DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction produced for entertainment purposes only. Inu-Yasha - A Feudal Fairytale and all related characters are the creations of Rumiko Takahashi.
The watching crowd fell silent as the eight competitors took up their positions. Markers had been set out across the field, spaced a few metres apart to give each competitor room to maneuver when they needed it. As soon as all eight were standing on their markers, the announcer spoke up.
"Before we begin, I'll run through the rules of the Challenge. Each round, our official Judge will test each competitor in order, using a pre-determined attack. At the end of each round, all surviving competitors will go on to the next round, while anyone else will be out of the competition. The last competitor left standing will be declared the winner. To keep things interesting through, each round will have specific instructions and will test a different part of the competitor's overall power. The Judge will also use a different attack during each round, with the attacks getting stronger as the competition progresses. Finally, any competitor who disobeys the rules of each round, or who is found to be cheating in any way, will be immediately disqualified."
The announcer gave Naraku a very long look as he said that. Naraku smirked slightly in response.
"The first round will test the competitors' defensive power. For this round, all competitors are permitted to defend themselves against the attack in whatever way they wish. This includes the use of any objects they have for this purpose. They are not, however, permitted to duck, jump, step aside or otherwise evade the attack. Each competitor must remain on their marker for their entire turn against the Judge. They are also not permitted to retaliate!"
This time, it was Kouga and Inu-Yasha who received the long looks from the announcer. Kouga smirked as though he didn't care and Inu-Yasha looked bored. "Can we just get on with it already?" he called out impatiently.
The announcer sighed. It was obviously going to be a long day. "For this round, the Judge's attack will be… the Claws of Light! Competitors! Are you ready?"
As the others, except for Sesshoumaru since he didn't consider such actions to be dignified for a youkai of his lineage and power, shouted 'yes', Inu-Yasha glared at the announcer. "What do you mean, are we ready? We've been waiting for you to finish talking for the past ten minutes!"
Ignoring the heckling Hanyou, the announcer turned to the crowd. "What do you think everyone? Are you ready to see these seven powerful youkai… and Jaken… go up against the Judge?"
In the resulting chaos of cheers, yells, shouts, whistles and screams that followed, Jaken's cry of protest went completely unheard. He was still grumbling by the time the noise died down enough for the announcer to be heard. "Then let the first round of the Feudal Era Youkai Strength Challenge commence!"
As the crowd again went wild, the grey-cloaked figure that was the Judge moved to stand in front of the first competitor. As the Judge's arm began to rise, Naraku's eyes narrowed and he watched his would-be opponent carefully. So far, he had no idea who he was facing. The cloak hid everything about the Judge that might identify him… or her, for even that was impossible to tell. But when the Judge's arm was raised, his cloak would part and Naraku would be able to see… absolutely nothing!
Naraku scowled in displeasure as the Judge's arm came out of a slit in the side of the cloak. The arm and hand were small, but that was to be expected since the Judge was no taller than a child of about 12. The arm was covered by a grey sleeve that left only the hand bare. Naraku frowned slightly as the Judge held the hand up and the long nails flashed in the sunlight. The extremely long, extremely sharp, nails…
The claws slashed through the air faster than Naraku had expected. He tensed, every instinct in his body telling him to use his miasma to melt the five small sparkling lights that streaked towards him, or to use his barrier to deflect them. Only the knowledge that everyone in the crowd was watching, and hoping that he'd make a fool of himself, prevented him from doing either. He refused to become a laughing stock and that was exactly what he would become if he defended himself against such a weak attack. With all his power, these pitiful whatever-they-were couldn't possibly have any effect against…
He grunted as the five small lights struck him, slashing through his kimono as if it were nothing and leaving five long gashes on the skin beneath. Naraku forced himself not to wince, but it wasn't easy. For such little things, they packed quite a sting. Still, he pretended that he felt no pain at all as he forced an unconcerned smirk onto his face for the Judge's benefit. It had the added effect of causing the crowd to go wild with cheers and applause.
The Judge moved to stand in front of Kanna.
The small girl stood still and silent, her face remaining completely expressionless. It was as though she didn't even register that it was her turn and that she was expected to defend herself. But as the Judge's arm began to rise, she smoothly lifted her mirror in front of her.
Confused, the crowd fell silent, wondering what possible use a mirror could be against an attack.
The Judge's claws slashed through the air, sending five small flashes of energy towards Kanna. A faint glow of light surrounded her and her hair and kimono fluttered slightly as though stirred by a breath of breeze. Then her mirror began to shine. The five lights changed course slightly, all now aiming directly for the radiant mirror in Kanna's hands. The watching crowd gasped in astonishment as the mirror drew the lights inside. There was a moment of stunned silence and then the crowd erupted in triumph.
The Judge paused for a moment before moving on to the next competitor. Naraku's eyes narrowed at that. Perhaps the Judge hadn't been entirely fooled by Kanna's lack of response to the attack.
The evil youkai glanced at his eldest daughter. She was as still and calm as ever, but her mirror was still glowing while the aura of light around her was quickly fading. Naraku knew what that meant.
Normally, the mirror took in an attack and then reflected it out again, back at the one who had done it in the first place. But, since retaliation would have earned her elimination in this round, Kanna had been forced to keep the energy of the attack within her mirror. Apparently she was having a great deal of trouble doing so. That disturbed Naraku. More than he cared to admit.
He wasn't… concerned… about her. Not exactly. It was just that he didn't want the others to think that she was weak. He also wondered what it was about the Judge's supposedly weak attack that made it so blasted effective against both himself and Kanna! The attack was supposed to have the same effect on everyone, but he had a feeling that it wouldn't. He had half a mind to complain…
The Judge had reached the next competitor by the time the light in Kanna's mirror finally faded.
Kouga smirked and then laughed as the Judge came to stand in front of him. "Give it your best shot!" He placed his hands on his hips and braced his legs apart. His dark eyes gleamed with anticipation as he confidently waited for the attack. "I can take whatever you can deal out!"
As the Judge's arm rose and slashed through the air, all the fangirls (and fanyoukai) gasped in fear. Most of them covered their eyes, not wanting to see their beloved Kouga hurt. Some of the braver ones (and even a few of the fanyoukai) peeked through their fingers, unwilling to miss even a moment of watching their idol strut his stuff.
When the five small darting lights struck Kouga, a collective gasp echoed through the massive stadium. When he remained standing, the gasp became a thunderous roar of approval that almost, but not quite, drowned out the wild squeals of all the fangirls (and fanyoukai) whose faith in their idol had just been confirmed.
As the applause and cheers continued, the Judge peered at Kouga for a long moment. The crowd was too far away to see it, but the young wolf-youkai had not come through the attack unscathed. Five deep gashes marked his skin, each one deep enough to draw blood. Kouga's eyes were wide in shock and he'd frozen in place, clearly stunned by how powerful the deceptively innocent looking attack truly was. Still, the boy had come through the attack without fainting or dying, so that meant he'd made it through the first round. The Judge nodded and moved on to the next competitor, leaving Kouga to recover both his health and his nerve.
Shippo trembled violently as the Judge approached him. "Hey, Shippo! Are you sure you want to go through with this?" The taunting note in Inu-Yasha's voice made Shippo glare at him.
"Of course I'm sure! I'm a strong youkai! I can do this!" His determination lasted until he turned around and found the Judge standing opposite him. "I can… do this…" he repeated under his breath as he tried to convince himself. He took a deep breath and frowned in concentration as he gathered up as much power as he could.
As the Judge's arm rose, the frightened squeals of the watching fangirls (but not of the fanyoukai because no self-respecting youkai would ever squeal over a kitsune) filled the air. Cries of 'Oh, the poor little dear!', 'He's only a child! Don't hurt him!' and 'His tail! Mind his tail!' rang through the stadium. When the Judge slashed through the air, quite a few fangirls (and fanyoukai who decided that self-respect was highly overrated when it came to being free to squeal over a cute little kitsune) screamed. Several also fainted. Most of the watching crowd merely wondered why there had been a flash of light and puff of smoke as the attack had hit, when it hadn't had that effect on anyone else.
The Judge and other competitors tried to peer into the smoke but it was too thick to see what had happened. "Shippo? Hey! Shippo!" Even Inu-Yasha's shouts had no effect. He scratched his head in bewilderment and looked at the Judge. "Want me to fetch him out of there?"
Before the Judge could respond, a brisk gust of wind blew past Inu-Yasha, causing his hair and robes to flutter madly. As it began to clear the smoke, he turned to blink at Kagura, who was holding her fan in her outstretched hand as she controlled the wind.
Kagura shrugged. "What? I'm just as eager to get this over with as you are. It's as much in my best interests as yours to find out what's happened."
When the smoke had been cleared, everyone blinked in surprise. Even the crowd fell silent as the watching audience wondered what in the world they were seeing. Shippo was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a small stone statue lay on top of the marker where he'd been standing.
Inu-Yasha sighed and shook his head. "I don't believe it… he turned himself into an idol. That idiot! Why didn't he just use his Foxfyre to counter the attack?"
Kagura stared at him in confusion. "Idol?" She looked back at the stone statue. "So that's what that thing is. Huh." She looked up at the Judge. "So… did the kid make it through or what?"
The Judge had approached the small statue and was bending over it, studying it closely. A small hand emerged from the cloak and lightly touched the statue. When there was no response, the Judge tried tapping it a little harder. With a faint pop, the stone reverted to Shippo's usual form. The little kitsune lay on the ground, his eyes closed.
"Huh? Shippo? Shippo! Stop playing! This is no time for… games…" Inu-Yasha had bounded over. He peered at Shippo and started to reach out, as though intending to shake him, but he hesitated. His hand was trembling very slightly. He looked at it for a moment, as though surprised, then he glared at Shippo. "Shippo! Get up right now!"
"Oh yeah, that's really going to…" Kagura had also come over. She blinked in surprise as the little fox-youkai gave a very faint groan. She ignored the smug look Inu-Yasha gave her. "Huh. I guess he's still in the contest then. Since he survived the attack and all." Shrugging, she turned and started back to her marker.
Inu-Yasha looked down at the small unconscious kitsune and then up at the Judge. He frowned slightly. "He couldn't take another attack like that."
A very soft voice, so soft that it was still unclear if it was male or female, came from within the depths of the grey hood. "I agree. If he awakes before the second round begins, I will give him the choice of continuing or not. If he is still unconscious at that time, he will be disqualified."
Inu-Yasha nodded, a look of relief on his face. "Fair enough." He suddenly grinned. "So… my turn now, hey?"
Amusement coloured the Judge's voice. "Indeed. So you had best return to your marker before I get there and need to disqualify you." Inu-Yasha chuckled and bounded back to his position.
The noise began as soon as the Judge stepped in front of Inu-Yasha. The crowd's cheers and applause rumbled through the stadium like thunder. The half-youkai grinned as he stood casually, one hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword. He knew how he'd take care of the little sparkly things. He could just stand there and take them, but there was no way he was doing the same thing as Naraku or Kouga! Besides, why get hurt if he didn't need to?
Tuning out the screaming crowd, Inu-Yasha focused on the Judge's arm as it was raised. The claws flashed in the same instant that Tetsusaiga was drawn from its scabbard. The sword flared into life, transforming into its true form of a massive fang, and Inu-Yasha swung it. The blade sliced through the five sparkling lights easily, dissolving them into stardust with its incredible power. Inu-Yasha sheathed the blade again and grinned as he allowed the sound of the crowd's admiration to distract him again. He raised one hand and waved it, cheerfully ignoring Kouga's glare as he did so.
"Blasted dogface. How come he's getting more cheers than I did?" Kouga grumbled to himself. "Still… I'm the one who's hurt, so maybe Kagome will bandage me up again." He smirked at the thought of Inu-Yasha's face if that happened, and tried to ignore the way his heart pounded at the possibility of Kagome looking after him.
Meanwhile, the Judge had taken up his position in front of Jaken. The small toad-like youkai was obviously nervous, but he braced himself and held up his staff in a surprisingly steady hand.
Snickers and laughter started coming from the stands and Jaken's eyes narrowed in fury. As the Judge's arm began to rise, Jaken tensed. As the claws sent out their five dangerous lights, Jaken planted the base of the staff in the ground before him and drew himself up to his full, and not all that impressive, height. "Stop laughing at me!" he screamed. The male head on the staff suddenly released a massive blast of flame that enveloped all five of the lights, destroying them in a moment!
The crowd fell silent in shock.
The flames ceased and Jaken stood there, panting heavily and still looking rather angry. Suddenly, he blinked and it seemed to sink in that he'd just made it through to the second round. His face lit up with a delighted smile and he turned to look past Kagura at Sesshoumaru. "Sesshoumaru-sama! I did it! Did you see me? I did it!" He hopped happily from foot to foot in an impromptu little dance.
Kagura blinked. "Well what do you know. The little toad actually managed to do it." She turned her attention from Jaken to the Judge as the cloaked figure moved to stand in front of her.
Like Inu-Yasha, Kagura remained in a casual pose. The only signs of her alertness were the watchful look in her ruby eyes and the way she held her fan so that she could bring it into play the instant that she needed to. When the Judge's claws slashed through the air, she was ready.
Before the five lights made it even halfway to her, Kagura had flipped her fan open. A red aura of power surrounded her as she summoned the winds to do her bidding. With graceful carelessness, she sent the winds to destroy the little bolts of energy. One, two, three, four… she frowned as the fifth one proved more insistent than the others had been. While the first four lights dissolved in the wild rush of her winds, the fifth light continued to head for her. She quickly caused the winds to shift, sending it off-course so it missed her completely.
Kagura refolded her fan and smiled as the crowd roared their approval. She flicked a swift glance at Sesshoumaru, wondering what he had thought of her little show. As always though, nothing of his thoughts showed in his face. Shrugging to herself, she turned to smirk at Jaken. The irritating little toad was sure to be… asleep?
"What in the world?" Kagura frowned at the small figure lying in the grass. "Um… what happened to him?"
The Judge had been heading over to Sesshoumaru, but paused at Kagura's confused question. A moment later the Judge was bending over Jaken, examining him closely. "He's unconscious."
"What? He was fine a moment ago…" Kagura frowned uneasily. She didn't particularly like Jaken, but she didn't like how he'd been fine one minute and unconscious the next, either!
"The Light Claw that you deflected appears to have struck him."
Kagura winced. She honestly hadn't meant to do it. She'd just deflected the stupid thing. It wasn't her fault that the idiot toad had been too busy trying to get his hero Sesshoumaru's attention to see the wayward light coming straight for him!
Thinking of Sesshoumaru, Kagura glanced at him, wondering how upset he was over it. He seemed as undisturbed as ever, but that didn't mean much. Kagura didn't think that he ever showed much emotion. At least, not that she'd seen. Before she could think about it any more though, Inu-Yasha's voice cut in to her thoughts.
"Ouch. Bad luck. But he's still going through the next round, right? I mean, he did survive your attack." Inu-Yasha peered at Jaken and then looked curiously at the Judge.
"Technically, yes. If he returns to consciousness by the second round, he will be able to participate. If not…" The cloaked figure shrugged and the others nodded. There really wasn't anything else that could be done. He couldn't participate if he was unconscious, after all.
The Judge finally took up position opposite Sesshoumaru. The white-haired youkai lord regarded the cloaked figure as calmly as if nothing unusual had just happened. Apparently he didn't feel anything in regards to Jaken's little accident… or did he? The Judge peered more intently into the golden eyes, wondering if the mild concern that seemed to be showing there was nothing more than a trick of the light. Shrugging aside the thought, the Judge prepared to perform the Claws of Light attack for the last time in that round.
Sesshoumaru stood perfectly still and calm as the Judge's hand rose and five bolts of light burst from five sharp claws. He didn't move so much as an eyelash as the five lights headed straight for him. Why would he waste any effort or energy defending himself against an attack that he knew would cause little injury? The crowd's collective gasp filled the air, as it looked certain that the lights would hit their target.
A pure white light flared around Sesshoumaru, completely surrounding him. The five sparkling lights fizzled away to stardust as soon as they touched the protective barrier. With the danger gone, the light faded. Sesshoumaru blinked and looked faintly surprised as he glanced down to the elder of the two swords resting at his hip.
"So… Tenseiga… you chose to protect me." The Judge barely heard Sesshoumaru's soft comment. That wasn't surprising since the youkai lord hadn't intended to say it aloud.
The announcer waited until the wild roar of the crowd died down before speaking.
"That ends the first round of the Challenge! The second round will begin shortly. Competitors, you may take a brief break to see to any wounds you have received."
Inu-Yasha bounded over to Shippo and picked him up. The little kitsune groaned and his eyes blinked open. "I… Inu-Yasha… Did I… win?"
The half-youkai smiled slightly, more relieved than he would admit. "Not really. You fainted. What possessed you to transform instead of using your Foxfyre?"
Shippo smiled slightly and Inu-Yasha blinked at the sudden knowledge in the small fox-youkai's eyes. "My Foxfyre wasn't strong enough to take out all five of them. Even one would have killed me. But my idol form is stronger than my regular form. I knew I wouldn't be hurt as badly."
Inu-Yasha blinked. He was mildly impressed at his small friend's strategy. "Well, it worked. You fainted, but you did better than Jaken. You took all five of them but still woke up before the second round. Jaken only took one and…" Inu-Yasha looked over to where Kagura was looking down at the unconscious minion as Sesshoumaru walked calmly past. "He's still unconscious."
Kagura looked up in surprise as Sesshoumaru walked past Jaken without stopping. "Hey. Aren't you going to take him with you?" She paused as she quickly assessed whether or not her father could overhear her. She really didn't want him to know how friendly she was with Sesshoumaru. "He's hurt pretty badly."
Sesshoumaru paused and glanced at her, then down at Jaken. An unfathomable look flashed through his golden eyes. Silently, he reached down and picked Jaken up by his belt. Without a word to Kagura, the youkai lord carried his minion off the field. Kagura smirked and followed him.
As they neared the entrance to the competitors' resting area, a little girl in a pretty orange checkered kimono ran out to meet them. "Sesshoumaru-sama! You were so strong! But poor Jaken-sama…" She peered anxiously at the minion as he dangled from Sesshoumaru's hand. "He's all hurt. Rin make better!" She grinned up at Sesshoumaru before turning to lead the way inside.