...

the mermaid
by mystical spirits

[stalker]

"There is no man upon the earth, no foolish man or wise,
No man of high or humble birth but somewhere in the skies
Can find a star to lead him on if he will lift his eyes."

...

"Give it a rest, Inuyasha, you can't tell me what to do!"

"You're not leaving, and that's final! We need to find the rest of the jewel shards, or did you forget that already? There's no time for you to wander around and keep us waiting."

"It's only for two weeks, Inuyasha."

"That's two weeks too long! You listen to me, you ain't going anywhere"

Kagome sighed, watching the two bickering back and forth. It was weird, she thought, that for once it was Sango begging to go home, while she was just a spectator for once. Not that it made much of a difference. Inuyasha, being the stubborn dog he was, wasn't going to stand for anyone leaving the group, especially not for two whole weeks. At least, Kagome thought, not unless Sango played her cards right.

"Inuyasha," Miroku interrupted as calmly as ever, "I think it's best for Sango to return home just this once."

He scoffed huffily. "And why can't we go with her? We won't butt in."

"She is not entitled to be accompanied every part of every day," Miroku argued. "She deserves to make this visit alone."

Kagome shook her head disapprovingly at Inuyasha's stubbornness, Shippou copying her actions in her lap. To be fair, she never expected Inuyasha to take it well when Sango announced her upcoming trip to her old village, but she at least assumed he would slightly understand the situation and let her go. After all, it was the two-year anniversary of her family's deaths, and even though it was Inuyasha, to prevent Sango from making that trip would be certain suicide.

Speaking of which, was that a hidden knife hiding in Sango's sleeve? Kagome almost jumped in to say something about it, but she then decided that if Sango ended up attacking Inuyasha, he probably deserved it anyway.

"Sango will cause too much trouble, being all alone like that," Inuyasha pouted. "Haven't you noticed all the trouble we get into whenever we split up?"

Carefully setting Shippou aside on the log she had been sitting on, Kagome scolded him, ignoring the glint of the hunting knife in Sango's hands. "You know this is the one time Sango needs to be alone right now. If trouble comes, we'll fight it like we always do, but until then Sango should rest at home."

"Well, she doesn't need two weeks to do that," he scowled, knowing perfectly well he had already lost the argument that had been going on for ages now. At least, Kagome figured, he had to have known. He was an insensitive bastard, after all, but not so insensitive that he didn't know how depressed Sango had been lately. (Granted, Kagome had to explain what was going on when they were in private, because he was practically as clueless about girls as a piece of spinach.) But they all kind of knew what was weighing down on Sango lately, though none of them ever even mentioned it.

With Kohaku missing and probably dying somewhere, it only made sense that Sango wanted to get away.

To be honest, Kagome didn't think there was anyone who had it worse than Sango right about now. After Naraku was defeated, everyone else's lives got a little better: Miroku's Kazaana had disappeared, Shippou was beginning to enjoy his youth, Kagome could relax and go to school (though it was now summer holiday), and Inuyasha, although Kikyou was also gone, was starting to finally leave the past in the past. Sango, on the other hand...her trouble wasn't over just yet. None of them knew what had happened to the jewel shard in Kohaku's back, but regardless, he couldn't be doing very well, and because they didn't know where he even was, they felt helpless. Sango felt helpless.

But apparently, Kagome scoffed, Inuyasha didn't seem to think any of that was a good enough reason to stop their shard-hunting. He wasn't always so unreasonable (she almost snorted at the thought), but now with half the jewel re-scattered around Japan, he obviously felt there was no time to waste in collecting them while they could. The greedy bastard.

"Come on, Inuyasha," Shippou continued with his nose in the air, "don't you think Kagome would know best? She's asked you to go home lots of times, and she knows how important it is to get away from you."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean, you brat?"

"You know Sango as well as the rest of us," Kagome continued. "She works hard and doesn't complain, and she's always doing her best to help us when she doesn't even have to. She deserves a break." She mentally cheered for her victory, noticing the tiny tick mark pulsing on Inuyasha's forehead.

The hanyou fidgeted, knowing full well Kagome was right, and he looked away to finally give in. Judging by his shifty expression, his pride wouldn't let him make eye contact with anyone. Kagome was seriously getting too used to these constant debates with him, especially since she always seemed to win nowadays, but that was probably due to the fact that Inuyasha was having a harder time saying no to her. "Whatever," he said. "Do what you want, Sango."

The slayer's eyes glazed over, and although she didn't make a huge fuss over finally getting what she wanted, it was clear just how important this trip meant to her. Kagome almost felt sad that Sango was keeping her emotions bottled inside, because the guarded expression on her face was almost pitiful to look at. But the look in her eyes was gone in an instant, and she simply stepped back triumphantly and smiled widely. "I'll be back in no time. You won't even notice I'm gone."

"When are you planning to leave, Sango?" Kagome grinned back, ignoring Inuyasha now that he'd shut himself up.

"Right now, I guess." She looked up at the sky, studying the current time of day. "If I leave now, Kirara and I can make it to the village by sundown."

"I suppose," Miroku said with his usual exaggerated disappointment that lightened the mood almost immediately, "you'd best be off then, Sango."

Grabbing her Hiraikotsu and bag of supplies, she looked at him warily. "Come on, Kirara," she called to the cat cautiously, who immediately mewed and left Shippou's side. The mononoke burst into flames as she transformed into her larger body, prepared to accept Sango onto her back.

"I'll see you guys later," she waved.

"Bye, Sango!" Kagome and Shippou called in unison.

"Here, my dear Sango," Miroku cooed happily, his hands straying toward her backside, "allow me to help you onto Kirara—"

SLAP!

Miroku backed away, a red handprint glowing on his grinning face. Sango glared at the monk, her hand still in midair. "Pervert!" she scolded angrily, used to the routine by now.

In a huff, she easily jumped onto her cat and began to ride off, but not without a final stiff wave to the others, Miroku not included.

"Consider that one for the road!" he cried with his cheesy smile. Sango turned her head and glared, rolling her eyes and snubbing him as she rode away. It was her way of saying she loved him.

And together, the four of them – Inuyasha, Kagome, Miroku, and Shippou – watched the taijiya and her pet disappear into the afternoon skies, each with a different expression in their eyes.

"Miroku," Inuyasha said mockingly, "one day we're gonna have to tie up those lecherous hands of yours behind your back."

An evil grin reflected on his face. "Well," he smirked, "I'm sure I can get around that disability just fine."

Inuyasha growled frustratingly. "You pervert! Can't you think about anything other than molesting women?"

Miroku sighed, hesitating. Kagome just had to roll her eyes. "You watch over these two, alright, Shippou?" she sighed exhaustingly. "I'm going to help Kaede with dinner."

The kitsune grinned innocently, standing high on his pawed toes and pointing his thumb at himself in a cocky manner not unlike a certain hanyou's. "You can count on me, Kagome. I'll keep an eye on these immature idiots, no proble—itai!"

Inuyasha had knocked the young fox on the head with his fist and bared his teeth at him. "Who're you calling immature?"

"Well, I'm not the one getting so easily offended!" Shippou sobbed at the lump on his skull.

"Tch, whatever!" he scoffed. "You're the one crying, you little pipsqueak."

"And you're the one who—"

Kagome sighed simultaneously with Miroku, who temporarily allowed his perverseness to drift away to watch the ridiculous little banter. Shaking her head and muttering a bored "osuwari", she turned to walk back towards the familiar hut. She and Kaede had a lot of work to do, making these meals.

Quickening her pace, she smiled to herself, a smile that was too small for anyone else to notice, even if they'd been looking at her. Two weeks, she had two weeks. There were potions to brew and meals to make, and they had to get started.

...

Kagome quietly slipped out from her sleeping bag, making sure to cover Shippou with the top of it so he'd stay warm. She reached a hand into her bag for clothes to change into, but the sundress she chose was too white, white enough to make her skin look even paler and transparent and almost like a ghost or a skeleton or something equally as creepy. It was the only thing she had, though. Her school uniform was supposed to stay inside the hut so those with a keen sense of smell – mainly Inuyasha and Shippou – wouldn't notice she'd left.

Stepping into the otherwise pretty dress, Kagome brushed it off in habit. It was a warm night, humid and stickier than usual, and she was thankful there were no sleeves and that the skirt flowed around her knees in a breezy way. She reached back into her bag and pulled out a white see-through scarf, one Yuka had given her for her sixteenth birthday over a year ago. After untangling it and working away the knots, she tied it into her hair like a headband, a style she had often seen at home on perfume ads and in catalogues.

She finished preparing for the night, zipping everything back up and tiptoeing across the makeshift tatami mats until she was able to push back the sloppily-made shoji door. She looked back once to confirm that everyone was still asleep, and even though Shippou squeaked and rolled over, she was convinced enough to exit Kaede's hut. Quietly, she made her way through the village in her bare feet; bringing shoes was pointless, since she was very ungraceful in them and would have definitely made too much noise to get away. If anything, she wished she hadn't given up on all the dance classes her mom had signed her up for when she was younger.

The journey to the edge of the forest was short and uneventful, and Kagome soon found herself a little more aware of what was on the ground. Knowing her, she would probably step on something sharp or dangerous or something needing medical attention. Despite how long she was taking watching her feet (even though she could barely see them in the dark anyway), she finally walked the whole few miles away from the village.

She was tired and sweating all over when she got there, but she remembered she was going swimming with the fishies in just a few minutes, so she could only smile in relief. She tilted her head back and stretched her arms, feeling the presence of the invisible barrier right in front of her.

The barrier was put up by Kaede, thank goodness for her. Kagome knew she owed a lot to the older priestess. The miko had used her abilities, weak as they were, to raise the barrier so Inuyasha and the others – as well as every other demon who passed by – would never realize a barrier even existed here. It had so far been successful. Like other barriers, this one kept the unwanted out (and just about everyone was unwanted, Kagome made sure). But unlike the usual shield, anyone could walk straight through this one, even make camp in the same clearing, although no one would want to with a village so close by. Whatever the circumstance, no one would be aware the barrier, or what it was hiding, existed.

The trick about the barrier, Kaede had explained once, was that it made the area around it a hallucination. Even though everything was solid, it was completely fake. But to those who knew of the barrier and what it hid inside it, meaning only Kaede and Kagome herself, this specific spot was a beautiful home to many equally as beautiful.

Kagome shook her head as a delightful shiver ran through her. The barrier made her feel warm and fuzzy on the insides.

It wasn't all she had to thank Kaede for, though. The older miko, from day one, had helped Kagome greatly simply by understanding the potent herbs around her.

Every night the Inu-Taichi stayed in the village, the two priestesses would make their meals for them, like they had done tonight. The others never knew what exactly was put into their food. The potion was odorless and tasteless and undetectable, and it would guarantee a long, sound sleep for those who put it in their bellies.

In the mornings, when the others woke up to find both Kagome and Kaede already wide awake, they were always given the excuse that they were simply not late risers. Kaede was obviously used to waking up so early, and Kagome was so used to sleeping in her sleeping bag, she was unfazed by how warm the futons were. On the other hand, the others were of course not used to sleeping so comfortably all the time, so they naturally liked to sleep in. The lies were foolproof.

Kaede was pretty much a genius for thinking this all up herself, Kagome decided. Not only did she put up a barrier and make a sleeping drought, but she also brewed a medicine for Kagome when she wasn't in the area. The schoolgirl "borrowed" an extra eye dropper from her grandpa's medicine cabinet to use it as a measuring device. The potions were supposed to suppress her "unusual characteristics" for the next twenty-four hours, but whenever Inuyasha or anyone else asked her about it, she said it was a medicine her present-day physician was making her take. The explanation, like all the others, reassured any suspicions.

Kagome grinned to herself, perfectly content with the fact that the vile liquid didn't have to be poured down her throat this time. She absolutely hated the burning taste of what she called "that damn hell-in-a-bottle", but aside from that, it always put her under a lot of pain. Transforming in general hurt badly enough, but stopping it from happening increased it tenfold. Thankfully, she had learned to hide the pain from her friends, even if it just made it worse that way.

She winced, already feeling her legs aching. According to the moon and its position in the sky, it was nearly midnight, and fuck, she had to hurry.

She jogged her way through the barrier, feeling like she was running through jelly, but also feeling like she was running though nothing at the same time. She watched her feet as she went, noticing at the last second that she was about to stub her toe on a large boulder. She stopped abruptly, but her big toe still stung.

Damn it, she thought, shaking it out and looking up at her surroundings. The moon was brighter on this side of the barrier, and she could see everything clearly.

The area was large and spacious, the grass fresh and green and covering every inch of the ground. A few flowers she didn't know the name of had popped up in random splotches, colorful and picturesque. The boulder Kagome ran into was alone and slightly out of place next to a luscious tree, but because it was so close to the center of the clearing and even closer to the edge of the plateau where the water started, she couldn't help but like it. It came up to her middle and curved like most rocks did, but the top was perfectly straight, oddly-shaped but suitable for sitting on.

Despite how cool she thought it was the first time she saw it, Kagome cursed at it under her breath for damaging her foot. That ache was nothing though, and a sharp jerk of pain jolted up both her legs, making her panic and hurry desperately to the edge of the grass. Because she was standing on a plateau and there was no shore, and because the lake was like a swimming pool where the first step into it meant three feet of water, it took no time at all for her to jump in and get soaked.

The body of water she was currently making her way through was large, even larger than the clearing itself. It was bigger than a pond and smaller than an ocean, but for lack of a better term, she just called it a lake. Kagome appreciated how clean and unpolluted the water was, especially compared to how it was in her time, and the moon seemed to shine on it just right, making it glow blue and green and lavender and yellow and a whole bunch of other colors she couldn't quite name.

Swimming farther from the cliff expertly, she stopped entirely right in front of another large rock, this time one that was stuck on the seafloor. It slanted upwards a little, and even though most of the rock was underwater, the part in plain view was twice the size of the boulder by the tree.

Realizing she made it to the rock right on time, she put both her hands on the part of it that was flattest, hoisting herself up to sit down. Her dress was soaked straight through and clung to her skin, and she thanked god no one was around to see her underwear since she was wearing all white.

She looked up at the moon again. Any second now, she thought impatiently. And just seconds after she thought it, it happened.

The moonlight gathered around her with silver and pale yellow light, looking as though it was swallowing her whole. Her eyes automatically squeezed tight as she braced herself.

The light seemed to have a mind of its own, wrapping around her hair until it bunched into a mess of waves, though the length stayed relatively the same. The white scarf around her head dissolved into white pearls that curved around her crown like a dotted line, keeping her hair back. Her chocolate-colored eyes shone, the color suddenly a brilliant blue, and her skin turned two shades darker, the peach-like hue matching the slight gloss that accented the pinkness of her mouth. Although her overall complexion and facial features did not change, the minute differences completely disguised her, and she seemed brighter and somewhat celestial. The light snaked its way down her body. Her dress disappeared, leaving only pearly-white clothing to cover her chest.

And then the light traveled to her legs, squeezing them like a boa constrictor. She clenched her eyes even tighter as pain shot through her thighs, feeling as though a hundred needles were continuously piercing her skin, the sharp edges cutting harder and faster with every stab and a fire-like burning sensation engulfing her legs with something mighty powerful. The pain was nothing compared to the throbbing aches of the "hell-in-a-bottle" potion, but it still brought beads of sweat trickling down Kagome's face, her teeth clenched in agony.

The pain disappeared as suddenly as it began, and she soon relaxed and exhaled heavily, immediately hunching over to catch her breath. She hadn't realized it until now, but she had been holding it. Her legs were now gone, and in their place was a large fin, a remarkable green that shone with what looked to be silver and white glitter, but that was probably just the way the moonlight was hitting her slippery scales.

Strange symbols emerged from her skin like ink seeping through paper. A navy blue arch adorned each of her cheeks, and a star was tattooed on her forehead, though it was mostly covered by her hair. There were twisting lines travelling down her arms, a tiny star or two accompanying them. On Kagome's flat belly, there was another arch on each side, longer and less narrow than the ones on her cheekbones, and they both curved inwardly toward her navel.

The light gradually disappeared and shifted back to its original state. Kagome fell back onto the rock she was sitting on, her arms stretched away from her. She looked up at the black sky and adjusted herself to her new and familiar skin.

And despite herself, despite the pain and the sneaking out and how many lies she had to tell to get to where she was, the only thing she could do was smile.

...

Sesshoumaru held back a groan. He'd never passed through this area before, but he was very well aware who was nearby. Jaken had reported to him many times that this was the area where Inuyasha was pinned to a tree, and now the Inu-Taichi returned to that village every once in a while for whatever reason. Sesshoumaru knew his ungrateful half-brother was resting there right at that very moment since he could smell the stench of the hanyou and his filthy companions and it was clogging up his senses and making him irritable.

But there was one scent out of place. It was much too close by to make any sense. The taiyoukai sniffed silently and suspiciously until he pinpointed what it was and who it meant and where it came from. It was that wench, Inuyasha's human wench.

He didn't know why, but her scent was the closest and most recent in the area, although it disappeared suddenly at the clearing just steps away from him. He inwardly shrugged, not caring in the slightest. She was not his problem, and it was none of his concern why her scent vanished. For all he knew, she could have just run back to the village, following the same trail she took to come here.

All the same, it didn't matter to him. He was only here for the Tetsusaiga.

The plan was simple, so simple he was nearly ashamed it had taken him so long to figure it out. He and Rin would travel into the village and find the hut Inuyasha and his party slept in. There, he would have Rin, who was very much human, take the sword before they would leave again with their prize. It was a dirty trick, he knew, but he was becoming impatient, and he vowed to do whatever it took to take the Tetsusaiga as his own. It would be of no conflict.

Of course Inuyasha was a light sleeper, but with Sesshoumaru's own grace, the hanyou would never suspect he had been here. His own scent could not wake his half-brother, for Sesshoumaru, as a taiyoukai, had learned to mask his presence easily.

The plan would be carried out in a few mere minutes. It would be much easier, though, if Jaken would shut up long enough for them to sneak into the village.

"—and Inuyasha will, of course, never even suspect a thing! Oh, Lord Sesshoumaru! No doubt you shall win the Tetsusaiga! All the same, my lord, why must you heed the assistance of this mortal girl—" he looked pointedly at Rin, who remained unfazed, "—rather than myself? Not that you need my assistance, of course, Lord Sesshoumaru, for you are most definitely capable for stealing the Tetsusaiga by yourself. But then again, my lord, how do you plan to take the Tetsusaiga if you are a demon and incapable of touching the sword? Not that you're incapable, of course—"

"Stop."

Jaken finally shut up, staring at his master confusedly. "What is it, my lord?" Rin stopped pulling the reins on Ah-Uhn, watching him with large doe eyes.

Sesshoumaru did not look back at his wards, nor did he answer. He could have sworn he felt something the moment he reached the edge of the forest, something like a sudden jolt of power. There is a barrier here, he thought. It was very well hidden, he credited, well enough that he barely sensed it himself. His golden eyes probed the empty space of the clearing. This barrier is different. It is pure, and yet… There was something about it. He had the strongest feeling, a tugging in his gut that pulled him forward, and there was a voice in the back of his mind telling him the barrier would not repel him.

He easily decided on his next move. Inuyasha and the Tetsusaiga would have to wait.

He calmly took a step toward the invisible shield, but something stopped him. An opening large enough for him to walk through seemed to come from the air, like a doorway that could barely be seen except for around the edges. He ignored Jaken and Rin's gasps and prepared to take another step. But he was again interrupted.

At his side, he felt a sword pulse. He looked down at his belt, but he was surprised – although he did not show it – because the pulse did not come from Tenseiga like it usually did. This time it was the Toukijin that vibrated as though it were frightened of what lay ahead on the other side of the invisible walls.

It did not pulse like Tenseiga did from time to time. It jerked and struggled, pulling away fromy the barrier as though it wished to tear apart its sheath in order to escape. It was panicking on its own, tugging and struggling to fly away, and its thrashes were so fierce, Sesshoumaru nearly struggled himself to regain control over his sword. His eyebrows narrowed, releasing the Toukijin from its sheath and throwing it at Jaken's feet. The sword immediately quieted, but Sesshoumaru still felt it pull away cowardly. He could have sworn he heard the wind sighing in relief.

"Do not touch it," Sesshoumaru warned monotonously. He knew his wards would understand. They were aware Toukijin was bathed with evil and power that could easily control them. But Toukijin's actions just now – no, it was just a fluke. It was impossible for the demonic sword to weaken, and surely it was just as powerful as it had always been.

"Yes, my lord," Jaken nodded so ferociously his head could have easily snapped off. "But aren't we to go with you?"

Sesshoumaru ignored him, instead walking into the opening in the barrier wall, which closed shut once he had entered.

"My lord!" Jaken panicked, running to the clearing to follow him. He was disappointed when the barrier neither accepted or rejected him. For reasons he did not understand, the clearing remained as it did before, and there was no trace of a barrier whatsoever.

Sesshoumaru felt the barrier close behind him. Looking around him, he was surprised when he found himself back behind a large amount of trees as though he was back in the forest, the clearing meters in front of him.

A splash was heard, and his interest piqued. A splash meant water, but it also meant someone had to have made the splash. He was not alone here.

He took the steps necessary to reach the edge of the forest, pausing next to a tree with a large trunk. Whatever it was he expected, it was certainly not this.

It was a girl. A mermaid.

He let his eyes widen in response. Never had he heard of a mermaid being spotted. There had been brief and vague sections of his father's old scrolls and books that spoke of them from within the dust and old kanji scribbles, but Sesshoumaru felt he knew nothing about them at all when he looked at her.

Never had he seen a more beautiful sight. The mermaid before him was sitting on top of a rock in the middle of a lake Sesshoumaru was sure had not been there before he stepped through the barrier. The splash he heard, he realized, must have been her tail slapping the water when she pushed herself out of it.

Her blue-black hair flowed gracefully down her back, but it did not look wet, which was odd, as she lived in the water. Her skin was soft and creamy, and Sesshoumaru tore his eyes away from the water droplets that slid down her tattooed arms. The blue markings were more tantalizing than he thought they should be, and he immediately noticed the way her facial markings mimicked his own. She turned her head to look behind her, and for the briefest of moments he saw how bright her eyes shone in the light. His eyes traveled downwards to her porcelain face, that pink pouting mouth of hers teasing him more than they should have been.

He narrowed his eyes at her, scolding himself for looking at her body and acting hormonal and very much like a little love-struck boy, which he definitely was not. Never had he been in such a state of mind with these horrid thoughts running through his head. But he could not control himself long enough to turn away from the legendary creature that she was.

Her tail was magnificent, flapping gently the way a cat's tail did when it slept. Its green sparkle rivaled that of her eyes, and he couldn't understand why he was so fascinated with it. Maybe it was because it was proof, proof that he was actually looking at a mermaid and an incredibly attractive one, at that. He had never been very fond of fish except to eat them, their unblinking eyes unnerving him and their gaping mouths disgusting, but for some reason he was not repulsed by the girl. It was the exact opposite, as a matter of fact.

She was combing her fingers through her hair, though there were no tangles to begin with. Sesshoumaru fought back an approving growl. Tearing his eyes away, he became angry with himself. What was the girl doing to him? He was only male and had certainly looked at women before, but he was always uninterested enough to stop himself from looking a second time. This girl, though, he had only looked at her for a moment before he felt himself suddenly becoming infatuated as though he had been in love with her for ages. Maybe this was a spell mermaids liked to cast, he didn't know. Maybe this was why there was a barrier around the lake in the first place. But it didn't explain why Sesshoumaru was able to enter it.

Unable to keep his eyes away for long, Sesshoumaru reluctantly turned to watch her again. He mentally shuddered in revulsion at his newfound weakness, refusing to give in to the girl who was currently swiping her tongue across her lip. The action was quick and subconscious and unintentional on the mermaid's part, but it seemed like slow motion to Sesshoumaru.

He could not look away, no matter how loudly his thoughts were screaming at him to do so. This was his sole moment of weakness. He watched her sit and swim for many hours, and by the time the sun first hinted it was going to rise, he found himself yearning for her more than he believed was possible.

This is foolish, he thought. She was just a mermaid, a rare and strange species that was completely different than anything else he'd seen before. She didn't know he existed, and he didn't even know her name or anything about her. As far as he was concerned, only an idiot would fall for a girl like that, and he couldn't let his thoughts linger on her too much.

He forced his eyes away. He had to get back to the others. He knew Rin and Ah-Uhn wouldn't worry, but Jaken was a different story, not to mention Toukijin remained in his ungrateful care. He had to get away from the mermaid as soon as possible.

He began turning around to see the girl one last time, but he stopped himself. He knew that if he looked again, he wouldn't be able to turn away for quite some time.

So he walked away, back through the trees and the barrier to greet his sleeping companions, unwillingly promising himself that he would return later that night.

...

Kagome, again clad in her white dress and head-scarf, her feet still bare, made her way back through the forest and into Kaede's village as quietly as she could. It was already past eight in the morning, she knew, since she usually changed back by that time.

The night before was strange, she thought to herself, furrowing her brow in confusion. She swam all night as usual, but she felt a weird shiver up her spine like someone was watching her, and she knew someone was because she could sense them just a little with her miko abilities. As if that wasn't enough reassurance, she was fully aware of the rustling in the bushes and trees and the silhouette of someone resembling a demon.

But that was impossible. No one, much less a demon, would be able to get through the other side of the barrier. Kaede had said only those welcome were allowed inside, but demons were mostly dangerous, and Kagome was sure she and Kaede had not accepted anyone's entrance otherwise.

So what had happened? Nothing made any sense. She didn't feel entirely comfortable knowing she was being watched in her vulnerable state. She had to ask Kaede about that once she got back to the village.

She sighed, picking up her pace after stinging her foot on a tiny pebble that stuck into her skin. If Kaede had no answers for her, she would find out herself. She would uncover the identity of the mystery demon. She was sure of it.

...

A/N: Revised. I hope it's not as corny anymore, even though it's probably not much better. Also I changed the chapter titles because the old ones sucked. I'm sorry this first chapter still isn't very impressive, but I'm pretty tired of revising by now, so I give up hahahaha oh well.

Disclaimer: RT owns.