Disclaimer: These characters belong to Rumiko Takahashi and other associated companies.

Chapter One: Missing

Shapeless and heavy, an ominous blade intruded into the haze of Kagome's mind as she slept. It punctured through her dreams and tore whimpers from her lips. Her pleas, however, went unheeded as it sunk in deeper, its malevolent intent focusing into a once welcoming image. Dyed in familiar red and white, a vision of Inuyasha appeared before her, soothing her anxiety with the warmth of his presence.

"Inuyasha," she whispered. The edges that defined him solidified, burning away the creeping darkness that surrounded him. "I'm so glad you're here."

"Feh," the half demon answered, a fang clipping his lip, and he smirked despite her concern. He held her with his spirited gaze, his warm amber irises split by knifelike pupils. Easy relief began to fill her lungs as she soaked up the sight of him and his indomitable confidence. His brow furrowed. "Are you all right, Kagome? You seem worried."

"I'm sorry," she apologized with a blushing laugh, embarrassed by what must have been simply a nightmare. "I know I shouldn't be, but-"

"But you should be."


"You should be afraid," he finished darkly.

His body shuddered and the self-assured smile she relied upon faded. Once brimming with life, his now confused eyes dulled behind a milky film. Blood trickled from the corners of his mouth and poured down from his ears through his thick locks of hair. With a sickening thump, his forearm fell to the ground, severed at the elbow. His other arm followed, splattering red when it struck. Knees buckled and his dismembering body collapsed into a heap of blood-drenched clothes and disjointed parts. Lolling to the side, his head then toppled from his neck and tumbled down the lumps. Across the ground, it bounced and rolled until it came to a stop before her.

Staring up with vacant eyes and blood smeared across his face, he rasped her name. "Kagome."

"Inuyasha!" the priestess cried out as she woke up with a start. Stinging her neck and forehead, sweat beaded on her flush skin. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her gasping breath tore at her raw throat. She buried her head into her hands and felt a sob come on.

It was all a dream. A nightmare. There was the smoky scent of embers from a firepit nearby. A source of comfort, she let its familiarity anchor her. This was real. That she knew. And her body started to slow down and relax.

She brushed away her bangs sticky with sweat and looked around the small campsite. Nothing more than a gentle, orange glow, she discovered the reassuring firepit beside her. Beyond it, tall conifers surrounded her like sentries, protecting her from the elements while she slept.

The cool night air then brushed against her moist skin, and the miko pulled her disheveled priestess clothing closer. With the heat from her terrifying nightmare cooling, the chill touch of autumn had again found her. Normally she wouldn't be camping so late in the season, but she and Inuyasha had been summoned by a youkai extermination emergency. After their success, they had begun the trip home. Even with him carrying her nearly the entire way, it was still two days of traveling across the rugged terrain of feudal Japan.

She gasped as a thought struck her. Where was Inuyasha?

"Inuyasha!" she yelled, finding her footing. Her eyes darted back and forth between the intertwined branches of the trees. Silhouetted in black against the moonlight, no hanyous sat cradled in their limbs. "Inuyasha!"

A dead silence answered her calls. Even the harmonious tunes of the crickets were strangely absent. Kagome bent down, gathering up her quiver and bow. Slinging them onto her back, she scanned the campsite one last time for a hopeful glimpse of red. Finding what she expected and not what she wanted, she took a deep breath and entered the dark forest.

Moonlight lit her way as she wove through the undergrowth, its rays dappling the path in gray-blue. From the low-lying foliage to the reaching canopy high above, she poured over every shadow for him.

A warm sensation stirred in her body. Sharpening with every step, the tingle of electricity coursed down her spine and she knew instantly where to go. The prickle of purification magic swelled in the air, and somewhere beyond the curtain of trees was its source.

Forging her own trail as she followed the magic, bony branches clawed at her clothing as she pressed through the undergrowth. Beyond, brighter hues of unfiltered moonlight peeked, promising an end to the dense forest. Her pace quickened, and she stumbled through the last of it and out onto a dirt road.

With needles and twigs tangled in her hair, she walked across the road and entered a large clearing that lay on the other side. Ahead, she could feel a tingling warmth. Rife with tall grass, she waded through the field, the silvery blades brushing against her. The intensity of the magic grew with every step until she unexpectedly found a hidden boulder with her foot. Catching herself before she could trip, she turned to examine the rock. Looped around its girth was a large hemp rope, which continued deep into the grass, its two ends curving away in opposing directions. Taking one length in her hand, she traced its path. The thick cord slid through her grasp until she felt a hanging piece of paper catch her fingertips. Lifting the rope up higher, she spied a folded streamer, and her heart sank with a foreboding realization. A powerful seal had been constructed in this clearing. Now knowing what she was looking at, she scanned beyond the rope to see the disrupted soil and bent grass that filled the circle-shaped barrier.

Letting the rope fall back into place, she took a deep breath before gingerly stepping over it and into the seal. Weaker than she anticipated, the barrier felt weirdly broken to her senses. She knelt to examine the overturned earth and to tug at a few shreds of bruised grass. In her brief yet intensive experience, even the most powerful seals didn't disturb the land they were cast upon. A struggle must have happened here. As she continued to sort through the trampled field in her quest to understand it, a strange shape stole her attention next. Out of place, it was the end of a wood rod, and she leaned forward to pick it up.

"The Staff of Heads?" she whispered as she retrieved what turned out to be an ornately crafted staff topped with the carved heads of an old man and a young woman. Lighter than it looked, she noticed a spattering of dots as she turned it over. Smearing when she touched them, the droplets dyed her fingers in their dark color. She rubbed the strange liquid between her fingertips, and then put it up to her nose to sniff. A metallic tone permeated its odor, and she knew before she tasted it what it could only be. Sharp on her tongue and completely inimitable, it was blood.

Rising to her feet, she saw the clearing with new eyes. Across the turmoil of grass and soil, generous sprays of blood clung, glowing eerily red when the moonlight struck them just right. The heavy pounding of her heartbeat returned as a wave of dread washed over her. More than a simple skirmish, a brutal battle had happened here, and as she stepped back, the scarred earth took a new shape. Disguised by the shredded grass, straight grooves dug deeply into the ground, their furrows growing more pronounced as they fanned away from her.

"Kaze no Kizu," Kagome whispered the technique that only Tessaiga wrought. Then, she cried out. "Inuyasha!"

She tried to swallow down her ratcheting fear as the air carried his name into the night without reply. Soon, she was trampling around the circle, desperately calling out for the missing hanyou. In her unchecked worry, she nearly missed a pair of dark stains that led away from the barrier through the otherwise pristine sea of green. A short distance from where she had made her own entrance, the trails snaked toward the road. One was massive, as if a creature a bit bigger than a horse had been dragged through the clearing. Beside it, a smaller figure had been dragged in the same fashion. A figure the size of a man.

Doggedly chasing her only clue, Kagome chose the smaller trail and made her way down it. Muddled with the soil, smears of blood lined the bottom of the trail, and she did her best to keep the worst from her mind as she searched for the distinct red of firerat fur. An unexpected sigh of relief escaped her as it ended emptily at the road. Combining with the generous pools from the adjacent trail, the blood clotted into thick blobs as it mixed with the dirt. Then it ended after a few short steps.

Ahead, she noticed wheel impressions surrounded by sandaled footprints. Kneeling down, she examined the fresh texture of the impressions. A wagon had been the destination for what had been dragged through the clearing, its trail remarkably clear even to her untrained eye. Rising to stand, her eyes caught a bit of white conspicuously tangled in the grip of a low-hanging branch. She reached out and plucked it. Undoing the knotted mass with her fingers, it was revealed to be long, thick, white hair speckled with red. A fresh urgency gripped Kagome's heart.

"Inuyasha," she whispered again, tears stinging her eyes while she clutched the hair. "I'm coming."

A sudden rustle of leaves and snapping twigs startled the miko before she could take her first step to his rescue. Spinning swiftly on her heel, she turned to face a lonely copse of trees that appeared like a solitary island just beyond the broken barrier. The sounds died quickly, leaving the night air silent again.

Motionless and wide-eyed, she stared at the distant clump of trees. Every shadow seemed menacing, transforming into terrifying monsters when she looked too long. Biting her lower lip, she willfully discounted them as figments of her overly excited imagination, denying them the chance to falter her resolve. Then as if anticipating her determination, another abrupt crunching of leaves made her gasp in fear.

Kagome swallowed. Still, there was something there. She turned away to face the road where it wound out of sight into the woods. Fear aside, she had to make a choice. One was the path to Inuyasha, and undoubtedly the quicker she took it, the sooner she would be able to save him. Rubbing his lock of hair between her fingers, she then returned her gaze to the mysterious copse. She couldn't ignore the possible clues it might hold. Ones that might better ensure his rescue.

Gently, she set the Staff of Heads down in the grass, and then reached behind to retrieve her bow from her back. She had made her decision.

A/N: I warn all who read this that from this chapter on out the story gets very dark and psychological with characters doing things that they might not do under other circumstances. I really want to stretch what it means to be human and what it means to be a demon and how the two overlap in unexpected and terrifying ways.