He had a sudden flashing memory of his brother. In all that cracked gold agate, he'd seen a spark of bitter loss as he'd torn the spent dragon limb from the stump of his left arm. Some of the mystery dropped out of that sight. Missing his prized demon blade was like missing a limb. Inuyasha swallowed the dryness in his unfamiliar throat. This body had no claws, no fangs, only a shred of his former strength, and not even a blunt blade to crack against an unfriendly skull. What was he supposed to use against- What the hell was coming, anyway?
His ears twitched. ...or rather, they should have twitched. Damn, this was infuriating! From beyond the trees, Inuyasha detected a solid, rattling buzz.
"What the hell is that sou-urk!" Inuyasha choked as something grabbed the back collar of his shirt.
"Quit making noise and help me!" Noi breathed in a half-hiss. Inuyasha blinked his too-human eyes as the boy scrambled one way and then the other like a panicked squirrel.
"What are you looking for?" Kagome asked helplessly.
Noi looked up at her, opening his mouth, but then he just shook his head. "We need a-" he said quickly. "Se," he said to Inuyasha. "Scout us some cover."
"Scout us some cover. There's a gully around here that- Never mind," he said, waving for them to follow him. "God damn it," he muttered under his breath as cast his gaze left and right. "He should have just turned you both into babies. At least then you'd be easier to hide."
Inuyasha rubbed his neck. Damn! What did this Se genius make his clothes out of, anyway? The buzzing sound was louder now, overlaced with a high-pitched wrenching noise that was far too steady to be a scream. Inuyasha winced, trying like hell to make his ears flatten back.
"Aha! Down here!" Noi pointed, sliding down the rise toward a tight gulley. "Come on!"
Inuyasha narrowed his eyes. An entire childhood of running scared flooded back to mind. That little passage between the boulders looked like a halfway-decent hiding place, but it could just as easily be a den for something worse. He folded his arms. "How do I know this all isn't some trick to get us to-"
"Like this?" Kagome asked, bracing her feet and hopping down beside Noi.
"Kagome!" he protested.
"Shut up and get down here!" hissed Noi, pale eyes turning to the sky. "Even this isn't going to fool heat detectors, but if we're lucky, they're not after us and we can just-"
There was a crashing sound and the snapping of wood as an angular mass of gray steel plunged the six spikes of its legs into the loam, the core of its body bobbing with the impact. As the bladed metal wings slowed and retracted - taking with them half the evil noise - two thick, whiplike coils unfurled, one from each end, tipped with a red and searching eye.
"So much for that," Noi whispered.
Inuyasha's unfamiliar eyes went wide. The thing reeked of the forge and fumes of Kagome's world, but with the wretched hint of old blood. There was something else as well, something in the serpentine curving of its two necks as they switched searchingly from side to side. This was no tame metal dragon that carried children to school.
One scarlet lamp settled at Inuyasha's chest level. The other, curling backwards over the steel frame, soon followed suit.
Something wrenched inside him as he met that laser-red gaze. Those were not the empty eyes of a machine. This was a predator, organic and hungry. He'd seen those eyes in Hiten, Kagura, and a thousand other nameless beasts:
The eyes of a youkai.
"Finally." Inuyasha smiled. "Something familiar."
"Idiot!" Noi seethed. "What's he doing?"
Kagome shook her head in oncoming panic, a dozen moonless, foolhardy nights rising like ghosts in her mind. "He's not used to fighting without his powers!"
Noi blinked. "Se's lost his powers?" he asked.
Kagome blinked back, "You mean he does have powers?"
"Of course!" he waved his hands. "They don't send flocks of demon-birds after random ordinary people!" he looked away for a moment, "Well okay sometimes they do, but they're after Se because he has powers!"
"What is that thing?" Kagome barely breathed.
"A search demon," Noi answered in kind, not taking his eyes off the scene on the rise. She saw his throat flex as he swallowed, looking upward past the broken treetops. "'Stay and ye shall be found.' There must be at least three-"
"Five," corrected Kagome.
"-five more of them." He shook his rusted head. Noi's hand slid downward past his waist, an inch from her hip, and she felt her hand give a twitch. "If Se runs, they'll just follow him. Or slaughter us and then follow him. It depends on their orders."
Kagome's eyes drifted to Inuyasha's unfamiliar silhouette. She'd seen him circle an opponent hundreds of times, but he was more unarmed that he'd ever been, and she felt it keenly. "Can you help him?" she breathed.
The freckled man opened and closed his mouth a few times, shaking his head. "I guess..." he trailed. "I guess there's no point to hiding, now that we know who they're after." Noi shook his head. "I guess conscience makes corpses of us all..." he said, clicking what looked like an ammunition clip into his-
Kagome blinked at the strange gun. "Where'd you pull that from?"
Noi heaved a disgusted sigh. "Don't ask. Stay here."
He completely missed the disgruntled gleam in her eye as he turned to climb out of the crevice.
Inuyasha's heart was pounding in his chest. The beast was matching him step-for-step, but hadn't yet made any other threatening moves. His eyes fell to its plunging legs as the creature pulled them, one by one, from where they'd sunk ankle-deep in the gravelly loam. With a series of oddly organic clicks, each single spike sprouted glossy claws too real to be metal.
His gaze fell to the black gauntlet on his wrist. What was its little secret? He'd held it on Noi like an arrow quivering on the bowstring, and the boy hadn't missed a beat, pulling back and locking his eyes on it, exactly as if it could pierce his shaking heart. It was a weapon; he knew that in the bones of his wrists, but a weapon of what kind? He poured his gaze into the innocent onyx gleam.
"Please tell me you remember how to use one of those!"
A frightened friend or a frightened enemy? Inuyasha couldn't tell.
He lifted his arm, and the onyx gauntlet gave a twitch in perfect time to his heartbeat. He flexed his wrist and something sizzled in the air.
Damn but it was going to be fun figuring this one out.