A Fushigi Yuugi story
By Aaron Bergman
Disclaimer: Fushigi Yuugi belongs to Yuu Watase, Flower Comics, Shogakukan, Bandai, Studio Pierrot, TV Tokyo, Movic, Viz, Pioneer, and others, I'm sure. No infringement is intended.
Akira stood up after a few minutes, feeling refreshed. He dusted his hands roughly. "Well, does no good just standing here waiting for the bandits to wake up. Might as well go somewhere."
After a quick look around, Akira still only saw one road. He dug an American quarter out of his pocket. "Heads that way, tails that way."
It came up tails. Akira picked it up, shrugged, and set off in the same direction that strange woman, Tamahome, had gone.
Matsura stopped reading the book for a moment, holding it a foot away from his face, which wore an expression somewhere between skeptical and shocked. "What is up with this thing?" He watched as another kanji was formed by an invisible brush. He turned back one page. On the backside was a picture that showed someone fighting off a group of bandits.
He gasped and shook his head in disbelief. "No way…" No matter what he said, though, he couldn't deny that the person in the picture was that martial artist from his weird dream, Tamahome. And in the background…
"Akira?" It had to be. Somehow, the ancient Chinese illustrator had managed to capture Akira on paper, right down to the cocky way he had of turning his collar up.
A suspicion started to cement itself in Matsura's mind. Quickly flipping to the end of the book, he saw that the pages there were still filled with writing. He quickly translated the first line. "Suzaku no Miko's elder brother shouted into the book in an attempt to bring her Seishi. 'Miaka needs…'"
He turned back to the very beginning of the book. "This is the story of a young lady's quest to gather the seven Seishi of Suzaku together." Matsura scratched his head. "What's a Suzaku?" After a moment's pause, he added, "I'd bet that's what Akira would say right now."
He continued. "This story is actually a spell that can grant the reader wishes, but be wary. The danger is always proportionate to the rewards." Matsura blinked. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" He turned back to the page where the kanji were still forming, and started reading again. "Suzaku no Miko had managed to choose the road leading to the capitol, and having found a ride in a cart…"
Akira yawned and stretched. "Jeez, having a nap interrupted by a jerk of a teacher, being transported to some weird dimension, and then having to fight off a bunch of lame bandits takes it out of you." He couldn't forget the help that had come along unexpectedly, and he leaned back against the wooden seat as his imagination filled the sky with an image of that beautiful (if slightly scary) woman that had saved his ass.
"Oh, but there's no time to sleep now, lord!" The peasant Akira had hitched a ride with had decided that Akira was a lord of sorts (judging by such oddities as clean clothes, white teeth, and a bearing that comes from not being ground into the dirt by everyone above you) and Akira had given up on changing his mind after the first hour. "We're almost to the capitol of Konan!" The peasant pointed, and Akira forgot all about getting home for just a moment.
"Wow! It looks just like a movie!" Then it all came crashing back, and Akira sighed. "Yeah, a Twilight Zone special feature…"
He slid off the cart. "Thanks, old man!" Akira started walking towards the city, ignoring the peasant's attempts to call him back.
He quickly moved to the massive open-air market. Sights, sounds, and especially smells dragged at his attention, until he caught a glimpse of the only other person he actually knew in this world. Not sure what else to do, Akira shouted, "Tamahome!" and started pushing his way through the crowds. However, when he got to where she'd been standing…
"Would you like something, young man?" asked the old woman seated behind the foodstand's counter.
He managed to stop drooling enough to ask, "Have you seen a woman who calls herself Tamahome around here?"
The old woman scowled. "I couldn't say so, no. Why should I care? And are you gonna buy something or not?"
Akira fished a thousand yen bill out of his pocket and handed it to the old woman. She looked it over carefully, held it up to her nose, and blew. "Thanks young man, I've been stuffed up all day. But I hope that you are going to pay for something."
Akira sighed. That was my last thousand yen… He handed the old woman several coins, and the old woman started smiling. "Thank you, thank you." Akira chose several pork buns and started to walk away. Then he heard the old woman shout "What the hell is this?!" and he started running.
After he finished the pork buns, he sat down and started thinking. I only know one person in this world, and I don't know if she'll help me, but what other choice do I have? That decided, he set off to find Tamahome.
The Boss (for that was, as far as anyone knew, his only name) was a man comfortable with his position in the world. The Emperor he lived under was good for business, being too concerned with his own looks to rule properly; all of his one-time rivals were either dead or cowering in their basements; and all of his subordinates were skilled, loyal to a fault, and not afraid to get their hands dirty (or bloody, to be more accurate) if necessary. He was usually very happy.
Today, he was not. And the reason for his unhappiness was sitting across from him, slurping down a bowl of noodles. The Boss leaned forward. "Tell me, Tama-chan. Tell me why you no longer want to work for me. Please?"
Tamahome rubbed her forehead and sat up a bit. It would be easy enough just to say, "Because I went home to give some money I earned on heists to my family -- bet you didn't know I was supporting a family, boss -- and my little sister, who just turned four, looked up at me and said, "Sankyuu!" That made me feel great. Then, my little bro -- who's doing a fine job of running the family for only being eleven -- took me aside a few hours later and asked me bluntly, "Are you a whore?" He explained that he couldn't think of any other way I could earn so much money so quickly. When I stopped being angry, I started thinking… that maybe he was right. Only instead of whoring my body, I was whoring my skills, strength, and principles. And I'm tired of being your whore, Boss."
Tamahome didn't say any of that, though, because it would be showing weakness, and the only thing the weak got in this place was six inches of steel between two carefully selected ribs. Instead, she leaned back and said, "I like the ambiance, but the pay sucks, and I'd like to live long enough to bother my grandchildren. You've gotta look at all the angles, y'know?"
Dammit, I can't lose her now! The Boss raised one finger, showing no sign of his slight inner turmoil. "Just one last job, that's it. It'll pay as much as I've paid you in the last three years, I promise!"
She started drooling slightly, and the Boss grinned inwardly. I knew that would hook her…
Then, Tamahome shook her head. "Just how much are we talking here? I'm not about to say yes or no without specific numbers."
The Boss reached into his belt pouch and pulled out a rolled scroll. "This is the exact letter that I received from my customer." He slid it across the table, and Tamahome unrolled it. Her jaw dropped as she read it.
"Th…that much? Just for some dumb book from the Emperor's library?" She looked suspiciously at the Boss. "Why doesn't it say in here what book this guy wants?"
The Boss spread his hands. "We're supposed to break his messenger inside, and he'll grab the book."
The martial artist crossed her arms across her chest, scowling. "I seem to remember something like this happening before. Does this messenger have any skills?"
Tamahome turned around when someone tapped her shoulder, but there was no one there. When she turned back to the Boss, there was a man sitting cross-legged on the table. He smiled and brushed his long blonde hair over one shoulder. Piercing eyes the color of the sky just before a storm looked her up and down appraisingly, not stopping at… certain points, as most men would have. "Judge for yourself, Tamahome. Judge for yourself."
She stood up, knocking her chair back onto the floor. She kicked it away, wanting to make sure it wouldn't get in her way. "Just who the hell do you think you are?!" Tamahome raised her fists, knowing that this guy was probably more skilled than she was, but also knowing that just backing down would be showing weakness again. And in this place, her mind was always on that six inches of steel. Not for the first time, she wondered fleetingly if the money was worth the risk, not only to herself, but to her family if she was killed…
This tęte-ŕ-tęte was interrupted when a child dressed in ragged, dirty clothing came to the table. "Tama-chan, there's some guy wandering around the town asking about you. He's wearing clothes that I've never seen before. He looks like some kind of lord, 'cause they're so clean!"
Tamahome, glad of an excuse to back down without losing face, immediately thought of the two boys she'd saved on the road. "Are you sure that there's only one of them?"
The kid nodded and said, "Kilik said that he'd take care of the problem, and took off."
That made Tamahome mad again. "I can take care of my own damn problems, okay?! Where the hell is he right now?"
The kid shied back slightly from the angry martial artist as he stammered, "O-over by the old part of town, where Yarr used to run his gang."
Tamahome started for the exit. "I'll take your job, Boss. But it'll be the last."
As soon as she was gone, the Boss said to the man that still sat on the table, "Well, it's a good thing she agreed, right, sir?" He rubbed his hands together nervously, fairly certain that all his power, all his money, all his men, wouldn't be enough, if this man got angry.
The man said nothing, only staring out the doorway that Tamahome had walked out of.
Akira stopped short when he saw the wall at the end of the alley. "Are you sure that Tamahome is this way, Kilik?"
"Nope." There was a momentary pause, then the wiry, scarred man who'd met Akira some twenty minutes ago and offered to lead him to where he could meet the woman he was looking for added, "I lied to you." Akira turned around, only to see that Kilik had produced a knife from somewhere and was waving it around. "You see, Tama-chan is a member of my gang, and nobody asks about members of my gang in this town without paying some kind of price."
Akira started chuckling slightly, and Kilik scowled. "What're you laughing at?"
"This." Akira kicked the knife out of his hand, then followed up with another kick to the face. Kilik went reeling back, and Akira threw him up against a wall. "It's real funny to hold a knife like that and expect a black belt to take you seriously."
The world exploded into stars as something hard hit the side of Akira's head. He went to the ground gracelessly and looked up, vaguely seeing a man-sized shape standing over him. "Y'oughtta pay more attention, Mr. Black Belt, or y'get blindsided by a rock from an alley every time."
"Uhhh…" He tried to get up, but flew several feet as whoever had whacked him kicked him in the ribs. He landed facing away from the mouth of the alley where Kilik had led the both of them. He coughed out a small gout of blood onto the worn cobblestones.
"Hey Kilik, whaddya want done with him?"
The wiry man said petulantly, "I'm gonna cut him, Jakrin. I'm gonna cut him gooood."
"I don't think so."
This new voice was vaguely familiar, but Akira didn't bother trying to place it as the sounds of an intensive fight broke out. They only lasted a few seconds. Someone helped him to his feet, and the familiar voice said, "Jeez, you are helpless, aren't you?"
"T-Tamahome…" He passed out.
Matsura groaned as he felt something hit the side of his head. "What the hell?!" He looked down at the book, forcing himself to focus through the pain as he translated the next line. "Suzaku no Miko fell into blackness as she heard her rescuer's voice. When she awoke…"
Tamahome sat on the windowsill of her second-story room, looking out over the rubble-strewn Old Town. She was unsure of why she'd chosen to help the poor guy to her room and put him in her only bed (adding some new bloodstains to the old pillow), so now she was spending some quality time trying to figure out why.
No luck. It just defied almost everything she'd chosen to live by these past few years to help someone without there being a profit in it, and yet… she couldn't seem to help herself. Dammit, what's going on? Why do I feel so damn protective, like he's some kind of kid brother? She swung her legs back inside the room as the boy moaned. "What happened…" He sat up and looked over at Tamahome. "You… saved me?"
Tamahome shrugged. "Sure kid. Got a feeling about you."
"What kind of feeling?"
As she did whenever the conversation turned to something that she couldn't control, Tamahome changed the subject. "I'll let you stay here tonight, because I've got a job that'll keep me out until dawn, but after that you're on your own."
To her dismay, he looked like he was about to start crying. "What am I supposed to do on my own? I don't know how to get home!"
Tamahome waved one of her hands. "Okay, okay. Can you pay me once you get home? In real money, or, failing that, saleable goods at a low-bulk, high-profit ratio?"
The boy nodded. "I… guess. My mom does a lot of trading in gemstones worldwide, mostly diamonds, but also a few…"
Tamahome started drooling again. She seized one of his hands in both of hers. "Then you've hired yourself a goon, starting tomorrow at dawn. What's your name?"
Tamahome held up one finger. "I never work for someone whose name I don't know. So cough it out!"
Tamahome stood up and grabbed Akira's chin. "Look into my eyes, Mr. Akira." After a short while (pretending not to notice his blush) she dropped her hand. "You don't have a concussion, so I guess you can go to sleep tonight. Just don't go downstairs."
Tamahome threw him a wink. "Because I live above a whorehouse, Mr. Akira." A particularly loud moan from the floor below brought Akira's blush back full-force.
Matsura held the book away from him again, fighting the sudden urge to throw it as hard as he could and run away from this place. Hell, the closing call had gone out several minutes ago, he had reason… "What the hell?"
He had good reason to be scared. He'd turned the page, only to find the kanji still there, writhing and twisting like black ink serpents. Watching them, he couldn't help but get the impression that they were fighting for their lives….
But they vanished, despite all their efforts, and new kanji began forming in their place. Unable to help himself, he continued reading the story he was becoming more and more convinced his friend Akira was living in… somehow.
He felt a twinge of jealousy. Why does Akira always get to have the adventures?
Squashing it took much more effort this time than it usually did.
Tamahome made it a point to be early to meetings, especially meetings like this one. A dark alley was the most popular place for this kind of meeting, closely followed by seedy bars and whorehouses. For the first time, however, she wasn't the first to into the aforementioned dark alley. The strange man from that afternoon was leaning casually against a wall, tapping one foot in time with faint music coming from a distant bar.
Unsure of what to say, Tamahome just looked at him for a second. The man smiled. "It's nice to see that you did decide to show up, Tamahome. So tell me, why do they call you that?"
Not seeing any alternative, she pointed to her forehead. "They call me that because I have this."
The man leaned forward. "Interesting. Very interesting. Looks authentic to me…"
The man waved one hand, then brushed his long hair back behind his ears. "Never mind."
"So what are you doing here?"
The man waved his hand again. "Getting done what must be done."
Rather than answer, he said, "I won't help you at all tonight. I cannot fight, I cannot suggest plans, but I will not give you away. All I ask you to do is get me into the library, and then you may leave. Your Boss knows where the money is."
Tamahome punched her fist into her hand. "I hope he isn't thinking of double-crossing me. That always gets me just a little… angry."
Two other people Tamahome recognized showed up at the mouth of the alley, and she leaned against the wall casually. "Well, well, well, if it isn't Kilik and Jakrin. Don't tell me that Boss put you two on this job?"
Kilik only shot her a resentful glare, but Jakrin elbowed him and nodded. "Yep. We get this job done, then we settle our differences."
Tamahome shrugged elaborately. "Whatever. Shall we get going?"
They never saw the shadow following them as they set out for the palace.
Mika Tanaka was a woman that was almost entirely at peace with herself, to the amazement of all her friends and to the envy of many others. She was almost all the way through high school, heading to the college of that particular high school with high enough marks to impress even the most jaded dean; she had a nice blonde hunk for a boyfriend that wasn't a complete idiot (although Mika had her doubts about his little sister…); she liked to draw and had been told several times to enter amateur manga competitions; and she even had a little brother that wasn't a complete horror and actually managed to be cool… sometimes.
Only sometimes, though.
Case in point: Mika had gotten home early to make dinner for the whole family, because their mother was going to be home for the first time in some two months. She'd even made sure to extract a promise from Akira to make certain he was home in time to greet their mother, and what does the little ingrate do?
Not even bother showing up!
Mika had called over to Matsura's and Katsuhiro's, his two closest friends, but Matsura's parents had told her that their son wasn't home, and all Katsuhiro had told her was that he'd been called out by their Classical Chinese teacher to produce a report that his grade depended upon.
What wonderful timing her little brother had.
She enjoyed a brief fantasy that the eggs she was cracking for an omelet was Akira's head. It was altogether too brief, though; for one thing, she doubted that her little brother's brains were yellow and runny.
Actually, given today's behavior at school, maybe that wasn't too far off…
She hoped that he would show up in time, but suspected that it wasn't going to be that way.
So much for the perfect family reunion.
Security was lax on the perimeter, sucked in the courtyards, and was even more sporadic on the inside of the buildings, for which Tamahome was grateful; although the newcomer was more silent than shadows and Jakrin, despite his size, was as graceful as a ghost, the way Kilik was just tromping around would give them away in a second.
They'd just broken into one of the ornate windows that decorated the innermost building, the one that the Emperor himself was said to live in, and Tamahome was starting to get nervous. Didn't they say that the Emperor had the protection of Suzaku himself? Suddenly, the tall man with long hair stopped. "I can feel it. It is near."
Kilik scowled. "What the hell are you talking about?" He spoke too loudly, and Tamahome almost smacked him. She held back, though, because she was certain that he'd scream like a little girl.
After all, that's what he'd done this afternoon…
Loosing herself in that rather pleasant memory, she almost didn't notice the man reaching for a nearby door, slowly sliding it open. "The book is in this room." He stepped into the room. Tamahome, not about to be left behind, followed him closely.
The room was a library, filled with what seemed to be thousands of scrolls and books heaped in disarrayed piles over a number of tables and in many bookshelves. A figure seated at one of the tables looked up at them as the two entered. "What are you doing in my library?!"
The tall blonde man cursed. "Dammit! I can't believe that I was this close! If Tai-Yun weren't protecting you…" He disappeared suddenly, leaving Tamahome gaping.
"What the hell…"
The man in the library shouted, "Guards! Intruders!"
"Shit!" Tamahome turned around and ran out the door, only to trip on a wire that was strung at ankle-height. She pushed herself up on her hands and knees, only to fall back down as someone kicked her in the head.
"That's what you get for interrupting my fun, Tama-chan! Have fun with the guards."
Tamahome tried to stand up, and stars shot across her vision as she did. She reached up and felt wetness on her forehead. Dammit, that bastard got me good. Better than I thought he could…
She looked up and was shocked to see Akira through the haze. "Why the hell are you here?! How'd you get in?"
Akira reached one arm around her left side, supporting her. "It wasn't too hard to follow you, y'know. And the noise from, erm…" He blushed again, and Tamahome distractedly noted that he was kind of cute when he did that "…downstairs was keeping me awake, so…"
He guided her around a corner, and into another room. He reached with his free hand and shut the door behind them. "I think we can hide in here for a little bit." Akira set Tamahome in a chair, and she sighed in relief.
"I thought that you might try to hide in here."
Akira sprang into a ready stance, then raised his hands slowly as the shadow in the corner held up a sword. "No, tell me what you wanted in my library, before I kill you both."
Akira opened his mouth to answer, but suddenly pink light began to swell around him, illuminating the surprised faces of all three people in the room. He started to fade away. "What the…"
Matsura dropped the book as pink light began to flood out of the book. "What's happening now?!"
"Who's in there?"
Matsura, knowing that he'd been discovered, quickly snatched up the book he was certain his friend was in. I can't let him go… He shoved the book in his shirt, then grabbed another book at random from the shelves. A flashlight played across his face, and he blinked.
"Who are you?"
Matsura stammered, "My name is Matsura. I'm, uh, doing some research for a school report."
"Let me see that book." Matsura surrendered the book, and after a moment, the old man with the flashlight chuckled. "I can see what you're researching, boy, but I'm afraid the Kama Sutra with illustrations isn't suitable reading material for someone of your age."
Matsura blushed. "Umm… I guess that you're right."
The old man waggled one finger. "Besides, this room is off limits. I should take you to the director, but I think you're an honest kid. If you get out of my sight in ten seconds, I won't report you." He muttered, even as Matsura took off, "My own damn fault, leaving the room unlocked. This place is mighty dangerous…" He set the book back on the shelf and pulled another one from the shelf. Opening it, he started reading, "Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh…"
The pink light shut off suddenly, but the amount of illumination in the room did not drop. Tamahome looked around at the ten guards, two of whom held lamps in the one not holding a sword. "Lord, shall we dispatch them immediately?"
The man still holding his own sword waved one hand. "No. Throw them in the dungeon. We are interested in this magic they have displayed."
Tamahome didn't protest as they hauled her to her feet, but Akira said, "She's hurt! You can't put her in a dungeon."
"Do you think that really matters to us? Silence him."
For the second time in one day, Akira felt the hard impact of an object against his skull. This time, he didn't manage to keep hold of his consciousness, and he collapsed heavily into the waiting arms of a guard.
To be continued.
Author’s notes: True Fushigi Yuugi fans will notice how I continue to deviate farther and farther from the true continuity. I wonder how much farther I can go before one of them protests…
One thing that y'all might complain about is my portrayal of Tamahome as a criminal. This is for several reasons, actually.
1: Dramatic purposes.
2: A male in from the sticks in this time period would find it hard to find a legitimate job. Try being a woman! The only jobs a woman can find that offer enough profit to interest Tamahome would be prostitute and criminal, and I just can't imagine her becoming a prostitute.
3: Let's face it; strong-willed females can be more cold-blooded about certain things than strong-willed males. Male Tamahome might look at a criminal job, say, "That sort of thing is beneath me," and never look at it again. Female Tamahome looks at it, says, "I need the money so my family doesn't starve," take the job, and then take other jobs of a similar sort once she finds out that it's easy.
Flame me if you think any of these reasons are inaccurate.
Why does every one of her fellow criminals call Tamahome "Tama-chan?" Because criminals tend to be insultingly familiar with each other at times. Simple as that.
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