Last Chapter…

"I will have what I desire, Kikyo. It's fate that we would meet like this now, can't you see that? You and I are living flesh. Even Naraku was thrilled by the concept."-Onigumo


He was being pursued. Chased by the very object of his desire, whom was not only one woman now, but two. Kikyo and Kagumei seemed identical to Onigumo, he would take whichever one he could. Their desire to kill him did nothing yet excite the incarnation of Naraku, and so he flew faster, the wasp like wings on his back fluttering. The absorption of the Saimyōshō had given him insectoid qualities that he could utilize at will. Onigumo decided to return to the ground now that Kikyo and Kagumei had lost his trail, and landed in the grass.

His body transformed to something stronger, something armored against arrows. His lower body became segmented like a scorpion with six legs and a curled stinger that he would utilize to sting and paralyze her. I'll immobilize her body then drag her back to my cave. Then she'll never escape! Kikyo, we'll be together soon! Onigumo thought blissfully as his nude torso rose above the insectoid half, and he was able to capture her fragrance in the air.

He scuttled towards her eagerly, blind with his desire. Kagumei breathed shakily as her wrists and ankles burned from Kikyo's spiritual restraints. Here, pinned to a magnolia tree, she was easy bait. Onigumo would come running to her scent regardless of whether or not she was actually Kikyo, and Kikyo had predicted this. She lie in wait not far from the trap, her bow at the ready. A powerful bead of spiritual power was already at the tip of the arrow, ready to obliterate the incarnation of Naraku. If her hunch was right, her plan would go along smoothly.

Kagumei whimpered and struggled in her binds as the creature neared ever closer, practically drooling as he licked his lips. "Finally, you get it… That's right, don't fight me… Soon, Kikyo. Soon we'll be together, without anyone's interference!" He hissed with hunger and desire while eagerly approaching Kagumei, stinger dripping with venom and poised at the ready.

Before the stinger could strike, Kikyo released her arrow. It flew forward with an incredible amount of spiritual energy surrounding it, washing the surrounding trees with a purple glow.

"Kikyo, no! My love—" Onigumo gasped and turned his horrified gaze onto the true Kikyo, but it was too late. As the arrow neared him, parts of his flesh had already begun to disintegrate. Upon contact, a burst of energy exploded from the purifying arrow and Onigumo screamed in agonizing pain. A shadow of his deformed body was lost in the light, and the heat from the blast blew him into indiscernible fragments, obliterating him to pieces.

Kagumei cried with relief upon his destruction, yet Kikyo only released a deep sigh, then grit her teeth. She knew better than to celebrate. She left her hiding spot and went to release Kagumei from the tree. Her plan had worked seamlessly; she knew that Onigumo would be incapable of killing Kagumei. His only desire was to possess her, and hoard her to himself whether or not she agreed. Her girlish heart ached and twisted within as Kikyo stood where Onigumo had been destroyed, stepping on part of his insectoid carcass. She ground her foot on his remains, releasing a purple, gooey substance and smearing it on her geta sandal.

Once done, she raised one hand to release the spiritual shackles. Kagumei fell to the ground with a grunt and Kikyo turned away without offering assistance.

"We should return to the castle now before Onigumo has a chance to rebuild himself. Naraku is expecting us."

Kagumei nodded, though seeming hesitant. She remained completely silent as her eyes seemed glued upon something by Kikyo's foot.

"Well? Get up." Kikyo ordered, and the girl nodded without a word.

I may be able to escape, yet. Kagumei silently hoped as she followed Kikyo wordlessly through the forest.

~x•X•x~

Awhile later, the two stood motionless at the center of the castle courtyard. Their contrasting, yet complimentary green and red hakamas swayed gently in the wind as they paused to admire the large maple tree stationed at the center of the otherwise empty courtyard. Naraku's Castle lay just beyond, its dark walls nestled within trees and foliage as effective camouflage. Kikyo felt certain that even if Onigumo was capable of regenerating from her blast, he would remain hidden in the forest, too afraid of being reabsorbed by Naraku to follow.

As they stood together, Kagumei slowly felt Kikyo's grasp on her subconscious ebbing away second by second. The compliance spell began to wane as Kikyo silently stared at the tree– Kagumei could not possibly comprehend why she did so, so she remained quiet and observant. Though Kikyo was utterly silent and her impassive expression showed only the slightest whisper of a whimsical mood, Kagumei could tell that her captor was affected in some way.

Not only that, but Kagome's specter, like InuYasha's, remained imprisoned somewhere within its captor's heart– unable to escape, yet able to see through their eyes. Kagome felt a ghost of a memory attempt to enter Kikyo's mind, though it seemed so long forgotten that Kikyo scarcely remembered it herself, and was processing the memory that was sparked by the sight of the tree.

She was standing in a clearing much like this one, watching her younger sister run beneath the falling leaves and play in the piles that resulted. Kikyo's wistful, gentle expression deepened as the thought took hold and she seemed to be transported to that innocent time for just a moment.

"Sister Kikyo! Watch! I can dive for fish like an umiu bird!" Little Kaede shouted happily, capturing her elder sister's attention as she jumped into the leaves enthusiastically. Kikyo looked on with a small smile and nod as she set her flower basket to the side and sat down on the grass.

Kaede's happy cries rang throughout Kikyo's memory as if she'd only heard them yesterday. The little girl in the vision was not the elderly woman she'd claimed to be before. Kagome looked on with Kikyo as the memory progressed, and for just a moment, the hardened walls of Kikyo's heart trembled with emotion before being stifled by the stoicism of the priestess.

Another fond memory surfaced this time, yet this time, instead of Kaede, it was InuYasha she sat with.

"Inuyasha, what do you think of me? Do I seem ordinary?" Kikyo asked softly as pink cherry blossom petals carried on the gentle summer breeze, a thoughtful look on her face.

InuYasha's ear twitched and he looked at his companion oddly. "Huh? Where are you going with this?"

"I must never reveal my weaknesses to anyone. I must never waver. If I did, a demon would get the better of me. Inside, I am an ordinary woman, yet I cannot reveal myself as such. In many ways we are similar, both outsiders. That is why I was unable to kill you." Kikyo explained to him, her loosely tied hair swaying in the wind as her stoic facade fell away entirely and her kind, delicate features were made more obvious to his admiring eyes.

"Feh! Quit whining. We've all got our cross to bear." He grumbled. Inuyasha began to walk away, but turned to see Kikyo smiling gently at him

"You're right. I shouldn't complain." She remarked with a soft chuckle.

"InuYasha." Kikyo and Kagome said in unison, sharing in their affection for the half-demon.

~x•X•x~

Kikyo… Kikyo, where is she? A voice, very much unlike Naraku's own, came from deep inside his subconscious— InuYasha's specter had sunk his claws in deep, and refused to let Naraku regain control. InuYasha's spirit refused to be smothered entirely; one amalgamated being with the one he despised the most. Likewise, Naraku had lost grasp on the half-demon; the two youkai energies within them had intermingled deeply without the interference of Onigumo, and now it was InuYasha's soul that became the driving force. The one who retained his own heart, as well as his love for Kikyo. Naraku could only look on at his demons succumbing to their lust to defile the priestess without interference from the heart who loved her to stop it.

They came into a clearing where the scent of bellflower was the most powerful; fanged mouth salivating for the taste of her lips, or to drink her blood. It did not have the mind to discern between desires. Naraku's demons wished to defile and devour, whilst InuYasha wished to possess and fervently protect his beloved– to never allow her to escape from his grasp.

At the center of the clearing was a massive 'Kaede,' or red maple tree, full with fluttering frog's hand leaves and gnarled, moss coated limbs. InuYasha scaled the tree easily, climbing up to the top to get the best vantage point of the surrounding forest.

"Kikyo! Where are you?" He cried out to the skies in an anguished howl, causing birds to fly out of the neighboring branches in a panic.

The object of his desire turned her attention to his summons, suddenly alert. She could have sworn she heard InuYasha's voice, but it was… Changed, different somehow. She had long ago let go of her desire to follow him to the underworld–though, something about his mournful cry evoked sympathy in her that she no longer knew she possessed. Her body and mind was weakened to the Inu-Youkai, within some crack of her hardened heart. Perhaps it was Kagome's specter peeking through those cracks, attempting to dig her way out.

Kikyo took a few hesitant steps forward, swallowing a painful lump in her throat. It was impossible, wasn't it? InuYasha was dead. Her doppelganger had seen to his death while Kikyo sent Kagome to her painful demise in the miasma, hadn't it? Kikyo clutched one hand to her chest and took a few more steps with Kagumei trailing behind. Whatever, or whoever it was that contained InuYasha's voice could not be real. Therefore, Kikyo would not show her fear.

"I'm here, is that you… InuYasha?" She asked the dark figure crouched in the shadowy boughs of the maple tree, its red eyes glowing predatorily as it stared at her through a patch of scarlet leaves. He crawled forth, one hand coming into the light. Kikyo observed as the mysterious man crawled forward, and took note of each distinguishing feature. Those were InuYasha's claws, yet they were colored black. He had red, demonic eyes with a golden ring around the irises, and silvery hued hair atop black waves. A shudder went throughout her body as she took note of these unnatural features, and stumbled backwards once. This was not the InuYasha she had known before.

"Don't run away, please…" He whispered, and Kikyo gulped. It did sound like InuYasha… somewhat. Like before when Naraku had shown off his new body. Naraku! She gasped. I'm but a fool… To think Naraku could imitate InuYasha so well…

"Naraku… it's you there, isn't it?" Kikyo responded, tilting her chin up to face the creature hovering in the overhanging branches like a spider. She hardened her face and body to remove any signs of fear; imagining herself to be the soulless clay doll she was before Naraku's intervention.

A hissing chuckle sent shivers down her spine, then she was granted full sight of him when he leapt down from the tree. A seamless fusion of Naraku and InuYasha stood before her, their features melded together so smoothly it was as if they'd never been two separate people at all.

"Yes, I am fully present... What will you do now, Kikyo? Do you like what you see?" Naraku purred, his blood curdling voice scraping through her ear canals like razors.

"Don't listen to him, Kikyo! It's me!" InuYasha shouted, his hand over his heart as he spoke earnestly. Upon her resurrection, he had worn his heart on his sleeve whenever it came to Kikyo. He was open, unlike the secretive half-demon she'd known in her previous life.

Kikyo took a measured breath and braced herself, glancing back at Kagumei. A silent command in her glare made the girl stay glued in place, whether out of fear or the desire to see what unfolded–it didn't matter to Kikyo as long as she stayed put. She turned her sights back on him, whoever he was, and approached him. Though her impassive expression revealed nothing, the hesitant steps she took disclosed her true feelings. Heart racing in her chest, she reached out and placed her hand on his cheek, stroking the smooth skin with her thumb as she looked into his eyes inquisitively.

An animalistic snarl escaped him and his fangs were bared for a moment, before receding into his mouth. The fragrance of bellflower soothed him for the time, and his glowing red eyes faded to white, with red-golden ringed irises.

"Hm." Kikyo smiled, and her stoic facade faded to one that was soft and kind.

"You ask if I like what I see. I will not lie, part of me, perhaps the foolish girl in me wonders if there is a way to soothe your savage beast…to love one half, yet hate the other? The logical side of myself recoils in disgust, anger and pity for the sake of my dearest departed." She finished, her fingernails digging into his cheek as if desiring to tear apart the foul mutation.

He growled softly at her, baring one fang and narrowing his gaze in a way that suggested he was unhappy with her answer. Kikyo chuckled and removed her hand from his face, the small crescent shapes cut out of his skin by her nails refusing to regenerate, instead bleeding a deep maroon shade.

"And yet, as a whole… I am pleased. Why? Because you have finally gotten your wish, Naraku. I know how badly you desire to be a full-demon. You need to prove that you're whole, to fill that empty space in your heart… So that I will finally love you as you do me?" Kikyo teased in a silken voice rife with sarcasm, smug with her satisfaction that no matter how many times Naraku changed his body, or denied his feelings, he was desperately clawing for her favor.

This time, InuYasha growled. "Is that true, Naraku? Are you using me to get to Kikyo? Is this all part of your big plan, to make her love you?! You make me sick!"

Kikyo could tell that the demon was battling within his own mind for an answer to her query; she observed him with the morbid fascination of an entomologist watching maggots clean a carcass.

Naraku scoffed back at the Inu-Youkai, the cumulation of their spirits taking form as small, nude figures that wandered throughout the chambers of their conjoined hearts. "Don't be foolish, InuYasha. Is this not your true desire? Look at the power we share as a full demon! With our hearts pumping together as one, we could ensnare Kikyo… You could have her as your beloved again, just as you always dreamed."

InuYasha stood up and glared at Naraku, who was perfectly relaxed as he reclined on the floor of their shared hearts. He fisted his hands and trembled with anger as he confronted his enemy. "I'm not an idiot! I know this is all part of your scheme, so that you can finally kill Kikyo! Naraku, the longer you deny your feelings, the more those feelings fester and turn to hatred! You only want to kill her to silence those irresistible urges!"

Naraku smirked and stood up to face InuYasha, strolling forward. "You're sharper than I thought. Too sharp. It's time to let me take the stage." Naraku said, and clasped his hands tight over InuYasha's mouth. From the outside,

Kikyo could visibly see the change within him as some of those more Inu-Youkai features softened, and were replaced by the familiar guise of Naraku.

"This is your opportunity, Naraku. What will you do with me? Will you kill me, or kiss me?" Kikyo responded gently as she gazed into his blood red gaze, reaching out to him once to attempt to heal the scratches she'd left on his cheek. She was puzzled, Kikyo had scratched him as a test to see how he'd react without the interference of Onigumo, and it had given her an odd result. She thought that he would kill her right there and then, but InuYasha had made sure that didn't happen.

Yet, now… InuYasha was suppressed as well. It was just her, and his demons. Kikyo sighed and removed the ribbon from her hair, allowing it to flutter away with the wind, Kagumei and Kagome looking on in wonder. Her loose black strands fell and surrounded her face, wafting her heady floral scent towards him. Something else was there as well, a warm, womanly scent that Naraku's sensitive olfaction was well aware of.

"Do it. Do whatever you will with me, I'm ready. I will not fight." Kikyo closed her eyes and surrendered her body to him, stepping directly into his arms as if to embrace.

Naraku surged forth and placed his hand around her throat, hoisting her body up into the air. He tilted his head to the side and an unnatural chittering sound left him, a venomous saliva building in his mouth. Demonic mandibles like a spider's formed as his canines enlarged, and a greenish saliva dripped down his chin. Do it. Do whatever… the demons repeated, and were very tempted by this offer. They could either devour the object of Onigumo's affections, or defile her. Or maybe, they could finally do away with her once and for all.

As Naraku debated on this, Kikyo felt her airways closing and heard her blood pressure thumping in her ears. Naraku leaned in close and traced her tear tracks with the tip of his nose, taking in the scent before a pointed purple tongue snaked out and licked them away. He savored the salty flavor, leading him to wonder how her blood would taste as well. Kagome shuddered from within, crawling away to the farthest wall in Kikyo's heart in order to escape Naraku. Kikyo seemed truly prepared to let him kill her. "Kikyo… If you let him, he'll do it… Do you really want to die?" Kagome whispered, before hearing Kikyo's answer.

Yes… This is my wish.

Fresh tears ran from her eyes as Kikyo smiled blissfully. Kagumei observed this all with keen interest, her previously pink eyes returned to their natural azure shade as Kikyo's influential spell had completely ebbed once she was captured by Naraku. Naraku drew away upon seeing her smile, grimacing. He had no desire to mate with a woman who was so helpless and willing. No, the only option here was to dispatch this nuisance, then eat her corpse.

"I'll prove you wrong once and for all, Kikyo! I, Naraku, harbor no emotion on your behalf, save for pity. For what a waste of time pursuing you has been! You're a weak woman, a weak, ordinary woman who has no place amongst demons!" He hissed, forcing his hand to tighten on her throat until the rosiness left her cheeks. Soon, her petal pink lips would also lose their vibrancy and turn blue.

"No! Kikyo, you can't let Naraku kill you!" InuYasha cried out. He could not allow such a thing to happen, and so he grabbed the arm, pulling at Naraku's arm with his own.

His desire to free Kikyo was so much, he gored the arm and ripped a chunk of skin away. Naraku only laughed at InuYasha's futile efforts. Soon he'd regenerate and take control… Right?

A tendril of anxiety shot through his being, and Naraku was reminded about his decision to reject Onigumo. A decision he may now regret.

InuYasha continued his rebellion until the bone was showing through, and still his skin hadn't healed. Naraku was aghast with horror. There was a ball of sparkling light, then a burning sensation hit him in the shoulder, and he released Kikyo in turn. Kagumei had decided to assist Kikyo by shooting a purifying arrow at the arm choking her captor.

Kikyo fell to the ground, coughing as she clutched her own neck and attempted to recover her breath. Naraku stood still as if frozen in place, looking down at his own mortally wounded arm angrily as if staring at it this way would heal it faster. Curses! It is true… Without Onigumo's heart, I lack the capability to regenerate my flesh! I came so close to killing her…and yet—

He glanced back at Kikyo with widened eyes, one that was red, the other golden. He had become a chimera of sorts now, with half InuYasha's features, and half of his own now divided in a stark contrast.

"Yet, no matter how many times you change your filthy body, you still can't kill her. Face it. The proof of your affection is here now, even without Onigumo's heart. You still couldn't finish the job."

"No, I… I…" Naraku whispered softly, horrified when faced by the complexity of his soul. The demon spider who had carried on his life span, who wore face after face and killed millions in its wake, was perhaps not completely flawless in its malice. Where was the flaw? Naraku would destroy this body again if only to find that flaw and discard it once and for all! Yokai could not love. It wasn't feasible. It had to be Onigumo's heart that was the sole bearer of affection.

Kikyo sat up and observed him silently while a purple glow came from her throat, the jewel inside her body healing her injury. She saw how tormented Naraku looked, but could not see into his mind or understand his relentless mission to rebuild his body over and over to deny his true feelings. Why could he not accept those feelings, hateful as they may be? She frowned and got to her feet, sensing another power in the vicinity.

"I hope that you have come to a deeper understanding of yourself, Naraku. Now that you've taken your anger out on me, shall we return to the castle?" She said softly, no trace of her inflamed anger remaining. She seemed cold and apathetic. Defeated. It was so unlike Kikyo–at least, this revived Kikyo who had repossessed her own mortal soul. It was akin to the mood of her soulless husk.

"Plus, it appears you are wounded.

If you're wise, you will retreat. Someone strong is coming." She sighed, and stepped closer to take a look at his bleeding arm, reaching out to tend to his wounds. Naraku recoiled from her touch like a feral cat, minus the hissing. His body tensed and he leapt backwards, glancing around himself and sniffing for the presence she announced. There it was! On the cliff overlooking his castle. How hadn't he noticed the other youkai in the vicinity, especially one as formidable as this?

"Kikyo, return to the castle alone! I will arrive later." Naraku demanded, and Kikyo silently frowned at him in contempt. The two eyed each other down for a moment, red meeting brown and clashing like the clay and iron rich seas of the Pacific and Atlantic.

"...Do you think of yourself as a martyr? Do not sacrifice yourself for my sake. He will kill you swiftly as you are now. You had better think of something, fast." She said in a flat tone, then grasped Kagumei's hand, and the two retreated wordlessly.

~x•X•x~

Upon a stone precipice, Sesshomaru silently observes the goings on below with his keen vision and hearing. He witnessed everything that happened upon Kikyo and Naraku's meeting. He cares little for the bickering between the pair, and more for the strange scent that seems to fade in and out. The Tessaiga on his hip had drawn him to this location with its rattling, as if singing to its true master. Sesshomaru gripped the hilt of the rebelling blade with his dragon arm and his stern features iced over with anger.

Something was odd about this situation, according to the conversation between the Miko and Naraku. It seemed like InuYasha was present, yet not. Sesshomaru's eyes widened with realization, flashing back to the discovery of InuYasha's 'body' which was not truly a body. It was completely made of clay, which meant… Somehow, his younger brother's body and soul was in Naraku's possession...his use.

It's curious. As well as despicable. Perhaps, Tessaiga… You will find what you're looking for. Sesshomaru thought. He'd also kept track of another oddity, the one that was this 'Mūso' or Onigumo, the Faceless Man. By trekking after him, he'd come into the clearing of dead grass and dessicated trees that made up the courtyard of Naraku's Castle. He also notices that Kikyo and her captive, Kagumei, had retreated into the forest instead of following Naraku's orders.

Strange, that dead priestess. Though she seemed agreeable, that was only a ruse. For a woman of InuYasha's, she's more clever than I would've predicted.

….

With her hand in an inescapable vise, Kagumei stumbled over the unkempt forest floor in order to keep up with Kikyo, who seemed to glide gracefully over every obstacle in her path. Kagumei breathed heavily as she kept her eyes on Kikyo's back, wondering why they'd gone into the forest instead of the castle. Many of Kikyo's actions were wildly unpredictable to her. Once they'd reached a path less treacherous, and far enough away from the courtyard to not be heard, Kagumei decided to voice her confusion aloud.

"Why are we here? Is that the man you're taking me to?" She rattled off all in rapid succession, distracting Kikyo from her task. She was glancing around the weeds, looking for some healing herbs for Naraku and InuYasha's injury. Or whoever 'he' wanted to call himself.

Kikyo sighed without turning around, foraging through the grass as she thought about her captives' questions. It's not as if she had to answer, yet she was almost tempted to discuss her feelings on the confusing matter.

"Make yourself useful and help me find the healing herb Gotu Kola, then I may answer your questions." Kikyo instructed, and the disciple of Tsubaki knew well the healing herb Kikyo spoke of. She nodded and got to work searching another area of weeds nearby. After a while, Kikyo spoke up.

"I've allied myself with Naraku because he has promised to…cure me of my own ailment. One that he shares as well. I cannot give you any further information."

"But why?! He tried to kill you! If I hadn't shot him, you–!" Kagumei was swiftly silenced by Kikyo's cold glare that could cut through ice.

"Silence, or else I'll paralyze your mind once again! Did I ask for your assistance?" Kikyo snapped, raising one finger in a threatening gesture. Kagumei flinched slightly but persevered nonetheless.

"No, but– I couldn't let him kill you!"

"And why not? My life is not yours."

"Do you… Do you want to die?"

Kikyo was silent for a moment, and they returned to their foraging.

"...I suppose it's not my time…yet. But don't expect me to thank you."

Kagumei was rendered momentarily speechless, her mind wandering as she searched for reasons to justify Kikyo's actions. Before she could come to a conclusion, Kikyo answered her question as if she'd heard her thoughts.

"I have been dead before. I am not meant to be alive. The body I inhabit now is sustained by a soul that was once…mine."

Kagumei gasped and looked at her captor in an even more intriguing light.

"Do you love him?" Kagumei blurted out impulsively, and Kikyo's eyes darted away deceptively. The girl had not specified who 'he' was, so she remained silent, contemplating whether or not her tired soul was still capable of love. She'd felt certain before, when she'd been released from Naraku an overwhelming sensation of vibrance and joy had overwhelmed her limbs and imbued her with life.

"I am free to hate. My soul is so much freer than it was then. Free to hate. Free to love."

Kikyo turned to Kagumei, and the most wonderful thing happened that made her blue eyes sparkle with awe. Kikyo smiled, her dark gaze melting into rich hues of mahogany and chocolate as happiness overtook her expression. Her modest smile was small, yet amazed Kagumei with its radiance. She truly looked like she was glowing with a lavender aura that chased away any dark storm clouds that had lingered overhead.

Kikyo pulled the plant she was looking for from the ground, and held it close to her equally glowing chest. The sacred jewel implanted there was being purified! Kagumei looked on in wonder as Kikyo bathed in its glow. Yet, for a moment she was hit by a strange vision of a soulless doll surrounded by flames, with a vacant expression on her fair face.

"I am not Kikyo, the keeper of the jewel. Nor am I the dead priestess who feeds on the souls of the departed. I am simply… Kikyo. I have been given the opportunity to live my life one last time. Once my time is over, I wish to die in the arms of a man who loves me. I almost had it, before you…" Kikyo began, then turned around sharply.

Kagumei remained frozen in place, wondering if she had made some drastic miscalculation by saving Kikyo's life. Surely she didn't really want to die just then, did she? Unfortunately, it seemed like her question wouldn't be answered just yet.

They had company. Kagumei reached for her bow, but Kikyo was less tense than she. She glanced down at a shivering bush, then knelt beside it and parted the leaves, revealing the frightened face of a small demon boy.

"What are you doing here, Shippo? Eavesdropping?" Kikyo teased in a gentle tone. Inside of her, Kagome beamed with sheer joy upon reuniting with her old friend. Shippo gazed up at Kikyo with widened eyes. Previous experience would tell him to be cautious around her, and yet… He didn't sense any evil aura from her. He could actually see how she resembled Kagome this time, and it made his little heart pitter-patter with excitement.

"Get back, vile corpse woman! This time, you'll be cremated permanently!" Jaken shouted from afar, waving his staff of two heads. His threats held little real weight seeing as he was too terrified to even approach her. Though Kikyo disliked the rude imp, the scent of miasma distracted her from Jaken's demands. Instead, she knelt down and picked up Shippo, looking at him curiously.

"Why have you spied on me?" She asked the trembling fox boy, narrowing her eyes suspiciously.

"W-Well, we-we were wondering… since you're a priestess like Kagome was… could you help Rin?" He pleaded, and Kikyo took his request into consideration, looking over to the meadow where Ah-Un and Jaken were standing protectively over a motionless figure which had purple gas clouds swirling over it, along with those annoying Saimyōshō insects buzzing above the clearing.

"Has Naraku infected her with his miasma?" She asked to confirm her own suspicions.

"Yes, but she's still breathing! Can you help us, please?" Shippo begged, tears beginning to burst from his innocent green eyes. Kikyo sighed, then gently nodded.

"Let's begin the purifying rites, Kagumei. I shall require your assistance."

Kagumei gulped hard, her blue eyes wide with some unknown emotion. Kagome could see directly into her eyes through Kikyo, and she attempted to shout at the girl. "Tell her, Kagumei! Tell her what you feel!"

Kagumei opened her mouth, and spoke in a trembling voice rife with anxiety and fear that she would be killed where she stood. Yet, upon seeing Kikyo's gentle nature revealed, she decided to change her mind about escaping for now and instead, decided to help her captor. Who knows, maybe if she did this, Kikyo would let her go and change her mind about sacrificing her to Naraku!

"Kikyo, I need to tell you something! Back there, when you shot Onigu-"

Kikyo raised her fingers and Kagumei's lively blue eyes became dull and completely fuschia with compliance. Her mouth hung open, paralyzed. She couldn't talk now even if she wanted to. Kikyo's anger with Kagome's voice shouting inside had overridden her judgment and she cared little to listen to whatever the silly girl had to say. There were more important matters to attend to.

"Let's go, Kagumei."

"Yes, Mistress Kikyo." She answered lifelessly.

"No… Kagumei!" Kagome lamented helplessly.

Be silent, girl! Soon, you'll never speak inside of me again. Kikyo reminded her cruelly, though her exterior seemed pleasant, inside, an inky vein of darkness burst from the tiny black spot of malignancy in the jewel.

~x•X•x~

What is this… weakness? Naraku lamented, glaring down at his wounds that continued to pulse out blood. They were stuttering to close as he utilized every ounce of his will to regenerate the wound as he was capable of before.

Weakness? This is something we all suffer through as half-demons. My wounds don't heal instantaneously, but they will heal, Naraku. InuYasha said with an irritated sigh, rubbing his reddened throat where Naraku had silenced him by constricting his vocal cords.

The other being sharing the body did not listen, hissing through his teeth as he clenched his fist and something bubbled beneath the surface of his arm.

The golden left eye of the being widened as he stared in horror, able to feel the pain that radiated from Naraku's right side.

Naraku grimaced in pain as his own poison acid oozed out of his veins, turning black upon making contact with the oxygen in the air. The acid replaced his blood quickly and began flowing down the mangled limb, coating it completely in a layer of black. The skin began to sizzle and burn from the acidity, effectively being cauterized. Though the method was extreme, the results were enough to justify the risk. As the flow of acid lessened, InuYasha was able to see how the skin scabbed over immediately, achieving Naraku's goal.

"You have impeccable timing, Naraku." A baritone voice resonated from above, and both looked up immediately to see that they were being rushed from a great height by a massive youkai energy. Sesshomaru had waited until the moment Naraku, or 'InuRaku' healed himself to leap from the summit forty meters above. The velocity had built to such a point that just landing on Naraku would likely split his body clean in half. The demon sped out of the way milliseconds before the other could land, darting to safety.

Sesshomaru landed, making the ground split and dirt spray out around his pristine robes and fur still in an upward position as his aura rippled around him. Naraku and InuYasha's eyes widened this time in harmony, both aware of Sesshomaru's heightened energy that clearly indicated a threat to any demon in the vicinity. A nearby tree fell over from his landing, the surrounding dirt falling from the air as Sesshomaru centered his aura and retained his impassive demeanor.

"I have impeccable timing?" Naraku sneered sarcastically while brushing dirt off of his shoulder. Sesshomaru had yet to face him, his silver lengths of hair and garments gently falling into their rightful places along with his proud mokomoko.

"Yes…In your unconventional way. I refuse to challenge anyone weaker than myself. I hope that you will not disappoint. InuYasha."

The being that shared a body with his most despised enemy was startled by being acknowledged by his elder brother this way. InuYasha had little reason now to accept Sesshomaru's challenge, after all. The only thing he was fighting for at this moment was to save Kagome and Kikyo from whatever twisted ideas Naraku had in mind for them. Kikyo was an enigma, she had aligned herself with their enemy and done his bidding, but to what end? InuYasha didn't know what Kikyo's true desire was. But he did know that Naraku didn't deserve to have his grubby paws all over her. He would not be a part of that. If he could leave this vile prison, then he would.

Sesshomaru turned around slowly as he pulled Tokijin from his waist belt, observing how the strange chimera of Naraku and InuYasha seemed to separately take in his statement. He had singled out InuYasha purposefully with the hope that his juvenile half-sibling understood his true meaning. Sesshomaru was not there to kill InuYasha. If he were to do so, he would much rather face him separate from Naraku.

"Why are you here?" Naraku seethed, taking notice of the silver blade that slowly raised to aim towards him. Sesshomaru gripped the hilt tightly and anger fissures wrinkled his aristocratic nose, he resisted the urge to bristle at Naraku though he would very much enjoy it.

"I have come to deliver the Tessaiga. Who will be its rightful master?" Sesshomaru intoned with all seriousness as he glared down at the crouching form below him, centering the tip of Tokijin now towards the yellow eye on the left. InuYasha gasped and his eye darted to see the familiar sheath on Sesshomaru's left side. The side not handling the Tokijin. There, instead of lacking an arm, there was a dragon's arm! InuYasha quickly attempted to put the parts of Sesshomaru's appearance together with his words, and came to an understanding he had yet to accept.

Is… Sesshomaru… here to save me?! He thought in abject horror. His elder brother had not once ever shown an inkling of concern for his well-being. Why now? This must be a trick. There was something he was missing, surely. InuYasha looked down, and his heart began to race in harmony with the pulsing of the blade. It began to rattle in the sheathe, sensing its true master in the vicinity. Before it could fly towards InuYasha, Sesshomaru took hold of the hilt with the dragon arm and silenced it forcefully.

"If you want the blade, you'll have to earn it." Sesshomaru reminded InuYasha, and the younger of the two bristled this time with zero hesitation.

~x•X•x~

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

"I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses." -Nietzsche