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Naraku’s Castle, A Vampire Game

Chapter Text

>^.^<  

1

Blood dripped from Sesshoumaru’s fangs. His prey writhed under one gigantic paw. The aura of its fear only fed the insatiable bloodlust of the monster dog. He raised his paw. The wounded creature bleated and scampered away. The dog’s muscles quivered, ready to spring into action. He waited until the creature reached the other side of the clearing, then leapt into the air. He cleared the open space in one bound and was upon his prey. One bite was sufficient to consume the innocent deer, as it joined the rest of the herd in the belly of the beast.

His hunger sated, the white dog transformed to his humanoid guise. The youkai lord slipped silently through the forest as the sky above the trees lightened in the east. His boot toed the snoring, slobbering toad. “Break camp and settle Rin on Ah-Un. We leave at dawn.” He turned and moved toward the nearby clearing where Inuyasha’s pack camped.

~*~*~*

“Ouch, dammit, Myoga!” accompanied the sound of a slap against skin. Inuyasha growled as his fingers combed the mane around his ears, searching for the annoying flea youkai. “Why’d ya have to bite me and wake me up? It’s not even dawn yet.” 

There was no answer in the silent forest. Inuyasha scratched the itchy lump behind his ear. He rolled and wriggled on his back attempting to scratch the maddening fire spreading down his spine. The vague thought entered his fogged brain that maybe something other than Myoga had bitten him. He smelled the blood on his fingers, the odor was somehow darker and more poisonous than the flea. Some other bloodsucker then, as if one flea wasn’t enough.

“What ya staring at, asshole,” Inuyasha greeted his half-brother. 

Sesshoumaru strode into the clearing, his pristine hair and garb a brilliant bright contrast to the dark still lingering under the trees. “Hn,” Sesshoumaru resumed his pointed stare at the bedraggled hanyou, covered in leaves and mud from rolling on the forest floor. He wrinkled his nose at the stench of the hanyou’s blood, tainted with a distasteful undertone. “You need not roll in carrion to proclaim your currish tendencies” he mocked. “Make use of the miko’s favorite hot spring beyond these trees. Even the stench of wet hanyou is preferable to your current state.”

Inuyasha jumped to his feet and began waving his battered katana, which had failed to transform. “Leave, bastard!” he shouted as he bounded over to Kagome’s sleeping bag. “I’ll protect you!” he crouched near her head and faced his “adversary.”

Kagome awoke abruptly from a very pleasant dream involving the removal of silk wrappings from a tantalizing present. “Gah, what is that smell?” She held her nose as the breeze blew another whiff of carrion aroma from Inuyasha’s direction. Her eyes narrowed as she watched Inuyasha dancing around, shouting obscenities, and waving the untransformed Tetsusaiga at the motionless and plainly bored Sesshoumaru.

Rudely awakened, subjected to that horrid smell, all while the object of her not-so-innocent carnal fantasies watched impassively, it was perhaps inevitable what next occurred. “Inuyasha sit . . . sit . . . sit,” she screamed. “And when you’ve dug yourself out of your hole, GO TAKE A BATH!”

Kagome scrambled away from the excavation, pulling up her sleeping bag and Shippo. She moved toward the fire pit already contemplating the meal to be prepared. 

“Indeed,” commented Sesshoumaru as he drifted in Kagome’s wake, nonchalantly snapping his whip near Inuyasha’s posterior as he passed the pit.

~*~*~*

Sesshoumaru stood beside the fire and regarded Kagome’s activities. “Miko.”

Kagome nervously gathered a pot and supplies from her bag. “Lord Sesshoumaru, would you care for some tea,” she offered.

“Hn,” Sesshoumaru settled himself with his back to a tree in a relaxed posture. He observed the miko as she readied the meal for the camp. The kit hid behind her, clutching her robe. She was never alone. His pursuit was constantly hindered by her interfering pack.

A squawking, “Mi lord, mi lord, do not leave this poor Jaken behind!” announced the arrival of the toad youkai leading Ah-Un with Rin riding.

His own interfering pack as well, mused the silent youkai.

Kagome brushed the hair out of her eyes and acknowledged the arrival of the additional guests. “Rin, why don’t you and Shippo go wash up while I cook breakfast.”

Additional grumbles emerged from the pit as Inuyasha clawed his way to the top. “Ya gonna invite the whole dam circus, bitch?” Inuyasha complained. “There’s not enough ramen for me and them too.”

Kagome growled, “Sit,” under her breath and Inuyasha tumbled back into the pit. 

The children paused at the pit and stared down at the hanyou. Both children held their noses and backed away. Inuyasha crawled out of the hole and headed toward the trees. The reek was intensifying.

Sesshoumaru commanded, “Jaken, go with Inuyasha to the spring and assist him with his bath. You shall regret it if that stench is not removed.” Jaken quivered and trotted after Inuyasha, following at a “respectful” distance.

Sesshoumaru rose and turned his gaze toward Kagome. “Miko,” he began in a low hypnotic tone. Rin and Shippo ran around the tree, their hands trailing a flower chain, which encircled Sesshoumaru’s legs binding him to the tree. He sighed silently. His courtship of the miko was definitely cursed. It would seem to require supernatural intervention to proceed. He would have to find a better way to approach her and ensure their time alone. He accepted the tea she offered and resumed his seat, observing the flush of her cheeks as his gaze lingered on her features.

After many squawks from Jaken and constant cursing from Inuyasha, the hanyou was relatively clean, the blood and ichor washed from his hair and back. Inuyasha shook the wet, smelly fire rat haori. The mangled carcass of a noxious flying rodent youkai fell to the ground. The blood sucking hunter sent by the dark lord Naraku had proved to be mortal.

Inuyasha eyed the remains distastefully. He grinned wickedly, “Bury that away from the spring, after you finish washing my clothes.”

Jaken sputtered and started to protest. “Move it,” growled Inuyasha hiding his smirk. Maybe Sesshoumaru’s useless lackey was good for something after all.

~*~*~*

Chapter Text

2

Vampire hunter Sango and her fire cat landed. She knelt to examine the mound of sand near the hot springs. Someone had buried something. She motioned for Kirara to dig. The huge fire cat soon backed away from the noxious smell emanating from the pit. The remains of a bat-winged rodent with prominent fangs reeked with the same odor of death as the prey Sango hunted. She had found another piece of the puzzle surrounding the latest vampire outbreak.

These noxious creatures were somehow related to the vampires. She didn’t know if they were livestock, minions, or vermin that fed on the carrion the vampires left behind. Just finding one meant that the prey she was tracking could not be far away. She reburied the carrion, erasing traces of her presence. She mounted Kirara and they began to follow the small webbed tracks left by the one who buried the rodent youkai.

~*~*~*

That day’s trek seemed interminable. Inuyasha galloped from the front to the rear of the traveling queue, growling and disappearing into any large cluster of underbrush. After sun had risen halfway to its zenith, Sesshoumaru finally had enough of the hanyou’s erratic behavior. The vague circling and winding path that Inuyasha claimed led toward the village they sought, seemed to go nowhere. He called a halt and motioned over Kagome and Miroku. “Enough of the hanyou’s folly. Rest and eat. I will find the proper route to Village-on-the-Hillside.” 

Miroku nodded respectfully, he also believed the endless meandering did not lead toward their destination. The rumors of shard bearing monsters, from the various village girls he harassed during their stops for supplies, pointed toward the north. All spoke of rampaging youkai in that region of the mountains. A few added in terrified whispers that the mountains were haunted by a powerful new dark lord.

~*~*~*

Through the open shutters of the local sake shop, Sango saw the white garbed youkai, his fur cape and hair writhing as if windblown. 

A bit of wry humor reminiscent of the situation came to her, the half-remembered beginnings of a joke. She smiled briefly, a youkai lord and a vampire slayer walked into a bar . . . 

She heard the low growl of distaste as Lord Sesshoumaru regarded the human dangling from his claws wrapped around its throat. “Where is this dark lord of rumor hiding?” He dropped his prey on the floor. 

The man coughed and rubbed his throat groveling at the youkai’s feet. “In the north they say, Lord. In the ruins in the forest beyond Saddle Mountain the new evil grows. The rumors say from there none return.”

Sesshoumaru turned away in disgust at the man’s continued whimpered babbling. As he passed her, Sango bowed. He paused; it was the woman who had been following their party all day. A vampire slayer by her garb. “Come,” he commanded and trekked back down the hill toward their camp.

Sango followed a few paces behind. Perhaps they knew more of the enemy she sought.

~*~*~*

Inuyasha sat scratching his back against a tree. His mutterings and growls had become increasingly animalistic as the day progressed. He stared at movement in the brush across the clearing and bounded away.

Trotting back, he dangled a rabbit by the ears. Leaping into the tree, he bit the animal’s throat and drained the blood from its carcass. He threw the body on the forest floor. Inuyasha began eying the humans and youkai around the campfire.

“I don’t like the looks of that,” commented Miroku.

Shippo began whimpering and hid himself in Kagome’s arms. “He’s gonna eat me. Inuyasha’s gone crazy.” Rin clung to her skirt and edged behind the miko.

Kagome had no reply to the kit’s fears. She had come to the same conclusion herself.

A short while later, Sesshoumaru strode into the camp followed by Sango. Rin rushed and grabbed his leg. “Sesshoumaru-sama, you came back to save Rin. Inuyasha is being so creepy. Shippo thinks he wants to eat us!”

Sesshoumaru paused and tousled the little girl’s hair. “This Sesshoumaru will not let the idiot hanyou harm you. Go and sit with the others.” He glared; his eyes narrowed at the growling hanyou in the tree. An icy wind began to whirl around the campsite.

Sango waited at the edge of the clearing, her black coat fluttering in the wind, her armor visible beneath. The monk’s gaze became fixed; his mouth hung open and drool dripped down his chin. Kagome cuffed the back of his head. “Focus,” she chided. She gathered the children close to watch the coming events unfold.

Sesshoumaru flipped his green acid whip at the tree where Inuyasha perched. The whip cut through the branch and dropped the hanyou to the ground. Miroku moved in and quickly plastered Inuyasha with a dozen sutras.

Shippo twittered, “And you didn’t even have to sit him, Kagome.”

~*~*~*

Chapter Text

3

Beyond Saddle Mountain, youkai spiders hung their webs in the corners of the ancient fortress. The only light in the great hall was the crackling fire in the central pit. The evil lord and his pale dark-haired woman lay entwined in the mounds of silk and furs on the futon before the fire.

A trembling servant rested a tray with sake jug and cups next to them on the platform and swiftly bowed his way out of the chamber. Naraku poured and handed one cup to the woman. “A toast to the return of my immortal bride,” he purred and devoured his most treasured possession with his eyes.

His lady was only lately restored to consciousness from the fifty year period of regeneration after he snatched her remains from her funeral pyre. She stretched and draped herself over the dark lord. “I thirst and the craving grows unbearable. Will you not provide me with stronger drink, my lord?”

Naraku rose and padded to the doorway. “Kagura, bring sustenance for the Lady Kikyo immediately,” he commanded.

A few moments later Kagura entered, dragging two bound squirming, whimpering village children. She dropped them on the edge of the platform and left silently.

Kikyo trembled and her eyes filled with anguish for a moment, then shuddered and smiled with unholy joy, her fangs gleaming in the firelight. She pounced and began to feed. Naraku quickly joined her in the feasting.

~*~*~*

Inuyasha struggled and growled; his red eyes filled with hate. He showed no other signs of transforming to his animalistic youkai state. They left him on the ground, safely immobilized by the sutras.

Sango approached the group and introduced herself. They all gathered around the fire while Kagome ladled soup into their bowls. Miroku recounted what they had observed while Sesshoumaru was gone.

Kagome approached Inuyasha with a bowl. “Do you want some soup?”

Jaws snapping, he tried to lunge toward her. Snarling viciously, he lay on the ground panting. A guttural growl turned into “Blood . . . want blood.”

Kagome jumped away and returned to the fire. She swept up Shippo and hugged him. She could not stop trembling. She had never seen Inuyasha this insane, even when transformed to his youkai state. Shippo ventured a timid question, “Do you think Myoga infected him somehow?”

Sango crouched and peered closely at the slavering hanyou. “Has he shown any unusual wounds recently?” she asked the group.

Jaken sidled closer to the vampire slayer and groveled. “Lady Slayer, this humble one has seen a black wound on his neck and red and black trails snaking down his spine. And he was covered in a carrion stench that took much scrubbing to remove.”

“Hmm,” she muttered, considering. She drew one of her knives from its wrist sheath and made a small cut on her hand. Pooling the blood in her palm she approached Inuyasha.

The hanyou became frantic, attempting to lunge toward the tantalizing scent. Sango stood over him and let the blood fall on to his mouth and lips. He opened his mouth wide and lapped all the blood from around his mouth. “More,” he growled.

Sango turned away and returned to the fire, taking a drink from her bowl, pausing to compose her thoughts. “It is as I suspected; he has the vampire plague.”

Kagome cried. “How can we cure him? You must tell us,” she begged.

Sango frowned and sighed. It was always this way; the worst was telling the families. “There is no cure. He will only grow worse, rampaging and attacking all in his path, infecting any who survive his attacks. He must be put down.”

“No, no, no . . .” Kagome began to sob loudly. Shippo began to whimper. The monk looked troubled and began chanting prayers softly.

Sango continued, “It should be done before twilight. He will be at his strongest after night fall.” She rose and drew a wooden sword from a scabbard inscribed with mystical symbols.

Sesshoumaru was suddenly in her path. “He is the get of my father. The responsibility belongs to this Sesshoumaru. He is mine to kill.”

Sango argued. “He must be staked through the heart with a blessed wooden weapon or he will rise again undead, my lord.”

Sesshoumaru stood still, considering. “Do it then,” he commanded.

Before any of the others could react, Sango leapt forward and plunged her sword through Inuyasha’s heart. He groaned once, shuddered and lay still.

~*~*~*

Chapter Text

4

Sesshoumaru’s eyes narrowed. “Keep back,” he growled to Kagome and Miroku. He watched Inuyasha’s body intently, one hand on Tenseiga.

A bluish mist arose around the body, and grey imps began to emerge, gathering around the still form. Sesshoumaru sprang, slashing with Tenseiga, vaporizing the minions sent to drag Inuyasha to hell. He backed away and sheathed his sword.

Inuyasha drew a huge, shuddering breath. His golden eyes opened and he looked around in confusion. “What the hell? . . . Monk, damn it. Why the fuck am I covered with sutras?” He began to struggle. “Just wait until I get loose.” Noticing Sesshoumaru, he growled, “What you laughing at, bastard?”

Kagome gave a strangled laugh. Inuyasha was back among the living. He was his normal rude, uncouth self. The monk smiled and moved to the other side of the fire. “Lady Sango, if you would do the honors and remove the sutras. I think it best if I am well away. I believe you would not be in any danger.”

Sango knelt by Inuyasha, a sword in one hand. She ripped away the first paper. Inuyasha swore, “Damn it, that hurt. Who the hell are you?”

“Your slayer,” Sango replied.

“Precisely,” commented Sesshoumaru, as a brief smirk of amusement ghosted across his features.

“What the hell?” the angry, confused hanyou gasped as she ripped off the last sutra.

At last one of the group took pity on Inuyasha. Miroku explained what they knew, “That creature that bit you the other day gave you the vampire curse. You became as mad and mindless a creature as when controlled by your youkai half. You began drinking blood. You were dying.”

“I don’t remember none of that,” Inuyasha complained.

Miroku continued, “The slayer staked your heart. Lord Sesshoumaru used Tenseiga to revive you.”

Inuyasha sat up and glared at Sango, “You KILLED me!”

Sango shrugged. “It was necessary. You had become vampire. You would rise as one of the undead after the fever killed you. As a mindless beast under the control of your master.” She turned to the rest of the group. “I believe that the dark lord I seek, the one who sends these vampire creatures, is the same one known to you as Naraku.”

~*~*~*

“Kanna, bring your mirror,” Naraku ordered. The small white haired demon positioned the mirror so Naraku and Kikyo could observe its contents.

“Show me the jewel shards,” he commanded. The mirror surface flickered through images of several demons before focusing on the group of shard hunters around their fire.

“Inuyasha,” Kikyo whispered.

“And that is your next task, my queen. Beguile the hanyou. Get him to steal the shards from the girl and bring them to me.” Naraku tugged on her hair and pulled her close. “Kanna, leave,” he absently added as he maneuvered Kikyo toward the pile of furs.

~*~*~*

Running through the trees, the hanyou’s ears flicked. He stopped, turning about to listen.

“Inuyasha . . . Inuyasha,” whispers came from deeper within the woods. He followed the sound.

How could it be? It was Her voice. Kaede said she was dead and gone fifty years ago, after he was sealed. The scent, it was hers.

There beneath the trees, a shimmer of white. Long black hair framed a pale ghostly face. It was her. “Kikyo,” he breathed. Dumbstruck he followed her into the brush, captured by her call.

~*~*~*

Chapter Text

 

Inuyasha had disappeared again. Kagome grumbled, stuffing her yellow backpack with books and dirty clothes. If they were going to make an extended trip to scope out their enemy, she needed to go home to restock and deal with school issues. Maybe she could get the slayer to drop her off at the well. Her large cat looked like it could carry more than one. As she crossed the clearing to talk to Sango, she caught Sesshoumaru watching her. His gaze steady, never blinking, creeped her out.

“Do you need something, Sesshoumaru-sama?” she asked the silent youkai.

“You are preparing to travel,” he commented.

Oh crap, not another interfering dog trying to keep her from going home. Sesshoumaru hadn’t been with their group all that long. The last time she went home was right before he joined them. He obviously was questioning her. Kagome struggled to keep her explanations civil. “I need to go to my home near the old well in Inuyasha’s forest.”

Sesshoumaru raised one eyebrow. “Will not this require several days travel? Surely you do not mean to go alone?”

Why doesn’t anyone think I can take care of myself was her first thought. He wasn’t actually trying to forbid her going. “I thought I would ask the vampire slayer to fly me there on her cat. It shouldn’t take too long to travel that way,” Kagome answered, watching him for clues to his reaction.

Sesshoumaru was elated, although he allowed none of his emotion to show. This was the opportunity he had been seeking, to get the miko alone. “There is no need to ask the slayer. This Sesshoumaru will take you.”

~*~*~*

Kagome’s mouth fell open. She was so not expecting that response. “Okay, thanks. Can we leave before Inuyasha gets back? He always causes trouble when I go home,” she replied.

“Come,” Sesshoumaru gestured. Kagome tentatively approached. When she was within a few paces, Sesshoumaru moved swiftly and gathered her close, smirking at her squeak and reddening face. He formed his cloud and they flew away.

As they flew, Kagome explained that her home was not in Inuyasha’s Forest, but through a portal in the old well. After they reached the clearing, Sesshoumaru hovered over the well and began descending. “It might not work . . . only Inuyasha and I have been able to go through,” she trailed off as the blue light flared.

The portal activated and deposited them at the bottom of the well in the old shed. Sesshoumaru looked a bit startled and his nostrils flared. “It might smell odd,” she commented hastily.

“Indeed,” he answered. Holding her even tighter, he leaped out of the well.

He still had not let her go, even though they were out of the well. He nuzzled her neck and hair. “You smell far, far better than the air here,” was the muffled comment.

Kagome still shocked, had no reply. Sesshoumaru seemed to have thawed a bit lately, but she certainly was not expecting this, nor her traitorous body’s reaction.

“Um, you can let me go now,” Kagome attempted to step away.

Sesshoumaru growled, something at the very edge of his senses triggered his protective instincts. “Mine,” whatever or whoever lurked out there would not steal away his chance with her.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

“There is something which threatens out there,” he grumbled.

“It’s just my family shrine. There are protective wards around it,” she wondered out loud if that was what he felt.

“No, there is strong youki, but faint as if dampened,” he mused. “Familiar somehow.” He swiveled, canting his head and sniffing audibly. “It is gone now.”

~*~*~*

“Mom, I’m home!” Kagome called out as she entered her home. Sesshoumaru paced behind her silently, taking in his surroundings, on guard. The unknown youkai might return.

They entered through a food preparation area. A basin built into the cabinets was full of soaking pots and pans, some sort of elevated fire box, where the odors of fried food lingered, a high work table, and several large humming boxes of unknown purpose were in the room. Kagome continued into a connecting room furnished with couches and cushions around a low table. A boy sprawled on the couch closest to a large picture on the wall. Sesshoumaru stared at the images flickering across the screen and winced slightly at the noises that seemed to be coming from behind the moving paintings.

“Hey Kagome, you gotta watch the trailer for this new game. It sounds like Inuyasha and you guys.” Souta paused his video and turned to face his sister. “Who’s that? His hair looks like Inuyasha without the ears.”

Sesshoumaru frowned imperceptibly, insolent pup. Kagome’s whole family must have her loud, brash manner.

Kagome addressed Sesshoumaru, “My Lord, this is my younger brother Souta.” She continued, “Souta, this is Lord Sesshoumaru, Inuyasha’s older youkai brother.”

“Half-brother,” Sesshoumaru glared at her.

“Oh wow, can I see your swords? Inuyasha showed me his,” Souta begged.

“No,” Sesshoumaru’s response was immediate.

Souta was diverted as he looked closely at Sesshoumaru. “That’s weird, you look like the elf in the new video game. Clothes, armor, and everything.”

Kagome was curious now, “What video game?”

Souta went into an excited, extended spiel about the new game he was just dying to buy. Kagome blinked, it sounded exactly like her adventures in the past.

Souta opened the menu on the dvd he was watching and brought up the “Coming Attractions” screen. He clicked on the “Vampire Castle” icon. The screen opened with a huge muscle-bound character with long white hair and cat ears dressed in a red gi and hakama. He bounced in the waiting for action fighter pose and waved a sword that was larger than he was. The name banner read “Inukami.”

Sesshoumaru snorted. The picture must be Inuyasha’s dream self.

As the scene unfolded, the camera panned to the forest in the distance. A short, skinny elf and a girl in a green and white school uniform were suspended in a spider’s web in the trees. Massive spiders scurried and bats flew toward the fighter. His attacks took them out easily. He cut down the captives from the web, catching the girl and allowing the elf to fall on his rear. The school girl hugged and kissed the fighter. The dejected elf slunk away into the trees. A siren went off and lights flashed, a sign reading “Game Over! You Win!” scrolled across the screen.

Kagome covered her face, red with embarrassment. It was so, so bad. But how had their story become a video game?

~*~*~*

Chapter Text

Souta commented, “The characters look just like you guys.”

Sesshoumaru’s eyes narrowed and he spat, “Hardly.”

Kagome read the description of the game and opened the “More Info” window. The game was set in the forests and mountains of feudal Japan. The group of players had a quest to recover magical tokens and fight a series of battles with the minions of the Vampire Lord, the ultimate boss. Players could choose to play as several different characters: a school girl witch, a sorcerer, a kitsune trickster, a female vampire slayer, an elf fighter, or the featured brawny hero, Inukami.

Kagome didn’t usually play too many games with Souta, but this one was way too close to her life. It would be worth parting with some of her carefully hoarded cash to see this. “I’ll give you, no LOAN you the money to go buy it if you want,” she told the boy.

With an excited yell he raced up the stairs and brought back down a purse, handing it to Kagome. As quickly as the money was in his hands Souta raced out the door.

“Miko, who is responsible for this play?” Sesshoumaru inquired.

Kagome stared at the screen thoughtfully. That was an excellent question. Moreover, what did they know about the double life she was living in the present and in the past. “Do you think they know how our quest turns out?” she mused.

Sesshoumaru examined his claws; it seemed obvious that his idiot half-brother must have survived until this future time. “That is something we shall discover,” he resolved.

These video games were easily grasped and excruciatingly tedious once one mastered the fundamentals Sesshoumaru decided. He failed to see what so enthralled the young boy. Now Inuyasha . . . the characters and manner of play fairly reeked of the hanyou. He was obviously behind this mis-told tale. While Souta remained absorbed by the first campaign, Sesshoumaru had played all the scenarios to their various endings. Kagome kept notes on the computer and printed out the results to take back with them.

“Do we need to go back right away?” she asked Sesshoumaru as he reviewed her notes.

She seemed to be asking his permission. “There is something else you wish to do? This Sesshoumaru sees no need to go back immediately. The group will certainly wait for our return.”

“Souta has a football festival this weekend and Mama and Ji-chan are going to watch the games and the yasakoi parade and dances afterward.” She glanced over at him uncertainly. “I would like to go with them. Would you come too?”

Sesshoumaru’s eyebrow lifted, he shrugged with one shoulder and answered “Hn.”

Kagame smiled and clapped her hands. His reaction was so different from Inuyasha’s tantrums.

Sesshoumaru smirked inwardly; they had worked well together and she was so easily pleased without any effort on his part. They could certainly stay longer, if only to benefit his campaign to win the miko.

The soccer festival was somewhat tedious in Sesshoumaru’s opinion. The games were played through rapidly as teams were eliminated. The children, friends, and families there to cheer them on were certainly enthusiastic. His ears rang from the screams of excitement.

There were quite a few of the crowd wearing some form of traditional dress. Many of the groups seemed to have a uniform of sorts. Sesshoumaru grasped Kagome’s shoulder and pulled her close. “Kagome, do these teams represent the local lords? I see many groups in livery.”

Kagome flushed; he was so close. His breath wafted across her cheek. She waved her hands, “No, no, nothing like that. They are probably groups who will be performing in the yasakoi parade or maybe the dance exhibitions tonight.”

He settled back, “Hn.” Exhibitions, the glimmer of an idea began to form. This could be his opportunity to “display.”

The crowd slowly drifted along the road following the dancing groups and soccer teams in the informal parade to the festival grounds. Their progress was accompanied by a cacophony of various types of music, ranging from traditional historical sounds to modern Jpop, rap and techno. It was as if many groups of musicians were competing to see who could play the loudest. Souta’s team had come in third overall and he seemed very pleased with their performance. Kagome returned his high five as he chattered excitedly.

Sesshoumaru seemed interested in observing the various groups. Kagome impulsively grabbed his hand as the crowd threatened to separate them. “We have a spot at the tables just ahead under those trees,” she gestured with her other hand.

Groups of tables surrounded the large open space in a scattered ring. Booths selling various types of food lined one side. A raised platform was successively occupied by a variety of musicians of widely ranging degrees of talent. As darkness fell, the traditional yasakoi dancers gave way to more dramatic individual and group performances. The acts ranged from juggling, hoop dances, fan dances and martial arts demos, swirling team banners and glowing props.

Sesshoumaru fastidiously licked the juices off his fingers that dripped from his seared meat skewer. He glanced to the side, Kagome seemed entranced by the glowing lights as she absently stuffed rice balls into her mouth. Let’s see what she thinks of “this” performance. Quicker than the human eye could follow, he moved toward the center of the open area.

Kagome turned toward Sesshoumaru, “Did you see that?” The space he had occupied was now vacant. “What? Where did you go?” she asked the open space.

A murmur rippled through the crowd accompanied by applause. Kagome blinked; it couldn’t be. In the center, flashing green light whips accompanied leaps and spins of the white silk clad figure. Sesshoumaru, moving slowly enough to be easily seen, enacted a battle scene or kata. The whips disappeared and his swords flashed in a slower sword dance that resembled a theatrical kami mai. She was caught by his eyes, their gleaming gold focused on her. He was dancing for her. This was like nothing she had ever imagined him doing. She was frozen by his strength, grace, and inhuman beauty. And then suddenly the circle was empty; he had vanished.

Kagome jumped; he was back on the bench next to her again. He drew her close and nuzzled her hair. She vaguely heard Ji-chan saying, “Yes, that dancer is a visitor at the Higarashi Shrine. Perhaps there will be a festival performance.” Her grandfather was scheming again, hoping to draw Sesshoumaru into his crazy ideas.

Sesshoumaru huffed, “Hn. This Sesshoumaru displayed for you . . . Kagome. This one shall not perform for the amusement of the peasants.”

Kagome gasped, “What do you mean?”

Sesshoumaru sighed; she was so oblivious. This was not something one addressed directly. But since she did not seem to grasp subtlety, he stated, “That is an ancient sword dance of this one’s clan. A dance the male performs for the female he has chosen.”

“Chosen for what?” the clueless woman asked.

Sesshoumaru looked heavenward in a rare appeal to the kami. “His chosen mate. You, Kagome, are this Sesshoumaru’s choice.”

~*~*~*

Chapter Text

Kagome and Sesshoumaru approached the village. The passage through the well had been uneventful. Neither Kagome nor Sesshoumaru had referred to the events of the previous evening, although there were many stolen glances between them. Many “accidental” brushes of clothing or flesh as well. The silence between them was weighty, but patient. Eventually the topic would have to be addressed.

Along with bowls of stew, Kaede offered her comments. “Miroku said you would be back some days ago.”

“Something came up,” Kagome murmured. “Say, where is Inuyasha?”

Shippo hopped down from the rafters into Kagome’s lap after she put down her empty bowl. “He ran off into the woods again a few days ago and hasn’t been back since. Did ya bring me anything?” He looked longingly at her yellow pack.

It was not like the hanyou. Sesshoumaru had expected him to be hovering and to throw a tantrum as soon as they returned. Kaede had mentioned that when Inuyasha returned after they left, he had been incised at the idea of Sesshoumaru accompanying Kagome to the future.

“The monk and the slayer have gone to look for him and to investigate rumors of odd deaths in the next village,” Kaede said.

“So we didn’t have to hurry back,” Kagome commented. She pulled a stick of pocky out of her bag and handed it to Shippo. “Why don’t you go tell Rin she can have one too, when she comes to see her ‘otou-san’.” She glanced sideways at Sesshoumaru to see if he reacted to her teasing.

The next morning, Miroku and Sango returned. Over breakfast, they told their tale. “Kirara trailed him through the forest until she reached a barrier across the trail to the heights,” Sango began.

“Since there seemed to be no way through or around the barrier, we backtracked to the village below,” Miroku continued.

“Couldn’t either of you break the barrier?” asked Kagome. Kaede also listened with interest.

“It was too strong. There were traces of vampire magic in its weaving,” Sango elaborated.

“The barrier used a form of magic unfamiliar to me,” Miroku added. “In the village we learned that three of the village men had been found dead in the forest.”

“They had been drained,” Sango asserted. “Just as alarming, half a dozen children have gone missing. There are vampires hunting in the area,” she concluded.

“Then we have found the enemy we seek,” commented Sesshoumaru.

~*~*~*

Shippo scrambled through the door hanging and leapt straight to Kagome’s lap. His tail was fluffed and he was shaking. Kagome patted his head and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Him. His smell is all wrong. It’s scary,” he gasped.

“Whose smell is wrong?” she asked.

“Inuyasha. He’s back. I saw him in the forest while I was going to see Rin at the midwife’s house,” Shippo explained.

“Report what you have observed,” Sesshoumaru interrogated in a calm monotone.

Shippo took a few deep breaths, swallowed, and straightened himself. “Inuyasha is headed this way. I don’t think he saw me. His aura is way different, like he just won a battle. Triumphant, I guess,” he described.

“His smell,” Sesshoumaru prompted.

“Strange, not carrion smell like before. More like he’s been around something dead, but not stinky. Cold, dark, powerful, maybe like a big snake or a dragon, not the firey kind,” he elaborated.

“Maybe he’s found some new allies,” Kagome put in, looking hopeful.

“Or he has been consorting with the enemy,” Miroku added thoughtfully.

Sango said nothing, but pulled out her sword and began honing it. The conversation lagged. The group continued their various tasks silently.

A noisy crunching on the gravel path approaching the hut announced the visitor’s approach. “Inuyasha,” whispered Shippo and moved behind Kagome.

~*~*~*

“Keh, why is everybody hanging around here? Don’t ya have anything better to do?” Inuyasha stomped through the door.

“Why you still here? You bin ‘There’ and you’re back. Now go home or I’ll . . . ” he raised his sword.

Sesshoumaru snorted, “Hanyou . . .”

Kagome glared, “Inuyasha, I’ll say it . . .” She gestured to Sesshoumaru, “And you. Just stop it.”

Inuyasha sat against the wall furthest away from Sesshoumaru. “I’m hungry. Fix me some ramen, bitch.”

Kagome growled but moved to comply. Sesshoumaru instantly towered over the hanyou, intimidating, ready for a fight. “It is not your place to command the miko.”

Kagome paused in fixing cups of soup. “It’s okay, Sesshoumaru. He’s always been rude.”

Sesshoumaru uttered a scoffing snort. “Courtesy should especially apply to the key members of one’s pack.” The two inuyokai glared at each other.

“I’ll meet you outside after I’ve had something to eat, you prissy son of a bitch,” Inuyasha growled while slurping his noodles, his mouth full of food.

Kaede rose painfully from her nest of blankets in the corner. She hobbled over next to Inuyasha. “Where have ye been, Inuyasha? You were gone for days.”

Inuyasha gave her a troubled look. “She’s back. She’s different, but it’s still her.”

“Who is back?” Kaede inquired.

He shook his head as if in disbelief, “Kikyo.”

Sesshoumaru had heard the tale of Kikyo and Inuyasha. He had seen his half-brother pinned to the tree fifty years before and had been intrigued when he heard of Inuyasha’s release at the hands of Kagome. “Impossible,” he commented.

“Unless, perhaps, there was some powerful dark magic working,” countered Miroku.

Kagome silently observed her companion. Her sometime protector, friend, and travel companion was of a concrete, literal nature and not given to flights of fancy. He seemed simultaneously troubled and elated. His half-way attraction toward her appeared gone. She could only be grateful for that; whatever the cause.

“Kikyo wants to meet with all of us,” Inuyasha told the group. “She has information about Naraku and the shards. The group looked at each other and Inuyasha. Kagome shrugged.

“This is way too easy,” murmured the monk thoughtfully. In his experience, nothing concerning their adversary came easily.

“Yeah, it could be a trap,” piped up Shippo.

“Obviously . . .” concluded Sesshoumaru.

Kagome suddenly recalled the notes she had taken during Sesshoumaru’s game play in the future. Many of the successful outcomes had included the Kikyo character’s assistance. She moved over to Sesshoumaru and put a hand on his arm. “Still,” she began. “Remember . . .” The reference to the game was silent and implied as they had not told the group of their experiences in the future.

Sesshoumaru looked at her sideways and gave am imperceptible nod and replied, “Hn.” Continuing he addressed the group, “The risk is acceptable. Inuyasha, go and arrange the meeting.”

The hanyou replied, “I’ll have to wait until sunset; she only comes out at night.”

Sango startled and gave him a suspicious look. “Vampire,” she whispered and fingered her katana.

Sesshoumaru stared at her, acknowledging her comment audible only to youkai hearing. “Inuyasha, be on your guard.”

“Keh,” he agreed and turned to Kagome, “How about some more ramen.”

~*~*~*

Chapter Text

Kikyo waited in the shadows under the trees at the edge of the forest. The night was lit only by stars, the moon had not yet risen. The group moved forward warily in the darkness.

Inuyasha rushed to her side, “Kikyo, are you okay? Were you followed?” the concern was evident in his voice.

“Inuyasha, you brought them all – the ones who seek Lord Naraku?” she questioned softly. They were her best chance to escape his control. She needed to convince them to help her take him down. “I have information you need.”

Sango moved forward, her sword drawn. She recognized the woman who faced them for what she was. “Vampire,” she hissed. “You are the enemy of my kind. Why should we believe anything you have to say? Why should I not end your existence now?”

Inuyasha leapt between Kikyo and Sango, Tetsusaiga drawn. It remained an ancient rusty blade, untransformed. He stared at the sword dumbfounded. It could only be wielded for the protection of humans. His own sword rejected her now alien nature.
“Back off Slayer. I’ll stop you with my claws if I have to.”

Kagome put a hand on Sango’s shoulder. “Let’s hear what she has to say.”

Sesshoumaru added, “Stand down, woman. We have wasted enough time seeking that worthless spider to scorn potential allies.”

The group formed a loose half-circle around Kikyo. Inuyasha remained by her side. Kikyo began, “Naraku sent me to lure Inuyasha and be-spell him into stealing the shards.”

Inuyasha glared back at their stares. “What ya looking at? I ain’t stole no shards.”

Kikyo smiled at the hanyou. “I chose not to obey that instruction. When I am out of Naraku’s presence I have some freedom of movement. But when he is close I am forced to obey his every whim, no matter how distasteful or evil. I seek your help in ending his reign of terror and regaining my freedom.”

Sango snapped, “You are Vampire. You wish to be free to hunt and kill and destroy.”

Kikyo shook her head, “No, it need not be that way. Vampires do not need to kill to obtain the blood they need to live. The amount actually needed is so small, the source should feel no ill effects! Naraku kills and tortures for his own personal pleasure.”

Sango and Kikyo continued to argue and bicker. Miroku noticed that Sesshoumaru had grown as weary of the two going back and forth as he had himself. He intervened, “Lady Kikyo, tell us you plan. Surely your absence will be noticed before long.”

Kikyo paused, “I can let you into the stronghold by the secret ways through the dungeons. Inuyasha knows the path to the entrance.”

Sesshoumaru nodded; it was time to take action he decided. “Your plan is acceptable. We shall meet you there two days hence.”

The pack could debate amongst themselves later, away from the vampire woman. Her proposal was much like the ones he remembered from the games he played in future Tokyo. He glanced sidewise at Kagome and saw the same recognition in her expression.

The group departed toward their camp. Inuyasha remained a while longer with Kikyo until she took her leave as well.

Two days was not really much time, yet it seemed to stretch out infinitely. They were ready for the battle and tired of waiting. After the excess food was cached and the dishes cleaned, the group relaxed around the fire. Sango and Miroku were talking quietly. The children had fallen asleep on Kagome’s sleeping bag. Their nanny Jaken snored against Ah-Un at the edge of the camp. Inuyasha was perched in a tree on the opposite side of the fire from Sesshoumaru. Kagome set down the bucket of water next to the camp fire.

Kagome was restless and wanted to be alone. It wasn’t safe to go off by herself at night this close to where their enemy hid. Sesshoumaru watched her through slitted eyes as she moved aimlessly around the camp ground. He rose and moved to the edge of the circle of light. Kagome drifted over and stood next to him. 

“Miko, you seem restless. Walk with me up the hill.” He turned and moved through the trees. Kagome hurried to his side. She hesitated, waiting until they were out of sight, and reached for his hand.

Kagome had been shocked to silence by his plain declaration of his interest in her back in future Tokyo. It was so different from her previous notions of what Sesshoumaru was like. She sought his company though, even when she thought her interest was one-sided. She was attracted to him, undeniably physically attracted, and out of curiousity as well. She stomped down on her fears and misgivings. It took all her courage to take his hand.

Sesshoumaru looked down at her and tightened his grip in return. Although she had not said anything about his bald declaration, he had caught her glancing his way many times. She sought him out on several occasions. And now she had initiated this contact. He did not believe his interest was misplaced. The little miko was shy but she was already returning his interest. 

His instincts screamed to pursue her, dominate her, and claim her. His intellect cautioned a more measured strategy, a slower more patient campaign. Either way, in the end she would be his.

Kagome followed Sesshoumaru along the dark winding path through the forest, trailing from his hand. Although she could barely see anything along the trail she trusted his guidance and followed his lead.

The trail took an upward turn and wound toward the top of the hill. Kagome was breathing a bit heavily as they entered a clearing near the crest of the hill. The moonlight was bright, washing out many of the nearby stars. On the opposite side of the sky, the Milky Way blazed above the hills, truly the Sky River.

Sesshoumaru led her to a giant tree, forming a fork with one branch parallel to the ground at his waist level. Kagome squeaked as he grasped her waist, picked her up and set her on the large branch. He took a seat beside her, one arm reached behind her back and grasped the tree trunk. Her own personal live back rest.

For a while they both sat still and silently watched the stars. Kagome shivered as a chill breeze began to blow. Sesshoumaru pulled her in close against his unarmored side. When had he removed it, she wondered.

Kagome snuggled in close. His warmth banished the evening chill and warmed her body nicely. Her cheeks were hot; she was sure her face was bright red. She had no intention of moving, however.

Sesshoumaru began stroking her arm and side, lightly moving his fingers up and down. Her body took fire within, her heart sped up and her breathing quickened. And all he was doing was stroking her side.

The daiyoukai was pleased at the way she was unconsciously responding to his light touches. What would she do when he nuzzled her neck? Her squeak and startled jump were answer enough. He smiled against her skin and indulged in a nibble here and there. Her heart increased even more. Her skin was heated; she would be flushed red if colors were visible in the night. The hot scent of her arousal filled the air. He stopped.

Why had he stopped; it felt so nice. Kagome looked at him and questioned, “Hmm?”
She reached a hand toward his face, then pulled it back hesitantly and let it drop in her lap.

Sesshoumaru commented, “Do as you please.”

Kagome reached up and touched the crescent on his forehead. His golden eyes gleamed with amusement. She chewed on her lip and reached out with both hands, bracketing his face. She ran her fingers down his stripes; he gave a pleasured groan.

Somehow, their lips were touching and Kagome was on his lap, clasped close in his arms. Sesshoumaru began to deepen the kiss.

“Hey!” came an annoyed shout. “This ain’t the time for THAT. Your turn for guard duty.” Inuyasha glared at his brother, and stomped off, muttering under his breath.


~*~*~*

Chapter Text

Inuyasha led the way along the narrow twisting trail through the almost impenetrable brush. A glimpse of Kikyo and her dim mage light flickered in and out as she negotiated the trail ahead of them. She waited at the castle wall as the rest of the group caught up.

Sango, Miroku, Kagome and Sesshoumaru gathered behind Inuyasha as Kikyo motioned them forward. The hanyou opened his mouth to gripe or grumble. Kikyo quickly placed a finger across his mouth and hissed, “Sh!” She addressed the rest, “You need to be silent until we enter the throne room. If you are able, please mask your auras and scents. Naraku’s insects and bats will sense foreign sounds. Their alarms will trigger trap spells and bring many of his troops.” Inuyasha scowled; defiantly angry. He could not vent his customary complaints.

Kikyo turned and slipped through a panel that silently opened in the castle wall. Rather than the black night outside, the tunnel within the castle walls glowed a phosphorescent green. Slime mold lined the ceiling cracks and crept down the walls. The floor had noxious puddles in the low spots. Miroku and Sesshoumaru had to lower their heads to pass through the hall.

Inuyasha crowded in close behind Kikyo as they negotiated the secret way. Sessoumaru guarded the rear, with the humans in the middle. Slippery stairs marked a steep descent. Kikyo whispered, “We are passing under the moat and will ascend and circle around the courtyard beneath the ramparts.”

Kikyo paused at a sliding panel and peered through a spy hole into the small room beyond. It was occupied. Across from where they would enter, Kanna sat seiza on a floor cushion peering into her mirror.

Sesshoumaru ordered in low tones, “Inuyasha take point, Sango and Miroku to the right, Kagome and I will go left.”

Inuyasha added, “Kikyo stay back; we don’t want her to see you and warn Naraku about you.”

The inutaichi slipped into the room. Kanna looked up and rose gracefully, turning left and right. She seemed to hesitate on her target.

Inuyasha waved his sword and yelled, “Hey bitch, I’m right here. You can’t suck ME into that thing!”

Kanna raised her mirror and vapor tendrils snaked between it and the hanyou. Sesshoumaru flicked a light whip from toward Kanna on the left, distracting her momentarily, dropping the mirror’s focus on Inuyasha. As the drama played out between the brothers and the void demon, Miroku and Sango approached on the right.

Kagome stepped out from her position sheltering behind Sesshoumaru and aimed her bow and arrow at Kanna. She let fly a blazing purity arrow, striking and shattering the soul sucking mirror. Inuyasha felt the pull on his soul rebound.

Her attention focused on Inuyasha and her shattered mirror, Kanna did not remark Miroku’s stealthy approach. He grabbed her from behind. Sango slipped around him and drove her sword through Kanna’s ribs and chest. Her empty eyes flickered briefly with emotion, she sighed and turned to dust as the holy weapon pierced her heart.

x   x   x

Naraku paced restlessly around his empty throne room. He had dismissed the last of the sycophants to their meaningless tasks. His plans were falling into place quite well. All the reports from his spies were favorable. His troops were assembling and most had arrived for the final push in his quest for dominance. He had most of the Shikon no Tama shards. Only a few remained in the motley dog’s clutches. The jewel should be an asset in his campaigns. Soon he would be the top vampire in all Japan.

After that awaited the conquest of the daylighters’ world. Soon, but not soon enough to suit him, all the land would bow to his might. He dreamed of the days to come when all would fear his name.

x   x   x

The hallway leaving Kanna’s chamber was deserted. It was mostly dark, the ceiling low, with guttering torches every fifty meters or so. Kikyo commented, “One of the servant passages.” She led the way, the group following closely behind her shadow, Inuyasha. The passage went through a series of twists and turns, ending in an arched doorway into a pitch black room.

“Shall we continue to just wander about in the dark, where enemies lurk unseen?” Miroku questioned. While the dog demon and hanyou could gather more information with their noses, ears and better night vision, the dark was impenetrable to human senses.

The wind blowing from the darkened tunnel carried a faint stench. Inuyasha covered his nose with his sleeve, “Feh, smells like where they dump the bodies.”

Sesshoumaru motioned for the group to halt. “There are both long dead rotting and the undead ahead. There is also the sound of many shuffling feet.”

“I don’t hear nothing,” Inuyasha muttered.

Sesshoumaru raised one eyebrow, “You would not. It is far ahead. A trap of some sort. Be silent and on your guard.” He slipped silent ahead and began scouting the darkened passageway.

Kagome and Sango dropped back next to Miroku. Kagome rearranged the arrows in her quiver and nocked an arrow on her already strung bow. Sango loosened her sword in its sheath, checked her knives and stakes, and straightened the straps holding her large throwing weapon on her back.

Kikyo’s hands remained empty; she appeared weaponless. Inuyasha put a hand on her shoulder and whispered, “Don’t worry Kikyo, I’ll be here to protect you.” He paused and added, “Always and forever.”

Sesshoumaru slipped back into the light. His eyes glittered, fierce and hard. “The courtyard is filled with Kagura’s zombie minions, hidden behind every post and wall. The corridor across from this one is packed with reserves; the trap for us is set.”

Inuyasha grinned, “Then we spring it and steal the cheese.” He slapped his sword sheath in the palm of his hand.

x   x   x

Chapter Text

 

Kagome edged toward the doorway, an arrow ready to fire. Sesshoumaru moved at her side, sword drawn. “Wait, wait, . . . now!” he commanded. She let her arrow fly; its comet bright trail lighting the courtyard. Descending into the mass of vampire troops in the corridor across the courtyard, purity exploded. Screams and shrieks accompanied the dancing dust as the vampires disintegrated in the sun bright light. Kikyo whimpered as she cowered against Inuyasha, safe in the shadows, cloaked in the monk’s extra robe.

Sesshoumaru and Inuyasha dashed into the courtyard, blades flashing in a furious maelstrom. Zombie parts flew in all directions as the two brothers stood back to back and twirled in a youkai blender. In a few moments the courtyard was clear save for the stench of disintegrating flesh.

Kagura screamed and swooped down on her feather from her vantage point above. She flew toward the corridor where Sango, Miroku, Kagome, and Kikyo waited. The two brothers were ignored as if they did not exist and their swords posed no threat. Sesshoumaru lifted one eyebrow in silent question. Inuyasha, equally puzzled, muttered, “Huh?”

Kagura stopped in front of the monk and the three women. “You bitch! First you steal my lover, now you seek to take all that is his!” she screeched. Fan poised to slash, she attempted to dash toward Kikyo. Miroku pushed her back with his staff. Sango drew her sword and Kagome readied another arrow.

Kikyo pushed through the group, her face expressionless and eyes steely. “Your lover I never wanted. His ‘treasures’ are dust to me. His obsession is what returned me from the grave!”

Kikyo lashed out, a dark purple haze surrounding her. A flurry of glowing shuriken flew from her hand. Kagura screamed as one slashed her cheek, another embedding itself in her leg. She lunged, claws reaching toward Kikyo.

Miroku smirked, vampire cat fight. His cursed hand twitched. “Lovely ladies, are we through yet?” He swung his staff between them.

Inuyasha rushed in, “Don’t you touch Kikyo.” Slashing wildly with Tetsusaiga, he barely missed removing Miroku’s arm. “Move it, monk. Get outa my way.”

Kagura slashed her fan at Inuyasha, wind blades swirling toward him. They were too close to do much damage. He leaped high and delivered a blow from overhead. Kagura turned and dodged but the blade sliced down, shearing through her collar bone and rib cage. She looked startled, sighed, and collapsed. Her body stilled and crumbled to dust.

The Inutaichi regrouped, the last of the enemies facing them gone. “What now?” asked Kagome.

Her answer was quick in coming. A storm of screaming flying rodents swooped down from above into the castle courtyard.  Clouds of miasma accompanied their approach. Hordes of tentacles slithered down the wall from the balcony above, a dark-haired, cloaked figure their origin. His insane laughter drowned out the sound of wings and slashing swords.

The brothers’ attacks swept the courtyard. The slayer slashed at whatever threatened the three women. The monk spun in circles and whirled his bladed staff taking out the ‘bats’ missed by the slayer. Kagome loosed an arrow overhead, just missing Naraku. As she stepped forward, Kikyo became visible to the dark lord.

Naraku hissed, “Traitor! You have betrayed your Master. Die!” She fell to her knees, her hands around her own throat, squeezing, twisting. Unable to break his hold on her will, she would break her own neck.

Inuyasha yelled, “Kikyo, No!” He leapt upward toward the balcony, his sword sweeping in a wild arc. Severed tentacles fell to the floor. Naraku dodged back, just out of reach of Inuyasha’s blade.

Sesshoumaru silently landed behind the master vampire. His light whip slashed through Naraku’s neck. His head teetered and fell, bouncing off the balcony rail, finally hitting the floor below.

“Kagome, hurry!” Inuyasha shouted. “Purify his head and body so he can’t regenerate!”

Kagome’s hail of arrows lit up the courtyard and cleared away the remaining miasma. Kikyo collapsed to the ground, her hands fell limp to her side. Inuyasha crouched next to her, shielding her from the waves of purification. “Are you all right?”

Kikyo looked up and a genuine smile transformed her face. “I am finally free.”

Kagome dropped her bow. She sagged against the wall and began to shake. Sesshoumaru dropped down beside her, landing gracefully. He took in the odor of her tears. “Are you injured?” he asked. She seemed to be intact. He pulled away her hands hiding her face.

“It’s just . . . just . . . everything,” she gasped.

Sesshoumaru gathered her close and wrapped her in his fur. Her body was cold and she was still shaking. “It is over, finished,” he reassured her.

Kikyo rose and searched the area where Naraku’s body had fallen. She picked up a dark, misshapen hunk of crystal. She approached Kagome and Sesshoumaru, “I believe you should have this.” She dropped the crystal into Kagome’s hand.

The murky color began to lighten and fade. The clear gem gleamed a light pink. Kagome retrieved her other bits of crystal, which were drawn to the larger shape like filings to a magnet. The light pulsed and a whole spherical jewel lay in her hand. The Shikon no Tama was whole once more.

~*~*~*