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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.

And now, on with the story!


PART NINE


Nuriko rushed through the wilderness back to where Tamahome and Hotohori were fighting for their lives, Akira's whispered messages into his ears speeding him on. Ah, dammit! I hate getting tricked! He hefted the boulder he'd plucked from the earth grimly, feeling its weight with vindictive pleasure. I wonder how that bastard will try to trick THIS.

When he reached the path, he stopped dead in his tracks at the scene before him. Nuriko gasped in shock, then shouted, "NOO!"

Tamahome lying on the ground behind the dying monster, disturbingly still.

Hotohori fallen, limbs askew as if tossed aside by a giant, twitching uncontrollably, his sword glittering in the grass just a few inches from his spasming hand.

The false Akira, writhing as black energy sprayed from his twisted, withered body.

Well. Once Nuriko spotted his target, he tossed the boulder up in the air, aiming for the thing that had tricked him. "Laugh at THIS!" He curled his legs underneath him and leapt up after it, landing on top of the boulder with such force that it cracked underneath his feet, driving it deep into the ground, burying the false Akira deep into the ground.

Nuriko looked around at his two companions and almost started to weep as he realized that he'd arrived too late. What the hell kind of legend is THIS?!?! It's… it's not fair for me to get here just in time to watch them die!

His heart leapt for joy as he saw Tamahome, who had lain so still, move just enough to look up at him. Nuriko gave a silly grin and put one hand behind his head, feeling a hot flush cross his cheeks. "Heh. I thought something was fishy, so I rushed right back… ahehehee…" He trailed off, and the sound of a mirror shattering filled the sudden silence.

Akira appeared right next to the boulder, and after a grateful smile up at Nuriko, he rushed to Tamahome's side. For a moment, Nuriko couldn't see what was wrong with his hand, to hang so limply at his side, then Nuriko spotted the blade jutting from the back of his hand and the blood still dripping down his fingers to the hungry ground.

Akira knelt, Tamahome looked up at him, and Nuriko had to look away at the look in her eyes. He wiped away a tear. Well, it looks like she's taken my advice… good. I'd hate to see a pretty girl like her become an old spinster. He hopped down from the boulder and started for Hotohori, but he stopped as a voice rang in his ears.

"YOU HAVE PASSED MY TEST."

To say that the landscape gradually vanished, the trees dissolving away to reveal the faerieland valley that Daichi-san rested in and the soft clouds around it that formed into fanciful faces which mouthed silent invitations and fantastic hands which beckoned them forward would have been a lie. Instead, it was as if the mountain and the valley and the clouds had always been there, and they had just refused to see it.

Nuriko took another step towards Hotohori and reached one hand out to help him stand up, but the Emperor shrugged his hand off and managed to stand for a bare second before a violent seizure racked his body. Nuriko caught him before he fell. What's wrong with Hotohori-sama?

Nuriko glared at the mountain over Hotohori's head and shouted, "And what if we all die right now at your doorstep!! Some test!"

The boulder vanished, and a huge carpet with rich, whorling patterns that drew Nuriko's eye appeared underneath all four of them.

"I SHALL BRING YOU TO MY HOME, BRAVE SUPPLICANTS."

Nuriko stumbled and almost fell as the carpet rose silently into the air, though more from reaction than anything else. What the hell! There was no feeling of motion, not even a light breeze, as the carpet conveyed them over the mountain's valley towards the base of Daichi-san.


As the carpet's image rose into the air, Chichiri turned his attention away from the mirror and to the back of Tai-Yi Jun's head. "Are you sure you want to go out to meet them looking like that no da? Surely, your magic is strong enough to…"

Tai-Yi Jun turned to face the young priest, who had to gape openmouthed at the changes in her even in the brief time they'd been watching Akira and his companions. Dear spirits! This is terrible!

The ancient sorceress sighed and waved one hand in an idle gesture towards the mirror. "I doubt it'll make any difference at this point," she grumped. "If the story holds true to the course, they'll come upon me unexpectedly at some point anyway. Better that they learn at least part of the truth today."

Chichiri glanced at the mirror over Tai-Yi's shoulder and watched one of his fellow warriors glance over the edge of the carpet, then flinch away and cover his eyes. Ah, the dangers of airsickness for the uninitiated… He smothered a brief smile and turned his attention to more serious matters. "I should leave before you welcome them no da. Do you have any tasks for me no da?"

The old woman frowned thoughtfully for a moment. "I ask that you search for your counterpoint and awaken him, wherever he might be. It is strange, but I can find signs of all your fellows except for—"

Chichiri nodded, tapping his staff against the ground to jingle the rings in it. "And if I find Chiriko dead no da?"

Tai-Yi Jun looked grim. "Pray that his successor awakens soon, for without his wisdom Suzaku will never be summoned, and the story will never turn."

The servant-spirits who were watching the conversation unfold gave a collective gasp, and Chichiri wanted to do much the same himself. If the wheel of karma is broken… if we are trapped in this cycle of the story forever… our universe will shatter and drift away on the winds! May the Four Gods forbid such a thing!

Tai-Yi Jun noted his expression and gave a smile that tried to be comforting, but Chichiri knew the old woman too well to be fooled. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure that I'm only old and jumping at the slightest shadows, but—"

She cut herself off abruptly, but the young priest had no trouble filling in what came after the 'but'. But what you look like now is a sign that the Wheel is already out of balance, that the universe is changing in a way never seen before and never likely to be seen again.

He shook his head to drive away the end of the sentence, but the conclusion rang through Chichiri's skull like a doom bell's dread tolling, thrumming with portents of doom. Never likely to be seen again, if only because it will break the Wheel beyond recognition or recovery.


Mika raised her arm away from Matsura's shoulders and stretched, yawning. A glance over at the clock told her that it was about time to go back to her house. "Well, we've got school tomorrow. Guess I'd better head off, right?"

Matsura stood up a moment after she did, setting the book carefully on the couch. "Yeah, I guess so."

She put one finger on his forehead and looked him in the eyes, a stern expression creeping onto her face. "Look, Matsura, I don't want you staying up all night reading the book." The stern facade Mika had put over her face almost cracked as she remembered Matsura recounting why she'd found him walking home from school this afternoon.

But Mika knew that giggling wasn't exactly the right thing to do while scolding someone. It tended to reduce the effect, and she was in full big-sister mode now.

She added extra glare and a firm, "This book is important, but we can't let anyone know about it yet. That means we both still go to school, hang out, and try to live normal lives."

"What about Akira?"

Mika pulled her finger away from Matsura's forehead and waggled it back and forth. "Don't worry, already got it covered. Called in that there was a family emergency, and we'd try to get him back to school as soon as possible because blah blah blah…"

For some reason, Matsura looked sulky for a moment, then he muttered something that Mika didn't catch. Before she could ask him what he'd said, he shrugged. "Well, all that's true enough, I guess… So, will you stop by tomorrow afternoon?"

Mika grinned. "Sure thing! Right after school. If you want to come over to my place, though, I wouldn't say no." She glanced around and sniffed. "Your apartment is starting to smell like a bachelor's pad. You'd better clean it up if you want to bring a cute girl over while your parents are away!"

For a split second, Matsura seemed stricken, as if she'd said something hurtful… but it passed over his face so quickly that Mika wasn't sure what it meant. He smiled again and said, "You'd better hurry along, then." He sat back down on the couch and picked up the book again, waving one hand idly in parting.

Mika turned towards the door, and with her face away from Matsura, a frown crossed her face. I wonder what that was all about… Once the door was closed behind her, she looked up at the sky, where a few stars managing to shine dimly even against the oppressive brilliance of the streetlights. "Well, I'll ask him tomorrow. I mean, it isn't as if anything's going to change THAT much in just one night, right?"


By the time the carpet landed on the elegantly tiled balcony of the palace that perched on top of Daichi-san mountain, Akira knew that something was…

Not necessarily wrong, but definitely not right. After all, he'd just stuck six inches of tempered steel through his hand, and he wasn't feeling the slightest bit of pain! Akira glanced down at his hand and the looked away, swallowing queasily. It was one thing to know that he'd done that to himself, but watching the blood drip down the blade, spattering on the carpet…

And while he wasn't as connected to his three companions as he had been before waking up with the necklace that hid underneath his shirt, Akira could still feel things about them sometimes; and right now, he could tell how badly they were hurt, how much pain they should be feeling, and how much they actually WERE feeling right now.

A sense of shame filled him as he clenched his still-whole hand into a fist. This was MY fault, dammit. If I hadn't've been such a fool, if I hadn't've rushed off, then my friends wouldn't've almost died. This was MY fault…

Nuriko released the fistfuls of carpet he'd had a death-grip on and leapt off, landing on his hands and knees. He seemed ready to kiss the ground for a moment, then reluctantly stood up straight, wobbling around slightly. "Aah… at last, back on firm ground!"

"DID YOU NOT ENJOY MY METHOD of conveying you to my home?"

The voice faded from a resounding echo that came at them from all sides to a vibrant contralto from the doorway of the balcony. The woman's voice rang with power, filled with confidence and a strength that Akira had never heard so strongly from anyone in his entire life.

He turned towards the doorway and saw a woman standing there, tall and proud, her vibrant red hair showing just a touch of white and her face lined enough to give the impression of wisdom without detracting a whit from her handsome beauty. She wore an ornate black robe of silk that was stitched with gold thread in intricate designs which glinted in the late afternoon sunlight. They shifted as she moved one hand up in a slow greeting, the sleeve's threads forming a bird, a turtle, a mountain…

"I am Tai-Yi Jun."

Akira stood there for a moment, unsure of how to react. "Uh, er, ah, hi?"

Nuriko elbowed him and hissed, "'Hi'? Is that the best thing you can say?!"

Tai-Yi Jun smiled and stepped down the small stairway gracefully, the thread shifting to more intricate patterns and scenes, her every motion creating and recreating new designs. "We don't stand much on formality up here." She glanced at Akira's wound and grimaced. "It would not be meet of me to let you die on my doorstep, were those not your words? I shall summon the Nyan-Nyans to heal you."

She clapped both hands together sharply, the report reverberating from the valley around them. As the last echo faded away, a series of cheerful pops sounded, and from the air around the foursome appeared a dozen children… or at least that's what they seemed like to Akira at first glance. When he looked at them again, he noticed something off about them that he couldn't quite put his finger on…

Tai-Yi motioned towards the four people around the carpet. "Attend them and heal all their wounds."

"Yay!" All of the girls let a cheer, then rushed two to a person, including Tai-Yi Jun. She glanced at them as they floated into the air beside her.

"What do you want with me?"

One of them pulled a bottle out of a pocket and swirled the bottle around, making the red liquid inside dance. "We can get rid of those…"

Another picked up the sentence. "Unsightly white streaks!"

An angry roar sent them reeling backwards, and the two Lailais attending Akira exchanged a pair of cute glances over his hand before giggling.

"Ever since the Wheel spun awry…"

The first Nyan-Nyan turned Akira's hand palm-up with both of her little hands, and the second picked up her sentence. "…She's been getting so glum, but…"

The second Nyan-Nyan closed her mouth as she ran one finger delicately along the jagged end of the blade where Tamahome had broken it, and the first looked up at Akira and smiled. "…Now that you're here, she's back to her…"

"…Usual cranky self!" the second Nyan-Nyan concluded brightly as she gave the jagged end an experimental push. Akira winced in anticipation, but felt… nothing, aside from the slight downward movement of his hand. The two Nyan-Nyans exchanged another pair of cute girl glances before the first gripped his hand firmly and the second grasped the jagged end.

Akira watched for just a moment as they pushed the blade out a fraction before turning away, the very sight of it making him feel ill. For some reason, it disturbed him to even think about what they were doing, so he looked at his companions.

His gaze landed first on Nuriko, who seemed to be engaged in some sort of staring match with her two Nyan-Nyans. For several long moments, all three of them were quiet, then finally Nuriko snapped out, "Why are you staring at me?"

The first one grinned. "We'll heal you!"

Nuriko looked confused for a moment. "But I don't need any healing."

The second one tugged on Nuriko's sleeve. "We'll heal your perversion!"

"AAAGH!"

Akira chuckled at the way Nuriko chased the laughing Nyan-Nyans away, arms wildly flailing, then he looked over at Hotohori and Tamahome. The four Nyan-Nyans around them weren't looking nearly as cheerful as the other six scattered around the balcony, and were exchanging worried glances constantly. Hotohori was still twitching uncontrollably, and Tamahome wasn't moving a bit, not even when the Nyan-Nyans touched her…

A sudden, wrenching gout of fiery pain tore at Akira's vision and made him gasp with agony, hunching over. From the edges of his narrowing vision, he glimpsed the two Nyan-Nyans recoil from his hand as bright flames spurted from his wounds, bathing his arm up to the elbow.

A moment later, Akira looked at his hand, regarding his whole, unmarked palm with wonder. What the hell…

A pair of hands grasped his newly-healed one in a firm grip and Akira looked up at Tai-Yi Jun as she examined it carefully. He caught snatches of her muttering. "Long lifeline… twisted loveline… broken in places, but… psychic abilities… lucky as a…" She dropped his hand suddenly, shuddering, and met his gaze, her eyes sad. "You have a long, painful road ahead of you, and you will lose everything that you value and take for granted long before you reach the end of the path awaiting you. Whether or not you regain what you've lost will depend upon the choice you make."

She knelt down beside him, and Akira belatedly realized he'd fallen while his injury had been healing. He watched the threads on her robe's shoulder form into the outline of two lovers embracing, a blaze that consumed them, a pair of birds flying away…

Then she placed the still-bloody point of Akira's dagger on his palm, and it felt hot, searing into his flesh. Something deep inside of him flared in response, like dying embers stirred to fresh life, and without thinking about it he reached into his shirt and broke the chain around his neck, tossing it aside.

Akira turned his head and watched the necklace tumble through the air as if in slow motion, the chain ends flashing silver in the brilliant sunlight. He stood up and strode towards the carpet where his two warriors were injured unto death, and as he looked down at them, Akira tested the edges of his flame, his power, seeking its limits, wondering if he could do with it what he wanted, no, needed to do.

He felt a cool hand on his shoulder, and Akira looked at Tai-Yi Jun. "I want to heal them. This is my fault, and it should be I who heals the warriors that belong to me." He felt the power inside of him rise up at his unconscious command. Akira closed his eyes and fought to retain control of the flame. After several moments in which he waged amillennia of war against the impulse to let the world burn, Akira reopened his eyes slowly. "How can I do it? How can I heal them?"

She motioned, and the Nyan-Nyans around Tamahome and Hotohori scrambled off the carpet as it rose into the air. "Come, follow me."


Matsura turned the page and stared blankly at the picture on the other side, shocked at what was before him.

Akira stood, looking down at the floating carpet, a pair of flaming wings that sprouted from his back protectively curling around it, sheltering the two obviously wounded people lying on it. His hands were extended towards them, but he didn't reach out to touch them and there was a look of fear on his face, because fire was flickering from his palms.

For a long moment, Matsura didn't feel anything but numbly angry, then all the frustrations he'd experienced in the last few days, all the suppressed feelings of jealousy over Akira's adventure, coiled up inside of him and spiraled out of his control.

He threw the book across the room. "AAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHH!!!!" His scream of frustration echoed off the walls, and Matsura stood up to scream again, his fists raised up in the air.

Slowly, he lowered them, and felt his eyes sting slightly. "Dammit, it's just not fair! HE gets magical powers. HE gets a girl. HE gets to… while all I can do is just sit here and READ ABOUT IT!!! Damn you, Akira!"

Matsura stood there for a moment, then, hating himself for doing it and hating Akira still more, bitter rage throbbing in his head, he walked to where the book had landed on the floor. As he bent down, he whispered over and over, "Damn you… damn you…"


Akira walked through the hallways of Tai-Yi Jun's palace, marveling at the way that it all seemed so distant, apart from himself. It was as if there were two Akiras, one very small, very minor Akira walking, and a larger one dancing into higher and broader realms of thought and power and magic, growing more and more separate from his puny meat body…

A sharp slap cracked across his cheek, and Akira was forced back somewhat into his body, seeing through his meat eyes an irate-looking Tai-Yi Jun. "That's how it starts," she stated firmly. "Keep yourself grounded in your flesh, and you won't be tempted to leave it."

For a moment, Akira was tempted to go back to that realm of light and aura and energy, then he looked at the carpet that floated just in front of him. Tamahome!

Akira tried to remain entirely in his body, but he could feel it cracking from the sheer pressure of his power, and he had to let the magic range more freely. Every time he felt the urge to let go entirely, though, Akira looked back down at the carpet's burden to remind himself.

At the fringes of his hearing, he heard Nuriko and Tai-Yi Jun talking.

"Why can't you just heal my friends right now?" Nuriko's tone was almost demanding, and Akira felt a distant amusement at the way he'd overcome his previous shyness of the sorceress.

Tai-Yi Jun sighed. "Just as you protect and shield the Summoner, so does he protect and shield you. I can do minor things to his Warriors, like putting a stasis on these two so their injuries don't grow any worse, and I could probably heal them of minor injuries, but anything as major as this the power inside of him would interfere, and I would have to break through it with force. It's easier just to teach him how to do it, if no safer…"

The carpet stopped as she trailed off, and Akira stopped as well. "We are here."

Akira examined the cavernous room with both his normal senses and his newfound ones, and found it incredible on all accounts. The walls flickered and danced in the shifting light from the giant stained glass dome that formed the ceiling, showing a giant mural across all of the room's circling walls.

The dome was almost entirely black, aside from holes and lines that Akira recognized, after a moment, to be the constellations, each one in their proper quarter of the sky. Each set of stars shone down on a section of the mural, somehow illuminating just the part that related to each part of the sky: south, north, east, and west.

The floor was made of dark marble laced with green, each section set in gold that formed a pattern which Akira couldn't see properly from his perspective on the ground. Tai-Yi Jun stepped forward, and the carpet floated ahead of her, coming to rest in center of the room. She gestured to Akira. "You must join them on the carpet."

Without thinking about it, Akira reached out with his power, twisting reality temporarily so that here became there, and he was seated on the carpet between Tamahome and Hotohori. Both of them looked at him, and a suddenly receding part of Akira thrilled that Tamahome still had the energy to do that.

He looked over at the ancient sorceress, and saw her anew. She seemed to overflow with a power that was older than the mountain they were standing on, older than time, older than the gods themselves; and for the first time since he'd thrown away the necklace that had sheltered him from the fires inside, Akira felt small and insignificant. From out of nowhere, an errant thought lodged in his head. I am just a small part of the Wheel, and she is the Wheel's guardian. I am just using this book, this spell; she IS the spell…

"Now, the next step is to disrobe entirely."

Akira, distracted his thoughts, fumbled for a moment with clumsy meat fingers at the buttons of his uniform. Tiring of that, he focused for a moment and deformed his clothes into a small package that fit neatly into one hand, then he reconsidered and deformed them into a band around one wrist. Just in case I need my hands.

While he was doing this, Lailais appeared next to Tamahome and Hotohori, reaching out little hands towards their clothes. Tamahome let them help her, weakly moving as they demanded, and Akira looked away from her as her robes were pulled away. A free look would be, well, nice, but…

He was distracted from that line of thought, however, as Hotohori shoved the closest Lailai away, his hands still shaking spasmodically but his jaw clenched with determination. "W-we will NOT! Our body is not for display!"

Tai-Yi Jun sounded sad as she spoke. "There is a time for keeping secrets, and a time for revealing them. Hotohori, your mother is dead, and you have to make your own decisions about whom to trust. You can't hide from yourself, and you shouldn't hide it from…"

A glare from the Emperor cut her off. "Very well, you needn't lecture us any further. We understand, damn you!" Slowly, exhibiting a rigid control over his every movement so that his shaking limbs wouldn't betray him, Hotohori unbelted his robe and shrugged it off his shoulders, pulling it free of his body…

At first, caught up more in reading the auroras dancing around his shoulders, Akira didn't realize what the bandages around Hotohori's body meant. When did he get injured there? Then, as the Emperor reached around and undid the bandages, letting them fall loosely around his waist, Akira did realize what they were for, and it was enough to make him gape in shock.

Tamahome's ability to react was muted by her injuries, so all she did was gasp.

Nuriko pointed at Hotohori and froze there, mouth opening and closing with no sound coming out of it, lone finger quivering in the air.

For some reason, Akira's mouth chose the exact wrong moment to start working again. "Wow, that's the first pair of real breasts I've ever seen!"

Hotohori blushed and covered herself with one hand, reaching out with the other to give Akira a slap that made his head ring. "DON'T LOOK AT ME!!!"

Tai-Yi Jun sighed in amusement tinged with irritation. "Kids will be kids… but we don't have time for this nonsense any more. Time is running out on my spell." She waved one hand and all three people on the carpet floated into the air, leaving their discarded clothing behind.

Akira fought the sudden urge to break free of the sorceress's weave, knowing that it was there only to help him heal his Warriors. Strands of power threaded the three people together, binding them, and Akira could feel the thoughts of the other two people tangibly. Without warning, Hotohori pulled at him powerfully, and Akira was dragged…


…Into the room that smelled of death unwillingly, knowing what was there and what it meant: That my father was no more.

My mother's hand dug into my shoulder, and I went along, playing the part of the good heir to the throne. I stood on tip-toes and looked my father in the face, wanting to run my fingers through his beard one more time, wondering absently why he'd chosen now to leave me alone with—

Her.

She knelt down and whispered in my ear, "Take the sword from his hands. This is to show that you willingly accept the burden of being the Emperor, even if you are still too young to rule."

Obeying her unthinkingly, I leaned forward and grasped the scabbard in both of my hands, tugging.

Father didn't let go, his hands still holding firmly to the hilt.

Fearfully, I released the scabbard and started to back away, but I felt my mother pinch me savagely where the retainers couldn't see. "Do it!" she hissed, and I seized it again, yanking wildly, imagining that any second my father would sit up, pull the blade forth, and from his undead throat would issue a rank stench and the denouncing words, "GIRL!! MY HEIR IS A GIRL!!! FALSE! FAKE! WORTH NOTHING!!" I could almost see his sword arcing towards my throat, feel it piercing my neck…

I fell on my hind end as the sword finally came free, hitting me in the chest with a painful thunk. I stood up slowly, looking up at my mother for a smile, something, ANYTHING, to show that I'd done something worthwhile for her, wishing I'd've been born a male so this lie I lived would be unnecessary, so that I might see my own mother smile tenderly at me, so that….

But wishes were worth nothing, and all that was on her face was a grim look of determination, of one battle won and only a thousand more left to fight.


Akira reeled away from the memory and looked down at Tai-Yi Jun, who didn't seem to have noticed anything awry. "First, you have to search out the power of one of your warriors you haven't met yet, whose constellation is Mitsukake. His power is that of healing, and…"

As soon as she said the name, Akira knew how to use that power. He called it out and let the soft green of healing play out through the threads betwixt himself and his two Warriors, first soothing their minor injuries, and then, as he grew more confident, mending their major ones, removing the stain of the monster's dark aura from Hotohori, shifting and stimulating Tamahome's broken bones and body, and then…

It was done.

Akira blinked. "Wow. That was easy."

Tai-Yi Jun frowned. "Now, this is going to be the difficult part for you, Akira. You have to give them back their power."

He blinked. "Their power?"

Her frown turned to a grimace and she wave one hand. "The power of a god is too much for one puny human to bear for length of time. Long, long ago, the gods decreed that each of their lands would have protectors, seven of them, all entrusted with a fraction of their power. When a Summoner of a god appears, these protectors gain more strength, in exchange for becoming the Star Warriors of that Summoner.

"At least, that's how it usually works." Her grimace grew, if anything, worse. "You've been siphoning off the power that is meant for them, drawing it into yourself. I don't thi— That shouldn't be possible, but you're doing it.

"What you have to do, Akira, is 'lock' that part of yourself that draws on their link through you, so that they can use their own power to recover. Right now, they are little more than ordinary humans because you're using their power, so what you have to do is…"

Akira interrupted. "Can't you just make me up another one of those necklaces?"

"That was only a temporary measure, meant to protect you until I could see you myself."

Akira shrugged. "So, can you tell me how to do it?"

"Uh, er, ah…." Tai-Yi Jun looked down at the ground as a slight flush crossed her face. "nIcn't…" she mumbled.

"Huh?"

"nIcn't…"

"Could you please…"

"I CAN'T, OKAY?!?!" She looked up and the force of her glare made Akira throw one hand up involuntarily. "I don't have the SLIGHTEST idea how you're doing this, not in over eight Turnings have I seen ANYTHING like this, and…" Tai-Yi Jun trailed off, looking a bit embarrassed at her outburst, but Akira didn't need for her to finish the sentence.

"Yeah, okay. I'll try it."

Akira closed his eyes, and instead of ranging outwards with his new senses, he looked inwards at his own flame.

What he saw there…


Tamahome felt marvelous after the soft green stars disappeared from her vision and the warmth vanished from her body, though she still felt a tinge of regret that it was gone. Akira… THAT was Akira inside of me, touching me, healing me. It felt so nice. A blush heated her cheeks, and to distract herself from those kind of thoughts, she actually LOOKED at Hotohori.

Well, she had noticed that the Emperor was really a woman earlier, but the haze of pain had numbed most of the realization's shock, and she felt the ghost of jealousy pass through her as she examined Hotohori's figure more closely. Damn, those breast-bands must've REALLY hurt… it just figures that she'd be… really…

Big . A grimace crossed her face, and she looked towards her own body. It was a nice one, but… Now that Akira knows Hotohori is really a woman, he's sure to go after her. She's prettier (I should've KNOWN that she was WAAAAAAAY too beautiful to be a man!), she's smarter, she's higher rank, and I told him I didn't want anything to do with him! Tamahome restrained the urge to bury her face in her hands and cry a little. Why wasn't I honest with him? Why didn't I try to work something out? Nuriko was right. I really AM just afraid.

Her chin firmed. That's it! I'm gonna accept Akira, if he can accept me. I'm not losing to… her!

Then Akira screamed, and all thoughts of anything so minor vanished into mist as Tamahome jerked towards him involuntarily and smashed into the edge of her bubble, helpless to do anything but watch him writhe in agony.


The threads vanished, burned away, and Akira dropped heavily to the floor, barely feeling the pain of his bruised skin against the fire that raged inside of him, threatening to consume him from the inside.

He felt hands turn him over, and he looked up at Tai-Yi Jun. "I… I did it… I locked it away, but… I had to use too much power to do it…"

Tai-Yi Jun ran her hands over his body, touching his energy points, and Akira felt some of the pain subside. "He is going to have to go back to his own world for a while. This was too much for him. He needs to spend some time away from our world."

"How can we send him back?" Akira heard Hotohori ask, and Tai-Yi tugged at his school uniform, still in the form of a band around one wrist.

"It's a form of sympathetic magic, several Laws bound together. Basically, he has a friend in his own world that is bound to him through—"


Matsura looked up from the book and at his room, gasping in realization. "The uniforms!" Memories came flooding back. Every time Akira was injured while they were both wearing the uniforms…

"I got hurt too!" The boy looked back down at the page and read the next words. "'Tai-Yi Jun placed the Summoner's uniform upon him and prayed that his friend reading the book would realize—"

Matsura stood up and ran for his closet, peeling off the clothes he'd worn on the date with Mika and tossing them aside. As he started buttoning his uniform closed, a wicked thought occurred to him.

When he comes back to our world… does that mean I go into the book? A grin crossed his face, and anyone seeing it would have recoiled at the transformation it wrought in his features. And once I'm in there, can HE come back in?


As I go back to my world I see nothing but darkness shades of grey weaving into a numb vortex of reality that sucks at my soul drawing me closer and closer to the devastating truth the book calls to me but I cannot return yet my body too ravaged by the spells I wove…


As I return to the book wondrous blue light smoothes my journey and I see only one thing that I know is fate destiny karma the future Akira kneeling before me acknowledging me finally as the best out of us…

 

To be continued.


Author's notes: Whew. Another part out of the way? ALREADY? I know what you're saying. "Aaron? Are you sick? What's wrong with you?"

And then I slap your hand away from my forehead and insist that I'm just fine, really!

But honestly, this is more an extension of the last chapter, and the next is more like an extension of this one. It wasn't much effort to write, actually; just a matter of getting enough time slotted…

This had to have been one of the most comprehensively preread chapters of my story ever. ^_^ It's kind of strange to think about all the friends who helped me out by reading this for me and giving me feedback. Thanx go out to Larry F, Ben, Jamie, and fanilia.

Anyway, tell me what you think of it!

Aaron Bergman
iamfanboy@hotmail.com

Part 10
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