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.
Matsura had been expecting to see it for some time, but when he turned a page and red light began welling forth from the words and the picture of Akira tangled in vines underwater, he still flinched back from the book.
Mika's reaction was much more extreme.
"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!" she screamed as she jerked away from both Matsura and the book. Suddenly, Matsura noticed that where she'd been pressed was warm, much warmer than the rest of his body…
Waving his free hand, Matsura said, "Don't worry, don't worry! It's a magic book, it does that sometimes!"
Eyeing him suspiciously, Mika asked, "How often does it do that?"
"Umm…" Matsura, suddenly not wanting to expose his ignorance, wavered a moment, then said evasively, "Every once in a while."
Mika looked at the clock hanging on the wall and 'eeped'. "Oh no! I told my mother I'd be home two hours ago! She'll be thinking that I disappeared, too!"
Matsura turned back to the book and missed Mika's sudden impish smile as she leaned forward slowly. "Well, then, maybe you should get back to your house. I'll call you if anything…"
At this point, several things all happened at once.
Matsura turned his face back towards Mika.
Mika moved in to plant a kiss on Matsura's cheek.
Their lips met firmly.
Mika leaned into it, just a bit…
And Matsura leapt away with a yelp, as if his lips had been scalded.
Mika stared for a moment at him, not sure whether to be scandalized or amused. I can't believe that he… I mean, it's not like I'm ugly or anything! But… I did find that pimple this morning… and I only used just enough makeup this morning to get me through school… and I skipped my usual shower this afternoon, too, because I wanted to look for Akira…
Suddenly realizing how petty her thoughts sounded, Mika couldn't be anything but amused. With a half-smile, she said, "See you tomorrow…" and stood up to leave.
Mika managed to close the door behind her before laughing. He'll probably be cute once he grows up a little… I'll just throw him back in the water and start fishing again!
Matsura started gasping as soon as he heard the door closing. "Oh, man…" Part of him could still feel her lips on his, another part was wishing that she'd stayed to do a bit more…
He hit himself. "Don't be an idiot! Mika's your best friend's sister! And besides… she's so pretty… there's no way she could like someone like you!"
Matsura rubbed his face and sighed. "Man, why can't I be more like Akira when it comes to girls? They never confuse him, that's for sure."
And a small part of him, much smaller than the other ones, asked what he'd do if Mika weren't Akira's sister… if somehow, Akira could be out of the way forever…
He shook his head violently. "What… what am I thinking about?" Matsura reached out and opened the book once more, settling himself down into the couch to read further. "Suzaku no Miko braced herself to speak with the Emperor about…"
Akira stopped just in front of the door to the library. He ran his fingers over the hilt of the dagger that he had carefully replaced in its sheath after Tamahome had handed both halves to him. How do I…
"How do I know that Hotohori's in here?"
He shook his head half-angrily. It was as if he could 'feel' Hotohori attached to him on a string, tugging him in the proper direction. If he concentrated, he could feel Nuriko, somewhere out by the lake, and Tamahome was…
He gasped at the almost physical yanking he felt from Tamahome; a roiling heated kettle of emotions that sent a flush up his neck and made his whole body twitch. With an effort, he pulled away from her and focused on Hotohori.
Hotohori was definitely in this room. Sighing, Akira slid open the door. "Hotohori?"
Hotohori was out of his seat in a flash. Turning to face Akira, he said softly, "What are you still doing awake? We think that the best thing for you right now would be…"
"Naw, I can't sleep right now. Um… are you planning to do anything to Nuriko because of how she tricked me?"
Akira watched Hotohori's face change from that of a friend giving sound advice to that of a man who carried the full weight of a nation's crown on his head. "We are… unsure. To be honest, it is not our inclination to punish her, as she is one of our fellow Warriors; however, if you feel it is necessary…"
With something bordering relief, Akira shook his head. "No; in fact, I was gonna try to talk you out of it."
Suddenly, Akira started to feel a… tingle… along the back of his neck. With a sinking feeling, he realized that it was coming from Hotohori, and the way that the Emperor was looking down at the floor… "Is there something else, Hotohori?"
Suddenly, Hotohori's head jerked up, and for just a moment he looked almost exactly like a beautiful woman angry with her boyfriend… but the look fell away quickly, replaced by a determined light in his eyes. "Yes, there is something else. We… NO! I love you. I've loved you since the first time I read of Suzaku's Summoner. I…"
Despite the fact that neither of them had moved one step, Akira began to feel as though he were crowded against a wall by the man's charisma and forcefulness. He waved both hands frantically, defensively. "Now, wait a second! I… I don't like… well, you know…"
Hotohori looked away, and Akira barely suppressed a sigh of relief as their eyes broke contact. Then, Hotohori said softly, "Yes, I… do understand, better than you would think.
"The legends always implied that a woman would come from the sky in our time of need. It never said anything directly, but… well… For years I tried to interest myself in women, simply because I wasn't sure that I could withstand the force of my love without physical contact! I… I couldn't, no matter how I tried… I couldn't be aroused by women." A brief smile lit his face. "After all, none of them were as beautiful as I.
"Imagine my surprise when I saw that you were a man! It was as if all my prayers had been answered!" Then, the Emperor started to laugh bitterly. "Then, what irony… now, I cannot… even…" Tears started to run down his cheeks, and to Akira's horror, Hotohori's laugh took on an almost hysterical note as he collapsed into his ornate chair, unable to stand.
Akira almost — almost — stepped over to Hotohori, to put an arm around him and comfort him. Long after it was all over, for the rest of his life in fact, Akira couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if he HAD taken those four steps forward… touched the mystery of the Emperor… and let one thing lead to another…
But at the end, his courage failed him, and Akira ran.
Ju-Lang rolled her eyes at the sheer predictability of her friend as she stepped onto the wooden pier. Trust Kang-Lin (No, her name is Nuriko now, she corrected herself) to come to the same place every single time that she wanted to wallow in self-pity…
The moment Ju-Lang's shoe hit the wood of the dock, Nuriko said without even looking towards her, "I could have killed him, Ju-Lang. He could be dead right now, because of something I did."
Something in her tone set Ju-Lang's teeth on edge. Storming over to where Nuriko sat on the outside of the railing, Ju-Lang smacked Nuriko as hard in the head as she could manage. "You're being three kinds of fool, N-Nuriko," despite her best intentions she stumbled over the name, "and it makes me sick to watch you sit here and mope when you could DOING something to solve your problems!" Ju-Lang gritted her teeth and told herself that she was NOT going to cradle her hand, that there was no WAY she could have broken her hand on Nuriko's skull…
To add insult to the injury, Nuriko didn't even reach up to soothe the spot where Ju-Lang had hit her! "Solve what problems how, pray tell?"
For just a moment, that stumped Ju-Lang. Then, a slow smile blossomed across her face, and she asked, "Well, you want to get close to the Emperor, right?"
"And the way you tried to kill—" Ju-Lang saw Nuriko flinch at the harsh word, but that was just what she'd intended. "—the Summoner has probably made the Emperor hate you, right?"
With a broad grin, Ju-Lang clapped her hands together, then winced at the fresh pain in her temporarily forgotten hand. "Then there's the solution! Help the Summoner out with everything you can, and eventually the Emperor may see you as more than just a disruptive influence! And from there…"
"That's a… plan… just stupid enough… to work…" Nuriko tilted her head to the side and smiled; a terrible, horrifying smile that would have sent a man (had any been present to witness it) into gibbering convulsions of fear. "I think that I'm about to adopt a little brother!" Then, suddenly realizing what she'd said, her grin broke and a sad, far-away look crept on her face.
Sympathetically, Ju-Lang asked, "You aren't still thinking about…"
Nuriko interrupted. "Of course I am. It still hurts… but I think that getting a new family would about make up for all the old wounds. What do you think?"
Watching a fresh grin spread across Nuriko's face that reminded her of a tiger she had once seen, Ju-Lang thought musingly to herself, What do I think? I think that the poor Summoner's in for even more misery than you've given him already… but he'll have a lot of fun, too!
And she had to laugh. Bowing slightly, Ju-Lang said, "I've got to get some sleep tonight. See you tomorrow!" She walked back over the bridge, her shoes clacking on the wooden surface.
Ju-Lang was fairly certain that she wasn't supposed to have heard Nuriko say softly, "Spirits above, she hits hard…"
Akira was not a morning person.
In fact, every moment spent awake before, say, ten o'clock was a constant agony, each second worse than the last…
So when bright sunlight suddenly started streaming into his face, his initial response was to roll away and grumble incoherently.
When his blankets were tugged away with a sudden yank, his next reaction was to curl into a tight ball and clutch his pillow tight, to prevent that from being stolen in a similar manner.
But when someone started tickling him without mercy, he couldn't hold off waking up any longer.
"WHAT!? WHAT?! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!?!"
That was when he opened his eyes and saw Nuriko grinning down at him.
And all traces of sleepiness vanished from him the moment he saw that grin.
The fact that all he had on was a pair of boxers didn't help Akira's confidence an iota.
"G-good morning… Nuriko…"
She tossed him a robe. "Get dressed. Tamahome left fifteen minutes ago and if you don't hurry we won't be able to follow her!"
Conditioned by years of having an older sister, the moment Akira heard a demanding feminine voice he balked. "Oh? Why should I care?"
Nuriko sighed in a way that seemed designed to make Akira even more annoyed. "If you don't know by now…"
"Don't know what?" Akira questioned in tones of determined mildness, calculated precisely to irritate the hell out of Nuriko.
Rather than be irritated, she just smiled. "Well, you'll see… besides, it's your JOB to keep all of us together!"
Akira lifted an eyebrow skeptically. "What's with this sudden change of heart towards me, Nuriko?"
"I got some good advice last night, and I've decided… to adopt you!" Nuriko swept Akira out of the bed with a quick motion, put his head under her arm, and administered a swift noogie. After she released him, Akira rubbed his head for a moment. It's just not fair for a girl to be stronger than a guy… who knows how they'll take advantage!
"Okay, okay, I'll go, I'll go…" He started struggling into his clothes, trying very hard to ignore Nuriko's lingering grin…
Tamahome knew that it was dangerous to be out of the palace. She'd managed to fumble a job for her old Boss, a bad idea at best; two people who hated her (for good reasons, she had to admit) were still alive and loose on the town; but foremost on her mind…
There had been that mysterious blonde man, a blonde man that had given off a strange… power. What was his agenda? What did he want from Hotohori's library?
And what might he do to Tamahome just because she knew he existed?
But there was something she needed to do, something that she'd risked enough for that she felt certain it was worth risking her life again.
Her family's wellbeing was worth any risk.
That was why she was clambering from rooftop to rooftop, being as stealthy as only someone who knows her own abilities intimately could, heading straight for her stash.
Whispers about it had abounded in the circles she'd used to frequent, Tamahome knew; everyone had heard about some of the scores she'd pulled off, everyone with a quarter of a brain knew how little money she spent, and anyone with half a brain could figure out that the money she hauled in but didn't spend had to go somewhere.
She'd had her room tossed some four or five times since becoming one of the best 'stickmen' in the city, been jumped by overeager toughs looking for quick gold twice, and once been shadowed for three weeks by a gang of sneak-thieves; and none of them had found out where she kept her stash…
Mostly because it wasn't just one stash, but five.
Four of them she'd moved out of the city and into her family's farm; it was on the last such trip that she'd met, and saved, Akira for the first time. But the fifth was going to give her a bit of trouble…
Tamahome halted sharply and looked around. Although she seriously doubted that the Boss would have guards on his roof (nobody would be foolish enough to steal from him, after all) she knew that losing her caution at this point would be stupid.
She was right. After leaping lightly over the alley to the last roof, the roof of the very building where her ex-Boss did business, she chuckled. Fat fool probably never even knew what sitting right above his bedroom window…
Clinging upside-down to the eaves of the building was a bit more difficult than she made it look, but that wasn't too important to her; she needed both hands free to release the last stash, though, so she braved the dangerous position. As her agile hands moved aside the last trap…
"Lookin' for this, Tama-chan?" A sweet jingle of coins punctuated the sentence very effectively.
Tamahome wasted no time. She flung herself away from the wall and down towards the street, flipping around so that she landed feet-first. The sound of a mace slamming into the place where she'd perched precariously just a moment ago proved her instinct correct.
The martial artist used the momentum of her landing to coil her legs like a spring and propel her skyward again, this time in the vague direction of the palace. Well, I guess this was just a bad job… she thought to herself, then added as she spotted three familiar toughs blocking her path, …that just got worse…
Akira cocked his head slightly. "Can you hear that?"
Nuriko looked around the small stack of cloth she'd bought in the market and frowned. "Hear what?"
"It sounds like a riot to me…"
That's when the crowd split and they saw Tamahome running towards them, all her attention to the ten or so people right behind her. One of her pursuers made a sudden throwing motion, and Tamahome went down, rolling into a combat crouch that Akira could see, with his newly acquired skill, favored her left leg.
If he could see it, her pursuers could too. They moved to circle the martial artist, waving their weapons menacingly. Tamahome grinned. "One or a dozen, all of you won't be walking home if you fight me. You know who I am and what I can do."
One of them sneered. "That's not the point. The point is to make sure you never walk, or even breathe, agURK!!"
Nuriko tossed the man into a wall and, with a nonchalant dusting of her hands, said softly, "I love the jackals you've found, dear heart. I so rarely get any exercise these days…"
Tamahome took her cue and leapt at one of the thugs while his attention was on Nuriko and her venomous grin, kicking him in the stomach then seizing his hair and slamming his face into her knee.
The fight was a classic example of how two people can outfight ten. Nuriko and Tamahome were everywhere at once, hitting, dodging, setting the slower thugs against each other, working… working in perfect tandem, as if they'd been fighting together for decades instead of a few scant seconds.
Akira fought against the sudden weakness that dragged at his body. He felt the strands that tied him to both Tamahome and Nuriko pulse with energy, energy that he was somehow giving to them, channeling in their time of need.
The fight ended suddenly.
First, Nuriko stumbled on a bit of cobblestone, sliding right into the club that she'd meant to dodge. Her eyes rolled up in her head and she collapsed.
Next, Tamahome jumped backwards to avoid a wild swing and tripped over a thug that was struggling to get to her feet. She almost flipped to her feet again after that, but her foot caught and she went down hard again.
Akira felt all the power that had been flowing into them snap, filling him to overflowing. It licked and danced between his fingers as he strode to where one of the remaining thugs bent over Tamahome, a knife in his hands. Akira casually grabbed the man's arm and squeezed, hardly heeding the cracking of bones under his fingers as he broke the arm with barely an effort.
He tossed the man down and turned to the two thugs still on their feet. "Go," he gritted out between his teeth as he pointed to where they'd come from. The finger he used seemed to be on fire.
The thugs went. Akira felt the power leaving him suddenly, shockingly. He went to his knees, and, with the last bit of strength left in him, called out to Nuriko and Tamahome…
Tamahome's eyes opened suddenly as she jerked to her feet. She looked around the street, taking in the fallen forms of the thugs, the standing form of Nuriko, who was looking around with the same expression as her, and Akira, who was lying face-down in a scorch mark burned into the cobblestones, shaped…
Shaped like a bird with its wings spread.
As Nuriko bent down to gently gather the Summoner of Suzaku into her arms, Akira stirred. "Ugh… Coach, look out… Number 38's got it in f'me…" he said in a slurred voice.
Tamahome leaned in close and took a close look at his eyes. They were rolling around wildly, as if someone had just taken a very large steel bar to the side of his head. She held up three fingers and asked softly, "How many?"
"Umm… more than one… less'n ten… why?"
"We've got to get him back to the palace."
Akira didn't even seem to notice when Nuriko started running, Tamahome staying close. He clutched at Tamahome's sleeve. "Hey Tama… I t'ink I decided somethin'… izzat I gotta protect you… an' Nuriko… an' Hoto— Hoto— the Emperor."
"What are you trying to do, put me out of a job?" Tamahome kept her voice purposely light and bantering, not wanting to show the mix of anger and bitterness at her new failure to keep Akira out of danger.
"Naw… I figure that we k'n take turns…"
Now Nuriko chimed in. "Just how long would you plan on 'protecting' Tamahome? I like to be pampered, but I'm not sure it's the sort of thing she'd put up with for long…"
Akira didn't respond, and Tamahome thought for a moment that he might have fallen unconscious again, but then he suddenly smiled and said, "How long d'I wanna protect Tamahome? The rest'a m' life, I think…"
The Emperor looked down at Akira, his face set in a stony frown. "We… I do not like this."
Tamahome shook her head, temporarily dispelling Akira's last words from her head, and said crossly, "I don't like it either. Why should you be any different?" Only too late did she remember who she was talking to…
Only Hotohori didn't seem to notice the tone, only the content. "Why should I be any different? Because this doesn't match what was written of the other two Summoners."
"There have been other Summoners?"
Hotohori nodded. "Yes. The literature is vague of what eventually became of them, but both had observers writing what occurred while they were still adjusting to their powers. Neither had experienced anything like your description of what happened this afternoon."
At the sound of the door opening, both of the Celestial Warriors turned to see Nuriko standing in the doorway. "I found a priest that might be able to tell us more about what's going on." She stepped out of the doorway, and another man appeared in her place.
He was wearing worn clothes, well-suited for traveling, with a conical hat pulled low over his face. In one hand was the trademark staff of his kind, and the other was in his belt pouch. He bowed. "I am a wandering priest, no da. I heard that the Summoner of Suzaku was having troubles, no da, so I came to help as much as I can, no da!"
Hotohori blinked, then stepped from Akira's bedside. "If you can help the Summoner, we would be eternally grateful."
The priest strode confidently over to the bed and sat down on it beside the unconscious Akira. He pulled the hand that had been in his belt pouch out and waved it over Akira's forehead for a moment, making several mystic passes as he mumbled what sounded like a spell under his breath. After a moment, he stopped. "This… is unexpected, no da."
Tamahome barely suppressed the urge to grab the priest's shirt and shout in his face. She said in a very controlled voice, "What do you mean unexpected?"
As if sensing her urge to manhandle him, the priest waved one hand in awarding gesture. "It's very simple, no da! The relationship between the Summoner and the Celestial Warriors runs something like this, no da." He cleared his throat and paused in thought for a moment.
"The god grants the Summoner its power, no da. However, the power is far too potent for one mere human to withstand, no da, so the Summoner acts as a 'filter' for that power, no da, granting it in turn to a series of guardians, no da.
"For some reason, no da, this young man seems able to use the power without having to filter it first, no da. This will eventually destroy him." He looked up for the first time, and all three flinched back involuntarily at the serious look in his one remaining eye, the other being only a ragged mass of scar tissue that stretched from the middle of his forehead almost to the base of his cheek.
"I have a charm that will keep him from using the power directly, no da, but you must tell him to NEVER take it off." He pulled a small necklace with an image of a gate dangling from it out of his pouch. After handing it to Tamahome, whose hand closed around it nervelessly, he bowed. "And now I must leave, no da!"
He stood and walked out the door as they watched. Tamahome looked at the necklace in her and, then moved to put it around Akira's neck. "I hope this works…"
As soon as the gate settled against Akira's chest, he convulsed, and blinding red light flooded the room.
The red light had been shining from the book for the last four pages, but Matsura hardly paid it any heed as he read the fiery letters. "And far away, a woman who stood outside time watched and waited, to see if Suzaku no Miko would be broken by the powers she called forth…"
To be continued.
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