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

Chapter 68

Isao, Kaede and the elders gathered around Haname, who was still struggling, even being bound and gagged. Kaede knelt next to the woman, and Isao peered over her shoulder.

"Is she going to be all right?" Isao asked. Obviously shaken, as well as ill still from his fall, he looked at his grandaunt with worried eyes. "Did I do the right thing?"

Susumu rested a hand on his shoulder. The boy, trying not to wince, looked up at him. The bruising he had received earlier in the day was turning quite black, shadowing his forehead and cheek, but there were fresh dirt smudges from his helping to stop Haname from attacking Kagome.

"You did a good thing, Isao. No telling what might have happened if you hadn't done that," Susumu said.

"It's been such an awful day," Isao said. He looked up at Daitaro, then hung his head. "I'm very sorry about what we've done to you, Dono. I don't have any excuses."

"You've made up for a lot today, son," the old man said. He studied the boy carefully. "You look like you're hurting."

Isao nodded.

"He should lie down," Kaede said.

"Emi's watching over Aki and no doubt feeding Toshiro cakes and tea," Tameo said. "You should go there right now, unless you want to go to Kaede-sama's."

"I'll stay," Isao said.

"Good boy," Tameo said, giving him an encouraging nod. "But don't, tell Aki about what you've done. We'll deal with that later."

The boy nodded and walked off.

"He's a good boy," Tsuneo said. "It's a shame that Aki and he seem to always manage to find trouble."

Tameo looked up at Susumu, and gave him a small, knowing smile. "Oh, I know, I know."

"I've grown up since those days, Otousan," Susumu said.

"Thank goodness," Tameo replied. "There were times . . . "

Kinjiro walked out of his own house and joined the men. "I'm ready to take Haname to your house, Kaede-obasan, when you're ready for me to move her."

Kaede nodded.

"I . . . I never expected this," Tsuneo said, sighing deeply. "I know there were things she didn't like, but I never expected the anger to run this strongly." He shook his head. "Will she get better?"

Kaede was running her hands just above the troubled woman's body. "I don't know if it's all her," the miko said. "There's something dark streaking through her aura, like a black sickness. But it doesn't come from her heart or her mind. I wonder if she's been around anybody who could have put a spell on her?"

"I don't know," Tsuneo said. "Joben's always bringing home some holy man or the other. There's someone staying with him now, who claims to be a yamabushi."

"The yamabushi's magic can be tricky," Kaede said. "It's a mix of things, the way of the kami and the way of the Buddha, and other things only the mountain sages know. I might need to talk with Miroku-sama when he gets back."

Kinjiro knelt next to Kaede. "Just let me know when you're ready, Obasan."

Before Kaede could answer, a strange sound filled the air. Everybody looked up, trying to figure out where it was coming from.

"Merciful Buddha," Tsuneo said. "What's that? It sounds like . . . "

"Nothing I ever heard before," Tameo said. "Is it an animal?"

"I don't know, but it's coming from the shrine by the sound of it," Susumu said, starting to move that way. "That's where I had Okaasan go with Kagome-sama."

"I saw Hisa go back into the house," Tameo said. "That must mean Kagome-chan is there alone."

Daitaro, Tsuneo and Tameo hurried after the younger man.

Susumu reached the garden, and then suddenly stopped. The first thing he spotted was Morio, standing there, his topknot in disarray, and half of the hair it had been holding escaped and drifting around the base of his neck. His face was scratched, and the fabric of his kosode was ripped and bloody at the shoulders.

"Kuso," Susumu said. "What happened to him?"

Morio was shaking. His arm pointed to an area near the shrine building. Something in the air made the hairs stand up on Susumu's neck. He followed to where the injured man was pointing and saw an intensely bright glowing light there, and it surrounded Kagome.

Soon, Susumu was joined by his father and Tsuneo and Daitaro.

"What's going on?" Tsuneo asked.

"The kami," Tameo whispered. He spread his arms out to keep the other men moving forward. "Kazuo-sama almost never manifests fully in our world."

"But who is that person?" Daitaro asked, pointing to Morio.

"Morio the yamabushi," Tsuneo said. "That's the man who had been staying with my son. I wonder what got to him? I have no idea why he's here."

"It looks like he's had a rough time of it," Susumu said.

Tameo nodded. "But if Kazuo is here, he must have done something that the kami didn't like. And I suspect it involved Kagome-chan. She's under his personal protection, you know. I'm afraid your yamabushi's rough time is just beginning."

As the men gathered to watch at a respectful distance, the kami Kazuo rested a hand on Kagome's shoulder. "Are you all right, Granddaughter?" he asked.

All of a sudden, all of the adrenaline she had been running on ran out, and the enormity of everything began to hit her. She shook her head, and brushed a stray lock of hair out of her face with a trembling hand. "No," she said. "I don't think he hurt me, but I'm not all right at all."

She sucked her bottom lip and her eyes grew moist, like she was fighting back tears.

He patted her shoulder. "Don't worry, child. As long as I'm near you, that stupid fool won't be able to touch you." As if to make his point clear, Morio stopped looking for Shippou and began walking toward them, as if he just noticed where Kagome was. Kazuo took his hoe off his shoulder and pointed it at the yamabushi. Morio stopped in mid-stride.

"That man has been causing a lot of trouble in this village. He's the same troublemaker that angered the bakeneko at Kagemura. It's about time to do something about him, I think."

"What . . . what do you mean?" Kagome asked.

"You saw what happened to Haname, didn't you?" He sighed. "Tsuneo's family kami has been complaining to me night and day, but just couldn't seem to get Joben to send him on. Their family has very little reiki. It's really hard for their kami to tell them anything."

"Is . . . is that why you can show up here like this?" Kagome asked.

"It makes it a lot easier, let me tell you," he said, nodding. "Haname has never really liked the fact that your husband and that little fox that comes and goes stayed at the village, but she was perfectly sane before that fool came here. But he has been feeding her some really bad stories, trying to strum up business. That's how he's usually made his living, finding the frightened ones, and building up their fears, and then charging them too much to take care of their problems."

"But Miroku - " Kagome said.

"Heh." Kazuo smiled. "That monk friend of yours, he never drained a village the way this greedy bastard has. And he always leaves the real thing behind. They're better off after he's left. He doesn't just stir up the local ghosts and youkai and run off with the goods."

Kazuo struck his hoe on the ground, and suddenly Kagome could feel a barrier build up around here. Kagome looked up at the kami.

"Part of the show for your friends. You'll see." He scratched his chin. "Now where was I? Oh yes, talking about Haname.

"After he saw you and that husband of yours, he began slipping her some special herb tea which he claimed would protect her from youkai magic." The kami spit. A small weed began growing where his spittle landed. "It loosened her tongue, and that's when she really started to complain to everybody about you.

"Last night, he gave her a little charm that pushed her over the edge. He was the one that filled Aki-kun's head with the idea that they should do pranks to make Daitaro think he really was cursed, because he wanted to be called on to exorcize it away. And now, he laid hands on you, thinking he could flip your memories around so you'd prefer him to your hanyou. It's past time to do something about that greedy troublemaker."

"He thought he could . . . " Kagome found her anger rising in spite of how exhausted she felt.

Kazuo nodded. He looked at the trembling man with an expectant glee that made Kagome shiver. She had seen a similar look in InuYasha's eyes right before he attacked and she knew what it meant.

Morio, who was still unable to walk forward, but had raised his arm, pointing, while he was trying to chant something.

"And he tried to do it in front of my own shrine, where my power is strongest, the fool." Kazuo said. "I shouldn't feel this gleeful, but he put himself in just the right place for me to do something about it."

"What, what are you going to do?" Kagome asked.

"Nothing he doesn't deserve," Kazuo said. He pounded his hoe against the ground and the barrier dissolved. "But first, our witnesses are here. Time to start the show."