Later that same afternoon, as they left the forest, a small village appeared before them, tucked along both sides of a tiny river. On the side of the river closest to them, perhaps a dozen small huts were clustered around two or three larger huts. The path that they were following led directly to the village, before it crossed the river using a small, rickety wooden bridge. On the other side of the river were another dozen or so houses, as well as a small dock with two small boats tied up to it. Fishing boats, no doubt, as they were too small to carry many passengers or much cargo.
"Hmm, it's not much, but perhaps I can find us a decent place to spend the night," offered Miroku.
"Feh, whatever," grunted Inuyasha.
As Miroku talked with the village elders, Kagome shifted Shippo's sleeping form gently in her arms as she waited to find out which house was in dire need of exorcism. Exchanging a small grin with Sango, she looked down at the sleeping kitsune and started softly humming a lullaby she remembered from her own childhood. She gently brushed the hair out of his face and a soft, sweet smile appeared on her face as she realized, once again, just how much she had grown to love this little boy. This little, kitsune, orphan who filled her heart with love and happiness.
As she stood waiting for Miroku's offer of 'help' to be accepted, she was surprised when Inuyasha dropped her pack to the ground next to her and walked past both the monk and the elders, causing their conversation to come to an immediate halt.
"What is it, Inuyasha?" The monk asked as he moved up along side of the young dog-demon.
"Horseman, a bunch of them. Probably local bandits," he replied. "Hey, old man! You have any problems with bandits lately?" He barked sharply.
At this, the elder paled and said shakily, "Y-yes, I-I'm afraid we have had some problems with bandits and thieves lately."
Even as the elder spoke, a large band of horseman came around the curve in the path that had hidden them. There were almost twenty of them, armed with a mixture of swords, spears and bows. Most of them wore only pieces of mismatched armor over scanty and dirty clothes. Only one of them seemed to have anything approaching a full, matching set of armor – probably looted from a dead daimyo, since it had been crudely adjusted to fit his huge bulk.
"Really? Good, 'cause I was starting to get bored. Miroku, stay with Kagome and the brat. Sango, you want have some fun?" He growled eagerly.
Sango sighed, rolled her eyes at Kagome, who quickly stifled a giggle, and walked up next to Inuyasha. "So, do we ask them to surrender or just attack them without warning."
"How should I know?" he asked. "Oh, whatever. Hey you!" He shouted at the large group of armed horseman. "Feh, worthless ronin," he muttered under his breath. Raising his voice again, he called out to them, "Leave now! Or it's gonna get messy!"
"How—diplomatic," murmured Miroku quietly to Kagome.
"I know. He's the absolute soul of tact and discretion," joked Kagome.
As the horseman pulled up in disarray, the leader, a large, arrogant looking man with a scraggly beard and mustache, shouted to his followers, "Ho-ho-ho, the little boy is trying to scare us away! And just take a look at that girl behind him, she looks lonely for the company of real men!"
"Yeah, and good enough to eat, too!" answered another.
As the bandits shouted insults and curses at the people watching in the street. Miroku watched his companion shake her head and softly sigh.
Finally, after a particularly vile insult, Inuyasha growled and leaped at the leader of the bandits. Smashing him to the ground, he bounced and spun, hammering the bandits out of their saddles and to ground with his fists and feet, not even bothering to draw his sword. While Inuyasha worked his way through the crowd, Sango sped along the edges, using Hiraikotsu, her large boomerang made from demon-bone, to take down any bandits that had been missed by the hanyou's brutal attack. In less than two minutes, the last of the bandits collapsed unconscious to the ground.
As the villagers peeked fearfully from around the huts and other small buildings, the village elder shook off his stunned surprise and called out to his people to catch the horses and to disarm and bind the bandits.
Stopping for a moment to talk to the elder, Inuyasha turned and looked at the largest building in this half of the village, nodded to the elder and bounded back to his companions.
"Let's go," he said. "We can use his place tonight. Oh, yeah," turning to the monk, he continued. "Miroku, the elder asked that you complete your 'exorcism' before dinner."
Miroku just sighed and replied, "Of course, I would be delighted."
Kagome followed Inuyasha as he picked up her large yellow back pack and headed into the house he had pointed out. As she approached, she saw that building was old, but very well cared for. The front of the hut had a wooden porch, covered by an extension of the roof. The doorway was covered by a woven mat, decorated with a complex geometric patterns designed into the weave.
"Inuyasha?" asked Kagome, "What was it that caused you to jump them like that? I couldn't hear clearly."
"No, seriously. I thought for a moment you were going to tear them all to pieces."
"Stupid ronin should learn to keep their mouths shut."
"Well," she said with a little grin, "I think that they learned that lesson pretty quick." Then Kagome giggled, "Maybe you should be a teacher; if all your students master their lessons that fast, you'd be great!"
" Keh, no challenge."
The girl just smiled as she lay the sleeping child gently down on a large cushion. Turning to her friend she said, "If you don't mind, I need to do some homework and study for my tests. I have two of them next week."
"Whatev…uh, sure. I'll ask the elder to provide some dinner later. You just study or whatever," the hanyou replied.
Puzzled by his response, Kagome watched Inuyasha walk away. Finally, she shrugged and pulled out two of her text books and her list of assignments and started writing rapidly in her notebook.
Walking over to where Sango and Miroku were talking together, he gruffly said "Kagome's studying and the pup's asleep. See if you can get the villagers to scrape up something to eat for dinner. I'm going back to the forest for a while." With that the hanyou leapt off towards the forest.
Shrugging at each other, Miroku stated "I believe that I will take care of the exorcism now. Dear lady, please ask the elder about arranging dinner." As soon as he had finished speaking the young monk walked towards the largest building, his staff tinkling gently as he went.
Later that evening as Sango arranged the fish, millet and vegetables that had been provided by the villagers, Kagome asked, "Where is Inuyasha? I haven't seen him for a couple of hours."
"I believe that he said that he was going back to the forest for a bit," replied Miroku. "I'm not certain why."
"Well, I hope he comes home soon," breaking off to cover a big yawn, Kagome continued. "I want to get a good nights sleep, 'cause we have another long day coming up tomorrow."
Digging into her pack, Kagome didn't notice the amusement on Sango and Miroku's faces. Pulling out a small bag, she called "Come on Shippo, let's get washed up and ready for bed."
"Aww, Kagome, it's still early. Do I have to?" the little kitsune asked.
"Yes, you do. I know you took a nap this afternoon, but it's still been a pretty busy week and tomorrow is going to be another long day," Kagome replied.
Stopping at the edge of the tiny river, Kagome knelt down and pulled out a toothbrush and toothpaste and began preparing a small, bright blue toothbrush for the little boy.
"How come I have to brush my teeth all the time, Kagome?" he whined.
"'Cause you're gonna get cavities if you don't," she replied.
"What's 'cavities', Kagome?"
"Hmm, I guess it's when you get small holes in your teeth, and they start to hurt really bad all the time."
"Uh, Kagome, I don't think that youkai can get 'cavities'"
"Maybe not, but you still have to brush your teeth," she stated firmly.
"But, why?" he asked.
"Because I said so, that's why." She answered.
Just then she heard a soft chuckle behind her and a voice that said "It seems that children are children, whether they are human or demon, doesn't seem to matter."
Turning around, Kagome saw a woman, dressed as a miko, who appeared to be about 30 years old. Her light brown hair was tied back in a simple braid, and her eyes twinkled with humor. Her hakama was dark green rather than red, and to Kagome's relief, she didn't resemble Kikyo in any way. Not the same colors, and she was definitely much happier, not so – calm and controlled – as the undead miko.
"Hello, my name is Kagome and this," placing her hand on Shippo's head, "is Shippo."
"Indeed, I've heard much of you and your companions in the short time since I returned to the village this evening. My name is Mitsuki, and I serve as miko for this and two other villages nearby. I thank you for all that you have done for my people. If there is anything that I can do to help you, please don't hesitate to ask." As she finished, the miko smiled, bowed and headed back to the village.
Watching her for a moment, Kagome then turned back to the little kitsune and said, "Let's finish washing up and get to bed."
That evening, after settling the kit into a small pile of blankets next to her sleeping bag, Kagome pulled a small candle lantern out of her pack, lit it with a lighter and began reading from a large stack of loose papers.
"Lady Kagome, may I ask a question?" piped up a small voice from where Shippo was sleeping.
"Sure Myoga, what do you want to know?"
"Normally, you study from your 'books'. This is the first time that I've seen you studying from individual pieces of paper."
"That's because one of my teachers assigned me an essay to help with my grades. With all the time I've spent searching for Jewel shards, my scores have dropped." She sighed, "A lot."
"And this 'essay' will help you?"
Kagome laughed. "I sure hope so, but my science teacher picked a pretty weird topic. I mean," turning one sheet so that Myoga could see the picture of two running wolves, "what do I know about the social behaviors of wolves?" She paused a moment, before saying with a laugh, "I suppose I could use Koga's pack as an example, but I don't think she would believe me."
"Hmm, perhaps," the flea demon replied. "But wolf demons and dog demons have customs quite similar to their natural counterparts."
"Really? I didn't know that," Kagome exclaimed.
"Neither did I, Myoga-san," Miroku added.
Sango spoke from where she was working on her weapons. "My father taught me that most of the greater demons took on the best of animal's and the worst of human traits to form their own unique behavior."
"Hmm, I think your father might have been a just a bit biased against demon-kind. Unfortunately, it is fairly accurate," Myoga replied. "Many of the taiyoukai do seem to have taken the worst human behavior as an example to be exceeded, rather than to be avoided."
"Alas, if only demons could see that with Buddha's help, the eight-fold path would lead them to enlightenment and peace. Perhaps I should attempt to enlighten the next demon we encounter by offering to show him the true path to nirvana through my example."
"And precisely which example would that be, houshi-sama," jibed the demon exterminator, "lechery or larceny?"
As everyone began laughing, Miroku clasped his hand to his chest and proclaimed "Dear Lady Sango, your words strike so harshly."
Kagome giggled and said, "And so, so accurately, too."
With that the young monk flung his arms wide and fell back, pretending to be mortally wounded.
Smiling to herself, Kagome began to read through the sheaf of papers.
Leaping to her shoulder, Myoga started reading along with her, occasionally asking her for the meaning of symbols he was unfamiliar with and pointing out common points between demon and animal behaviors. After about an hour of this both the monk and the taijiya had fallen asleep, and Kagome was yawning almost continuously before she gave up, put away her homework, blew out the candle, and snuggled down into her sleeping bag to get some sleep.
As everyone else slept peacefully through the night, Myoga pondered on all that he had read that evening and how it might effect them all.