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"Is he all right?" Tamahome asked pleadingly.

"I could not tell you," Tai-Yi Jun lied effortlessly as she kept her back turned to the three warriors, pretending to study her mystic mirror closely. Tamahome didn't whine this much the LAST time Suzaku rose ascendant.

"When will he be back?" Hotohori demanded.

"My augers are silent on that subject as well," Tai-Yi Jun lied again, rolling her eyes. And Hotohori isn't much better either. Women are such worriers about menfolk. Fer cryin' out—

"What can you tell us, then?" A hint of amusement tinged Nuriko's question, and Tai-Yi Jun responded to that emotion with a slight smile as she replied honestly, "That he will return, of course. What else is there to say?"


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 10


Waking up was the hardest thing that Akira ever did. Unconsciousness clung to him like a quagmire, holding him tight, sucking him under into its warm embrace…

But the desk he was lying on was far too uncomfortable to stay asleep.

And the pencils in his back weren't helping matters any.

"Ow-ow-ow." Akira rolled away from the pencils and, for a brief moment, hung suspended in midair, his eyes wide open at the sight of a tile floor four feet underneath him.

Thump. "OW!"

Akira stood up slowly, wincing at the bruises both fresh and old on his body, and looked around the room he'd ended up in. Something about this place feels familiar. The rows of desks, the third-story view out the window, the inarticulate scrawl in one corner of the chalkboard at the front of the room…

"I'm back in my world! This is my classroom!" He rolled his eyes. "Jeez, talk about having a grasp of the obvious." Akira groaned and clutched his forehead. "Man, I haven't been to school in a month. I'll bet I'm not enrolled in classes any more. I don't want to do this school year again."

He walked over to the back of the room and put his hand against the wall, looking down at the ground. "I'm still wearing my dagger. That could get me some funny looks; I'd better take it off before someone asks me about it."

Akira unbuckled the belt with practiced motions, his eyes wandering over the calendar in the back of the room. Huh. This calendar still says it's March… I wonder who got lazy about changing the month? Wait a second. He looked closer at it as his hands wrapped the belt around his dagger. It's STILL March?! And only two days after I went to the library? But I was in that other world for a MONTH!!

"What are you doing here so early, Akira?"

"Aah!" Akira leapt backwards and put one hand against his chest, certain that he was about to suffer the first heart attack of his short life. Oh, such a tragedy to die so young! He whirled towards the doorway and spotted his class representative standing there, staring at Akira with a quizzical expression on his face.

"Akira, is something wrong?"

And as Akira opened his mouth to reply…

…He suddenly realized that he couldn't remember his classroom rep's name.

It starts with an 'Sa', I know that; or is it 'Ka?' Akira's brow furrowed as he tried his damnedest to remember. Most of the stuff that his life had been before falling into the book seemed so distant, so unimportant.

That month he'd spent in the book felt more like a lifetime.

Fortunately, he was spared from the embarrassment of asking for a name as a girl popped through the doorway and glomped the class rep from behind. "Kennn-chan! Where were you last night?!"

Ken blushed and tried to disengage from her arms as Akira's grin grew wider and wider. "C'mon, Sayuri, not in front of Akira, he's chief editor of the school newspaper!" He winked at Akira conspiratorially.

Sayuri propped her head on Ken's shoulder and smiled like a cat at Akira. "Hiiiii, Akira! Gonna spread rumors about the tawdry sex scandal involving your class rep?"

Akira held back the urge to laugh at the sight before him, but the effort made his sides ache. How could I forget Ken and Sayuri? "Of course I am! What kind of a rumormonger and yellow journalist would I be if I didn't?" He harrumphed indignantly and spun on one foot, managing to keep an offended mask on his face for just long enough to turn his back.

He almost fell over as a heavy weight landed on his back. A low, husky voice whispered in his ear, "Aw, Akira, don't be like that…"

"Nuriko, get off my back already. You're heavy!"

The weight disappeared. "Who's Nuriko?"

Akira whirled to face Sayuri, his mind wavering. Of course that wasn't Nuriko. He's back in that other world. Why did I think that it was him? He forced a smile, despite the wave of homesickness that swept over him. And why—

Why do I kinda miss him already?


The day had gone surprisingly well, considering that Akira had left most of his books at home and didn't have the slightest idea about what homework was due. Fortunately Akira's sister had called in with some excuse that had most of his teachers solicitous and understanding, though he had no idea what it was.

Bullshitting them was making him more nervous than it usually did because he just didn't know what Mika had told them. It gave him the feeling of impending doom, as if any word he spoke would give away the fact that it was all a lie.

At lunchtime, he was seated at his usual spot (along the inside of the school wall, shaded by a tree), wolfing down the first melon bread he'd eaten in a long time. As the last bite disappeared down his throat, Akira leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. Today seems like a dream, one that I kinda want to wake up from.

Ain't it supposed to be the other way around? In anime, when the guy who gets sucked into another dimension gets back to Japan it's the other dimension that's supposed to feel like a dream, and Japan the hard reality.

I don't… I don't…

"So, Akira, what's this I hear about your girlfriend?"

"GAH!" Akira jumped into the air and fell back down hard, nearly biting his tongue. "Tomoya! Don't startle me like that!"

Tomoya stuck out her own tongue and screwed her face into a grotesque mask. "Thorrrry."

Akira lifted one eyebrow. "With an expression like that, how am I supposed to take your apology seriously?"

"I abase myself before you and most humbly beg for your forgiveness." The girl bowed low, and Akira motioned impatiently.

"Oh, don't get silly." With that, Tomoya plopped down onto the grass across from Akira. He grinned at her. "So, how have things been since I've been gone?"

"Akira, it's been two days. How much could have happened?" Tomoya smiled slightly, then she licked her lips and asked nervously, "Have you seen Matsura today?"

Akira sat up straight, his eyes wide. "Matsura!" I forgot about him! Oh man, what happened to him after he left that world? I haven't seen him in a month. I hope he did all right without me… He slapped himself on the forehead. What am I thinking? It's only been two days. How much trouble could he get into by himself in two days?

"Uh, Akira?"

Akira shook his head rapidly. "Naw, I haven't seen him since last Friday. Why isn't he in school today? He hasn't missed a day of school since—" He cut himself off and felt a hot blush creeping into his cheeks.

Tomoya leaned forward, the hint of a grin twitching at the corners of his mouth. "'Since?'"

The blush grew hotter. "Uh, er, ah… None of your business!" Akira looked away and tried to whistle innocently. I can't tell her what we tried to do that morning two years ago. She'd kill me! "By the way, why were you looking for him?"

His distracting question managed to work, though he could see from the corner of his eye an expression that said Tomoya was filing what happened to ask about some other time. "His 'fan club' wanted to know."

"…Fan club? For Matsura? You're bullshitting me."

Tomoya groaned. "Oh, how I wish I was." Her voice rose up into a mocking parody of an airheaded schoolgirl. "'Oooh, Matsura is just so cute! He's so calm and reserved! He acts so dignified! He's so smart, too! I wish I could have him helping me with homework every night, teeheehee! It's too bad he hangs around with that—'" Now it was her turn to cut herself off and flush brightly.

Akira leaned forward, the hint of a grin twitching at the corners of his mouth. "'That…?'"

"Uh, er, ah… None of your business!" Tomoya pointed one finger. "Besides, you still haven't answered my first question!"

"Question?"

A sly smile spread across Tomoya's face. "About your new girlfriend you mentioned this morning."

Akira's brow furrowed as he tried to remember if, when, and why he'd mentioned Tamahome, even though he wasn't certain as to his current status with her, wherever she was. He failed to recall anything even remotely resembling such an incident. "Uh?"

"Sayuri's spreading it all over the school. Some girl named Nuriko." Tomoya winked. "Better tell us all about it before Shizuka finds out."

"Nuriko? Nuriko? A girlfriend?" A sudden vision of the cross-dresser flitted across Akira's mind, and he started laughing madly at the thought of taking Nuriko out to a movie or for an ice cream cone. I can just see it… "Oh, Akira, DARLING, would you pleeeze move over so Hotohori-sama could sit there?" and then—

His train of thought was ended, however, when he felt the hot flames of rage singing the fine hairs on his left arm as a specter from some nightmare hell of feminine wrath incarnate rose up from the ground and glared at him. Akira threw up one hand to shield himself as she said, smoke leaking from her mouth at each syllable, "AAA-KIIII-RAAAAA…."

"Shizuka? No, it isn't what you— YAAAAAARGGH!!!!!"


Mika smoothed Akira's hair back from his forehead as the sounds of a school closing down came through the open infirmary window. "My poor stupid little brother. I can't believe he was dumb enough to blab that he'd hooked up with some girl from a book. I sometimes wonder if we share any genes at all."

Akira stirred restlessly in his sleep and mumbled, "Suzaku… it ain't right…"

Mika took her hand away, frowning. "Huh?" Suzaku? What's a suzaku? Oh! She nodded. "That bird in the story!"

"I'll be there, I'll— No, you can't stop me, I won't be bribed…"

His sister put one hand to her mouth and gasped. "He must be having some sort of prophetic dream. I can't believe it! Even when he's outside the book..?"

"Well, maybe… a lifetime's supply of fresh meat? That new computer motherboard I need to upgrade my old system? An older sister that doesn't yammer annoyingly when I try to get some peaceful shut-eye?"

For a second, Mika stared down at her brother and his twitching lips as he tried to restrain a smile, giving away the fact that he was awake. She suddenly wondered why she'd even bothered being concerned about him. I'd be better off if he was DEAD!! "AAA-KIIIIII-RAAAAA…"

Akira opened one eye and looked at his rapidly reddening sister. "Hey, Sis. What's up?"

"Your life!"

He raised both hands to ward off an anticipated blow from Mika and winced as the sudden motion ignited pain in bruises all over his body. "Ow-ow-ow-OW! Did anyone get the number of that truck what hit me?"

Mika froze, one fist upraised, torn between letting it fall down onto Akira's head and laughing out loud. After a moment she did both, but the laughter stole the strength from her blow. "You idiot! Do you know how worried Matsura and I have been about you?"

"Matsura?!" Akira sat up straight in bed and winced again. "Have you seen him around?"

Mika shook her head. "Not since yesterday. I was gonna head over there after school today, but since you've gotten out of that weird book spell thing, I guess I don't have to." She poked her brother in the ribs playfully, and he jumped away from her finger, almost falling out of the bed.

"Hey, quit that! And I want to go see Matsura, I haven't seen him for a mo— Book?" Akira's mind slipped gears visibly, his face moving from a half-petulant, half-kidding expression to one of mild confusion. "What book?"


Akira remained silent most of the walk over to Matsura's apartment while his sister spoke about the last few days. Finally, several minutes after she ran out of things to say, he said one word. "Wow."

Mika stopped, one foot on the landing of the floor that Matsura's apartment was on, and looked back at her brother, who was ten steps down. "Tell me about it. You were the one trapped in the book, and you're finding it unbelievable?"

"Not really unbelievable, just sort of hard to absorb all at once." Akira shook his head. "Wow."

Mika turned away from him and rolled her eyes as she took that last step upwards. Why can't he take ANYTHING seriously? A few short strides took her to her destination, and she spent all of those wanting to slap some sense into her brother. This thing isn't natural, it could KILL him, and all he can say is 'wow'? Grrrrr…

Mika stopped, her tinge of general resentment growing larger as she saw that Matsura's door had been left open for the second time in as many days. "What, does he enjoy the thought of rampant fangirls rummaging through his clothing?" she muttered, thinking back to the group of them that had stopped her on her way home two nights ago.

"He doesn't even know he has fangirls."

Lost in the image of a pack of girls wearing little headscarves and sacks on their backs digging through Matsura's underwear drawer, Mika jumped and gave out a slight "eek!" at Akira's comment from behind her. She whirled around and poked a finger into his chest. "Don't do that!"

Akira tilted an eyebrow. "Do what?"

Her eyes narrowed and she spat, "You know what!" He's changed during his time in the book. I can't quite put my finger on it, but— Mika blinked. "Are you taller?"

The teen looked down at Mika for the first time in his life. He wasn't much taller than her save by a fraction, but the difference brought home to his older sister for the first time that he really had spent a month in that book. Just as his mouth opened wide to utter a smartass comment, Mika smacked Akira in the stomach with a light backhanded slap and smiled slightly. "Remember, no matter how much bigger than me you get, I'll always be able to kick your butt."

A broad grin spread across his face, but he didn't say whatever he was thinking as Mika turned back to the door and pushed it open. "Matsura? Matsura! Are you home?"

Cold silence answered her. After a moment's pause, she stepped into the threshold. "I'm coming in."

The moment she stood in the threshold, Mika knew there was no one there. A vacant apartment gave off a different feeling than one that has even a single living thing in it, no matter how small, and she shivered as the empty sadness of an abandoned home washed through her. I'm always too sensitive to stuff like this. It isn't real, girl. Get yourself together!

"Hey, Sis, it looks like he ain't home. Maybe we should—"

Mika looked over her shoulder at her brother, who hadn't even stepped into the doorway yet. "No, we need to do this." Mika grinned. "He invited me over yesterday anyway. What's the matter, chicken?" She slipped her shoes off and walked down the short corridor into the narrow living room, and despite all her bravado she was happy to hear Akira step into the apartment behind her.

The living room looked just as she'd left it last night, aside from the book, which had been carefully closed and placed on the little side table in plain view of the door. Mika reached out and touched its ancient cover, imagining its power as a physical force much larger than its modest size.

"Is that the…" Akira let his sentence trail off unfinished, and Mika nodded slowly. He reached over and picked it up in a lightning-fast motion that left his sister flatfooted. "Yeah, this is the same raggedy old book that Matsura and I—"

He put his thumb inside the cover, the pages rustling at the sudden intrusion, and Mika gasped. "No! Don't—"

Akira opened the book without waiting for her to finish the sentence, and was surrounded in a sudden wave of red light that slammed into the room like a tidal wave, throwing Mika's hair back from her head in a swirling cyclone wind that centered on her brother, frozen in an expression of mixed terror and excitement, and the book, which was now pulsing the red light. Mika fought her way through the wind and snatched the book out of Akira's hands, battling the tattered covers in a desperate attempt to close it before her brother vanished.

Suddenly the book snapped shut with a sound that reverberated through Mika's hands, a painful throb rushing up her arms that made her teeth clatter against each other. She shook her head and gritted her jaw shut as she pulled the book away from her brother's unresisting fingers.

"No, damn you, NO!" Mika controlled the urge to tremble in mingled fear and rage as she took a step backwards. "This thing is deadly, Akira, I can feel it! Just forget about it, okay? C'mon, get on with your life."

Akira shook his head and said gravely, "I can't abandon all my friends inside the book, sis. They're counting on me to—"

"To what? Go back?" Mika closed her eyes briefly, then opened them, her sudden resolve to never allow her little brother to be sucked back into the spell that the book had woven around him strengthening. "It's not real, Akira. Nothing in here…" She shook the book for emphasis."…is. Not Hotohori, not Suzaku, not even Tamahome. She's just some author's fantasy, and you're buying into it. Don't do it! Give it up! Stay here, in real life, where it's safe!"

Akira looked at her, his face drawn and grim, then turned and walked out of the apartment without saying another word.

Mika sank into a chair and put one hand to her face, keeping the book clenched shut with the other, letting the fearful trembles she hadn't dare show a moment before sweep through her. I'll follow him in a second. Closing that book… She felt tears trickling out of her eyes and wiped at her face, then looked at her hand in shock.

"Blood? I'm crying… blood!"

The book vibrated slightly as if resonating with her sudden exclamation, and Mika nearly screamed as she threw it across the room and huddled back into the chair, curling up into a defensive ball as she sobbed uncontrollably.


"I'm home." Akira uttered the phrase listlessly as he slipped out of his sneakers, letting the door swing shut behind him.

"Akira? Akira!" The pair of shouts was soon followed by the rush of bare feet, and seconds later his mother appeared in the entrance hallway. "Where have you been?"

Akira shook his head and stepped out of the entrance. "I… really don't want to talk about it, okay?" He gave his mom a quick hug and had just turned away when she spoke, an amused note in her voice.

"Soooooo, what's her name?"

He whirled around, his face suddenly hot and his mind spinning. Wha— huh? How does she know about Tamahome? Ancient Mystic Mother Magick? "I don't know what you're talking about…"

She waggled her eyebrows, leering at him with a comically exaggerated lecherous grin. "C'mon, you can't fool me. You spent the whole weekend at a girl's house, didn't you?" She sniffled. "My little boy is growing up!" A stern expression that could crack stone appeared on her face and she waggled a finger in his face. "You had better have used protection, young man."

He waved both his hands frantically. "It's not like that, really, honestly!"

One eyebrow tilted up slowly. "Oh, really? Well then tell me where you were." She crossed her arms over her chest and waited, one foot tapping a steady dirge on the wooden floor.

Akira looked away, then looked back again. "I was dragged away on a sudden trip by a close friend, and I'm back for a brief bit before I go back and finish what I started." What was it that Mom used to say about lying by not lying? I thought that was just a stupid saying, but now…

She considered that. "You're serious?" Akira nodded, and after a moment she added, "Sounds like an adventure."

"Yeah, I guess it is." He sighed and glanced at the door. "Mika should be home soon. She doesn't think I should go back. We're kinda having a fight about it."

His mother shook her head and muttered something that Akira didn't quite catch. Something about cowards and dying on the way? Uh?

She reached out and put one hand on his shoulder. "Would you regret for the rest of your life if you didn't go?"

Akira looked into his mother's eyes, which were shimmering with some emotion that he couldn't quite put a name to, and nodded slowly. "Yes. Yes, I would."

His mother touched his cheek gently. "Then go. I've always trusted you and your sister, and I love you too much to hold you in a cage. But…" She changed her touch into a fierce pinch. "But you'd better come back!"

"Ow-ow-ow!"

She stepped away from him, releasing her grip suddenly. "And be sure to bring any girls you meet back here. I've been saving your embarrassing baby photos for fourteen years, and I'd be ticked if I never got to use them against you!"

Akira blushed again and looked down at the ground. "C'mon, Mom! Can't you take something seriously for more than ten seconds?"

Before she could reply, the door swung open again and Mika strode through it, waving the two people standing just inside. "I'm home!" She stood aside and a man carrying a set of takeout boxes moved into her place.

"Somebody order Chinese?"


"Honestly, Mom, you are such a stereotype. A career woman who can't cook and would rather eat takeout than an honest meal?"

"Glargle-scarf-snap…"

Mika waved her chopsticks irritably. "Chew your food before talking! Before! Do you eat like that at business dinners?"

Her mother swallowed than shrugged, placing her now-empty bowl on the table. "You don't go to business dinners to eat, you go to them to do business. Besides, I was hungry and didn't know when you'd get back. Ordering takeout seemed preferable to starvation."

"And you, Akira, your table manners are hardly any better!"

"Glargle-scarf-snap…"

Mika whacked her younger brother in the head. "You're both just doing it to tick me off, aren't you?!"

Akira stopped eating and exchanged a solemn, meaningful glance across the table with his mother. "She's found us out, Mom."

"Yes. I'm surprised it took her this long."

Mika looked back and forth and back and forth between the two other members of her family. "…You're kidding, right?"

A long moment of silence hung over the table.

"Of course we are!" they chorused, then went back to eating with a vengeance.

Mika put her face into her palm and groaned, then yanked her hand away and stared at it as if seeing the blood on it that she'd washed away in Matsura's bathroom. What happened in there? She looked up at Akira, who was eating as if the last two days had never happened, and Mika felt a knot in her throat and looked away again. Can things ever go back to the way they were?


Akira poked a final schoolbook into his only large backpack and wiped his brow. "Whew! That's the last one."

He closed his eyes and leaned back, slowly toppling onto his bed, reveling in the comfort of his mattress. He had the feeling that it would be a long, long time before he got to enjoy it again.

Even though Akira's eyes were closed, he could still feel the book, like a hot fiery wind against one cheek, like the memory of a burning kiss on his cool flesh. He turned his head and the feeling moved with his motion, pointing in the direction of his sister's room.

At first, eating his dinner, he hadn't quite known what that strange sensation had been that tickled and danced phantom fingers across his skin, though it had felt familiar. Finally, just as Akira was standing up from the dinner table, he'd realized what it was, and that realization almost made him trip over his own feet and had earned him some good-natured ridicule he'd hardly noticed.

It's my bond to Tamahome, Nuriko, and Hotohori. Now that I'm not wearing that weird necklace any more, I can feel them, but it's so muted and distant… is that because they're in the book? He opened his eyes and stared at his ceiling, speaking aloud. "I'm going to wait until she goes to sleep, then I'm taking the book away from her."

Within him, power flickered and sparked to life in response to his determination and resolve. It was a faint flame compared to what he'd felt when he was inside the book, but as the power whispered to him, he thought that it just might be enough to help him do what he had to do.


I dream…

Something is holding me down bound fast into this nightmare of lightning and earthquakes as I run with all my heart, trying to escape something behind me, trying to rescue someone in front of me, helping those at my side back onto their feet as they fall down, stumbling and faltering in the face of the impossible task that I have set for us.

Suddenly, a shockingly violent tremor slides my feet from underneath me, forcing me to my knees. The ground underneath me is driven into the sky as if seeking refuge from the unrelenting attacks, a new mountain erupting from the face of the earth, carrying me up and up and up until I see the land spread out underneath me in a wide glorious vista that makes me feel as if I can reach out and touch it, all the world within my view belonging only to me. I now know what wonder is, and the lightning subsides and the earth ceases to tremble as a wide grin of delight spreads across my face.

"Who are you?"

I look over my shoulder at my grandfather, who smiles down at me, and I stand up, turning about to face him. "You know who I am, don't you?"

The smile slides from his face slowly as he regards me, his eyes growing wide with surprise and… fear?

Slowly, after what feels like days of thought, day and night turning by like seconds on the clock, he nods once. "Yes. Yes, I know you. But it is not My time. It is too early."

At this steady statement of fact, spoken as if meant to enlighten me, I feel the joy that suffuses me dissipating into the cold harsh light of confusion. "Too early? How do you mean?"

He looks away at the land and reaches up to brush the beard on his chin between two fingers, each motion stately and inexorable. "The Wheel has not yet turned to Me. Why are you called? Why am I here?"

I shake my head slowly. "I don't know." He doesn't respond for more long moments while dusk and dawn flicker by, throwing his craggy face into sharp, striking contrast, then, when he finally breaks his near-eternal silence, the issuing words fill my heart with terror though I cannot understand their meaning.

"Is the Wheel… broken?"

Finally, he looks at me and frowns. "Regardless of that, it is not yet your time. Back to the place that you came from, girl!"


Mika woke up with a gasp, opening her eyes and sitting straight up in her bed. She put one hand to her face, noting absently that the room was lit by an eldritch red glow that seemed to seep out of every surface, and she rubbed her face. What the hell was that? Why am I shaking? And… What’s that light?!?

Mika whipped her head away from her hand and saw Akira standing in the middle of her room, the open book in his hands and a huge camping pack on his back. "Goodbye for now, Sis."

She swung herself out of bed and tried to force her way through the wind just as she had earlier today in Matsura's apartment, but now it was focused against her, pushing her back just as hard as she pushed forwards. Over the roaring noise that filled the room, she shouted, "Don't do it, Akira! It's just a trick! It's just a fantasy! IT'S NOT REAL!!"

Akira regarded her gravely for a moment, than the sound silenced and what seemed to be flaming wings framed him for a split second as he softly vanished, leaving behind only the words,

"Maybe fantasy is more real than you or I could ever hope to be…"

 

To be continued.


End Book 1: Turning the Wheel

Book 2: Seeing the Wheel is to follow…

Part 11
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