Chapter 2 Volcanic Terrain


Miaka woke up the next morning to the smell of ------- BREAKFAST!!!  Hurriedly she gobbled down her share then turned to Yui with a puppy face.  Yui hardly repressed her giggle.  Suboshi looked up just to make sure that nothing was wrong, seeing Miaka he snickered and went back to eating.  Taka sighed.

“Sorry Miaka, but I’m hungry too.  You shouldn’t have ate your food so fast.” said Yui biting into an apple. 

“Welcome back Miaka!” said Tasuki with a mouthful of food, which sounded more like, ‘Wlomm ak Meka’ but since Miaka was highly skilled in understanding full mouth speech she smiled.

“Nayo!” exclaimed Tama-neko rubbing up against her.  Miaka smiled then petted him that’s when it happened…her stomach rumbled, “So hungry…” Suddenly there was a plate of food pushed toward her.  Miaka looked up confusedly to see that it was Tokiko’s plate.

“I owe you for helping me yesterday.” she said quietly.  She seemed more collected than she had the day before.  This action, however, stirred an uproar from the three remaining Genbu seishi.

“Lady Tokiko, you must eat!” said Hikitsu, “I’ll give her my plate.”

“Lady Tokiko!” exclaimed Tomite.

“Tokiko, don’t be foolish.  You have to eat, baka.” said Uruki with a smile.

“Hey, it’s ok.  I helped you because I wanted to.  You don’t owe me.  I’m fine really.” said Miaka then her stomach growled again.  She sweat dropped.

“Baka.” whispered Taka.  He shoved a forkful from his plate into her mouth, “You will never change.”

Nuriko laughed and the Genbu quieted back down.  Yui and Suboshi snickered and Tasuki following Nuriko’s lead burst out laughing.

After breakfast was over Tatara unrolled a cloth map of Sairou and they all looked at it.  Miaka watched as they mapped their next route.  Losing interest very quickly she went to talking with Yui.  They talked about the events of the past year since Yui had started going to an out of city school to study history.  They talked about the letters that they had been sending each other and of some of their future plans.

“You are so lucky to be accepted by a five star school.” said Miaka.

“Well, if you studied more and ate less…” started Yui with a smile.

“It’s brain food!” exclaimed Miaka.

“If your brain is your stomach that is.” giggled Yui.

They were brought back to attention as an argument broke out among the seishi.

“We can’t go that way there’s $#??!! ‘n volcano’s that way!” shouted Tasuki.

“They won’t expect us to take this route.” argued Tokaki pointing.

“That’s because we’d have to be #$$!!*  ‘n crazy to go that way!  It’s an **#$*#!!‘n death trap!!” yelled Tasuki.

“But Tasuki-chan has a point.” commented Nuriko.

“I agree with Tasuki, no da.  It’s dangerous to go that way.” said Chichiri.

“It’s dangerous to go any where with those soldiers around.  So it really doesn’t matter.” said Uruki crossing her arms.

“Uruki’s right, it really doesn’t matter which way we go.  There’ll still be danger.” said Tatara.

“That’s not the ***#$ ‘n point!” shouted Tasuki.

“Volcanoes are safer than the soldiers.” said Soi.

“The heat might slow us down.” said Hikitsu.

“Only some of us.” muttered Tokaki.

“What about the mikos safety?  That should come first!” argued Suboshi.

“He’s right.” said Amiboshi, “Their safety should be our first concern.”

“It’s just not $**#!!# ‘n clever to go that way!” blurted out Tasuki.

“Shut up all of you can’t you see that you are worrying the mikos!” shouted Subaru who was rewarded with a sudden silence, “Thank you.”

“Perhaps, they should decide.” said Taka.

“Good idea.” said Tomite.

“I agree.” said Mitsukake.

“Aw…$**!!#…” muttered Tasuki.

It was obvious where two of the mikos stood.  Suzuno would vote to go through the volcano area.  She was used to the dangers of Sairou and had full confidence in her seishi’s abilities to handle any problem that arose.  Tokiko, however, would vote that they take another route in favor of the well being of her seishi.  They were used to a climate that was very much the opposite of Sairou and even the normal day weather seemed to affect them, much less volcanic heat.  It would be up to Miaka and Yui to decide.

“I vote that we go through the volcanic passage.  We don’t need to lose anyone else to the Kotou army.” said Yui, “It seems the safer route.”

If Yui thinks that it is safe then so do I.” said Miaka.

A pair of blue eyes stared into a crystal watching the whole scene take place with a grin, “So you are trying to avoid my army of specters are you…hmmm… we’ll just see how far you get Suzaku no Miko.”

Quickly they traveled the rest of the day to the volcanic pass on borrowed steeds, the plan was to pass through the volcanoes by nightfall.  They had to pass between two volcanoes and up another to get to the desert.  They were going to cross the desert into Konan and retrieve Hotohori in hopes of rescuing Konan from the hand of Shi.  Tasuki looked around as they began the ascent of the volcanic terrain.  Tokaki had said that it had been over six hundred years since they had last erupted but Tasuki just couldn’t get rid of his bad feeling, it was worse than his fear of water.  As they turned a curve in the path a cluster of arrows flew out from behind a group of rocks plunging deep into several of the horses.

“An attack, no da!” shouted Chichiri as his horse faltered and fell dead.

A wave of hundreds of soldiers seemed to pour out of nowhere and began to attack.  The seishi went on the offensive but for every one they defeated five more would show up.  Miaka raced about confused when Taka ran up to her.

“There’s too many!  They’ve cut off our retreat so we have no choice but to go up.  Hurry, I’ll cover you. Follow Chichiri.”  said Taka slamming his fist into one of the soldiers tossing him into a rock wall.

“How’d they find us so fast?” Miaka heard Subaru shout to Tatara.

 “Too many…we have to fall back!” shouted Uruki to Hikitsu.

“Wait till the mikos are safe.” Soi shouted throwing a bolt of lightening into the fray.

Tasuki watched the mikos following Chichiri and Tatara’s hasty retreat up the mountain.  They were fighting off anyone who got in their way.  He cursed; they were running yet again.  He hated all this running.  When he was at Mt. Leikaku other people were the ones running.  How come there were so many soldiers; this was insane.  It was like they knew that the seishi were going to pass through here.  All this fighting was draining them bit-by-bit, some couldn’t even use their powers but once a day from the strain.  That’s how all the younger seishi had died or so he heard that’s how the Genbu died.  He bit his anger for a second, they were all children just a few years older than Chiriko except for Hikitsu and they had been slaughtered like cattle in the snowy plains of Hokkan.  It was Hokkan who had first called for help though Konan was the first to fall.  By the time that the Suzaku seishi had gotten there it was too late to help the Genbu seishi so they did all they could to help lead the people with Hikitsu.  Hikitsu was the only reason why Tokiko was safe and Uruki and Tomite were alive.  Even then he had barely managed to rescue them.  Tasuki wished that he could be like that one day.  The Genbu seishi was a master at battle and apparently he had been in his fill of them before and that hard hardened him to the skilled warrior that he was.  Chiriko…  He had stayed behind with Hotohori to watch over Konan.  Nobody ever saw it coming before the sudden waves of soldiers washed in and took control.  Chiriko had died protecting the castle…  Tasuki cursed again as tears started to fill his eyes and he turned his anger on his next target.

“Rekka---“ he started raising his fan.  For a moment he thought that someone had called his name, “SH---$#!**”  He felt someone ram into him and knock him to the side as a sword blade passed where his head had been cutting across his cheek leaving a long bloody streak.  He felt himself hit the ground then roll awkwardly down a slanted area only to fall backwards into the air.

Tomite had stayed behind to cover the mikos retreat when he noticed Tasuki only a few feet away fighting.  The ex-bandit raised his fan ready to attack and use his flame when a soldier started to approach him from behind.  Tomite reached back for an arrow but there were none left.  He drew the newly repaired bow anyway and tried to will an arrow of ice to form but nothing happened, his powers were spent for the time being.  He called Tasuki’s name trying to aware the Suzaku warrior to the danger at hand but he didn’t turn or even seem to take notice so Tomite rushed leaping forward to knock Tasuki out of the way of the sword causing it to only graze Tasuki’s cheek.  Tomite fell to the ground hard but quickly rolled up to his feet only to see that he had shoved Tasuki too hard and the Suzaku warrior rolled off a large fissure edge.

“$#!***#!!” shouted Tasuki as he started to fall, flailing out his arms only to have his right hand caught by something and his sudden drop to come to an abrupt stop.  He looked up to see Tomite of the Genbu grasping his hand with both of his while using his body to anchor their combined weight to the top of the fissure.  ‘*$#& kid,’ thought Tasuki.

“What the $#!!*** ‘n, !$&$$ ‘n, @#!!#!!  Pull me #**??!#&# ‘n up!” shouted Tasuki.

“I can’t.” gasped the young seishi struggling to pull up, “You’re too heavy!”

“Are you saying that I’m &*#$!*& ‘n fat!” shouted Tasuki.

“So what if I am!” Tomite shouted back angrily pulling harder.

Tasuki smiled for a moment.  That reminded him of Kouji.  Suddenly he felt rock give way at the edge and fall, “Stop!  We’re sliding!”

“What’s this?” came a voice and Tasuki saw a soldiers face looking down into the fissure at them with a smile, “Two seishi hanging on by a thread?”

“&*#!!& you!” shouted Tasuki.

The soldier kicked Tomite in the ribs and Tasuki felt Tomite slid a bit further over the edge from the shove, “Watch your mouth.”

Tasuki looked over his shoulder at the lava below, they would both die, “Let me go.”  He tugged at his wrist.

“What are you doing?” demanded Tomite and held on tighter, “Stop that you baka!”

“D*&#** @$$!!  Let me drop or we’ll both fall!” yelled Tasuki back, “Damn, Genbu!”

“What did you say!” yelled Tomite holding tighter fury in his eyes, “Damn to Suzaku too but I’m not letting go!”

“Funny as this is I have to say goodbye.” smirked the guard and with one solid kick he knocked Tomite off the edge.

“&*@#$!!” shouted Tasuki as he fell again.  However, the decent came to a painful halt as his arm was yanked.  He looked up to see that Tomite was still gripping his hand and had grabbed hold of another ledge.  He looked down they weren’t too far from the bubbling lava.  He reached up and grabbed Tomite’s wrist as he began to slide out of the grip.  He could see the strain in Tomite’s face from being stretched.

“You sure are &*#@ stubborn one.” shouted Tasuki.

“&*#@ straight!” Tomite shouted back.  Tasuki smiled again.

“Hey, I’m going to have to climb up.” shouted Tasuki his voice echoing in the cavern, “You don’t have the strength to pull us up and you can’t hold us forever, so I’m going to take hold of your waist.  You grab the ledge with both hands when I do and I’ll climb up.”

Tomite nodded and as soon as Tasuki had taken hold of his waist he reached up and grabbed the ledge with his other hand as the shift in weight dispersion pulled roughly on his other arm.  He could feel the sharp rocks scratching the skin on his hands.  Tasuki reached up and grabbed Tomite’s shoulders and pulled up wrapping his leg securely about the boy’s waist.  He pushed himself up a bit and took hold of the ledge and pulled up again only to sit upon Tomite’s shoulders.

“I can’t hold on much longer.” grunted Tomite his knuckles white.  Every time Tasuki pulled up he felt as if he was going to be torn in two as gravity shoved him down.

“Don’t be so #*#&@# ‘n pushy!” snapped Tasuki as he started to pull himself up the ledge.  As soon as he was over he reached down and grabbed Tomite’s wrists pulling him up with ease.  He smirked at Tomite then they sat backs against the rock wall for a moment breathing only to cough as the realization of the sulfuric air hit them from the lava below.  Seeing a cavern leading away from the lava from the wall behind them they started into it to escape the hot air and sulfur.

Chichiri darted back into the cave that they were taking refuge in while the soldiers looked for them.  It was well hidden among the rocks so with a little of Chichiri’s illusion magic they hoped that the soldiers would not take notice.  He watched as Mitsukake and Subaru who were now too low on their powers to use them bandaged and sewed up the wounded.  Tokaki was whining as Subaru stitched up the near bone deep gash on his left arm.

“Ow! Ow! Ow!!” whined Tokaki.

“Oh, take it like a man.” said Subaru as she finished.  She tied the knot off, “That should hold till our powers return so be easy with it or it’ll break.”

“I sure didn’t marry you for your bedside manner.” grumbled Tokaki.

“Are you sure?” asked Subaru giving him a kiss.

“Well, now that you mention it…”

Chichiri looked away to give them their privacy and looked over to Nuriko who was guarding the entrance.  Nuriko was watching Mitsukake wrap Uruki’s forehead with a piece of cloth to stop the bleeding then moved on to pull a knife blade out of Suboshi’s shoulder.  He worked with meticulous care that he patients receive as little pain as possible.  Even he had wounds that needed tending too. 

“They have not returned, no da?” asked Chichiri.  There was always the one hope that he had missed seeing the flaming red hair among the wounded warriors.  Nuriko shook his head no, “He’s not among the dead yet, no da.  Nor, “ he said turning to Tokiko, “ is Tomite.  They must have taken refuge somewhere, no da.  There are many more soldiers than usual this time, Shi must have something planned.”

“We have to go out there and look for them, they could be wounded.” said Mitsukake standing up.

“It’s useless with all those soldiers out there.” said Nuriko crossing his arms, “We need a plan or something.  If only Hotohori-sama were here…”  He looked saddened.

“We should continue on.” said Tokaki, “Get to Konan by the end of tomorrow’s night.  We can sneak out during the night; they’ll never see us leave.”

“We can’t just abandon them if they’re still alive!” said Hikitsu standing up in anger.

“The mikos safety comes first; not the seishi!” shouted Suboshi.

“Stop this bickering!” shouted Taka, “If Tasuki is alive than he can take care of himself; he was a Mt. Leikaku bandit once and there’s no way he’d let a bunch of soldiers get the best of him.  And about Tomite, you of Genbu live in one of the harshest climates in the four countries; he’s tough and I’m sure that in this mountainous terrain he should have an advantage.  Suboshi is right it is our job as seishi to protect our miko but we can’t just leave our allies behind.  This is a war designed to pick us off and make us weaker, we must stay together if we are to win.  We should give them sufficient time to find us if they don’t then we leave.  They know where we are heading.”  Everyone looked to Taka with amazement.

“Wow, Taka.  Miaka’s world must be something else.  That was deep.” said Nuriko.

“Hey!” said Taka frowning, “I was always this smart.”

“Sure you were, Tama-kins.” grinned Nuriko.

“Never heard anything that smart outta you before.” said Tokaki with a smirk.

“Maybe, they’re hiding together.” said Miaka suddenly.

“Hopefully.” said Yui, “They’ll stand a better chance of living that way…”

Tasuki landed another punch to Tomite’s chest as he received one to the face from the latter.  He cursed as they brawled, rolling across the sharp rocked floor.  They had been walking the dark sulfuric path for only an hour when they had broken out into a fight.  Oxygen depraved and irritable they swung mercilessly at each other. 

“If you hadn’t #*&$#@#&*’n shoved me I wouldn’t have fallen into this $$*&#@*& ‘n death trap!” shouted Tasuki as he pulled back for a punch.

“If I had know that you wanted to die I’d have let the sword stab through your thick skull.” retaliated Tomite countering then sending a punch of his own.

They brawled bruising each other up badly before they became too worn out to fight anymore.  They just sat still leaning up against the wall nursing their wounds breathing heavily while trying to filter out the sulfur, coughing violently.  Tasuki reached over and hit Tomite on the shoulder three times lightly.

“I…feel a lot better now…how…how about you?” asked Tasuki grinning into the darkness.

“Yes, …actually.”  answered Tomite trying to catch his breath.

“You’re not so bad, …good fist fighter if ya land your punches right… not too much power though…” said Tasuki then coughing, “Need a little…practice is all…”

“You’re not bad…yourself.” said Tomite.

They did not rest long knowing that the sulfur would slowly poison them.  Tasuki insisted on leading the way from now on, his fire ability had long since dwindled and finally faded leaving them in complete darkness.  He ran one hand along the cavern wall and carefully took steps being cautious of sharp drop offs and holes.  This was an old lava cavern, which had probably been eroded out several centuries ago.  He held his other hand out in front of him to make sure that he didn’t walk into a wall or something of that nature.  He felt Tomite’s light touch on his back; they had to stay together if they were going to get out of this.  Tasuki started feeling very much like an older brother.  He frowned at that thought.  They stopped every now and then for Tomite to conjure what little ice he could which would promptly turn to water for them to drink or douse themselves with. 

The heat was as sweltering as the stuffy toxic air.  As they traveled Tasuki slowly became more and more aware of the tiredness of his feet.  He was also painfully aware of how his lungs ached.  It felt as if he was burning from the inside out.  They couldn’t stop to rest; to sleep would mean to die, they had to keep moving.  Listening to Tomite’s unsteady footsteps, he could tell that the heat was affecting the younger seishi more rapidly than him, after all he had grown up in Konan and it got hot in the summers there, granted it was never this sweltering, but Tomite was from the country of ice.  This was not his climate.  Abruptly the pressure on his back was gone and he heard something fall to the ground.  Tasuki stopped and carefully turned around kneeling.  He reached out a hand and felt along the rocks until he found Tomite’s arm, following a straight line to the other shoulder he sat the Genbu seishi up.

“What’s with the falling, baka?” asked Tasuki as meanly as he could muster.  Silence, “Say something, @#&&$#*!!”  Still nothing; no sign of life at all.  He shook Tomite gently as worry welled up in his chest.  “Hey come on!  This is no time for a $$##*@*$ ‘n nap little brother!”  Had he just said that, well he could get angry about that later.  He heard a slight groan.

“Ice.  We need some water, come on!” he said coaxingly.  He picked up Tomite’s right hand and waved it, “Ice!”  Feeling a slight cold air Tasuki reached out and blindly grabbed the small ice crystal that had formed out of the air.  He broke it in two and shoved the smaller piece into Tomite’s mouth, drizzling the melting water from the other piece on the boy’s face.  “Come on, we can’t stay here; we’ll roast in Suzaku and Genbu hell.”

“I don’t feel well…” mumbled Tomite.

“What the #*&#$ do you mean, ‘don’t feel well’!” demanded Tasuki.  He frowned inwardly; he had known that this was going to happen.  Tomite was severely heat sick and poisoned from the sulfur.  If they didn’t get to the surface soon he might die.  Tasuki got angry.  They had spent nearly one whole *@&#*$@ ‘n twenty some odd hours, he was sure, down here walking in this hell hole without a long stop; there was no way that Tomite could die now and leave him here by himself! 

“We can’t stop here, baka, what the #**$&# were you thinking?” he said softly, “I guess if you are going to be a big brat about this, I’ll carry you.  But you’re going to have to do something for me in return ‘cause I don’t give out freebies, ya hear.  Answer me.”

“Yes…” came the weak reply.

“Ok, then, “said Tasuki as he gathered the boy on his back, “Hang on, ok.  Now see, since I have to carry your heavy @$$ around you are going to talk to me got it.  So I don’t go crazy, you know.”  He coughed, “I talk you answer, right?”  Silence.  “Right, Tomite?”  ‘Stay with me here, kid’ he thought.

“Right.” said Tomite then he coughed lightly.

“Good.” said Tasuki who now had to walk blindly in the dark with no aid at all, “So what’s the palace in Hokkan like?”

Miaka sat looking at the cave entrance where Tatara was now keeping watch; Nuriko had gone to sleep several hours ago.  Everyone was curled tightly together not really admitting any fears they had but they were all too evident on their faces.  She was worried; worried that something horrible was happening.  She just knew that there was.  Taka stirred beside her then sat up to envelope her in a hug.

“You worried?” he asked.

“Yeah…” said Miaka her gaze never moving from the entrance.

“”Hey, don’t worry.  You know Tasuki’s far too tough to let anything short of a meteor crash landing into a mountain forcing it to fall into the ocean causing a great tidal wave to—“ he started.

“Ok, ok. “said Miaka smiling,” I get the point but it’s already been a whole day…”

“Don’t worry, he’s never let us down yet.  We still have a whole day.” said Taka.  ‘You’d better get back here soon, Tasuki’ he thought.





“You…lost count this time ok…. now-now, you tell me the names of the…four gods.” gasped Tasuki who was staggering, trying to keep going through his weariness.  He stumbled for a moment but caught his balance.  “Say them!”

“Sei…ryuu….By…akko…Suzaku….and …and Genbu.” said Tomite his head lying limply on Tasuki’s shoulder.

“Good…now we…start…again…” Tasuki never finished his sentence as he staggered forward and fell forward to the ground unconscious.

When Tasuki awoke he was immediately aware of one vital thing.  There was oxygen.  He quickly took a breath then his tired eyes shot open only to see the stars twinkling brightly above his head.  It wasn’t an illusion brought upon by a feverish mind; this was real.  He sat up quickly only to find that his hands were tied tightly behind his back.  This was trouble.  Quickly he looked to the side and saw that Tomite was beside him still unconscious.

“Awake, already?  Good.” came a voice as a robed figure walked forward.  Tasuki ground his teeth as the hood was pulled back and he saw familiar long blonde hair and blue eyes.

“Shi…” he hissed.

“So you do remember me.” smiled the man.

“How could I forget you *$#*&*$ ‘n killed Kouji!!” he yelled, “You *#$$*!@&@# ‘n body stealer!”

Now is that any way to talk to the man who saved your life?  Did you know that you were only a fifteen minuet’s travel from getting out on your own?” asked Shi with a smirk.

“I hope you @*&$#@&# ‘n die! You @(*$#$!!!” hissed Tasuki.

“Well you aren’t very polite Tasuki-kun.” chided Shi smiling, “Now, I’m going to ask you a question but we’ve already been through this before haven’t we?  It cost you your friend Kouji last time didn’t it?  Oh, my was that a splinter in you side?”  Tasuki ground his teeth, “I wonder what it’ll cost you this time, eh Tasuki or you could just give up this childish game and just tell me where the Scroll of Suzaku is.”

“#*&(*$&@# you!” shouted Tasuki.

“Tasuki, Tasuki, what ever am I going to do with your temper.” chided Shi, “I’d like to make a deal with you then.  I was thinking about an idea…something I was debating, you know.”

“I won’t make deals with you!” snapped Tasuki.

“No, you might just want to hear this one.  You see I was going to just kill your friend here.  He’s not the one who hid the Scroll of Genbu, someone expendable.  I know that your friends are still here, the Priestess of Suzaku and the lot, waiting for you to make your miraculous return.  If I killed him and traded this body for his then I would be able to find their hiding spot and if I play my cards right secure one miko or two in a lucky shot before they figured out that it was me.”  said Shi reaching out and tapping Tomite’s shin with the toe of his boot, “Good plan, eh Tasuki?  What do you think?”  Tasuki ground his teeth even more, “You let Kouji die for this secret; so do you want one more death over your head, another seishi?  A brother, perhaps, I heard you say?  A replacement for your old friend Kouji, eh Tasuki-kun?”

“#*#(@#$#*!!” shouted Tasuki.

“Well, what will it be?  I’ll be willing to spare his life for the location of the Scroll of Suzaku that you hid.” said Shi as he raised his hand at Tomite blue energy swirling about his fingertips, “You’d better give me an answer or I’ll take your indecisiveness as a ‘no’.”

Tasuki closed his eyes; he could not watch.  If Shi got the Scroll of Suzaku he would be one step closer to his revenge on the gods.  Kouji had already given his life to this secret…  He had been trusted to hide it by Chichiri and the others he could not let them down.  At least Tomite was unconscious…he wouldn’t feel a thing.  Hearing a sound his eyes flashed open involuntarily, Tomite had coughed.  The boy was starting to wake up.  Tasuki saw the energy in Shi’s hand start to pull together for the shot.

“Don’t!” shouted Tasuki.  What was he doing?  Tasuki wasn’t even quite sure why he had just shouted himself.

“Have a change of heart Tasuki?” asked Shi, “Or are you just delaying?”

“I-“ started Tasuki.  He thought of somewhere far away from the scroll, “I buried it by the eastern most lake’s shore.”

“You lie Tasuki, and my patience is growing thin.” said Shi giving Tomite a sharp kick causing him to gasp in pain.

Tomite groaned as the pain jolted through him and his eyes slowly opened.  He felt too tired and sore to try and sit up but after his eyes focused he saw Tasuki sitting up beside him and the bonds around Tasuki’s wrists, “Tasuki, where—” He received a solid kick to the ribs knocking his breath out.

“Stay silent.” warned Shi angrily and for the first time Tomite noticed who Shi was and his face went pale.  He was going to die, “You are starting to irritate me, Tasuki.”

“…” Tasuki’s mind went blank and then started whirling through all the options available to his which weren’t many.  The scroll had to be protected but he couldn’t just--- Tasuki looked to the side and saw the strength in Tomite’s face.  He knew that he was going to die and he was going to meet it with a grim face.  Kouji had died with that same expression on his face, loyalty.  Shi raised his hand again, “It’s—it’s –at----” He choked as he remembered burying Chiriko and then so many of the others…he –he couldn’t let anyone else die if he could help it. 

“It’s at?” repeated Shi raising an eyebrow.  He leaned closer to Tasuki trying to read his face.

Tasuki started to speak the location when a blue haired man suddenly appeared between him and Shi, smiling at him holding out a shield protecting the three from the chi blasts then a white haired man appeared and they disappeared in a flash of smoke.  Teleporting a small distance at a time they made their way back to camp in a tangled heap of limbs.  The four were set upon by seishi and mikos alike.  Tasuki looked to Chichiri with his eyes downcast.

“I’m sorry.  I almost told him where the scroll was…I-“ started Tasuki, “I just couldn’t let anyone else…”

Chichiri gently smiled at Tasuki then cast a sidelong glance at the Genbu corner of the cavern where there was much fussing, “No, I am sorry that you had to make such a difficult decision.  I am sure that Suzaku himself is proud of your decision Tasuki.” 

“Really?” asked Tasuki smiling a little.

“Absolutely, Tasuki.” said Taka catching the ex-bandit in a headlock and they brawled a little before laughing and standing back up, “Great to see you back, Tasuki.”

“Tasuki.” said Miaka giving the ex-bandit a hug, “I’m glad.”

Tasuki started to say something to Miaka when he noticed that Tomite was now kneeling before him with his head down, “Eh?”

“I owe you.” said Tomite.

Tasuki sighed and reached down taking hold of Tomite’s shoulders and stood him up.  He gripped arms in a handshake, “We’re even.  Nothing to it.”  He gently popped Tomite in the chin with his fist and ruffled his hair, “Now get lost, kid.”

“You know if I didn’t know you for the low down county clot that you are, I might have been persuaded to think that was one of the cutest things that I have ever seen.” said Nuriko grinning ear to ear.

“Hey!!  Hey!!” shouted Tasuki, “Bandits aren’t supposed to be cute!!!!”

Miaka smiled happily then walked over to look out the entrance to see that the sun was about to set.  She sighed happily now everything was great when suddenly a wrinkled face appeared in front of her.  She jumped back a little when she recognized the face, “Taitsu-kun!”

This exclamation startled the seishi who all looked up.  Uruki and Amiboshi promptly feinted upon sighting.  Tokaki, Tomite, and Suboshi were turning shades of green.  Soi and Hikitsu, however, seemed relatively unphased.   Subaru seemed mildly disgusted.  Nuriko just crossed his arms apparently used to the face by now.  Chichiri and Mitsukake bowed in greeting.  Tasuki and Taka face vaulted from her hideousness and covered their faces.

“So-so ugly…” said Tokaki and Tomite and Suboshi nodded in unison.

“Quiet you!” snapped Taitsu-kun and two nyan-nyans showed up.

“Quiet!  Quiet!” they exclaimed obnoxiously happy.

“You too!” shouted Taitsu-kun at the nyan-nyans then she turned her glare to Tasuki and Taka, “And you two get up!  I don’t look that bad!  At least some of you have matured.”

“Taitsu-kun, it is good to see you again?” asked Miaka.

“It’s good to see you again too, Miaka but I’m afraid that I have bad news.” said Taitsu-kun.

“You old hag, can’t you ever have good news!” snapped Taka who received a Death Glare of Doom™ from Taitsu-kun and promptly got smacked by a projectile. 

“You are taking too long.  All of you are going to have to split up.  Send some to escort the miko’s to their shrines and some to get the scrolls.  You must take the scrolls to the pillars of the four gods.  Then the gods themselves shall take a physical form and aid us.  One warrior must accompany the miko into the shrine for once there a barrier will form around the shrine keeping all others out.  When these tasks are accomplished the remainder of you should meet back up at the town of Neve’ at the Konan/Kotou border for further instructions.” continued Taitsu-kun.

“But what should happen if one of us fails?” asked Nuriko.

“Don’t.” said Taitsu-kun.” That’s all I have to say, fare well and good luck.”

“Bye bye!  Bye bye!” shouted the nyan-nyans as they disappeared along with Taitsu-kun.

“Well, I guess that this is it.” said Subaru frowning.

“I’ll be the one to retrieve the Suzaku scroll since I am the only one who knows where I hid it.” said Tasuki.

“I’ll go with you, no da!” exclaimed Chichiri.

“I’ll take Miaka to the shrine.” said Taka receiving a hug from Miaka.

“I’m sure that you can handle it on your own Taka, so I’m going to rescue Hotohori-sama while you get her to the shrine.” said Nuriko.

“I’ll go with you.” said Mitsukake and Tama-neko mewed.

“Shi has our scroll and we will need help getting it back so I shall join you.  Amiboshi and Suboshi can escort Lady Yui to the shrine.” said Soi who received many odd looks.

“But-“ started Amiboshi only to be cut off.

“As you wish, Soi.” said Suboshi.  Yui looked at him with surprise.

“The shrine of Byakko is not far, I shall take Suzuno.” said Tatara.  Suzuno squeezed his hand.

“I’ll get the Byakko scroll.” said Tokaki smiling broadly.

“I’ll go with you to make sure that you stay out of trouble.” smiled Subaru.

“I shall return the Genbu scroll.” said Hikitsu.

“I will take Lady Tokiko to the shrine, you should go with Hikitsu, Tomite.  That will be the more dangerous of the two.” said Uruki and she smiled at Hikitsu.

“But-“ started Tomite.

“Come, Tomite.” said Hikitsu as he started bundling up gear for the next day, “You’re coming with me.”

“Let’s get some sleep, it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.” said Taka.

They all had an uncomfortable sleep that night plagued with worried and planning.  Te morning went fast as they all got ready to depart from the hiding place at the rise of the sun.  Chichiri stopped Tomite as he and Hikitsu started out, taking two of the remaining horses with them.  The road to and through Hokkan was a rough and very long one.  Chichiri glanced back at Tasuki for a moment then smiled back at Tomite.

“May Suzaku watch over you.” said Chichiri, “He’s lost many good friends and I am glad to count you among the living ones.”

“Then Genbu be with you, Chichiri.” said Tomite quirking a grin before getting dragged by Hikitsu.


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