Well, this is a week early, but I couldn't help myself. This chapter wanted to be written and it wanted to be posted, so who am I to deny it? Consider it an early Christmas gift, I guess ;) You guys deserve it for the great early Christmas gift you've given me, namely all of your wonderful reviews. I can believe we've got over 700 by now. You guys are awesome :D

Hope you enjoy the chapter :3


ANONYMOUS REVIEWER:

Dino-Rogue: (Review for the One-shot) – I'm replying here 'cause I got no other way. At any rate, Inuyasha not telling Kagome where he went didn't occur because it would have been superfluous. There's only one thing he ever leaves the group for, and that's Kikyo, so by just admitting he'd been gone for a while, he admits that he went to see Kikyo. I also tried to show it through Kagome's question if Inuyasha's unease was about the dead priestess – Kagome knew he went to see her and wondered if something had happened to cause him upset while she was gone. But on another hand, since I never explicitly said if Kagome knew or not, I guess it can be left for the reader's interpretation. Anyway, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed :D
(Review for the previous chapter) –
Eh, whatever you say. But it wasn't THAT unexpected. A reader or two suspected that was what was going on. But I'm glad I could surprise you. And believe me, I understand you, I have an almost unhealthy love for angst myself, heck, I'm a freaking sadist when it comes to fictional characters. In case you haven't already noticed LOL Still, I'm afraid you'll have to be patient for a little while longer, the true Angst starts only next chapter. Hope you enjoy this chapter in the meantime :D


Tracks for this chapter:

Within Temptation: Memories


WARNING: Edited gore! For unedited version see link on my profile. The edited part is marked by asterisks at the beginning and end of first and last paragraph respectively.


What happened last time: Learning of Kagome's yōkai hunt, Inuyasha tries to follow the trail of the hanyō's youki to catch up with her and the others as soon as he returns from his time. He manages to find them in the demon's liar, an underground cave-system-labyrinth, just as Kagome encounters the demon for the first time. Wanting to help, Inuyasha joins the duel, but his power react without his control and hurt Kagome instead of her enemy, turning her human and creating for the perfect opening for the yōkai to strike before it flees, chased off by Sango and Kohaku. With the unconscious and severly injured Kagome, the hunters decide to re-group and wait for the hanyō to turn back into her true form, wake up and heal, setting out only shortly after she does. Luck is not on their side, however, as Kohaku and Kagome are separated from the rest of the group and are forced to proceed separately. As Sango, Miroku and Inuyasha wonder about what Kagome might be hiding from them concerning the demonic illusionist they're up against, Kagome reveals to Kohaku that their enemy took on her mother's form, making fighting in a group impossible as her instincts would cause her to protect the demon instead of killing it. With the truth out in the open, the two of them reach the main den and Kagome prepares to battle the illusionist once more…


Chapter 42 – A Yōkai's Mask

As she was once again faced with the demon-illusionist, Kagome had to repeat in her mind over and over that the creature was not her mother if she wanted to be able to move at all, much less attack. In any other situation, she might have marveled at the yōkai's ability to copy her mother's looks so well. But, as things were, she found herself cursing the illusionist's darn detailed fake image.

Her mother's face was just as she remembered it. Despite the fact that the woman had been forced to live the life of a peasant for the biggest part of her life, her skin remained the smooth and pale complexion of a princess who was shielded from sunrays whenever possible. Her hair, just as dark as Kagome's in her human form, hung freely down to her waist, also untouched by the harsh life her mother had lead, strong and shining like silk of the best quality. Only her clothes betrayed the fact that she had, in fact, fallen from the status of nobility. Though still perfectly clean, the kimono was torn in several places from the knees down and on the sleeves, all of the worse-placed tears having been sewn shut, making for a very colorful garb. The clothes hugged the woman's petite frame tightly, although she did not seem to be skinny enough for it to be considered sickly. Her eyes were also something Kagome's human form had gotten from her. They were the same blue-gray that the hanyō-girl had often seen in a reflection on her human day, although now, they were several shades colder and more emotionless than Kagome ever remembered her mother look.

Even her scent was exactly as Kagome remembered and she had to stop herself from greedily breathing it in. Gods, how she had missed that smell. That unique blend of lotus flowers, sandalwood and rain that she had come to associate with love and safety. The scent that had been forever marred in her memory by the stench of human blood.

The scent that she would have to cover by the scent of blood again.

She fought off a shudder at the thought as she looked at the yōkai who took on her mother's face, smell, and even voice.

"So you have come, Kagome," the woman spoke slowly, her melodic voice sounding like music to Kagome's ears, causing the hanyō to freeze. Her mother sounded happy and, at the same time, extremely relieved, and the half-demon found herself rooted where she stood.

Some small part of her screamed at her to act as Hikari came closer to her, yelled for her to move and distance herself from the woman who only pretended to be her mother, but was in fact a demon. But another part of her, the part that was so painfully emotional and painfully human, told her to stay where she was and relax. This person looked like her mother. She smelled like her mother. And, unlike last time, she even talked like her mother. This couldn't be the demonic illusionist. The yōkai had never called her by her real name, much less in such a tender and loving voice.

No, her heart knew, this could not be the demon. This was truly her mother.

But… her mother had been dead for close to two centuries…

"I am so glad you are here. So happy to see you again," the woman said, tears filling her eyes when she finally came closer than an arm's length away. Still, Kagome didn't move, allowing her mother to come even closer as Hikari enveloped her in a tight hug. The half-demon tensed, but didn't react otherwise. Only her good eye widened at the woman's actions when surprise overrun her whole being.

"K-Kaa-san?" she whispered in bewilderment, hardly able to fathom what was going on. A boy's voice called out behind her and her ears twitched to catch his words.

"Wake up, Kagome-sama! You know this cannot be your okaa-sama! Kagome-sama!"

She recognized the voice as Kohaku's and didn't fail to hear the desperate note in his voice. Still, she found his words hard to believe. She knew what she was seeing, she knew what she was smelling and she knew what she was hearing. There was no doubt who the person holding her now was. It was her mother, she was sure. It was the woman who had disappeared from Kagome's life when she was a mere pup of three.

'The woman who was my only family, and whom I killed with my own claws,' a quiet, regretful voice spoke up in Kagome's head, the hanyō barely registering the fact that it were her own thoughts she was hearing. 'The woman I have to kill again…'

No! She wouldn't do that. She couldn't. Besides, there was no need. Why would she even think about killing her mother, her only family, the only person who had ever cared for her?

"Kagome-sama!" Kohaku called again, but the hanyō ignored him as Hikari spoke up again.

"You have no idea how much I longed to see you again, darling. Oh how I missed you," she said into Kagome's ear before moving away a bit to get a look at Kagome's face. She smiled fondly. "Look at how you grew up. How I regret not being there so see it," she continued, one of her hands caressing Kagome's cheek lovingly. Of course, Hikari was bound to have noticed the bandage on Kagome's face, but unlike any other mother would have, she did not fuss about it and easily ignored it, as if it were not a big deal. "How I regret," she said again, quieter this time as she lowered her head, "not taking you with me to the after-life!" she finished with a scream, the hand that was still close to Kagome's face moving down with demonic speed to slice the hanyō's chest open and kill her in one blow.

But by then, Kagome had woken up from her stupor. In a flash, she was on the other side of the cave, having leapt away from the yōkai as it moved to take her life. She had managed to escape the worst of it, but her stomach was still bearing four claw marks which bled profusely. They weren't overly deep and, had Kagome been completely unharmed otherwise, she would have thought little of the small flesh wounds. However, with her internal injuries still not nearly healed, some of her bones still cracked, if not broken, and her eye slightly worse than before because of the time she had been human, Kagome's body was unable to keep up with the healing and the half-demon crouched on the ground, one of her hands holding her wounded stomach to at least attempt to stop the blood flow. She could not afford to lose much blood, not in her current condition.

'Damn it. I was careless,' the hanyō-girl chastised herself as she glared at the yōkai who wore her mother's face. Her heart felt like it was about to shatter in her breast at the betrayal from the one person she knew would never do her harm, but Kagome forced the pain down along with all of her emotions and locked them away, like any demon could. It was time to show the part of herself that could be every part of the stony, emotionless icicle that her brother Sesshōmaru was on a regular basis (meaning always), and close to every part of the blood-thirsty monster humans saw her as and that lay dormant somewhere deep within her.

The first time she had met the illusionist, it had tried to get her to surrender by trying to emotionally wound her with her mother's voice and face. It had failed, since she had been able to fight back, or at least defend herself. So this time, it had even acted as her mother, planning to lure her into a trap and kill her before she even knew what hit her. She had not been expecting that and had thus been almost fooled. Almost. But she would not fall for it again.

With a final click only she could hear, Kagome locked the last of her emotion in an imaginary box with at least ten locks she knew no one but her could get to and allowed a stone wall to cover it from all sides before freezing it over. Then, and only then, did she allow her eyes to open to gaze at her opponent.

Just then, from another tunnel, the sounds of hurried footsteps could be heard. Soon enough, Sango, Miroku and Inuyasha ran into the cave, panting slightly. Sango's and Miroku's shoulder's were occupied by Kirara and Shippō respectively, and both demons jumped to the ground as soon as the group reached the cave. Only Shippō scampered back towards the tunnel to find cover, while Kirara transformed into her bigger form and growled menacingly at the demon who still stood calmly where she had hugged Kagome.

Inuyasha quickly surveyed his surroundings. The woman whom he suspected to be a demon was the first thing he saw. Then, on the other side of the cave, he spotted Kagome. Lastly, a movement in the corner of his eye caused him to turn his head to his right as Sango, with a yelp of joy, jumped to where Kohaku was kneeling. Behind him was a group of scared children, although one of them stood out as he leaned towards the impending battle, rather than away from it.

Inuyasha recognized the boy as Souta.

Certain that nothing could possibly happen to the children if both Sango and Kohaku were there, not to mention Miroku who slowly slid towards them, Inuyasha turned his eyes back to the demon and Kagome, wondering if he or the others should help. On one hand, he knew that illusions should not cause them to fight each other, as logic proved that Kagome had lied about that. On the other hand, he also knew perfectly well that the hanyō-girl would not have asked them to handle things alone without a good reason. While he might hate it, especially since usually that reason was simply her not wanting others to get hurt, there was no denying that she hadn't done it in a while lately. So for her to ask to fight alone now really meant that it was better not to meddle with it. Right?

Besides, there was also the fact that he, of all people, was the worst person to help at the moment, as his attacks could easily become dangerous not only to his enemy, but to Kagome, as well.

He cursed under his breath.

"Those are some scary eyes, Kagome. I believe it is a look you should reserve for your enemies. Surely, you do not plan on striking me down, do you? I know you're not that kind of monster," the illusionist spoke, its voice kind and loving, almost making Inuyasha forget that it was a demon talking. Suddenly, the idea of maybe aiding Kagome in the fight fled his mind, as if it had never been there. How could he had ever thought of striking down and innocent woman like that?

However, Kagome seemed unfazed by its words as she slowly stood, her gaze never leaving her enemy.

"Oh, I'm not the monster here," she replied calmly, her claws flexing as her arm moved away from her stomach. The scratch wounds were still there, and still bleeding slightly, but she was good enough to go. "You are."

There was something in her voice that caused Inuyasha to shudder. And he wasn't the only one. Beside him, Kirara froze, her expression smoothing from the angry growl and looking more surprised than anything else. Most of the children flinched and tried to get closer to the wall, while Sango, Miroku and Kohaku froze, slowly looking toward the hanyō as well. Sango even looked as if she had just now remembered there would be a battle starting here in mere moments.

[T]

"Ka… Kagome?" Inuyasha asked slowly, a small part of him actually wondering if he should have made his presence known at all. Kagome was acting weird. Different. It was just like when she had put on her stoic mask before while dealing with Sango. Only much, much worse. Quite frankly, Inuyasha had the feeling that she had become a whole other person.

When she briefly turned her head to glance his way, he regretted calling out to her immediately. To an enemy, the look in her eyes might seem scary. But to someone who knew her like Inuyasha did, to someone who knew how she usually acted, that look was beyond terrifying.

Any trace of warmth or even emotion was completely wiped away from her face. Her eyes (or eye, as it were), though still the same rich, golden color as always, seemed to be actually frosted over. Her aura oozed coldness, and even Sango and Kohaku, who should be unable to feel any demonic energy, were visibly trembling as if they were cold.

And that wasn't all. Along with the warmth and emotion, light had left Kagome's eye as well, making her look like she was dead, or at the very least, some kind of robot without a mind of its own.

"Stay out of it," the half-demon said quietly, though her words seemed like yelling to Inuyasha's ears in the sudden silence that fell in the cave. "You make sure the children are fine. She," the hanyō motioned at the woman apposite her, "is mine."

Even her voice sounded unnaturally frosty and emotionless, causing Inuyasha to shudder again. Behind him, hiding at the entrance of the tunnel he and the others had come from, Shippō squealed and hid behind the stones. Even Kirara, who seemed to know Kagome better than anyone else in the group, closed her eyes and her ears drooped backwards as she let out a submissive mewl and turned back into a kitten. Gulping, Inuyasha nodded in agreement, although some part of him knew he didn't need to. Kagome wouldn't have stood for an argument anyway.

"Oh, Kagome, whatever happened to you? Surely, my little girl wouldn't raise her claws to me?" the woman said, her voice sounding as unbelieving as her face looked. But Kagome only snorted as she bent her knees and flexed her claws again.

"Try me," she growled before lunging at the demon, whose face showed fear for the first time. "I'm not your little girl," the half-demon whispered darkly when she was a hair's breath away from the demon, her claws ready to strike. But the yōkai was fast enough to evade her attack and Kagome's claws cut only air as it jumped back with surprising grace and speed, if one was fooled by its looks and believed it to be a human woman.

"You leave me no choice, Kagome," the demon said, actually sounding sad for a moment before its face distorted in anger and hatred. One of her hands rose above her hand and her wrist started turning in a circle before she lowered her arm and pointed what could be considered an accusing finger at the half-demon-girl below her. "Die," was all she said as a hoard of golden energy-beams in the form of tiny, but long worms flew at the hanyō. But the energy merely hit the ground as Kagome back flipped gracefully to avoid them.

She didn't pay any mind to the worms who seemed to have a life of their own, if their persistent digging into the ground was anything to go by. In a flash, they were gone, hiding somewhere below the earth, but Kagome did not allow herself to be distracted. She didn't stay on the ground, either, jumping towards one of the walls of the cave instead, and then using it to propel herself towards the now-floating woman.

The yōkai with her mother's face smirked as she simply danced out of the way. Kagome flipped over in mid air to land on her feet, then jumped right back up without turning around. She wasn't high enough this time and the illusionist laughed as the half-demon passed a foot or two below her. Kagome, however, had not planned to reach the demon anyway, and as soon as she was right below her, the silver haired girl spun quickly around her own axis, using the movement to cause her Sankon Tessō to fly in various directions at once, effectively rendering any way of escape impossible. The demon cursed and raised its hand to protect its face as several energy blades tore at her clothing and body, while Kagome slowly stopped spinning and gently landed on the ground.

When a few droplets of the demon's blood landed near her feet, however, the hanyō faltered, her heart suddenly fighting to free itself from the imaginary box she had temporarily sealed it in. The hanyō cursed when a familiar tingling warned her of an incoming wave of crushing guilt. She had drawn a demon's blood, but unfortunately, her nose smelt her mother's blood.

Shaking her head, Kagome forcefully shoved the guilt down and locked it away with all the other emotions, willing it not to interfere. Though it would definitely be only temporarily, her heart, the inward manifestation of her humanity, calmed and let itself be sealed away again. Or rather, it was forced into submission and into letting itself be sealed away, as it was not strong enough to fight her demonic will and determination.

"Time to end the life you didn't deserve to have, half-breed," the demon said with a chuckle as it let itself float to the ground a few feet away from Kagome. With a sadistic smile, it snapped its fingers and the ground around the Inuyasha shook in response. In the next second, the energy-worms that had dug their way into the ground a moment before reemerged around Kagome, effectively surrounding her. Without leaving the hanyō the time to even blink, much less react, they lunged at the suddenly motionless half-demon.

"Kaa-san?" a small, scared voice asked as a two-year-old Kagome slowly entered the tiny hut she and her mother shared. It wasn't anything special in comparison to other huts, just four walls and a roof to make for a single room and protect them from the wind and rain. There wasn't even a wooden floor. But Kagome and her mother hardly minded. In fact, Hikari seemed to be glad to have even that. Besides, it wasn't like the other huts were any different than theirs, if theirs wasn't even a tiny bit better than the others. They at least had a wooden roof, while most other huts had to make do with straw roofs, which weren't that much of a protection if the skies above decided to open fully.

It was a bit weird in Kagome's opinion. Though she was very young, the little girl was not stupid. She could easily see that the other villagers weren't very fond of her or her mother for that matter, although she never understood why. The village head man and his wife obviously weren't any different in that regard. But still, for a reason Kagome also did not understand, they insisted Hikari and her daughter are given a proper hut, if not one of the best the villagers could afford to build.

That wasn't what was bothering the little girl, however. Her little head was occupied with something else at the moment, and since she couldn't come up with the answer to the question that plagued her, she decided to go to the one person who knew everything, at least in her opinion.

Her mother had been busy with sewing one of the few kimonos they owed when the little girl had entered the hut. Hearing her daughter's voice, the woman stopped her work and looked up, a smile already highlighting her face in greeting. Kagome couldn't help but smile back. Her mother's smiles were just contagious.

"What is it, darling?" Kagome's mother asked as she put the kimono to the side and motioned for Kagome to come closer. The little hanyō did so more than willingly, instinctively snuggling into her mother's awaiting arms.

"Kaa-san, what is a hanyō?" the little girl asked innocently, immediately sensing she had asked a question she should not have asked when her mother went completely rigid. "Kaa-san?"

"Where did you hear that word?" Hikari asked, trying to sound calm. However, the agitation in her voice wasn't hidden nearly well enough for her young daughter not to hear. But innocent little Kagome didn't think much on it, focusing on the question itself, instead. She wrinkled her nose, feeling disquieted, although she wasn't exactly sure why.

"Everyone keeps calling me that," she couldn't help but complain. "But no one thinks I should be entitled to know what a hanyō is."

"'Hanyō', not 'hanyō', darling," her mother corrected softly, her hand slowly moving through Kagome's hair in a soothing manner. A content growl rose from the little girl's throat, not stopping even as the child started to talk again.

"Didn't you just say the same word twice, kaa-san?" she asked with a small giggle. But Hikari didn't seem amused as she propped her little daughter up and made her look her straight in the eyes.

"No, Kagome," she said sternly. "These two words are not the same. They are very different."

"But they sound exactly the same," the little girl answered, confusion lacing her voice. Hikari sighed.

"No, they do not. Listen closely, darling. There's a difference between when someone says 'hanyō'," her mother paused as Kagome's tiny ears twitched on her head, attempting to catch every little detail of what her mother said so she would hear the difference, "and 'hanyō'." Kagome's ears twitched again and finally, the little girl nodded.

"But what do these words mean?" she asked finally, causing Hikari to sigh. It seemed her mother wasn't exactly willing to talk about this. Still, Kagome wanted to know. If everyone called her by that word, she had a right to know what that word meant, no? Luckily, despite her obvious discomfort, her mother did not deny her an answer.

"'Hanyō' is what you are, darling," she said slowly, her eyes lowering. "It means 'half-demon'."

"'Half-demon'? What I am?" Kagome repeated, though she wasn't as surprised at the phrasing as at the word itself. Though young, she was not stupid, nor was she blind. She had already noticed that she was different from the other children in the village, and the other people in general. While they grew bigger and older, she remained the same, more or less. The passing springs had even had an effect on her mother. Only Kagome remained unchanged, or at the least relatively so. There was no way she wouldn't have noticed she was different than even her own mother. Still, up until now, it hadn't exactly bothered her (though it made her a little curious), so she hadn't asked. Now that her mother spoke of it, however, the question was begging to be asked.

"But what is a 'half-demon', kaa-san?" the little girl asked, her young, cute face scrunched up in confusion. She knew of humans and demons, of course. She lived with the former and witnessed the cruelty of the latter more than once. But 'half-demons' were not something she had ever encountered or even heard of. And now, her mother was saying she was one?

"A half-demon is a very special being, darling," Hikari replied, giving Kagome a proud smile. Kagome blushed and laughed awkwardly under her mother's silent praise, unsure how to answer to it. It wasn't like that pride came from something she had any control over, was it? "It's a being that unites demons and humans, a child born of one demon parent, and one human parent. Someone who proves the two races could coexist if they tried."

Kagome blinked before lowering her head, her eyes easily finding her hands. She had long since noticed they were different than her mothers. The nails were sharper, reminding the little girl more of claws than actual nails. Then, there were the more obvious signs of her being different, like the color of her hair and eyes, and the appendages on her head – a pair of dog-like ears.

She had never actually wondered where these oddities have come from. They were there, they were a part of her, that was all there was to it. It was only now that the two-year-old actually started realizing that these oddities were more than just that. They were proof to a blood line, a heritage. A special one at that, if her mother's words could be trusted. And her mother's words could always be trusted.

Raising her head again, Kagome glanced at her mother – a very obviously human woman. That left only one conclusion.

"Then… otou-sama… he was… yōkai?" she asked, her voice trembling. She had not dealt with yōkai much, but from the few times she had actually seen one, she had learned they were creatures that were best avoided, unless you wanted to be ripped apart. Her mother nodded and Kagome shuddered, causing Hikari to gather her in her arms again.

"He was," she admitted. "But he was not like the yōkai you have met up until this point, darling. He was nothing like them," she assured, her hand once again moving through Kagome's hair in a calming matter. "He was stronger than them, but also kinder. And he loved the both of us a lot."

"Then why did he leave? If he loved us, why did he leave us alone? And where is he now?" Kagome asked, though she was unsure if she really wanted an answer. She trusted her mother, of course, but it was hard to imagine a yōkai that would actually be kind.

"He's somewhere where we can't go yet, Kagome," Hikari replied, her tone turning mournful. She didn't need to say more. Young as she was, Kagome understood the implication. She had seen death enough times already, be it due to time, illness or a yōkai attack, to know what it was.

"How come? Demons are stronger than humans, aren't they?"

"They are. And they also live longer than humans do," Hikari agreed, "but that doesn't mean they can't fall to a blade, darling," she added sadly. "Your father died as a warrior protecting those he loved."

Kagome didn't answer to that, trying to swallow the information. Any other time she had asked her mother about her father, her kaa-san had refused to talk about it. Why she had stopped being so tight-lipped now, Kagome didn't know. Nor did she know if she was actually glad to know the truth now, or not.

"What of the other word? 'Hanyō'," she asked suddenly, feeling the need to change the subject. Once again, Hikari stiffened and Kagome knew the meaning of that word was not going to be a pleasant one. Still, she wanted to know. She had the right to know.

"Kagome…"

"Everyone keeps calling me that, kaa-san. Not 'half-demon' but that other word. 'Hanyō'. What does that mean?" Kagome interrupted her mother (probably for the first time in her life, too) and pushed herself at arm's length away from the warm embrace so she could look her mother in the eyes. With a sigh of resignation, Hikari gave in.

"'Half-breed'," she said softly, so softly that Kagome almost didn't hear her. 'Almost' being the key word. The little girl flinched, immediately recognizing the insult for what it was. "You see, darling, despite half-demons being the living proof that demons and humans could get along, people dislike them. They fear the part of them that is demon and refuse to see the part that is human."

"Enough to believe they didn't deserve to be born?" Kagome asked before she could stop herself and she flinched again at her mother's sharp intake of breath. That question had slipped out. She hadn't planned on asking it, and even less on letting her mother know where such a question would even come from. But now, the cat was out of the bag.

"What makes you say that, Kagome?" Hikari asked, although it was more than obvious just from the tone of her voice that she had more than just an idea of what could make her daughter think that way. Kagome's ears drooped, but she couldn't just disregard her mother's question, nor could she lie to her.

"The people of the village sometimes say that, too. When they think I can't hear them," the little girl replied, unable to hold back a sniffle at that point. No matter how much she tried to hide it from the villagers, and even from her own mother as to not make her worry, hearing such words still hurt.

So she was different, what of it? It didn't make her any less emotionally vulnerable than anyone else. In fact, despite being different, she was much more like the ningen than any of them expected. Why couldn't that idea come into their heads? Why did they have to treat her like she didn't have any emotions, like she couldn't be hurt?

Kagome sniffled again.

"Oh, Kagome," Hikari whispered, and Kagome smelt the salt of her tears. Instantly, the little hanyō felt bad. She hadn't wanted to make her mother cry, far from it. But when Hikari's arms enclosed her in a comforting hug, Kagome couldn't bring herself to apologize. Instead, she let all the hurt she had so bravely tried to hide for the last few moon-cycles out, no longer able to pretend none of it mattered. The truth was, it did. And knowing why things were the way they were wasn't exactly making it better.

"Shhhh," her mother tried to sooth as she started to rock the little girl back and forth in a comforting manner. "Shhh, Kagome. It's alright. Do not let them get to you. They do not understand. They are not worth your tears."

"But it hurts. It hurts, kaa-san!" Kagome all but screamed back between hiccups. Her mother hugged her tighter, her hands moving in slow, comforting circles on the young hanyō-child's back.

"I know," she said sadly. "I know, Kagome. But it will only hurt if you let it. If you know someone's lying, then even if his words are meant to be hurtful, they do not hurt, right?"

Kagome shook her head. No, if the hurtful words she heard were lies, then they wouldn't hurt. Lies weren't truth. If the people around her were lying about what they said, then she wouldn't care in the least. The problem was, whenever they said anything, Kagome couldn't smell a lie on them. They were saying the truth. Which was why it hurt.

"Then their words should not hurt you, either, darling. Because all of them are lies and nothing else."

"But they aren't. The people who say them aren't lying. I know when people lie," Kagome replied, though she had stopped crying by that point. Although it was a weird and uncommon way for her mother to comfort her, it seemed to be working.

"They are, Kagome," her mother replied, her voice suddenly becoming stern. "You may be a half-demon, darling, but your heritage aside, you aren't any different from all the people out there. And they say they deserve to live, no? Then you're are no different. Your life isn't worth any less than anyone else's. Never forget that, darling, and never believe anything else anyone says, alright? You deserve to live your life just as much as anyone else out there, no matter what these buffoons say."

The worms didn't get close enough to actually do anything to the half-demon. Before they could, an angry wave of energy blades slashed them to pieces. Some of the energy struck the stone walls near her, one or two even almost reached her opponent, and a few sliced at her own flesh, but Kagome barely noticed it. And 'uncontrolled Sankon Tessō' had been the only way she could have reacted in that situation, so she disregarded her own safety and simply discharged her youki, merely making sure not to discharge too much. Still, though the wounds she had just inflicted on herself were minor, they still cost her a bit of her own blood, and Kagome sensed it wasn't as little of a deal as it should have been. It seemed the condition of her internal injuries was worse than she had expected.

'Damn it all. I need to be quick,' she thought as she jumped in the direction of her opponent again. She supposed she should be lucky that the illusionist was trying its tricks from the previous battle again, especially since it was saying words that so much contradicted what Kagome remembered her mother telling her time and time again. It only served to assure her that the creature in front of her, despite her looks and smells, was not her mother.

The demon evaded again as, after landing straight in front of it, Kagome tried to push her hand through its stomach. With an irritated, inhuman growl, the yōkai swiped its hand in Kagome's direction, this time causing the energy that came from it to take the form of rats. The little rodents seemed to fly towards Kagome, intending to bite into her flesh. They didn't succeed as the hanyō raised her arms to protect her face, but they did latch on to the sleeves of her fire-rat. Before Kagome could shake them off, the rats exploded, covering the half-demon in a cloud of black smoke. The yōkai laughed.

"Sayōnara, half-breed," she sneered, but her laugh was cut short when a series of blood-red projectiles flew from the middle of the cloud, straight at the yōkai's position. It didn't manage to dodge them all, and in addition, it was so focused on them that it failed to see Kagome, who was quick to use her enemy's distraction to her advantage. Before the demon realized what was happening, she had the illusionist pinned to the stone wall by the throat, her free hand ready to dive into its flesh and end its life.

"Sayōnara, indeed," she said coldly, moving her arm back for the final strike. But then, she stilled, her eyes fixing on the face the demon wore. Deep inside her, that imaginary box shook again as the human part of her once again started to struggle. It begged her to stop, to not kill the woman in front of her, not again. Kagome tried to shove the feelings away. Her mind knew the woman in front of her was not her mother. But her heart would not listen.

"What are you waiting for, hanyō? Finish it already!" Sango called from where she was by the children. Despite not knowing why the half-demon had wanted to fight alone, she had, in the end, not joined the fight. But that did not mean she was not willing to end things if Kagome proved to be unable to do it herself. "Kill it!"

But Kagome couldn't. Despite her mind knowing the truth, her heart was fighting more and more desperately to stop her, and although it was not free from its confinement, its calls were strong enough to make Kagome hesitate as she stared at the demon she had at her mercy.

"Kaa-san," she couldn't help but whisper, although a part of her knew that was not the woman. Hikari's face contorted in rage and hatred, causing Kagome to flinch slightly.

"Filthy hanyō," the yōkai with Kagome's mother's face spat in response, effectively causing Kagome's grip to loosen as the half-demon girl flinched again and recoiled slightly. That was enough for the yōkai to act. Immediately, it pressed its hands to Kagome's chest and they started to glow with golden, demonic energy. "Die."

The shockwave resulting from the attack threw Kagome back a few feet, and even caused her to lose her balance. The demon laughed cruelly as the hanyō fought to get back on her feet, though her body seemed to not be very cooperative at the moment.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha called worriedly, barely stopping himself from drawing his sword and joining her. But in the end, his fear stopped him. What of he made things worse? What if his powers reacted to Kagome again and Tessaiga didn't save her this time?

No. As much as he hated it, he could not intervene. It was safer if he did not. As he was, he could not fight alongside Kagome. The chances of unintentionally turning against her were just too big. He cursed.

"Kagome!" he called again when the hanyō didn't move from her spot, while the illusionist slowly approached her. But even if Kagome heard his voice, she ignored it, too focused on the battle - the one with the yōkai, and the one within herself. But try as she might, she could no longer keep her heart at bay, and the anguish slowly threatened to consume her. She had tried to kill her mother. Again. And what was worse, this time she was perfectly aware of what she was doing.

'She's not kaa-san!' the half-demon tried to yell at herself, but to no avail. She still couldn't bring herself to move to defend herself, much less to try and attack the approaching woman whose hate-filled face spelled Kagome's death.

But then her surroundings started to change as another memory struck Kagome. It was one she wanted to forget, the memory of a happening she wished had never happened… and yet it was a memory that ultimately allowed her to continue fighting.

The small hut was filled with the stench of blood. The walls were covered with it like with paint. Even the roof bore the red stains, and Kagome didn't even want to think how they have gotten there. The dirt under her feet had turned black from all the blood it had soaked up. The hut looked as if a monster had come through and ruthlessly killed anyone in the vicinity, and Kagome knew the rest of the village didn't look any different.

That was what had happened, too. A monster had come and gone, killing everyone who was around on its rampage.

That monster had been her, although she couldn't really remember how she had done it. It was as if her body had moved on its own, although she was still aware of all that was going on. She had been aware of it, but had not stopped it, even as her own claws tore through her mother's flesh. It was at the woman's side that the little three-year-old hanyō was now kneeling, her eyes red from all the crying as she begged for forgiveness and apologized over and over.

Her mother was dying. There was no denying that, no matter what Kagome wanted to tell herself. Soon, her mother would die, and it was all her fault.

"I'm… I'm sorry… I'm sorry… Kaa-san… I'm sorry… I didn't want to… I don't… I don't know how… or why… I don't know… I didn't want… I'm sorry… Forgive me… Please… I'm sorry," she repeated over and over between hiccups. The tears flowed unchecked down her face and she didn't even try to wipe them away.

What she couldn't understand was why, despite all that had just happened, all that she had just done, her mother was smiling. It wasn't just any smile, either. It was one Kagome only rarely saw, because she usually never did anything to warrant it.

It was a forgiving smile. Her mother didn't say anything, much too weak to do so at that point, but she didn't need to. Her smile spoke for her.

'I don't blame you, darling. I forgive you, even if there's nothing to forgive.' That was the message that smile was passing and for the life of her, Kagome could not understand how her mother could be able to smile like that after what happened.

As if sensing her daughter's confusion, with the last of her strength, Hikari raised her hand and cupped Kagome's cheek. Hiccupping, the little girl looked at her mother, her tiny hand moving to keep her mother's where it was. With her last breath, and with the smile still in place, Hiakri whispered her last words. Words Kagome could only hear because of her demonic heritage.

"I love you."

And then, Princess Hikari of the house of Higurashi was gone and Kagome howled mournfully, her young heart falling to pieces so small it would take years for them to even start coming back together.

"Die, half-breed," the yōkai with her mother's face said, her voice sounding like she was singing. Then, she brought down the spear she had made of her energy down towards Kagome's head. But the weapon only met steel as, in the blink of an eye, Kagome drew her sword and blocked the incoming attack. "What…?"

Before the demon could react, she was thrown back as Kagome used the momentum of standing up, and thus all of her weight, to throw her opponent back. She didn't leave it time to think of a new strategy, either, immediately leaping after it and delivering blow after blow with her sword. She didn't manage to get a hit in, but now, the yōkai was clearly on the defensive. It snarled angrily, the sound making Kagome's ears twitch as she followed the sound and swung again without turning around. The demon had tried to get a moment of pause by escaping into the hanyō's blind spot, but to its great surprise, despite her right eye being out of commission, Kagome knew perfectly well where to strike. The yōkai barely had time to evade this time and it snarled angrily again as it jumped back. It was only after Kagome turned to face it, and by doing so also facing Inuyasha and the others, that the priest understood why she seemed to fight with more ease all of a sudden.

Kagome's eye was closed, thus rendering the enraged demon's illusions useless.

"I'll kill you, hanyō. Slowly and painfully, since you don't even deserve a swift death," the demon growled.

"I love you," Hikari's words from her memory resonated in Kagome's mind as if in response, steeling her determination. It was not her mother threatening to kill her. Her mother would have never done it. She wouldn't have, because she loved her.

"I highly doubt it. It is you who will die," the half-demon replied calmly as she raised her weapon. She knew her opponent was a few feet away from her, but that was even better for her. Especially since the demon was obviously unaware of what was about to happen as it laughed, thinking it was safe just because it was seemingly outside of Kagome's rage.

"Well, why don't you strike, half-breed? Scared? Do it before I strike first!" it taunted and Kagome scoffed.

"You won't have the time," she growled as her nose found what it was searching for. With all of the strength remaining in her body, Kagome slashed at what only she could see, the yōkai laughing when her sword cut seemingly air. "Kaze no Kizu!" Kagome yelled, cutting the demon's laughs short as the mighty energy blades manifested and rushed towards her opponent.

But unfortunately, just before her attack hit, Kagome had opened her eye. The last thing she saw before the light of the Wound of the Wind blinded her was the demon's face – which looked like her mother's – contorted in fear and then agony as the attack hit and shredded the demon to pieces.

At the same time, the locks on that imaginary box deep inside of her broke and Kagome's heart and emotions came free, to be once again visible on her face.

And because of that, at that very moment, something deep inside of her broke before shattering completely.

[/T]

She was not allowed to grieve, however, for as soon as the Wound of the Wind faded, the ground around them and the ceiling above them started to shake violently. Cursing under her breath, Kagome shoved her pain to the back of her mind to focus on the current problem.

Unleashing the Wound of the Wind in the deepest recesses of an underground cave had been a very bad idea.

Too bad she was realizing that only now.

The first stones fell, one nearly crushing her as she just barely managed to avoid it. She landed not far away from where everyone else was.

"What now. Any bright ideas Miss I-Can-Handle-It-On-My-Own?" Sango asked sarcastically. She seemed unfazed by the falling stones around her and the impending cave in if one ignored her occasional flinching when a boulder fell too close to her or Kohaku for her liking. Or any of the children.

"Shut up, taijiya, I'm trying to think," Kagome barked back, even as she sent a Sankon Tessō straight upwards to cut through a stone that would have otherwise crushed most of the children. As it was, they only had to deal with a couple of bruises as smaller debris fell around, but just the look of their scared faces had Kagome's stomach churning. She had come here to save them and yet she had ended up putting them in even greater danger. She cursed in her mind.

If she had been alone, she would have simply rushed for the exit. With as many tunnels as there were, at least one of them had to go straight outside. At least one had to be a safe escape route she could have taken to just madly dash out before the cave collapsed on itself.

But she wasn't alone and there was no way she and Kirara could carry all the humans at once and still be fast enough to reach the exit. Which meant she had to think of another way to get them out of this alive.

Problem was, she wasn't exactly sure there was another way.

'Damn it. What do I do? What the hell am I supposed to do now?' Kagome cursed as she absentmindedly destroyed another falling rock that threatened to crush them, the remaining pieces too small to injure anyone in any way.

"I… think we can actually get out if we just keep this up?" Kohaku said slowly as Kagome took care of another boulder and Sango flunk her Hiraikotsu to take care of the pieces that remained of it. The debris was getting bigger.

"I can take care of a boulder or two, but a whole cave is going to get problematic," the hanyō replied, hating to shoot the idea down.

"Then I believe we have nothing to worry about," Miroku suddenly spoke up, still as calm as ever, as if there wasn't a cave falling apart all around them. If not for the way he was holding the beads around his right hand, Kagome would have thought he was insane. As it was, it wasn't hard to figure out what the monk had in mind.

"Nothing to worry about? Have you lost your mind, houshi-sama?" Sango spoke up, her voice for the first time sounding actually a bit scared, though it shouldn't be surprising considering the situation.

"Actually, I think the monk might have a plan to get us out of here?" Inuyasha said hopefully as Miroku stepped in front of them all as if preparing for something. He didn't even twitch as a stone suddenly fell from the ceiling and threatened to squash him. At least, not in the second it happened. A second later, however, his right hand was up in the air, free of the beads that usually were bound around it, and the stone seemed to shrink before disappearing in the monk's palm. More followed and soon, it was obvious they were not falling, but being sucked in by something. Miroku's Air Rip, to be precise.

'Right… I almost forgot about it,' Inuyasha thought, the realization of what the Air Rip currently represented suddenly hitting him. With the powerful wind, the cave-in would be accelerated, sure, but it would also be controlled. Instead of falling all around, the debris would condense fully towards Miroku and, in the end, disappear in the black hole in the houshi's hand. The only question was whether Miroku could actually suck up an entire cave or not, but Inuyasha didn't think there was a reason for him to not be able to do so.

A sudden, collective scream had Inuyasha turning around so fast he almost lost his balance. It had come from the children and the future-born teen easily understood why when he saw the gigantic stone coming down on all of them. It looked more like the whole ceiling was falling, more than just a rock. Stunned, and terrified, Inuyasha sunk to his knees despite every cell in his body yelling at him to get out of the way. It wasn't like he could, anyway. That boulder was big enough to cover a quarter of the cave they were in, and it looked like its center was right about where they were sitting. There was no getting away.

Though he knew it would do nothing at all to save him, Inuyasha raised his hands over his head in protection and squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for his life to end. A second passed. Then another. And another. Still, he was pretty damn sure he had not been crushed yet.

He opened his eyes a tiny bit, barely daring to look and see what had happened. Had his power somehow reacted to the danger and saved him? Had it saved anyone else? Or…

His eyes shot open as his mind went completely blank and numb in shock as soon as the scene before him registered in his mind. The children were still there, huddled together in fear and staring up at the stone that had almost crushed them. In the middle of their crowd stood Kagome. When she had gotten there, Inuyasha had no idea, but he was grateful. But also worried.

"Kagome!" he called to her as he carefully stood up, not wanting to bang his head on the stone that hung low above him. The only reason it hadn't crushed everyone was the half-demon, who was supporting the gigantic block of stone with her arms and head.

She didn't respond to his call. Instead, she stretched her bent legs to stand up straighter, her arms following suit to lift the gigantic boulder higher. She gritted her teeth as her muscles screamed in protest and sweat rolled down her face. With one last heave, she threw the rock away from where she stood, leaving it to shatter against the wall of the cave. Luckily, she had had enough strength to throw it far enough so it didn't hurt anyone, the debris immediately moving again as it came into the range of Miroku's kazaana, but even if she hadn't, Kagome doubted she'd have the strength to feel guilty about it now as she fell to her knees, unable to keep the coughing at bay. Her body felt like lead. She probably wouldn't be moving for a while, she had just used up the very last of her strength.

"Kagome!" three voices called at once, her ears twitching to distinguish them between the noise of the falling debris and Miroku's Kazaana. Opening her eyes as the coughing finally ceased, she saw who had called to her and smiled tiredly.

"Souta," she said, wanting nothing more than to hug the boy but knowing this wasn't the time. So she settled for ruffling his hair affectionately in silent reassurance that she was alright – despite the fact that she really, really wasn't. The little kit beside her cousin received the same treatment, and if Kagome had strength to spare, she would have wondered just when Shippō had come out of his hiding place at the tunnel's entrance and joined them.

"Kagome, are you…?" the third voice, one she probably would never confuse with anyone else's by that point, spoke again as the black haired priest knelt in front of her and reached for her, only in the last moment freezing and drawing back as if burned. "Are you… ok?" he asked slowly, almost timidly, his eyes telling her more than his words ever could about just how worried he was. She couldn't help smiling in response, her mouth already opening to tell him she was fine when a loud sound akin to an explosion rang out above them.

"Now what?" Sango asked tightly as she caught Hirakoitsu in her hand expertly before throwing it again, the weapon neatly turning to dust any and all debris that came too close to their group for the slayer's liking. Kagome looked up at the ceiling worriedly, her keen eyes easily catching the rapidly growing cracks in the stone.

"It's going to come down," she said, trying to sound calm, "and I don't think I'll be able to catch it this time."

Inuyasha froze. Not because it meant the next boulder would probably crush them, but because this had to be the first time Kagome admitted she wouldn't be able to help. She had never admitted something like this before. Even when she was severely wounded, she always kept fighting until whoever or whatever she wanted to protect was save. If she admitted she couldn't do anything, it meant things were really, really bad. And he didn't mean just the situation.

"There's too many!" Miroku yelled just then above the howling of the Air Rip's wind. "I can only secure a certain perimeter but beyond that I can't do much!"

Well, wasn't this great. So then what were they supposed to do?

"We need a barrier."

Inuyasha blinked, staring at Kagome as if he didn't comprehend her words. She had spoken deliberately, almost calmly, although he could hear a certain edge of desperation in her voice. Her idea was perfect, though. If Miroku could just make a barrier, then…

Wait, but why was Kagome looking at him?

"What?" the future-born teen asked slowly, uncertain if he wanted to hear her answer. Something heavy settled in his stomach when her eyes didn't move away from him, but instead even seemed to bore deeper into his soul.

"We need a barrier," she repeated again, her eyes never leaving his. "You need to make one."

Say what?!

But… But he never made a barrier in his life! Screw that, he hardly ever used his power for anything consciously, much less something as sophisticated as a barrier. How did Kagome expect him to make one now?

"But… but I…" he stammered, suddenly unable to form a coherent sentence. Kagome's eyes hardened and her arms shot out to grab his shoulders, not caring for the warning, tiny lightning bolts that appeared upon contact and slightly burned her skin. Inuyasha tried to break out from her grasp before his power could do anything more, but the half-demon hung on and didn't let go.

"Inuyasha," she hissed urgently as she dragged him to his feet. "Miroku-sama is keeping us alive with his Air Rip. If he closes it now, what he's been keeping at bay will fall on us, too, and that'll be it. He can't make the barrier this time. You'll have to do it."

"I can't," he whispered, fighting the urge to whimper. He was scared. He was goddamn terrified. But not of their impending death, no. He was afraid of what Kagome was trying to make him do.

He had no idea how to control his powers in any way. He had never tried to learn. He didn't think he'd need it. Up until now, whenever he truly needed his powers, they reacted on their own. But then, it was only ever on the offensive. He had never subconsciously made a barrier or anything of the sort. So how could he possibly make one consciously now?

There was no way he could do it. There was just no way.

"You have to try," Kagome tried again, her voice softer now, although the note of urgency remained there. But Inuyasha only shook his head in denial.

"I don't know how."

In any other situation, Kagome would have gawked at him. Never before had Inuyasha sounded like a scared child before. He might have acted a bit childishly at times, but he never sounded like anything other than a man. An arrogant and overconfident one, sure, but a grown man either way. Now, however, for the first time, as Kagome talked to him, she felt like comforting a terrified pup. She fought the urge to hug him. Now wasn't the time. She would apologize how many times he'd want her to later, but now, she had to act. She had to make him act.

"But I do," she said slowly, causing Inuyasha to snap his head to stare at her with wide eyes.

She wasn't lying. She knew how to make a barrier. With her youki, at least. She had tried it multiple times when she was younger, but quickly learned that she simply wasn't powerful enough to make a barrier. All she had managed was a tiny dome of her youki, barely big enough just for herself, that could keep the cold and the rain at bay. But something to keep other yōkai's attacks away or anything more consistent than water had been too much. She just wasn't powerful enough to do something like this. Or maybe her youki simply wasn't meant for it.

But she did know how the trick worked.

"I don't know if youki and reiki work the same. But Miroku-sama had been able to guide you once to make a barrier and he already told me his power, though also holy, is different from yours. So I think I should be able to guide you, too…"

"Are you insane?!" the future-born kannushi interrupted her as he finally managed to get free of her hold on his shoulders. He took two steps back for good measure, knowing he needed to distance himself from her. The fear he had felt had turned into full-blown terror. "You told me reiki and youki were polar opposites. Reiki is meant to destroy youki. Spiritualists kill yōkai by purifying them. What do you think will happen if you try to use your youki to guide my reiki?!"

In a flash, Kagome was right in front of him again, her hands grabbing his shoulders to stop him from fleeing like he so desperately wanted to.

"Your power won't kill me," Kagome tried to reassure, but Inuyasha hardly listened as he violently shook his head.

"No! I won't do it! I can't do it!"

"Inuyasha…"

"I can't," he said again, images of the last time he had used his powers, though unwillingly, flashing behind his closed eyelids. He had already hurt Kagome once. He swore to himself he would never do it again. He just couldn't do it again. Especially not if he knew that this time, she could die, even if it wasn't directly from his powers' effect on her. "Don't make me," he found himself pleading, feeling his body start to shake in fear for the first time in his life. He was terrified. More terrified than he'd ever been. "Please, don't make me."

And Kagome couldn't.

She was ready to risk her life to save everyone. She was ready to risk the part of herself that was yōkai to save everyone if that's what it took. If Inuyasha had agreed, she would have even been able to sentence herself to the agony that was sure to follow if she had tried to coax his power into making a barrier for her – for them all. But looking at his trembling form as he practically begged her not to try it, she found herself unable to force him.

She was out of time to try to convince him, too, as just then, with a final crack, whatever held the ceiling above their heads together broke and the whole cave fell, threatening to squash them.

Kagome didn't even need a split second to make up her mind. As soon as she heard that final crack, her youki flared and filled her body, quickly charging up somewhere at the height of her stomach as she pushed Inuyasha to the ground behind her. With strength and speed she shouldn't have had, she leapt towards the falling debris, as if intending to punch it into smithereens. Though that wasn't actually very far from what she had actually planned.

"Everyone, get down!" she yelled, hoping they wouldn't question her and just do as asked. Then, unable to hold her youki where it was anymore, Kagome arched her back and discharged all of it at once.

Golden light flew every which way in an amazing show of power. Whenever the energy touched a stone, it would be turned into nothing more than dust. A wave or two flew down to where she came from, obliterating the floor at Miroku's feet, but the monk and everyone else had been lucky enough to avoid those strands of power.

Lying on his side where Kagome threw him, Inuyasha watched in amazement at the glowing lights and the destruction they caused all around them (although that destruction meant their lives were being saved), hardly able to believe what he saw. The energy flew in every direction, slamming into the stone walls and obliterating the falling debris, only to arch and change course to do more damage elsewhere, allowing only fine dust to fall in the group's direction before it was sucked into Miroku's Air Rip, though the monk closed it swiftly as to not endanger Kagome. For the next few moments, Inuyasha, Miroku, Sango, Kohaku and the children sat frozen in place, watching the show in silent awe, unaware of how lucky they were than none of these beautiful, but uncontrolled blades of energy turned to rush towards them.

And among the sounds of stone breaking apart and explosions as the blades of energy crashed against the cave's wall and against each other, no one heard Kagome's scream of agony as the blades of her own energy cut through her on their way to wrack more havoc.

~ξ~

When things finally calmed down, no one would have ever guessed a small hill stood where Inuyasha and the others were now. All that remained from said hill, and the cave that was hidden beneath it, was a small crater filled to the brim with sand. It was that sand that the group was currently struggling to get out of.

For a moment, coughing was the only sound heard as everyone crawled out into the open, gasping for air and spitting out dust they had accidentally gotten into their mouth or almost swallowed. Inuyasha squinted his eyes as they adjusted to the sudden light, his breath evening out slowly. It was a bright day now, midday if he had to guess, but the fact only barely registered in his brain, as his thoughts were occupied by other matters.

He couldn't believe that Kagome had suggested she'd try to guide his power into making a barrier. As much as he disliked his own reaction to the idea now that he thought back on it, he couldn't deny the fact that it had terrified him out of his wits. Just thinking back on it was enough for fear to strike him painfully in the gut. Really, what was she thinking? What if he hurt her again, what if he turned her human? And what if Tessaiga didn't save her this time? What if she… died?

"What in the world was that?" Kohaku asked, his voice a little strained as he coughed up the last of the dust that's been stuck in his throat. "I've never seen anything like those lights."

"And I doubt you ever will, my friend. My guess is, that was Kagome-sama's power, in its fullest, on full display," Miroku answered as he stood up and dusted himself off.

"It was beautiful," the young demon slayer commented.

"I agree," Sango said so quietly her words went almost unnoticed by everyone as she helped another child out of the sand, checked the girl for injuries and then let her join the others who were waiting at the edge of the hole. "But it was also terrifying."

"She saved your life," Inuyasha snapped in response as he also slowly stood and surveyed what was left of the hill he had seen when he first arrived at the cave's entrance. Not that there was anything left, actually.

"I know," Sango replied, surprisingly not sounding like the fact was astonishing, but rather something to be expected. "I just meant I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that kind of power."

"Indeed. Kagome-sama is powerful. More powerful than most yōkai I have encountered. Although I'm sure there's at least one that's much more powerful than her," Miroku agreed, looking wearily around. "That aside, where is Kagome-sama?" he asked suddenly, causing Inuyasha to look around as well when he realized the hanyō-girl wasn't anywhere in his sight.

His eyes quickly found her. Luckily, she wasn't hidden by the sand and was instead sprawled on the surface. She had probably landed there after her little show and collapsed out of fatigue. But why wasn't she getting back up yet?

"Oi, Kagome!" he called as he ran towards her, only getting a little worried when she didn't respond to his call. Maybe she was just too tired to respond?

Before Inuyasha could get to her and see for himself why the half-demon wasn't responding, someone else did. As soon as they had gotten out of the sand, both Shippō and Souta had made a bee-line for the prone hanyō's form and were now kneeling at her side, causing Inuyasha to slow his steps. There was something odd about how the two boys were acting. They were both eerily still and silent, and although Inuyasha didn't know Souta very well, he knew that right now, the boy should rather be acting like Shippō usually did. Meaning, he should be making Kagome cuddle him and reassure him everything was alright.

Instead, the boy turned away from the half-demon, fell to his knees and promptly emptied his stomach.

If Inuyasha hadn't thought something was odd before, he definitely knew now. Panic seized him and before he knew what he was doing, he was running towards the fallen hanyō. It didn't even take him a second to reach her, and as soon as he did, he understood Souta's and Shippō's reaction. Violet eyes widened and Inuyasha raised a hand to his mouth, his stomach threatening to react pretty much the same Souta's did at the sight. His legs gave out and he fell to his knees, his whole body trembling as he tried to force himself to move, to try and treat Kagome's injuries, to do something, anything that could possibly help.

He found himself unable to do any of those things. He wasn't even able to tear his eyes away from the morbid sight.

*Kagome was lying in a puddle of her own blood. It wasn't a small puddle, either, but that was to be expected considering the hanyō's injuries. There were multiple bigger and smaller cuts all over her body, but sadly they weren't the only ones. There were also wounds that were definitely more serious. Like her right shoulder, which bore a deep flesh wound. The forearm of her right hand also bore two bone-deep cuts, one on the inside close to the elbow, and one on the outside. The one on the outside was long enough to even reach her hand. Her left arm was better off, but also not unscathed, bearing a long cut from the wrist to the elbow. It didn't look like Kagome would be wielding a sword any time soon, or use her arms at all, for that matter.

The hanyō's legs hadn't been spared, either. Her left ankle was the worst of, leaving Inuyasha to wonder if she would ever be able to walk again.

But all of that was nothing compared to the wounds on the hanyō's chest and stomach. There was a deep, diagonal wound that cut across the half-demon's chest, stopping just underneath her breast. If it had been longer, it would have definitely reached Kagome's left hip. Her stomach bore four claw-like scratches, courtesy of the illusionist, and another, deeper wound above them, its tip reaching the beginning of the highest claw-mark. While the marks the yōkai left were more like deep scratches that went through the entirety of Kagome's belly, the other wound was worse. It went to the point that Inuyasha doubted he could even call it a flesh wound.

If there was a curious med-student nearby who wanted to study hanyō-anatomy, this would have been the perfect moment for him to do so.

Truthfully, for anyone else, especially a human, the wounds Kagome bore would mean instant death.*

Unable to stop it, Inuyasha started to tremble, still incapable of looking away from Kagome's prone form or moving in any other way, his eyes glued to the dreadful injuries that would have killed a mere mortal on the spot. Not that Kagome seemed to be alive, either, as to the future-born teen's eyes, her chest was unmoving. He could only hope the silver haired girl actually still lived. But that seemed unlikely. There was just so much blood…

Before the black haired kannushi could try to shake himself out of the terror-induced stupor, something rushed passed him and stopped in front of Kagome, effectively blocking his view of her mangled body. It was a full-grown Kirara and her face looked anything but friendly at the moment. Hissing like the angry cat she was, she flicked her two tails and thus pushed the still shell-shocked Shippō and Souta away from the fallen half-demon, although she was definitely trying to be gentle while doing so. Then, her red eyes settled on Inuyasha and she growled at him warningly, though the black haired teen could not figure out what she could possibly be warning him from. The demon-cat's growl had been enough to finally wake him up, though, if only partially, as he was still unable to move. With the shock wearing off, Inuyasha found himself fighting the sudden urge to air his stomach much like Souta had as the organ in question started flip-flopping unpleasantly, while his arms shook just under the weight of his upper body. The kannushi felt completely weak and bone-less at that moment, barely able to glance back towards Kirara and Kagome.

The nekomata had stopped growling at this point, turning her attention to Kagome as Sango and Miroku came closer. They must have been surprised by Kirara's more than unnatural behavior and come over to see what was wrong, Kohaku having stayed behind to watch the rest of the children. It was a good thing, too, the sight was definitely not one the young taijiya-boy should see, not that anyone else in the group was any more prepared for it.

"Kirara what's wrong?" Sango asked as she approached, only to gasp when she saw the reason herself, her hand covering her mouth much like Inuyasha had before her. "Kami…"

Miroku merely bowed his head with his eyes closed, murmuring soft words under his breath. Normally, Inuyasha would have yelled at the monk to stop what he was doing because Kagome was definitely not dead. But this time, he had no strength to yell. He wasn't even sure if what Miroku was doing wasn't the correct thing to do. Considering the extent of her injuries, could Kagome even be alive?

Inuyasha would have never believed the hanyō would reply to that unasked question herself. But she did. She stirred slightly, as if in response to Kirara, who was gently licking her face, the only part of her body that had escaped any harm except the eye that was still recovering. Slowly, her eyes opened, a little clouded over but proving the hanyō to be alive and conscious nonetheless.

"Kirara?" Kagome asked weakly, her voice strained. Every cell in her body hurt and it was all she could do just to stay conscious. Her vision was blurry and full of black spots, indicating that her consciousness wouldn't last for long. But that was even better. If she was unconscious, she wouldn't be able to feel the pain…

"What the hell were you thinking, Kagome?! You could have died! You still can!" the demonic cat yelled frantically, her voice as mad as it was terrified. Kagome couldn't help but smile.

"Don't… worry… I'll… be ok," she struggled to say back, too tired to try and reply in the demonic language. Her throat hurt too much for that. But human language was one Kirara understood anyway, and the Inuyasha's voice was only loud enough for the nekomata to hear. And even she had trouble recognizing the words. Her fur bristled.

"Save that for stupid humans who can't tell when wounds are serious or not," the neko snapped. "If you weren't dying right now, I would kill you myself, you stupid idiot. So what of the fact that you saved us! Do you think we're happy to know you had to die so we could live?!"

Although her words (or the growls the humans heard) were harsh, Kagome understood the pain Kirara was trying to hide. She was trying to act pissed, but the way she nuzzled Kagome's face as she spoke betrayed her. If it hadn't hurt so much to breathe, Kagome would have sighed.

"If… it's my time… then… so be it," she said, fighting to stay conscious so she could say all she had to say. The darkness was closing in and the comfort of unconsciousness was tempting, but the half-demon refused to succumb to it. First, she had to remind Kirara of a very important fact. "I'm done… fighting it…"

"Kagome!" Kirara whined, but was forced to stop talking so she could hear what Kagome said next, as the hanyō continued without allowing herself to be interrupted.

"But I'm sure… I won't die… just yet," she said slowly as she raised her left hand despite the pain to rub Kirara's face affectionately. The nekomata's red eyes were watery for the first time since Kagome knew her, and it pained her to know she was the reason for those unshed tears. "I have… people… who will… look after me… people who… won't let me die… not now… not ever," she continued, struggling more and more with each word as unconsciousness tried to take her back to the darkness. But she fought on, desperate to tell these last few words before, for the first time in her life, she allowed her fate into the hands of others. "So… I'm sure… I'll be… just… fine."

She couldn't fight it anymore. With one last exhale, Kagome allowed her eyes to close and her consciousness to fade, no longer feeling the warmth of another's hand as he caught her hand in his.

"Kagome!" Inuyasha called desperately as he caught her hand, his other supporting him so he didn't fall on her. The half-demon didn't reply, unconscious once again. But now that he held her hand, Inuyasha could feel her warmth and he knew she wasn't dead. At least, not yet. They could still save her.

But, they had to act fast.

"We need to see to her injuries. Now," he stated the obvious, gently laying Kagome's hand at her side.

"Leave that to me," Sango replied. "You two," she motioned to Miroku and Inuyasha, "go back to Kohaku and take care of the children."

"But I can help," Inuyasha protested, rising to his feet. Sango merely shot him a disbelieving look.

"Oh, you can? So you know exactly how to treat such severe wounds? Every single thing that needs to be done and how to do it? Without making the wounds worse, if only accidentally?"

"Well, maybe not 'exactly', but…"

"Then leave it to someone who does," Sango cut him off, her voice leaving no room for argument. "Otherwise, you'll be in the way instead of helping."

"Sango-san is right, Inuyasha. If you have no exact knowledge of healing, then you should leave this to her. I'm sure that as a demon slayer, Sango-san has been taught how to take care of such severe injuries, if only to help the person survive until an actual healer could get to them," Miroku added, his eyes boring Inuyasha and almost daring him to contradict. Which he did, or at least wanted to do.

"But…"

"Don't worry," Sango suddenly said, her voice softer than he'd ever heard it. "If there's anything to be done to save her, anything at all, I sure as hell won't let her die."

Maybe it was her eyes. Or maybe her voice. Or maybe just the way she said it. Either way, Inuyasha felt he could leave it to her and know she really would do anything and everything she could to save Kagome. So, he gave up and let her handle it. But not without a warning.

"You better not."


And here it is. Concerning the angst warning up ahead, I'm quite sure you all know what will happen next, right *laughs evilly* Yeah, I know, you'll probably want to kill me then, if you don't want it already, but hey, if you kill me, you won't know what happens next, ne ;)

With that, I shall take my leave. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year everyone :D

Next chapter: Sanzu-no-Kawa

See you then.