I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

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Chapter 64

In the village of Kagemura, the crowd following Miroku and InuYasha as they made their way through the village had gotten larger, a loose parade of with the two of them at the head, followed by the village elders, and then, at a respectable distance back, an assortment of the local villagers, pretending to be doing other work, like carrying water or hanging up laundry, but instead watching the two strangers.

Having demonstrated that his ofuda only showed their magic light in areas where the bakeneko had stopped and entered a building, Miroku began walking around the village in a round about way. It looked random, but guided by InuYasha's nose, every ofuda the monk placed on a house glowed with a satisfying red, some brighter than others.

"It would seem that the bakeneko just left here a little while ago," he said, as they left the last house where the ofuda had glowed a blindingly bright red.

The housewife stepped out on the veranda. Her face was drawn and pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes. "Here? Is that why I feel so tired?" she said.

"I am afraid so," Miroku said. "But if you stay inside today, until we catch the monster, you will feel better."

"Why didn't anybody notice?" Osamu asked.

"Keh," InuYasha said. "They're shapeshifters. Might have looked like something else . . . a child, a kitten, even her husband."

The woman glanced at InuYasha and shuddered slightly."Is that so, monk?" the woman asked Miroku. "My son stopped by earlier today when I thought he had gone to the field, but he only got a drink of water and left without saying anything much."

The monk nodded as a boy of about fourteen stepped out of the crowd. "That wasn't me, Okaa." He walked up to the woman. "You can ask Daijiro if you want. I only came back when I saw the monk show up." He took the woman's arm. "Let's get you inside." He turned back to Miroku and InuYasha and bowed. "Thank you."

As they moved down the village's main street, InuYasha stopped for a moment and turned to Miroku. "Scent's stronger over this side of the village," the hanyou noted. "Bet more things have been happening over here."

The headman drew up next to the two. "You're right, Dono. We've been finding what the youkai's been leaving behind and seeing things both," Osamu said. "This is where my cousin saw the lights dancing in the village." He pointed to a large tree near the center of town. "He woke us up with his yelling that night. I thought the bandits had attacked until I got him calmed down. "

"And my niece saw something as well," said another of the men. "She got in trouble for that one, sneaking out to visit a boy. The kami knows she was frightened enough she'll stay home until the day she's married. One good thing coming out of this mess."

This made several of the men chuckle.

Just past the tree, a smaller path joined the main street. As they reached it, a boy came up, and tugged on Osamu's sleeve. "Don't forget, Ojiisan. We found my chicken right there, right at the crossroads."

"I remember, Hideo-kun," the headman said, ruffing the boy's hair. "I'm sorry it got your pet. That's why we thought it was a fox and sent for the yamabushi." He looked up at Miroku. "It wouldn't be the first time something got one of our birds."

"I understand," Miroku replied.

InuYasha ignored this exchange as he reached down and picked up a handful of soil, then let it go. He bent down to sniff the ground, then getting up, he walked down the small side street beyond the houses at the crossroads. One small house lay down that road, although InuYasha didn't walk all the way to it. Returning, he said, "That damned cat's been all over here, but the scent is strongest heading towards the place back there. I think we should check it out next."

While InuYasha trailed the bakeneko, Hisa walked the path from Tameo's office to Kinjiro and Matsume's house, where everybody had gone for lunch.

Hisa opened the door to Matsume's house just as most of the children moved to a room in the back of the house to play where they wouldn't be disturbing the men while they deliberated, and the grownups were finishing their meal.

"I think," she said, sitting down next to the place Emi made for her, "that the men will be at it for a while. Toshiro just got here."

"Just now?" Matsume said as she began dipping up a bowl of soup for her mother-in-law. "He must have been hiding pretty well." She handed the bowl to Hisa.

"Evidently," Hisa said, drinking a sip of the soup, "although with Sayo about to have her child any time and the way those children of hers behave when she can't run after them and keep them in line, he might need to do that just to get a little peace."

Kagome picked up a slice of pickle from her plate. "It was rather noisy the other day, when Kaede took me to meet her."

"It's not usually that bad over there," Emi said. "But her children are full of energy, and need a firm hand." She took a sip of her own soup. "They'll be getting it again soon enough."

"That oldest son of hers, he needs it," Matsume said. She rested a hand on her swollen abdomen. "I hope this little one won't be so . . . so into everything."

"I'm afraid I can't make you any promises," Hisa said, picking up her chopsticks. "Both of my boys got into everything that wasn't nailed down. But you won't be alone. That's what obaasans are there for."

"Not all obaasans," Emi said. She stood up and began to collect the dirty dishes.

Hisa picked up her chopsticks. "True, true. I wonder how Aki-kun would be if Haname would allow Akina or even Joben to discipline him more."

"Or even put him to work," Matsume said.

Shippou, who was just finishing and hadn't joined the other children yet, looked at Kagome's tray, and then up at the young miko. He pulled on her sleeve. "Can I have your last dumpling?"

"Why, Shippou-chan? Didn't you have enough?" Kagome asked.

"No." He looked up at her and blinked bright blue eyes at her.

She sighed and nodded. "Yes, you may. But don't come looking for me if you get a tummy ache." Turning to Hisa, she asked, "Do you think it would be all right for me to go to Sango's house? InuYasha's going to be expecting me to be there when he comes home."

Hisa tilted her head, thinking "I'm not sure. Maybe we - " She was interrupted by the sound of someone outside screaming.

Kagome, Hisa and Emi shot up.

"What was that?" Kagome asked.

"Let go of me!" a woman shouted.

"That sounds like . . . " Emi said, wiping her hands on a towel.

"Like Haname," Matsume finished.

While Haname was screaming in the yard at Tameo's house, Osamu, the headman at Kagemura seemed rather surprised at InuYasha's news, and said nothing for a moment.

"Are you sure?" he asked.

The monk and hanyou as well as the elders turned to look down the side street. There was only one house down the path, small and a bit run down.

"Yes," the hanyou said.

"Yasushi's house?" Ryuu said to one of the men. "Nobody's been sick there at all."

Miroku turned around. "Nobody? Who lives there?"

"Yasushi and his wife Kazue, and their daughter," Ryuu said. "He's one of Osamu-sama's workers."

"And one of my best," Osamu said. "Been thinking of setting him up on his own piece of land." He scratched the back of his head. "And Ryuu-sama's right. None of them have gotten ill. Could they know what's going on?"

"It's possible, I suppose," Miroku said. "But more likely, the bakeneko's using them for a refuge, and they have no idea. But if InuYasha scents it, we need to check his house." He turned towards InuYasha. "You think this is it?"

"Good chance," the hanyou said, and reached for his sword.

As the ratty looking blade transformed into its full form, small sounds of surprise and appreciation moved through the audience.

"Takes a youkai to kill a youkai, maybe," someone whispered.

"Or a dog to run down a cat," someone else said.

"He better be careful," one of the elders said. "I've seen cats that take down dogs."

"Oh, InuYasha knows what he's doing," Miroku said. "He's taken down far worse than this monster. I've seen him take down a dragon."

Ignoring the crowd's sounds of wonder and appreciation and doubt, InuYasha headed toward the house. "Coming, Bouzu?" he said. "You should go first."

Miroku turned to the crowd. "Stay back," he said, then hurried to follow the hanyou.

Stopping a moment to catch his breath and dignity, Miroku turned to the hanyou. "You're right, of course. I can feel some strong youki here. Feels quite nasty, and angry." He readied an ofuda and walked to the front of the small house.

Just before he placed the ofuda on the building, the mat door lifted, and a young girl, no older than Rin stepped through it. She had a small tortoiseshell cat in her arms, one that had a very large, very fluffy tale. The cat meowed.

"Hi," she said in a soft voice. "Are you the monk who's here to help the village?"

"Hello," Miroku said, smiling, but his eyes were wary at what he was sensing. "Yes I am. My name's Miroku."

"I'm Shizuka," the girl said. She held out her cat. "This is Chika."

"Well, I'm happy to meet such a lovely young lady, Shizuka-chan. And you too, Chika-sama." He moved to pet the cat with the hand that held his ofuda, but it struggled away from his hand.

Shizuka frowned. "I don't think Chika likes you," the girl said, pulling the cat back closer to her chest. The cat meowed again. "She doesn't trust you."

Miroku stood up, and looked thoughtfully at the cat, carefully caching the ofuda he had in his hand. "I am sorry about that. I love lovely ladies like her." And bending over so he could see the cat's face, he continued, "And the ladies usually like me as well."

He moved to try to touch the cat again, but at that moment, the cat spied InuYasha, who stood there, watching the monk and the girl with serious amber eyes, sword at the ready. His right ear twitched as his nose flared a little. The cat arched up and with a hiss, pulled out of the girl's arms and began to run.

"Inu youkai!" the cat screeched as it ran.

Miroku threw the ofuda at the cat. "Watch out!" he yelled. The paper landed on its back and began to glow with a red, intense light.

The girl screamed. A woman hurried out of the house at the sound of her daughter's voice, just in time to pull her close as the light engulfed the cat.

Through the reddened glow of the light, the cat yowled, an earsplitting sound that made most of the villagers watching in the distance scatter and run. The cat began to grow, first larger than a dog, then larger than a man as the light faded. It stood on its hind legs, and swerved around.

"So you think you can stop me?" it hissed at the monk and hanyou.

"Chika?" Shizuka, pulling away from her mother, tried to break free to run to the cat, but her mother held her firmly. "Chika! What's happened to you? Let me go, Okaasan. I have to help my cat!"