An original story
by Aaron Bergman
© Copyright 2002-2005 by Aaron Berman.
Extra 1: Above and Below the Stars
It was the time when I was happiest... why didn't I know it? How could
I never have seen it? Why did I let it end all too quickly?
I'll never have that pure, simple feeling again — no matter
how long I live, nor how many other loves I have, it will never compare
to the one that I had in my hands... and lost.
Xiao... I miss you so much. Goodbye...
It was not a happy day to be a sorcerer, especially if you happened to
be one named Ruben Stryfe.
He surfaced from the deep lake, sputtering in purely incoherent rage
as he strove to keep afloat, his waist-length hair torn out of its usual
ponytail and strewn across his face. It was bad enough that his wife had
chosen to throw him in the lake, muttering something about 'stinky needs
off cleaning' as though she were any less dirty than he, but did she have
to do it just after he'd donned his full wizard's robes?
And his pride was not helped any by the way she'd just fallen to her
rear, unable to keep her feet as hilarity convulsed her. Trying to keep
his anger in check — somewhat unsuccessfully — Ruben stated
grimly, "We don't have time for this, Shaoyu. That lord guy's
feast is only in three hours, and—"
Her laughter vanishing just as quickly as it had appeared, she leapt
to her feet, with both hands on her hips. "Why can you not my name
pronounce right? And you think I letting husband to be smelly when he
guest of honor is at feast?"
"We could clean up once we get there—"
The protest died halfway as she shucked her both her tunic and pants
in one smooth motion, even after nearly a year of marriage the merest
sight of her body taking his breath away. She leapt into the air and dove
in smoothly, the water accepting her as though she were a part of it.
Ruben tried futilely to keep a watch on all sides, still flailing to keep
himself above the lake's surface, all the while probing for a spell that
might help him...
But it was all in vain.
His wife's arms closed about him from behind, and she whispered in his
ear, "You sure we no have time?"
His voice a lot higher-pitched than his pride liked, he nearly squealed,
"N-n-no, we don't!"
For just a moment, her hand wandered into his robes... then she shoved
him away violently towards the lake's shore, a teasing note in her voice
as she shouted, "Is too bad for you then!"
Ruben barely had time for a breath before he went under the water again;
but this time, he was ready. In a move that he'd thought of just a moment
before, he shed his robes, swimming almost backwards out of them. His
left hand waved through a short enchantment that brought life to his robes,
sending them wriggling out of the lake to dry on the shore, while he spoke
the bubbled words to a charm that would let him breath the lake like air.
The wizard didn't waste a moment of guilt over using magic — after
all, even after a year and a half of adventuring through post-apocalyptic
China, he still wasn't nearly strong enough physically to match her. Instead,
he spun around, seeking his wife. Not seeing her in the deeper portion
of the lake and not having enough momentum to keep underwater, he broke
the surface and was greeted with a splash of water and…
"You say we not had time to play and you go for swimming?"
She waved irritably with the brush in her hand, much closer to the lake's
shore than she'd been a few moments ago. "Come over here, is time
to scrub backs!"
Defeated, outmaneuvered on all sides, utterly vanquished, Ruben swum
slowly over to Shaoyu. He stood up as soon as his feet could touch, trying
to cover some of his defeat with a muttered, "Why don't you just
let me use the translation spell all the time? You sound kind of silly
talking English like that—"
She cut him off, poking him in the chest with her finger. "Is lie!
You think is very cute! Besides," she added casually, handing him
the brush and turning her back to him, "if I is to living and loving
with you forever, I must speaking your language good, mmm?"
A blush crept over his face, and Ruben was quietly glad that she had
her back turned—
Never suspecting that a matching redness was in her cheeks, safely hidden
from her beloved husband.
Did she love me too?
She must have. She had to feel the same way I do, I know it...
but... at times like these... in dark moments when I'm alone...
At any time, I could have asked her. At any time, I could have told
her. If I had known what it was, if I had been anything but a fool —
but I was, and always have been, a fool.
Did she love me? Or did she only tolerate me?
"Your hair is too long to dry properly, Ruben. You should get it
cut while we're in a town!"
Ruben looked down at Xiaoyu, ruffled her fashionably-short warrior's
bob, and said, "Like yours, perhaps? Never! A man's hair is his strength!"
He posed goofily, a wide grin on his face, drawing the eyes of all the
peasants walking around them — not that he seemed to care, or even
notice. After all, being a tall foreigner wearing odd clothes, maybe he
didn't know what it was like to not be stared at!
Xiaoyu never knew whether to love or hate those times that Ruben wove
the spell allowing him to speak her language, in fact all languages, perfectly.
On the one hand, her frustration at having to hobble by and struggle to
understand the clever things he said vanished; and oh how she loved to
listen to him speak! On the other hand...
It was fake. Cheating. She knew, intellectually, how much of a struggle
it was for a magician to master enough of the Gift to weave such a spell;
her grandmother had explained it at length a long time ago, when Xiaoyu
had first complained of the bitter feelings, but knowing and feeling
were two separate things altogether.
Still and all, it was too much to expect perfection. Perfection was earned,
not given, as the proverb went. She'd have to train him some; first step
was learning to speak his language, and then he'd have no excuse not
to learn hers!
Of course, in certain ways, he was already beyond perfection... A slight
flush heated her cheeks as she remembered last night...
A commotion from down the street drew her from the somewhat embarrassing
reverie, and Xiaoyu watched with some interest as a small group of men
riding mecha-horses scattered the peasants from their path. They drew
up in front of Ruben and Xiaoyu, and their lieutenant put one fist to
his chest, declaring, "We are your escort of honor to Lord Gu-Lai's
Xiaoyu watched Ruben's face darken a bit in anger, and a surprisingly
tender emotion suffused her as she thought to herself, Of course, he
thinks of it as an insult for some reason; how strange! She tugged
on his sleeve to draw his attention, and once he'd bent down far enough
she whispered, "They're here because if you came up to his castle
like a beggar asking for scraps would humiliate both himself and you —
not that you'd know it, foolish foreigner! An escort, even a borrowed
one such as this, grants you a measure of equality with him — not
everyone is allowed to bring armed soldiers into another Lord's land!"
She stepped away from him and bowed. "We graciously accept your
offer of escort to the castle."
The soldiers fell into place surrounding them neatly, as though the paved
road were a parade ground, and the entire group started moving. Xiaoyu
glanced at Ruben, who still looked grumpy, and elbowed him subtly. He
acted so weird sometimes, even stranger than the magicians back
in her home village. At first he glared, then something seemed to occur
to him and he shrugged, chuckling a bit.
The small parade wended its way through the small city that had sprung
up around the Lord's castle. Xiaoyu looked around in interest —
though she'd seen a lot of large towns while wandering China with her
husband, but most of them had simply nestled in the ruins of much larger
This one, however, looked clean and fresh, as though it had just been
built a few years ago. All of the houses were big and sturdy, even the
huts of the peasants and workers! Every two or three blocks, there was
a bookstore next to a coffee house, with an advertisement hanging outside
the bookstore stating that the owner also operated a free school from
inside for anyone wishing to attend!
Ruben said quietly, "It looks like home."
At his words, a pang went through Xiaoyu. There was a place in his heart
that she'd never seen, no matter how much they had done together, and
that place was his home. To be sure, they'd seen some of the grandest
sights that the ruins of China had to offer, but... what was his home
like? What was his family like? He'd mentioned a grandfather from time
to time, but what about his parents? Did he have brothers or sisters?
There was so much she wanted to know about him...
She felt a hand on her arm, and she looked up to see that Ruben had dragged
her to a halt. "We're here," he said. "Don't tell me you
were planning on walking through the gates?"
Xiaoyu covered her lapse with a flippant, "Only if they didn't open
the gates!" She was gratified (slightly) to see the guards escorting
them pull away a bit in barely concealed fear; it showed how much their
reputation had risen since their adventures had first began.
Out of the corner of her eye, as the gates swung wide to admit them,
Xiaoyu looked at Ruben. Despite all I don't know about him, despite
all the little ways he irritates me, I still love him. Funny, I never
thought love would be like this.
I was so selfish.
All of the time that I knew her, I never truly paid her any heed;
it was all about my quest, my search, my needs —
I think I regret that most of all.
You know, I never even knew her birthday?
I didn't deserve her. I knew so little of her, how could I claim to
love her truthfully?
But whether I deserved her or not, I had her — and I lost her.
It still hurts. This is the punishment for my selfishness, and I accept
"Welcome, welcome, welcome, to my Feast of the Falling Stars!"
Lord Gu-Lai shouted from his position at the head of the table, gesturing
expansively. "Today is a wonderful evening, indeed! The portents
point to an amazing show this evening, as—"
Ruben tuned him out. The only reason he'd come here this evening, the
only reason he'd rid Lord Gu-Lai of the bandit king that had threatened
to topple him, was the view from his upper balcony, the very same balcony
that the feast was held on — and, of course, the feast itself.
The object of his quest was within reach.
Tonight, according to the portents he'd cast and the legends he'd researched
painstakingly over the past twelve months, was an important night. One
of the stars would collide with a mountain clearly visible only from this
location, sky, heaven, rock, ice, and flame meeting to show the way to
the legendary Dragon's lair.
And once he'd found his way to the Dragon's lair, won through the elaborate
dungeons, and bested the Dragon in an ancient contest of skill, wit, and
The wish. One wish, granted on sight, to be used for whatever the wisher
desired. Ruben grinned as excitement filled his body, barely managing
to keep still enough for decorum at the feast. Once I have the wish
— freedom from my curse! At last, I'll never have to worry about...
A chopstick poked his arm, and he realized that the Lord had stopped
speaking. Ruben looked up to see the Lord Gu-Lai was staring at him expectantly.
Lord Gu-Lai said wryly, "I see that our hero of the day is too shy
to speak a few words on his own behalf—"
"Never!" Ruben declared, standing up. "Why, my favorite
subject is myself!" He saw his wife give the small hand signal which
meant, 'Don't overdo it', but he chose to ignore it, buoyed as he was
by the happy and excited emotions that filled him. "A few words!
Snip! Timothy! Yahoo! Email! Just kidding. When I first came to this land,
I never thought that I would be declared across its width and breadth
as a mighty hero. But today, I know that the hearts of your people are
great enough to accept someone like me, and I am grateful to be here tonight
He bowed and sat back down, grinning widely. Lord Gu-Lai gestured again,
this time at the attendants, who turned down the lights that had lit the
broad balcony. All of the guests waited for several moments, and then
the sky began to fall to the earth, each piece tracing its path with a
tail of fire.
Ruben leaned forward eagerly, working a brief spell that sharpened his
perceptions, counting the seconds, and suddenly—
A mountainside in the distance exploded in a fiery gout. Immediately,
Ruben marked the mountain with a spell and frowned a bit when the spell
didn't work. Hmm, the Dragon must be protecting his lair-mountain somehow...
I'll simply have to remember the mountain and walk there.
After half an hour or so, the dance of flame across the night sky began
to fade and die; meanwhile, the feasters continued to eat of the bounty
presented them by Lord Gu-Lai. Long before then, however, Ruben caught
his wife's eye and wove a double spell that let them creep invisibly from
the table while completely believable illusionary doubles remained behind
to converse with the other guests.
What good is being a powerful wizard, he thought to himself as
he put one arm around his wife's shoulder, if you can't use it to get
out of the boring stuff?
Like so many foolish children, I mistook lust for love — only
I did it the wrong way 'round.
I desired her, every moment that we stood together I was aware of
her body, and when we were alone together—
But I thought that was all it was. I mistook my desire for her as
solely lust for her youthful beauty; forced into it as I was by circumstance,
how could I have believed that I would grow to love her?
Love grows as it wills, not as you will. You cannot create
love where there is none; conversely, when it chooses to sprout, you may
never be aware of it until too late...
Xiaoyu felt her heart quicken as Ruben spelled open the door to Lord
Gu-Lai's secret sanctuary garden. He whispered to her, "I heard from
one of the guards that this place is very beautiful at night, shall we
go and see?"
In answer, she pulled away from his embrace playfully and danced through
the door. What she saw on the other side, however, made her stop short
in sheer amazement.
The trees, the grasses, the meandering stream, the luminous mushrooms
beneath the trees; it was a fairybook picture of delight. The slight glow
given by the mushrooms contrasted perfectly with the half-full moon and
the starlight to give everything a miraculous, almost... almost...
Spiritual appearance, as though it did not belong to this world but to
another; another where all the pains and sorrows of this faded to nothing
beneath the joy granted by simply dwelling within for a few moments.
"Wow," Ruben said from behind her, "Nice place."
Not about to let her sudden mood be dampened by his pretended insensitivity,
Xiaoyu grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the small bridge that crossed
the meandering stream. "Let's look around more!" Laughing slightly,
he followed her tugs to the bridge—
And once they stepped on the bridge, they found another small magic to
add to the splendor of the hidden garden.
It was as though they'd shrunken, or the stream had grown; either way,
once they were on the small bridge, the stream stretched out underneath
them as though it had become a lake. Slowly, very slowly, the bridge faded
beneath them, becoming clear as glass; but looking down at it, Xiaoyu
could have sworn that there were feathers dancing inside of it, far away...
Halfway across the bridge, Xiaoyu turned to her husband, and it seemed
as though the water beneath them had become a second ocean of stars like
the one that stretched over their heads. She didn't know which way was
up and which down, but then... that was the way Ruben made her feel most
of the time.
She put her arms around him and almost whispered the one thought that
ruled her constantly, the one thought that overpowered everything else
when he was near: "I love you."
She couldn't. The mood faded suddenly. Xiaoyu had forced him into this;
no matter how much he lusted for her body and enjoyed her companionship,
how could he possibly return the pureness of feeling that she had had
for him since the moment she'd first seen him?
His hand stroked her hair. "Shhh... Why are you crying?"
Xiaoyu looked up at him, and was unable to speak past the lump in her
throat. She shook her head, trying not to cry any more than a little bit—
Suddenly, he crushed her to him, bending down to press his lips to hers.
At first, her eyes widened in surprise; then she relaxed and opened her
mouth to his in a kiss that seemed to last forever beneath and above the
twin oceans of watching stars.
As their kiss broke, she murmured in his ear, "The grass over there,
on the far side of the bridge — it looks very soft and inviting
right now, doesn't it?"
He murmured back, breath warm against her ear, "Are you kidding
me? It looks dry and itchy and painful." Just as she was rearing
her fist back, ready to hit him for spoiling the mood, he added, "But
with you, anyplace is perfection."
Moments later, they were in the grass, and as Ruben worked his entirely
mundane magic over her wondrously responsive body, she was staring up
at the stars, tears of happiness rather than regret in her eyes, thinking,
I hope this moment... this perfect evening... never ends...
Author's notes: As some of you may know, this is a sidestory to my long-term
anime college campus adventure story, featuring Ruben Stryfe from Kyouki
This takes place years before he attends the campus, and his personality
is somewhat different here — I attribute that to his wife, Xiaoyu.
(No, not the Xiaoyu from Tekken, silly!) It's strange —
I've had this image in my mind of how Xiaoyu is for the longest time,
and yet this is the first time that I've really set down anything that
has her in it.
If you're wondering what happened to her — well, you'll have to
keep reading KnK to find that out.
This story is dedicated to Robin Buskirk, my biggest and lustiest fan.
Thanks for giving me words of encouragement instead of kicking me when
I was at my lowest.
Aaron Mikhail Bergman
"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for
words left unsaid and deeds left undone."
—Harriet Beecher Stowe