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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 FIVE


Tamahome knew that there were as many different methods of meditation as there were people who practiced martial arts. 

Some favored peace and solitude as they delved deep into the secrets of themselves, searching for an answer that didn't have a question; others thought that the only true way to truly reach the infinite was in the practicing of their art… which is what Tamahome herself favored.

That was why she asked for a small room in which she could be by herself as well as a wooden punching doll immediately after deciding that she needed to think deeply about her… relationship… with Akira.

"Should I… or should I… not?" Tamahome asked the punching doll rhetorically, and she wasn't surprised when it didn't answer. "I mean, he IS cute, and he IS funny sometimes, but he annoys me so much!"

She danced back and kicked at the doll, quickly turning it into a triple kick. "He is my boss, now, and I am supposed to be his bodyguard, but… oh, it WOULDN'T BE RIGHT to get involved with him!" She darted forward, starting with low punches and working her way up to the doll's wooden head in a series of palm strikes that shook her forearms.

Suddenly, the doll's head snapped off with a CRACK that echoed in the small room, and Tamahome looked at the results of her handiwork for a moment, wiping the sweat off her brow. "I'm glad I don't have to pay for that…" Then she shook her head and sighed. "Great, just great. I guess I AM starting to get a crush on him… which is NO GOOD for business."

After standing still for a moment, arms level at her side, she nodded once. "That's it. From this point forth, my dealings with Akira are strictly going to be business. No matter what I might feel, there's…" she sighed. "There's no way I could compete with someone as pretty as Nuriko anyway… and the Emperor might chop my head off just for competing with him, Celestial Warrior or not…"

Decision made, Tamahome turned around and started for the door. "I hope the baths are abandoned this time of night…"


It figures, Tamahome thought sourly as she saw Nuriko heading into the baths. Just when I DON'T want to see her…

Strangely enough, Nuriko didn't seem very excited to see her either. "Oh, it's you," the concubine-turned-warrior said listlessly, and turned to walk away.

For a moment, Tamahome just stood there, then she raised one hand and said, "Hey, wait a second!" Nuriko stopped and looked over her shoulder.

"Yes?"

"What do you mean to do with Akira?"

Nuriko looked puzzled, then she laughed lightly. "I mean to make him suffer for taking Hotohori away from me."

Tamahome quirked an eyebrow. "Did you ever have him in the first place?"       

Nuriko's fists suddenly clenched at her side. "Sh… shut up!" With a visible effort, she unclenched them, then she said softly, "Do you have ANY idea what it's like, loving someone and them not loving you back?"

Tamahome didn't say anything, and Nuriko turned around again and walked away without another glance. The martial artist released the fist she'd almost hit Nuriko with, looked down at her now-open hand, and sighed as she realized that she'd gotten angry at Nuriko… over Akira. "This is going to be a lot harder than I thought…"

Then she nodded, and tightened her jaw determinedly. "But I refuse to be ruled by my emotions. I'm not going to just let some stupid crush take over my life…"


Mika was sick with worry, a tight coil of bilious fear tormenting her stomach. It had been a whole DAY since she'd seen hide or hair of her little brother, and she was at her wits' end. "WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?!?!" she screamed out, earning her a few strange looks from passerby.

She didn't care.

Right now, she was heading to the only place where she might be able to find a clue, ANY clue, as to where Akira might be. The home of the last person who'd seen him, according to all accounts; the place where Matsura lived.

Although Mika had met Matsura before, she'd never been to his home; it was only by looking at Akira's meticulously-kept address book (which had felt like such an invasion of Akira's privacy, but she'd had no choice) that she knew where to even start.

And now that she was here…

Mika looked down at the small pad of paper she'd written Matsura's address on (she'd carefully replaced Akira's book after finding that one address), double-checking. She was at the right place.

She reached out and ran one finger across the sign declaring this the Bright Sunshine Apartments and sighed in resignation.

Mika knew, intellectually, that she and her family were actually pretty wealthy by Japanese standards: not in money, but in space. Her grandfather had purchased the property that they still lived in to this day a long time ago, just after the second World War, and had insisted that the entire family live in it… which wasn't so bad, because he'd only had one daughter rather late in his life.

After she'd had married a professor who taught at her university, Mika's grandfather had given the family business and the house to her and moved out to the country; coming back only when Mika's father died… and then leaving again.

That had left Mika, her little brother, and her mother knocking around a big, half-empty house. They'd gotten used to it, but…

Every time she visited one of her friends, and saw the tiny, cramped hovels they crammed themselves into, it hit her anew how differently they lived from her. Mika supposed someday she'd get used to things being as they were, or else move into her own apartment somewhere, just to get rid of a nagging feeling of… well, guilt. It didn't make sense, she knew; but that didn't mean she felt it any less.

Mika sighed and shook her head. "It says that he lives in 411… guess I'd better get up there."

At least it's one of those open-air complexes, she commented to herself as she climbed the stairs. I can't stand those closed-in ones…

A group of children ran past her as she arrived at the fourth floor, laughing merrily. She shook her head and started looking for the apartment.

When Mika got there, she knocked on the door, but took a startled step back when it swung open from the force of her knock. "H-hello?" She peered in the door. The front room was dark, and a single pair of shoes rested there. "Excuse me!" she whispered as she stepped into the entranceway.

She flipped on the lights. The place wasn't a mess, but it wasn't tidy either; as if someone had been living there several days without making much of an effort to clean up. As she carefully walked into the living room, she noticed the sound of someone snoring. The source became obvious after a moment: Matsura was sprawled haphazardly onto the small couch, an old book clutched to his chest as he breathed in and out.

She shook his shoulder. "Hey, Matsura, wake up!" He didn't respond, and she shook him harder. "Wake up!"

"Huh? Whazzat? Don' wan' go school today…" he snuffled out and rolled over, turning towards the couch's back. She looked down at him and sighed.

"I guess… I'll wait for him to wake up. It's not like I want to hurt him or anything…" She picked up the remote where it had been tossed on a small recliner and clicked the TV on, looking for something good to watch until then.


"The last couple of days," Akira observed glumly to himself and the peacock some ten feet away, to all appearances the only other living thing in the garden, "have been a living hell."

The peacock didn't say anything, but it tilted its head at just enough of an angle that it encouraged Akira to continue. "I remember watchin' an anime not too long ago where a bunch of really cute girls were chasing one guy, and a couple of weirdo guys were chasing him too, and all I could think was, 'Man, that guy's STUPID! I mean, I would give ANYTHING to be chased by a bunch of cute girls…' but," and he leaned forward, "being chased by a couple of cute girls… and a weirdo guy to boot… isn't all it's cracked up to be."

The peacock walked up to him, casually left a gift on Akira's shoe, and departed, but Akira was too far in thought to really notice. "What should I do?"

Nuriko… she was up to something with him, he could tell; but when she was nearby, her… presence… overwhelmed him. All he could do was quiver in fear and hope, hope that she let him get away somehow!

Tamahome… she had started acting really strangely towards him these last couple of days; while Akira didn't claim to understand women, he'd thought that living with a madwoman for a sister had acquainted him with all the tempestuous moods a woman could go through…

Now, though, he had the sinking fear that she was actually pretty mild, as far as women go…

And none of this was even TOUCHING on Hotohori…

Akira shivered, and right on cue, he heard a voice call out, "Akira! Where are you, my snoogywookums!"

Escape seemed impossible. The garden he was in only had one way in or out, but that didn't stop Akira from sprinting to the wall farthest away from the door and scrabbling at it, hoping that he would somehow manage to claw his way through the stone.

All right, he admitted to himself, it's not the most rational thought, but what other hope do I have?!

Then, just as Nuriko's shadow was appearing in the doorway…

A hand reached through the wall and yanked him into it.

At least, that's what he thought at first. Then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light that came through the holes cut into the eaves, Akira's heart jumped up in his throat, for holding his hand was…

The Emperor Himself, Hotohori.

"We hope you are… unhurt," he said very, very smoothly; so smoothly that it made Akira shiver and want to run out of the passageway, to take his chances with Nuriko. At least I can UNDERSTAND a girl liking me!

"Uh… yeah, sure, of course I'm just fine, Hotohori!" Akira made flexing motions to show just how fine he was, and then immediately regretted it as Hotohori's eyes followed the motions a little too… avidly.

"Yes, um…" Hotohori coughed into his hand. "Well, we could not allow you to be embarrassed by our fellow Celestial Warrior. Her… zealous behavior is an annoyance sometimes, but we are certain it covers a good heart." He turned away and motioned with one hand. "Come, lunch is ready."

The strange thing is, Akira thought to himself again, relieved beyond all measure that Hotohori wasn't going to try anything in the dimly lit passage, he seems even more embarrassed about this… thing he has for me than I am! He’ll get close to me and then suddenly back off! Not that I'm ungrateful, he added as they suddenly reached a major hallway, but…

"Glarrrk!" Akira gasped out as hundred and sixty pounds of concubine landed square on his back, her left leg circling around his body and driving the dagger he was wearing into his side painfully.

"Akira!!!!!!" she squealed in glee. Switching moods suddenly, she whispered huskily in his ear, "I'm soo glad I found you…"

Hotohori forgot his dignity enough to reach out and seize one of Nuriko's flailing wrists. "Nuriko, we insist that you leave the Summoner of Suzaku alone!"

Akira could feel her sudden pout as a physical thing, beating on his left ear. "Aww… but we were just starting to have fun…"

"Nevertheless…" Hotohori fell silent as a shadow loomed over all three of them; a shadow that sent sudden terror shooting through the bowels of one hapless boy, trapped in a three-way battle of will.

Akira turned around slowly, the concubine on his back still pouting (only this time against his left ear; Nuriko had moved her head to look at the approaching tempest), and gradually brought Tamahome into view.

She… did not look happy. Akira knew those were the words to describe Tamahome's expression, but somehow it just didn't give her horrible aspect, her terrifying mien, any justice at all.

If I didn't have Nuriko on my back, I'd run for my life…

Somehow, despite the way her eyebrow twitched, her fist clenched, and her body shook with rage, her voice remained at a sane, calm level as she spoke.

It was all the more terrifying for that.

"Hope you have FUN, Akira." She cracked her knuckles ominously. "See you at practice tonight…"

She turned on one heel and strode away, and Akira groaned as the martial artist turned a corner. "I'm doomed…"


As soon as Tamahome turned the corner, she leaned against it and wiped at her stinging eyes. "I… this is ridiculous! Why should I care what he does or who he does it with?"

Tamahome slapped herself suddenly, startling two soldiers that were loitering nearby. "Act your age!" she scolded herself. "You're seventeen; mooning over boys is for little girls who don't know any better!"

Yeah, it's lot easier saying that than actually doing it… a voice in her mind mocked, but Tamahome ignored it as she walked away.


I dream…

Drowning in a gust of cerulean blue, I soar screaming into the sky, borne upon a wave of ego-shattering terror. Caught like a blazing comet, I spiral inward to the madness that lays at the center of the universe.

It was more than my weak mind could take, when I saw the beauteous thing that coiled there, couched upon a thousand thousand wonders, recumbent upon these things that even one would have enriched a pathetic creature like myself for a hundred years, crushing and destroying these treasures idly, as if they were worth even less than one such as I.

Weeping, I fell to my knees before it, wondering why I was here, being allowed to worship at its marvel.

FEAR NOT, it says, but although I tremble at the merest thought of disobeying it, I cannot do as it asks; it is just too much for my pathetic self to contemplate. As it sighs, I feel relief, for it is not angry, just terribly, terribly sorrowful.

I SHALL TAKE FROM YOU ANOTHER ASPECT, THEN. The universe shook around me as the creature drew it in, shattering and bending itself all for the sake of a worm such as I!

When I dare to look up again, my worst nightmare, my finest dream, is standing before me, stretching one hand out to me in a gesture of peace is my best friend's sister, Mika. She says, softly, "I am sorry that I frightened you."

I stand up slowly, not daring to use her hand, and start to ask, "But why…"

She stops me with a single graceful motion of her hand. "The Wheel is out of balance; the world is being torn asunder. We need one such as you to redress the balance; I need you…"

Suddenly, I am being torn away from her, and she calls out to me one final time, "Do not forget! We will call upon you, soon…"


Matsura came to slowly, clutching his head in the aftermath of his strange, unworldly dream. "What the hell was…"

"Finally, you're awake! I'm so glad!"

He whirled around, throwing himself off the couch (How the hell did I end up there? he wondered, but filed the question away for later) and hitting the floor with a painful thump. As he went to his hands and knees, a hand came down and the voice said again, "I'm sorry I frightened you…"

"AAH!" Matsura recoiled away from her hand as though it had grown fangs. Mika looked down at him, her hurt showing in her face. Matsura shook his head like a bull flinging flies away, stood up, and said, "I… I'm sorry, Mika. I just had a really weird dream…"

She stood and thought for a moment, then a smile blossomed across her face. "Don't worry, I dozed off myself…"

Matsura looked at her, then at the overstuffed armchair that she was standing in front of, and made an obvious connection. "How long were you waiting?"

"About an hour or so…" She nodded. "You were mumbling in your sleep."

"I… was?" Matsura brushed it away. "That's not important. How did you get in?"

"You left the door open!" Mika shook her finger at Matsura. "That could be very dangerous, you know."

Matsura rubbed his chin as he said, "I… don't remember anything after the store… and the blood…" He suddenly gasped, "The blood!" and started feeling his pants frantically as Mika watched in bemusement.

"Um… what are you talking about, Matsura? And, more importantly, where's Akira?"

Matsura stopped feeling his pants and shot a look up at Mika's face, then looked back at the couch. "I… you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Mika followed his eyes and saw that he was looking at the book he'd been clutching when she'd come in… "Try me. You'll find that I'm a very flexible person."

"I…" Matsura shook his head, then gave a bitter laugh. "Why not? Akira… is trapped inside that book right there on the couch. We both got sucked into it, and I got thrown out somehow, while he's still inside, living the story… I think."

"You… think?" Mika rubbed her chin a moment, nodded, and said, "You're right, I don't believe you." She laughed, and Matsura laughed with her.

"Hell, I don't believe me!" After a short pause, he added, "But… it's the only thing that makes any sense… here, I'll show you something." He walked over to the book and flipped it open, then held it out to Mika. "Look at that picture there."

Mika did. It showed a young man wearing the same uniform as Matsura being kissed by a beautiful young woman, while several other people looked on, one of them very important by his dress. She looked a bit more closely at the young man wearing the uniform; his expression was an adorable mixture of cross-eyed disbelief and happy thoughts… in fact, it made the picture look just like…

"Akira?"

Matsura nodded slowly, not saying anything. After a silent, awkward moment, Mika flipped to the beginning of the book and looked at the first page. Her lips moved as she tried to read the kanji. "This… book… is a… spell… that will grant… three wishes…"

Matsura had always been impressed by Mika since the first time he'd met her; so the sudden warm feeling that rushed through him was very familiar. "You can read Chinese?"

"Just a bit." She held up one hand and pinched the air between two fingers to emphasize how little. "I was helping one of my friends study for a class of hers last year, and I picked up some." She frowned. "It's really hard, though."

His confidence reassured a bit by that last sentence, Matsura nodded. "Yep, I agree with you completely."

Mika looked down at the book, and Matsura got the feeling that she wasn't even listening to him. "But this… how did this happen?"

Matsura shrugged. "I don't know." Then, he reached out and gently plucked the book from Mika's unresisting fingers, turning it to the last page he'd read. As he'd expected, the kanji had solidified a while ago; he'd been asleep for quite a while. He set to grimly, determined to catch up to where Akira was now, and barely even noticed when Mika sat down beside him and leaned against his arm to read the book with him.


Practice was indeed very different from what Akira was used to.

For one thing, in his last school, the sensei almost never actually fought with his students; he might show them what they'd done wrong, but didn't brawl with them. Tamahome, on the other hand, believed in a very… hands-on approach.

She never QUITE hurt him; her punches were always pulled just in time, her throws angled against the softest surfaces available, but it didn't stop Akira from feeling like a punching bag in some ways. She'd show him a technique, ask him to use it against her, then show how it was countered…rather painfully.

Akira looked up from his rather comfy spot on the mat and gasped out, "Yo! Wait! Time out!"

Tamahome stopped, her foot lifted to deliver a sharp stomp to the prone boy, and asked indifferently, "What?"

"Do you ALWAYS train this hard?"

Tamahome lowered her foot slowly. "Nope. Usually, the teacher shows you a technique, you practice it for a while until you have it down, then the teacher tests you on it…"

Akira nodded vigorously. "Yes! Yes! Why aren't we doing it like that?"

Tamahome shook one finger at him. "You said it yourself. You don't know when someone’s gonna leap out at you, and you need to know how to defend yourself NOW. So we're doing… intensive training."

Akira glared accusingly up at Tamahome. "Have YOU ever had to do this?! It hurts!"

Tamahome's eyes grew… distant, as though she was looking into the past. "Yeah… a long time ago. An old rival of my master's challenged him, saying that no matter how skilled he was, there was no way he'd find a student able to defeat his own. I stepped forward and accepted that challenge.

"For the next month and a half, my master and I trained just like this; well, maybe a bit more harshly, because he knew my limits, and I'm still finding yours."

Tamahome sighed. "When I first saw the person I was going to fight… I got so scared. He was over twice my size, and had so many muscles… and the first time he hit me, it knocked me into the wall, and I…"

She looked down at her hands. "It was the first time I ever killed someone. The strange part is, I didn't really feel anything after doing it. I just looked down at his body and thought, 'If you hadn't challenged me, you'd still be alive'…" Tamahome shrugged. "That was a long time ago; almost three years."

Akira looked away from her. I… I never thought… Hesitantly, he said, "Are you… still mad… about… well, er, um…"

"No, I'm not mad at you. It's just that… well… Nuriko's using you. She says that she doesn't even like you, Akira! How can you just… just…"

Akira stood up slowly and rubbed his chin, suddenly feeling very old. "She… it's part of the job. I've gotta get these five people—"

"Seven people."

Akira shot Tamahome a sudden glare, then relaxed. "Yeah, seven people together, these Warriors that are supposed to follow me, and I gotta make sure that they all WANT to help me, too. If I gotta endure some… attention from a girl that isn't really my type, then I guess I'll do just that."

"What kind of girl… is your type?" Akira didn't look at her, didn't see the intent expression on her face, didn't notice the glimmer in the corner of her eyes, or else he might have answered very differently.

"I guess… my type of girl is…" He thought for a moment. "Just like you!” His brief laugh covered her slight gasp. "I'm still just a leetle young to be thinkin' about that sort of thing seriously, though. Got my whole life ahead of me to find out what kind of girl I like!"

He looked over at Tamahome and said, "But… I'll try to make some kind of peace with Nuriko if you want me to, okay?"

Tamahome nodded, slowly, and Akira came to a ready stance again. "Now let's get started!"


Nuriko hardly jumped when Akira slammed his hand down on her vanity, sending small bottles rolling off the surface and down to the floor. "Nuriko, what do you have against me?"

She looked at him with a cutely confused look. "Why, Akira, whatever are you talking about?"

Akira glared at her. I'm not gonna be thrown off so easily! "I mean, ever since I've met you, you've been hanging all over me, and I want to know WHY!"

Sudden tears sprang into Nuriko's eyes. "Does this mean… you don't like me?"

Akira waved his hands frantically. "No, no, not that at all!"

"Oh, I'm so HAPPEEE!"

Akira rolled aside as Nuriko leapt for him, grinding the hilt of his dagger into his side painfully. Man, this thing is SO inconvenient… "Dammit, Nuriko, it's bad enough having Hotohori hanging all over me…!"

As he glanced over his shoulder, fully prepared to see Nuriko poised for a leap on him, Akira was surprised to see her just… standing there, her hands at her sides, her eyes narrowed, and tears quivering in the corners of her eyes.

"Of course YOU would think that it's a problem, wouldn't you?" She turned suddenly on one heel to leave, but Akira held out one hand.

"Wait!" She paused. "What… what could I do to make some kinda peace with you? We can't be fighting all the time. We've got to pull together so that when I summon Suzaku…" However the hell I'm supposed to do that, he added mentally, "…we won't be fighting each other!"

"You want… to make peace with me?" Without turning around, Nuriko tossed her hair out of her face. "Very well, then." she turned around, and, looking deeply into Akira's eyes, said, "Marry me!"

Akira collapsed as Nuriko burst into mocking laughter. Waving one hand, she said, "Oh, don't worry, I was just joking!" Then, she tilted her head and raised one eyebrow. "But… there is something you could do for me."

Akira hopped to his feet. "What?" he asked eagerly.

"Well…" Nuriko walked over to the vanity she'd been seated at. Bending down, she pulled open a drawer and reached in. After a moment of rummaging around, she gave a slight yelp and drew back her hand suddenly. "Ouch!" Akira watched her suck at her finger while offering something she'd taken from the drawer to him with the other hand.

He reached out and took it, turning it over in his hand as he looked it over. It was a small earring, made of gold, with an good-sized ruby set into it. Nuriko looked away. "Six months ago, when I was walking along the edge of the lake, I slipped and fell in, ruining my dress. I scrambled out, not noticing that one of my earrings had come loose…" She sniffled. "Those earrings were a gift from my sister, who's been dead for nine years… I couldn't bear to lose them, but I didn't know how to find it…"

Akira stood straight and posed against the rising sun! "Do not fear, my lady, for I shall reunite the pair of lonely earrings!" As he rushed out of the room, he didn't see Nuriko's sly smile…


"Hey, Hotohori, have you seen Akira today?"

The Emperor shook his head, not looking up from the scroll he perused. "No, why?"

"Because he's late for practice, that's why!" Tamahome cracked her knuckles."He promised me that…"

A voice interrupted her, and Tamahome's face visibly fell as it continued. "Oh, you know how little boys are sometimes; tossing over beautiful women to go root around in lakesides after frogs and snakes and such."

Tamahome, because she was looking at Hotohori's face, watched it turn white the moment Nuriko mentioned lakesides. "What did you say?" he whispered, eyes wide. "Are you saying… that he's at the lake?"

That was when they all began to feel the first stirrings of alarm through their bond to Akira.


Akira was cold, but not very much so. He'd stripped down to his shorts (noting with some pleasure that he was already a bit harder-muscled than he'd been a few days ago) and waded into the water near the path, looking for a hint of red… not that he expected to find it anyway, if his theory was correct…

But it was a nice, sunshiny day, the water was cool, and the mud soothing between his toes. Besides, he thought to himself philosophically, this gets me away from all the madness… for a while.

However, he'd buckled his belt, along with the dagger, around his waist; Tamahome had told him to keep it with him at all times, no matter what, and Akira had promised himself that he'd obey her… no matter how annoying the damn thing was!

It was only later that night, clutching his head in his hands and reliving the day in his mind, that he wondered if there might have been another reason that he'd put the dagger on… some compelling whisper of the future…

When it first happened, Akira thought that he'd just tripped over something and fallen into the water. He sputtered as cold water flooded his mouth, and he jerked out of the water suddenly. "Aah!"

Akira coughed for a moment, then gasped in a breath of deep air… just as he was jerked under the water. Despite the fact that he couldn't see anyone nearby, he knew that someone— no, something— was trying to drown him.

He could feel it out there.

Akira fought against the thing he could feel around his ankles, pulling himself up far enough to take another breath… but only a brief one. The thing tugged on his ankles again, pulling him deeper into the lake…


Now something new wrapped itself around his waist, and Akira reached up to tug at it, brushing his dagger accidentally as he did so. He almost reached back down for the hilt, but he shook his head. NO! I promised Tamahome I wouldn't use the damn thing, and I won't break my promise now!

Akira tugged at the leafy vine (at least, that's what it felt like) with all the strength he had, digging his toes in as he pulled at a column with his free hand, trying desperately to get his head back above the water. The vines slackened, and Akira wrenched himself away from them to get yet another breath into his already-burning lungs. Then, the vines tightened again…

It continued like that for what seemed to Akira to be an eternity, his entire life compressed into his struggle with this… thing for every breath. Akira's resolve to fight harder grew stronger even as his strength grew weaker, and he ducked his head under as tears stung his eyes. Tamahome… I'm sorry…


"There's a WHAT in the lake?!" Tamahome was running as fast as she could, fear and panic from not only herself but leaking from Akira running cold in her veins.

"A kraken." Even running at full speed, sword in hand, to save the person that they were supposed to give their lives to protect, Hotohori still gave off a cool aura of command. "Our ancestors bought it from a wandering peddler a century ago, to guard the lake against assassins that might swim past the castle walls through the inlet streams. It keeps itself mostly to the part of the lake away from the castle, but just in case, we have forbidden all swimming in the lake. If Akira has strayed to where it sleeps…"

Nuriko was pale, all the color stricken from her face. "I didn't know…" she whispered. "You have to believe me!"

Tamahome looked towards her, but her answer was cut off when a sudden glare from in front of them threw Nuriko's face into sharp relief. She turned her face away from Nuriko and saw a gout of flame reaching a hundred feet above the water… and fell to her hands and knees as a sudden weakness pulled at her spirit, draining away all of her energy.

She crawled over to where Nuriko and Hotohori had fallen, and the three Warriors clutched at each other desperately, knowing only that they had to.


Far, far away…

A woman who was older than time, old enough to remember the birth of the gods, and old enough to know when they will become dust, watched her mirror, and knew that the time was at hand.


When the three Celestial Warriors reached the lakeside, they found Akira there, coughing water from his lungs weakly. He tossed something to Nuriko, who caught it reflexively. "I… couldn't find your earring, Nuriko… but I found that ring instead. It's got an emerald in it; you're an autumn, and rubies don't look good on autumns." Without looking up at them, he threw the dagger that was in his hand away and ran towards the palace.

Nuriko watched him run away. "Oh, you silly boy… there was no earring…"

For just a moment, Tamahome stood there, looking at the dagger that had landed point-first between her feet, then she picked it up and ran after Akira.


Tamahome found Akira right where she'd expected to. He sat cross-legged on the mat that covered the floor of the room where she'd trained him, clutching his head in his hands.

She tossed the dagger into his lap. "You dropped this."

"I meant to."

"What happened?"

"I… used it… to cut the vines off me." He didn't look up from the dagger that rested in his lap as he said, "I'm… sorry, Tamahome. I promised you that I wouldn't use it." He chuckled wanly. "I guess this means that I won't be your student anymore, right?"

You idiot! Is that why you didn't use it to free yourself sooner? Tears sprang into Tamahome's eyes. In one swift movement, she reached down and plucked the dagger from Akira's lap. Holding it level in both hands, she closed her eyes as she searched for the flaws in the blade… right there, perfect…

She focused on the flaw, knowing what she needed to do, knowing how to do it, but suddenly unsure if she could. No! I CAN do this, because I am Tamahome, a Celestial Warrior of Suzaku! I CAN do this, because I am his teacher! I CAN do this, because I MUST! Her wavering control suddenly snapped into focus, and with a crack that reverberated throughout the room…

One-half of the dagger was in Tamahome's left hand, the other was in the right.

"The lesson of the dagger has two parts." She handed the hilt to Akira, who took it slowly. "First. Your sensei is not always right, and sometimes you have to choose for yourself. Second." She handed the blade to Akira, who almost cut himself in his sudden daze. "That even if a tool is just a tool, there is a reason why we use tools instead of our bare hands, and that's why we aren't still scrabbling in the trees like the monkeys."

Akira looked up at Tamahome for a moment, then asked, "Are all your lessons gonna bend my mind like that one?"

Tamahome grinned. "I haven't even started…"


Hotohori stopped Tamahome just as she stepped out of the door. Nuriko was also standing there, worry written on her face. "Does he… remember what he did?" the Emperor asked softly.

"What he did?" Tamahome looked at Hotohori, puzzled. "He said that he'd cut himself free using the dagger I gave him…"

Hotohori interrupted the martial artist. "He took power, energy, from each of us, and channeled it into a gout of fire that destroyed the kraken. That… we don't know if that should be possible…"


Matsura finally reached the page where the kanji were rewriting themselves, and Mika recoiled from them. "What the hell is that?!"

"The book is changing itself," Matsura stated grimly. "In a second, it should…"

Right on cue, the kanji suddenly gave a particularly sickening shudder and solidified. Matsura ran his finger down the line as he read them.

"And Suzaku no Miko slept peacefully, while the Celestial Warriors spoke of the signs that the day had given…"

 

To be continued.


Author’s notes: Heh. Well, it seems the prologue is over, and I can finally get down to writing this thing seriously…

Okay, the first question is, "What was up with that whole fire-using-the-Warrior's-power-thingie?" My answer is, "You'll see…"

HA! You thought that I was gonna say that it was a secret, didn't you?!

*Ahem* Anyway…

I can't be too sure how realistic that bit about Akira's family's history is, but hey, this IS just a story, after all…

Anyway, until next chapter…

Aaron Bergman
iamfanboy@hotmail.com

"A sword has two edges."
—Warrior proverb

Part 6
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