A1969: and here we go with chapter six.

Inuyasha: yeah—after three thousand years.

A1969: whatever! My plate's been full for the past couple of months, but now my load's lighter now.

Inuyasha: hmph!

Kagome: Inuyasha! Behave!

A1969: yeah, behave, boy! Anyway, thanks for all the reviews on the previous chapter! Hope you guys enjoy this one!

/-Chapter Six-\

T h e C l o a k e d F i g u r e

/\\/\\/

-Tsumiko-

I felt numb. I remembered Aunt Kagome telling me about scary monsters called 'vampires' and wondered if any of them had sucked my blood, because that was how I felt when the blind lady in front of me spoke about my mother. I felt as if the blood had rushed from my body, leaving me cold and surprised.

"My...mother?" I asked again, my eyes widening till they were larger than 'saucers'.

The blind lady only nodded, a mysterious smile on her face. "Her name was Mizuki, wasn't it? And, like you, she happened to be a moon demoness."

"You...how did you...know...?" I felt my heart racing in my chest. Instinct told me there was something very funny about the blind lady, and that I should run right now, but I told myself to be—what was the word?—sensible. I told myself to be sensible and stay put.

"I know a lot of things," the blind lady said again. She suddenly stopped in front of me and, to my surprise, she knelt on one knee, so she was level with my eyes. Her eyes...were they really blind? I felt as though they could see right into me.

"I see so many things, especially at night. Nothing can hide from my eyes, little Tsumiko," the lady went on as she stood up straight. "I even saw how Lord Sesshoumaru has been pushing you away for the last seventy years, and favouring your brother, Lord Shigeru."

My eyes widened in surprise as I stared at her. This woman...she knew that? But then again, everyone seemed to know that.

I scoffed, crossed my arms, and pouted. "Pft! Everyone knows that, Lady," I pointed out. "Besides, Shigeru's the heir. Of course, Father pays more attention to him."

The Lady suddenly gave me a creepy smile. "Do you also happen to know," she went on, her voice very quiet—and very creepy! "That no matter how hard he tries, Lord Sesshoumaru's thoughts are always trained on one person and one person alone? He thinks about her every single second of his existence. His thoughts of her might as well be the air he breathes."

My eyes widened even further. "My mother?" I asked. Father thought constantly about mother? But...that was impossible, right? I mean, he did everything in his power to remove all traces of her from the castle...no, not just from the castle, but from the lands as well. And here it seemed that the one place he couldn't banish her from was his thoughts.

I bit my lower lip. The fact that this lady could see my Father's most private thoughts unnerved me. I slowly uncrossed my arms. "Who...who are you?" I asked.

The lady smiled even more mysteriously and her face, framed by the moonlight, made her look like a goddess. "My name," she said, her voice soft. "Is Tsukino."

I looked at her. I could feel my eyes widen. There was something funny about this beautiful blind lady, and I didn't like the way it made me uneasy.

"Tsu...kino?" I muttered, taking a step back. "Who...are you?"

Tsukino turned her back on me, as though she didn't hear my question, and turned to Tsugumi. She was looking at Tsukino with a questioning look in her eyes.

"Tsugumi, I leave her to you," Tsukino said, as she walked back towards the entrance of the temple.

"Wait!" I shouted. "My mother! What do you know about her?"

Tsukino stopped in her tracks. She glanced at me from over her shoulder. Her milky eyes were narrowed in...sorrow?

"Your mother..." she said quietly. She loved you all enough to give up her life.

My eyes widened in surprise. Her last words were brushed across the surface of my mind. But there was something other than her words—her feelings? Sadness?

My eyes blinked again. I wasn't sure what her feelings were, in fact, I wasn't sure who exactly this woman was, but I was sure of one thing—she knew something about my mother.

And I would find out what it was.

/\\/\\

-Shigeru-

Where could that fool have possibly gone?

I could feel my eyebrows knitting together as the wind rushed past me. I flew soundlessly through the air, with Hakudoshi and Entei flying beside me. Hakudoshi had been quiet for the whole flight—not a word escaped him, which made me think that he was wondering where Tsumiko was.

I frowned. Though I did not dare express it aloud in Father's presence, I was...worried about my sister. Try as I might, I could not deny that there was a bond between us that forced me to find her.

If she could still be found.

What was I thinking? I was the son of Lord Sesshoumaru and heir to the Western Lands. I could easily find Tsumiko, if I wanted.

"Hey, Shigeru."

I glanced sideways at Hakudoshi. He was looking ahead into the darkness of the night sky. His eyes were narrowed.

"What?"

"Where do you think Tsumiko could have gone?" He was genuinely worried. Heh, he cared more for Tsumiko than Father ever could.

"If I knew the answer to that, we wouldn't be searching, would we?" I said quietly.

"Try sniffing her out," Hakudoshi suggested.

But I ignored him—something else engaged my attention...a low buzzing sound coming from behind us. I glanced behind. "Hornets?" I muttered, narrowing my eyes. No. Hornets did not fly this high, nor did they have red eyes.

Hakudoshi let out a sound of startled surprise. I turned to him. He was glancing behind him, behind us, at the hornets that trailed conspicuously behind us. He looked pale, and there was genuine disbelief in his wide, lavender eyes.

"Impossible," he said. "It...couldn't be..."

I grew impatient. "You know those things?"

He suddenly snapped out of his reverie and turned to me with gritted teeth and a fierce expression on his face. "Those are Saimyoshou," he said.

"Elaborate."

He increased his speed, and I easily followed suit. Hakudoshi looked grim, and he didn't look as though he would answer my question. I was about to demand further explanation when he beat me to it.

"Shigeru," he said slowly, his eyes fixed on the darkness of the night sky ahead of us. "Don't you know what the Saimyoshou are?" He didn't sound mocking.

"If I knew, why would I ask you?" I wondered, narrowing my eyes at him. "Don't beat around the bush." I flexed a clawed hand in front of my face and watched with satisfaction as my claws glowed violet. "I'd like to know what exactly I'm going to be killing."

Hakudoshi was silent. "The Saimyoshou are Naraku's insects—and they're following us."

My eyes widened, and I stopped so abruptly that Hakudoshi sped past me. I could feel my hair fluttering around me as I stopped, hovering in mid-air. Hakudoshi and Entei immediately turned back to me, stopping just a few yards away from me. Behind me I could hear the incessant buzz of the Saimyoshou...

But those were minor details my senses took in.

I was preoccupied with what Hakudoshi had just said. "Naraku?" I said slowly. "The bastard who opposed my Father and killed my Mother?"

Hakudoshi only looked at me.

I felt it then, felt the red clouding in on my vision as I spun around towards the incoming hoard of Saimyoshou. I narrowed my eyes and held out a clawed hand towards the filthy vermin.

"Die."

/\\/\

-Naraku-

I could feel a small smile on my face.

I had watched the boy and Hakudoshi through the red-tinged gaze of my Saimyoshou. Watched as the boy, Sesshoumaru's son, easily slaughtered my hoard of insects with the same imperiousness his father showed in battle.

Heh.

But there was something else in his demeanor, something that he hid quite well from Hakudoshi. Anger and revenge. So, this boy hated me for being the cause of his mother's death? The very thought amused me.

Shigeru had slaughtered the last of my Saimyoshou and now, I couldn't see them. I smirked to myself as I leaned back, feeling the smoothness of the Sacred Jewel in the palm of my hand. I glanced at it.

I will give you this, so as long as you help me draw her out.

Those were the words he had said, the one who had brought me back. Hmph. I would draw her out, but not before I had my revenge.

Black light radiated from the Sacred Jewel as I brought it close to my face. I smirked again. Revenge...

I would make them rue the day they had defied me.

And I knew just how.

/\\/\\/

-Kagome-

I shook my head, my eyes wide with disbelief.

This cannot be happening—our friend cannot be standing in front of us, alive...alive and an enemy.

"What's going on, Miroku?" Inuyasha said, glaring at him. "If Naraku's really back, why'd he resurrect both you and Sango?"

Miroku raised an eyebrow. "How many times have I heard that line in one night...?" he muttered, scratching his head.

Inuyasha growled at him, Tessaiga aimed at his head. "Don't make me hurt you! Now, answer the damn question!"

"Huh?" Miroku said, blinking. "Hurt me? You would use the Tessaiga on me, Inuyasha?" The monk let out a long, suffering sigh. "Well...if that's the way you want it, then I guess I better hurt you before you hurt me, eh?"

"What?"

"Wind Tunnel!"

I gasped as I felt myself pulled in my Miroku's Wind Tunnel. I clawed frantically at the ground, trying to clutch at the smallest crevice in the flagstones to keep myself from being pulled in.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha's hand reached out and grabbed my wrist and, at the same time, he plunged the Tessaiga into the ground. "What the hell are you doing, dammit, Miroku!"

Miroku chuckled. "Only doing what I'm ordered to do—that's all."

My eyes widened. "Ordered to do?" I shouted above the roar of the wind. "Since when have you done anyone's bidding, let alone Naraku's?" I felt both angry and afraid. How could Miroku—if that was really him—follow Naraku's bidding? How could he so easily turn his back on his friends and allies?

"How could this have happened?" I shrieked, furious.

Miroku's malicious laughter echoed above the roar of his Wind Tunnel. "Some things change, Kagome, and it's time for you all to realize that!" Was it just me, or did the wind seem to increase in strength?

Inuyasha's eyes widened in shock. Tessaiga was slowly coming loose from the ground...

"Dammit!" Inuyasha growled.

I clung on tighter to Inuyasha. The sword was coming loose...any second now...

"Enough!" A second later, the sound of an arrow being released resounded above the roar of the wind.

"Dammit!" I heard Miroku curse. A second later, the wind stopped.

I blinked in surprise as Inuyasha helped me to my feet and pulled out the Tessaiga. Standing in front of us was a woman with long dark hair that the wind blew to one side. Her brown eyes were narrowed, and a bow was raised in her hand. It was still aimed at Miroku, Miroku who glared at the woman we all recognized with ease.

"Kikyou?" Inuyasha said.

/\\/\\/

-Tsugumi-

"Where are we going?" Tsumiko asked—again.

I let out a sigh. "To a room. I think I've told you this before."

I glanced over my shoulder. She was looking at me with those wide bluish-gray eyes of hers. "A room?"

"Yes, a room." I gave her a small smile. "You don't think we'd let you sleep on the veranda now, did you?"

She stopped. "You're letting me stay here?"

"Yes, but only for tonight." I stopped as well and turned to her. "Someone may come looking for you, you know."

She looked down at the ground. Something changed in her expression. She looked more quiet, her eyes downcast. "My father wouldn't come looking for me, not in a million years."

To my surprise, I felt myself feeling sorry for this little demon. Her father obviously didn't think much of her, and I was sorely reminded of the fact that I never knew my own father. "Perhaps he will come for you," I said, as I turned my back and continued walking on.

"Father hates me." She sounded dejected.

"I couldn't fathom a reason appropriate enough for a father to hate his own daughter," I said. I heard her catching up to me.

"Father hates me, because I remind him too much of my mother." She sounded bitter. For a little girl to sound this bitter...

I stopped, turned around to face her, and knelt down so I was level with her eyes. "I don't think he hates you," I said, smiling. "You know what I think? I think he just feels uncomfortable having you near—that's different from hate. Give him some time."

To my surprise, she gave me a wide smile and, to my astonishment, she threw herself at me. "Thank you, Tsugumi-san!" she said. "And here I thought you were a stuck-up, cold, and annoying lady!"

I blinked and sighed. "I'm glad you think differently now." She let go of me, and I stood up. I looked down at her and smiled. "C'mon, then. Let's go find you a room, shall we?"

/\\/\\/

-Kagome-

"Ah, Kikyou!" Miroku said. "Long time no see!"

Kikyou raised an eyebrow. "I didn't expect to see you as well, monk." She notched another arrow to her bow and aimed it at Miroku. "Tell me—what is going on? Why has Naraku brought you back?" She narrowed her eyes menacingly—I knew that look well. "Most importantly...Who has resurrected Naraku?"

Inuyasha and I glanced at each other. Of course! Naraku had died, so someone must have brought him back as well. The moment I thought of this, a chill crept down my spine. If someone else had resurrected Naraku, then it was possible that there was someone other than him who was pulling the strings behind all this...

But who?

Miroku grinned at Kikyou. "What kind of villain would I be if I divulged my master's secret?"

I snapped. "What the hell are you saying?" I shouted. "Why...why are you referring to Naraku as 'master'? Have you totally lost it? Have you forgotten all the pain he put us through? The pain he put you and Sango through?"

Miroku chuckled. "I don't even know what kind of pain you're talking about."

My eyes widened in surprise and disbelief. What was he saying? Had he forgotten everything that Naraku did to both him and Sango?

Kikyou and Inuyasha were both looking at Miroku with narrowed eyes. "We've heard enough," Kikyou said as she drew the string of her bow. "Miroku—go back to your grave and rest!" A second later, her arrow flew through the air, towards Miroku.

Miroku suddenly jumped up to avoid the arrow and, at the same time, a white blur sped beneath Miroku, catching him as he fell back to the ground.

My eyebrows rose in surprise. The white blur turned out to be a feather...

"Long time no see, Inuyasha, Kagome," a familiar, haughty voice said.

"Kagura!" I shouted.

Kagura grinned. She, Miroku and Sango were riding on her feather, hovering several feet above us. "You look the same as always." The wind witch smirked, closing her fan with a loud snap.

"You bastard!" Inuyasha snarled. "What the hell is going on?"

Kagura smirked. "I'd love to stay and reminisce about old times, Inuyasha, but, unfortunately, we're a little busy." There was a gust of wind as her feather rose higher and higher until it was nothing more than a speck in the starry night sky.

It was suddenly very quiet.

"I don't get it," a familiar voice said.

We all turned to the voice. We'd nearly forgotten about Kiyoshige and Shippou. "Grandfather and grandmother are both alive..." He shook his head. "I don't understand."

"So do we," I said, sighing. I turned to Kikyou. "What brings you here?"

Kikyou sighed. "I felt a disturbance coming from the east," she began. "So, I got up and came to see."

"You came all the way here?" I said, incredulous. Then I remembered that Kikyou had her own conventional means of covering long distances.

"Inuyasha...does your brother know of this?" Kikyou asked, turning to him.

Inuyasha shrugged. "I'm not sure—it's a long way west. We usually ride on Kirara."

Kikyou nodded, her eyes narrowing. "Then I suggest we go there. Now."

"We're coming with you!" Kyoshige and Shippou said in unison.

Inuyasha was about to protest, when I beat him to it. "Sure." I smiled at them. "Besides—both of you would still find a way to come, even if we said 'no'."

/\\/\\/

-Hakudoshi-

Shigeru had been silent ever since the encounter with the Saimyoshou. His eyes were narrowed at the distant horizon, and I think finding Tsumiko must have slipped out of his mind. We were still flying, but I don't think Shigeru was paying any attention to where we were headed. I think he was more preoccupied with Naraku's Saimyoshou.

Can't say that I blame him. Heck, I was surprised at seeing Naraku's insects again. What did this mean? Did this mean that Naraku was alive? But that wasn't possible—he was dead. Kikyou and Kagome had killed him, and Mizuki had sacrificed her life so they could eradicate the bastard.

So, what did the appearance of those insects mean?

Before I could ponder any further, Shigeru suddenly descended. "Hey!" I shouted as I followed him. Entei easily caught up to him as he landed on the ground.

I dismounted and glanced around. Tall trees surrounded us, their shadow falling on the ground like long tentacles, reminding me strongly of Naraku again.

Shigeru was looking around, his eyes narrowed. "What's up?" I asked. "Do you sense anything?"

He shook his head. "No, but it feels as though someone is watching..."

I glanced around again. There was no one. "Even from the sky?"

He didn't answer. Instead, he walked through a gap in the trees. I sighed. "C'mon, Entei," I muttered as I followed Shigeru's mane of silver hair. "Something's got that kid worked up. He may not be as keen as his father yet, but I think we can trust his instincts."

I glanced around once more before I followed Shigeru. I narrowed my eyes as I scanned the trees. There was nothing there—no minor demons, no animals, no humans...nothing.

But it really did feel as though someone was watching.

/\\/

-?-

I smiled to myself. Those two could sense me, despite my hidden scent and aura. From my perch above the trees, I could see the two boys walk through a gap in the trees, vanishing from my line of sight. The boy with the horse stopped and glanced around at the trees, his eyes narrowed, searching for me...

I'm up here, boy.

But no. I was instructed not to reveal myself to them—yet. I was only told to watch them, so my master could see what I saw...

The boy and his horse vanished through the gap in the trees, and I could no longer see them. I would have to follow them. I stood up on the branch of my tree, wrapping my cloak tighter around me.

/\\/\\

-Kagome-

Sesshoumaru did not look pleased.

He was standing in the courtyard, looking up at as we descended. From this distance, I could see that his eyes were narrowed at us. He looked...annoyed? I couldn't tell. But then again, I would be annoyed if I sensed that my brother and his group were heading towards my castle at the crack of dawn.

Kirara landed in the courtyard, several paces away from the demon lord. I got off, and the others followed.

"Little brother," Sesshoumaru said, narrowing his eyes. "What brings you here?" His voice was colder than normal. Ha! He was annoyed.

It wasn't Inuyasha who answered. "Lord Sesshoumaru," Kikyou said. "I'm afraid we have much to discuss."

Sesshoumaru lifted an eyebrow. It had been seventy years since he had last seen Kikyou, and I was sure he was surprised to see her here, even though his face betrayed no such emotion. "I have nothing I wish to discuss with you."

"We have something we wanna talk to you about," I said.

His gaze shifted to me. "Indeed." He paused. "I have no time for idle chatter." I noticed then that he was dressed in full armor. Didn't he sleep at all? Not that demons like him needed it much, anyway.

"But—!" I protested. Sesshoumaru ignored me as he turned his back on us. He was about to fly off, I realized. But where would he be headed?

"Don't bother, Kagome," Inuyasha said, snorting. "I'm sure he's too busy to hear about Naraku."

Sesshoumaru stopped, and glanced over his shoulder at Inuyasha. "Naraku?"

/\\/\\/

-Tsumiko-

I felt something warm all over me, and something bright on my eyelids. I yawned as I opened my eyes. Sunlight filtered through the paper screens, making me blink. I shielded my eyes with my hands, and groaned. I liked sunlight, but I hated it when it blinded me like this.

I yawned. Did Rin-neesan wake up already? Waking her up was one of my favorite parts of the day, 'cause I got to try out various ways on how to wake her. Since she was such a heavy sleeper, I once doused her with cold water. She ended up chasing me all over the palace for it.

I giggled as I threw the sheets of me and stood up, all at once. "RIN-NEESAN! GOOD MOR—"

Huh? I blinked when I found myself in a sparsely furnished room. Where was...?

Oh. Right. I'd run away last night.

I sat back down on my futon, remembering what had happened last night. I'd run away, nearly got eaten by an ugly demon, got saved by Tsugumi-san, was introduced to Tsukino-san...

I wondered. Was Father looking for me, like Tsugumi-san said he would?

Before I could ponder more on this, the screen door slid open to reveal Tsugumi-san standing there. She was dressed in her miko garb, and she was holding a wooden tray in her hands. There was a bowl of food and tea on the tray.

"Good morning, Tsumiko," she said, smiling as entered the room. She closed the door behind her and knelt on the floor. She smiled at me. Really—how could I think she was snobbish and stuck-up? "I brought you food." She placed the tray on the floor.

I beamed at her as I sat in front of her, the tray in front of me. It was a bowl of rice, a dish of daikon and some fish. There was also a glass of tea.

"I'm sorry if human food doesn't appeal to your taste," she said apologetically.

I shook my head. "It's okay!" I reassured as I took the bowl. "I eat human food all the time."

She tilted her head, her long dark spilling over her shoulder. "Your father allows you to eat human food?"

My smile faltered at the mention of Father. "Forget that I asked," Tsugumi said hurriedly.

I shook my head. "It's alright," I reassured. "Father doesn't care much about me to know what I'm eating, so he can't disapprove." I grinned at her.

But she sighed. "I'm sorry I asked."

I shook my head again. "Don't be." I finished my breakfast in silence.

Tsugumi collected the tray, stood up and looked down at me. "I can guide you out of the forest now, so you can go home," she said.

"No! No!" I said. "I don't wanna go home yet."

She frowned. "Your father may come looking for you here," she said quietly. Her tone was suddenly serious. "And I'm afraid Tsukino and I cannot allow a demon to come near this temple."'

"What about me?" I pointed out.

She smiled. "You are an exception," she said, shaking her head. "Still, even if your father didn't look for you, wouldn't your family be worried?"

I looked down. Of course...How could I have been so thoughtless? Doshi would worry about me...and Shigeru (though he won't say so), and Rin-neesan and then there was Grandmamma...and Uncle Inuyasha and Aunt Kagome...

I sighed. Tsugumi-san was right. I looked up at her. "Can we leave later, though?"

She smiled. "If you want."

/\\/\\

-Kagome-

Sesshoumaru was silent. We were in his study. He was sitting at his low desk, his elbows resting on the desk, his long, pale fingers linked together. I sat beside Inuyasha while Kikyou sat beside me. Kiyoshige and Shippou were both leaning against the wall, at the back of the room.

Sesshoumaru had listened as we explained. Listened as the sun rose, listened as we told him about our encounter with Sango, Miroku and Kagura. As he listened, his expression remained aloof and impassive, but I noted that his eyes grew colder and colder as we talked. I knew what he was thinking...

Naraku being alive meant that Mizuki had died in vain. Her death had been for nothing.

And now, a heavy silence hung in the room. No one dared make the smallest noise in this kind of Sesshoumaru-induced silence. Minutes ticked by and the silence was broken by the gentle patter of feet just outside the door. A second later, the door to the study slid open.

"Father, I—" It was Rin. She stopped, her eyes widening when she saw us gathered in Sesshoumaru's study at this time of morning. "Oh," she said. Everyone looked at her as she glanced around. Her eyes landed on Kiyoshige and they widened in surprise, before she looked at Sesshoumaru.

"Rin?" Sesshoumaru said, not looking at her. He was still looking at his interlocked fingers.

"Shigeru and Hakudoshi aren't back yet...neither is Tsumiko," Rin said, hesitantly adding the last part.

We stared at her, concerned. "Where are they?" I asked.

Rin chewed on her lower lip as Sesshoumaru's eyes snapped to hers. "They will be back soon." I could detect no trace of reassurance in his cold voice.

"But..." Something in Sesshoumaru's look made Rin shut her mouth. I was sure he didn't want us interfering.

"Where're Shigeru, Hakudoshi and Tsumiko?" I asked Sesshoumaru.

His eyes flickered to me, and I inwardly cringed. "Tsumiko ran off in the middle of the night. My son and the boy are searching for her." I was surprised that he bothered to explain at all.

"What?" Inuyasha asked, narrowing his eyes. "Where'd she go?"

"If they knew, they would have returned by now with her in tow, wouldn't they Little Brother?"

"And you're saying this so casually?" I snapped. Everyone looked surprised that I dared speak to him in such a tone. "Aren't you at all worried about them? And why aren't you out there searching for her as well?"

"I will not be ordered."

"As if I could ever dream of ordering you, of all people, around!" I huffed. "She's your daughter—aren't you worried that something might happen to her?"

He was silent. I huffed again, stood up, and turned towards the door. "C'mon, Inuyasha!" I said, dragging him by the collar as I made for the door.

"Hey!" the hanyou snapped as I slid the door open. "What the hell do you think you're doing, woman?"

"We're going to find Tsumiko!"

"What about Naraku?"

"Kikyou and Sesshoumaru can talk about it!"

"Let him find Tsumiko—she's his kid!"

I didn't reply as I dragged Inuyasha out and slid the door shut with a bang.

/\\/\\/

-Hakudoshi-

Dammit.

The sun had fully risen by now, and there was still no sign of Tsumiko. I glanced up at the trees, my eyes narrowed. Where was that little idiot? Where could she have possibly run off to? Though, I didn't admit it out loud, I was worried about that kid. She wasn't weak, but she hadn't quite learned how to use her powers yet.

I froze. What if some demon got her? I shook my head. Heh, jumping to conclusions like that was something I wouldn't normally do.

"Shigeru, are you absolutely certain you can't sniff her out?" I asked the boy walking ahead of me.

"If I could, we'd have found her by now, don't you think?"

I let out a small growl of frustration. "Maybe she's not in this forest," I suggested. He was silent. "Maybe it's better if you, Entei, and I split up."

"Do what you want."

I lifted an eyebrow. That sounded so Sesshoumaru-like. I shook my head. Was the boy deliberately trying to be like his father, or was he really just like this? Sometimes, even I couldn't guess what was going on in that silver head of his.

Shigeru suddenly stopped in his tracks and, at the same time, I sensed it. A presence.

"Entei, over there!" I ordered. The horse neighed as flames spewed from his nostrils and at the trees. The leaves of the trees caught fire and smoke immediately curled upward. A black figure jumped from the smoke and landed neatly in front of Shigeru.

The figure was wearing a black cloak, with the hood drawn, so its face was covered in shadow. Its scent and aura were sealed, but something about this figure made me sure that it was the same presence that had been watching us last night.

"Who are you?" Shigeru asked, his voice almost drowned by the sound of the burning tree.

The figure did not answer. There was something about its stance that made me think this person was a woman.

"You are Lord Shigeru, the young son of Lord Sesshoumaru?" I blinked. I was right—it was a woman. There was something about her tone of voice that was haunting. It was as though it was completely devoid of emotion, like Kanna.

Shigeru narrowed his eyes at the woman. "Who are you?" he snapped.

The woman was silent. She turned her head in my direction. "And you..." she began, her voice oddly blank. "You are...Hakudoshi?"

I narrowed my eyes and pointed my naginata at her. "Who're you?" I demanded. "And how do you know our names?"

The woman didn't answer. Her hooded face turned towards Shigeru. She seemed to be considering. "I was told to kill you." Shigeru glared at her. Normally, someone else would've said it with malicious intent, but this woman...her voice was a complete blank, just like Kanna's.

She reached into her cloak and slowly drew out a dagger. Its handle was cherrywood and carved with intricate designs. She tilted it in her hand so the blade glinted in the sunlight. "What do you prefer?" she asked, her voice still blank. "A quick painless death, or a long suffering end?"

Shigeru smirked at her. "Big words coming from small fry like you." Without hesitation, the young heir's claws glowed with an eerie violet light and, at the same time, he rushed towards her, claws outstretched.

The woman easily dodged his claws by stepping sideways. Shigeru sped past her, leaving his back completely open to her. The woman's dagger glinted as she plunged it towards his back.

Quick as a flash, I rushed towards the woman, naginata aimed at her heart. "Watch it, Shigeru!" I snapped. The woman jumped into the air to avoid my dagger. Her cloak rustled as she landed neatly on her feet behind me.

"Don't get in my way!" Shigeru snapped, glaring at me.

"She was about to hit you, you idiot!" I said.

The woman suddenly chuckled. I narrowed my eyes at her. Her laugh was so...lifeless. There was no mockery in it, there was nothing.

"Don't bother fighting," she crooned. "Both of you will die, anyway—"

Her eyes widened in surprise. She spun around just in time to meet a spurt of fire from Entei. She held out her hand towards the flames, and my eyes widened in surprise. The flames wrapped around her hand and vanished in a puff of smoke.

"Very, very amusing," she commented. "However, that's not enough to—"

"Shigeru! Hakudoshi!"

The woman's hooded face turned towards the trees just as Inuyasha and Kagome burst through the leaves of the bushes. Inuyasha already had his Tessaiga drawn and Kagome had already notched an arrow to her bow. Both were pointing their weapons at the cloaked woman.

"Who the hell are you?" Inuyasha snapped.

The woman's cloaked face turned to them. I could almost picture her smirking. "Lord Inuyasha?" she said quietly.

Inuyasha started and glared at her. "Who're you?"

"I am one of Naraku's minions," she answered, her voice still blank.

Of one of Naraku's minions? Could she be another version of Kanna?

"Naraku..." We all turned, surprised, to Shigeru. He was looking at the woman with a look of pure hate in his eyes. "If you are indeed an incarnate of that bastard—then it's best if you die!" Without another word, Shigeru charged towards her, fury in his eyes.

"Shigeru no!" Kagome shouted.

The woman jumped in the air to avoid him and landed on the branch of the tree. She looked down at us, her face still hidden by the shadow of her cloak.

"Heh," the woman said. "I look forward to seeing you all again."

In the blink of an eye, she vanished. It was quiet for a moment, then the silence was broken by Kagome's voice.

"Shigeru, Hakudoshi!" the miko said, rushing towards us. "Are you two alright?"

"We're fine," I said. I pointed a thumb towards Shigeru, who was glaring at the branch the woman had been standing on earlier. "He may not be, though. I think his pride is wounded."

"Shut up," Shigeru snapped, glaring at me.

Kagome let out a sigh of relief. "At least you two are alright," she murmured.

"Who was that woman?" Inuyasha asked. He sheathed Tessaiga.

I shrugged. "No idea," I said. "We were looking for Tsumiko when she suddenly—"

Kagome's eyes suddenly widened in realization. "Oh no!" she gasped. "Inuyasha!"

"What?"

"Tsumiko! If that woman was after Hakudoshi and Shigeru, she might be searching for Tsumiko, too!"

Inuyasha's eyes widened in horror. "Oh, shoot."

/\\/\\/

-Tsumiko-

My eyes were wide with fascination.

I was watching Tsugumi-san practicing with her naginata. She was actually more skilled with the naginata than with the bow and arrow, I'd learned. We were both in the woods that surrounded the temple. Tsugumi-san wanted to practice before she took me back out of the woods and I had agreed. Besides...I was in no hurry to go back to the palace.

I was sitting under a large tree, just watching Tsugumi-san. Her movements were fluid and silent. I sighed. As soon as Tsugumi-san was done, she would take me out of the forest. Hm...was everyone in the palace worried about me?

When I thought about Rin-neesan, Hakudoshi and Shigeru worrying about me, I felt guilty. I didn't want them to worry about me. But I also didn't want to see Father yet. Who knew? He might still be mad at me.

I scratched my head. "He wouldn't be mad," I muttered to myself. "'Cause if he was mad, that would mean that he cared. He doesn't care, so he's not mad." I grumbled to myself. I might have looked like a crazy moron.

"Tsumiko-chan, are you alright?" I looked up. Tsugumi-san was standing in front of me, her naginata slung across her shoulders. She raised her eyebrows at me. "You were muttering to yourself. Is something troubling you?"

"Ah, no!" I said, shaking my head as I hastily stood up. "No! No! I'm fine! I'm not worrying about Father, or anything..." I grinned at her.

She smiled hesitantly at me. "Alright. Are you ready to leave now?"

I sobered and the smile vanished from my face. "Uhm..." I sighed. "Yeah, I guess..."

"That's too bad."

Quick as a flash, Tsugumi-san was standing in front of me, her naginata clutched tightly in her hands. I blinked. There was a woman standing in front of Tsugumi-san. She had blood-red eyes and blood-red lips. She was holding a fan in her hand, and she was using it to fan herself.

"You're leaving so soon, little Tsumiko?" the woman asked. I gasped. How did this creepy woman know my name?

"Who are you?" Tsugumi-san asked. She sounded angry. "How dare you come close to our temple!"

The woman yawned. "Temple, temple, temple," she said, bored. "I get so fed up when I hear priestesses or monks saying those lines over and over"—she suddenly held out her fan sideways—"and over again."

Tsugumi-san glared at her. Oh no! Did Tsugumi-san intend to fight the woman? The woman—she seemed to know me. My eyes widened. Was this woman here because of me? Did Father send her? But...I've never seen this woman before.

"Tsgumi-san..." I said with uncertainty.

"Do you know her, Tsumiko-chan?" she asked. I shook my head. "Then get behind me, and don't do anything stupid."

"Big words," the red-eyed woman snorted. "Let's see how big they are after you've tasted my power! Dance of Blades!" It was as though the woman conjured blades made from the wind. I gasped as the blades sped towards Tsugumi-san!

Before I could call out a warning, Tsugumi-san's naginata glowed with a white light, and I felt warmth envelope me. The woman's wind blades sped towards Tsugumi-san and they rammed against an unseen wall in front of her. A barrier, I realized.

"I also get tired," the red-eyed woman said. "Of priestesses who keep putting up annoying barriers! Dance of the Dra—"

"Kagura, enough." The voice was feminine and devoid of emotion.

Tsugumi-san and I glanced towards the voice. A cloaked figure was leaning against a tree. It was a woman, and her arms were crossed. Her face was hidden in shadow, but she was looking at Kagura.

Tsugumi-san tensed. There was something off about this woman, something that made Tsugumi-san narrow her eyes in worry.

"Enough?" Kagura snapped, glaring at the newcomer. "Who died and made you boss of everything?"

Kagura's eyes suddenly widened in shock. She suddenly fell on all fours to the ground, gasping, her eyes wide with shock. I felt the hair on my arms stand on end. Was the cloaked woman doing this?

"I do not like your disobedience," the cloaked woman said, as she straightened. She looked at Kagura, who suddenly stopped gasping from pain.

Kagura looked up at her and glared, but the woman paid her no mind. Instead, she turned her shadowed face towards us. "And as for you two," she said.

Tsugumi-san tensed. "Tsumiko-chan, I think you should run," she said quietly.

"What?" I said. "No way! I can't leave Tsugumi-san behind!"

"Very brave for such a little girl," the woman said. Beside her, Kagura straightened. "However, bravery can only take you so far." She suddenly drew a dagger from within her cloak. Underneath the cloak, she was wearing a black kimono, tied with a white sash at her waist.

"Tsumiko-chan," Tsugumi-san said quietly. "I want you to run, please."

"But—!"

"Run!"

There was such a note of fierce command in her voice that I turned to run. But as I did so, I saw a figure emerge from the shadow of the trees, a figure that made me stop in my tracks with both surprise and confusion.

I was stunned. As a pair of impossibly cold eyes looked at me, I could only say one word...

"Fa...father?"

/\\/\\/\\/\\

A1969: finally! Updated!

Inuyasha: I was gonna say something insulting, but never mind.

Kagome: Inuyasha...

Inuyasha: what? I didn't say anything.

Kagome: sit boy!

A1969: -sigh- anyway, I hope you guys enjoyed that chapter! Review please! : D