Remnants of the Spider

The Tale of Kai

"Are you certain you do not wish to take a break?"

Rousing from her light doze, Kagome straightened and began rubbing her eyes. "I'm sure." she said mechanically, for what must have been the fifth time. "I want to get this over with as quickly as possible." Having been plagued by nightmares these recent nights, the miko was barely managing to stay awake as they traveled and was therefore dozing even as she stood together with Sesshoumaru on his cloud. The last time she'd had any decent sleep was two nights ago when she'd passed out in the demon lord's lap.

Held securely in his sidelong embrace as the rapid winds billowed their hair and clothing, sleep beaconed to her; taunted her. But Kagome continued to resist. She knew, just knew the nightmares would return. They had, in fact been getting worse.

In what was normally the comfort of dreams, the dragon had come to her, evidence of carnage standing out against the crimson of its scales. It taunted her, whispered of the impending doom that awaited the inhabitants of this land if she did not take possession of the amulet. More than once, she had awakened in a start, cold sweat beading on her brow as she regained her bearings and recalled where she was. Sesshoumaru had always been nearby; always questioned about her wellbeing, but since that first night, she'd tried to downplay what was happening. She suspected that the daiyoukai could see through her attempted ruse, but telling him about the nightmares wouldn't change anything. Besides, she wasn't overly eager to talk about it anyway.

"Then perhaps your friends would like one?" she heard Sesshoumaru speak up again, his eyes fixed on the slayer and monk ahead of them. Slightly lower in the sky than they, Kagome too could see the pair, in spite of Kirara's fluffy, fiery tales that swished through the air behind her. Miroku was sitting up front while Sango sat behind him, her arms circling his waist while she laid her head on his back. Sighing, Kagome looked into the sky. It was late morning, but maybe the others wouldn't mind taking an early lunch.

"Yeah," she said at last, "Maybe they would."

She saw him glance at her then, only for a moment before he stole the air from her lungs with a terrifying burst of speed. When she managed to catch her breath, the miko made a startled noise before frantically fisting her hands in his voluminous clothing. He seemed to pay no heed to her mild panic attack, though the soft fur of his pelt wound itself around her.

It took only a matter of seconds for him to catch up to the monk and slayer, and upon seeing them, the male gave him a curious look. "We are landing." the inu lord announced simply, and before he was given the opportunity to respond, Sesshoumaru darted off again, his direction slightly altered as he then took the lead. It was but a few moments later when the miko and daiyoukai touched down near a shallow stream. The demon lord did not immediately release her, and from his side, Kagome took a moment to scan their surroundings. A sparsely wooded area at their backs, they were at least a couple of miles from the nearest road, and therefore several from the nearest village. They would likely be able to break here for a fair amount of time undisturbed before consulting the maps and moving on.

In her state of partial sleep, Kagome had no concept of where they were or how far they'd traveled. As if to try and wake up, she gave herself a light shake before moving away from the demon lord and removing her traveling pack and weapons. Tiredly, she seated herself next to her belongings, trying and failing to conceal a yawn behind her hand.

In the commotion of her friends' arrival, the young priestess took no note of the pensive gaze being leveled upon her. In the recesses of his mind, Sesshoumaru realized that she could not continue this way for very long. He knew that she was not sleeping well at night and was more than certain as to why. Clearly her nightmares were increasing in frequency and were possibly becoming more disturbing for her as well.

It was strange to find himself both wanting to protect her, but also having no idea how to proceed. They were only dreams, yet they disturbed her enough to force her into wakefulness throughout the night, sometimes even causing her to call out in fear or rage even as she slept. Then there was the fact that she was always tired as of late. This was problematic as well. After all, humans were fragile creatures that required rest in order to maintain their health and strength.

It… disturbed him, that he was unable to help her. Turning away as the hanyou skidded to a stop a few feet from where he stood, the daiyoukai was assailed with recollection. He allowed his memories to focus as the banal chatterings of his traveling companions faded into a dull thrum. Permitting an inaudible sigh, he turned his expressionless face to the sky.

Perhaps, he realized suddenly, there was a way to aid her after all. Folding his hands into his sleeves, he decided that he would test his newest theory when they made camp for the night.

Thick cushions beneath him and a cooling, nearly forgotten cup of tea at his side, Daisuke stared listlessly at the nearest wall of his personal study as the warm yellow sunrays spilled in from the adjacent balcony.

If there was one thing the old fox knew, it was when something was not right, and as of late, a sense of foreboding trailed him like the languorous sprawl of a dark cloak. Normally an optimistic and lighthearted creature, the ancient kitsune could not escape the notion that bad tidings were on the horizon.

High among his list of concerns was the location of Shin. He had sent the crow youkai on an errand some time ago, and still had yet to hear anything of his progress. These were dangerous times and Shin was not a very powerful demon. His skills of evasion were passable, but if any moderately powerful demon or holy person sought the crow's life with a level of determination, it was likely that the bird would not survive. He could only hope that his old friend had not met with peril.

Only adding to his worries was the unrest that had recently taken up residence in the northern estate. For his part, Hiroshi-sama often seemed tense, slightly fatigued, and even more short-tempered than normal. He could often be found in his study, his sharp claws peeling curls of wood from his low desk. If he continued in this manner, the thing would have to be replaced for a second time!

And then there was lady Izanami… she seemed… different as well these recent weeks. Normally devoted to her duties in the neighboring villages, the young miko had recently become introverted and withdrawn. He rarely saw her anymore, but when he did, the young maiden always appeared distracted, her tiny form enveloped in a luxurious white pelt, the origins of which no one seemed to know. Attempts at conversation with the priestess were yielding poorer and poorer results as of late, as her answers were frequently short and direct, if in fact she answered at all. Whether or not anyone else notice these changes was unclear to him, but as a kitsune youkai, Daisuke was trained, practically from infancy to notice distraction in others.

And finally there was the matter of the young miko whom he had sent off to locate the keys. The progress of herself and her traveling companions, much like that of Shin, was unknown to him. He hoped that they were faring well, effectively deciphering his maps and were finding the keys. The sooner they were destroyed the better!

He was uncertain how long it would take them to locate them all, but it was decided, between Hiroshi-sama and himself, that he, Daisuke would set out to the temple within the next couple of weeks or so, hopefully arriving at least a few days before the young miko and her friends. No one else was trusted enough, or powerful enough to transport the amulet. The northern lord had therefore insisted that the charge be undertaken by himself and a small entourage of guards and holy men. It was a deceptively dangerous task indeed, as the dragon was housed in the temple as well. If the creature were to stir because of the amulet's proximity, it would likely try to possess him; beacon to him and beg for its release. Very few possessed the power and discipline to resist the lure of fathomless power and so, even he would have to be on guard. Once at the temple, he would lead them to the cellar where the keys and the amulet would be cast into the furnace and consumed by fire and purity; hopefully putting an end to this entire debacle.

The young miko Kagome was brimming with spiritual power, but even she would not be able to destroy the amulet without difficulty. The amulet and the dragon were deeply connected, and annihilation would not claim either with ease. As one could not exist without the other, it was also expected that the destruction of the amulet would mean the end of the dragon as well.

He could only hope that this was true.

Tired eyes shifting from their trancelike perusal of the undecorated wall, their thoughtful depths soon fell upon the forgotten cup of tea at his side. Daisuke had never particularly cared for the stuff, he'd merely hoped that its warmth would bring a measure of peace to his addled mind. Unfortunately, this had not been the case; although the fact that he had yet to actually drink any may have had something to do with that.

Sighing and deciding that it was of little consequence, the old fox rose to his feet and brushed the faint creases from his clothing. Long, slender tails swishing delicately behind him, Daisuke turned and left the room.

"What is that?" the hanyou asked, a single claw scratching the side of his head in mild confusion.

"I don't know." Kagome replied softly, tilting the map in order to look at it from a different angle. "It looks like… a forest?"

The hanyou scoffed lightly. "If it's a forest then what's with that strange border around the edges? And besides, that doesn't look like any forest I've ever seen."

With the exception of Sesshoumaru, who stood a few feet away, the remaining travelers circled around Kagome. Sprawled across her lap and held in delicate fingers, the hastily drawn map was momentarily lifted by a light breeze before it gradually stilled and fell back into place. Frowning, the miko poured all her focus into making sense of what she was seeing. It was clear that the map had been created some time ago, and age had most certainly taken its toll. That, coupled with the poor writing and absence of landmarks made deciphering the map difficult at best. Still, it appeared that there were few villages in this area, and thick stretches of forests throughout. Though the area that currently held their attention didn't appear to be either. Aside from dark erratic looking etchings, it looked to be little more than a dark smudge with a border around the edges.

"Yeah," Sango chimed in, her own fingers tracing over the aged parchment. "These are forests," then, very slowly her hand moved, pointing to the questionable area, its dark color and thick border giving her an unpleasant feeling in the pit of her stomach. "But this looks… different."

When the expected input from her husband was notably lacking, the huntress turned to him, her question dying before it could be voiced when she noticed the pensive expression he wore. The others turned to him as well, each silently studying his features as they attempted to discern what he was thinking.

"Miroku?" Kagome finally asked. Though her voice was soft, the monk shuddered visibly, an action that made him appear as if he had just woken from a mild daze.

"I'm sorry," he murmured distractedly, "It's just…" he trailed off, his eyes losing focus as he was again captured by his own thoughts.

"Just what?" Inuyasha barked impatiently, causing the other male to start yet again.

"I… believed the story to be no more than legend, but the location," he looked down at the map again, a look of consternation now etching his face. "The location, it seems more than coincidental."

Sitting back, the rings of his staff jangled lightly against one another as he leaned it against his right shoulder and folded his ands into his lap. "Years ago, when I was very young, I studied under a powerful monk called Master Shou. During our travels into this region, he told of an incident which, if true, would have occurred close to a hundred years ago.

"Supposedly, there was a small community of forest youkai very near to this area," using the end of his staff, he pointed to the map again. "According to Master Shou, the demons had chosen such a remote area purposefully, in order to avoid humans and live in peace. In time however, human settlements began to spread and more and more forests were cleared in order to make way for villages and roads. When the forest youkai were discovered, the humans became fearful of the demons' close proximity and attempted to drive them away. Their initial efforts were in vain, but the humans were persistent and predictably resorted to violence. Most forest youkai are not very powerful, though their numbers and their protective nature toward their families and children worked in their favor. When the battle was over, several of the men had been killed.

"Because of this, the forest youkai were deemed a threat and the village headman eventually hired demon hunters to exterminate them. In just one night, a team of fifteen men wiped out the entire community; not even the children were spared. Or so it was believed…" Miroku trailed off, his eyes staring glassily at nothing in particular.

"It was said that there was a single survivor, a young female called Kai. In spite of her young age, Kai, unlike most forest youkai, was immensely powerful; having the ability to control and even possess any and all forms of plant life.

"As you can imagine, the death of her siblings, her parents, everyone she ever loved, it took a great toll on the young girl. Master Shou claimed that Kai eventually took her own life, using her very blood to curse the entire area. Now, any human who ventures into that stretch of forest would be in great danger. I don't know how the information would have been obtained, but the claim is that if a human were to come in contact with any of the plant life, they would instantly fall into a deep trance and be forced to relive their worst fears; the worst moments of their lives over and over again, until at last their bodies are consumed by the forest itself.

"Monks, priests and priestesses tried for many years to purify the area, but to no avail. It is now called the Forest of Sorrows. As children, the story was told to us repeatedly and I had believed it nothing more than an old wives tale meant to keep children from wandering off alone in the woods. Now I am not so certain."

After a long pause, Inuyasha snorted, "Well, if it is this Forest of Sorrows, we'll just go around it, it's not like…"

"The key is there," Kagome said softly, her blank gaze fixed upon the map. She appeared lost in deep thought, as though her mind were miles away.

"How do you know?" asked Sango, placing a light hand on the miko's shoulder in the hopes of gaining her attention.

Kagome looked up at her, her expression one of mild puzzlement. "I'm… not sure. I just… do."

"Are you able to sense it?" Sesshoumaru asked, his attention now fixed on the miko.

From her position in the lush grass, she looked up at him, seeing through his bland expression to the traces of concern that lay beneath.

"The key? No, I can't sense the key right now, I don't think we're close enough yet. I just… have this feeling. I know its in that forest!"

"Well," Inuyasha finally spoke up again, "If it is, you humans can just ride on Kirara and don't touch anything. What's the big deal?"

"As a hanyou, whose to say that you won't be affected as well?" asked Miroku. The question was valid. Regardless of how powerful he thought he was, Inuyasha was still half human. Though the hanyou would probably not agree, it would do well to er on the side of caution.

The half-demon scoffed, turning away from the questioning gazes of his friends and shoving his hands into his sleeves. "I ain't human and I ain't gonna fall under a spell of any stupid plants!"

Deciding to let the matter be for the moment, the miko rolled the map before carefully sliding it back into her traveling bag. As she stood, she began carefully brushing debris from her clothing before collecting her weapons and making her way to Sesshoumaru's side.

"Well," she announced with little enthusiasm. "There's still a few hours of daylight. We should probably get going."

Nodding their agreement, the monk and slayer gathered their things before resuming their positions on the fire cat.

"Bout time!" she heard Inuyasha mutter under his breath before he turned and walked a few paces away. She hadn't noticed till now, but the hanyou seemed just a little more irritable than normal. And that was saying a lot considering that he normally seemed irritable, even when he was in a good mood!

The miko could only smile at him as Sesshoumaru's cloud formed beneath their feet and the pair ascended into the sky. The monk and slayer were quick to follow, leaving Inuyasha to trail behind them.

The remainder of the day was spent in uneventful travel, until a waning sliver of moon finally peered between the sparse dappling of clouds.

As his friends made camp a few yards from where he stood, Inuyasha stared up at it. Dark and woefully familiar, a delicate sense of foreboding began to pool in the pit of his stomach. He wondered how long it would take for them to find the next key.

The new moon was fast approaching.

Thought I'd abandoned this story didn't you? Oh ye of little faith! Lol!

No, I haven't abandoned it! I still really like this story, I just haven't been finding myself all that enthused about writing. Hang in there with me! I DO plan on finishing this!

Hope you all enjoyed and please review!