A/N: I present to you, my good readers, chapter seven! Huge thanks to all of you who reviewed and/or put this on alert/favourite! I wish I could hug all of you!
Disclaimer: In no way, shape or form do I own Ranma ½ or InuYasha. I write this purely for entertainment not profit, so please don't sue me. I still don't have a job.
NOTE: If you want to know when the next chapter is coming out, head to my profile and scroll down until you find the section 'Story Updates'. I'll have my current progress posted there and I update it regularly.
Recap: Lightning flashed again, brighter than before, followed by a boom of thunder that seemed to shake the very earth and make their teeth rattle.
"Wow, this is some storm!" Kagome half-yelled over the noise of the rain and the echoes of the thunder that reverberated off the mountains.
Inuyasha was about to answer, likely with a sarcastic remark, but a strike of fork lightning did not give him the chance. It flashed dangerously close, and the peal of thunder that followed rumbled right over the cave. Some scree and small rocks fell down over the cave's entrance.
Another lightning bolt sizzled through the atmosphere and the resulting noise actually did shake the ground. A worrying rumbling and crashing could be heard throughout the cave, echoes bouncing off the walls and magnifying the noise by a fair multitude. Kagome gasped as what little light was still around was swallowed up by large chunks of shale quickly obscuring the cave's only exit.
Then everything was black.
Chapter Seven: Where the Wild Things Roam
An endless abyss of darkness yawned around them, seemingly with no end and giving one the feeling of being slowly swallowed into a black hole. After the various noises of surprise died down, the only sounds left were the soft whimpers of fright that could be heard when the thunder dimmed its fury. The darkness, coupled with the noise, felt very oppressive and stifling, increasing the fright that pervaded the cave.
Kagome dared not light her camp stove as the fire would quickly burn through the oxygen that had been trapped in the cave with them. She could hear her companions start to mutter and the wolves continue to whimper and whine. The noises of discontent were silenced when a short howl echoed through the darkness.
"Silence!" the leaderwolf shouted in a commanding tone. "Stop whimpering like frightened newborn pups and act like the wolves you are! If we keep our wits about us, we will figure a way out of this predicament. Now, does anyone have a helpful idea?"
Kagome and her friends said nothing as they couldn't understand, but kept quiet, somehow realising that it would be for the best at the moment. They simply listened as a few barks and growls flew back and forth.
The leaderwolf called for his pack to speak one at a time. They did so in a slightly haphazard manner.
"We could dig out," suggested a male voice.
"And break our claws trying to dig through solid rock or the ground that's almost as hard?" a sneering feminine voice growled back.
"Maybe the humans could push the rocks out of the way?" asked a younger sounding female.
Another wolf snorted and replied, "They may be larger than us, but their limbs are weak and spindly. I doubt they could do it."
"Excuse me!" Ryoga called loudly, his unfamiliar howl instantly attracting the attention of the entire pack.
Shippo jumped a bit, not expecting a wolf to howl so close to him. Once he realised that it must have been Ryoga, he settled down a bit, trying to catch snatches of what was being said. Being a fox-demon - a young one to boot - he was having a very hard time trying to decipher the wolves' natural speech. Being a fox, which was practically a cousin to the wolf and could understand and imitate their speech for the most part, he knew he should be able to understand them. As he was only very young and had no practice with the wolf language, it was not surprising that he was having a rough time of it. He crossed his arms and pouted at this linguistic inability.
The leaderwolf frowned at the interruption and made his way over to the unruly wolf by following his unfamiliar scent. He could just barely make out the very faintest of outlines. As wolves had wonderful night vision, the aging wolf came to the conclusion that the upstart had an incredibly dark pelt to be so indiscernible from the darkness. No wolf in his pack had such a darkly coloured pelt. "Who are you, trespasser?"
"Trespasser?" Ryoga repeated indignantly. "I'm no trespasser, sir; I'm the half-wolf you met earlier. My name is Ryoga, and the reason I'm all wolf now is a long story that I really don't feel like getting into, okay?" he explained with a touch of annoyance.
The older wolf flicked an ear back and carefully sampled the scent of the wolf in front of him. As his brain picked apart the scent, he realised that the younger wolf spoke the truth; his scent was too similar, only the human smell was mostly faded to be replaced by the stench of wet canine fur.
"I have an idea if you'd like to hear it," Ryoga said, snapping the older wolf out of his thoughts.
"I'm all ears, young one," he replied, interested to hear the idea despite his instincts telling him to drive the foreign male from the pack's territory.
"I once used a special technique to escape from a cave-in. I'm not sure if I can perform the technique as a wolf, but I'll give it a try. I need a space in front of the entrance cleared, though."
The leaderwolf nodded and said, "You shall have your space." Slowly walking off, he barked orders at the pack to clear a semi-circular space that faced the blocked entrance. They obeyed despite their confusion, and Ryoga trotted over to stand in the middle of the semi-circle.
Sango crossed her arms for something to do. "I wish I knew what they were saying," she complained in a low, grumbling tone. Sango disliked being left out of the loop. She was obviously not the only one as her friends agreed with her.
Closing his eyes, though he didn't really need to due to the darkness, Ryoga reached within him. Finding his large reservoir of ki easily, he plunged into it instead of pushing it aside, drawing upon sad memories all the while. Unsure if he could use his ki as a wolf, he was pleasantly surprised when it responded to his will. Embracing the energy, he infused it with his negative emotions and slowly rose to his hind legs. As wolves were not made to stand upright in such a manner, Ryoga had to focus a little of his attention on remaining on two legs.
The wolves retreated a few steps, uttering surprised barks and growls, while Kagome and the others gasped. The cave was lit up with a fairly bright light, the source was Ryoga; he was surrounded by a thin aura of bluish-white light. The same wave of sadness that had washed over Sango and the others before Ryoga had gotten lost, flooded them once more.
"This is…" Sango started to say in awe. She was interrupted when Ryoga moved, his aura swirling to match his movements and making the lights on the cave walls whirl in a hypnotic dance.
Ryoga had his forelegs crossed in front of his furry chest, perfectly executing the stance needed for the technique. Ignoring the light show he had created, he stretched his forelegs horizontally in front of him, his aura swirling around his body to pool into a sphere at his paws. The ball of energy exploded forward like a fire-hose, accompanied by a howling cry of, "Shishi Hôkô-Dan!"
The whole scene immediately reminded Kagome of that Dragon Ball Z anime her little brother loved so much. Before she had been dragged down the well by Mistress Centipede, Kagome had been forced to watch the anime whenever it was Sota's turn to be in charge of the television. Even in spite of all the strange things she saw demons and whatnot do with their internal energy, never had she seen it used in such a Dragon Ball Z way; fired directly forward from the hands, it usually needed to be channelled by some kind of weapon.
The heavy ki made contact with the rocks, producing a loud blast as it practically disintegrated them. A few more rocks tumbled down from their precarious perches on the top of the entrance, but landed in the mud and rolled short distances away harmlessly. Silence reigned once more, though this time it was tinged with awe and amazement instead of fear.
Feeling proud of himself for performing his strongest technique as a wolf and freeing the cave and its occupants, Ryoga let himself fall forward until he was standing on all fours again. He allowed a rare smirk to adorn his face, one that spoke of pride and confidence. It was the kind of smirk that had never failed to get under Ryoga's skin when Ranma had been wearing it during their many fights, both physical and verbal.
"Wow, I never thought I'd see someone do that for real," Kagome commented, now wishing she had paid more attention to that anime.
"That was quite an amazing phenomenon," Miroku said, trying to appear calm and collected.
"Feh." Inuyasha was also impressed, but he refused to show it. The next time he tried to teach the wolf-boy something else demonic, he would have to ask how the technique worked. Hopefully he could learn it, which would get him a surprise edge over Sesshomaru the next time they fought.
Sango simply shook her head and murmured, "Unbelievable…" If the strange boy from Kagome's time could do such a thing as a wolf, then what else was he hiding up his metaphorical sleeves?
Kirara mewed in agreement to her mistress' softly spoken statement. Kirara had known something was different about Ryoga when she had first met him, but she had attributed it to him being from the future and an unknown newcomer to their tightly-knit band. Now that she knew she had been right, Kirara intended to get to the bottom of the mystery that was her new friend.
Shippo stared at the black wolf with the bandanna. 'Now I HAVE to get him to become my bodyguard!'
The greying wolf walked over to Ryoga and licked his muzzle affectionately, just like he would to any young wolf in his own pack. "Well done, young one! If it pleases you, I'd like to make you an honorary member of the pack once I have obtained Prince Koga's permission," he said almost reverently. How much stronger would their pack grow with the black-furred half-wolf around? If Prince Koga gave his permission and Ryoga agreed, the old wolf would even let him have some mating rights to produce strong pups!
Ryoga stood frozen to the spot, unable to decipher the instincts that rushed through him at that moment. Being licked on the muzzle like that had felt really good, like being hugged by Akane when he was P-chan. It had made him feel accepted and appreciated as his wolf mind recognised the praise for what it was. His human mind, however, rallied against the wolf one, practically shouting that being kissed in wolf fashion - by an old male no less! - was not acceptable in any way, and that he should pound the jerk for such a perverse act.
The old wolf, growing concerned at Ryoga's catatonic state, gently nudged the black wolf's shoulder with his nose.
"Um, can I get back to you on the whole pack thing?" Ryoga asked slowly in a stunned way. His wolf mind, being much stronger in his cursed form than his human mind, had won out. Ryoga hadn't truly wanted to hurt the older wolf in such a fashion anyway.
"Of course you can if you need to mull it over. I must ask the main Alpha first before I can do anything else, and I'm not sure how long that will take due to his unknown whereabouts," the leaderwolf replied in an understanding tone.
Ryoga nodded in thanks and, resisting the urge to lick the old wolf back to show his thanks in a more wolfish way, he quickly trotted over to his companions. He ignored their questioning stares, fully intent on his mental wrestling match with his canine side. He had never had this much trouble as a pig and began to wonder if his half-wolf demonic status had something to do with it. 'Does Inuyasha have canine instincts as well? I haven't seem him do anything doggish, so maybe he can teach me to control my instincts next?'
Now that the excitement was over, sleep seemed to be the highest priority on the list for most. The wolves, unable to go hunting in the fierce storm, had no choice but to settle down to sleep. They huddled together again and most of them fell asleep swiftly. The few that remained awake continued to send quizzical glances every now and then at the non-wolf beings - and the black wolf with the strange cloth around his head that reminded them of their demonic prince.
Miroku, sensing that Ryoga would explain when he was ready - and could speak in a language he recognised again - announced to the others that they should follow the wolves' example and get some rest after having something to eat.
They agreed, though Kagome asked, "Ryoga, do you want to spend the night as a wolf?"
Not wanting to fight against the strange instincts that were surging through him any longer, Ryoga hastily shook his head and looked at the schoolgirl imploringly.
"I'll take that as a 'no'," she said with a giggle. Grabbing her little camp stove, she turned her back to the wind whistling past the entrance and managed to light the camp stove. Smiling, Kagome placed her kettle over the small flames and leaned back to wait for the water to heat up.
The dismally horrible weather had dampened their spirits a bit and none of them felt like making a big production out of their meal; something simple and easy would be preferable. Digging some dry rations out, they made do with them, making sure to get Ryoga his portion and putting aside a little extra as Akiyuki was staring at them with big, blue puppy eyes.
Akiyuki's little cutesy act immediately reminded Ryoga of when Ranma would eat out as a girl, scamming free food off the poor, unsuspecting male vendors with her sparkly blue eyes, adorable voice and irresistible looks. He squished the urge to make a not-so-nice remark about the resemblance; Akiyuki had done nothing but be his friend and he was not about to ruin that relationship as he had so few real friends.
Once the food had been eaten, the group found the comfiest spots they could and lay down, trying their hardest to ignore the wind, rain and thunder. It was not easy, but most of them had little trouble as they were used to sleeping with such weather raging on.
The cloudy sky of blue and white had been replaced by the soft black of night, sprinkled liberally with tiny bright spots. The sky seemed so unrestrained and beautiful without the artificial lights of a town to partially drown out its splendour at night. Any artist with a canvas would have a fair amount of difficultly in capturing the beauty and spirit of the free, star-spangled sky.
Ukyo was staring at this gorgeous piece of artwork that Mother Nature herself had seen fit to paint. 'Ranma, are you watching the sky just as I am? Are you thinking of me as I'm thinking of you, sitting here staring at the stars? No, you're probably with Akane. You're most likely sitting with her, talking and laughing together. The only time thoughts of me will flit through your mind is when you wonder if I've caught up to Ryoga and whether or not I've learned anything of use to you yet.'
The chef gasped as she shook the slanderous thoughts out of her head.
'The quicker I find that big lug and spy on him til I learn something, the quicker I can go back and be with Ranchan!'
Ukyo almost regretted volunteering herself for this. Things would be much simpler for her if she had not been able to pass through that accursed well. Wishing that it was Akane who was wandering around alone in the Feudal Era and herself back in her own time with her fiancé, Ukyo gave a displeased huff and settled into her sleeping bag.
Her dreams consisted of animated spatulas, exactly like the brooms from that Disney movie Fantasia, flipping okonomiyaki and ingredients into the air in a pattern while Ranma, dressed in a red cat suit of all things, ran around the floor with his mouth open, catching all that he could. Akane, wearing a comical, oversized and baggy outfit of a shrine maiden, was conducting the whole thing with a stick of celery.
Just as the act finished, Ryoga strolled out from the right side of the stage clothed in a strip of bacon, followed by four wolves. Stopping in the middle of the stage, the wolves lined up next to Ryoga, two on either side. The music picked up again and the five on stage began a sweeping, dance-like kata; the wolves joining in on their hind legs. When Akane stopped waving her celery stick and Ranma stopped meowing at the act, Ryoga and the wolves bowed. A second later, the wolves descended upon Ryoga, tearing at the bacon he was wearing. Ukyo's dream-self, who was in the front row of the audience, yelled at them to leave him alone. They did as she wanted and fled the stage, leaving behind a rumpled black form on the multicoloured, light-covered floor. As Ukyo watched in morbid fascination, unable to tear her eyes away or move her paralysed body, the black lump, that turned out to be another wolf, stood up and stared at her before vanishing in a wisp of shadowy black smoke.
Ukyo shot awake with a gasp, her chest heaving as her lungs frantically tried to draw in much needed oxygen. 'Those eyes,' she thought, 'those golden eyes looked so wild and haunted!'
Every time Ukyo closed her own eyes to go back to sleep, the image of the black wolf and his haunting golden gaze would flash before her, jerking her eyes open and almost making her scream with their frightening intensity. Despite the unease the gaze caused her, Ukyo couldn't help but feel that there was an underlying emotion lurking behind the golden eyes. Whatever it was, the teenage girl had no clue and was not about to think about a scary, wild dream-animal any more than she already had.
It took Ukyo a long time to drift back to sleep, this time without any dreams.
Soft rustling and tiny clicking noises were what awoke Ryoga. He had been a half-demon for roughly nine days now, but was still getting used to the increased senses. Ryoga had progressed to the point where he could tune out the birds part of the time. Opening his eyes, he saw some of the wolves moving about and guessed that the rustling was their fur and the clicking was their claws against the hard ground of the cave. He yawned, but was unwilling to stir properly.
Inuyasha, due to his childhood after his mother had passed away, was a naturally early riser. The sooner you awoke, the sooner you could scamper off before a demon trailed your scent to the place where you had spent the night. He was no longer afraid as he had been as a child, but the deeply ingrained habit of rising early still remained. It was therefore no surprise that Inuyasha gave the other half-demon a slightly gruff morning greeting.
Not really knowing how to act around the silver-haired male, Ryoga decided on something that should be neutral enough to incite conversation. "Morning. So, do you want me to ask the leader of the wolves about Naraku's whereabouts?"
Inuyasha stared at him, seeming to ponder something about him as opposed to his question. "Yeah," he answered after a few seconds.
The half-dog's amber gaze had intrigued him and Ryoga wanted to find out why. "Is there something on my face? You were looking at me a little funny," he said slowly, curiosity plain to hear in his voice.
"I'm just wondering why you, a complete stranger, is jumping headfirst into a battle that you have nothin' to do with," he replied honestly, staring hard at the black-haired teen. "It doesn't bother me that you're taggin' along anymore; you seem like a capable fighter. Just know that when we do catch up to that bastard, Naraku, he's all mine. So stay outta my way in that fight, got it?"
Ryoga knew how it felt to have someone barge in on a fight that was considered personal, and was not about to cross about that line with his new companion. "That fight's all yours," he promised.
Inuyasha nodded and his expression lightened a bit.
Upon seeing the change, the strange thought that Inuyasha had been asserting his place in the pack shot through Ryoga's mind. 'Once I submitted to him, proving that I recognised him as the Alpha, he lost his threatening demeanour,' he thought, his eyes widening as his brain properly processed the entirety of that thought and what it entailed. He groaned and turned onto his back with his limbs sprawled out as though contemplating whether or not air was huggable.
"What's wrong with you?" Inuyasha asked, confused by the half-demon's actions.
"Ugh," Ryoga grunted out. "Do canine instincts annoy you, too, or is it just me?"
"It is not just you, they affect Inuyasha as well," Miroku said, sitting up and observing the two half-demons. "For example, Kagome once tossed a stick and said 'Fetch!' to which Inuyasha automatically responded. It was one of the most amusing things I've ever seen."
With his face now burning red, Inuyasha levelled a death-glare at the monk that promised retribution. "Shut it, lecher!" he angrily growled out.
Ryoga hastily stifled his chuckles before Inuyasha could turn the death-glare in his direction. "Is there, uh, anything to help stop them?"
"No, there isn't," Inuyasha ground out through gritted teeth, still glaring daggers at Miroku.
"Are you serious?!"
The death-glare turn into a flat stare as Inuyasha regarded him like one would a disbelieving child.
"I'm never going to survive being a half wolf-demon and cursed to turn into a wolf!" Ryoga wailed, throwing his right arm over his face and closing his eyes. "It was bad enough when I used to turn into a piglet!"
Inuyasha's ears immediately perked up at this. "Your curse used to turn you into a pig?" he asked with interest.
Ryoga said nothing, busy cursing to himself in English, but nodded.
"That would explain why you smelled very faintly of pig the first day we met," he thought aloud, staring absently at the roof of the cave. "I just thought you must've wandered near a bunch of pigs or something."
Their conversation had not been very quiet and the others were starting to stir from their slumber. Many more wolves had awoken, but they kept to themselves, content to stare from time to time. Some yawning, shuffling and stretching later, the rest of the group was awake and already getting down to the task of breakfast.
Following Kagome and Sango's lead, the leaderwolf roused a dozen of the roughly twenty wolves, and took them outside the cave. Judging from the way the wolves organised themselves, they must have gone hunting.
"What'll we do if none of the wolves know where Naraku is? I'm not betting on them knowing, the possibility that they have such information is practically zero, otherwise Koga would be having more luck, don't you think?" Sango asked while they were munching on their light breakfast.
"You bring up a very valid point, Sango, but it will not hurt to ask," Miroku said.
Shippo swallowed his current mouthful. "Are we gonna wait for that old wolf to come back to ask him?"
"May as well just ask the wolves that are already here first," Sango said, her eyes flicking to rest on Ryoga for a split second before darting away to scan the remaining wolves.
"Do you guys want to know where Naraku is?" Akiyuki piped up inquisitively.
Ryoga nodded, turning his attention to the wolf pup. "Yeah, does any of your pack know or have any idea where he might be?"
Akiyuki tilted her head to one side and stared at him for a couple of seconds before bounding away towards her pack.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that she just went to ask about Naraku for us, right?" Kagome said curiously, grinning when Ryoga gave her an affirmative answer. "Oh, she's such a cute and helpful little thing. I'm going to miss her when we leave."
"I'm not," Inuyasha muttered, though it was too soft for human ears to detect.
Shippo gave Inuyasha an unhappy stare that lasted so long it began to unnerve the half-demon. Kirara took her cue from Shippo, staring accusingly with her slitted eyes. Between the two of them, they made him turn away with a huff, unable to bear their silent reproach any longer.
Inuyasha thought that the half-wolf would side with the fox and the cat, but Ryoga said nothing, fully aware that Inuyasha disliked wolves and that his input would do nothing to help.
Akiyuki trotted back, her tail hanging down. "I asked everyone that didn't go hunting, but nobody knows anything. I'm sorry. I tried, I really did!" she howled out sadly.
Taking himself by surprise, Ryoga reached out and drew the pup into a hug. He whispered reassurances to her, not quite sure what had come over him. He continued to cradle her as she whimpered into his chest.
"Aw, that's so sweet!" Kagome crooned.
Miroku inched closer until he was sitting right beside Kagome. "Your friend from the future seems well suited to this place," he murmured in her ear. He received a nod in reply. His hand began to itch, so Miroku automatically moved to relieve it; by stroking Kagome's rear.
A loud, meaty smack echoed throughout the cave, catching the attention of every being within it.
"Pervert," Kagome acidly commented.
"Ranma…!" Ryoga growled out loudly. He let go of Akiyuki, whipped around, and jumped to his feet, poised menacingly above the monk.
"Uh, Ryoga, what are you doing?" Kagome asked, a little spooked by his sudden actions.
Her voice drilled through the red haze that had settled over Ryoga, bringing him up short. Looking around, he blushed as he realised what had happened. "Sorry, knee-jerk response whenever someone says 'pervert'," he sheepishly admitted.
"Okay…" Kagome said slowly, drawing the word out a bit.
"Can we go now?" Inuyasha asked rudely.
"There's no reason to stick around here any longer, is there?" Sango said, half answering Inuyasha and half asking the rest of the group.
Miroku shook his head and simply said, "No."
Now decided, Kagome turned to Akiyuki and gave the little female a bright smile. "We have to go now. It was really nice meeting you, and please tell your leader that we appreciate everything he's done."
Since breakfast was now over, the oddly assorted group stood up and left the cave; Ryoga giving Akiyuki a final scratch under the chin before following the others. The vicious storm had blown itself out sometime during the night and the dark, foreboding clouds had disappeared. A few patches of white floated in the sky and the only remnants of the storm were the flattened shrubbery and broken branches. Some of the smaller trees had blown completely over as well, exposing their roots.
Ignoring the destruction, the group set off, heading back for their original path. They had inadvertently climbed a bit of the mountain while running for shelter, and so had to make up for it now.
Just as they reached level ground around half an hour later, Inuyasha, Kirara and Ryoga all stopped and glanced behind them. Inuyasha gave the air a quick sniff before growling out a curse.
"Inuyasha?" Kagome said, looking at him questioningly.
"It's that damn wolf pup!" he bit out in answer.
"Akiyuki?" Shippo asked a little hopefully. The little kitsune had greatly enjoyed having Akiyuki around. Not only was she fun to play with, but she made Shippo feel as though he were not the weakest in the group anymore. It was a selfish reason for wanting her around, but Shippo was tired of being the weakest link.
Ryoga crouched down with one knee resting on the ground and one arm lying on his knee. "Akiyuki, what are you doing?" he asked in slight exasperation.
The little wolf slunk out slowly from her hiding place. She crawled forward inch by inch, her ears pinned right back and her tail firmly tucked between her legs. "I'm sorry, but I don't want you to leave! I know you won't stay, so I wanna go with you!" she whined.
"But what about your pack, they'll miss you! Did you even get permission to follow us?" Ryoga asked, trying to reason with her. 'If she comes, she'll be in danger and she has no way to fight against demons or even humans. I'll have to convince her to go back, but if she has permission, I don't know how persuasive I can be…'
"The leaderwolf said I could go with you on one condition: if we run across Prince Koga, I'm supposed to ask him if you can join the pack," she admitted, staring hopefully up at the Lost Boy.
Ryoga smacked a hand to his head and groaned. Motioning for the young pup to stay where she was, Ryoga pulled the others into a huddle and relayed what had been said. Comments and arguments about it flew back and forth between the group. Akiyuki watched them worriedly, feverishly praying that they would accept her into their pack.
The leaderwolf had been against her leaving, saying she was much too young and could not even hunt yet. The pack had argued the matter briefly, just like the group was doing now, and had eventually decided that the half-wolf could teach her how to hunt and anything else that she had not learned from the pack yet. The final condition the leaderwolf had set was that she must convince Prince Koga to let the half-wolf join the pack if she met him.
Kagome pulled away from the huddle and knelt down in front of the pup. "I'm really sorry, Akiyuki, but you can't come with us. It's far too dangerous for you and we'll be too busy to defend you all the time if we run into trouble," the schoolgirl gently explained.
Kagome shook her head. It had been a unanimous decision. Kagome felt bad for the young wolf, but it was better for everyone if she remained on the mountain with her pack. "I'm sorry," she said again. "Bye."
The group turned and continued on their way, Kagome jogging for a few steps to catch up. None of them looked back; Inuyasha, Miroku and Sango because they didn't really care, Kagome, Shippo, Kirara and Ryoga because they knew that this was how things had to be.
Akiyuki lay down, her tailed curled around her and her ears back. She whined and howled at the rejection, a wolf's way of crying. She had thought for sure that Sister Kagome and Ryoga would convince the others to let her accompany them.
The companions walked in silence until Akiyuki's cries had faded into the distance.
They had travelled almost four miles, though Ryoga could still hear her clearly. 'I really have to buy a book on wolves or something, do some serious research so I know what to expect from my half-demon and cursed form,' he thought with a tinge of desperation. Not only would he need to be back in his own time to buy such a book, he would need to find one and make sure he had the money to acquire it. Not an easy task when you were the Eternally Lost Boy.
Another five miles had been traversed before Akiyuki's cries had finally faded from Ryoga's ears. He uttered a small sigh of relief, though quickly frowned when the sound of trees being demolished instantly invaded his furry ears instead. He was about to inform the others when the need to do so was rendered pointless.
A large rodent-like creature barrelled out of the trees to their right, smashing them aside like mere twigs. It was on all fours, being about twenty-three feet at its shoulder. Standing upright, the thing would easily be around thirty-five feet or more. It resembled a rat in basic anatomy, but there were four spikes jutting from the end of its long, whip-like tail and it had two bony ridges over its eyes that sported a row of small spikes each. The ears were not as round as a rat's, more similar to a horse than anything.
"A demon!" Miroku called out.
The rat-like demon turned its head to stare at the owner of the voice. Its round, red eyes burned with the primal desire for food, and the intense stare unnerved Miroku. The giant rat bared its incisors and took a step forward, a strange, high-pitched rumbling gurgle emanating from it. It let loose a sudden, horrible, ear-piercing screech and pounced.
Miroku was unable to dodge and stood there, staff held high in a defensive position. He hoped to hold back the rat's teeth, even if it was only for a second. A second was all his friends would need to counterattack.
The monk's defence was unnecessary as Inuyasha drew Tetsusaiga and leapt for the monster's head. Swinging his father's fang, Inuyasha aimed for the creature's eyes. The sword hit the bony ridge above its left eye and glanced off, though it scored the rat from its forehead to the right side of its face, just above the neck, leaving a fairly deep gash.
The demon shrieked in agony, swinging its head from side to side in a futile effort to dispel the pain, sending large drops of blood flying to spatter the ground around it.
Smirking, Inuyasha tightened his grip on the sword's handle and leapt again, this time aiming for the demon's unprotected stomach. His sword eagerly cut into the demon's flesh, slicing the beast in half with ease.
Blood sprayed through the air, the metallic smell making Ryoga cover his nose and his tail twitch as the two halves of the body thudded to the ground. Ryoga watched in morbid fascination as the flesh of the two halves, wracked with death-spasms from the sudden shock to its system, turned to dust, leaving only the bones.
"Well that was a waste of time," Inuyasha commented with a sniff of disdain. Wiping his blade on the grass, he sheathed it when he deemed it free of blood. Turning his back on the cleaved skeleton, Inuyasha walked on, the others following wordlessly.
Ryoga shook his head at the apparent dismissal of such an event. 'Is this really such a frequent occurrence that they, especially Kagome, can simply shrug it off like it's nothing? If I continue to travel with these people, will I end up becoming as unaffected by such slaughter?' he wondered with a shiver running down his spine. The casual air the battle had to it had frightened Ryoga.
Fighting against Ranma was almost as natural to Ryoga as breathing. He killed small animals such as rabbits and fish when he was wandering around in the wilderness. But no word he knew described the killing of the two demons he had seen so far as well as 'slaughter'. He had been the one to kill the first demon he had come across in the Feudal Era, slashed it into chunks with his own claws and unexplored demonic energy, and he wasn't sure he could do it again.
Sure, the giant rat had been about to eat Miroku, but that was no reason to slice the thing in half! It was only looking for food, the same as any animal. Wouldn't it have been kinder to teach it a lesson and simply knock the thing out so that it stayed away from humans?
Ryoga frowned, but decided to ponder the matter later. Sprinting a short distance, he easily caught up with the others and walked behind them in silence.
"Everything looks the same in this time period, all fields and trees!" Ukyo moaned aloud. She had been walking for a while and the similar, unchanging scenery, no matter its natural beauty, was beginning to grate on her. It reminded her way too much of the time she spent on the road when she had been abandoned by Genma Saotome. If she wanted to find Ryoga and do what Ranma wanted, then she had to go on even if it annoyed her.
Ukyo walked on anyway. She was not about to let her Ranchan down; she would make him proud of her!
A disgruntled expression directed at her did nothing to faze her. Akane determinedly ignored Ranma. The two teens were in Ukyo's restaurant back in Nerima, keeping their end of the bargain by working there in her absence.
"I could work here as a guy, y'know!" the busty redhead grumbled.
Akane continued her silent act, tuning the pseudo-girl out. "Hello, welcome to Ucchan's Okonomiyaki," she said enthusiastically to the man who had just walked in the door. "What can I get you?"
As the man placed his order, Ranma set about cooking it. He had already had an argument with Akane about who cooked. Ranma wasn't a chef, but his okonomiyakis weren't bad; nowhere near Ukyo's level, but good enough to pass.
"At least this isn't as bad as being a waitress for the Old Ghoul," Ranma muttered to herself.
The group had covered quite a fair distance and had set out reasonably early the next morning. They had been travelling a good portion of the day when, after cresting a hill, they saw a small village a short distance from the foot of it. Hoping that they would be able to stock up on supplies, the group set off for the cluster of buildings. It took several minutes to reach the edge of the village, but it only took a couple of seconds to realise that something was very wrong.
An aura seemed to shroud the village. Feelings of hopelessness and defeat permeated the air, the emotions making the atmosphere heavy and oppressive. To Ryoga, it felt as though a Perfect Shishi Hôkô-Dan was about to descend upon the village. Everyone felt uneasy and were on guard as they cautiously entered, unconsciously treading lightly.
"I can smell a bunch of men, a few women and the strong scent of lots of cheap sake," Inuyasha whispered to the others, indicating where with a quick nod.
"Bandits?" Sango whispered back.
Inuyasha gave an affirmative-sounding grunt. "If it's not the villagers having a celebration, then it's most likely a band that's taken over the village," he said quietly.
'Now, bandits are something I can easily deal with,' Ryoga thought, feeling much more in his element. Thieves and the like often tried to mug him, none ever being successful. Demons were still a new level for him; bandits were old news. Booting a bunch of bandits out of a place they were looting was just the kind of stress relief Ryoga needed at the moment. He smiled grimly in anticipation.
"We should probably check first before we barge in on something," Kagome said.
Inuyasha flicked his ears back for a split second in annoyance. "Does it really matter? It's none of our business," he said carelessly. Catching sight of Kagome, and the bright red bonfire that seemed to surround her and highlight her furious glare, Inuyasha flicked his ears back again before mumbling that they should check things out.
The bonfire immediately disappeared and a smile replaced the glare on Kagome's face. The others simply sighed and shook their heads at the familiar scene, all except Ryoga. His mouth was hanging open as he realised how frighteningly similar Kagome behaved toward Inuyasha; exactly like Akane concerning the way she acted toward Ranma.
'I'd hate to be the guy that got both of them mad at me at once!'
Already in the lead, Inuyasha slowly moved towards the source of the voices, gesturing for the others to remain where they were. He kept fairly low with his ears pricked up as he made his way towards the centre of the village. Once he was close enough, he took a quick peek around the side of a hut.
There was around ten or fifteen women sitting off to one side of a clearing that was very like a small town square. Roughly the same number of men were on the other side opposite the women, most of them injured in some way. There were about twenty or so men in between the two groups. A few of them were guarding the men and many were watching over the women, though several were standing near a man that was sitting atop a pickling barrel in the middle of the clearing.
It was painfully obvious to Inuyasha exactly who was in charge. He felt a small stab of pity for the women and the fate that awaited them at the vulgar mens' hands, but squashed any sympathy. It was absolutely none of his concern and he needn't get his claws dirty by taking care of some filthy bandits that were not his problem in the first place. Snorting softly, Inuyasha turned away from the scene and quietly trotted back to the others.
Once he was back with them, the half dog-demon explained the situation bluntly in an uncaring tone.
"Oh no, those poor people!" Kagome exclaimed in a loud half-whisper.
"Don't you dare go all sappy for 'em, Kagome! We're busy with something much more important or have you forgotten?" Inuyasha snapped.
Kagome turned a furious stare onto Inuyasha, making him involuntarily flinch back slightly. Without saying a word, Kagome balled her hands into fists and strode past him, heading for the bandits and villagers with her head held high and raw determination burning in her eyes.
Ryoga looked at Inuyasha, then the others, and finally at Kagome's rapidly disappearing form. "Um… Should we go after her?"
"I believe Kagome is capable of looking after herself," Miroku said assuredly, closing his eyes and adopting a calm, wise and dignified demeanour.
Sango stared at the monk, scandalised by the disregard for their friend that his words conveyed.
"Of course," Miroku suddenly continued, "there is quite a large number of armed men awaiting her. And Kagome is rather attractive…" he finished, letting his words hang in the air.
Inuyasha gave a low, throaty growl, baring his fangs at the purple-robed monk. "So? If anything happens to the stupid wench, then it'll be her own fault for pokin' her nose into business where it'll get cut off!"
"Poor child," he went on, ignoring Inuyasha. "Such a young, delicate flower, about to have her petals cruelly torn off…"
Each word spoken by the monk made Inuyasha's hackles rise further until he snarled and dashed forward, extending his arm and catching Miroku in the chest, knocking him to the ground. Whirling around, the silver-haired half-demon leapt onto the nearest building and started hopping from roof to roof, heading the same way Kagome had gone.
Sango took a few steps forward before stopping to regard the fallen monk. "You'd have my sympathy, but, personally, I think you deserved that. There's a limit to how far Inuyasha can be pushed, and that limit is very short when it concerns Kagome. I would've thought that, after all this time, you would have learned when to stop." Having said her piece, Sango ran off after the half-demon and the young priestess.
Kirara and Shippo raced after the demon slayer. Not quite sure what to do, Ryoga went over to Miroku and offered him a hand, pulling the monk to his feet.
Trying to retain as much dignity as he could, Miroku dusted himself off and followed the others at a brisk pace. Mentally shrugging, Ryoga jogged after him to avoid becoming lost.
Once the two males reached the clearing, they instantly had to take cover as half a dozen arrows whizzed towards them. Ryoga peeked around the side of a hut he was ducking behind - the same one Inuyasha had hidden behind - but had to instantly pull back as an arrow angrily hissed by, missing him by a few centimetres.
Sango crawled up beside them and gestured for them to stay where they were. All three of them grit their teeth as an obnoxious voice rang out.
"If you've come to play hero and rescue the girl, think again! We've got you pinned down and your half-mutt buddy is so full of arrows he looks more like a porcupine! Just go home and leave the girl with us, I promise she'll be treated like a queen," the male voice shouted out mockingly.
Shippo and Kirara came up from behind Sango. Kirara had her hackles raised and was hissing quietly, flexing her claws. Shippo looked dejected as he came close enough to be heard by all three.
"He's telling the truth. Inuyasha's lying on the ground full of arrows and Kagome's being held by a couple of men near the boss; her bow and arrows are being held by another guy halfway across the clearing!" Shippo wailed softly, praying to his father to make everything okay.
"Surrender and we'll let you live to serve us!" the voice called out.
'How dare he?!' Ryoga mentally raged, making a jerky movement to stand. He roughly bumped into another pickling barrel that was standing in the shade the hut provided, tipping it over. He could only watch, frozen, as the contents spilled all over him, the watery juices triggering his curse.
A/N: Well, what do you think? It took a while (as usual) but I got it done.
Enormous thanks to UpperClassK9 for being a kick-ass beta!!!
I found out, by watching anime trailers on various volumes of Fullmetal Alchemist, that Akiyuki is a real Japanese name. And, as you saw, Akiyuki is not going with the group. Or is she? Bwahaha!!! -cough- Sorry.
Yes, Ryoga can use the Shishi Hôkô-Dan as a wolf. He still has his ki, so it makes sense. He has also discovered the wonderful world of canine instincts; stronger and more numerous than those of a piglet. Apparently more annoying as well.
As for Ukyo's beyond weird dream… Yes, it does mean something. I'd tell you, but that would spoil it. -evil grin-
Le gasp! Kagome's been captured and Inuyasha's…
Please review and tell me your thoughts!