AUTHOR'S NOTE: Things get squicky in this chapter. You have been warned.
And thanks for reviewing, SulliMike.
...AND HELL FOLLOWED WITH HIM
The inn was quiet. The moon had long since set.
In one room, Inuyasha and Kagome slept. Dealing with the poison had taken a lot of out the hanyou's system, and even if he wanted to stay up, Inuyasha's body demanded rest, and got it. Kagome lay asleep in her sleeping bag, a partition between her and Inuyasha, Shippo curled up next to her like a stuffed toy. The rest of the inn was similarly asleep, with the staff having to get up early to serve its few patrons, who, like most travelers in a medieval era, rose with the dawn. Only Miroku remained awake, pacing up and down outside the inn, waiting for Sango and Kilala to return. Not only was he worried about her, he was worried about what he had seen on her face. Anger was an emotion he was used to–he got it every time he massaged her rear end–and Sango's predilection towards blind rage when it came to Naraku was something he also knew and understood, if not condoned. But fear–no, terror–in the fearless demon hunter was not something he had seen before.
Even if Miroku had not been distracted and on the opposite side of the inn, he never would've spotted a shadow flit from the sky to alight atop the inn. It made no noise, and against a moonless sky, it was invisible. It was also insubstantial: it simply passed through the roof tiles.
Adjacent to Inuyasha and Kagome's room, Kimiko Amakurikara was also asleep. She slept fully clothed, despite the taijiya uniform being none too comfortable, her musket primed and propped against a column beside her futon. The shadow alighted next to her and leaned over her sleeping form. Its mouth curled into a savage leer as it remembered its instructions. As it leaned over, it blotted out the small candle that burned in the room. Amakurikara's eyes instantly flashed open, her hands reaching for the musket. Her fingers had just closed on the polished wood stock when the demon plunged foot long claws into her chest. They remained there for just a split second before withdrawing. Every muscle in the demon hunter's body instantly went taut, her back arched, and her mouth opened in a soundless scream before she collapsed back onto the futon, eyes rolling back into her head. The demon stood over her, satisfied, but her right hand, still on the musket, suddenly convulsed and pulled the trigger. The room exploded with noise.
The demon cursed and ran for the partition to the room where the others slept, only to find that Amakurikara's final act had its intended effect–the partition slid open to reveal a disheveled Inuyasha, leaning on Tetsusaiga. "What the hell's going on–" Inuyasha began, but never finished as the demon blurred towards him and sent him flying back into the room with a solid punch. Tetsusaiga clattered to one side.
Before he could get back up, the demon jumped atop Inuyasha and wrapped its hands around his throat. They growled at each other savagely; Inuyasha grabbed the demon's wrists and tried to pry them off, but he was still weakened by the poison, and it would have been an even match in any case. Their muscles stood out as they fought each other, but slowly the demon's claws pressed into the hanyou's throat.
"Foxfire!" Shippo sprang up from behind the partition and sent two balls of blue fire into the demon's eyes. It howled in pain and let go of Inuyasha just enough for the latter to kick the demon across the room. It hit the opposite wall, burst into mist, and just as quickly reformed. It grinned at Inuyasha, who had gotten Tetusaiga back, and crooked a finger at him, daring him to take a swipe.
"Why, you..." Inuyasha took a shaky step forward and swung his sword to cleave the demon in half. It simply allowed itself to be split apart and came back together as Tetsusaiga went by. Inuyasha was once more sent flying by a backhanded slap. It leapt after him again, but Inuyasha rolled aside as its claws tore furrows in the wood, which bubbled and disintegrated.
Ricepaper was torn apart as Miroku smashed his way through the wall. The demon turned to face him, but Miroku was already jerking back the beads on his glove to unleash his most potent weapon. "Wind Tun–" The demon's arm extended twice its length, scooped up Shippo, and threw him screaming at Miroku. The monk quickly tied the beads back up to keep from sucking in the kitsune, and both of them tumbled back through the shattered shoji wall. The demon turned its attention back to Inuyasha, who was scrambling to his feet. The demon suddenly disappeared as Inuyasha swung Tetsusaiga again and reformed just behind Inuyasha, claws raised to spear into his back.
The demon never saw Kagome. Having just gotten untangled from her sleeping bag and with no time to get to her bow, she simply grabbed an arrow, felt the charge of her own miko magic coursing through her, and plunged it into the demon's back. It let out a furious scream and swung its claws around; Kagome ducked just in time to avoid being decapitated. Unable to reach her, it scrabbled uselessly at the arrow stuck into it. It screeched in frustration.
"Inuyasha!" Miroku shouted, pushing Shippo off his face. "It's solid! Kill it!"
Inuyasha had realized that fact at the same time. Kagome's arrow was not strong enough to destroy the demon; Kikyo's might have been–but it was enough to keep it from returning to smoke or shadow. "Die, bastard!" Inuyasha yelled, and this time swung true. Tetsusaiga took the demon's head off at the neck. Its screams died to nothingness as it simply faded away, leaving the stink of sulphur in the air and a circle of melted wood where it had stood.
Inuyasha let his sword fall to the floor with a clunk, winded from the fight. "Damn this poison!" He went over to Kagome. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Her hands were shaking, but that always happened after a fight.
"That's good." He sheathed Tetsusaiga.
"Hey, what about us?" Shippo demanded. "We're fine too, thanks, Inuyasha!"
"Ah, I knew you were okay." He looked down at the steaming hole. "What the hell was that?"
Miroku got to his feet. "A gaidoku demon. I'd heard of them, but had never seen one before. I thought they were extinct." He looked down at his gloved hand. "Good thing I didn't use my Wind Tunnel–that thing was pure poison. Did it scratch you, Inuyasha?"
"Yeah, a little." The thin scars on his throat burned like fire and he felt like he would throw up, but Inuyasha was determined to stay on his feet. Or at least he was until he fell down. "Dammit, now what?" His feet felt like lead. "Can't even get up now..."
"Of course not, Inuyasha, you're still under the effects of the sea wasp venom! And now you get scratched up by a poison demon!" Kagome scrambled through her backpack, found the battered first aid kit she had become an expert on recently, and got out some rubbing alcohol. She dabbed it onto a cotton ball and touched it to the scratches.
"OW!" Inuyasha exclaimed. "Dammit, Kagome, that hurts!"
"It's supposed to! Now hold still. I need to disinfect that." Kagome had no idea if her impromptu poison control was working, but she supposed it couldn't hurt.
The innkeeper family had hesitantly poked their head through the opening Miroku had made. Miroku gave them a winning smile and waved his hands. "Nothing to fear, my good fellows...and ladies," he said, noticing the rather attractive daughter of the innkeeper. "It's all over now."
"Was-was it a demon?" the innkeeper stammered. "I heard you hanyou–"
"It was a demon, but it was vanquished," Miroku reassured him. "I apologize for the property damage, but I'm sure we can come to some sort of arrangement–"
The innkeeper waved that away. "Nonsense, houshi-sama! You protected us from the demon–a shoji wall is nothing, neh? Think nothing of it or your bill!"
"Ah, very generous of you, sir." Miroku bowed.
"It is I who am honored and thankful, houshi-sama. The kami have blessed us that we would have such demon hunters staying under our roof!" The innkeeper dropped to his knees and bowed very deeply, touching his head to the floor.
Miroku was about to mention something about needing food for the road when he abruptly remembered Amakurikara. He turned and walked into her room. "Oh, Blessed Buddha!" he cried. "Kagome, get in here–hurry!" Kagome left off her ministrations to Inuyasha and rushed into the room. Her hands went to her mouth in horror.
Amakurikara lay on her futon, sprawled across it. The futon was soaked in blood that dribbled through cracks in the floor. Kagome could tell she was bleeding from every orifice in her body; she was even crying blood.. She and Miroku knelt next to the demon hunter, whose eyes suddenly opened. She struggled to sit up, then to talk, but when she opened her mouth, a torrent of blood burst forth. Miroku noticed that Amakurikara's body was misshapen beneath the futon's covers. "Oh, kami..." He remembered what he had heard about the gaidoku demons' powers: their poison liquified their victims, slowly, and from the inside out. Kagome stumbled from the room to vomit outside.
"H-houshi..." Amakurikara struggled out, trying to breathe. "Kag–Kagai–it–Kagai–" She reached out a trembling hand, and Miroku grasped it. "Te-te-tell..."
"Don't talk, save your strength," Miroku told her, knowing that there was no hope at all, but unable to bring himself to say it.
Amakurikara suddenly gripped his hand hard. "Tell Sango–Kagai hunts us–tell her–" She choked on the blood again.
"I will, Amakurikara-sama. I will."
"H-Hours...to die..." Her free hand grasped for her shortsword. "End...don't wa-want...h-honor..."
Miroku understood. He unsheathed the sword and gently folded her hands around the hilt as he placed it beneath her chin, pointed upwards. He kept his hands wrapped around hers. She smiled. "Tha-thank...you...h-h-houshi..."
The sword thrust was clean and instantly fatal. Miroku made sure of that. When it was done, he stepped back, brought up his hands, and said a prayer for the soul of a brave woman he had barely known.
Miroku was washing his arms free of Amakurikara's blood in the innkeeper's tub when he saw Kilala arrive. Sango walked past him and saw the blood. "What happened?" she asked in a whisper.
"We were attacked by a poison demon–a gaidoku. Kagome, Shippo, and myself are unhurt. Inuyasha is still fighting off the effects of the poison, but he should be fine..." His voice trailed off, knowing what he had to say and not wanting to say it.
"Kimiko?" It came out as a whisper.
Miroku bowed his head. "I'm sorry, Sango. The demon struck at her first."
"Where is she?"
Miroku led her to where they had placed the demon huntress' body, underneath a tree the locals considered sacred, like the Goshimboku near Kaede's village. The body was already gone, having simply melted away into the ground. The innkeeper and his family were scrubbing the floor free of the blood. Sango stared at the ground for a moment, then dropped to her knees. Miroku was instantly at her side, but to his surprise, she was not crying, but trembling in rage. "This is my fault, houshi-sama," she said before he had a chance to ask. "Her death is on my hands."
"It's not your fault," he protested. "The demon–it was a shadow. Had Amakurikara-sama not fired her musket somehow, it might have gotten us all. If anything, the fault is mine. I was on watch, but my thoughts...were elsewhere."
"Thinking about me?" Sango snapped. She shook her head. "No. No, I'm sorry, houshi-sama...I shouldn't snap at you. You were right. There should be no secrets between us." She rose and began walking briskly towards the inn. "Can Inuyasha travel?"
"Yes. Even if he couldn't, he would–you know him–" Miroku caught the look on her face. "Sango, what is it?" She kept walking and he was forced to run to catch up to her. "Sango, what–"
"We have to leave. Now. We should've left hours ago, when the ninjas first attacked. Gather your things, houshi, or I'll leave without you–"
He grabbed her arm. "Sango, talk. Who is Kagai?"
The expression on her face was so full of pure hatred that Miroku let go. "She is Kimiko's killer, and many others'," Sango answered. "And I will not live under the same sky as her any longer."