "Let's get going."
Just then, the rustling noise started again, only much louder this time and very close to the trail they were on. Soon after, a demon that Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Zuko recognized as a badger demon jumped out of the bushes and onto the trail, blocking their path.
"That doesn't look like a deer to me, Inuyasha!" Kagome retorted. The nine travelers carefully watched the badger demon as it curiously sniffed the air.
"I can smell them! You have Jewel shards, don't ya?" the badger demon chattered excitedly as it stepped towards the group. "Give me the Jewel shards!"
"You want 'em, come and get 'em!" Inuyasha challenged the badger demon as he started to walk towards it while rolling up his sleeves, but was cut off by Miroku's staff blocking his way. "Miroku! What the hell are you doing?" he yelled angrily at the monk.
"Kagome, tell me. Does this badger demon possess any Jewel shards?" Miroku asked rather seriously.
"No, I don't sense any shards on him," Kagome replied after looking over the badger demon a couple of times to see if she could see any Shikon Jewel shards.
"Then allow me to take care of this minor nuisance," Miroku announced with a sly little smirk as he stepped forward. "Stand back, everyone."
What's he up to? Zuko wondered to himself when he noticed that Miroku was slowly unwrapping the prayer beads wrapped around his right hand and forearm.
"WIND TUNNEL!" Miroku shouted as he aimed his right hand at the badger demon, while holding his wrist steady with his left hand. To the surprise of Zuko, Sokka, Aang, and Katara, a strong powerful wind escaped from a marble-sized hole in the palm of Miroku's hand.
"What is that? He's sucking in everything that isn't secured to the ground!" Katara exclaimed as leaves, loose dirt, sticks, and rocks were pulled into the hole in Miroku's hand.
The badger demon tried desperately to escape his impending doom, but it was all in vain. Once the badger demon had been sucked into the hole, Miroku quickly rewrapped the prayer hands around his right hand and forearm.
"Well, then, shall we be on our way?" Miroku asked quite casually as he turned around to face his companions.
"Wow! That was incredible, Miroku!" Sokka openly admitted as he, Katara, and Aang gathered around Miroku. "What did you call it? The Wind Tunnel?"
"Why, yes," Miroku replied modestly as everyone continued down the trail.
"Wow! Can I see it?" Aang requested.
"I'm afraid that's an impossible request, young Aang. You see, any living being that gets sucked into the Wind Tunnel never comes out alive," Miroku explained as he glanced down at his right hand.
"Oh…okay. I'll be sure to keep my distance, then. How are you able to contain such a powerful weapon, Miroku?" Aang asked curiously.
"These prayer beads are what contain the Wind Tunnel," Miroku replied as he held up his hand.
"You mean to tell me that only a simple strand of prayer beads seal off the power of the Wind Tunnel?" Katara asked loudly out of surprise.
"Yes, I know it's hard to believe, Katara, but it is true," Miroku replied. "Never doubt the power of a religious relict, even something as simple in appearance as prayer beads."
Just then, the brief silence was interrupted by a high pitched voice screaming, "AHHH!!"
"I can hear the voice of a young woman," Miroku gasped as everyone came to a stop.
"A demon! Someone help me!" the same feminine voice shouted.
"What?" Katara gasped softly.
"Oh, and she's a beautiful woman," Miroku realized.
"You can tell just from the voice?" Zuko remarked dully out of disbelief.
"There's no mistake. Let's go," Miroku declared as he continued down the trail, soon followed by the others.
"He sure reacts quickly when it comes to women," Shippo commented dryly.
"Whatever. If it's a demon, we gotta fight him. Everyone, let's go!" Inuyasha announced.
The nine travelers soon reached a small clearing, where not one, but three young women, were being harassed by a purple bat with green ball and long blue stingers attached to its tail.
The young lady in the middle had waist-length black hair tied back with a pale yellow hair band with two long locks framing her face, and she was wearing a yellow kimono with a green collar underneath a blue trailing kimono with long flowing sleeves and a pale yellow bull's-eye pattern, a thin red sash tied around the yellow kimono, white socks, and sandals.
The girl to the left had long black hair tied back with a red hair band, and she was wearing a full-length pale pink kimono covered with white dots, a turquoise sash, white socks, and sandals.
The girl to the right had long black hair tied back with a purple hair band, and she was wearing a full-length brown kimono, a lime green sash, white socks, and sandals.
"It kinda looks like a bad luck bat, only the colors are different," Katara muttered out loud.
"That one's called a Gonkurai bat. It's far more dangerous than a bad luck bat," Sango replied.
"Hahaha…" the Gonkurai bat chucked sinisterly.
It was then that the young lady in the middle noticed the nine strangers. "Travelers, please help me," she pleaded.
"Of course. I'm here now, so everything's going to be all right," Miroku assured the three girls.
"It really is a beautiful woman! Wow, Miroku!" Sokka openly admitted.
"Don't waste your time on stupid things. Let's go!" Sango announced.
"This should be simple enough," Zuko commented as he aimed a powerful blast of fire at the Gonkurai bat.
"AHH!" the Gonkurai bat screamed loudly in pain as he frantically flew around in circles.
"Heh," Zuko chuckled to himself, but his expression soon changed when the demon successfully snuffed out the flames that encompassed his body.
"Ha, ha! Foolish human!" the Gonkurai bat practically taunted Zuko, unaware that Kagome was loading an arrow in her bow and Miroku was sneaking up on the demon. "It'll take more than a few flames to defeat me!"
"Then how about taking this on for size!" Miroku shouted as he swung his staff at the Gonkurai bat, pinning him down to the ground. "Now, Kagome!" he shouted to Kagome as he quickly moved his staff off of the demon bat.
"Okay, here goes!" Kagome announced as she fired an arrow at the Gonkurai bat, which penetrated through the thick hide of his right wing and destroyed a good-sized chunk of the wing.
"OHH!" the demon moaned painfully as he struggled to get back up in the air, despite his recent injury.
"It wasn't…supposed to…happen like that…" the Gonkurai bat gasped a bit weakly as he unsteadily flew towards Inuyasha.
"Get off me!" Inuyasha shouted as he finished off the Gonkurai bat with a swing of the Tetsusaiga.
As the demonic aura faded away, the three young women approached their saviors, with the girl in the blue kimono in the lead.
"Greetings, travelers. I am Yurihime, and these are my assistants, Koto and Kinu," she introduced herself and her two assistants, gesturing first to the girl on her left, then to the girl on her right. "Thank you so much! It was because of you that we're saved."
"Oh, it's nothing," Miroku replied nonchalantly.
"I don't know what would have become of us if you hadn't saved us," Yurihime openly confessed.
"Oh, I know," Koto agreed.
"I'm here now, so everything will be alright," Miroku announced.
"You're so strong," Kinu commented.
"You really are a handsome monk," Koto added.
"Oh, please!" Zuko murmured under his breath, rolling his eyes as Miroku chuckled modestly.
"I never get hurt by such small demons," Miroku boasted proudly.
"Come on, you're such a flirt," Sango remarked dully.
"Either way, it looks like there aren't any more demons. We should go," Inuyasha suggested.
"You're right," Kagome agreed. "It's still a ways to the castle. We need to hurry."
"Wait a minute. I would like to show my appreciation. If you would like, please come to the mansion," Yurihime offered.
"Thank you very much. We will gladly go with you," Miroku quickly accepted.
"Hey, Miroku. Why in the world do we need to go to some woman's house?" Inuyasha asked dully, although he already knew Miroku's reason for going.
"Yeah, no more distractions!" Sango remarked.
"Of course, we'll prepare you a delicious meal," Yurihime announced.
"Food, huh? Actually, I'm starving," Inuyasha realized.
"Yeah, I'm kinda hungry, too," Aang added as he placed a hand on his stomach.
"I'll prepare meat, fish, and mountain vegetables," Koto revealed.
"There are a lot of demons ahead. If you come, we could at least feed you a good meal," Kinu pointed out.
"It seems pretty dangerous around here," Inuyasha muttered thoughtfully.
"Maybe it's a good idea if we go to the mansion," Kagome suggested.
"It would be scary to part ways here," Katara confessed.
"Yes, I agree," Sokka added.
"Well, they are inviting us, so it would be rude to refuse," Inuyasha pointed out.
"As long as I am here, you don't need to worry about demons," Miroku announced as he stepped forward and took Yurihime's hands into his own, causing the young woman to blush.
He sure reacts quickly when it comes to this sort of thing, Zuko thought disapprovingly as he, Inuyasha, Kagome, Shippo, Sango, Miroku, Katara, Aang, and Sokka followed Yurihime, Koto, and Kinu down a side trail…
"I hope you all enjoy everything we've prepared for you," Yurihime openly confessed as Kinu and Koto finished setting everything up and left.
It was getting dark outside of the mansion that the nine travelers were brought to, and they had just sat down to dinner in a large dining room. The room was set with nine individual small tables lined up in two rows, each with plates and bowls full of food. In addition, the room had a large lantern on either side of the room, a smaller lantern in the middle of the tables, and a silkscreen divider set up in one corner of the room. Inuyasha, Aang, Sango, and Zuko were sitting on one side of the room, with Zuko sitting closest to the door; while Shippo, Kagome, Sokka, and Katara were sitting on the other side of the room. The ninth table, which was furthest away from the door and located between Inuyasha and Shippo, was currently unoccupied. The only ones still standing in the room were Miroku and Yurihime.
"Wow! That's a lot of food. There's no way I can eat all of this," Kagome confessed.
"Me, neither," Katara added.
As the others started eating, Miroku turned to Yurihime and commented, "You're such a beautiful woman."
"Oh, Miroku, such sweet words," Yurihime gasped as she giggled a bit shyly.
"I never flatter," Miroku replied.
"Really?" Yurihime asked curiously.
"Really," Miroku admitted.
"He really lays it on, doesn't he?" Inuyasha remarked.
"Yeah, really," Katara stated dully.
"A monk, huh?" Sango murmured angrily as she clenched her chopsticks tightly in her right hand.
Aang gasped slightly out of surprise when Sango snapped both chopsticks in half. "Sango, you broke your chopsticks! Are you mad?" he asked curiously.
"It's because of Miroku," Kagome whispered just loud enough for Aang to overhear.
"It's such a beautiful night," Miroku announced as he glanced over at the doorway, which was only covered up by a bamboo curtain.
"Would you like to go outside, Miroku?" Yurihime suggested.
"Sure, let's go," Miroku agreed as the two headed for the doorway.
Yeah, and I suppose he'll have to search her robes while he's at it, the pervert! Zuko thought angrily to himself as he ate another bite of his fish.
"They're gone," Sokka spoke up once Miroku and Yurihime had left the room.
"Hmmm…is he what you would call a 'ladies' man,' Kagome?" Shippo asked curiously.
"Afraid so. Hey, Sango, should we let them go?" Kagome prodded.
"It doesn't have anything to do with me," Sango stated firmly as she stared down at the plates of food set before her.
"Am I the only one that sees that it does?" Shippo whispered out loud to no one in particular.
"I…I don't care about that monk!" Sango denied as she folded her arms in front of her chest.
Poor Sango. Miroku is such a ladies' man, Katara thought to herself as she took a bite of her potatoes.
"What I don't get is why Miroku is taking this dangerous journey to find Naraku?" Sokka asked curiously. "I can see why, if it's because he wants to meet a lot of girls…'cuz it really doesn't seem like he's out to save the world."
"I guess I haven't told you guys about the Wind Tunnel," Kagome realized.
"Wind Tunnel? That's the power that Miroku has, right?" Aang asked curiously as he reached for a small plate of sweet dumplings at the far end of his table.
"Yes, but it's not exactly a power, Aang. It's a curse that was put on his right hand by Naraku," Kagome explained.
"Is that right? Poor guy…but why would Naraku give Miroku the Wind Tunnel? Doesn't it help him?" Sokka inquired curiously.
"It's not that simple," Inuyasha spoke up.
"As time goes by, the Wind Tunnel grows. Eventually, it will swallow Miroku up," Kagome reluctantly admitted.
Aang was so stunned by the news that he dropped the sweet dumpling that he was about to shove into his waiting mouth. "Does that mean Miroku will die?" he hesitantly asked.
"Yes," Kagome revealed. "The only way that Miroku can rid himself of the Wind Tunnel and prolong his own life is by destroying Naraku."
"I didn't realize what he's been through…" Katara trailed off.
That's just great. Let everyone feel sorry for the poor lecherous monk, Zuko thought angrily to himself. If he lived in our time, he wouldn't get away with touching any girl without severe consequences, no matter what nation he's in!
It was then that Zuko's attention was diverted by two voices whispering amongst themselves just outside of the doorway, which he recognized as Koto and Kinu.
"Soon," Koto stated.
"Yes, soon. I choose the girl with black hair," Kinu whispered.
"I'll take the girl with the braid and blue eyes," Koto whispered.
What are they talking about? Zuko thought to himself as he stared at the doorway.
"Zuko, is there something wrong?" Sango asked curiously when she noticed the teenage firebender staring vacantly at the doorway.
"I'm not quite sure yet…" Zuko trailed off as he stood up.
"What are you doing?" Sokka asked curiously as Zuko started walking around the room.
"What does it look like I'm doing, Sokka?" Zuko retorted. "I'm just walking around a bit. Do you mind?"
"Whatever…" Sokka trailed off as he continued eating. Zuko soon stopped at the silkscreen divider set up in the corner right behind Katara and casually looked over the painting of a white crane standing in a pond full of water reeds.
"This is a bit of an unusual place to put one of these, especially in a dining room. Maybe they're trying to hide something that they don't want us to see," Zuko murmured thoughtfully as he peeked behind the silkscreen divider. He was surprised to see some characters painted a bit sloppily on the wall, apparently in red ink or water paint.
"Huh? There's something written on the wall here. I wonder what it says?" Zuko then returned his attention to the others in the room and announced, "This place is a bit strange. There's something written on the wall over here."
"Strange? Like what? Was somebody bad-mouthing someone on the wall?" Shippo asked curiously before helping himself to another sweet dumpling.
"No, not from what I can tell…but it's still strange to me," Zuko revealed.
"What are you so scared of, scaredy cat?" Inuyasha asked sarcastically as he stood up.
"I'm not scared, Inuyasha! Would you just take a look?" Zuko asked a bit loudly as he pointed at the silkscreen divider.
"Fine, if it'll make you shut up," Inuyasha muttered under his breath as he came to the silkscreen divider to investigate.
After examining the markings on the wall and giving them a good sniff, Inuyasha turned back around and announced, "Hey, something is weird. This is human blood."
"Blood…I wonder what happened?" Kagome gasped softly as she, Shippo, Sango, Katara, Sokka, and Aang all stood up.
"I don't know, but there's definitely something going on in this mansion," Zuko pointed out.
"I'm getting worried about the monk," Sango muttered worriedly as she glanced back at the bamboo curtain covering the only doorway for the dining room.
"Yeah, let's go check on him," Sokka suggested as everyone headed for the doorway and parted the bamboo curtain on their way out. They had just stepped out into the hallway when they spotted Koto and Kinu standing at either end of the hall, blocking off any possible escape route.
"Where are you going?" Koto asked nonchalantly. "We're in the middle of a party."
"I…need to use the bathroom!" Katara quickly blurted out as an excuse.
Oh, that's just great! Why did I have to say that in front of everyone? Katara thought to herself as her face turned bright red, humiliated that that was the very first thing to come to her mind.
"Yes, I suddenly need to go, too," Kagome revealed, allowing Katara to get over her embarrassment.
"You should go after the party," Kinu suggested.
"Use the bathroom after the party?" Sango repeated a bit suspiciously.
"Yes. Please just go back to the room," Koto insisted.
"Something is definitely strange," Sokka muttered out loud.
"Yes," Kagome agreed with a nod of her head.
"They're suspicious," Koto stated as she glanced down the hall at Kinu.
"They're suspicious," Kinu repeated.
"W-what?" Aang asked a bit nervously.
"Until the master gets the monk's liver, don't let them leave the room," Koto stated as she started to slowly approach the group of eight, her eyes glowing with an eerie red light.
"Okay. Kill…kill…" Kinu trailed off as she also started to slowly walk towards them with her eyes glowing red, too.
Suddenly, both girls' bodies quickly expanded like a pair of balloons and exploded, revealing large floating heads that looked much like the ookubi, only they had green-hued skin, long flowing dark gray hair, dark gray lips, and blank eyes.
"They've transformed!" Shippo gasped, who was perched on Zuko's right shoulder.
"No…I have a feeling this is their true form," Zuko reluctantly admitted.
"These serfs won't get us that easy," Inuyasha announced as he gripped the handle of his Tetsusaiga. Before Inuyasha could withdraw his sword, one of the serfs let out a deep wailing shriek before speeding towards the group.
"Aah!" Kagome screamed as she ducked down.
"Get down!" Inuyasha shouted as he pushed both Aang and Katara down to the floor. Sango, Kirara, Sokka, Zuko, and Shippo quickly dropped down to the floor just as the serf flew over everyone's heads, passing just mere inches above them all.
"Grr…" Inuyasha growled angrily under his breath as he lifted up his head and looked over his shoulder at the two serfs, now gathered together at the end of the hall.
"You won't get another chance to try that again!" Inuyasha shouted as he ran towards the serfs while withdrawing the Tetsusaiga. "Wind Scar!"
The energy released from Inuyasha's demon sword easily tore through the serfs' giant heads. The two serfs let out high-pitched pain-filled squeals as their bodies dissipated and their demonic auras were released.
"Ha! Those demons were no match!" Inuyasha boasted as he sheathed the Tetsusaiga, while the serfs' demonic auras faded away.
"We better find Miroku right away," Kagome muttered worriedly. "I didn't like what Koto was saying earlier about her master getting the monk's liver."
"D-does that mean I might be next?" Aang asked a bit worriedly.
"Don't worry about it, Aang. I don't think those girls even know you are a monk," Katara reassured the young airbender.
"We should search the ground immediately for Miroku, before it's too late," Sango interrupted.
"Yes, of course," Sokka agreed as he and the others headed down the hall…