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09 Shugyoku Den [the Legend of Shugyoku - The Red Jewel] Fushigi Yuugi Gaiden 9- Tamahome

09 Shugyoku Den [the Legend of Shugyoku - The Red Jewel] Fushigi Yuugi Gaiden 9- Tamahome

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Shugyoku Den

"The Legend of 'Shugyoku', the Red Jewel"

Concept by: Watase Yuu/Nishizaki Megumi Japanese version by: Nishizaki Megumi English translation by: Tetris no Miko Illustrations by: Watase Yuu Compiled by Annz ‘n’ Dipz

The novel of Tamahome.

Introduction Chapter 1: The Demon Child Chapter 2: The Legend of "Shugyoku", the Red Jewel Chapter 3: The Grand Opening of the "We Do It All" Shop Chapter 4: The Wanted Mimadoh Chapter 5: The Bankrupt Merchant Chapter 6: The Plan to Convert Delinquents Chapter 7: The Replaced Kidnap Victim Chapter 8: The Priestess Appears Chapter 9: The Red Light Chapter 10: The Time Has Fulfilled Freetalks from the authors

Character List
Sai Fuuka

After her village was invaded by soldiers from Kutoh, Yuuma rescued her and the two became brother-sister. She is very strong and acts and talks like a boy, but she is a sweet girl underneath who cares about the prosperity of Konan and who has a beautiful singing voice. (her name means "song in the breeze") Sai Yuuma

Fuuka’s "brother". Ever since he was little, he considered himself to be Sou Kishuku’s (Tamahome’s) rival, and was the one who gave Tamahome the nick-name "Obake-chan" (Monsterboy). He resents Tamahome for being a Suzaku Seishi because he is so weak and yet Fuuka still has hope in him and seems to care more about Tamahome than her own "brother". Kyou Bihou

The daughter of a very rich (soon to be bankrupt) merchant. She is stuck-up and cares only about beautiful clothes and beauty in general. She takes a liking in Tamahome when he rescues her from one of Miboshi’s monsters, and appoints him as her body-guard. Kyou Senmei

Bihou’s father. All his other daughters are gone and married, and his beloved wife died after she gave birth to Bihou, so he treasures Bihou -his only daughter left. He’s still a little corrupt, though..

Introduction This is a tale from eighty-two years ago… A long period of civil war ran through Sairoh Kingdom. As if that were not horrible enough, the Kingdom was struck with drought. Crops were withered, families destroyed. To take advantage of the already failing lands, soldiers from Kutoh Kingdom invaded. Sairoh's people fled in terror, starved to death, were drowned in despair… then they prayed. It was then that their Priestess at last arrived. The girl from the other world who was foreseen to arrive when the Kingdom was in crisis. The girl's name was "Osugi Suzuno". She was a long-hared, kind and gentle girl. She immediately departed on a quest to find her Seven Warriors. Tokaki, Subaru, Tatara, Kokie, Amefuri, Karasuki, Toroki… As she found each Warrior, spies from Kutoh threatened to kill her. Her Seven Warriors defended her with their entire mind and body, and united to help destroy the enemy. To Suzuno, those days were long and harsh. But during the same time frame, she fell in love for the first time in her life. It was a beautiful, and yet passionate love… At last, all Seven were assembled. Surrounded by all Seven of her Warriors, battered from battle, the Priestess began to summon her Deity. The spirits of the Priestess and her Seven all became one. The chanting of the Priestess rang throughout the skies of Sairoh. Then, Byakko was summoned. The Priestess merged with Byakko, and was allowed to make three wishes. Suzuno prayed… My first wish. Please restore the health of my Seven Warriors at once. My second wish. Please return Sairoh to its former state of peace and prosperity. My third wish… Please allow me to remain living in this world with the man I love… ***

Chapter 1: The Demon Child "Well, be careful out there," the woman said as she handed her son a large basket. The boy slung the large basket onto his thin shoulders and struggled under its weight. That was because the basket was filled with yams. "Sorry about this… I wish I could go in your place…" The boy took a look at his mother's bulging middle and shook his head silently. It looked as though he would receive a new little brother or sister that day. "So be careful. Especially on the road back…" The boy nodded lightly, then began to wobble out of the house. His pregnant mother sighed tiredly as she watched him leave. Though he was nearly ten years old, he was still small and weak. For children born into the peasant class, their journey into adulthood begins as early as they are old enough to walk and follow orders. Even many ten year old boys work just as long and hard as their fathers. Especially her neighbor, Sai's children, who worked so hard every day. As she watched her little boy struggle down the road, his figure growing smaller and smaller, she whispered to herself, "But it doesn't matter. He is a sweet boy…" Then a smile flooded her face. "And he also… will be the one to save this Kingdom from destruction…" Barely after saying this with a satisfied, peaceful smile, her face suddenly clouded over. "Ah….n…It's coming… Darling… Darling…!!" Since this would be her fourth birth, she was relatively calm over the situation. While grasping onto her midsection, Soh Yugetsu took firm, controlled steps towards the back field to where her husband, Kyuen was sowing seeds. * Konan Kingdom's Hakukoh Village, located in the Jusoh Prefecture, was a small collective of mountain farmers numbering one hundred or so. The peasants sold their

yams and soybeans to the neighboring cities and managed to scrape a meager living. The boy was sent in place of his mother that day to sell their yam crop. The burden was digging into his back. The boy gritted his teeth, dropped his eyes to the ground, and determinedly put one foot in front of the other. He had nearly reached the border or Hakukoh Village by then. "Ah!…." Having the basket on his back tugged violently, the boy was sent tumbling backwards. The basket fell off his back and the yams rolled off in scattered directions down the road. Four faces sneered from up above him. The dirty faces all belonged to peasantchildren. In the middle stood a tall, well-built boy. "Serves ya right for walking too slow!" It was Sai Yuma from next door. Though the two boys were the same age, Yuma was much stronger, and not even boys two or three years older than him stood a chance against the village-bully. Anger flashed through the boy's body. "Oops, there it is. The 'demon' has been unleashed." The boy chuckled at the fallen boy's forehead. "Are ya SURE you're one of Suzaku's chosen ones? Don't think that's possible. Not a clumsy little shit like YOU. Yup, you're just a MONSTER-BOY!" "Hahhhh! Monster, Monster, Monster-boyyyyyy!" Following their boss's lead, the three subordinates chimed in. Then, the four began to play catch with the yams that had fallen. "Stop it! Give 'em back!" "If want 'em, come get 'em. You're supposed to be one of Suzaku's Seven, right? Or maybe you're just a stupid monster! Ahahaha!" The boy with the red symbol glowing on his forehead frantically jumped about inside the circle of bullies to try to retrieve his precious crop. But the significantly smaller

boy found himself merely darting back and forth in vain. Tears began to creep out from his eyes. "Hehehe, Monster, Monster! You useless fake-chosen one!" After Yuma's taunt, more cries of "Monster Boy!" followed. It was then, however, that the three subordinates suddenly fell to their knees.

"Owwwww…!" One boy clung to his head, another clutched his stomach, and another slapped a hand to his back. Yuma whirled around to see what had happened, then grumbled, "You again?…" The one who had stormed in like the wind to knock down the boss's three subordinates glared up at Yuma with a face every bit as dirty as the others. "If you pull a stunt like that again, I'll make sure the same thing happens to YOU!" the hero yelled, while stooping to pick up the fallen yams. Yuma snorted, "…I was just trying to fix this guy's wimpy personality." His excuse fell on deaf ears. "Why'd you leave the field anyway? Uncle and Aunt are mad as ever. Don't ya mind if they take away our dinners tonight?" "Sheesh… Why don't YOU go home then!" Tossing the yam he had been holding into the basket, Yuma jumped onto the horse that had been standing by at the side of the road. He had no saddle or reigns. Grasping onto the naked horse's mane, Yuma fiercely kicked its sides. "Shun! We're leaving." The horse bounded off at the call of his name. Yuma, melded with the horse, retreated down the road with his three subordinates in tow. After the boy finished retrieving his yams into the basket, he thanked the one who had stayed behind to help him. "…Thanks… sorry about…that…" His apology was answered with a shaken head. "I'm the one who should apologize… Yuma is just… he's just jealous of you…" "Jealous?…why?" "Because you're one of Suzaku's chosen ones…ya know…"

This time, it was the boy who shook his head. "But I… I just don't think I could be one of Suzaku's Seven… I'm small, and I can't fight. I'm sure this symbol on my forehead is just some mistake…" He then uncomfortably scratched his forehead. The brilliant, glowing red symbol for "demon" had already vanished. "Are ya sure about that? You were able to protect your yams, weren't you? I think that's also an important part of being strong." The boy looked down, wondering if that were really so. The only reason he had not stood up to Yuma and the others was because he knew he could not win… "Demon" really meant "monster". That was the nickname Yuma had given him the first time he had seen the strange symbol appear on his forehead. That's right. I'm just a stupid, useless monster. I'm just "Monster Boy"… "Kishuku…?" Called by his real name, the boy suddenly got flustered. "Why did Mom and Dad give me that name?! It's not like they know for sure I'm Tamahome just because I was born with the symbol for 'demon' on my forehead! I don't have any powers; I'm just useless! It's embarrassing… And what's worse is that everyone always teases me…" "…Kishuku…" Kishiku looked up with a trembling face. "I'm just…no good… Fuka… All the time… you have to come rescue me… And to make things worse… you're Yuma's younger sister… Yeah, younger sister… It's pathetic I need a girl that's younger than me to come to my rescue all the time…!" Saying this, Kishuku hoisted the basket onto his back and hastily retreated down the road into the city. "Younger sisterrr? A girl younger than himmmm?" The old man who had been observing the scene from atop a tall tree nearby put a thoughtful hand on his chin. The friend of justice, who had appeared as swiftly as a

comet to rescue the boy and spit out a virtuous speech, looked nothing more than a dirty little boy to the man. Though I guess with enough dirt and field-work, there's little difference between boys and girls in the peasant class… Thinking this, the old man whispered towards the direction of the poor farming village, "So that is Suzaku's Tamahome, eh…" * When the sun fell heavily into the west, Soh Kishuku returned to the village. From having sold his yam crop in the city, his pace was much swifter and lighter this time. He probably had some very important money from selling the yams. One of Kishuku's hands was clenched tightly. However, as soon as his feet set foot across the border of the village, they stopped suddenly. A different group of boys slightly older than the former had swarmed around him. This gang looked a bit more fierce than the other. "Hullo there, Monster." "Where're ya going, and what've ya got?" The boys' circle tightened as they peered at his closed fist. "Stop it!" the boy screamed. But all too easily, his fist was opened and the twinkling sound of coins falling to the ground rang. It was then that suddenly, a creepy-looking man ran inside the circle of boys. He was Sai, the master of the house next door to Kishuku, and also the Uncle of Yuma and Fuka. Sai made way to the boys and stretched out his hand to them… "What do ya think you're doing?" Noticing a man suddenly materialize right in front of him, Sai stifled a scream and fell on his bottom.

"Stealing's wrong, ya know. And especially when it's from a poor little boy like this." The tan-skinned, white-hared, thick-bearded old man wore big earrings and an exoticlooking costume. He did not look at all like he was a person from Konan. Moreover, this mysterious man seemed more like an alien, appearing suddenly from nowhere. Sai and the boys who had tried to steal Kishuku's money could only stand stunned, the coins still scattered on the ground. There was only one person on the scene who was not stunned. The old man looked down at him. Kishuku had wasted no time in counting and collecting his coins that had fallen to the ground. "One, two, three…" It seemed as though nothing else could be seen by the boy at that point. "Ah, good. It's all here…" As the boy stood and turned to walk back to his house, the old man tugged on his shoulder. * "You say you're Tokaki, one of Byakko's Sevennnnn?!" Yugetsu's husband, Kyuen, gently pushed her back as she screamed and tried to jump out of bed. Obviously, his wife had just given birth to their fourth child barely a couple hours earlier. The newborn was fast asleep by its mother's side. "I truly am grateful… Since my wife was about to give birth any minute and I couldn't leave the fields, we had to send Kishuku out to town by himself for the first time… If you hadn't stepped in to rescue him, there's no telling how bad he might've ended up…" Kishuku's father bowed over and over again to Tokaki.

* Behind Kishuku's father clung two more children. Chuei, a 5-year old boy, and Gyokuran, a girl who had barely just learned to walk, stared curiously at their strange new guest with eyes wide as saucers. Just by their side sat the eldest, Kishuku, slouched over in shame.

Tokaki took a quick look around the meager shed of a house these six people lived in. Tokaki, having only one adoptive daughter Shifang, with his wife Subaru, spoke to the master of the house. "It must be fun and lively having all those children." "Yes, you're right there… But it's always a hard struggle caring for them until they're old enough to help work…" Since children were a valuable source of labor to a peasant, raising them well until they reached working age was a top priority. Tokaki wondered that maybe four children was a little too much for such a poor family, but seemed to understand why there were so many children with a quick look at Yugetsu, who was still quite young and beautiful to look at. "My, my, it sure is nice for husband and wife to be so close." "Gramps, where d'ya come from?" the second-eldest son spoke out from behind his father. "…Gramps…from…" the second-youngest girl spoke slowly, imitating her brother. Tokaki shuddered in frustration. "Gramps! Where d'ya come frommmm?!" "G…Gentleman, you should say. I come from a place called Sairoh." Hearing this from Tokaki, Yugetsu spoke up from inside her bed. "Ummm… I hear that Byakko was summoned over 80 years ago. Even so, Mr. Tokaki, you look quite young for your age…!" With that tactful retaliation, Tokaki puffed his chest out with revitalized macho vigor. "Y-ya don't say! Same goes to you, Ma'am, it hardly looks like you've given birth four times. You're young, beautiful, and almost look like a princess from some far away land. I hope this isn't too forward, but would you like to…" Suddenly noticing the harsh stare from her husband directed at him, Tokaki abruptly stopped mid-sentence with a cough. "But what brings you here in the first place, Mr. Tokaki…?" Kyuen asked, changing the subject.

Tokaki scratched his forehead. "That's a good question… Byakko was summoned and we've been living pretty average lives for the past years. So I suppose I just felt like I needed to explore a new place; call it a personal quest of sorts. It was a random impulse, really…" "Almost makes me envious of you…" Tokaki brushed this off with a waving hand. Naturally, Tokaki was unable to admit that his wife, Subaru, angered over his relentless flirting with other women, had kicked him out of the house. "So I guess Sairoh did get the eternal happiness its Priestess wished for…" Yugetsu said. "But Konan's condition is getting worse and worse. That's probably why… my son was born…" The ever silent and sulking eldest boy suddenly spoke up, "Mom! Stop saying that! I'm not Tamahome! Yuma and the others always bully me, and his little sister has to rescue me all the time… and even though you and Dad still aren't sure I really am Tamahome, why'd you have to go and give me the name Kishuku?!" "Kishuku…" Yugetsu spoke with a tremble. Kyuen faced his son. "Did you forget what I told you a little while ago? That symbol on your forehead is a sign that you have an important destiny. It says that you were born for the purpose of devoting your life to protect a special girl from another world. So stop crying over some bullies." "That's easy for you to say…but…" Tokaki quietly thought to himself as he watched the concerned younger siblings watch their older brother as he shook his head - which was, ironically, glowing with the red symbol at the moment. This boy must be feeling terribly guilty over not being able to protect his family's livelihood without the help of me and that girl, Fuka… He also must be under extreme stress from the pressures of living up to his destiny. As if Kishuku had read Tokaki's thoughts, he screamed out, "Dad, Mom! I want a new name!"

His parents gasped and whirled their heads to look at him. "Because a wimpy guy like me could never be one of Suzaku's chosen ones!!" It was then that Tokaki suddenly stood to his feet and shook his head violently. "No, you are Tamahome. There is no doubt about it." Feeling a swarm of pride surge through his body as the entire household looked up at him in hope, Tokaki turned and spoke to the master of the house. "I have a proposal. Allow me to mentor your son for a while." * From that day on, Tokaki spent nearly half a year at Kishuku's house. He spent his days mentoring the boy whose only attributes were a kind spirit and strong sense of responsibility. He taught Kishuku fencing, fist-fighting, various martial arts, and philosophical subjects… And he taught him about Byakko… Perhaps being a teacher was his true calling all along. Watching Kishuku grow stronger and smarter day by day made Tokaki's soul sing. "Mentor, please teach me more stuff! Mentor! Mentor!" Happy at the changes in himself, Kishuku grew more and more attached to Tokaki, who found himself equally fond of Kishuku. "Say, Mentor, why'd you tell Mom and Dad that time that I was Tamahome?" Kishuku asked suddenly one day. "Because I knew that even if that girl or I hadn't shown up, you still would've been able to protect your yams and your money." "Huh?!" "I could clearly see a force inside of you that was willing to do anything, no matter how harsh or painful, if it was to protect something important to you. In your case, your top priority was protecting your family…"

"…Mentor…" "Understand? So all I'm really teaching you to do is channel that force towards eventually protecting your Priestess and Kingdom." The boy laughed slightly. "It just doesn't feel like it'll really happen. The Priestess and all that…"

"You may be right. After all, you're still only ten. Have ya even fallen for a girl yet? Huh?" Tokaki lightly punched Kishuku's head. "You think I have time for that? I have enough trouble finding enough to eat every day. You know how my family's situation is, don't you?" "Yeah, I guess so…" Tokaki answered slowly. Not only had the Soh family recently added a new baby, but they also had the new burden of adding Tokaki to the dinner table. And while there were two new mouths to feed, Kishuku spent his days training with Tokaki instead of working. His parents' struggle must have been exceptionally harsh. Even so, they had taken Tokaki into their family without asking for a cent from him. They were probably fueled by the sense of pride over their son's training to become a very important agent of Suzaku. "Yeah, but let me tell ya something, Kishuku. Girls are great. Their hair smells sweet, their skin is smooth, their lips are moist, their gazes seduce you, their souls are mysterious and enchanting… " "…And how could I ever forget the most important thing… that big cavern in between their breasts…mhmhmhmhmf." Tokaki suddenly wiped his drool, and hid his embarrassment by reaching to pat Kishuku on the back… only to find that Kishuku had walked a few paces away and was immersed in practicing punches. "Mentor, I agree girls must be nice. But I ain't interested. The most important thing is money. Money makes people happy." Kishuku briefly stopped his punches in the air to turn and smile at Tokaki. His Mentor shook his head wearily. No matter how many times he had attempted to entice Kishuku with stories of his various encounters with women, the boy had seemed completely uninterested. Almost like singing to a deaf man, or feeding a luxurious feast to a pig… "Ah yes, or like gold coins tossed to a cat."

"What?! Gold coins? Where! Where are they!" Hearing only the "gold coins" part, Kishuku leapt to Tokaki's side and eagerly questioned him. "Aw, just forget it. Come on, we've still got some more practicing to do. Practice your new attacks on me." Saying this, Tokaki used his teleportation magic to move ten meters away from Kishuku to await his charge. * Two shadows silently watched on from a distance as Kishuku trained. "Kishuku's been much more carefree these days…" Fuka whispered. Yuma stuck out his tongue. "Yeaaaah, right. He's still just as small and skinny as he ever was. He says that Byakko-gramps is teaching him how to be a good agent of Suzaku, but I don't see any good special moves coming out of him." Fuka stared deeply at her brother, who was trying desperately to save face. She had to admit that Kishuku was not able to use fancy magic tricks like teleporting or using earrings as weapons to catch meat like the man from Sairoh could do. But it was clear that her longtime friend was picking up all the martial arts with great speed. Fuka thought to herself with satisfaction that Kishuku really was the special boy she had always suspected he was. And by then, there was not a single boy who bullied Kishuku or called him "Monster Boy". Not even Yuma, the original giver of the name. "Dammit… He thinks he's so great now…" Yuma grumbled to himself. Soh Kishuku had been the only boy so far that Yuma had not been able to bend to his own will. No matter how much he was pressured, Kishuku had taken all of Yuma's punishments without ever submitting to him. But what had threatened Yuma most of all was the apparent truth that Kishuku was indeed one of Suzaku's chosen ones.

Thanks to Kishuku's weak physical constitution, Yuma had been able to keep himself on top. But now, thanks to the strange old man, Kishuku seemed to be much stronger and confident. And what intimidated Yuma more than anything else was the fact that even though Kishuku was now able to fight, he never once approached Yuma for revenge. "Well, I guess one good thing's coming of this. He won't need you to come to his rescue all the time." Yuma said haughtily. "I'm sure Kishuku will be the one to rescue us someday," Fuka said dreamily as she gazed in the direction of the training boy. Then, her gaze dropped to her fingernails, caked in more dirt than could be imaginable. "Do ya really fancy that Monster so much?…" Fuka glared up at her brother. "Don't you care that the Kingdom is getting filled with more and more children like us?! I just want… I just want Suzaku and His chosen ones to hurry and save the Kingdom for us!" They were suddenly interrupted. "I was wondering where you were, and I find you slacking off!" Fuka and Yuma were both grasped violently by their collars. "Have you two forgotten just WHO fills your bellies with food every day?!" The Sai couple yelled loudly at the children. "Not only Yuma, but you disobey us this time, too, Fuka??… This will be your last time!" Yuma leaped between the woman's raised hand and Fuka's face. "I forced her to come out with me! You can hit me as much as you want, but please don't hit her! Please, Aunt!" "Shit…" the annoyed woman lowered her hand. "We feed ya both and let you sleep under our roof… but you still keep calling us 'Aunt' and 'Uncle'?… Hmph. What revolting kids you are. Ya take your eyes off Yuma for a

second and he's off up to no good with the boys, and Fuka's so dirty and boyish she looks like a monkey. Makes me wish we never took you kids in the first place." Fuka and Yuma could only bite their quivering lips in response to their uncle. How could they bring themselves to call these people their "mother" and "father"? They were forced to work like dogs constantly from sunrise to sunset for the sake of earning money for their greedy aunt and uncle. Ambushing Kishuku to steal his money that one time was even Sai's idea. Fuka had been the one to take Yuma to watch Kishuku train. The two were roughly pushed away from this spot back to the fields they knew all too well. * That evening for supper, Yugetsu splurged on some special large steamed meat buns. "We managed to earn extra money today, so I bought these. I hope you like them…" A smile finally returned to the family who had been accustomed to eating nothing but thin yam-porridge that would not even support a pair of chopsticks. "Yaaaay! They're so warm. I love meat buns!" The five year old Chuei and the two year old Gyokuran were excited to tears. Even the new baby, who had been named Shunkei, opened and shut his mouth and made excited cooing noises. Seeing the happy family before him and feeling the warm, soft meat bun in his hand reminded Tokaki of his wife, Subaru. The first day he nuzzled his face in her soft, warm fruits… Their romance had blossomed during their days of fighting side by side. Then, after Byakko was summoned, they stayed married for 80 years. While her aged breasts were clearly not as firm or large as they once were, considering her age, she was still a very attractive woman. Though she had kicked him out nearly a year ago, surely she had started to worry about him by then. While feeling the meat bun in his hand, Tokaki thought to himself that it was probably time to consider going home.

* The next day, after the Soh family saw him off, Tokaki met with Kishuku just outside the village, at the place where he had first seen him. "Mentor, are you really leaving for good? There's still so many things I need to learn." The mentor spoke reassuringly to his apprentice, "What you need to learn from now on is how to teach yourself without help from anyone else. Okay?" The boy nodded silently. "Just as your mother says, the Kingdom might get worse and worse as the years go by. So you need to make sure you're ready for whenever the Priestess shows herself." "…Yes, sir." The boy answered steadily, yet there was no sign of knowledge in his mind over the great responsibility he had as one of Suzaku's Seven chosen ones. After Tokaki left, Kishuku felt it would be his duty to make up for all the days he had spent away from the field while in training. He knew it was up to him to make sure his brothers and sisters had good and plentiful food to eat. To the ten-year-old boy, there was an immediate problem that concerned him more than any Priestess or God. I suppose it's better that way… No, I know it's better that way, Tokaki thought to himself. The sense of duty he nurtures now will surely help him later in serving his Priestess. But there was one thing that troubled him most about the boy. It was the boy's apparent lack of interest in the tragic unrequited love story of Byakko's Priestess and one of her Warriors, Tatara. "Well, I guess it cant' be helped," Tokaki said as he patted the boy's head. Naturally, neither the old man or the boy were aware that years later, he would fall so deeply in love with his Priestess that he would give up his life for her. "Well, take care then. Take good care of your family, especially your mom…" Tokaki ordered the boy as he remembered Yuugetsu's smiling face in his mind.

"I get it. You stay well too, Mentor. At age 101, you can't be too careful." "Aw, shut up. I intend to live to be 200 at this rate." "Ahahaha! Guess I wouldn't expect less from my Mentor." After exchanging a long embrace, Tokaki swiftly turned his back on the boy and began to walk away. "Mentor!" "Do… Do you really think I'm one of Suzaku's Seven chosen ones?…" he asked meekly. His Mentor nodded firmly. "From today on, you are. You're not Kishuku, but Tamahome. Use that name proudly." Though the boy had no special powers or magic, Tokaki predicted then that he would become the most powerful of all the chosen ones. Hearing Tokaki's words, the boy's forehead grew hot with his symbol. "Tamahome, you may think of me as your other father." "…Father…" "No matter how old you get, I'll continue to watch over you from somewhere up in the sky." Tamahome bowed deeply to the father who had given him the pride and confidence of an agent of Suzaku. The boy who had come into this world with the unlucky character of "demon" on his forehead now began the second part of his life as Tamahome, a proud Warrior of Suzaku. ### As Yuuki Miaka passed by, she suddenly gasped. She had just entered the main hall of the Central Library, the library she had attended with Yui, her best friend since kindergarten.

It had happened just after she and Yui had finished researching for their homework and were about to leave the building. When Miaka caught sight of a high school boy sitting by himself with a dictionary in one hand and another old book in another, deep in concentration, her heart suddenly jumped. The cover of his book was full of difficult Chinese characters, so Miaka assumed it was Chinese. The boy's face was buried so deep in this foreign book that Miaka could not see his face very well. That made Miaka's sudden heart flutter all the more confusing to her. "What're ya standing there for?" Yui patted the dazed Miaka on the shoulder, suddenly bringing her back to her senses. "Huh? Um, it's nothing," Miaka said hastily, waving a hand at Yui. She turned around to look again, but the boy had gone. Who was that? Miaka thought as she scratched her head. "Say, are you hungry? Before cram school, why don't we go to MacDonalds?" With that simple sentence from Yui, the scene that had previously concerned Miaka so much instantly vanished from her mind. "Yaaaaaay! Let's go! Let's go! I just got my allowance yesterday! I'm gonna get a Big Mac and a Cheeseburger and a Fillet O'Fish and a large Fries and then…Hmmm, what should I get for dessert?" "Sheesh, Miaka, if you buy that much crap, your month's allowance will be gone in no time." "Yeah, that's what makes me sad." "In that case, why don't'cha try entering an eating contest?" "Awwww, Yui, you meanie!… But maybe I oughtta try it." "Go ahead! I'm sure you'd win!" "Maybe I would. And I could probably win the fast-eating contest too. Hahahaha!"

The bun-headed Miaka and the long-hared Yui joked together as they left the library. That was in the spring when Miaka had just entered the local public junior high school. Naturally, she was unaware that the boy she had just crossed paths with was her fated love. The name of the boy who would continue to come to that same library to research Chinese books was "Sukunami Taka". Three years later in the winter, he in his past life form - Tamahome - was fated to meet Miaka and Yui when they pass through the gate to another world. And that day, Miaka had met him for the first time, in a completely different dimension. It was that meeting itself that triggered the beginning of the Mysterious Story… ### ---------Notes: I'm not sure how this was done in the official translation, but the symbol that appears on Tamahome's forehead means "demon" or "monster". The nickname he's given is "Obake-chan", an "obake" being another word for "monster". "Kishuku" is written with the exact same Chinese characters as "Tamahome". It's just a different way to pronounce it. A common way to tell that someone is poor is to say that they eat porridge that is watered down. To test the quality of a porridge, chopsticks are stuck directly in the middle. If they stay standing, the porridge is thick, and therefore full of calories and nutrients. If the chopsticks fall, however, the porridge is watered down and not as caloric or nutrient-rich. They do have professional eaters in Japan who enter professional eating contests (it's even considered a sort of sport ^^;).

Chapter 2: The Legend of "Shugyoku", the Red Jewel Not stopping to wipe the floods of sweat dripping from his face, Tamahome continued to sow his seeds into the field. With the end of autumn, it was vital that he prepare the naked soil for next year's crop. His little brother, Chuei mindlessly pulled weeds a few yards away. In the neighboring field, Fuka and Yuma were also hard at work. Beneath the shimmering autumn sun, the only sounds that were heard were the thrashing rhythms of the hoes against the dirt. Tamahome's father had gone to the market in his wife's place. Tamahome, now twelve years old, was fully in charge of the farming by then. Both mentally and physically, he had matured twice what he was before. "Brother! Brother!!" Seeing his four-year-old little sister, Gyokuran, tumble nervously from the house, Tamahome stopped his hoe. "What is it? Is the baby born yet?" The reason their father had gone to the market that day was the same reason Tamahome had gone nearly two and a half years ago. Yugetsu was expecting another baby. She had already bore four children by herself, working until the very day of her delivery and not seeking help from anyone else with the birthing. Barely three days after the births, she had always returned to the fields to work again. That morning, she had seen off her family with a smile, saying "When you come back, there will be another member of the family waiting for you." But Gyokuran shook her pale face furiously. "Mom's not acting right. She looks like she hurts and she's breathing really hard… Brother, help her." "Mom's hurting?!" Tossing his hoe away, Tamahome darted towards the house. Chuei and Gyokuran followed closely behind him. In the neighboring field, Fuka and Yuma briefly stopped their farming to exchange curious glances. *

"Mom…!" Rushing past his two-year-old brother, Shunkei, who stood dumbly in the doorway, Tamahome made way to his mother, lying in bed in the corner of the room. "….Tamahome…" Smiling weakly, Yugetsu held out the bundle in her arms to her son. "The back… the baby's back… hurry… hit it hard…" Taking the blood-soaked infant from his mother, Tamahome cautiously tapped its back. After a couple moments, it began to cry. "…What a relief…" Yugetsu sighed briefly, then promptly began to give instructions to her children. "Chuei… Bring me a big bucket of hot water. Gyokuran, get the baby changed into a robe... And Shunkei, that was scary, wasn't it? But it's over now, so come be with Mom…" "Mom…!" Tamahome called out. "Stop taking this so lightly! I'm gonna bring the doctor from the next village over here!" The bed on which his mother lay was drenched in blood from her birth. Inversely, all color from her face had been steadily draining. Everyone present understood that Yugetsu would die soon if she did not see a doctor. They had not a second to spare. But Yugetsu firmly grasped hold of her son's wrist and shook her head. "…Mom…" Yugetsu stared deeply into her children's faces and smiled. "Please, all of you… Don't run off anywhere… just stay with me…" After the baby was washed in warm water by her siblings, it was set on the pillow next to the mother. "Beautiful, huh. It's a girl."

Her four children grimly nodded with tight chests. "Her name will be… ah yes… Yuiren… Just like a bunch of lotus blossoms… suddenly burst into bloom… I hope she brings you peace and happiness just like the blossoms would…" Even Gyokuran, and even two-year-old Shunkei were well aware that their mother would soon be in Heaven. Her frail body had probably been deteriorating rapidly from years of working the fields and raising a family of six. "This makes five children in all… So pay attention to what Tamahome and your father tell you to do, and be good friends to each other…" "Mom…" came a meager whimper from her side. "I don't want you to die!" Gyokuran, Shunkei, and even the mild-mannered Chuei suddenly leaped to their mother's bed, wailing. Only Tamahome remained calm, quietly biting his lip and staring at the floor. Even though she knew the stress would kill her, why did Mom go ahead and have another baby? Tamahome softly looked at the baby in contempt as his mother lay smiling peacefully beside it. "Tamahome… children are gifts from the Heavens… So believe me… I don't regret it at all…" Tamahome gasped and jerked his head up to look at his mind-reading mother. "It is unfortunate that we're poor… but the warmth of a new life… can never be matched with any amount of money… for life is very… very precious…" Tamahome continued to stare dumbly at the baby. "Tamahome… I want you… to take my heirloom…" Yugetsu slid her hand into her collar and pulled out a thin string. At the end shone a dark red jewel.

"This jewel… is called Shugyoku."

Then, Yugestu smiled softly. "It is a beautiful… jewel from a legend…" "I'm gonna go tell Tamahome's dad," Yuma announced to his sister before he quickly fled from the doorway of the Soh household. After seeing her brother off, Fuka

cautiously turned her gaze back towards the family and listened carefully to Yugetsu's final words. As Yugetsu ascended to Heaven, she painfully gasped the contents of the Legend of Shugyoku to Tamahome… Until… "Mom!!!!" "Mom…!" Fuka could hear nothing but the agonizing cries of the children. Tamahome, Chuei, Gyokuran, and Shunkei all crowded around their mother's corpse and let their sadness escape. Only the newly born Yuiren slept peacefully by her mother's side. It was then that Fuka saw it. A red light shone briefly in the jewel around Yugetsu's neck before it shot into the sky. After hovering over the heads of the grieving children, it slowly rose to the Heavens… Just after, the sound of frantic stomping feet could be heard from the other side of the door. Turning around, Fuka saw her brother and Tamahome's father enter, out of breath. With a bowed head, Fuka quietly stood by as Yugetsu's husband rushed to her side and wept. ### "…Dad…! Where are you going?" Miaka's trembling voice shot out at her father's back. Her father slowly turned around and smiled. Then, he silently disappeared on the other side of the front door. The sobbing Miaka was soon joined by her brother, Keisuke. "…Hey, Onii-chan, where's Dad going…?" "Miaka, Mom and Dad just got divorced." "Divorced…?"

Keisuke spoke to his dumbfounded sister. "Mom and Dad might not be related to each other anymore, but we'll still be Dad's children until we die…" "Onii-chan…" The father who had lived with them all these years suddenly left… To Miaka, it felt as though her body were being slashed to pieces. But Miaka slowly rose her head and spoke calmly. "That's right… It's not like… Dad died or anything… We need to hope that he'll have a nice… new life away from us…" That's right. There are many more kids in the world worse off than me. Like kids who lost their parents when they were very little. There are even kids who have never seen their parents faces before… There are even homeless kids whose parents died… Images of such children flooded Miaka's mind. I can't keep feeling sorry for myself like this. I need to be strong. "I'm gonna go talk to Mom," Miaka told Keisuke as she quietly walked up the stairs. This took place during the autumn when Miaka was thirteen years old. ### At the same time, Tamahome also turned thirteen. A year had passed since his mother had died. Before leaving for the field, Tamahome stopped by his father's bed. "Dad, how're you feeling?" "Fine, thanks. I'm sorry for pushing so much work onto you," his father answered with a tired face. "I promise I'll get better soon. Then I'll make it so you kids won't have to work so hard…" "You've done all the hard work until now, Dad. You deserve to rest as much as you need," Tamahome replied with a smile as he lead his little brother out of the house. From behind him, he could hear the hoarse coughing of his father.

Just after his wife had died, Kyuen suddenly fell ill in his lungs. Naturally, his family could not afford expensive medicine to cure him. At the rate things were going, it was clear that not only was their father's condition not improving - it was worsening. Just as Tamahome and his siblings left the house, Fuka entered. "Yo! How's it going?" Fuka slowly drew a bundle from her clothes and Gyokuran and Shunkei excitedly tumbled towards her. "Fuka! Fuka! What'd you bring us today?!" Gyokuran, who carried Yuiren on her back, smiled with glittering eyes. "Sorry, but I didn't bring much today. Just a bit of corn." As Fuka untied her bundle, Kyuen spoke to her, "You don't need to concern yourself with us… If you uncle finds out about this, you'll be in big trouble…" "A sick man can never get well without a balanced diet. And look, I also brought you some herbs from the other side of the mountains. People say they work well for coughs." Though Fuka used similar speech mannerisms and dress of a boy, Kyuen looked up at her fondly as if she were a goddess. Her uncle and aunt, unable to have children of their own, had come to him countless times asking for their children. He had offered to pay large sums of money, at that. But time and time again, Kyuen and his wife had refused. "We're sorry, but we didn't have our children to help us make money. We consider them gifts from the Heavens. Even though you do live next door to us, we couldn't possibly give them up…" Finally giving up, their uncle went to another village and brought back two children one day. Apparently they had lost their parents and had nearly starved to death. "Looks like we didn't need to buy your kids after all. Look, these two'll probably grow to be of some use to us in a while. And they were free, too. And since we saved them from death, they'll owe us big time."

By the time Fuka and Yuma were still only five and six years old, their uncle worked them like mules every day. It seemed as though Yuma vented his frustrations by becoming the leader of a gang. Tamahome, too, had been a main outlet for Yuma's anger. As for Fuka, even for a farmer's daughter, she was dressed raggedly like a boy and given the same workload as Yuma. The result was a twelve-year-old young woman with no sign of femininity. The only exception was the rare occasions on which she would hum quiet tunes in her rich, beautiful voice. Though she was raised so harshly and with such neglect, Fuka grew into the kind of young woman who sneaked food to help neighbors in need. She even brought Yuiren's milk from a young mother in the village. Seeing Fuka give so much to his family brought pain to Kyuen's heart, and at the same time, made him a bit doubtful. "Fuka, could it be… that you love…" Just then, Yuma came rushing into the house. "I thought you'd be here. Hurry to the field! The others almost found out you've been coming here!" Yuma quickly bowed to Kyuen, violently grabbed his sister's arm, and yanked her out of the house. If that's the way Fuka feels, I'd love to have her marry Tamahome. She may not be pretty to look at, but I don’t think I'll ever find a girl more generous and caring than her… But I'm sure her aunt and uncle and brother wouldn't approve… Kyuen suddenly laughed at himself for worrying over something so far in the future. If Yugetsu were still alive, she would probably tell him, "You just don't understand anything, do you dear…" Not understanding anything, Kyuen's mind then traveled back to the day his first son was born. "Dear! Look at this boy's forehead… It has a red symbol on it…" To this day, Kyuen could still remember the utter joy he felt when he saw the red symbol for "demon" on Tamahome's forehead. "Do you think… he might be one of Suzaku's chosen ones?…"

"Tamahome…" The two had clasped hands and nodded. "Tamahome" was the only name that would do for their son… To their poor and humble village, one of Suzaku's Seven Chosen Ones had been born. The couple was lost in ecstasy. When his son was old enough to understand, Kyuen told him about his destiny. "You were born into this world to protect a Priestess." After encountering Tokaki, Tamahome's powers were developed beautifully, and he finally had the pride and determination needed. But a lot of time had passed since the symbol last appeared on his forehead… Even his own father forgot at times the significant duty his son possessed. Thinking of his son wasting time working all day in the fields in place of him, Kyuen let bitter tears soak into the floor. * Later that evening… Finally released from her chores for the day, Fuka made way to the stone that stood just outside the Sai-family's field. Beneath it slept the body of the woman who was once Tamahome's mother. "Yugetsu… everyone's working very hard… Which is good, but…" Fuka bowed her head. In the field behind her, rows of vegetables also bowed their shriveled heads. No matter how hard everyone worked, the elements were against them. In addition to the drought, the farmers of the region had suffered a fluke swarm of locusts. The autumn harvest looked dismal, but Fuka remembered Tamahome still working strong. While his father lay ill and he had four younger siblings to take care of, Tamahome still continued to work silently and urgently. The red mark on his forehead had ceased to appear. Tamahome had probably forgotten entirely about his duties as one of Suzaku's Seven by then. His days were merely working in the fields and sleeping… "But, Yugetsu, Tamahome still wears the jewel on his neck."

Fuka smiled slightly, as if the jewel were the only salvation from their situation. Fuka opened her mouth. Her soft singing voice rang above the scenery and melted into the sunset. While humming her sorrowful melody, she remembered once again Yugetsu's last words as she told her children about the Legend of Shugyoku… * This is an old legend. It's a story of when Konan Kingdom was born into the world. When Suzaku first ascended into the Heavens, the light streaming from him turned into little red jewels and dropped down to the young boys and men of the Kingdom… Then, Suzaku's voice spoke to them: Young men, I leave the future of this Kingdom in your hands. You are to risk your lives to protect my Kingdom. These jewels will protect you as you fight your many battles. Then some day, you are to give these jewels to the women you love most. This will bond man to woman eternally, and you shall both live a happy life. Then you will hand these jewels down to your sons who shall in turn make new daughters happy. As long as the love of Shugyoku continues, Konan will remain a peaceful and beautiful Kingdom. I got this jewel from your father. I really did have a happy life. Your father loved me and I loved him with all my heart, and we have you five, beautiful children to love. Please tell that to your father for me. But I'm afraid that this Kingdom is falling into bad luck… Tamahome, you are one of the honored chosen ones. Once the Priestess appears, you must rescue this Kingdom together with her. And then, just as the legend says, you must give this red jewel to the woman you love most. I want this beautiful legend to live on forever… I want people who love each other to be happy forever. Forever… forever…

---------Notes: The two Chinese characters that make up Yuiren's name are "to bind together" and "lotus blossom". Together, they would mean something along the lines of, "lotus blossoms that unify".

Chapter 3: The Grand Opening of the "We Do It All" Shop "Dad… Chuei, Gyokuran, Shunkei, and you too, Yuiren… Everyone, listen to what I have to say," Tamahome spoke to the other five members of his family one spring morning. "I'm gonna go to the city to make us some money." With that announcement the entire household instantly fell into silence. But it was also an announcement everyone had been expecting for quite some time. "I know that no matter how hard we work, if we keep going the rate we're at now, we won't be able to survive in the future…" And it wasn't just his family, either. First one family, then another, had gradually given up hope in the farmer's way of life and had left for the city. "…Tamahome…" his father said quietly, still stuck in his bed. "Brother…" Tamahome scooped the little boys and girls who had gathered around him into his arms. Three and a half years had passed… They had worked and worked, sweat pouring from their bodies, but the Forces gave them nothing but misfortune. It seemed their only other option would be to sit and wait for their ultimate demises. "Don't think I've given up on farming all together. While I'm gone, Chuei, I want you to look after the crops." The second eldest son of the family, who had always been a big help to Tamahome, nodded strongly. He was already twelve years old then. "I'm helping too," seven-year-old Shunkei declared as he joined his brother's side. While running his fingers through Shunkei's hair, Tamahome continued, "And Gyokuran, I want you to take care of Dad and the house." Though Gyokuran was only nine, she had already overtaken all the family's housework, her duties scarcely different than those of a full-grown woman.

"Yuiren's gonna help Big-Sis too!" the youngest member of the family said indignantly as she grabbed her sister's hand and stared up at Tamahome with wet eyes. "Tamahome-Brother, where're you going…? Is it far away…? Will you come back right away…?" "Yeah, I promise I'll come back right away. Once I collect enough money to help you guys out, I'll run home as quickly as I can." "Really? You're really, really coming back? You promise?" saying this, the four-yearold Yuiren wrapped her tiny arms around her brother's large arm and squeezed tightly. Yuiren came into being in exchange that her mother, Yugetsu die. While Tamahome initially cursed Yuiren's birth, she had come to adore Tamahome the most out of everyone. And it was Tamahome who felt her warmth more than anyone else. Becoming her mother in Yugetsu's place had made Tamahome love her so much he could not imagine life without her. "Sorry about this… Tamahome," his sick father whispered. "Don't say that. If things work out, I'll bring you the best and most expensive medicine in the land. So everyone else, take good care of Dad while I'm gone." His four younger siblings nodded collectively. The sixteen-year-old Tamahome had grown into what anyone would agree to be the strong head of the family. "You were right… Children really are precious treasures… Yugetsu…" Covering his face, Kyuen whispered to his dead wife as the tears fell from his eyes. Using Chuei's shoulder for support, Kyuen went into the road with his children to say goodbye to Tamahome. Seeing the small red jewel glisten on Tamahome's neck, Kyuen thought to himself, I don't need to worry. The jewel will protect him… "Tamahome, if you meet Suzaku no Miko on the way, be sure to give priority to your duties as one of Suzaku's Chosen Ones. Don't bother trying to take care of us too… we'll manage…" Casually brushing off his father's advice as if he hadn't heard it, Tamahome replied, "Don't talk like that. It would be pathetic if my family starved to death while I was

trying to save the Kingdom… No matter what happens, I'll make money and bring it back to you!" The new clothes he wore were sewn by Gyokuran. And the ribbon he wore to tie back his long hair was given to him by Yuiren. No matter what happens, I will protect my family. "I'll be back soon," Tamahome said confidently as he turned his back on the place he had lived for the last sixteen years. * At last, his family disappeared from view. Taking a deep breath, Tamahome stepped forward with even more determination. Just when he had arrived at the edge of the village, a shadow that had been following closely behind him the whole time suddenly whisked itself beside him. "Oh, it's you, Fuka. Is it okay you're not in the fields?" "Yeah, no problem," she answered as she kept pace with Tamahome. "And what about you, Tamahome? Where're you off to?" "Me? I'm just… going out for a bit." "Oh. Then I'll go out for a bit with you." The two walked for a while in silence. Tamahome's large, muscular body, and Fuka's stick-like body gradually climbed higher and higher in elevation. Fuka stayed glued to Tamahome's side the whole time, showing no intent of straying from the path. After a while, the two had climbed over a mountain. At last, Tamahome's feet stopped. "Hey, what's going on? Why're you stuck to me like that?" Fuka answered, "I'm not stuck to you or anything, I just ran away from home and don't know where else to go." "You ran awaaaay?!!" Tamahome yelled. Then, after a moment of thought, he folded his arms. "Well, I understand why. If your other option is to stay with your relatives

working like a slave for the rest of your life, I guess running away is better for you. You're fifteen now, so you can probably find a better way to make a living for yourself…" "So you understand…?" Tamahome stole a glance at her. A fifteen year old girl was usually a prime candidate for marriage. But in Fuka's case, not only did she look like an eligible woman; she did not look like a woman at all… With dirty clothes, messy hair, and a face smeared in mud and filth, and with the way she spoke and acted, anyone would mistake her for a vagabond boy. I guess she doesn't feel like a woman on the inside to begin with. She probably has never even thought about falling in love with a man or a man falling in love with her… and probably never will… Tamahome thought to himself with a slight chuckle. "Tamahome, wanna join up with me?" "Join up? Wh-what do ya mean by that…" Fuka jerked her head up to look at Tamahome. "You're going to the city to make money, aren't you? I overheard everything. What do you plan to do to make money and where do you plan on doing it?" A tired Tamahome shook his head and answered, "I'm just gonna look for any places that might have money and just work." "Any places, eh?" "Yeah, and I'll do any work." Fuka clapped her hands. "Oh, then you mean you'll be a handyman." "Handyman?" "Yeah, that's what they call a person who does any job. It sounds like fun!" Fuka's white teeth grinned from behind her dirty face. "Up until now, we've done nothing but farming, but we can still try something new and learn what the world has to offer us. Whee! This's getting me really excited."

Tamahome nudged his face close to Fuka's and said, "I don't mind joining up with you, but how're we gonna divide the money?" "Whoops, I figured that'd come soon. We'll divide it equally, of course," Fuka said as she began to walk again. Tamahome hastily followed her. "Hey, not so fast. You may not look it, but… you ARE… a woman… after all." "So what? I don't think that should make a difference. And I'm sure you don't think it makes a difference either, right?" Fuka asked as she whirled around. Having his mind read, Tamahome gulped nervously. "Y-yeah, but you know, men are stronger and can work their bodies harder…" Fuka stopped walking and pointed her finger at Tamahome's nose. "Tamahome, not all jobs are about strength and hard labor. There're plenty of jobs that use brains instead. You really ARE naiv. Do ya really think you're one of Suzaku's Chosen Ones? I find that hard to believe sometimes." "…Fu…ka…" "Okay! So it's settled. Let's make a fortune!" As if lead by a gust of wind, Fuka took off running. ### "Huh?! A handyman…you say…?" Miaka nearly yelled when she heard the news she was given on first entering the employment agency. This was during winter vacation of her second year in junior high. The very first parttime job she was to have in her life, introduced to her by a cousin, would be a handyman. "You'll never know what kind of job you'll be asked to do, so it's lots of fun," the CEO of the small firm promised her with a smile. While he was a CEO, he was only in his twenties. "Ah, there he is. He's my other part-timer. I hope he'll show you the ropes."

The boy who had entered the agency just then bowed. "Hi… I'm Onizuka Wataru…" Oni…zuka…? For a reason unknown to her, Miaka's heart skipped a beat. The phone rang… "You've just got a job. It's to walk Mr. Satoh's dog. Well, Miaka and Wataru, I'll let you handle it." Miaka was hurried out of the office on her first job. "Mi…aka…? Well, I guess we'd better get going," Onizuka Wataru said as he smoothed back his hair. ### "This's nice and all, but how do you think Yuma will react when he finds out you ran away?" After they crossed their second mountain, Tamahome prodded Fuka with questions. "Beats me." "Beats me? Yuma's your only living relation, you know?! You know Yuma would practically die for you…" Fuka could only remain silent with her shoulders slouched. "Hey…" Her shoulders grabbed by Tamahome, Fuka whirled around and glared up at him. "…I don't need him…" "Don't need him?" "No, I don't. People think just because we were starving to death and taken in by a couple slave drivers that means we have to be really close and depend on each other forever." "But I don't think that's romantic at all. I'm my own person, and I'm gonna live my own life! I don't wanna be tied to anyone else anymore."

"…Fuka," Tamahome said. "But, are you sure? You might be okay with it, but do you think he'll be okay alone?…" "Why're you so worried about Yuma anyway? He's the one who used to pick on you all the time," Fuka demanded. Tamahome had no answer. "He's a coward… Even though he's sixteen years old now, he's still stuck in that house. And he still hasn't gotten over the complex he had towards you…" "Complex…?" Tamahome asked with a tilted head. "Why didn't you ever get revenge on him? Didn't he do such horrible things to you? Since you finally got strong because of that weird old man, you should've smacked Yuma a couple good ones to pay him back for what he did to you all those years. But why didn't you?! Is it because you're one of the noble chosen ones of Suzaku? Are you saying filthy serfs aren't even worthy enough to be beaten up by you?!" "…No… That's not…why…" Tamahome clenched his fists tightly. "I just… know about the hell you guys're going through at home…" "I thought so…" Fuka bit her lip. "So it was sympathy. It's because we're poor orphans who are being abused by our relatives." Tamahome stood in silence. "But your family's no different from ours… No, actually, you're even poorer than we are, since you have more kids. It's just that your family has something ours doesn't… So that's why… And Yuma's always been bitter about that. And also bitter of you for putting up with the torture he gave you so you could protect your family…" Tamahome still could not speak. "But what's more, you're Tamahome, one of Suzaku's Seven. There's nothing Yuma can say he has better off than you."

Fuka then lowered her gaze. "But, ya know, I guess your leaving the village might put Yuma a bit at ease? I'm sure after a while, he'll get the idea to leave, too. Then he'll leave and start his new life the way he wants to." "Fuka…" Tamahome scratched his head. "I don't really understand…what you're talking about… I guess it's true you don't have real parents… But Yuma is the only blood-relative you have. So I don't see how you can talk like that… Yeah, and Yuma, too… When he has such a… such a sweet little sister, I don't see why he should be jealous of me! And I don't understand you either! How could you leave your only living relative like that? How can you say you don't need him, or that you need to live separate lives?…" "Stupid." "Huh?" "You still don't get it?" Fuka whirled her face away from him. "Don't get what…?" Just then, something caught Fuka's and Tamahome's ears. Hearing the sound getting louder and louder from behind them, they both glanced up the hill. Dust clouds from a stomping horse filled their eyes. * "Fuka! What's the big idea!" Stopping his horse in front of the pair, sliding off its back, and gasping for breath, Yuma yelled at his sister. It looked as though he had been riding frantically around the area searching for her. "Don't tell me you and he are…" "Yup. We're eloping," Fuka said with a smirk as she grabbed Tamahome's arm. "Hahahahaha! Impossible… That'd never happen in a million years!" "Whaaat?"

Yuma nudged his face close to Tamahome's. At last, Tamahome had caught up with him, and the two were now exactly the same height. Fuka pushed the two apart. "Aw, shut up, Yuma. Tamahome and I're going into business together, so stay out of our way." "Business?" "That's right. We're gonna look for places with rich people and be handymen." Yuma's face instantly turned bright red. "Stop joking around! Come with me!" Fuka viciously tore her hand away. "Stop acting like you're in charge of me! Who in their right mind would want to go back to that house!" Yuma said, "I didn't say anything about going back." A slight flush of red came on Fuka's cheeks. "Do you mean, you also… ran away…?" Ignoring Tamahome's question, Yuma grabbed Fuka's arm with such force that she could not escape this time. "What're you doing! If you ran away from home, then you can just do whatever you want. Stop trying to help me!" "You think I'm gonna do that? You may be a pest sometimes, but you're still my only…little sister." "Just stop it!" Fuka yelled. "I'm not even your real sister! We're not even blood related!!" Fuka's words caused both Tamahome's and Yuma's bodies to tremble. Fuka slipped out of Yuma's grasp.

A silence rang over the threesome for a few minutes. Tamahome, who had believed the two to be blood-related up until then, was at a loss for words. Now he finally understood why Fuka had never called Yuma "Brother". But the "parents" who found them didn't seem to realize the two were not related. Even the villagers thought of them as two souls deeply bonded together among strangers… And Yugetsu was the one who thought this the strongest. Yuma finally broke the silence. "What's so important about blood anyway?… Listen, I've decided from the very beginning that I'd take care of you just like you were my real sister." Fuka continued to glare at him with cold eyes. Tamahome finally returned to his senses and nodded. "…Look, Fuka, things worked out for you. It doesn't matter that you're not really blood-related. Well, I guess I'll leave you two alone and continue on by myself." As Tamahome waved to the Sai-siblings and turned to leave, he heard a voice speak out behind him. "Not so fast." At the sound of Yuma's voice, Tamahome tiredly turned around. Yuma asked his sister, "Even though I think of you as a sister, you've decided to think of me as a stranger… Is that why you want to be with Tamahome instead of me?… Are you in love with him?" Fuka exploded with laughter at that question. "I only thought he'd be good at making money. Money moves the world, after all. And I'm sick of being poor. I just think that if I pair up with Tamahome, who's such a hard worker and money-lover, I'm bound to become better off." Hearing this, Yuma nodded. "I see. Then I understand…" Then he said, "But if money's all you're after, then you should first make sure if Tamahome really is better at making money than I am." Tamahome and Fuka simultaneously cocked their heads in confusion. "What…do you mean…by that…"

Asked by Fuka, Yuma released the reigns from his hand. "You're free from today on, too. Find a nice place for yourself."

"Yuma…" The horse anxiously looked at her master. She had been bought for cheap at the same time Fuka and Yuma were adopted. She was feisty, however, and did not let the adults touch her. She only seemed to respect Fuka and Yuma. "Come on. Go…" Yuma said with a tap on her neck. Nuzzling her nose in Yuma's face, she galloped into the distance. After watching his thin, wild horse disappear in a cloud of dust, Yuma walked up to Tamahome. "Listen, we're gonna compete to see who's a better handyman. And I'm not too keen on losing." Tamahome sighed under Yuma's sharp gaze. "Listen here, I don't want to compete against you. It's just a waste of time. I'm leaving," Tamahome said as he slowly turned his back on Yuma and walked away. "Damn you, how dare you chicken out!" Tamahome felt his collar being grabbed from behind. "Chickening out, you say?…" Tamahome slowly turned around. On his forehead, the symbol for "demon" faintly shone. Yuma smirked and nodded. "That's right. You spineless Monster-Boy!" The symbol now shone in full force. Nearly six years had passed since its last appearance. "I dare ya to say that one more time." "Fine, I'll say it over and lover. You're a spineless Monster-Boy!" ### "You must be tired," Wataru said. Miaka shook her head. "I'm fine… I'm a bit tired, but it was lots of fun!" Then, she continued in a meek voice. "It's because you were so nice and helpful."

After the dog-walking, the two helped someone move, went food shopping, pulled weeds, and kept the elderly company… After performing task after task, the sun had finally begun to sink. "Being a handyman can be very tiring, but today was especially full of work. I hope you weren't turned off by it," Wataru said with a laugh. "But seriously, I think you have a talent for this line of work. You're bright, optimistic, and try very hard. The clients love that sort of personality." "R…really? I've never really considered myself talented, except that I do try hard…" "That's what matters most," Wataru said with a smile. "…Thanks…" "Well, guess I'll see you tomorrow! Get plenty of sleep tonight." Miaka dumbly stared after Onizuka Wataru as he walked away. ---------Notes: Yes, the "oni" in "Onizuka" is the same symbol as the "oni" that appears on Tamahome's forehead. That's why Miaka was so drawn to him.

Chapter 4: The Wanted Mimadoh In a small alley way in a small town, a young girl hurried home. The sun had set completely and there were no other people along the path. The girl had gotten caught up in conversation at her friend's house and had lost track of time. Feeling guilt over not keeping her promise to her father of coming home before darkness fell, the girl ran as frantically as possible. For some reason, the distance home felt even longer that day than it normally did. Suddenly feeling a pang of uneasiness in her chest, the girl pushed forward even stronger. Just then, a small, withered beggar appeared from behind a wall and extended his hand. "…Eep!" Frightened of the eerie figure, the girl fumbled in her purse for coins. But the beggar slowly shook his head. "It isn't money I want." The dark eyes of the beggar glowed with an unfamiliar light. The girl's body was enveloped in panic. She tried to yell for help, but she could not make a sound. "What I want is the young and beautiful…" the beggar began as he raised the small tassel-embellished rattle that he held in his other hand. "…meat of a girl." A large, fanged beast suddenly appeared in front of the girl. "Ahhhhhhhhh!!…" Barely seconds after she regained use of her voice, she was silenced. Looking down fondly on the serpent-like beast as it sucked the blood of the terrified girl, the beggar nodded in approval. "I see. So she tastes good. In that case, I shall feed you all the young, pretty girls of this land." Finishing its feast on the girl's body, the beast disappeared into the little beggar's body. Removing a small slip of paper from his breast pocket, the beggar casually placed it over the mutilated girl's body. "I must find another host. Unless I leave this weak beggar's body soon, I will not last even two more days without more meat…"

The beggar slowly wobbled away from the road. The chilling night winds whisked the slip of paper from the girl's body. On it read the words, "Mimadoh has arrived"… * "Well, now, come around! Come around! If you have any problem of any sort, come to me and I'll fix it! I call myself 'The Demon Handyman'! I'll help with anything from hard labor to delicate matters of the heart. Oh! Stop, old woman! Allow me to massage your shoulders for 50 coins an hour!" Tamahome out cordially to an old woman who was passing by. "Woaaaaah, you mustn't say 'old woman' to such a lovely young lady!" Hearing Yuma's booming voice from the other side of the road, the old woman stopped in her tracks. "How 'bout this? My business, 'The Horse Handyman' will not only massage your shoulders, but your back as well; and for only 40 coins!" Yuma shouted this excitedly as he took the hand of the "lovely young lady". He had changed out of the ragged clothes he used to wear on the farm, and into a set of new, stylish clothes. His hair had also been cut. "Well, in that case, I'll include thigh massages for only 30 coins! Oops, the last price I quoted was a mistake. What a fine, beautiful young lady you are!" Saying this, Tamahome tugged on the other hand of the "beautiful young lady". "What was thaaaat?! She's MY customer. This refined and dazzlingly gorgeous princess's entire body will be massaged by me for 2 hours for only 20 coins!!" "What was thaaaaat?! If you let this jerk massage you, your delicate royal bones will break like glass. Let me massage you very GENTLY for only ten coins…" While continuing their ridiculous discounts, they tightened their grips on the royal, dazzlingly beautiful young lady. "Argh! Just leave me alone already!!"

The clearly old and shriveled lady shoved the two young men off herself before her arms were ripped off. "I don't care how cheap your services are; I don't have that kind of money. In fact, I'm stone broke and I'm scared on top of that. I'm not the kind of fancy person who can just throw my money away at handymen." Hearing this, Yuma snorted loudly. "What the hell. If ya didn't have any money, you shouldn't've stopped when we called you, old hag." The old lady stuck her shriveled face inches in front of Yuma's. "I stopped when you called because I thought you were handsome young fellas. But now I see you're just rude, money-grubbing brats." Then, she spoke to both handymen, "I don't really care what you do, but try not to do business here. You'll get in trouble." Just after the old woman left, she was immediately replaced by four men. "Step right up! I'll take on any job for cheap. I'm The Demon…" "Take your business HERE, gentlemen." The most senior of the men stepped up and grabbed Tamahome's collar and lifted him off the ground. "Ohh! If you want to use him as a punching bag, be my guest! Just 100 coins for ten minutes; money up front, please!" "Shut up! You kids've got some nerve doing business on our turf." "Oh, is THAT what the problem is. I'm sorry. We forgot to bring our business licenses with us, so…" Tamahome said, pleading ignorance. "What was thaaaat? Get outta here right away! Or else…" Smack! Not waiting for the street toughs to finish, Yuma kicked at the boss's legs.

"How dare you!!" After his gloriously ungraceful connection with the ground, the boss angrily yelled at his subordinates. "Wh-why youuuuu! Come on, get 'em! Cut 'em to pieces and throw 'em in the river!" Yuma and Tamahome readied themselves in fighting poses. One minute later… Tamahome and Yuma patted their hands off as they watched the gang scramble out of the town's streets in a desperate attempt to save themselves from being cut to pieces. "…Guess I'm not surprised, Suzaku Warrior, Tamahome…" Tamahome snickered in response. "You're not too bad yourself. After all, you're the infamous Yuma who could even silence crying children…" Yuma and Tamahome suddenly gasped in unison, turned their backs on each other, and sat down hard on the straw mat. Watching them from far away on a tree branch, Fuka sighed and swayed back and forth. Nearly two weeks had passed since Tamahome accepted Yuma's challenge to be the better handyman. Not knowing where to start, they had been wandering from town to town trying to find odd jobs, but neither of them had gotten many customers. Instead of improving, their sales pitches had merely grown more desperate and violent until neither of them got any customers at all. "I don't think glaring at each other on top of a straw mat will get us any money… " Fuka sighed out her frustration and was suddenly filled with gentleness. "Well, guess it's time for me to start." Lowering herself out of the tree like a monkey, Fuka began to sing quietly. Beautiful words and melodies filled with her prayers for love and peace flowed from her mouth. Drawn by the beautiful voice, first one, then two, then many villagers began to gather around.

Not a single person watching frowned over the androgynous and dirty appearance of the holder of the voice. Fuka herself felt the soothing sounds of her song reach the frightened hearts of the listeners. Chinnnnnng. Coins were thrown at Yuma's and Tamahome's feet. "Oh, handsome handymen, in return I expect you both to give me a GOOD massage afterwards." The two boys raised their heads to see Fuka grinning down at them. The past two weeks, the party had been essentially supported by Fuka. That is how Yuma was even able to afford new clothes and a haircut. "Sure. But when're we gonna decide who won the handyman competition?" "Aw shut up," Yuma said in disgust. "The way things are now, it doesn't look like either one of you could support me. I'm sick of waiting for results, so I guess I should just go out and make it on my own." "Fu…Fuka…!" As Yuma stared blankly at his sister attempting to leave the scene, Tamahome grabbed onto Fuka's arm. "I have a debt to repay to you. I won't let you go until I can pay you back." "Wow, I never expected I'd hear that from the money-grubbing Tamahome." "I just like everything to be settled properly!" "Since I made so much money with my singing today, I splurged a little and had those made for us. I made sure half of them advertised for the Demon Handyman and half for the Horse Handyman. Sheesh, makes me wonder where you boys'd be without me. *

The three immediately went to work posting the fliers. Barely after they had finished, they soon realized the streets of the once thriving town were now empty. "I guess that old woman was right; the world is full of bad luck," Yuma sighed. "That too, but… don't you feel an evil sensation around here?" Fuka nodded at Tamahome's observation. "Didn't that old lady say something about being scared? And I remember sensing fear from the other villagers when I was singing a while ago." Just then, a lone carriage passed slowly along side the three. "I'm The Demon Handyman! I'll do any odd job!" Tamahome cried desperately as he threw a flier through the window. The carriage suddenly stopped. Then, another piece of paper was sent out the window. At first, Tamahome thought the passenger had simply thrown the handyman flier out the window, but he soon discovered it was different. "Mr. Handyman, if you really can help us with any job, then please capture that," a young, quiet voice came from inside the carriage. "Dark times are falling on Konan these days, and we are unsure of when Suzaku no Miko will appear. This means we as citizens must do what we can to protect our country until she does come." The mature voice of the young boy stopped there. "…Brother, what'm I saying…? Huh? What's this flier? A Handyman?" "It's nothing, Dokun. Come, we must hurry home. Mother will worry." The flier, taken from the young boy's hand, was thrown out of the carriage this time as the horse carried it swiftly away. Tamahome's eyes still stared at the flier he had been handed seconds earlier. If he had looked up for an instant into the carriage, however, he just might have caught a glimpse… of the young boy who had just taken his first government examination in the capital and was on his way home from visiting a relative in that village… Suzaku Warrior Chiriko…

"Mimadoh… eh." While camping under a bridge that night, Tamahome whispered the name over and over to himself. "I guess any town would be scared with that sort of sketchy guy wandering around," Yuma said as he peered at the flier. "A mysterious sorcerer who manipulates monsters…" "And they say young, beautiful girls are mainly his targets. Hmmmm," Fuka said quietly, lost in her own thoughts. "I guess your handyman businesses won't do in this situation. What should we do?" "What else can we do?" "There's only one option." Fuka tilted her head sideways and stared blankly at the rivaling duo. "Yuma… Tamahome… You don't mean…" "I'll catch that Mimadoh!" Yuma raised his fists and Tamahome's forehead glowed red. Fuka once again looked at the flier. Printed in large letters was notice of a 100 gold coin reward to whoever captured Mimadoh. "…Ohhhh." The man who watched the three from the shadows put a hand to his chin. "To think one of Suzaku's Seven might cross paths with me…" He then gently petted the strange rattle he held in his other hand. "Intriguing… I suppose I shall occupy myself by playing with the two that are with him as well." Saying this, the man's body folded in half and his voice was drowned out in a fit of coughing. "I must eat some more fresh, young female meat soon… If only I had known my host was so feeble…"

While grumbling his complaints and grasping at his throbbing chest, the man disappeared into the darkness. Later that night… Fuka softly sat up. Tamahome and Yuma were asleep next to her. Ever since the three had left the village, they had spent every night camped outside. Noticing Tamahome's shirt was falling open, Fuka reached out to close it, but then stopped herself. "…Tamahome, you still have that around your neck…" What he wore around his neck was "Shugyoku", the red jewel his mother had given him on her deathbed. The jewel glowed softly, reflecting the pale light of the moon. "I wonder what girl he's going to give it to?… I wonder who he's going to make happy…" With a quiet breath, Fuka took his jewel in her fingers and brought it to her chest. Yuma continued to watch on without moving a muscle. He felt as though he was seeing a feminine side of Fuka for the first time in his life. No… perhaps it was the second time. Yuma thought back to the day when Fuka had first heard the Legend of Shugyoku and excitedly told him about it. He remembered how pretty and pink her cheeks were that day. It was then that a feeling took root inside of him… or began to bud, rather. This feeling made him feel very uneasy, but it eventually was replaced with a firm determination. Mom… he spoke inside his mind to the mother he lost when he was six. I've made… my decision… His hope of capturing Mimadoh and getting the reward was joined with another, brighter hope. * First I'll capture the sorcerer Mimadoh and get the reward money. The next day, Tamahome and Yuma began their fierce quest to find Mimadoh. But the mysterious sorcerer continued to travel from town to town, devouring young girls.

Atop the body of every girl devoured lay the sheet of paper that read, "Mimadoh has arrived." Along with the incidents came occasional accounts of Mimadoh from elderly eye-witnesses… It seemed as though Mimadoh was playing a twisted sort of hide-and-seek game with them until before they realized it, two months had passed. After traveling aimlessly from town to town, the party of three had finally arrived in Eiyoh, the capital of Konan. "Woaaaaah, so this is the capital…" Fuka, who stood in the middle of Main Street with her arms spread wide, inhaled deeply. There were shops as far as the eye could see, and so many people passed by that they were impossible to count. This was certainly a capital. It bustled and prospered with no signs of misfortune. "What a glamorous place…" Fuka said in awe as those "glamorous" people who walked by scooted away to avoid the "unglamorous" Fuka who stood in their way. "I think you really should get some new clothes. You kinda stand out too much like that." Fuka shook off Yuma's request. "Shaddup! I'm most comfortable dressed the way I am, so leave me alone." In the process of whisking herself away from Yuma's side, Fuka bumped into a passerby. "Ahhhhh!" Letting out an ear-piercing scream, the victim began to yell frantically at Fuka. "What's the big idea! You just soiled my clothes! These are the Choh Rokoh Brand label, you know!" The snobby brand-conscious city-girl scowled at Fuka as if she were looking at a bag of garbage. "Beggars have no right to wander around in broad daylight!" Fuka's eyes gleamed with anger. This caused the brand-girl's eyes to travel to Fuka's dirty hair, another area which she felt safer not being near. "I'm not a beggar…you bitch." Fuka took one step towards the girl. The girl took one step back.

"I've never begged for food once in my life. I'm not that kind of girl!" "Girl…?" the girl tilted her head sideways and Fuka's eyes gleamed even more fiercely. Then, it happened. "Move it!" Fuka tackled the girl to the ground. The serpent-beast that had appeared suddenly behind the girl's back in an attempt to eat her bared its fangs maliciously at Fuka. "Eeeeeep! There it is!!" "It's Mimadoh's monster!" As the people nearby all screamed in horror, they scurried away like frightened spiders. Despite this, Fuka seemed defiant. "So you finally showed yourself! Come on! If I kill just one of you, that's still lots of money!" The serpent-monster had grown a second head and roared angrily as it danced in the air. Facing this monster, Fuka leapt into the air. "I'll kill ya and cook ya up for dinner! Yaaaaaaa!!" "Idiot! Stop it!!" Blood spurted from Yuma's shoulder as he covered Fuka. Ripping a piece of cloth from her own clothes, Fuka immediately went to work on Yuma's wound. "…Stupid… I would've had him if you didn't butt in…" Right beside her, the once high-and-mighty city girl clung to Fuka in terror, opening and closing her mouth in a feeble attempt to scream.

In the line of her gaze was the vision of Tamahome sparring with the monster. The symbol for "demon" shone brilliantly red on his forehead. * His shoulders heaving violently up and down, Tamahome looked down on the lifeless monster. Suddenly, it lost shape and disappeared into thin air.

"…What the hell…?" Tamahome murmured as he saw this. Yuma finally returned to his side. He had been chasing after an old man who had been hiding around the corner. It looked as though the man had been controlling the beast, but Yuma shook his head when he began to report. "It's no use… it looks like that old man is also under someone else's control… He was unconscious and didn't remember anything…" "So what IS Mimadoh anyway?… He seems like a wandering spirit to me…" Fuka puzzled while someone sat up behind her. Her brand-name robe was saturated in mud. She slowly made way to the three. "Hey, I hope you don't intend to complain to me some more…" Fuka began. But the girl ignored Fuka's stare and walked directly in front of Tamahome. Remains of the red symbol still shone faintly on his forehead. "You are one of Suzaku's… Seven chosen ones, are you not." "…Guess so," Tamahome mumbled in response. The girl looked Tamahome over up and down and said, "What are you doing for a living now?" "Right now… I'm sort of… a handyman…" Hearing this, the girl's eyes suddenly sparkled. "In that case, will you be my bodyguard?" "Huh?" "Didn't you just see it? The monster that likes to prey on beautiful girls just tried to kill me," she said almost proudly. Fuka butted in, "he also attacked me, ya know."

"Oh, be quiet, you! Stop trying to steal my position! I'm sure the monster just miscalculated slightly while it was charging at me." After yelling at Fuka, the girl once again smiled sweetly at Tamahome. "I'll pay you well. After all, my father, Kyoh, is the largest wholesaler in Konan, and I am his only daughter, Bihoh. I'm a fifteen year old girl so beautiful even the flowers are jealous of me. Can't you do me this little favor?" The outspoken girl thrust her abundant chest in Tamahome's direction. Just as her name dictated, a sort of mysterious allure seemed to sparkle down her body. "The flowers are jealous, my ass. If she's really a fifteen year old girl, she could still be plenty more beautiful. Tamahome, don't waste your time with this bitch," Fuka said, tugging on Tamahome's sleeve. He pushed her hand off. "…Tamahome…?" "Say, if you're really willing to pay me a lot, then I'd like at least one gold coin up front." "That is fine with me." Bihoh produced a gold coin from her purse and showed it to Tamahome. "I suppose this should cover you for a week." Tamahome nodded and accepted the coin. "Hey… you're not really gonna work for her, are you? What about Mimadoh?" Yuma demanded. Tamahome answered tiredly, "I've given up." "You gave up??" "Yeah. Didn't you see why? The guy we're after is a sorcerer. We're no match for him. And besides, this girl's offer seems much easier and lucrative." Fuka stared blankly at Tamahome for a while until she finally lowered her head and whispered. "So that's how it is… I'm disappointed in you." "So you said your name was Bihoh? Should I start by escorting you home?"

Kyoh's daughter nodded victoriously. "Yes. And once we get home, you'll stay with me constantly. All you need to do is watch over me all the time, and you'll be paid." Bihoh's eyes had slowly been drawn to the red glimmer that came from the jewel around Tamahome's neck. Yuma whispered, "…Tamahome… you bastard…" "So, Yuma, it looks like I won the competition. So that means we're even, right? So stop chasing after me." Yuma's body shivered in anger. "And Fuka…" Tamahome tossed his newly earned money at Fuka. "This should clear my debt to you. Spend it however you want." "…Tamahome…" Bihoh grabbed Tamahome's arm. "Well, let's go home. This boy and beggar …girl?… are no longer of any concern to you." Lead by the wealthy wholesaler's daughter, Tamahome left behind the bewildered Yuma and Fuka. ### Miaka gazed up at the Christmas Eve's night sky. The stars seemed to shine brighter than usual as they appeared one by one. "Are you finished for today?" Miaka jumped when she heard the voice from behind her. "Too bad we both had to work on Christmas Eve." "…Onizuka…kun…" Miaka's heart grew louder and louder as it pounded against her chest.

Hey, Yui… actually, I think I might've fallen in love with a guy at my work. Whaaaat?! Wow, good for you. So the food-glutton Miaka finally found love. So what's his name? Well… I call him "Onizuka-kun". Hmm, that's a rare last name. Yeah… I think so…too… So, what're you gonna do? Are you gonna ask him out? Tomorrow's Christmas Eve, after all. Well… I think he probably has a girlfriend. He's really cute and sweet… You idiot. If you keep worrying about that, nothing'll happen. At least try! ….Y-yeah, I guess you're right… Okay, I guess I'll…as him out… even if he turns me down… at least I'll know I tried… "Miaka-chan, do you have any …plans for tonight…?" Wataru asked shyly. Miaka furiously shook her head. "N-n-no! Nothing at all!" "I see." Miaka seemed to float gleefully over Wataru's smile. "Well, then… I thought you might wanna… hang out…with me…" "Huh?…" "Not just for tonight, of course! I wanna see you more and more. I wanna get to know you better…" "…Me…too…" As Wataru took her hand and walked along with her, Miaka felt she was walking in the clouds. My first date is on Christmas Eve… with a nice, handsome boy I met at her work… This is just… this is just too good to be true…! Her gaze shot up to the sky just then to see a star begin to shine at the edge of the atmosphere. It shone faintly, but it seemed to be beckoning to her. Just then, an old man and his grandson passed by. "What's that star called, Grandpa?"

Miaka gasped and turned back to look at the little boy pointing to the star. "That's called the Star of Tamahome. It's meaning is 'Demon Lodging'," the old man answered with a smile. Star of Tamahome… At the sound of that name, Miaka's heart suddenly picked up its pace. What… what am I about to do right now? Miaka stared deeply at Wataru's hand that was pulling her along. Is he… is he the one? Is he the one I really love?… Miaka shook her head lightly. No… He's not… He's not the one…! Something inside of Miaka's heart was forcefully compelling her. "I'm sorry!" Miaka suddenly stopped walking and gently let go of Wataru's hand. "I think… I really shouldn't go out with you…" Wataru nodded faintly at the apologetic Miaka. "…That's okay… I sensed you felt that way." "I knew that there was probably someone else out there more fitting for you than me…" "Really… I'm really sorry!" Unable to say any more, Miaka turned and ran. The Star of Tamahome continued to shine down gently on her. ---------Notes: The "Horse" in Yuma's Handyman name comes from the second Chinese character that makes up his name. (His two name characters mean "distant" and "horse"). "Bihoh" means "flirtatious fragrance"

Chapter 5: The Bankrupt Merchant "Myyy, I'm so happy to have you. I am Bihoh's father, Senmei. I thank you kindly for rescuing my daughter today." The merchant who seemed to value money and life equally rubbed his hands together as he greeted Tamahome. "After all, that strange sorcerer Mimadoh seems to've finally shown up around these parts. I was very worried about it. After all, as you can see, my only daughter is so beautiful and refined." "Aw, Daddy, stop." Changed into a new robe, Bihoh sat beside her father and tapped his stomach. "…Why don't you stop with the Kansai dialect…" Senmei shyly slapped his bald head and chuckled. "Sorry, hun'. But I was born in the So'un Province, so I'm no good at speaking capital city-talk." "Listen, ya can gripe all ya want about not looking rich enough or sounding rich enough, but when it all comes down to it, MONEY is what makes ya rich." "I know that already," Bihoh snapped. "Oh my, oh my, what an outspoken daughter I've got… After all, I love money just about as much as I love girls. I had ten wives and thirty children with 'em, but… They all gave me the run-around and with the doctor bills and everything else, I couldn't keep 'em all. In the end, this girl's the only one who came back to me, so I'm really attached to her right now." Tamahome nodded silently at the blabbermouth-merchant. Bihoh had brought him home to an understandably large and elaborate merchant's mansion. Covering about as many square feet as all of the property of his village combined, Senmei did not waste any opportunity to show off his riches in the elaborate and gaudy architecture. Perhaps because he was raised since his teens to be a rich man, money seemed to be his top priority. "But now that you're here, I don't need to worry no more. Until Mimadoh is captured, please look after my daughter."

"…Yes, sir." "And about your payment. I was thinking three meals and fifty coins a day." Hearing this, Bihoh gave her father an exasperated look. "Aw, PLEASE. How could you be so cheap. I already paid him one gold coin for the week." "Whaaaat? A whole gold coinnnn?" Senmei frantically cried out. Suddenly returning to his senses, his gaze shot down as he mumbled what sounded like mathematical calculations. "How 'bout sixty coins per day." "Daddy, Tamahome came to the capital to make money to feed his sick father and four younger siblings!" "Yeah, but that's why I think my offer's plenty… How 'bout sixty-five?" "Not quite enough!" Bihoh yelled. "Fine, sixty-eight!" "Not quite enough!" Unable to stand not being part of the action, Tamahome joined in. "You…" Senmei gave him a suspicious stare. "Come now, kind sir! Raise it just a little more!" "Mmmmmmmmrrrgh! Fine! I'll throw away all shards of sanity! Seventy coins per day!" Just next to him, his daughter turned her face away and mumbled, "cheapskate". "In return, you'll have to let me pay ya day by day. I hate paying up front." Senmei then nudged his face close to Tamahome's. "And I hope it's really true that you ARE one of Suzaku's chosen ones…" Hearing this, Bihoh attacked her father. "Stop it! Tamahome bravely rescued me! And when he did, I saw on his forehead…"

"On his foreheaddddd?" Senmei prodded as he scratched and blew on Tamahome's forehead. It took all of the tolerance Tamahome could muster to not fight back. "What're you doing, Daddy! He's not a novelty item! His symbol only appears when he's full of energy and courage!" "I seeee. Well, never mind then… I feel very proud to have one of Suzaku's chosen ones staying at my house. Hahaha. See ya." Giving Tamahome's forehead one last final critical scratch, Senmei left his daughter's room. * "I'm sorry…My father can be so embarrassing sometimes…" Once alone, Bihoh slid next to Tamahome. "Even though he's got gobs of money, I wonder why he's so stingy… At first, he was even against my having a bodyguard; said it was a waste of money." Silence. Bihoh scooted even closer. "But once I told him you were one of Suzaku's Seven, he gave the okay. Hmhmhm, I guess the Suzaku-brand really is high quality." Silence. "When you were fighting the monster, you really were beautiful, Tamahome… And to think that you're going to protect me for a while… it makes me so happy!" She scooted even closer to Tamahome and slipped her hand over his chest. "This is… Shugyoku… isn't it? Mommy told me about it just before she died… I was only three then, though…" For the first time, Tamahome actually looked at her. "So your mother is dead?…" Bihoh nodded.

"His other nine wives left with their children when they found out Daddy was cheating on them, but my mom gave birth to me all by herself and died soon after." "I see…" Tamahome's gaze towards Bihoh softened up a little. He had just discovered that even people who seem to live rich and happy lives still have their own complex problems. "Mommy always told me that money wasn't everything. She said I'd understand why when I see the Shugyoku jewel…" Saying this, Bihoh softly fingered Tamahome's jewel. "The girl who gets this jewel gets to live happily ever after with you forever, right?" "Yeah, but I think it's just a legend that girls find romantic…" Tamahome said with shrugged shoulders. Bihoh, however, was enraptured by the jewel. "If you gave this jewel… to me… it would probably make me very happy…" Tamahome stared deeply at Bihoh. "In that case, want it?" Bihoh jerked her head up. "Wh…what did you just say?" "I said, if the jewel would really make you that happy, should I give it to you…" * The shadow clinging to the Kyoh mansion's windowsill softly fell to the ground. "I really am disappointed in you… Tamahome," Fuka said as she stuck out her tongue. "You're only being sympathetic for someone just because you both lost your mothers. Or maybe you're just trying to use her to get more money for your own happiness…" She turned her back on the mansion and began to walk away without turning back. Fuka and Yuma had no father, no mother, and not even any siblings. The relationship the Sai-couple had with them was nothing beyond master-slave. That was the very reason why both of them had longed for a family like Tamahome's; a family that was warm and happy, no matter how poor. And a family where every member was dedicated to preserving the warmth.

To make matters worse, the weak Tamahome was one of Suzaku's chosen ones. Yuma felt relentless jealousy over this; jealousy that had taken shape as bullying. Yuma's feelings, and Tamahome's own feelings of resentment towards his own powers causing so many bad feelings for Yuma… Fuka understood both to the point of her own pain resulting. That was why she had hoped even a silly competition like a handyman showdown could help the two boys clear up their differences. Outside her planning, the competition had mutated into the search for Mimadoh and the reward money. It was then that Fuka realized that if Tamahome, Yuma, and herself worked together, they might actually be able to capture Mimadoh and get the money. How good that would feel… and how wonderful an accomplishment that would be… "Hmph. See if I care anymore." Trying to shake off this fantasy, Fuka violently shook her head. Even though it was for the good of his family, Tamahome only cared about money. Additionally, he was an irresponsible hero, apathetic of his divine duties. Fuka had originally intended on watching over Tamahome until the Priestess appeared, but she no longer cared to. Anyone who would so carelessly give away the Shugyoku jewel… is unworthy. Pulling the money Tamahome gave her from her pouch, Fuka whispered to herself, "I never even leant him this much in the first place," she grumbled, throwing it over her head. Suddenly, the money disappeared into thin air. "Wh-wh-what the hell?!" Fuka jumped up and down and batted at the air. "That can't be… where did it go?!" Then it happened. A large pointed hat appeared suddenly in front of her, out of which emerged feet, legs, a body, then finally, a head. After emerging fully from the hat, what appeared to be a traveling monk held out Fuka's money to her.

"Is this what you're looking for, you know?" Fuka, unable to speak, was smiled at by the grinning man. "I'm in the middle of training, you know. I was practicing my teleportation magic and ended up moving your belongings." After staring at the monk for a while with a puzzled expression and a tilted head, Fuka finally managed to speak, "Say, I trust you, so would you do me a favor?" "Favor?" "Yes. Could you teleport this money into a house in Hakukoh Village in the Jusoh Prefecture? And hurry. You can teleport there right away with that hat-thing of yours, can't you? The father of that family is very sick and his four children are working very hard, but they're still hungry." "Is that so…" "So, you can do it, right? I want to get this money to them as quickly as possible." "Is that your house?" "No. It's Soh Kishuku's house. He's actually one of Suzaku's Seven chosen ones, but he's out in the capital trying to make money now." "Suzaku's… Tamahome…" "It doesn't seem like he really cares he's Tamahome, though. So, will you do it?" The traveler finally nodded silently at Fuka's request. As he disappeared in a puff of smoke with the money, Fuka sighed and thought to herself, I just know he'll get the money to them safely… Naturally, Fuka had no idea whatsoever that the monk she had just met was training under the deity Taiitsu-kun, and that he was Chichiri, one of Suzaku's Seven… "So what now…"

No longer burdened with her task of getting the money to Tamahome's family, Fuka could only wander aimlessly through the streets. No matter how dark and lonely the streets were, Fuka felt no fear. As she cut through the chilly night breezes with her stride, she crossed paths with two merchants. Passing by them, she caught part of their conversation. "I hear Kyoh's doing really badly these days." "He's gotten way too much inventory and is drowning in the expenses. I hear creditors have already started to bother him." "Yeah, and that mansion of his is about to be repossessed. I guess the only thing that might get him out of debt at this point would be to sell that cute daughter of his, eh?" "Yeah, yeah. Sometimes the world can be a harsh place." Hearing this behind her back, Fuka's breathing quickened slightly. The Kyoh business is nearly bankrupt? So that's why that guy was extra stingy. But… it seems like there's more to it than that…. Not allowing herself to finish her thoughts, Fuka shook her head again. "It's not my problem anymore…" she said as she disappeared into the night by herself. Someone had been watching her from the shadows. Since it was dark, it could not be distinguished whether it was a boy or girl… or young or old. "I smelled as I could smell…" came the gravely voice. "So that is the figure of the female flesh my pet desires the most…?" the voice asked in disbelief. The voice was answered by the disturbing sound of something swishing in circles through the air. * "Dammit!…" Yuma kicked the ground. "Who the hell IS that Mimadoh…?! Dammit…"

Still unable to find Mimadoh, Yuma had fallen into frustration. A week had passed since Tamahome was taken in by the Kyoh merchant. Fuka had followed him for a while after he was taken to the mansion. "…Fuka…" So you really do love Tamahome… A new energy began to boil up inside of Yuma as he stood alone, struck with hopelessness. He probably did beat me at being a handyman. But the competition for Mimadoh's capture hasn't ended yet. Tamahome, while you're relaxing with the easy job of looking after some spoiled rich girl, I'm busting my ass off for something that's really important. Just you watch, Fuka. I'll show you I have way more courage and strength than that lazy "chosen one". That guy's no match for me. And I'll show you that I'm the only guy who can really take good care of you. Since they parted, Yuma caught sight of Fuka several times in the capital, singing. It seemed as though she had finally noticed his feelings for her. Until our competition is over for good, promise me you won't leave the capital, Fuka… Yuma thought to himself as he reached into his pocket to make sure his special treasure was still there. Then, it happened. Yuma caught sight of the silhouettes of two men entering a back alleyway. Feeling a strange sense of urgency in his heart, Yuma began to follow them. After a while, the two shadowed figures began to talk. "So, will ya really give me the money you promised?…" "Of course I will." After an awkward pause… "What's the matter, Mr. Kyoh? After you've done us a big favor like this trade, no harm can come to you. Our Kingdom will be in debt to you and your daughter for as long as you both shall live."

"…Ohhh." Hearing this far, Yuma frowned and tilted his head. One of the voices spoke in a Kansai accent and the other belonged to a very old man. Could the "Mr. Kyoh" be the same Kyoh that took in Tamahome? It sounds like a trade of money and something else, but what is it? Yuma strained his ears to learn more. "Konan is doomed to invasion by Kutoh's army anyway. But the Suzaku Seven will merely slow the process." "Yes… I do see your point. But I'm still not sure if that boy really is one of Suzaku's Seven… I haven't even seen his symbol myself…" "I am sure of it." "Ohhh, is that so…" "That is why we must receive Tamahome at any cost." Hearing this much, Yuma mustered all his strength to resist jumping out from his hiding place. Their business finished, the two shadowed-men parted. Yuma continued to stay plastered to the wall until the two men disappeared into the darkness. After a few moments of pondering, Yuma's instincts told him to follow the man headed for Kutoh. His feet, however, stopped in their tracks. It was because an old man was passed out in front of him. Yuma bent over and picked up the man. "Hey, you…" the presumed owner of the voice said as he leapt out of Yuma's arms and swerved sideways. Yuma felt an eerie chill run through his body. ### "Mom…" Miaka walked towards her mother, who was bent over at the dining room table, and spoke softly. "Hey, cheer up, okay?…"

"…Miaka…" Her mother slowly looked up and smiled weakly at her. "Just forget about Dad… You've still got Keisuke and me! And I'll work extra hard. I'll work hard and study hard. Then I promise I'll make it into Jonan High." Letting one tear drop, Miaka's mother stood and tightly embraced her daughter. "Thank you… I really appreciate it…" Miaka hugged back her mother as strongly as she could. "I'll do anything to make you happy, Mom. Just watch, I'll do well. I'll work so hard I'll even get better grades than Yui!" Then, Miaka spoke to herself, That's right. And I'll forget about romance for now. Her lonely quest for acceptance into the prestigious high school had begun. Yuuki Miaka, only fourteen years old, watched the falling cherry blossoms outside the window as she vowed to begin her new goal. ---------Notes: Just a random note, Bihoh's father speaks in the Kansai dialect (there always seems to be one character in every Watase Yuu story that does ^^;) In brief, the Kansai dialect is thought to be simultaneously charming, funny, and a bit hick-ish to the modern Japanese person. This might be the equivalent of an Irish or Liverpool accent to the average Brit… and maybe an Italian-New York accent to the average American… It's hard to find an exact equivalent.

Chapter 6: The Plan to Convert Delinquents

"Tama… Tama-dearrrrr…" Tamahome, opening his eyes at the sound of the coaxing voice, saw Bihoh's face smiling above his head. "…What?" "I was worried you'd fallen asleep." "I'm not asleep…" Tamahome said as he continued to sit completely still in a chair by the door to Bihoh's room. "It's my job, after all." The moonlight flooded gently through the window. "Hey, what do you think of this?" Bihoh, clad in a flowing nightgown, twirled before Tamahome. "That was a pretty nice spin." "Ya think? I've been taking dance lessons since I was three… Er, that's not what I meant!" Nudging her heavily beautified face towards her protector, Bihoh whispered sweetly, "It's just the two-of-us in this room. The only one who can see us is-the-moon!" Tamahome gave her a puzzled look. "Do as you wish. Don't-hold-back…" Tamahome tilted his head in confusion. "You're a man, aren't you? Surely you can't contain yourself." The young man looked at her with passionate eyes. "Are you sure? But I'm supposed to be on duty…" Bihoh gulped nervously and nodded excitedly at the same time. At last, the moment she had been waiting for all week had arrived.

"Okay, my darlinnnnng!" While wiggling her fingers invitingly towards her guest, Bihoh stepped back towards the bed and sat down. Tamahome stood up. "Are you sure… this is okay?… Won't your father be mad if he finds out? I always make really loud noises when I do this…" the young man said, with blood rushing through his veins, as he stepped closer and closer to her bed.

"Oh no, Tama-dear, be gentle! N-no, that's okay, do what you need to do! I'll forgive anything! Come on, baby!" The moment Bihoh spread her arms and collapsed her body onto the bed… was the exact same moment Tamahome collapsed onto the floor. Noticing her eager bodyguard had begun to do a set of spirited pushups on the floor, Bihoh stared blankly for a few seconds. "You were riiiiiight. My body got so stiff from sitting in that chair that I couldn't contain myself anymore!" Tamahome said as he switched to sit-ups. "By the way, I still haven't gotten today's 70 coins yet. " "Oh, really? Oh dear…" Bihoh put a hand to her mouth. "I'll tell Father about it tomorrow… I'll take care of everything, so you don't need to worry yourself…" "Okay, thanks," her bodyguard answered cheerfully. Bihoh said searchingly, "S-say, when your job is over… will you really leave?" Tamahome, having finished his routine, stood and answered, "Just like I told you, I have a hungry family waiting at home…" "I see…" the sulking Bihoh suddenly raised her face. "But listen, if Suzaku no Miko shows up in the capital, you'll have to come back here anyway, right?" "…Yeah… I guess so… I'd never really thought about that before." "I'm sure she'll come very soon. Well, I have a pretty happy and prosperous life here, but there are many suffering people in the world these days, and there's also that Mimadoh sorcerer running around…" Tamahome did not answer. "So when she comes, you'll come visit me, right?" Tamahome casually shrugged his shoulders. "…Maybe…" "Not maybe, promise you'll come see me! That's the way it should be!!" Saying this, Bihoh jumped up off the bed and flung herself towards Tamahome…

…Simultaneously, Tamahome lunged in the opposite direction with a, "Ooh! I found a coin on the ground!" "Ahhhhhhhhh!!" with her nightgown flapping wildly, Bihoh fell directly on the tigerskin rug. "Oh, that's right, I forgot to practice my flips…" Tamahome said as he went back to his exercises. * The next day, the Kyo parent and child went out together. “I have a made-to-measure dress ready today. I ordered it nearly half a year ago. I’m sooo looking forward to it.” On the way to the best clothing store in the capital, Bihoh appeared to be in an exceptionally good mood as she walked the streets with her father, arm in arm. A few paces behind them, Tamahome sneaked about on the alert for anything out of place. Suddenly, Bihoh’s walking stopped. A very high-class young adult clothed elegantly sauntered casually by with an attendant. This person was draped head to toe in light material, so the face could not be seen. Bihoh was puzzled for a while, then suddenly took in a breath and ran towards the graceful figure. “Ryuuen… You’re Ryuuen, aren’t you?” At those words, the young aristocrat stopped mid-pace. “No… I’m afraid you have the wrong person.” Bihoh hastily grabbed a hold of the arm of the person who was trying to walk away. “That can’t be. Your voice sounds just like Ryuuen’s, too. Why are you avoiding me?” No answer. “I’m on my way to your older brother’s business to get a new brand-name dress. Why don’t you come with me?” Still no answer.

“After you went off to your distant relative’s house a while ago, I haven’t even caught a glimpse of you around town… But I guess, since you’re dressed like that, you still haven’t overcome your illness…” “…Illness?...” the arm Bihoh held began to tremble. “I wish you’d turn back into the handsome Ryuuen you used to be… Even though we were both still kids back then, I was really attracted to you… But never mind. I’ve found a guy even more handsome.” Saying this, Bihoh glanced shyly at Tamahome. Her guardian was looking slightly away from her. “That’s right! And just like you, he’s also one of Suzaku’s…” “I told you, you’ve got the wrong person! You silly little bitch!” Cutting off Bihoh with one last rude remark, the lovely person shoved Bihoh away and walked swiftly into the crowd. Then, turning back and facing Tamahome briefly, the person spoke, “I don’t know what kind of problems you’re going through, but you still don’t have the right to take advantage of a girl’s feelings!” “…Huh?” Tamahome’s gaze whirled around to face the stranger who had just given him advice. All he managed to see was the backside of what appeared to be a beautifully dressed young woman, somehow shoving away street bums with a mere finger as she stomped away. Naturally, Tamahome had no idea that who he had just seen was a member of the harem on leave to visit an older brother at his clothing shop… nor that this person was Nuriko. As Bihoh received final adjustments for her made-to-measure dress, her father, Senmei sauntered over to the wall where her bodyguard leaned up against.

“Mr. Tamahome…Well, y’see, I have to go out a bit tonight, so I’ll need to take ya along with me.” Tamahome lightly scratched his head and looked up at the ceiling. “But you’re paying me to be Bihoh’s bodyguard, so I don’t think that would be proper…” “You drive a hard bargain, sonny…” Senmei sneered at Tamahome. “Fine, then what if I give ya an extra 50 coins.” “That will do. But I’ll need the money up front. Oh yes, that’s right, I’ll also need my payment from yesterday tooooo.” A grumbling Senmei rummaged in his purse and brought out his wallet. He started to count out the coins. Shortly after, Bihoh left the store with a large sack in hand. “When I talked to them about Ryuuen, they all seemed very surprised. So I guess that means he didn’t come home to visit after all… Then I wonder who that person was? Oh, and Dad, when I was there, they asked me to hurry up the payment for the dress. Didn’t you pay them yet? I was so embarrassed!” “Fine, fine, I’ll come back and pay them tomorrow, so don’t worry yourself, dear.” Then the three headed on the road home. From the shadows, a few paces behind, Yuma carefully watched after them. * “So this is the Kyo mansion, eh…” Seeing the party of three enter the large estate, Yuma caught his breath. So one of the voices in the conversation I overheard last night DID belong to the owner of this place. And according to plan, he’s going to lure Tamahome out tonight to hand him over to Kutoh. “Even with all this wealth, he STILL wants more money?...” Yuma spat out the words in frustration. In Kutoh’s eyes, Suzaku’s warriors are pests; that’s what the spy last night had said. And since Kutoh plans on invading Konan, getting rid of any hope of summoning Suzaku would surely put them at ease.

So I guess they’ll lock him up forever… or maybe they’ll just… Yuma shook these nasty thoughts from his mind. Above anything else, he’ll finally go away. The guy that’s been annoying me ever since we were little will finally disappear. That’ll be a relief. And when he’s gone, Fuka might finally… “Okay, okay… Don’t cry… You say your Mommy and Daddy died?... Then from now on, I’ll be your big brother, so you won’t need to worry about anything. “So don’t cry…” All Yuma could do was tightly hug the little girl as she cried in his arms. The girl’s name was Fuka. She lived in the same village and she was only five years old. The two had suddenly become orphans on the same day. Their clothes were halfburned off and their faces were covered in soot. And a few feet before their very eyes lay the charred remains of their village. “Daddy! Mommy! Brother! Sister!” Hearing those cries coming from a burning house, Yuma forgot his own grief and, as in a trance, devoted all his energy to rescuing Fuka. Witnessing the horrors before her, a terrified Fuka latched onto Yuma and cried continuously. Even now, Yuma could still remember how her warmth felt that day. That was the day that Yuma had vowed to himself to adopt Fuka as his little sister and take care of her for the rest of his life… Just then, something cut across Yuma like the wind. Yuma unconsciously reached out an arm. “What do you think you’re doing here?” “Oh, it’s just you, Yuma…” Fuka stared at her brother. “What?! The Kyo estate is almost bankrupt?” Fuka cried.

Yuma nodded and suddenly everything made sense to Fuka. “We could just leave things alone, but I think we should at least tell Tamahome he can’t get any money from these people. Though it serves him right for not treating the shugyoku jewel with the respect it deserves.” “…I really wonder…” Yuma said. The two had made their way into the garden and were whispering in the dark. “Are you really that concerned about Tamahome?” “Are you still being jealous for no reason?” “Don’t talk such nonsense. You’re just my sister… Why would I be jealous…” “Because you’re over-protective of your sister.” “Y-yeah, right! I’m not over-protective…” Giggling slightly over Yuma’s flustered response, Fuka gazed far off into the distance and said, “Say, Yuma… do you remember the time when that Byakko guy took Tamahome and trained him?” “Yeah…” “Tamahome was filled with hope and confidence, and he finally looked alive. I want Tamahome to look like that again. I want him to feel a sense of duty and pride over being one of Suzaku’s chosen ones.” “…Fuka…” “I think it’s really great of him to take care of his starving family back at home… But Tamahome wasn’t born to take care of a family his entire life. Tamahome was born into this world to rescue people like us who live under oppression. But right now, Tamahome’s wants and his responsibilities are two different things.” Yuma gazed intensely at Fuka’s profile in the dark. But no matter how hard he stared, he could not read into her heart.

Just then, two figures quietly left the house. “Why that’s the owner of this place and Tamahome. I wonder where they’re off to this late at night?” Fuka wondered as she stood to her feet. Yuma pushed her down. “I’ll follow them. You stay behind here.” “Why? I need to go tell Tamahome the truth…” “Just do as I say…” Having heard voices in the garden, several servants began to pour out of the mansion. Yuma yanked Fuka towards him and shoved his clenched fist into her abdomen. “ngh!... what’re you… dammit…” Fuka’s expression clouded over as she fell to the ground. “Sorry, but I need to do this alone.” Yuma left Fuka’s body behind on the ground and swiftly disappeared into the shadows. * “Hey, aren’t you from the other day?...” Bihoh said with a suspicious frown as she looked at the dirty child the servants had just brought in from the garden. “You’re an old friend of Tamahome’s, right? But what are you doing here?” Bihoh demanded as she fanned Fuka’s stench away from herself. “Why were you sneaking around our garden!” “…I wanted to tell Tamahome the conditions of your household.” “The conditions of my household?” While massaging her sore abdomen, Fuka chuckled lightly. “So you still don’t know about it. Lucky you.” “What!”

Bihoh snorted breaths through her nose as she approached Fuka. “I don’t know what your intentions are, but aren’t you in love with Tamahome? Though you know it’s impossible to have him…” Silence. “Well, sorry to inform you this, but his heart already belongs to me.” Fuka glanced at Bihoh’s neck. Bihoh, who had just gotten out of the bath, was dressed in a light robe. “Are you going to tell me Tamahome gave you his shugyoku jewel?” Hearing this, Bihoh’s eyebrows shot together diagonally as she spat out, “He’ll give it to me tomorrow! And then I’ll… I’ll give him so much money he’ll be able to live easily for the rest of his life!” Hearing this, Fuka smiled quietly. So that’s what it was all about… Tamahome cared more about his family than in some legend… “…Well, congratulations…” Fuka said to Bihoh. “Oh, thanks.” At first, Bihoh seemed unenthusiastic, but then, cheering herself up, she talked. “Yes, that’s right. His shugyoku jewel will belong to me… I suppose you’ll have to give up on receiving it yourself.” Then, letting her gaze run along Fuka’s body from the top of her head down to her feet, Bihoh suddenly took in a deep breath. “But listen, looking like that, you’ll never get a man to pay attention to you, even if you love him.” “I didn’t ask for your opinion.” Bihoh clapped her hands excitedly, her mood suddenly elevated. “Say, wanna help me in my Plan to Convert Delinquents?” One hour later…

Fuka was given her first bath in months. Numerous servants scrubbed the filth from her body, and once she was clean and dry, her body was covered in the new brandname dress Bihoh had bought earlier that day. To finish things off, her hair was styled, and makeup was put on. “….wow.” Seeing the finished product, Bihoh was at a loss for words. “….I’m surprised.” Naturally, the subject of the makeover was also speechless as she saw her own reflection in the long mirror. What stared back at her from the other side of the mirror was a beautiful, pure-looking 15 year old girl as, if not more, beautiful than Bihoh… “You sneak… To think you were this pretty all along…” Even Bihoh had to admit to her beauty. That is just how impressive Fuka’s transformation was. Suddenly, noise came from the halls. Seconds after, three men stormed into the room. “Who are you?!” Shoving Bihoh to the side, the men grabbed Fuka, jumped out the window, and ran away from the estate. “Let go! What’re you doing?!” Unable to attack her kidnappers due to the long dress she wore, Fuka could only scream desperately into the night sky as she was taken away. ### “Yui-chan, here…” Miaka said to Yui, offering her a ticket to a concert. “Why’re you giving this to me?” “…I was asked to… by Watanabe-kun.” “Never mind, just give it back to him,” Yui said with a toss of her head.

“But he really likes you… And besides, this ticket was really expensive…” “In that case, he should ask me out himself.” “…I guess so, but… I think he thinks you’ll say no… so…” “So that’s still no excuse to make you ask me out in his place.” Miaka looked down and Yui said, “Say, why don’t you go to the concert, Miaka? Aren’t you a big fan of that band?” “Huh?!” “I’m sure Watanabe-kun would rather go with you than by himself. Okay? Go with him.” “Yui-chan…” Yui shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t you think Watanabe-kun could also fall for you? Actually, that might have been his intention all along.” “Yui-chan… why’re you talking like that?...” “No reason…” “But you’re so pretty and smart and everyone likes you, especially the boys… You’ll probably make it into Jonan High without trying. But I probably won’t make it no matter how hard I try, and I’m a klutz, and I’m dense, and I don’t have any skills…” “Have you ever considered the only one who thinks that is you…?” “Huh?” “Look, it may not seem like it to you, but I work very hard to get good grades… It’s all a sham…” “Yui-chan…” “But you act just the way you are and everyone loves you anyway…” “…I had no idea…”

The winds passed coldly through Miaka and Yui that evening during the first day of their second semester, bringing out the insecurities both girls had been carrying over each other. But Yui suddenly smiled again. “I’m sorry, Miaka. I’ve just been stressed with all my studying lately.” Miaka smiled, too. “No, I’m sorry too… I’ll try to be more sensitive of you from now on. Ahaha.” “So I guess this means Watanabe-kun will either be lonely at the concert, or he’ll end up going with another guy?” Just then, a male student came out of hiding before the two. “Watanabe-kun!” “Ummm… I was thinking I’d give my ticket to Yui and that way you two could go together…” Watanabe Satoshi muttered nervously as he handed Yui another ticket and hastily moved his large body away from the scene. “Ahaha, all right!” Miaka and Yui clasped hands and grinned. “Goodie! Let’s shake off our stress from studying by screaming at the concert!” “Okay!” “And we’ll go the same high school, too, okay? I don’t think I trust you to operate without me around to keep tabs on you!” “Arrrrrgh, Yui-chan!” Miaka and Yui walked along side by side, as if nothing had happened. However, their slight feelings of jealousy for each other had just taken root and were not about to disappear any time soon. Neither of them were aware that this issue would tear them apart in the future. ----------

Chapter 7: The Replaced Kidnap Victim Tamahome closely followed the tail of Kyo Senmei on the dark path at night. Though they were in the capital, ever since Mimadoh’s arrival, the city streets had been dead silent at night. It looked as though Senmei was headed towards the place where he had held his secret meeting the night before. As Yuma quietly followed them, his heart was overcome with waves of uneasiness. Senmei is about to trade Tamahome to Kutoh’s spies to pay off his debt. In time, Tamahome will probably be ambushed by Kutoh’s dogs and taken as a hostage. I’m sure lots of them are hiding in the shadows right now… But the silence of that night was eerie. Tamahome disgusts me. If he got out of my life, things would be so much easier. Yuma convinced himself again. He always looked down on me and pitied me. Even after he replaced his weak body with a strong one… I can’t…think like Fuka. I can’t think about his "duty" or his "future". After all… the only reason Fuka cares about him is because she’s a girl. It’s just because she’s in love with…him… "Dammit…!!" Yuma clenched his fists. But… But is this really okay? If I actually let Kutoh’s spies kidnap him, Suzaku will never be summoned, and Kutoh will probably invade Konan. "They did it… it was them… It was…Kutoh’s dogs…" Yuma’s father had told him just before he died. The border-village in which he and Fuka were born was suddenly invaded and destroyed one day. Kutoh’s soldiers swarmed into the village, doused it in flames, and laughed mercilessly as they killed every single frightened villager. Invading under the guise of an unrelated resistance group, the soldiers burned the peasants as if it were a game.*

Yuma, who miraculously escaped the soldiers, found Fuka amidst the rubble and devoted all his strength to rescuing her. They then wandered from village to village, foraging for anything to eat. Thinking Kutoh might strike again at any time kept the two awake at night in terror. What had kept Yuma spirits up during that time was the legend of Suzaku that his father had told him about. "Don’t worry. Very soon, Suzaku will save this Kingdom. Just wait for the Priestess and Seven Warriors to come…" As the two starving children cuddled together for warmth, Yuma told Fuka about the legend. With sparkling eyes, a hopeful Fuka talked with him about their possible bright future. But a bright future did not await the two starving children as they wandered the streets. What appeared before them instead was the Sai couple. Then, when Yuma discovered that one of Suzaku’s Seven chosen ones was the weak little boy who lived next door, he was devastated. Is this little runt REALLY one of the chosen ones?… As Fuka developed a compassion for such a boy, Yuma’s mind was filled with complex feelings towards Tamahome. It was Tamahome’s destiny that had made Yuma’s emotions so unstable… but Yuma finally realized taht it was also Tamahome’s destiny that had given Fuka hope and compassion for all those years. Tamahome… If you die, this Kingdom will be doomed. The rotten bastards in Kutoh will destroy all the villages… and all the people we care about. Yuma bit his lip so hard, blood nearly poured from it. "Oh yeah…" When Kyo arrived at a certain back-alley, he suddenly stopped as if he had remembered something. "If I remember rightly, you were gonna sell my Bihoh your Shugyoku jewel. For 100 coins, right?" "…Yeah, sorta…"

"Well, I thank ya kindly for that. Bihoh would’ve probably been very happy to be your girl." Senmei’s slanted eyes glimmered slightly. "If ya want, could ya let me have a look at that jewel for a bit?" Tamahome scratched his head. "I don’t see why you have to look at it now. After I give it to your daughter, you can look at it all you want, Sir." "Yes… but…still…" Senmei looked uncomfortably at Tamahome’s neck. "I don’t see why not. I’m not gonna take it or anything, I just wanna see it." Saying this, Senmei lunged at Tamahome’s collar. "What’re ya doing, old fart!" Unable to tolerate watching any longer, Yuma leapt from the shadows and grabbed Senmei from behind. "Jackass, you’d even sell THAT jewel for money?!" Then, Yuma faced Tamahome and yelled, "Get out of here! This guy’s about to sell you as a hostage to Kutoh!" Senmei struggled and screamed out, "Mr. Kutoh Man! Come out right away! I brought what I promised I’d bring!" "Tamahome!" A silent Tamahome watched the frantic Yuma. "What’re you standing there for? You’d better leave!" "They’re not coming," Tamahome said. "Though I figured that’s what this was all about in the first place." Both Yuma and Senmei’s mouths fell open in disbelief. "I noticed pretty early on that you were strapped for cash. And it was obvious you wanted to get money out of me…"

"…Tamahome" As a shocked Yuma let his guard slightly down, Senmei’s eyes nervously darted about the scene, looking for help. Noticing this, Tamahome said, "Sorry, but it looks like your dealer ran away ."

"Tamahome… I think the dealer is probably.." Tamahome nodded at Yuma’s words. "I know. I suspected that all along, which is why I let this guy lead me out here." "Why you…" Tamahome grinned at his annoyed rival. "Yuma… So you stayed lurching around here after all, I see. So you didn’t give up on our little competition after all." Hearing this, Yuma smiled sarcastically. "Hmph, listen here. This makes our handyman battle inconclusive. So next time… next time…" Just then, a small piece of paper floated to them on a breeze. After Tamahome caught the slip of paper, the symbol on his forehead flashed bright red. Seeing what the paper was, Senmei fell to his knees. "It’s from Mimadoh. Looks like this guy really likes leaving behind little notes." Hearing the name, Senmei suddenly shot to his feet again. "M-M-Mimadoh, you say?!" "That’s right, old man. The dealer you were about to trade with was Mimadoh. He wasn’t just a random sorcerer after all; he was one of Kutoh’s goons," Yuma informed him. "N-n-no way… So, what does it say?" "I don’t think it’s addressed to you," Tamahome answered. "Huh…?" Senmei asked with a droopy mouth. "It’s a love letter to ME," Tamahome said as he slowly opened the note to read it. Dear Suzaku Warrior, Tamahome: I have taken custody of the Kyo-daughter. If you value her life, turn yourself in. I will inform you of the time and place later. Return to the mansion for details. -Mimadoh After he finished hearing this, Senmei threw himself onto Tamahome’s body.

"Tamahome-sir! Tamahome-sir! I was wrong! Please save my Bihoh! If it’s money ya want, I’ll… not be able to give ya much, but… hey, aren’t’cha supposed to be a brave Suzaku Warrior? And you’re supposed to become her husband tomorrow, too, so ya should get in there and protect your woman!"

*

Bihoh stumbled out of the mansion to greet the three. "Daddy, Tamahome, you sure took your time! How dare you leave me alone like that!" Seeing her father clinging to Tamahome’s arm like a monkey to a tree, she cocked her head. "What’re ya doing, Daddy?…" Suddenly noticing the presence of his daughter, Senmei leapt away from his bodyguard. "Y-you were safe after alllll?" This time, the middle-aged man leapt to his daughter and cried like a baby. Tamahome and Yuma exchanged confused glances. Suddenly, an anxious Yuma asked Bihoh, "Where’s Fuka…?" "Fuka?" Bihoh gave a puzzled frown. "…The girl who sneaked in here tonight… I thought the servants captured her," Yuma said awkwardly. Bihoh caught her breath, "Oh, so her name is Fuka… Well she…" "She what!!" Yuma peeled Senmei off his daughter and shook her furiously. "She was…taken away by someone…" "What?!" Yuma’s lips quivered. "Don’t’cha think she might’ve caused some trouble on the outside and they came after her? Three scruffy guys came in here after her." Yuma shoved Bihoh away. "No! Fuka was kidnapped by Mimadoh in your place!" "In my plaaaaace? By Mimadohhhh?!" Bihoh cried weakly. Tamahome and Yuma merely stood by, baffled at how any of this could have even happened.

Then, one of the servants spoke out timidly, "Our Mistress told us to help, um… Miss Fuka… in her plan to convert delinquents…" "Plan to convert delinquents?" "Yes, and my, but she certainly turned out to be a pretty girl beneath all that filth…" "W-what did you say?" Bihoh’s veins popped out. "Are you suggesting those men kidnapped Fuka because they thought she was ME?!" Then Bihoh fell to the floor and pounded it with her fist. "What is the meaning of all this?! Tell me, Daddy!!" * The Kyo father and daughter, Tamahome, and Yuma all breathed in the unsettled air of the mansion’s main drawing room. "Tamahome-sir, I apologize… I got so far in debt I had no where else to go… So when someone in the streets suddenly asked me if I’d sell the new bodyguard I got for my daughter…. I just couldn’t help myself…" Senmei said as he repeatedly bowed to Tamahome. "How horrible… No matter how broke you are, you had no right to sell Tamahome to Mimadoh and Kutoh’s beasts!" Bihoh glared coldly at her father. "Your Daddy’s not a good merchant after all, it seems… after all, they tricked me like that… I guess I’ll have to quit the business for good now…" Senmei said with a drooped head. "But, well, I guess it’s a blessing that you were saved…" Bihoh scowled with firmly closed lips. Her pride had just been shattered by the realization that Fuka had been mistaken for her. "Hmph. Guess I shouldn’t have dressed her up all pretty like that after all. Then they wouldn’t have mistaken her for me… That’s right, and I WAS looking unusually unkempt when they came in here!" "Hey… Don’t you care at all about Fuka’s feelings, being kidnapped in your place?!" Tamahome restrained the fuming Yuma, who seemed as though he was going to shoot across the room at Bihoh like an iron ball.

"Listen… Don’t you think they’ll return Fuka once they figure out she’s not really me?" Tamahome shook his head at Bihoh’s innocent hypothesis. "In the end, it doesn’t really matter who they kidnap. The one they want is me anyway…" "Don’t tell me you plan on going, Tamahome?" No answer. "It looked like she had feelings for you, but… But Tamahome, you promised me you’d give me your Shugyoku jewel." Still no answer. "Dumb ass… He only offered it to you as part of his strategy …" Tamahome gave Yuma a shove. The words the strange woman had given him earlier in the city revisited his mind. No matter what situation you’re in, you should never take advantage of a girl’s feelings. "You WILL get your money. I’ll get a job and pay you back as soon as I can… So please don’t break your promise." "She’s right… And I’ll start over again… So please… make my daughter happy." Tamahome could not answer. "Tamahome… Please don’t go… If you do, Mimadoh will surely kill you…" "You’re one of Suzaku’s Seven, aren’t’cha? I feel sorry for her, but you shouldn’t risk your life to save a farm-girl. It’s a sin against your kingdom!" "Daddy;s right, Tamahome. Weren’t you born into this world to save it?" Unable to reply to the bickering father and daughter, a lightly trembling Tamahome slowly turned to face Yuma, and said simply, "I will rescue Fuka. Don’t worry." ###

Miaka was tossing and turning in her sleep. After returning home from cram school, she had collapsed into her bed while still in her uniform. Someone is calling me… Calling me over and over again… It’s the only thing I can hear. But it’s not calling my name. Though a cool, late autumn night, Miaka’s body was drenched in sweat as she shook her head. Who? Who are you? Who’s calling me? And why don’t you call me Yuuki-san, or Miaka… Why do you call me by a different name?… ### "Please! Come to this world right away!" Bihoh continued to whisper frantically in her room. "You’re the only one who can stop Tamahome!" The girl continued to call that name over and over again. "Suzaku no Miko! Suzaku no Miko! Suzaku no Miko! If you don’t hurry up, Konan will be taken over by Kutoh! So come! Stop dilly-dallying and get over here already! Are you going to just let Tamahome die like a dog?!" * Late that night, Tamahome felt a presence. "…Where are you going." Yuma, who was supposed to be sleeping next to him, was attempting to sneak out of the room. "Were you awake? Don’t worry about me. I just got up to get a drink of water…" Yuma answered back. "I’m telling the truth. It’s not like I can go rescue Fuka if I don’t know where she is…" Silence.

"Pretty pathetic, huh… It turns out that I have to rely on the likes of you…" Yuma muttered under his breath. "At first, I didn’t realize why you’d become this girl’s bodyguard…but now I do. You were probably worried about Mimadoh… So you tried to keep Fuka and me away from him… " "So you pretended our competition was over, gave Fuka her money, and tried to detach yourself from us, right?" Tamahome answered, "… I didn’t want to separate myself from you guys so I could hog all the money to myself…" "Yeah, I know…" "But… I had no idea my plan would do the opposite and get you guys in trouble…" Yuma spoke, "I just… wanted to beat you at any cost… And not just by bullying you; I wanted to win in a fair fight… And I wanted her to see me doing that…" "Yuma… Don’t tell me you…" Tamahome’s eyes suddenly caught the sight of something faint and red glimmering in Yuma’s palm. "You mean this?" Yuma smiled faintly. "Unlike you, there really is a girl in my life… who I’d like to give this to…" Yuma turned his back and slowly left the room. * After his drink of water, Yuma slightly opened the back door to let in some night air. Just as he did this, he heard something faintly. It was the sound of a singing voice that he had heard before. As if entranced by the voice, Yuma slowly wandered outside. After a while, he suddenly stopped walking. Before his eyes stood Fuka; a Fuka that just like the servant’s account - had been transformed beautifully beyond recognition. "…Fuka…?" Yuma put his hands on her shoulders. "What are you doing here?!" Fuka nodded, "I just escaped." Yuma released a sigh of relief and Fuka smiled. "Well…? What do you think…"

"…What do I think?… Y…you look beautiful… very beautiful…" Yuma was stupefied by Fuka’s beauty. He felt as if he was dreaming. "Good… I was hoping you’d like it." Fuka looked up at Yuma. "So you did come out to rescue me after all? I knew you’d come if you heard me singing…" "Uh, yeah…" Of course I did. I’m the one who cares about you the most. Fuka’s eyes filled with moisture as she slowly pressed her head against Yuma’s chest. "…F-Fuka…" While softly embracing the girl in his arms, Yuma carefully retrieved the jewel from his hand. "Here… Will you accept this?…" Fuka tilted her head sideways. "The day before our village was destroyed… my mom gave to this me… this Shugyoku jewel."Thinking back, this jewel saved my life back the. And Fate let the girl I was supposed to give this to survive… With fire in his chest, Yuma timidly placed the shining red jewel around Fuka’s neck. Then he looked into her face once more, to see Fuka’s reaction… Fuka, however, still looked confused. "Shugyoku?" she asked, as her eyes briefly gleamed mysteriously. ---------Notes: *…Just like Trogdor. Haha. (okay, that was in bad taste ^^;)

Chapter 8: The Priestess Appears "Suzaku no Miko! Hurry, come quickly! If you don’t, Tamahome will die!" Someone is calling me. This voice really wants me. But I don’t quite understand what it’s saying. Miaka tossed and turned violently in her sleep. And I’ve been having lots of dreams lately about failing the high school entrance exams. I can’t make it into Jonan with my grades the way they are now. But I promised Mom I’d try to make it into Jonan so she’d cheer up from the divorce. But I guess promises… can’t change my true skill level. From all the pressure I’m under, I can’t sleep very well these days. And because of that, I end up falling asleep during class and dreaming about food. Then the teacher always yells at me and the students always laugh at me. That otherwise ordinary girl, Yuuki Miaka, was fifteen years old that winter… The Gate of Destiny was right before her very eyes. And Miaka was subconsciously about to explore this world on the other side of the Gate… ### Tamahome walked towards the window. Yuma had not returned to the room for a while. The sky outside was beginning to turn a faint white. Just then, one of the servants came stumbling into the room. "Lord Tamahome! I just found this at the front gate…" Tamahome’s gaze fell on the piece of paper. It spoke of the same hostage situation last night’s message had. ### Miaka lay on her side in bed, gasping for breath. For an instant her body seemed to float midair. Then, it was split in two.

The transparent body of Miaka mirrored the position of the original body as it floated above. The transparent body then disappeared into the original body through its forehead. It was now inside of Miaka’s dream. Wanting to answer the voice calling her from the other world, the other Miaka crossed to the other side. ### Bihoh and Senmei ran to Tamahome's side. Tamahome nodded. "…what about that guy named Yuma; Fuka's brother…?" "He left. He went to save Fuka…" "We can't have that. It's Mimadoh he's up against… What can just one boy do to save her?" Tamahome bit his lip in silence. "I'll go, too… It's almost time." "Tamahome!" Bihoh desperately ran to catch up. "You can't go! Why are you going?! You don't really have any special feelings for her, don't you?!" "She's right, Tamahome, you have much more important things waiting for you here." Tamahome shook his head. Then he spoke to Senmei, "A girl from Konan has just been kidnapped by a sorcerer from Kutoh… Whether that girl was your daughter or someone else's daughter, or even some girl I didn't know… "I would still have no choice but to go rescue her." The red symbol slowly glowed out of his forehead. "Are you saying that's your duty to Suzaku?!" Bihoh yelled. "Tama…home…! Are you going to just leave me?! What about that night where we swore our eternal love?! Were you lying when you told me you'd give me your Shugyoku jewel?!"

Bihoh fell to the floor in tears. Without a glance back Tamahome attempted to walk away, but was stopped by a hand to the shoulder. "Then can't ya at least leave behind your Shugyoku jewel to remind us of you?" "Don’t you dare kill my Tamahome!! You dirty old man!!" Bihoh slapped her father's possessed hand away from Tamahome. "Tamahomeeeeeee, you can't go!" "Tamahome, Suzaku doesn't really care if you save her or not!" The Kyo father and daughter continued to follow Tamahome as he walked. But Tamahome did not even give a glance back as he continued to walk on. The palace was finally in sight. The morning beams of the sun gently revealed the sparkling richness of the palace. The peace was soon disrupted, however, when the two men on guard noticed something amiss. The Kyo father and daughter, too, stopped their walking in confusion. All people in the area were gazing up at the sky. "What in the world could that be?" "It looks like person to me…" "I think it's a girl." "She's wearing strange clothes." Bihoh and Senmei, too, gazed up at the sky with open mouths. Just as the others said, what appeared to be a young girl surrounded in red light shined faintly in the sky. "It's Suzaku no Miko!" Bihoh yelled loudly. "Has Suzaku no Miko finally come down to us?!" the surrounding people murmured excitedly at Bihoh's proclamation. "Oh, I see! So Suzaku no Miko has finally come to us!"

The citizens slowly made their way out of their houses. "Tamahome!!" Bihoh yelled as loudly as she could. "Suzaku no Miko has come to us! Look for yourself! I prayed to her last night to come. So she came! She came here to save Konan from disaster! Tamahome! You need to come back right away! Come back to Suzaku no Miko!!" Bihoh continued to scream from behind Tamahome; he was surely able to hear her. Additionally, all the surrounding villagers were also shouting cries of "it's Suzaku no Miko!" Amidst all of this, however, Tamahome continued to walk straight forward as if he had no ears. "Tama…home…" Bihoh finally collapsed to the ground. "If I had been able to buy your Shugyoku jewel, would you still be by my side right now?…" "Bihoh… Give up on Tamahome. He only offered the Shugyoku jewel because he found out about my debt…" Bihoh's eyes darted up at her father. She had known full well that Tamahome had no special feelings for her. She also knew that Tamahome was willing to sell her the Shugyoku jewel because he believed caring for his family was more important than a legend he didn't believe in… Even so, Bihoh had convinced herself that if she got his Shugyoku jewel that somehow, the two of them would be happy together. "…You're…lying…" Now aware of the truth, all she could do was murmur listlessly. "No I ain't. Your poor mother used to say this a lot, that money can't buy happiness… Your mom was the only one who didn't marry me for my money. She's the only one who noticed I was lonely and needed her… She's the only woman…" "Dad…dy…" "But ya see, I'm proud of you for falling for Tamahome. He's a man among men. I don't even mean that just because he's one of Suzaku's chosen ones… Look at that. Isn't the back of him, walking off to save that girl divine and heroic?…"

"…Daddy, for shore, I loved him. I loved that man!! That be the furst time I ever fell for a man for real… Daddyyyyyyy!!" The girl let her natural accent escape and lunged at her father in tears. "Yeah, yeah. Seems like you've grown up a li'l bit there…" The Kyo father and daughter held each other tightly as they watched Tamahome's retreating figure. ### Where am I? I see a street below my eyelids. And I see a glamorous building in a middle of a square. I've never seen this place before. If I had to describe it, I'd say it looks like ancient China. I see lots of people And all of those people are looking up at me while screaming something. Miaka thought it had been a strange dream. However, she had not felt uncomfortable with the people staring up at her. Amidst the crowd, Miaka's eyes had fallen on one person. It was because he was the only one who looked different from the rest. While everyone else was gazing up at the sky in awe at her, that young man was the only one to turn his back on her and walk forward in determination. He looked like a young man… Something was pulled inside of Miaka. I also get the feeling I've seen him somewhere before. It also looked like something was shining on his neck. Miaka felt a sudden surge of energy in her chest. What's this I feel?… I get the feeling I've felt this before… Then, she remembered. Three years ago, she had felt the same sensation in her chest when she had gone to the library that day. Miaka's eyes fiercely followed the one person that was ignoring her. I wonder where he's going… and I wonder who he is…

Her heart was strongly pulled to him. And her body seemed to burst into flame for an instant. At that instant, the image of Suzaku no Miko disappeared from Eiyoh's sky. ### "Your highness! I bring big news! It appears as though something abnormal has appeared in our sky." "What…?" Saihitei slowly pulled himself off his bed. His subordinate spoke once again, "What's more, the villagers are spreading rumors that the image in the sky was Suzaku no Miko…" Before the man finished his sentence, the emperor was already on his feet. "I'm going." "Yes, Sir!" Saihitei left his room, walked down the long hallway and up the winding staircase. After circling several times, he finally reached the palace roof. "Where is it?" "The Eastern sky, I hear…" The Emperor shot his gaze to the Eastern sky. The fluttering morning light reflected in his eyes. For an instant, Saihitei did see a hint of red light in the sky. Looking down, he saw his people crying and yelling to the sky. "The Priestess has gone! Why did she not come down to us?!" Apparently, the Priestess had disappeared… Saihitei drew a deep breath. His kingdom's economy was not doing well those days, and there was a parasite destroying the farmers' crops. Kutoh - who was supposed to be their ally - was acting mysteriously. As if those things weren't enough, that mysterious sorcerer, Mimaoh, had suddenly appeared…

His mother had died leaving behind a peaceful country, but since then, uneasiness was settling more and more. Saihitei waited for the Priestess's arrival to stop this. While he wanted her to come to save his kingdom, there was more to it… The legendary girl, Suzaku no Miko, had become a fantasy in the young emperor's heart. A girl who could save both his kingdom and himself. "Who is that?" the emperor questioned as he pointed at a man in the crowd. While the other citizens were mourning the loss of their Priestess, that man alone continued to walk on. "I'm not sure…" His advisor said with a tilted head. If the young man had been gazing up at the sky along with the other citizens, the emperor might have been able to see the red mark glowing on his forehead. However, the young man continued to walk on, not giving the sky a glance. "Your highness… I have another piece of news for you." "What is it?" His advisor lowered his voice and spoke, "We are missing ten soldiers. Their weapons are also gone…" The emperor drew his perfectly sculpted eyebrows together. "This may be the doing of that Mimadoh…" He could not allow his kingdom to fall into ruin while a mysterious sorcerer played evil pranks freely. While biting his lips, the emperor unconsciously watched the retreating figure of that one young man. Very soon, his figure disappeared into the forest behind the palace. Naturally, the emperor did not foresee that what awaited the young man in that forest were Mimadoh and the 10 missing soldiers. * With the sunlight blocked off by the many trees, the forest was dimly lit.

Tamahome walked in this dim forest for a while until he reached a clearing in which people waited for him. "Why did you come! Why the hell did you have to come?!" Fuka's yelling voice echoed through the forest. "You idiot! Go away! You shouldn't have come here!" Tamahome rubbed his eyes. He recognized her voice and manner of speech, but the girl who stood in front of him was far more beautiful than Fuka had ever been. "…So that's…what happened." Tamahome said as he remembered the circumstances of the kidnapping. "Let go! Let go of me, you assholes!" Two men dressed as soldiers were holding Fuka back with swords at her neck. As their hostage protested more, the two men inched their blades closer to her throat. Just then, Tamahome caught sight of the shining red jewel at her neck and nodded. I see… so that's what happened… Another man was standing at Fuka's side. It was obvious that this man was controlling the two men who were restraining Fuka. He could be called a "man", but he was still quite young. "I'm glad you came," the man said as he whirled the manipulation tool in his hand. Without straining his eyes, Tamahome instantly recognized him. "I heard that Suzaku no Miko just appeared in the sky?" he continued, "Are you sure it's okay for you to leave your Priestess and come here? Tamahome." Not answering the question, Tamahome continued to glare intensely at the man whose voice and looks were unmistakably Yuma's. ----------

Chapter 10: The Time Has Fulfilled The next morning… Tamahome, Yuma, and Fuka left the Kyoh estate. “We were very tired last night… so thank you for letting us stay,” Fuka, clothed once again in rags, thanked the father and daughter. “And I’m also very sorry that I got that expensive brand kimono dirty…” Bihoh shook her head. “Don’t mention it… I’ve done a lot of thinking last night… and I realized that you really shouldn’t judge people by how they look on the outside… When you were dressed like that, you were much prettier than I’ve ever been… But it wasn’t just because you were dressed up pretty; it was because your inner beauty also sparkled… I’m sure I could never look like that. And I’m sure I could have never brought those two boys back safely like you did, either…” Senmei continued, “Really, I’m grateful just that you got rid of that varmint Mimadoh. And now that Suzaku no Miko also showed up, I’m feelin’ much better. I’m gonna start over from scratch; this time the right way.” The merchant gazed sadly at the house he was going to sell over that very day. “What are you three going to do now?” Bihoh asked. “We’ll go back to our village. Of course, we’ll do some odd handyman jobs along the way,” Yuma answered. Fuka continued, “And then we’ll work in the fields again. We’ll need to take care of our own kingdom in the future, won’t we? So I can’t put all my eggs in Tamahome’s basket. What’s most important now is that every citizen helps in any way he or she can!” Fuka finished with a smile at Tamahome. “Girl… you’re way too pretty and nice to be a serf…” Bihoh said as she gazed at the dirty girl in awe. Her gaze suddenly sharpened to a fine point. “Wh-wh-what’s that jewel…?!” Bihoh’s trembling finger pointed to the red jewel around Fuka’s neck. “Did it come from… Tamahome?! That must be it! You are a pretty girl after all, and I guess by the drama last night, you won his heart over! I’m so jealousss! Eeeeeek!”

“Stuuuuupid. This is from Yuma.” Fuka proudly shoved the red jewel in Bihoh’s face. “I may call him my ‘brother’, but we’re of no blood relation at all!” Fuka’s cheeks flushed a light pink. “Huh? Huh? What did you say? You two are like that? So…What about Tamahome’s jewel?” Bihoh ran over to Tamahome and nervously pulled the jewel out from under his shirt. “Wh-what a relief… It’s still there. Hey, Tamahome, I’m gonna go get a loan right now, so will you still sell me your jewel?!” Her father clasped a firm hand around her flapping arm. “What’s the big idea! Paw, this here jewel brings happiness, ya know? So’m gonna get it from Tamahome, be his girl, an’ get the money back with him after that!” “Idiot! Cain’t ya wake up already?! Real happiness don’t come from money!” Bihoh’s father’s hand hit her face. “Don’t ya never forgit what your Maw said…: “…P-Pawwwwwww!” Bihoh flew into her father’s chest and sobbed again. Tamahome spoke to her, “I’m sorry… Back then, I seriously thought it would be okay to sell it to you for a hundred coins…” “For your…family…?” Nodding at Bihoh’s faintly murmured question, Tamahome answered, “But I’ve been able to get some money of my own somehow… so…” Tamahome once again remembered the words spoken to him by that noble lady in the city. Realizing he broke that girl’s heart for the sake of his family, Tamahome felt ashamed. “Tamahome… Don’t you dare sell your jewel for profit… It’s too important,” Yuma told his friend with a pat on the shoulder. “He’s right. You need to give it to the girl you fall in love with,” Fuka chimed in with a smile.

The girl dressed in rags had a smile more brilliant and beautiful than any other. “Bihoh… I’m sure the day will come when you can get one of these for free,” Fuka told her. Bihoh nodded her head timidly. “Well, we’d better be off…” Fuka, Yuma, and Tamahome were about to turn their backs on the Kyoh pair. “Wait!” Senmei tugged on Tamahome’s sleeve. “That’ll be one gold piece for last night’s lodging and two meals for the three of ya.” “Wh-what was that?!” The three’s mouths fell open. “Well, ya know, money makes the world go ‘round and all that,” Senmei said as he thrust out his open hand. Another hand immediately joined his. “Daddy, you’re going too easy on them. What about the rental of my dress and their cleaning bills? We can’t forget to include those in the total.” “Oh, that’s right. Well then, I suppose that makes it 300 pieces.” “And Tamahome! Don’t think you can get away with sneaking off with our food in your bag! Hey!” The father and daughter crowded around the trio. * The three stood at a fork in the road. “Don’t you want to see Yuiren and the others soon?” Tamahome shook his head. “Well, I do want to see them, but the Kyoh family took away my last cent… “ “I’d better work a little more on my own before I go home.” “I see…”

“Good luck to you guys… Hope you have a happy life together.” “Thanks,” Yuma nodded. Fuka and Yuma stood before the path that lead back to their village. They could have settled down in a new place to start a new life together, but they settled on their old village. This was because no matter what harsh days awaited them, that was still home to them. It was also the place where they had grown close to each other, supporting each other through their trials. And that place quietly awaited their return… “We’ll take care of your field until you come back,” Yuma said. “Oh, thanks…” “This time, you’ll have a good harvest.” “Yeah!” Fuka smiled at the two boys. “But our ‘duel’ is over now, Yuma. So you two settle down…” Yuma blushed and scratched his head. “You, too. If you try to sell your jewel again, this time for sure you’ll get in trouble for it.” Fuka continued to smile contentedly as she watched the two friends banter. “Tamahome, we’ll do what we can to look after your family for you. So don’t worry about it. You’re Suzaku’s Warrior, Tamahome. And they say the Priestess has already appeared for a little bit. So remember, you have a duty to fulfill.” “Yuma…” Hearing this, Fuka glanced at the ground and wiped the tear that threatened to fall from her eye.

“The truth is… I’ve always wanted to say that to you… But I’m not open and honest like Fuka… So all I could do was pretend to be your rival…” “Never mind that. That’s just the way you are. I know everything you did you did for Fuka’s sake…” “…Tamahome…”

Fuka softly went to Yuma’s side and said, “Tamahome, forget about us and find love for yourself.” “Love…? Me??” Tamahome pointed to himself and laughed boisterously. “Yeah, that’s right. YOU.” Fuka pointed and Tamahome and said, “I’m sure it’ll happen soon, too. You’ll meet your fated beloved.” “What the hell’re you talking about?” Tamahome refused to listen any further. He faced the two and rubbed his chin. “Just go…” But then, the three were approached by a familiar face running towards them. “…Shun…!” Yuma called out the horse’s name. The horse galloped up to the couple and nuzzled into their arms. “You big silly… You came to meet us?... You want to work with us at that farm again?...” Yuma tightly hugged the neck of his horse. Tamahome watched as Fuka and Yuma walked away from him. The silhouette of the two on the horse and their long shadow stretched and stretched into the distance. Fuka’s gentle voice singing into the night sky grew fainter and fainter. Then Tamahome set foot on the opposite road. * Dear Brother, How are you doing? We’re all healthy and working hard. Dad isn’t doing too well. Shunkei and I are slowly tilling the soil and now we can finally plant some seeds. Gyokuran is taking care of all the housework by herself. Yuiren has also gotten very good at helping out. Yuiren and Gyokuran both have taken to saying, “TamahomeBrother will bring a wife with him when he comes back.”

Ah yes, after Fuka and Yuma left, their aunt and uncle left their field. Their field looked very sad with no one to take care of it. If you run into them somewhere, please tell them to come back. Today, someone came to visit with money from you. He looked like a monk. Thank you for the gold piece. We had just run out of supplies, so it was very helpful. I also bought some medicine for Dad. I’m writing this letter to give to him to give to you. You must be in the capital by now. It’s been a while since you left. Take care of yourself and come home as soon as you can. -Chuuei Tamahome read over the letter over and over as he walked. Remembering on how Tokaki had taught both himself and Chuuei to write gave Tamahome fond memories of the man. The letter had been thrown into the room the previous night at the Kyoh estate. He did not understand some of its contents and asked Fuka about the gold piece, but she simply grinned mischievously at him and wouldn’t answer. Naturally, the deliverer of the gold coin and the letter was the monk-in-training, Chichiri. But naturally, no one yet knew of this. But that was not all. It seemed to Tamahome that since he had left his village, he had encountered many mysterious people. The boy inside the carriage who gave him the paper about Mimadoh. The beautiful woman with an obscured face, who spoke to him in the capital. The wandering man who tended to Fuka’s and Yuma’s wounds in the forest. And the mysterious monk who was said in the letter to give his family a gold coin. But that was not all. More than anything else, Tamahome remembered the piercing sensation of the two eyes staring at him as he ran through the forest. And the stare was from two people. One came from the palace. And the other came from the sky… Or rather, from some other dimension…

But little did Tamahome know that these were Chiriko, Nuriko, Mitsukake, Chichiri, Hotohori, and the girl who would become Suzaku no Miko. Perhaps it was their bonds as warriors of Suzaku that had unconsciously drawn them together. And perhaps the fierce love that Tamahome and Miaka would share for each other is what drew them together. And so, the story was ready to begin. The curtain was about to be lifted on it. However, one of the characters was still not yet ready. “Oh damn, the sun’s set already.” Tamahome hurried up the mountain. Since then, Tamahome had set up business in Senmei’s home town. The area was more abundant than any other city he had been in and his “Demon Do-it-all” shop was a big success. After gathering enough money, Tamahome finally felt it was time to return to his home village. Fuka and Yuma were essentially a newlywed couple and Tamahome felt it improper to force the care of his family on them. I’ll keep some of the money and get back into the field. The inside of Tamahome’s head was filled with thoughts of returning to his former life, taking care of his family, and making money. He had at some point forgotten completely about his destiny with Suzaku or even the Shugyoku Jewel. Boom! Ching-a-linnnng! Just then, someone running along the same path ran head-first into Tamahome. The money he had in his sack spilled over the dark earth. “Dumbass! Yer in the way!” The man yelled at him with a Southern accent. It was the voice of a young man. “Aw, shut up. What about you? You were watching where you were going!” Yelling back at the man, Tamahome began to recollect his fallen money, crawling furiously on the ground.

“Ahhhh, where did that last piece go?! It’s gone! Gone! Gone!” Unable to find the last missing piece of money, Tamahome scratched his head. “Sheesh, yer a money grubbing guy, ya know?” “Hey, don’t tell me ya did that on purpose to steal my money?!” “Who the hell’d do a stupid thing like that!” The young men continued to yell at each other in the night, unable to see each other’s faces. “Ah, I found it, I found it. Is this is?” Tamahome heard the sound of the man clinking the coin with his fingernail. “I thought you took it from me! Give it back!” The instant Tamahome leapt at the man, the coin was tossed away. “How silly. I don’t have time to waste messin’ with the likes of you,” the man told Tamahome in a patronizing tone. Yes, he did not have time to waste. He was on a race against time to find some special medicine that would cure the leader of the Mt. Reikaku bandits from his mysterious illness. The man disappeared from the scene like a swift gust of wind. Naturally, Tamahome had no idea that this was his first encounter with his final comrade, Tasuki… And naturally, neither of them knew that Tasuki would adopt Yuma’s pet-name for Tamahome and that the two of them would become an excellent duo…! Then, Tamahome left the mountains. The next day, he set foot on his beloved home village. “Brother!” “Tamahome!”

His family and Yuma and Fuka embraced him with warmth. Tamahome had turned 17. The poor conditions of the crops had not changed, but a light of hope had been struck in his village. They had heard accounts of Suzaku no Miko appearing in the sky over the capital… this gave them the strength to live on. And Tamahome’s family was waiting intently for the time for their Tamahome to fulfill his destiny. However, they were never to see Tamahome fighting bravely, nor were they to ever hear of how the great battle ended. His family was the most important thing to Tamahome during the first 17 years of his life. Yet months from now, in his absence, his entire family would be murdered by Seiryuu’s warrior, Suboshi. But there would be one more time before this happens that Tamahome would return home. Gyokuran would ask if the girl he brought back with him was his bride, and Yuiren would grow very fond of her… “Well, I’ll be off.” After just one week off, Tamahome decided to open business again. He intended to collect even more money with his “Demon Do-it-all” business. Seen off by his family and friends, Tamahome turned his back on his village once again. The image of Fuka staring at his collar bone left a strange imprint on Tamahome’s mind. He glanced down and saw that his Shugyoku Jewel was pulsating with light. Though he had not decided exactly where he was going to work, his feet carried him in the direction of the capital. Even though he knew full well that the opposing city where he had just been would be more profitable… He also did not intend to visit the Kyoh family. Tamahome had no idea why, but he felt drawn to the capital. While feeling the soothing pulses of the jewel at his chest, Tamahome ran.

And though the jewel had disappeared, he did not even notice this as he continued to run to its rhythm. * That evening, Tokaki and Subaru watched the sun set as they sipped tea. Their adoptive daughter Shifang rose from her seat to clean the dinner dishes. “It takes you back, doesn’t it, dear. 90 years have passed now since then.” Tokaki nodded at his wife’s words. “I wonder how Tatara is doing?” “He’s still protecting our Talisman in the Byakko Mausoleum. Thanks to your magic, he still hasn’t aged a day…” “I see. Poor thing…” Subaru said as she pressed her fingers to her eyes. “Tatara’s love for Byakko no Miko - Suzuno - was so deep… I just wish there was more I could have done for them…” “I blame Byakko more than anyone else. It wasn’t fair of Him not to grant her final wish. It’s not fair that He won’t let a man from this world love a woman from another world…” “It’s just too cruel for those who fall in love…” “Yeah… Though lucky for us, we’re both born in this world.” “I wonder how Suzuno is doing right now?” “Good question. I hope she’s living a happy life in her world like Tatara wanted…” “…Tatara…” Subaru wiped her eyes. “It really is a shame…” her husband said with a nod. “I wish I could have drilled that more into Tamahome’s head when I was training him. But when I met him, he wasn’t interested in girls; he only cared about money.”

Tokaki thought back to the time eight years ago when he had left Konan. “And that little runt is now a Suzaku Warrior…” Subaru gazed at the Southern sky. “I suppose Suzaku no Miko will appear soon then.” A half year later, Tokaki and Subaru would fight together with Tamahome and his comrades. It would be then that Tokaki would tell Tamahome about the cruel Law of the Four Gods. A Priestess only appears to this world for the sake of summoning her God and granting three wishes. After she finishes this task, she is no longer allowed to live in this world. This means that those from differing worlds cannot stay together. That is the Law of the Four Gods… Byakko no Miko - Osugi Suzuno - asked her final wish. I want to stay in this world with my beloved. But her wish was not granted. Love had bloomed between her and Tatara during the days leading to the summoning of their God. But it ended abruptly. Suzuno returned to her own world and, as Tatara had wished, she got married, had children, and lived a happy life. However, her heart still remained with the man who wished the most for her happiness. With the arrival of the Priestesses of Suzaku and Seiryuu, her Talisman was fated to be stolen by Seiryuu no Miko. Then, as Tatara’s life ended, Suzuno’s life would simultaneously end. While they were not allowed to live together in the same world, their love had crossed over dimensions and had held them together forever. The real culprit was the binding book of sorcery, the Shi Jin Ten Chi Sho. The first, Genbu no Miko, ended her story in tragedy, just as the law of the book dictated. Suzuno, however, was able to escape being consumed by her God. Then, all that remained were the stories of Suzaku and Seiryuu. Waiting to unravel was a story of struggle, love, and hate. And one large miracle waited at its end. It would happen to the girl and boy who were soon destined to meet.

### Miaka raised her face from her study guide and turned off her desk lamp. She found it impossible to concentrate on her studies. Miaka rubbed her tired eyes in the dark. December was nearly halfway over. With her current grades, she would be unable to make it into Jonan High. What’s more, she found it more and more difficult to tell her mother that she really wanted to test into Yotsubadai High. As if that weren’t enough, she had been troubled lately by disturbing dreams whose contents she could never quite remember. “Ahhhhh, I wanna just forget about all this and go somewhere ellllllse,” Miaka grumbled to herself. It was then that something glowing floated above Miaka’s desk. “What’s that?...” She took a hold of it. Inside the ball of light appeared to be a glowing red jewel. “What’s this stone doing here…?” Miaka tilted her head in confusion, but her eyes stayed locked on the mysterious object. “Huh…?” She moved her eyes closer to the jewel. There was something fluttering inside of it. It was a very beautiful bird. “Pretty…” Miaka stared at it as if in a trance. It appeared as though that beautiful bird was beckoning for Miaka to come dance. Looking up, Miaka remembered her promise with Yui to go to the library the next day. Miaka thought, I want to read a book… A book that will take me to a completely different world.

The jewel’s light faded out… and then… it disappeared into Miaka’s body. *** Now the door to the story has been opened.

Yuuki Miaka and Soh Kishuku met. Miaka became Suzaku no Miko and vowed to save Konan. The quest to find other warriors began. Those who attempted to kill the Priestess continued to appear. They were agents of Seiryuu. And, ironically, the girl who would become Seiryuu no Miko was Hongoh Yui. The once best friends were forced to become worst enemies. The days of fighting were endless. More and more tests and ordeals appeared before Miaka. Blood and tears… Hate and sadness stained the two girls as both of their stories continued. And the Seven Warriors would continue to sacrifice their lives to protect their Priestess and their Kingdom. Times were uneasy. However, there was one thing that remained unchanging. It was the strong oath of the Seven Warriors and their Priestess to protect the peace. And it was also the love between Tamahome and Miaka. After the final battle, Suzaku would dance in the sky. Then, His Priestess would make her final wish. No matter what form he takes, please let Tamahome stay with me! A miracle occurred. Tamahome was reborn into Miaka’s world as Sukunami Taka. However, a new set of ordeals awaited the newly reunited lovers. The Universe of the Four Gods was to be threatened by the demon lord, Tenkoh. Suzaku was to seek help from the love of Miaka and Taka. Miaka and Taka would return to the book-world to search for the stones of Tamahome’s lost memories. Tenkoh would cruelly block their path with hindrances. And the six stones that were collected would be mercilessly destroyed. =227= However, refusing to give up hope, Taka and Miaka would continue to fight. And as the battle ended, Miaka and Taka would discover…

The final stone was Miaka herself. And that she was the living manifestation of the Legend of Shugyoku. A soul that protects what is precious. Loving and living… And warm lives linked together. The new world would be… Entirely created by the miracle of love. Wo Ai Ni forever… *** -The end. ----------

Freetalks from the authors Freetalk from Nishizaki Megumi (story planning and author) Hello! Nishizaki Megumi speaking. It-it-it, it’s ouuuuut! What’s out, you ask? I mean, part II of the “Fushigi Yuugi Gaiden” which was supposed to already be over! This is, of course, thanks to all of you out there who continue to love Fushigi Yuugi. And so, who else better to adorn the first in this new series than Tamahome-kun! His time as a boy when he felt pressure for being born into his destiny, his time as an older boy in training to become a strong fighter, and his time as a young man leaving his home village to seek his fortune; just how did the person Soh Kishuku live his life? (And, for that matter, why is he so obsessed with money?) By using the love between two sibling friends of his and the Legend of Shugyoku (oh, by the way, I got the “shu” part from the “aka” part of Miaka’s name and the “gyoku” part from the “tama” in Tamahome!)* I wrote this story. And I hope most of all that you understand from this book what it is about Tamahome that made Miaka fall in love with him. [*I understand that, but I don’t understand what it is about Miaka that made Tamahome fall in love with her ~_~; -TnM] A story in Miaka’s world also takes place at the same time. Since time runs differently in both world’s, Miaka’s age ranges from 12 to 15 during the duration of the story. But in seeing all the various things that linked them together throughout the years, it really makes one realize that they really are destined to be together! And what’s more, it was really cool that Miaka briefly met Tamahome’s reincarnation (Taka) in the library when she was 12. Ahhhhh, fushigi, fushigi (how wondrous), how very Fushigi Yuugi! I also included the other Seven meeting up coincidentally with Tamahome. What did you think? Those of you who thought his scene with Tasuki was unusually familiar are right! That scene was taken directly from the end of the first novel, “Genroh Den”. (I just had to, since that was one of my favorite parts of the novels…!) And whaaaat do you know, but the villain of this novel was the ever popular Miboshi! Come to think about it, he’s the only character who hasn’t appeared in a novel yet. Don’t you feel sorry for him? (I’m such a sweet girl). And since I also added Tokaki

and Subaru to kill the bad aftertaste (?) of Miboshi, I’m sure the host of characters made the story lots of fun?? Well, well, the remaining two of the Seven are Mitsukake and Chiriko! I wonder if books about them will appear? It all depends on your support! Watase-sensei, thanks for the always lovely illustrations. Editor O-sama, thank you very much. And to all you wonderful fans of Fushigi Yuugi, thank you very much! I look forward to the day we might meet again! Ciaaaaaao! -Nishizaki Megumi Freetalk from Watase Yuu (story planning and illustrator) At last, the ever popular Fushigi Yuugi novels, thanks to your encouragement (?!) have been revived!! (And with Tamahome, at that!) Of course I knew it was possible that more novels would come out, but I didn’t think it would actually happen. There had been talk earlier of making a novel about Tamahome, but since he was effectively the main character of the manga, it seemed pointless to make a novel about him and the idea was scrapped. Especially when the Eikou Den novels were written with Taka as the main character… However, there seem to be a lot of people who don’t think Tamahome = Taka, so the Tamahome purist fans would probably feel cheated. In the second part of the manga, I also seemed to make it more clear that Tamahome and Taka were different people. And now, thinking about it, Tamahome just plain disappeared from existence after volume 13 of the manga. Some people might even consider this his “death”. And then, he was reborn into Miaka’s world, before she was even born, as Taka… maybe thinking about it this way is the least confusing? This is why Taka spent the second half of the manga searching for “Tamahome’s lost memories”. [*Yes, but I think the second half of the manga was pretty lame and prefer to forget that it exists ^^; -TnM] So Tamahome really was an amazing guy. After all, he abandoned the world he was raised in and his very BODY to go be with Miaka. If he hadn’t done this, I suppose he would have just lived a normal life until he died. So I remember at the time when the last volume of the manga came out wondering if all the readers would understand just how profound that was (laugh). Would you be able to disappear from existence for the one you love?

But this time around, I was very happy to be able to draw Tamahome back when things were more straightforward and pure for him. When I put his character into motion in the actual manga, I had to keep the reputation of the magazine I was writing for [*she means Shocomi -TnM] in mind and made him super, crazy in love with Miaka… and I remember having some problems (with cheesiness) over that. But I guess that’s also one of his good traits? I guess I was also really happy to have Tamahome back to the way he was before Miaka with his “money is more important than love” attitude (laugh). I guess in the actual manga, he seemed like a very cool, mature guy, but it’s nice to have a moneygrubbing crazy guy every once in a while. Oh, and I was also glad that he had his long hair back. I always regretted having it cut so early in the manga for such a pointless reason. I was also glad to be able to draw kung fu fighters again. This is what “Tama” should be! I also like the other characters in this book. Ah, but don’t think people with Southern accents are all like that; they’re really nice people. Right, Tasuki? (laugh) Yeah, and it was clever how all the other Seven were in this novel, too. And so, let’s all hope another novel comes out and in the meantime, watch the Eikou Den OVAs! It’s nice to see my characters moving again after so long ^_^. A bunch of merchandise will also come out with the release of the OVA, so be sure to check it all out! Nishizaki-sensei, Editors, thank you so much!! See you laterrrr. Tasuki’s saying: Long time no see, Monster-Boy. Tamahome’s saying: After this’s over, I’ll killllll you *musical notes* Watase says: Gotta say, the best partner for Tamahome is Tasuki!!

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Notes: The “shu” in “shugyoku” means “red”. It is also pronounced “aka”, which makes up the second half of the name “Miaka” (“beautiful red”). The “gyoku” in “shugyoku” means “jewel” and is also pronounced “tama”, though it’s a completely different kanji from the “tama” in “Tamahome”. There are just many unfortunate jokes associated with Tamahome’s name, since “tama” is a common nickname for a cat, and also common slang for “testicles” ^-^; Also, Watase brings up a very interesting point in this freetalk (she often does ^-^) about how Manga artists and authors and the like are not really that free to do exactly what they want artistically. Certain magazines have certain kinds of stories they publish, and Shocomi (I’d say) is pretty notorious for cheesy romance stories. I’m not really sure then why Watase even applied for Shocomi in the first place, since she’s repeatedly said she wishes she could tone down or leave out a lot of the romance in her stories. It could be that she applied other places and Shocomi was the only magazine that accepted her, but going just with the Big 4 (Ribbon, Shocomi, Nakayoshi, and Hana to Yume), I’d say Hana to Yume might actually represent her better. “Hana to Yume” (most likely metaphors for “romance and fantasy”) and the type of stories it runs seems a little less gushy than “Flower” comics (most likely a metaphor for just plain “romance”). Incidentally, another author I don’t think belongs with Shocomi/Flower is Mizuto Aqua (author of Milk Crown). She seems 100% Ribbon to me in art style and most of her content. Hmmm, this “notes” section has turned into my own personal freetalk ^^; Well, what the heck, maybe I’ll make a “freetalk from the translator” for the next book I translate… if there IS one, that is… The Chiriko novel is still untranslated (hint, hint).

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