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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.


PART FOUR


Akira sat in the opulent room that the guy in the really tall hat had shown him to, gradually working his way into a deep blue funk. Staring at the photos of his friends and family that he'd had in his wallet hadn't helped a bit; in fact, it had only accelerated his downward spiral.

Aw man… when am I ever gonna get back? HOW am I gonna get back? I mean, is it even possible to get out of this book? He flipped the picture of himself and Matsura over, revealing one of his mother giving him a noogie, while his older sister watched, grinning.

He dropped the wallet, stood up, and shouted, "DAMMIT, I FORGOT ABOUT THE DINNER TONIGHT!!" He smacked his forehead as he groaned out, "Man, Mika's gonna have my guts for garters… I haven't seen Mom in months, too! ARRGH!!"

Then, for a moment, he brightened. "Wait a second… as long as I'm trapped here, she can't hunt me down and kill me like a rabid dog! There's a silver lining to every cloud."

Akira glanced down at his wallet, intending to bend down and pick it up, and saw that it had fallen open to a drawing that Mika had done several months ago. It was a simple pen sketch of himself and all of his friends as super-deformed characters, hanging out underneath a tree in the park. Akira remembered spending a few frantic hours on a Saturday night with the same friends in the picture, looking for a place that would make a copy of the picture small enough to fit in all their wallets…

"And there I go, crying again," he said wryly, rubbing at his eyes. "Guess I'd better do something to take my mind off the future. But what?" After a moment's thought, he nodded and shadowboxed with the air for a moment, dancing lightly on his toes. "A good workout, that's the thing!"


Tamahome looked up suddenly, a pricking at the back of her neck hinting at something wrong… but not near her. Hotohori, who was talking with several of his ministers nearby, held up one hand to silence them. "You feel it as well, Tamahome?"

The martial artist answered uncertainly, "I'm not sure… but something's happening…"

The Emperor nodded excitedly. He'd changed from his simple robes of that afternoon into ornate garb suited to his station, and had spent most of that time settling what seemed to Tamahome to be petty problems. She wished that she'd had Akira's sense; he'd asked to leave early, not having any sort of fascination with the Emperor's court. Tamahome, on the other hand, had been curious and certain that something interesting would happen any time now… no, really, any time now… sooner better than later… aw, c'mon, wasn't ANYTHING GONNA HAPPEN…

Hotohori was speaking, so Tamahome brought herself out of her reverie and put her full attention on him. "…we have read of this. It is another manifestation of the Celestial Warrior's bond to the Summoner that they guard with their lives. Whatever the Summoner is feeling, is also channeled through… where are you going?"

Tamahome, already sprinting out of the door, didn't answer. The ministers still clustered around the Emperor looked at him. One of them asked, "Will you follow her, Lord?"

"Hmm?" Hotohori shook himself and replied distantly, "No, there will be no need for that. We are far too busy at the moment. Perhaps later we will visit the Summoner; but until then we shall trust that Tamahome is capable enough to handle any problems."


Matsura had known that it was a stupid idea to stay up so late. He'd told himself to go to sleep, he'd reminded himself more than once that he had school in the morning, and showing up with his eyes bloodshot and falling asleep on the desk would be a very, very bad thing.

He mumbled out loud, "Told ya so."

It didn't help.

"Hmm?" Tomoya, who was sitting at the table across from him, looked up. "Did you say something?"

Matsura waved one hand. "No, nothin' important…" He tried to keep his head up, but slowly, it slumped down…

Tomoya reached out one hand and gently rolled Matsura's head out of his food. "Wow. Poor guy, looks like he didn't get any sleep last night…"

A tray landed next to Matsura's head with a clatter, and he blinked blurrily. "Whazzat? …Oh, hi Shizuka."

"Don't 'Hi, Shizuka!' me!" She smacked the side of Matsura's head, and he lifted it out of the food. "Where is Akira? He said that he was gonna pick me up and let me meet his mom last night, and he didn't show up! When I get my hands on him…" She made a wringing motion.

"In the book," Matsura said absently, staring down at a mess that had once been a pork bun mournfully.

"What? A… book?"

Matsura, adrenaline suddenly pumping through his veins, thought quickly. Damn, I can't believe I told them the truth! Um, okay, give a good excuse… "He's writing the last bit of that report for Tendou-sensei. Y'know, nose-deep in a book?"

Shizuka looked at him suspiciously for a moment, then her nose wrinkled. "I guess that's the closest thing I'm gonna get to a straight answer, aren't I?"

Matsura nodded, and Shizuka sat down. "Fine, fine. So, why were you up so late last night, Matsura? It isn't normal for you to think that sleep is more important than food."

Matsura struggled frantically to figure out something to tell her, because he damn well sure wasn't going to tell the truth.


"Okay, done with the warm-up, now… I think I'll see if I can do that new kata that Sensei showed me last week…"

He started in a simple stance: both legs spread wide, with the arms down at the sides, and the forearms held level at the waist. Then, he started. At first, it was deceptively easy to do; then, the tempo of it speeded up, and he strained to keep up with how fast it should be. Suddenly he lost his balance mid-kick and slipped, crashing face-first into the hard wood floor.

"DAMMIT!" Akira wiped at his nose; luckily, there was no blood. "I hate it when I mess up!" He stood up and assumed the stance again, then started over at the beginning. At first, he fought with his own body, trying to force it into the exact same positions that his sensei had performed; then, he started to relax, trying to get the feeling of the kata, instead of performing a copy. Then, just as he was doing it perfectly, eyes drifting shut, not thinking, just doing, free to think of whatever he pleased, flowing with the air around him…

…He felt something.

…A person, standing just inside the doorway…

He whirled around suddenly, losing that feeling of peace, and saw that the person was only Tamahome, leaning against the door's frame. The woman was gently clapping. "Nice. First time, Boss?"

"…What?"

"I'll take that as a yes." She shook her head. "Not bad, for a rank novice, but I've been standing here at least a minute. The fact that it took you that long to sense me…"

Akira felt stunned for a moment, then he got angry. "What do you mean, rank novice? I've been practicing martial arts for--"

"--About three years, right?" Tamahome shook her head at Akira's obvious surprise. "I've been-- well, I don't know if 'practicing' is the right word, but doing martial arts for nearly eleven years, and it's only now that I'm starting to appreciate out my limits. Boss, my master has been doing this stuff for forty years, and he still calls himself a student!"

Akira nodded blankly, then asked, "So, what the heck was that?"

"Chi. I was projecting my own chi as anger and bloodlust, and you picked it up." She grinned sardonically. "Not that I'm feeling any anger towards you, of course, but it's what most people feel when they're about to blindside you with a really big stick or something, so…"

Akira thought back to yesterday and reached up to touch where the rock had hit him on the side of the head. Had it really only been yesterday? It was still sore. He nodded. "Okay, then… will you teach me?"

Tamahome held out both hands in a warding gesture. "Whoa, there. I don't teach; besides, you and I have a business relationship, Boss. I can't go around thinking that my boss is also my student; it might stop me from being as hard on you as I might have to be."

Akira shook his head. "No, I need you to teach me. I'm totally out of my depth here; I have no idea when something might happen to me, and you or Hotohori might not be nearby to protect me. Besides," he added, grinning wryly, "I'd much rather defend myself."

After a short pause, Tamahome nodded. "Very well, Boss. I accept you as my student. Now, the first thing we do is get you a dagger. Let's head to the armory." She grabbed his hand and started dragging him along gently.

"Wha… I thought you used a bare-handed style."

"I do." She sighed. "Look, the first thing you should've learned is not to question the master, but I'll explain this much about the dagger. I'm going to give you a weapon, a nasty, sharp, pointy blade that could seriously hurt, possibly kill somebody if you used it in a fight, and then I'm going to tell you that you can NEVER use it. It's just going to hang at your belt, and if you ever draw it I'll stop teaching you. No questions asked."

"Okay, NOW I want an explanation."

Tamahome sighed again, and Akira got the feeling that she'd be doing a lot of that if she kept teaching him. "It's to teach you to rely on your hands, of course; to remind you that a weapon is nothing more than a tool.

"Some schools teach that a weapon has its own soul, which is bullshit. A weapon has no more spirit than the hands that wield it. If you learn that it is your hands which are dangerous, rather than the object in them, then you learn the first lesson."

Akira thought to himself, Wow… this is gonna be different from what I'm used to…


Ju-Lang found Kang-Lin just where she'd expected to: at the small gazebo that rested in the middle of the small lake that gardeners had created for the palace centuries ago. She shook her head as she touched Kang-Lin's shoulder. "What are you doing out here? You'll catch cold."

Kang-Lin sighed. "I'm just really angry."

"Really? About what?" Ju-Lang held up one hand. "Never mind, don't say anything. It's that boy that just showed up today, right? The Summoner of Suzaku?"

Kang-Lin was silent for a very, very long moment. "Yes it is. What right does HE have to come waltzing in here and steal the Emperor's heart away from all of us?"

Ju-Lang laughed briefly. "Girlfriend, we never HAD his heart in the first place. If anything, his heart has belonged to this boy since long before he showed up. It's been almost five years since the last time he visited the seraglio for anything other than the occasional chat, and even then he always just watched, as if trying to force himself to…"

Kang-Lin stood up and almost punched a beam supporting the roof, but stopped her hand inches away from it. "I just… dammit, I've loved him for so long! WHY CAN'T HE LOVE ME BACK!!"

Ju-Lang put her arm around Kang-Lin and turned her around gently, walking her slowly back to the buildings. "For that, you'll have to ask yourself… why did you love him? Why did you join us? Was it just because of who he was? Or because he's so pretty?" She smiled, certain that Kang-Lin couldn't see it. "I will say that he's a lot prettier than most of the girls who live with us…"

Kang-Lin shook off her arm angrily. "I… that's not it! I've just… known… since I was very young that it was my destiny to… be with… the Emperor."

Ju-Lang shook her head. "Don't toss around that destiny stuff unless you're serious, girlfriend." She grinned even wider. "Besides, the irony of this entire situation is sickening!"

Kang-Lin frowned, but Ju-Lang could tell she was just faking it. "Yeah, you WOULD think so…"

"Yes, I would, wouldn't I?" Ju-Lang pointed towards the lights of the palace. "Let's go home. I think tomorrow's gonna be a big day…"


Akira was bemused by the way that breakfast was served. Somehow, when he'd pictured an Emperor's meal, he'd had golden goblets in there. He'd had serving girls tossed in for good measure. He'd even had a long table covered in wondrous foods from across the world.

Nowhere in his imaginations had there been a wooden bowl. Neither was the room they were eating in matching up to his expectations, being as it was small, cluttered, and a little messy. Hotohori saw Akira glancing around and said, "Not quite what you expected an Emperor to be dining in, Akira?"

"Um… not really…"

The Emperor smiled. "Actually, we prefer a more modest setting for most of our meals, Akira. It isn't as if we host state dinners within this room."

Tamahome said, "Ghut zhe bhud is HLATE!"

Both Hotohori and Akira turned to look at the martial artist, and she flushed a rosy color as she swallowed. "But the food is great!"

The Emperor shrugged. "Of course it is. We wouldn't have it any other way." Then, he turned to Akira, leaning forward on his elbows close enough to make the boy very, very nervous. "So, are you ready to discuss finding the other Celestial Warriors?"

Akira looked over at Tamahome, who was nose-deep in a bowl of something scarfing it down, and sighed. "I guess…"

"Excellent!" Hotohori reached into his robe and pulled out a scroll. "This is the Book of the Four Gods of Heaven and Earth. Tai-Yun Jin, the wisest woman in the world, gave one to each of the four emperors when this land was still young. Inside it is contained all the wisdom of that land's god; prophecies related to the Summoner, clues to the Celestial Warriors, and everything else that could be necessary to your quest."

The Emperor unrolled it to a point, and put his finger on two characters. Akira, curious, stood up and walked behind Hotohori. The two kanji there were unfamiliar to him… but that wasn't saying much, since he didn't really read Chinese.

"These are the symbols for 'Palace' and 'Strength.' I think that they mean that the next Celestial Warrior will be the strongest man in the palace…"

Tamahome suddenly set her bowl down and stood up. She lifted one hand in the air in a mighty pose! "Yes! I shall challenge all the men in the palace, and when one is finally strong enough to keep up with me, that one has to be the next Warrior!" She ran out of the room while Akira and Hotohori looked on, bemused.

The Emperor was the first to speak. "Quite… energetic… and so modest, too."

Akira shook his head. "She's gone completely nuts…" Then, he looked down at the Emperor, who was looking back up at him, and suddenly got very, very bad vibes. "Um… I'd better go make sure she doesn't clobber anyone important bye!" He bowed to Hotohori and took off as fast as he could.

The Emperor watched him leave, his eyes containing an ageless sorrow. "I wonder if… he would think differently of me… if he knew my secret?"

The empty room held no answers for him.


It was easy enough to follow the crazed martial artist's path, because the bodies of palace guards littered it, strewn aside like broken dolls.

Akira leaned down and looked at one of the unfortunate victims of  Tamahome's sudden rampage. He seemed to be all right, aside from having a very bad case of Badly Clobbered; there wasn't any permanent damage. Akira straightened up and took off again.

He caught up with Tamahome as she was putting the final touches on a melee with four hapless guardsmen. "What the heck are you doing?!" he gasped out.

She looked over her shoulder at him and grinned. "Hoping that the next Celestial Warrior is a really cute guy. It's been a very long time since I've had a date worth speaking of, and I won't speak of any, because it might make some of my dates unspeakably angry."

Akira stood there for a moment, mouth opening and closing like a gasping fish, then shouted, "Yeah, well as the official la-de-da Summoner of Suzaku I decree that the next five Celestial Warriors will be HOT CHICKS!!!!"

He was, however, shouting to her back, a back that was rapidly disappearing into the distance. Akira cursed. "I can't believe her sometimes… wait up!" He started running himself.

Now, most of the guards in the palace had seen Tamahome with the Emperor yesterday; or if they hadn't, they'd certainly heard rumors of the new people that their lord chummed around with, along with a description that would let them avoid any trouble with the Emperor. That was why most of the guards that Tamahome ran across barely had time to raise a weapon and say, "Hey, wait a sec…" before meeting the martial artist's fist very intimately.

But there's always ONE guy that's out of the loop… usually the one that sits in the back of the barracks and polishes his weapons and armor over and over and over…

That one guy was standing beside an ornate gazebo when he saw a girl wearing a light blue tunic and trousers running towards him at breakneck speed. He grinned. Finally! A chance to prove how good he was!

He yanked his maul off of his back and swung it at the woman, who surprised him by dodging it and kicking him in the side, sending him sliding through the gazebo and to a halt on the other side.

The crazy woman started for him again, but he was surprised to see another person, this one a kid in strange clothes and a long dagger at his waist, run between him and the woman, stopping both of them right underneath the roof. The newcomer demanded, "Dammit, Tamahome, don't go off all half-cocked! We could ORGANIZE this challenge thing, let you find the strongest that way…"

The woman named Tamahome shook her head firmly, but didn't push past the boy. "No way! I think that…"

The guard lifted himself on one hand, aimed carefully, and threw his maul at the woman.

A hammer is not an aerodynamically shaped instrument, so the fact that it came close enough to Tamahome to make her dodge is an accomplishment. The bad thing is that in dodging, Tamahome left a pillar that supported the gazebo directly in the mattock's flight.

It smashed into the pillar with a loud crack and a rain of stone chips. For a horrified moment, Tamahome and Akira watched the pillar slowly bend, then, just as they were turning to run, the pillar broke with an even louder crack that echoed across the palace.

Neither of them had time to react before the gazebo's roof fell upon them.


The Emperor looked up from his scroll at the sudden roar of masonry. "What was that?!" He stood up and ran out the door, searching for someone who could tell him what had just happened.

Though no one seemed to know the details, a horde of people were running towards the secondary western courtyard, so Hotohori contended himself with running along with them.

When he got there, it was a scene out of a nightmare.

A single soldier was standing at rigid attention in front of the pile of rubble that had once been a gazebo, sweating as two generals and four sergeants yelled at him. People were tugging ineffectually at the pile of rubble, but most of the pieces were simply too heavy for them to move.

"What's going on here?" Hotohori asked one of his generals, who saluted.

"Sir, the Summoner of Suzaku and the Celestial Warrior are trapped under the rubble!"

Behind them, the lone soldier paled further and broke attention by saying, "I-I didn't know!"

"SILENCE!! Your stupidity doesn't interest us, because we don't have time to plumb the depths of…" Hotohori stopped paying attention and moved to the next general.

"Why don't we have more of the soldiers helping to move the rubble?"

The general saluted. "Because, sir, all of them seemed to have been… incapacitated…"

A white hand tugged at the Emperor's sleeve. "Excuse me, but I believe that I can take care of this."

A young woman that Hotohori vaguely recognized as being from the seraglio moved forward, bent down to the pile of rubble, and…

Picked up a chunk of stone that had to weigh at least two hundred pounds in one hand, throwing it casually over one shoulder.


Matsura, staggering home after an altogether too-long day at school, came to a stop in front of one of his favorite bookstores. Miyako, the girl behind the counter, waved to him, and he slowly gravitated inside…

"Wow, you look like a total wreck!"

He realized that he was standing at the counter, with no memory of how he'd gotten there. "Glargle?" he asked.

Miyako came from behind the counter. "I guess that I'm gonna have to help you home, huh?" She glanced at the clock. "Well, the place was dead anyway… OH MY GOD!" she screamed, and pointed at Matsura's pants leg.

Matsura, slow to react, looked down at the leg she was pointing to, and another unpleasant jolt of adrenaline broke him out of his warm daze. "What the hell?"

His pants were soaked in blood.

And it wasn't his own.

He reached down, unbelieving, feeling his leg through his pants, then he looked up at Miyako. "Is this… your… um…"

She flushed and slapped him. "Of course it isn't! Don't be a pervert!"

But then… He touched his leg again, feeling the warmth and wetness of the blood. What could this be?


Akira came to slowly. "What happened..?" Under his back was cold, cold stone, and above him…

Tamahome's face was bare inches from his, and her teeth were bared in a savage rictus. "We… seem… to keep… meeting… like this…" she gritted out.

Akira twitched, then almost cried out as he felt a sharp pain in his leg. "Damn!"

"Yeah… moving… would be… a bad idea…" Tamahome's head came closer and closer to Akira's as the weight on her back became too much for her to bear.

Akira watched her lips, fascinated by their simple shape, feeling himself drift into shock, but not knowing what do about it. Just as their lips touched…

The weight lifted away, revealing a woman silhouetted by the rising sun. "Oh, poo," she said, tossing aside the last fragment of gazebo roof. "It looks like the pretty boy is hurt…"

People moved into the rubble, helping both Tamahome and Akira out. The woman who'd pulled all the rubble off stayed near Akira the whole time, watching him intently.

After the doctor had bound up the wound in his leg, cutting away Akira's pants to do it, the woman leaned down. "Well, I guess that I can see what all the fuss is about… you are kind of cute."

"What?" Akira felt like he'd been saying that a lot lately.

The still-unnamed woman leaned down further, taking Akira's chin in one delicate white hand. "I guess that since I saved you, I'll have to take a reward…"

Akira's mouth opened up just as her face came down and took Akira's lips in a kiss. Her tongue danced pleasantly in his mouth for a moment, then withdrew, leaving a tingling sensation behind. She stood up, ignoring the Emperor behind her (who was biting the sleeve of his robe in a fit of sudden anger.) "Good enough for me!"

Tamahome, who was off to the side, felt a sudden piercing stab of what she could only describe as jealousy. How DARE she… I mean, it isn't as if we've done anything, but… Ignoring her injuries and the doctors who were trying to attend to them, she stood up and walked over to the woman. "Just who do you think you are!?"

Smiling mysteriously, the woman said, "Most of my friends call me Kang-Lin, but I suppose that calling myself Nuriko and this would tell you more about me." She pulled down the top of her robe just far enough to reveal a tattoo…

Tamahome touched her forehead, where her own tattoo was. "YOU'RE a Celestial Warrior?"

The woman who'd been revealed as Nuriko shrugged. "It would seem so, wouldn't it?" She looked back at the palace. "I heard you shout earlier that you were challenging everyone that might be the next Warrior. Looking for me?" She glanced up and down at Tamahome. "You might want to wait to challenge me until you heal up a bit… and find better taste in clothes." With that, she turned around and walked away, bowing to the Emperor, who was standing there with a blank expression on his face.

Akira touched his lips with one finger and barely suppressed a grin. It looks like my declaration is holding true so far… the next one WAS a hot babe!

 

To be continued.


Author’s notes: Woo-hoo, this was a fun chapter to write!

I sit at the computer in my workplace at 5 in the morning, knowing that I might get into big trouble for using government equipment for personal things, and I don't care. This was just too much fun to write!

Does Tamahome's philosophy of weaponry mirror my own? Now that is… a secret.

Kang-Lin is Nuriko's real name, at least according to the books.

A maul was originally a large two-handed wooden mallet used to hit a wedge for splitting wood or to drive stakes for pitching tents, or a metal-headed tool similar to a sledgehammer with one wedge-shaped end used for splitting wood. It was adapted as a weapon of war because hammers can stun opponents and break bones even through the best plate armor, and a two-handed blow with such a heavy weapon is devastating to an opponent. They are not designed for throwing; imagine trying to throw a sledgehammer accurately.

Anyway, props will go out to the fine young ladies who agreed to preread for me, when they get back to me on this thing. *waves* Hi DB, Umi-chan!

Aaron Bergman
iamfanboy@hotmail.com

"Sore wa… himitsu no da!"
-Chichixelloss!

Part 5
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