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

Chapter 65

Hearing the small girl yell, the bakeneko turned toward the house. Arching her back, the cat flicked an ear, then leaned forward until it was laying on the ground. "Ah, little Shizuka-chan. Such tasty fish you gave me, and such a fine hand on my back." The cat licked her front right paw, and flexed her claws. She spoke with a soft voice, almost a purr. "Why are you looking so terrified, Shi-chan? You don't like what you see?" The cat swished her tail, and a bright bit of fire lit the tip. "Don't you want me to curl up on your lap while you dangle a string for me to play with?"

Kazue, the girl's mother clutched her daughter, too terrified to move. Shizuka stopped struggling a moment, and watched the cat sit there, like a giant version of herself, mock attack an invisible string.

"Chika . . . " the girl said, her voice barely above a whisper

The bakeneko gave her paw one final lick, then stood back up. "Still, you gave me a sweet safe place to stay while I rested up. I promise you that I'll eat you last of all, just because of how well you scratched my ears." She stretched, claws extended. "Or maybe I'll take you with me when I leave this place. How would you like that? You could pretend not to be afraid of me, and I could choose not to eat you."

This struck the cat as amusing, and she opened her mouth in a grin that made the girl's mother back up, dragging her daughter with her.

"Just wait her, little Shi-chan, and let me take care of business. Then, after I've eaten everybody, we can go off looking for a new place to feed." The cat dropped its mock pretense of being an oversized version of a pet cat and stood back up, licking its lips. "Wouldn't you like that? If you move away from your mother, we can start now."

InuYasha and Miroku, trying to decide what to do next as they were momentarily forgotten by the monster, watched the exchange between the bakeneko and the girl with growing displeasure.

"Damn cat," InuYasha muttered softly to Miroku. "I hate how cats want to play with their prey. And why'd she have to hide out as some brat's pet?"

"Unfortunate," Miroku replied. "It's going to make our job unpleasant. But maybe we can at least keep the girl from watching the fight. You think this is the bakeneko Shippou told you about?"

"Yeah," InuYasha replied. "Got the same spots the runt described, and its left paw is injured still." He took a deep breath. "Time to get to work."

"Don't forget what Shippou told you," Miroku said. "I'll try to keep the girl from seeing more than she has to."

"Let me get that ofuda off of you, Chika. I know that monk did something to you," Shizuka said, struggling to get free from her mother's iron hold. "It's got to be his magic making you like this." She pulled at her mother's hands and almost got loose. "Let me go, Okaa! I've got to save her!"

"No!" Kazue said, finally finding her voice. "I'm not going to let you have her."

"You think you can chase me away with your broom, like you did this morning?" the cat said, stepping toward them. "I think not."

InuYasha gave Miroku a tap on his shoulder. "Go get them in the house, Bouzu. No telling what will happen if she breaks free."

Not waiting for the monk to answer, InuYasha leapt in front of the bakeneko, squatting in a battle stance as he glared up. "Hey, ugly!" he said, raising Tessaiga. "You've got better things to do than scare a woman and girl now. You asked me if I think I can stop you? I'm pretty sure I can. I've taken down worse than you. You won't even make me break a sweat."

The cat stopped her slow prowl toward the house, and grinned, barring her sharp pointed teeth. "Oh there you are, dog. I almost forgot about you," she said. "You're a much better toy than Shi-chan. How fun! Are you ready to play?"

The cat swished her tail. It trailed flames, throwing off sparks of red and gold. She lifted up her paw, gave it a lick, and then, faster than most people could see, extended her claws and swiped at InuYasha.

He danced out of her way easily. "That the best you got?"

The bakeneko narrowed her eyes, extending and retracting her claws. "Silly dog. Silly me. I thought you were an inu youkai. You stink like one. But you're only a hanyou. I thought inu youkai had better sense than that. I have had . . . dealings . . . with them before. You sort of look like the great Inu no Taisho. Now he was a great one. I fought him once when I was a young thing, and drew first blood, too. But you're not him. What's a hanyou like you think you can do against someone like me?"

She took a quick, playful swipe at him, which he dodged with no problem

"Plenty," InuYasha replied. He swung his sword at the cat hitting her with the broad side of his blade.

Shizuka screamed. The bakeneko yowled loudly, an unearthly sound, meant to frighten, but InuYasha didn't flinch, unlike some of the villagers. His ear flicked as back on the main street, a woman hollered for everybody to run as she carried her crying child away, but his eyes didn't leave his opponent. Not willing to injure the cat until Miroku got Shizuka out of sight, InuYasha allowed the cat to lunge at him again and again, using his leaps away from her to lead her a little further away from the house with each attack.

Miroku used the time to get to the girl's house just as Shizuka pulled free from a struggling Kazue. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly while the girl beat her fists against him.

"What did you do to her? What did you do?" she demanded. "She was fine until you came here."

"I only revealed what she truly is, I'm afraid," the monk said, looking at her with sad, sympathetic eyes. She struggled, but he walked her the three steps it took to handle her back to her mother and then stayed there to block the girl's escape.

"Kazue-sama, you must keep your daughter inside. If you let her go, the bakeneko will surely take her life. Shizuka-chan, you do not want to go there." He looked down on the girl, resting his hand on the top of her head. "The bakeneko will kill you and have you for a snack, no matter how nice she was to you as your pet."

He shoved them back inside, and slapped another of his ofuda on the wall of the house. It glowed incredibly red for a moment. "As long as you stay inside, the bakeneko won't be able to affect you. Don't leave."

Kazue looked at the monk, terrified. "This . . . this is the monster who's been attacking the village?" She clutched her daughter to her tightly.

"I am afraid so, Dono," Miroku said. "But neither I nor InuYasha will let anything bad happen to you."

The girl stilled, her eyes wide, and her lip trembled. "But . . . but . . . my Chika . . . she slept with me every night. How could she be a monster?"

Miroku rested his hand on the girl's shoulder. "Alas, child, things aren't always what they seem to be."

At that moment, the cat roared, lunging after InuYasha once again. Miroku, still blocking the doorway, a stack of ofuda in hand, turned around to watch. This time the hanyou wasn't quite so fast, and the bakeneko caught his shoulder, ripping through the red fire rat fabric. The cloth quickly darkened to a deeper shade of red where it had been ripped. InuYasha, ignoring the injury, jumped out of the way before the cat could strike again.

Laughing, an evil sound that sounded suspiciously like a cross between a cat's yawn and a meow, the bakeneko licked the traces of blood off her paw. "Delicious," she said. "Tasty, like the Inu no Taisho's blood. You, hanyou, you'll be just the appetizer I need before I take down the whole village."

"That's all you're going to get of me," InuYasha replied. He quickly noticed Miroku blocking the door to Kazue's house, and he lifted his sword. "I hear you had a run-in with some kitsune," the hanyou said. "That why you were pretending to be a kitten? So the foxes wouldn't find you?"

The cat's ears lowered and its tail swished hard, "Kitsune. What do they know?" No longer in a playful mood, she swung forward, the claws of her good paw barely missing the hanyou, who leaped up, bounced off the cat's head, and landed behind her.

"Told me enough of what I need to do to take care of a worthless piece of crap like you," InuYasha said. He lifted up his sword to strike. Before he could complete the blow, the cat, ignoring him, bounded away toward the house.

"Shizuka!" her mother wailed, as the girl broke free from the house and began to race toward the cat, Miroku's stack of ofuda in her hand.

Miroku, who had been knocked to the ground by the determined girl, sat there for a moment, stunned, before quickly getting up and running after her. But it was going to be a race who would reach the girl first, the monk or the bakeneko.

While InuYasha was dodging the bakeneko, back at Kaede's village, Haname was having less success dodging Susumu who was determined not to let her interrupt the meeting of elders as they determined what to do with Aki.

The older woman tugged hard against the grip Susumu had on her arm.

"Let me by, Susumu!"she said. "Don't treat me this way. I demand to see what they're discussing. I have a right to know."

"I am sorry, Haname-sama, but my father gave me explicit orders. You, nor anybody else is allowed to disturb the elders while they're meeting." Susumu's voice was apologetic, but his grip was unwavering.

"But . . . but . . . that's my grandson in there!" she said.

"I know, Obasan," he said, nodding. "I know. But your husband is there to make sure nobody does anything unjust to Aki-kun. You know that."

She spit. "My husband. Ha! I heard how he talked about defending his grandson."

"Obasan, I know you're upset." Susumu began to nudge her away from the building where the men were meeting and back to the main yard. "But it's true that your grandson was caught in the act."

"Upset. Upset. Someone put a spell on him, and we both know who did it. Wait until something happens to one of your own children. Maybe then you'll understand." She sighed, and relaxed a moment, and gave in, reluctantly letting him lead her down the path.

"Even so, Haname-sama, I am ordered not to let you in. Even if he did it because of a spell. Let me take you home. If Joben is there, he can come back with me. Perhaps Chichi-ue might let him be there in your place."

"Gah. My son is as worthless as my husband." She used her free hand to smooth her hair, and for the moment, simply allowed him to lead her to the main courtyard. "Take me home, Susumu. Let this hopeless old woman suffer in private. Everyone will be happier that way. Let Haname go home, and ignore the magic twisting everything up."

"There's nothing hopeless here, Obasan," Susumu said, as they passed Tameo's main house. "He's only going to be - "

Unexpectedly, she jerked free of Susumu's now loosened hold. "You!" Haname yelled, interrupting him. "You! How dare you!" She raised her hand and pointed at the knot of women in front of Matsume's house watching her - Emi, Hisa and Kagome. She began running toward the women. "How dare you show your face here, you ugly witch!"

Susumu ran after her, but not before Haname stood in front of Kagome, raging. "You just show up one day, and let that monster free, and the next thing we know, we're being attacked by youkai. It's your fault that so many people's houses got destroyed. You show up again, and not only are you sleeping with that . . . that . . . thing, you've bewitched Tameo and Kaede and even my husband. And you're trying to destroy my family. Look at what your magic did to Aki. You . . . "

Haname was bright red, and Kagome shrank back, eyes wide, not sure of what to do against this type of verbal attack. Shippou, hearing the commotion, bounded out of the house, and jumped on Kagome's shoulder. He growled at her.

"Leave Kagome-sama alone, you old hag," he yelled back.

Haname looked at the kit, and then the women around them. "Why do you let her wear miko clothes? What other proof do I need? She has youkai who protect her! Has she bewitched you all?" Raising her hand, she gave Kagome a loud, resounding slap