Suzaku Hi Den

"The Legend of Suzaku's Sorrow"

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 Hotohori. How it is seen in the middle of the fight of powers by the throne from boy. This is the history of Saihitei Emperor (well-known like Hotohori), who lost his mother and spent his solitary days in the palace of Konan. Houki (well-known like Yotaigo), a young woman of a poor village in the province of Shusho, decides to become one consorte of Saihitei to save its family of the debts that had. Of this personal history, the history of the love of Hotohori by Miaka, its encounter with Houki, its fight against its older brother, and all the other details of its life is born. Some are: The events that preceded to the ascent to the Throne of Hotohori: While Hotohori was crowned like emperor to the 14 years, her mother, the empress Hotaigo widow, was the one who really reigned from the shades. The culpability of Hotohori with respect to its mother who planned the death of her mean-brother so that this one ascended to the throne, was partially responsible for the love noncorresponded of Hotohori by the priestess of Suzaku. The Sinister Prediction of Gentokuin: The monk eunuco Gentokuin excelled by his art to predict the fortune. Its prediction that that said “Suzaku would appear in the same generation that the boy whom its mark took, but that he would die without at least to have seen Suzaku”, he gained the wrath of the father of Hotohori, Kogentei emperor. But this sinister prediction was correct; thus also, Gentokuin fulfilled its sad destiny.

Shu Tendoh

He’s Houki’s childhood friend and secretly wants to marry her, but then Houki is summoned to the harem (Hotohori’s harem). He bears the Mark of Suzaku.

Introduction Chapter 1: Saihitei is Crowned Chapter 2: Beautiful Maiden Hunting Chapter 3: Harem Tragicomedy Chapter 4: Nuriko Departs for the Front Chapter 5: Kutoh Invades Chapter 6: Love Brought to Life Chapter 7: Heaven and Hell Chapter 8: Spirit of Malice Chapter 9: Bloodline of Misfortune Chapter 10: A New Determination Freetalks from the authors

Introduction It happened as night fell on an early summer's evening. "I see fireworks from the palace…" "It sure is pretty, ain't it…" The couple stood in an untraveled road that passed behind the palace walls, gazing into the courtyard. Just inside the compound at which they gazed, the Emperor of their country dwelled. Around him also lived various politicians and women of the harem. Inside that court lived a breed of people completely different from the couple. A nicely shaped moon rose in the eastern sky, and a cool night breeze began to blow. On a beautiful evening such as this, the young crown prince was probably surrounded by attendants, listening to soothing lullabies… In response to nothing in particular, the two heaved little sighs. "Well, shall we get going?" the husband urged his wife. She softly lowered her eyes. What took place inside those palace walls was nothing more than a dream for the two. Once they returned home, they would once again be enveloped in hard days, toiling the soil. This would probably be their first and last time sneaking out of their farming village into the capital of Eiyoh to see the palace. With no money for lodging, the two set off on their night-long journey back home. It was then that it happened. A young woman suddenly bounded before them. She wore an elegant robe, her long hair was styled, and her scent was divine… It was unthinkable that she could possibly be a commoner. "I beg of you…!" she cried, stumbling towards the couple, who could only stand still in confusion. Catching a close look at her beautiful face, the couple caught their breaths.

But that was not the only surprise. The young woman swiftly thrust the bundle in her arms to the farmer's wife. "…Wh…what's this…?!" Removing the silver pins from the expensive bag and peering inside, she let out a yelp. Inside was a barely newborn baby, sleeping peacefully. "My baby…my baby… Please… take it and raise it as your own…!" Unable to process everything, the couple remained silent. From the young woman's body, the aroma of not only perfume, but of milk permeated. This baby must belong to her. "I am… one of the palace harem girls…" The couple's mouths dropped open at this. "Harem…" Finding it difficult to concentrate with such a beautiful woman standing before her, the wife stuttered, "S…So this baby is…" "The Emperor's child…" Hearing this, the farmer's wife nearly dropped the baby. "But…but why would you give us… such a…" At the farmer's dumbfounded question, the harem girl responded urgently. "This baby's life is in danger… By the harem girl who wants to become the Emperor's formal wife… Just only a few moments ago, she attacked me with a knife. I fear I do not have the strength to protect my baby on my own. If my baby stays at the palace, it will surely die very soon…!" Even the peasants had heard rumors of feuds within the palace harem to bear the Emperor's child in order to become the Empress of the country. And only moments earlier, the peasant couple had been gazing up at that palace. But what had taken place inside was not gentle lullabies, but ugly fighting. Thinking about this made the farmers' bodies shiver.

"And the reason why my baby is in danger is… because there is something special…" Saying this, the harem girl pointed to the left side of the baby's neck. There was a small, red mark that looked almost like a wound. "This is the symbol of Suzaku, the defending deity of our kingdom…" Hearing this, the couple's eyes fell onto the mark. It was true; the symbol bore the resemblance of a red phoenix, spreading its wings. Even the peasants knew of the legend of Suzaku. One day, a priestess from another world would come, assemble seven warriors with red marks on their bodies, and would summon Suzaku to grant wishes. Already, the kingdoms Hokkan and Sairoh had summoned their gods, Genbu and Byakkoh, and had obtained peace. "But we had never heard of a child…who would bear this kind of mark…" "Only a small handful of people know of this mark…" The harem girl turned to the farmer and nodded. "Please, please… keep the baby at least until it grows up…!" Then, after wiping the flowing tears from her eyes, she gasped as if she had suddenly remembered something and fiddled with her hair, removing a pin. "Please, use this for money…" Seeing the expensive piece of jewelry with its elaborate gems was enough to make the man's eyes cloud over. "I will have several other gifts prepared and sent to you as time passes…" After saying this, she hastily shot a gaze back to the palace. "I must return home…" Taking one last flickering look at her baby in the woman's arms, the harem girl dashed off towards the narrow path. "Dear…" the farmer's wife managed after a while. "…Yeah."

Her husband answered with equal confusion. It almost felt as though they had just woken from a strange dream. But the very real warmth and weight of the newborn was still in the woman's arms. Folding the cloths aside, the man poked around inside the bundle. "…It's a boy…" The two looked at each other. It was as if the weight of the baby in her arms had just doubled. The Emperor was still young and had not yet chosen a formal wife. It had still not been determined who would take the throne when he died. And this baby, born with the mark of the kingdom's deity, was targeted by the other harem girls. This was certainly because this boy was next in line to the throne… What have we gotten ourselves into? The couple stared blankly at the baby. No matter how the couple had tried, they were never blessed with a baby. Since their agrarian way of life depended on having children to help in the fields, the purpose of that day's journey to Eiyoh had been to see a special fertility doctor. "It looks like we got our wish…" he whispered. His wife trembled and nodded. "Though sooner than we thought…" The man had never dreamed his frail wife would ever be the recipient of such an important task. They had never learned the name of the harem girl, nor had she asked for theirs. The harem girl must have been quite disheveled from being attacked and running away from the palace before meeting them. Otherwise, she would have never entrusted the future of the country to a poor couple of farmers… But what was clear was that her top priority was to hide the baby from danger as quickly as possible. She had said that she was not strong enough to protect the baby herself, as could been seen from her frail and sickly figure. But no matter how he thought it over, the man could not see how he would be any more fit to raise the baby himself.

For a moment, he thought about leaving the baby in the road and walking on. Not many people travel on that road, and no one had seen them. And by using the harem girl's hairpin as money, he could probably feed his wife and himself for the rest of their lives. They could easily live without children… "…Dear, what are you thinking about?" his wife glanced at him anxiously. Then she wadded up the cloth that covered the baby and threw it into the bushes. "What are you doing that for?…" "If he's wrapped up in such finery as this, everyone'll know who he belongs to. You sure are stupid…" Swiftly removing the bandanna her husband wore around his neck, she rebundled the baby. Watching him continue to sleep peacefully, she smiled in satisfaction. "You're a good boy… There, there." While her husband still stood awkwardly with his mouth open, she spoke firmly. "From today on, he's our son." Though as long as he had known her, his wife had never shown much conviction for anything, she now had the confident and strong face of a mother. ----------

Chapter 1: Saihitei is Crowned "Saihitei, fourth Emperor of the Konan Kingdom, approaches the throne!" The hundreds of people gathered at the large palace courtyard fell to the ground in unison. While letting off slight sounds of excitement and unrest, the new emperor quietly lowered himself onto the throne. "Raise your heads." A sigh of awe rang from the crowd as they caught sight of the owner of the gentle voice. That was because the fourteen year old emperor on the throne was the most beautiful boy any had ever seen. He had of course been seen by the public earlier with his mother, Motaiko, but seeing him now wearing the imperial robes brought a new sense of sparkling majesty and dignity to the young man. Everyone also knew that their new emperor had excelled in both academics and martial arts. After a short time of mourning over the loss of the former ruler of their country, the palace was once again filled with a light of happiness and hope. Everyone believed that their new emperor, Saihitei, would live a very long and prosperous life. The young emperor's pure white skin was dyed slightly in pink from excitement and nervousness. And on his neck shone the bright red symbol which many had yet to see until that very day. It was the mark of Suzaku… New exclamations of awe began to spring out from various areas of the crowd. Yes, the new ruler of their kingdom was Hotohori, one of the seven chosen warriors of Suzaku. Intelligence, strength, beauty, and the mark of the "star" on his neck… With these attributes, there was not a single soul who rejected his crowning. Even if there were such a person, by tomorrow he would have been gone from the kingdom by the next day. If there was one thing that opposed this young and fresh boy from becoming the ruler of Konan, it was perhaps "evil powers". A man with impressive yet sometimes painful powers who could protect the kingdom, and more importantly, himself, was vital to the throne at this time. Even if Saihitei did not possess these powers at the moment, they would surely develop.

He glanced over at the space beside the throne. A woman who sat on a seat a couple paces behind and off to the side of the throne nodded slightly. "Continue to face the crowd," the beautiful woman whispered towards his ear. As the emperor turned his face towards the crowd once more, the woman shot up out of her seat and walked until she was one step in front of the throne. "Attention citizens!" she called in a clear voice. "It is truly a joyous occasion that Saihitei has been crowned. However, he is still merely fourteen years old. There are still many things about ruling a country with which he is unfamiliar. So I, Motaiko, shall rule in his place for a while." . "Yes, Majesty!" the crowd rang in unison. Naturally, everyone had known that their kingdom would fall under the control of Motaiko. For the "evil powers" that opposed Saihitei's rule belonged to Motaiko, Saihitei's own mother. * After the ceremony was over and Saihitei was lowered from the throne and taken to his sleeping quarters, his mother entered the room. "Your Highness… you must be weary." "You needn't refer to me in such an unfamiliar way, Mother…" "Hmhmhmhmhm." Lowering herself next to her son, Motaiko tenderly stroked his silky hair. "You mustn't say that. From this day forth, you are the emperor of Konan." "…Yes, I understand," the boy answered quietly. "You mustn't fret. You can entrust all the details to me. I promise to assure your continuous rule of this kingdom for years to come." Saying this, Motaiko let out a loud laugh. "At last, everything belongs to me!" Embracing her child, Motaiko, barely 32 years old herself, continued to chuckle uncontrollably as if she had been waiting for this day for years.

"…Mother." He separated himself from his mother's arms and asked timidly, "Are you not saddened by the death of Father?…" Motaiko's eyebrows flinched into a scowl. "He did not love either of us…" Saying this without hesitation, Motaiko's gaze fell to the ground. "The only reason he made me his Empress was because you were Hotohori. I do not suppose there is a man anywhere who would not acknowledge a son that was of Suzaku." Saihitei pressed his lips together. "I do admit he did seem to be more affectionate to me than the other harem girls. Though while he ruled over this kingdom for many years, he was a reckless ruler…" Saihitei was troubled by his mother's words. His father had just left this world, still without uttering even so much as a word of affection to his son. Saihitei knew that his father was proud of him, but could not help but wonder if that pride merely came from the fact that he was one of the "chosen ones"… His father spent his time in the throne room or in his sleeping quarters, exchanging hardly any word with his son, until he suddenly died. "Seishuku*… You are my most treasured possession…" She stared at him intently with deep eyes. "From the day you were born, you were special. But your life was not always met with peace… There were those who sought to destroy us…" Unable to tolerate his mother's intense gaze any longer, Saihitei's eyes darted to the floor. Saihitei was subconsciously aware of all that his mother had done to keep him and herself in power all those years. "…Mother, I remember one year ago… when Bogyoku fell from his horse while he was out riding and died…" he spoke up timidly. Bogyoku had been Saihitei's halfbrother and was one year older. "Ah yes, that was most unfortunate…"

Saihitei took in a deep breath and pressed his mother, "But I heard rumors that before the accident, you had slipped drugs into the horse's mouth…" "What?" Motaiko chuckled in amusement. "What a preposterous rumor. Understand this, there was not even a need to kill such an incompetent boy as Bogyoku…" Saihitei shook his head inside of his mind. Not only was Bogyoku intelligent, but he was also a gifted swordsman. If Saihitei had not been one of Suzaku's chosen ones… no, even though Saithitei was one of Suzaku's chosen ones, Bogyoku might have been chosen to be next in line for his father's crown. Bogyoku's mother, Choko, was known to be a longtime rival of Motaiko. The sight of Choko's cries at the time of his death was enough to sadden anyone. At today's crowning ceremony, though she was not even the official wife of the deceased, she was allowed to participate. Memory of her eyes, glaring with hatred towards Motaiko, still burned behind Saihitei's eyelids. "Seishuku…" Motaiko told her son. "I am certain there are many more rumors of which you are not even aware… When you were still young, another half-brother of yours was poisoned, another drowned in a lake, ah yes… and another was attacked by bandits and had his throat slit." "Please stop…" His mother ignored him and continued. "And as each of the Emperor's sons died, I was suspected in having a part in it…" Motaiko squinted her eyes and laughed. "It's all lies… all of it." Something cold ran along Saihitei's spine. "…Mother…you are a very strong woman…" he eventually managed to say. "I am not strong; I became strong… In order to protect ones child in the palace, one must become strong…" Then his mother looked off into the distance and said, "Ever since that day… I changed…" "That day?"

Motaiko sadly smiled. "Ever since the day I gave birth to your older brother…it was a still birth…" Having never heard this story from his mother before, Saihitei stared intently at his mother. "Some day, I might tell you more about this in detail… But when you were born, I made a vow to myself. I vowed that I would rise to the top of the palace someday…" At some point, Motaiko's strong motherly instincts had mutated into a lust for power. Taking advantage of the fact that her son was one of Suzaku's chosen ones, the final phase of her plan was to rule over Konan with such a son by her side. A sudden, empty breeze blew through Saihitei's young heart. Completely unaware of the pain and sadness in her own son's heart, Motaiko continued to gaze at him adoringly. "Your father was a very handsome man. And you see how beautiful I am… Hmhmhm, it is not surprising that you would be so beautiful, but your beauty still never ceases to amaze me…" Taking her son's face in both of her hands, Motaiko nuzzled her cheek against his. Even while being affectionately embraced by his mother, Saihitei could not get a sensation out of his mind; the sensation that even his own mother did not love him… "Lady Motaiko" a voice came from the other side of the door. "Who is it?" "It is I, Gentokuin." "Oh, you," Motaiko answered flatly as the visitor intruded on her moment with her son. "I'm coming in." A bald-headed man wearing a long robe shuffled in through the door and presented himself before Motaiko. This light-skinned man of dubious age had been the manager of all harem operations since before Saihitei was born. "What could you want at this late an hour!"

Gentokuin stiffened under Motaiko's stern tone. "Y-yes, Highness, I have business with you about the palace. I was wondering what was going to become of the inhabitants of the harem after the death of our former Emperor…" Hearing this, Motaiko looked up sharply. "I presume everything would stay the same for the sake of our new Emperor…" "Impudence!" Motaiko spat out. Gentokuin fell to the floor and cowered. "The average age of a harem girl in our palace is thirty! You expect such an old hag to be suitable for our new Emperor?!" "…N-no, Highness!… I see your point…" "Send them all away. Anyone who is still loyal to the old emperor should be sent away to a nunnery. And any pig-woman who refuses shall be exiled." "…Y-yes, Highness!…" Gentokuin then asked cautiously, "Do you propose the same…for Lady Choko?" Motaiko's lips twitched. "We will have her stay in the palace for a while longer. We mustn't forget that she was the emperor's second-in-line." Motaiko's lips slipped into a tiny smile. "So then… What is to become of me?…" Gentokuin questioned cautiously again. With the harem being dissolved, it would only be natural that his own job might disappear. "Very well, you shall be footman." When after a few seconds there was no reply, Motaiko said, "Are you dissatisfied?" "…Of course not, Highness." Gentokuin's voice trembled deeply. It appeared as though Motaiko did not find much favor in him. "Lady Motaiko…"

However, Gentokuin steadied his voice and raised his head once more. "Lady Motaiko, you are still young and beautiful. Shall it be my first task to find you a compan…" "Haaaaahahahaha!" At Gentokuin's innocent attempt to charm her feminine side, Motaiko responded with a hysteric laugh. "Ohhh, well then you shall be my lover. Gentokuin, would you be satisfied with that?" This time, Motaiko's comment stopped Gentokuin cold. He scurried frantically out of the room like a frog that had nearly escaped being rolled over by a wagon wheel. "You must be wary of that man," Motaiko said sharply to her son. He nodded meekly. Then, Motaiko murmured quietly, "The harem… There will come a day when I shall have to fill the harem for you." "Please don't say that… I need no harem…" Seeing her son protest so strongly, Motaiko reached over and stroked his hair like she would a doll's. "You are right. There is no girl in the world more beautiful than you." Motaiko let out another loud, victorious laugh. * Then a year passed. "Highness, from Sairo Kingdom's Shikin Castle, Lord Kotsuki has come to see you." Saihitei rose to his feet when his servant told him this. "What? Kotsuki is here?!" Kotsuki is Saihitei's younger half-brother and was his closest friend before Motaiko came into power. He was a quiet and gentle boy, but just after Saihitei was instated to the throne, Kotsuki and his mother were both sent away to a tiny castle.

It had not only been Kotsuki, though. Kotsuki, his mother, and every other half-brother and their mothers had been sent far away from the main palace. However, it was a necessary action to save their lives. With a large smile on his face, Kotsuki entered the drawing room. "It's good to see you again. Have you been well?" "Yes, my mother and I are both well. Oh, and…please accept this meager gift I've brought," the younger brother said to the elder as he slid a heavy parcel by Saihitei's feet. He had called it a "gift", but it was obviously money. Despite being sent far away from the palace, whenever half-brothers came to visit, it was necessary to bring money with them to stay on Motaiko's good side. "…Thank you." "It is our pleasure, Highness…" Seeing his little brother look down uncomfortably made Saihitei's face sadden. Still, he tried to fix the bad air. "You can stay here long, I hope? I would like to go horseback riding with you like we used to. It must strain you to be separated from your friends." "Certainly! I would love to," Kotsuki said with sparkling eyes. "My, my, it appears Lord Kotsuki has come to visit," Motaiko said as she entered the room. Kotsuki hastily bowed to her. "Empress Motaiko, may you be blessed." Motaiko shot a cold gaze at Kotsuki. "You two certainly were good friends. Surely it was Saihitei that you came to see; not me." Kotsuki found it hard to answer Motaiko's harsh tone. "Mother, please desist from those cruel jests… Ah yes, I have just arranged to ride horses with Kotsuki. So I shall go to choose horses now."

Saihitei rose quickly from his seat, trying to hide his boyish enthusiasm. After scarcely a few minutes had passed, Saihitei returned to the drawing room and collapsed onto the floor. "Explain the meaning of this, Mother!" As Motaiko gently shook Kotsuki, who was bleeding from the mouth, she calmly answered Saihitei. "It appears as though the help accidentally fed him a poisoned bun intended for rats… Poor boy, I fear there is no hope for him…" Saihitei's eyes quivered. "Mother… Kotsuki was…he was not a threat to you…" "Then explain this to me." Motaiko pulled a dagger out of Kotsuki's bag. "Someone who merely comes to pay respects to the crown need not bring such a thing." Saihitei was struck silent. Unknown to him, his mother had set the dagger in Kotsuki's bag, and she had also arranged for the poisoned bun to be fed to him… Saihitei looked down at his mother as if she were a vicious animal. Motaiko had become a force that was not only feared in the palace, but among the citizens as well. Motaiko's twisted lust for power continued to rise as the days passed. Every member of Konan, whether noble or peasant, all felt endangered by her wrath. If she found the slightest discontent in anyone, he was punished. After her son had glared at her for quite some time, Motaiko finally said, "Do you not understand a mother's love for her son, Highness?" Just then, a woman with disheveled hair stormed into the room screaming. "You are not a mother! You are a mere demon! You are a murderer! How many more people must you kill to be satisfied?! You are a demon! I hope you burn in Hell!!" In no time, two guards had grabbed her. "Well, well, so nice to see you again, Choko," Motaiko said. "Is something the matter? I have not seen you in ages, even though I am being considerate enough to keep you here under my care."

Ever since Motaiko had come into power, Choko had been confined to a dungeon-like room underground and had been given only provisions to sustain her life. Naturally, all traces of beauty she once had were gone. She had been given a perfect taste of Hell the entire year. "If I am a demon, then you have yourself to blame for turning me into one…" Motaiko said. Cold fireworks flew between the former rivals of the Emperor's affection. "…Then kill me if you will," Choko murmured. Motaiko snorted and shook her head in response. "Certainly you will grow lonely in there all by yourself. It is probably about time that you remarry." "Ah yes, I hear there is a Lord in a run-down castle in the far north-east who is hardly any different from a bandit boss." To Choko, who had been raised as a pampered harem girl of the palace since birth, that suggestion was the same as going to Hell. "Unless you continue to live a happy and prosperous life, my life will also have no meaning." Motaiko then stretched out her body and laughed slightly. Choko, still roughly bound by the two guards, turned her face towards Saihitei. "… Your Highness! I beg of you, please find it in your heart to forgive this. Please… if you can do nothing else, please forgive your mother…" Watching Choko cry until her voice cracked, Saihitei clenched his fist silently. Then, while lowering his gaze and shaking his head, he finished the plea in his mind, Please forgive her… For if you do not, she will eventually kill even you… Then, a voice spoke up. "Empress Motaiko, I feel that punishment was a bit too harsh for the Lady Choko…" The comment came from Sai, the Prime Minister, who had run into the room when he heard the commotion.

Motaiko's laughter ceased instantly and she whirled around to face Sai. Her expression was that of a possessed wolf. "It appears as though you were conspiring with her. As punishment, I will send you to join the eunuchs!" The color escaped Sai's face. To Sai, who had been Motaiko's trusted Prime Minister up until that point, the verdict hit him like a bolt from the blue. "Please…Please… I beg of you… anything but that!" Neither flattery nor begging could save him. In place of castrating him, Motaiko had his hands and feet chopped off and propped him up in the palace gardens as a display. He died later from blood loss and exposure. * Motaiko's insane reign of terror continued to run. However, things changed the winter before Saihitei's seventeenth birthday. "…Mother…" Hearing the sudden news that his mother had collapsed after clutching her chest, Saihitei rushed to his mother's bedside. His mother could barely breathe. "Seishuku…" She took her son's hand. "The time has come at last for me to face the wrath of God… And you are now sixteen. I suppose you can be an excellent Emperor even without my aid…" She then smiled weakly. Her face was no longer that of an insane witch feared by all. Seeing his mother's pure and innocent smile made Saihitei feel that he was looking at his mother's true self for the first time. "Please forgive me… All the evil I have done until today was to protect my beloved son… that is all…" "Mother!" Saihitei tightly squeezed her hand. "Please don't leave me. Please don't leave me all alone…"

Saihitei could not tell just how much his mother's wrong doings had hurt him all those years. Still, he felt immeasurable fear over the possibility of her absence. Motaiko lightly shook her head. "You are…not alone…" "What?!…" "You must search…" "Search…? Search… for what?"

"For… The mark… of Suzaku…" Saying barely this much, Motaiko released her strength and closed her eyes. "M…Mother!!!!" With her son by her side, Motaiko ended the 34 years of her disheveled life. * After Motaiko's death, Saihitei rose to become the true ruler of Konan, and a year passed.

As if the palace had woken from some nightmare, peace and tranquillity had returned. "Your Highness," Prime Minister Haku Shoei said as he entered the throne room. "All of the scouts you sent out have returned. They report no abnormalities and find that the country is all prosperous and peaceful. Foreign relations with neighboring countries Kutoh, Sairoh, and Hokkan are also running smoothly." "I see. That is good news. I don't suppose our peasants are all suffering from starvation?" Laughing, the Prime Minister shook his head. "There is not that much of a difference in wealth among your subjects. I am always delighted when I see what a kind and considerate Emperor you are, Highness. You concern yourself with not only the well being of those living in the palace grounds, but of those living far from you." Then, he added, "Unlike your mother… you are so different." After Motaiko had brutally punished the former Prime Minister, when Haku was appointed by her he felt everyday as though he were standing on pins and needles, waiting for his fate to fall as well. "Stop it… I wish that you do not speak badly of my mother." At the gentle admonishment from his ruler, the Prime Minister jerked his head up. "Anyone you ask has nothing but good things to say about you. That you are gentle, sophisticated, and also…" "That I am beautiful." "Hahahahaha. That is true. You seem to grow more and more beautiful every day…" Then, the Prime Minister caught himself with a cough. "Nearly a year has passed since the passing of Motaiko, so are you not lonely?" Saihitei lowered his gaze suddenly. "I do suppose I am lonely, now that you mention it…" He suddenly remembered his mother's final words. You are not alone. You must search for the mark of Suzaku… but that was where she had taken her final breath, leaving the end of her message a mystery.

After that, all the palace attendants had been summoned to search, but no one in the palace had such a mark, and no one had even heard of such a mark. It was then that the Prime Minister had suggested that Motaiko might have meant the seven symbols of Suzaku on the seven chosen warriors, and Saihitei had grown to believe this himself. Before he realized it, his mother's words had fallen into the chasms of his memory; nearly forgotten. In order to relieve his loneliness, Saihitei had poured his heart into the country's restoration. Seeing such a young Emperor in such solitude pained Haku's heart. Naturally, he needed to create an heir to the throne, but more than anything, Haku wanted to relieve Saihitei's sadness. "Your Highness… I was thinking that you are at about the age when you should start looking for an Empress…" Haku murmured cautiously. With a cold gaze from Saihitei as a response, Haku cut himself off. "I have absolutely no intention of wasting my days in the harem as my father did." "B-but you needn't have relations with every girl in the harem. Simply notice one that you find particularly beautiful and choose her…" "I don't believe such a girl exists." "Your Highness, the world is a very large place. If we search, surely we can find a girl more beautiful than you." "What?! More beautiful than I…?" The Emperor jerked his head threateningly at Haku. "N-no, oh no, oh no. I meant a girl beautiful enough to be able to stand by your side and not be invisible." "Ohhh. If only such a girl existed," Saihitei said, finally relenting to the conversation. "Yes, I agree. I don't suppose she does exist, but we should at least try to find her." "Then do as you will. However, I will not visit the harem."

The Prime Minister shrugged his shoulders. Glancing back, he saw that the Emperor had quickly engrossed himself in a hand mirror, admiring his own beauty. His fingers delicately slid down his hair to his neck, where a red symbol glowed faintly. "You were the one who told me of this symbol, were you not?" Saihitei nearly whispered. When Saihitei had been twelve years old and Haku was one of his attendants, Motaiko had let him tell Saihitei of the legend of Suzaku. "Yes… That is correct." "And since I am one of Suzaku's seven chosen ones, that means His Priestess will come to my kingdom." "…Yes." "The Shi Jin Ten Chi Sho** scroll says that she will come when the kingdom is on the brink of destruction. So I suppose she will not come to my peaceful land for a while…" "I do suppose that is so…" Saihitei's face bore an expression of complex longing. Seeing this, Haku turned to face him directly. "Your Highness, please understand. Suzaku's Priestess is supposed to come from another world; perhaps she will not even be human. And once she summons Suzaku, she is fated to return to her world. She will never be able to be your Empress, so please forget about that notion!" Hearing the harsh truth from his Prime Minister, the young Emperor tossed his head angrily at him. "Well then, I shall begin to search for eligible girls for the harem right away," the Prime Minister said quickly and shuffled out of the room before Saihitei could change his mind. Saihitei gazed at the reflection of the red symbol in his hand mirror for a while.

"The harem…" Then he imagined the existence that had kept a small fire ablaze in his heart for the past 5 years, ever since he was told he was one of Suzaku's chosen seven. Saihitei, who had never been loved by either of his parents and was nothing more than a tool to them, had come to believe that the Priestess of Suzaku was the only person who could possibly love him. For months, he suffered his mother's cruel reign over the kingdom. Then, after he was orphaned, the days passed by with an almost eerie silence. What had saved him from those days of loneliness and suffered was Suzaku's Priestess. He was like a bird trapped in an elaborate cage. But he knew that some day, his Priestess would come and release him from his cage, allowing him to soar high as Suzaku would… "I have already decided," Saihitei said, as he whispered to the girl he had yet to meet. "You will be my Empress…" ---------Notes: *"Seishuku" is the Japanese kun pronunciation of "Hotohori". **The "Shi Jin Ten Chi Sho" is the book that Miaka and Yui fall into. Literally, it means "Four Gods Heavens Earth Book", or "Book of the Four Gods of Heaven and Earth"

Chapter 2: Beautiful Maiden Hunting "Tendoh! Tennnndoh!" Hearing his name called and raising his head from the field, he saw Houki running along the dirt path towards him.

"Hey there!" Tendoh called out with a wave after wiping the sweat from his brow. Arriving beside him, the girl said, "Here's your lunch. Your mom asked me to bring it to you. She put in enough for me, too, so she asked me to stay with you and keep you company." With a smile, she thrust out the lunch sack. Tendoh gazed at her with squinted eyes, thinking her smile was as blinding as the sun. "How is your dad doing?" For about the past half year, Tendoh's father had been bedridden with chest pains. "The same as usual, I guess." "I see…" The two spread out their lunch at the edge of the field and began to eat. What they called a "lunch" was nothing more than boiled yams and buns. But by eating this food and drinking the cold water Houki had drawn from the well, Tendoh felt his strength return to him rapidly. "Tendoh, are you sure you're okay working the field by yourself?" Houki asked anxiously as she peered into Tendoh's face. With his father stuck in bed and his mother constantly tending to him, Tendoh had to care for the family's farm all by himself. "Yeah, I'm fine. In fact, want me to come over and help with your field?" Tendoh's bright white teeth against his tan face grinned at Houki. "Oh, you big showoff!" Houki then grabbed one of Tendoh's thick biceps with her hands and gasped, "Ahhh, how firm!" with wide eyes. "We've got a really nice crop this year. Maybe we'll even be able to make a profit after paying our taxes…"

"And then maybe you can buy medicine for your dad!" Houki suggested with sparkling eyes. "Yeah…" Tendoh glanced at the faded clothes of the girl sitting next to him and eating a yam. For an instant, Tendoh caught himself thinking If there's any money left over after I buy dad's medicine, I'd like to buy her some pretty clothes… or at least a hair decoration… but he quickly shook off these thoughts. "How's your field this year…?" Houki answered his question quietly. "Our vegetable field got flooded, so I don't think we'll even get a crop this year… Dad said that we might not be able to pay our taxes again this year…" Seirin Village of the Jusoh Prefecture, southwest of the capital, was a poor farming settlement of about 50 houses. Houki, who lived three houses away from Tendoh, lived with her parents and younger brother. Tendoh had grown up with Houki (two years his younger) and her little brother, Ogaku, as if the three had all been siblings. Even now, he and Ogaku still liked to practice sword fighting with sticks. "Our landlord is nice, so he'll probably let you put off paying taxes until next year," Tendoh said, trying to encourage her. "…Yeah. I hope so…" Seeing the long-lashed eyes of Houki lower in anxiety made Tendoh's chest tighten. Houki's family's fields had fallen on bad luck for the past few years. Frustrated by the lack of progress, her father had become a heavy drinker, traveling to cities to gamble, losing all the household's money. Sometimes there were days where none of them could eat. Tendoh realized that was probably why his own mother often made extra lunch for Houki. However, as Houki had just turned sixteen years old, she was sparkling with beauty, despite the dirt and marks of hard work on her body. If she had been born a merchant's daughter, she could have been clothed in fine robes and would have been enjoying the upbeat life of a young woman. But even though she was blessed with such beauty and grace, she was stuck spending her entire day toiling in the field.

This world is unfair Tendoh thought over and over to himself. I won't let her live this kind of life forever… he vowed. I'll work hard my whole life and save money. Then I'll buy more land and make even more money… Then I'll marry Houki… Before Tendoh realized it, he had come to think that way. With his vision set on his dream, no amount of labor or suffering bothered him. "I'm sure things'll look up for ya!" Tying his long hair behind his neck once more, he let out a mighty yawn towards the blinding sun. "I guess so!" Houki joined his right side. Whenever Tendoh saw her almost overly genuine smile, he always felt the gray skies in his heart clear up instantly. Even if we have to stay poor forever, I'll be fine as long as she's with me. As long as I can keep seeing her… He thought to himself.

"I'm sure there's life for you beyond this, Tendoh…" Houki murmured quietly. Her slightly down-turned eyes were sparkling as if they were looking at something special. "A farmer's life doesn't suit you… You may be covered in dirt, your skin may be tanned, and your beard needs to be shaved, but I'm sure if you cleaned yourself up, you'd be really handsome."

Tendoh gave Houki's chuckling head a soft slap. "What're ya saying? I'm sure if YOU washed up, wore prettier clothes, and styled your hair, you might even look like a woman for once." "How cruuuuuuuel!" Houki puffed out her cheeks in protest. "But I really do think so… Even your name sounds very regal…"* "I know it took them ten years of marriage to get pregnant, but naming me 'cherub' WAS going a little too far." "But what about you, then? 'Houki' almost sounds like the name of some princess."** "…Hmhmhm. Looks like both our names are too good for us." Houki stood and patted the dirt off her back. "Well, I've gotta go." As Houki turned her back to walk down the path to her house, Tendoh suddenly called out to her. "Say… Do you hate being a farmer?!" Houki whirled around. "Are farmers pathetic and ugly…?!" Houki shook her head fiercely in response. "That's not true at all. Even if you're covered in dirt, you're still… you're still VERY handsome!" * Stopping his horse at the entrance to the village, Gentokuin looked across the virtual agricultural wasteland with a twisted face of disapproval. "I don't suppose it's possible a beautiful girl would live in a place like this…" Though he had been demoted by Motaiko three years earlier, unable to tolerate this position, he was reinstated after some groveling. Before he had been in charge of the harem, he was a famous and respected sorcerer and advisor to the former emperor. After Motaiko's death, and plans to form Saihitei's harem were developed, he was once again summoned to the palace to become a scoutman for harem girls.

At first, Gentokuin was optimistic at the opportunity that awaited him to find favor with the emperor once again, but arriving on the harsh peasant lands, he soon grew weary. If he is able to bring back a beautiful girl to become Saihitei's empress, he would not only receive money, but an invisible connection to the emperor's power. However, if he failed, the exact opposite would happen. As if to take out his frustrations on his horse, Gentokuin raised his whip and snapped it loudly. * "I'm home." Finishing the day's work, Tendoh came home to face his mother, Sho'un, who had been impatiently waiting for her son to return. "Ahhh, nice to see you back. You must be tired. Let's have supper." "Hey Mom, I just passed by Rin and Kaku on the way home, and they looked kinda different from normal. Did something happen today?" "Huh?! Oh… Nothing really big happened." Sho'un grabbed her son's arm and nudged him along to the supper table. "Aw come on, tell me. You're only making me more curious, Mom." Facing his wife, who ignored what Tendoh said and concentrated on piling her plate with food, her husband, Chushin, called out from the other room where he was lying down. "It's nothing we have to hide from Tendoh, dear." "…But darling…" Rising to his feet, Tendoh walked to his father's bed. "Dad" Chushin spoke to his son. "A messenger from the capital has come here."

"A messenger?" Tendoh cocked his head at what his father had just said, wondering why a messenger from the capital would come to their meager village… "He's here to look for girls to join the emperor's harem… they say." "Harem…" "He said every house with an eligible daughter should bring her to our landlord's house tomorrow to have a look-over." Tendoh caught his breath. There were very few houses in his village with eligible daughters. And Houki's house was one of them. On top of this, the harem would surely only accept beautiful girls. In which case, even fewer would qualify… Unable to stand still any longer, Tendoh rose to his feet, but his father grabbed his arm. "I'm sure Houki won't go off and join the harem, so don't worry." "Dad…" Tendoh peered into the face of his father who had read his mind "I also don't think they'd drag her off kicking and screaming…" Tendoh nodded in response, but the bud of uneasiness in his heart did not die. The family of a girl chosen to join the harem would probably receive financial compensation… and Houki's father was terribly in debt. "Tendoh… I understand how you feel," Sho'un said as she walked towards her son. "You want to marry Houki, don't you?" "Mom…" "Houki is a hard worker and a very kind young woman. I can't imagine anything better than you marrying Houki and the two of you taking care of our farm…" Getting only that far in her thoughts, she suddenly cut off and wiped her eyes. Tendoh put a strong arm around her frail shoulder. More than half of Sho'un's hairs had turned gray, and his father's hair was no different.

"I'm gonna stay here and take care of both of you for the rest of my life no matter what, so don't talk like that." His mother looked up at him. Due to the harsh lifestyle of a farmer, it was covered in wrinkles and gave her a sad-looking expression. "Are you sure about that? Do you really think you'll stay here living with us old folks forever?…" "Of course I will. Dang, Mom, what's wrong with you?…" While softly stroking the back of his mother as she sobbed into his chest, Tendoh put all his concentration into blocking off the uneasy feeling that was overtaking him. * The next day… Seeing the five sets of parents and daughters brought before him at the landlord's house, Gentokuin shook his head in his expected defeat. "Is this everyone?" he asked the lord. "Well, I can't really say 'everyone', Sir…" Even if there was one more girl, Gentokuin was not all that keen to see her if she was anything like the girls he had seen already. Just when he was about to leave to search in another village, someone's voice stopped him. "Stop it! Dad, let go of me!" A man had entered the room, dragging his screaming daughter behind him. "…Mr. Yoh, have you been drinking again?" the landlord asked warily. "Sir from the capital. Pleez take m'daughter with ya to the harem." With the strong scent of alcohol on his breath, he nudged his daughter up to Gentokuin.

"Her name's Houki. She jus' turned sixteen." Gentokuin took a hard look at the peasant-girl. He had been instructed to take only girls aged 16 and above, so she was barely old enough. Her appearance was not all that impressive to him, but he could tell that with a good cleaning and some refinement, she could turn into a sparkling jewel. When looking at Houki, he felt no need to look away. "Well, she certainly is a beautiful girl…" Smiling in satisfaction, Gentokuin extended a pale, wrinkled hand to Houki. "B…but I don't want to go to the harem!" Houki roughly shoved his hand away and ran back to her father. "You just want the money, don't you Dad?! You need money so badly that you'd sell me!" Houki's father slapped her cheek. "What do you think you're doing!" "I-if ya stay in this village, ya can't be happy! You'll jus' be a poor farmer the rest of your life… And 'cause of your good fer nothin' dad, you'll hafta spend the rest of your life paying my debts… even now…" He stopped his shaking voice with a snort of the nose and spat out, "You deserve better. Go to the palace. Mr. Messenger, I don' need money. Jus' take my girl… please take her to the palace." "…Dad…" Houki was at a loss for words. Noticing her unstable mood, Gentokuin walked the landlord over to a corner of the room and began to whisper about something to him. Then, coming close to Houki's father again, he said, "Mr. Yoh, you may say you don't need the money, but your lord informs me you neglected to pay taxes the past few years." Hearing this from Gentokuin, Houki's father's head drooped.

"That is no different than withholding taxes from the crown. Do you have any idea what the federal penalty is for that?" The gravity of the situation caused everyone in the room to fall silent. "So, what should we do about your daughter?…" Houki bit her lips. Then, another person came into the room, gasping for breath. "Houki! What the hell are you doing here!" "…Tendoh…" Tendoh shot his gaze down towards Houki's father, who had fallen to his knees. "What kind of father would drag his own daughter into the harem against her will!" Tendoh grabbed Houki's hand. "Come on, we're leaving." "…No, wait…" Pushing Tendoh back, Houki spoke to Gentokuin. "The 30 gold pieces you just mentioned… if I join the harem, could it be eliminated?…" Gentokuin nodded silently. Tendoh marched up to him angrily. "Tell me, what's going on here!" Tendoh grabbed Gentokuin's collar roughly. No one in the room tried to stop the young man's sudden rage. While suspended in mid-air by the young man's strong arm, gasping for breath, Gentokuin explained. "30 gold pieces in tax evasion fines…?" Tendoh asked his lord. "Why did you tell this guy about his tax debt?!" Dropping his gaze, the landlord muttered back, "I didn't want to… but keeping someone here who doesn't pay his taxes isn't exactly good for me…" Tendoh concluded that Gentokuin had dragged this information from the landlord in order to force Houki to join the harem. The dirty little bastard… Tendoh suppressed his urge to cry out and instead glared at the messenger in monk's clothing.

Then, he suddenly realized that Gentokuin would not be able to breathe much longer in that position and released him. Thud. Wheezing for breath, the monk spoke to the young man. "So you are called Tendoh… That name does not suit a farmer's son…" Gentokuin ran his eyes over both Houki and Tendoh once more. Then he said to Tendoh, "30 gold pieces. If you bring that amount to me, the girl shall be free." "Houki, wait for me here. I'll bring back some money right away." "….Tendoh…" Leaving behind the blank-minded girl, Tendoh flew out of the landlord's mansion like a gust of violent wind. * Though Tendoh had proclaimed grandly of paying the federal fine, there was not a single soul in the village who could even begin to contribute to such a large amount. After returning to his own house, Tendoh hurriedly counted up the money he had in savings, but the total barely came to 5 gold pieces. Just as Tendoh collapsed on the floor, about to give up hope, he heard the faint whispering of his parents from the other room. "Darling, you should give it to Tendoh…" "…But dear…" "I'm sure they'll let Houki go free this way…" "I know… but…w-we can't…" "Why?…" "Because, you know why. Once they figure out where we got such a thing… then they might…"

"…hmmm…" What're they talking about?… Tendoh thought as he raised his head. Come to think of it, Mom's been acting strange since yesterday. Almost like she's scared of the messenger from the capital for some reason… It was then that he heard the sound of stomping horse hooves from outside his window. Hastily running outside, he barely caught sight of Houki inside the carriage, sadly saying goodbye to her mother and younger brother. "Houki!!" Tendoh stumbled furiously towards the carriage. "Get off!! Why are you going?!! You're not supposed to go to the harem!!" he screamed, grabbing onto the window pane. "Tendoh…" Houki smiled distantly. "Don't worry. If I go, my family won't need to worry about money…" "You jackass! If it's money you need, I'll work hard and pay it myself! I promise I'll pay it myself!" Houki faintly shook her head. "Don't bother… I'm not changing my mind." "I'll live in the palace harem and live an easy, luxurious life… That's what Dad wants. I'm sure if I live there, Dad won't worry anymore…" "…Houki," Tendoh looked up at her. "You…you really think that way? That you can't have a happy life here?…" From the eyes of Houki's speechless face, tears slowly escaped. Gentokuin tactlessly let out a "giddiyap!" and the carriage began to take off. "Houki!!!!!" Even after the carriage disappeared from sight, Tendoh continued to desperately chase after it until he felt his heart would burst. Falling to his knees and gasping violently for air, Tendoh turned a sharp, cold glare towards the direction of the capital.

"Damn him…" Tendoh cursed the one who created such a harem. Saihitei is supposed to be around seventeen years old now… And rumors say he's as beautiful as a girl… And as if that wasn't enough, he's also one of Suzaku's Seven Warriors… But his mother was Motaiko, that insane witch who terrorized the country… Remembering an image of her storming up to his very own village in rage made him shiver. Saihitei was probably brainwashed by her… And inside his sheltered life at the palace, he lives in unimaginable luxury… He never gets his hands dirty, and never has to worry about where tomorrow's food comes from. He's constantly surrounded by servants who pamper him and cater to his desires… And now that's not enough for him, so he has to steal all the country's beautiful girls from their families… And that foul, immoral place is where Houki's headed. Tendoh's heart was attacked with a sudden surge of pressing pain. He whimpered once more, "Damn him…!" The balls of dirt fell from his clenched fists back to the ground. ---------Notes: *The name "Tendoh" literally means "cherub", or "god disguised as a child" (Jesus). **Though many fans scorned Houki for having a name that means "broom" in Japanese, the Chinese characters that make up her name mean "mythical bird" and "beautiful". Chapter 3: Harem Tragicomedy The harem created from the kingdom's most beautiful girls was at last initiated for Saihitei that spring. The beautiful harem girls were gathered in the throne room to have their first official meeting with Saihitei.

"How did you find them, Highness?" Leading him back into his personal quarters, Prime Minister Haku nervously rubbed his hands together and asked. "Was there a maiden in particular who caught your attention?" Saihitei cocked his head thoughtfully and answered, "there was such a girl who caught my attention..." "Is that so?!" Haku bounded to Saihitei's side, excited beyond measure. "Which was she…?" Nudging his body away, Saihitei said, "I was attracted to her…not as a woman. More rightly, as a comrade…" "Commmmrade??" Haku sighed in exasperation. Then, he noticed the ball Saihitei was holding in his hand. "Highness, what is that?" "Oh, you mean this ball…" Saihitei gazed down at the ball for a while, then answered, "The world is a mysterious place. Certainly, you must remember this as well. When I was ten years old, making a procession through the capital in secret, I rescued a girl who was nearly hit by a carriage…" "Yes, Highness, I remember." "I believe this might be the very ball that girl was chasing after at the time. Look, the words 'thank you' are inscribed on it. This very ball came rolling by my feet when I inspected the girls…" "So perhaps that girl is now in the harem…? Now that I remember, she was quite a beautiful girl!" Haku's face once again sparkled with excitement. "Your Highness, I believe this is a fated encounter!" "Yes, I thought too that perhaps it was so, but I saw no one who looked like her…" Haku's shoulders dropped in disappointment. "…Is that so…" He had been hoping that the presence of such a girl would have encouraged Saihitei to at least set foot in the harem once in a while… "And so, I will never set foot in the harem again… Haku."

"B…but you mustn't… Highnesssss!" * After the official meeting the Saihitei, the maidens of the harem sauntered leisurely along the hallway back to the harem. Not one of the girl was able to hide her excitement over Saihitei's beauty, and the whole procession back floated along as if walking on clouds. Naturally, Cho Korin, who brought up the rear, was among them. I will certainly be the one to accept his affections… Korin thought in determination as the girls walked back. As the girls walked on, Korin noticed one of them meander off slightly, seemingly lost in thought, then step on the skirt of her long robe and topple to the floor. "Hey there, are you okay, dearrrr?" Korin hastily helped the clumsy girl to her feet. "Ex…excuse me. I'm still not used to these kind of clothes…" The fallen harem girl smiled nervously at Korin. "?…?…?…?…?" Then, when the two looked at each other face to face, their mouths dropped open simultaneously. The next moment, the two erupted into giggles. "Oh, brother! It's like I'm looking in a mirror," Korin said. "All ya need is a mole under your left eye, and you'll be a perfect copy of me! …Though you're not anywhere near as good at using makeup as I am." Suddenly stopping the laughter, Korin's arms folded thoughtfully. Then, taking another long look at the identical girl, Korin said, "I'm Cho Korin. Seventeen years old. My family runs a textile business in the capital. What about you?" "…I'm Yoh Houki. I'm sixteen. I'm from Seirin Village in the Jusoh Prefecture. I'm just a farmer…" "Hmmmmm." So I guess she's never worn anything but rags all her life. It's no wonder she trips over her own clothes… "…You were sold here, weren't you…"

Houki's eyes dropped instantly at this.

There were two types of girls who came to the harem. The first type was girls who came of their own will, wanting to marry Saihitei. The other type was girls who came from poor families who were dragged there against their will, crying. "But, you know, Saihitei is so beautiful and gracious that there's no reason to be sad about it. Consider yourself lucky." Korin said this with a firm pat on Houki's shoulder. "Ah…!" Instead of the intended pat of comfort, Korin's strong pat send Houki tumbling to the floor again. "S…sorry…!" "No problem… You are very strong, I see…" Houki said with a smile as she pulled herself to her feet. "Huh? W-well, I guess so. I guess I'm strong for a GIRL, mayyyybe. Hahaha." Suddenly returning to a serious air, Korin's identical face nudged itself towards Houki. "Listen, I think there's something I should get out of the way." "Yes?"

"When I took a quick look over the other girls, I thought I was by far the best. …But after meeting you, I'm not so sure… Which means that the two of us will be the girls who will engage in a cruel and bloody battle over the love of the Emperor…" "…? Hey, are you even listening to me?" "…Yeah…" the listless girl answered. "It's just that I've never seen a girl as pretty as you before…" "But you've got the same face as me!" "…Yeah…" "So that's whyyyy, we need to vie for the beautiful, yet lonely, Saihitei's affections. The two of us will be rivals from now on." "Is Saihitei really that handsome?" Korin wobbled suddenly. "Whaaaat?! Hey, just where were you looking, girl?! Didn't we like, just meet the man??" "…But I wasn't really paying attention…" Silence. "Um, I'm not interested in marrying the Emperor, so you can have him." After standing with a gaping mouth for a while, Korin suddenly chuckled. "Ahahaha! You're a funny girl! I like ya!" "Huh…?" Korin tightly embraced the confused girl, naturally, avoiding touching chests… "You can just call me Korin. From now on, we're friends!" *

Each harem girl was given her own room and chamber maid. Their daily duties basically consisted of beautifying themselves and waiting for the possible eventuality of a visit from the Emperor. "Hmmmm, I'm so bored! This is just too boring! When will His Majesty finally come here!" Korin gestured wildly towards her maid, Peipei, and stood up. "Lady Korin, I am certain that His Majesty will come in due time." "In due time, in due time; already a month has passed! If I have to wait much longer, I'll be a granny by the time I see him!" Unable to tolerate this any longer, Korin left the room. "Wh-where are you going?" "Out on a walk to cool off. Don't worry; I won't leave the boundaries of the harem. While wandering the halls of the harem alone, Korin came across another harem girl, dragging her servant along. She was Kinboh, the daughter of a wholesale shop keeper. On passing by Korin's ear, she said, "Ohhhh, Korin-dear. What are you wandering around moodily for?" "Moodily??" Korin's feet stopped. "If you have that attitude, His Majesty will never want to see you. You need to be patient, you knowww." "Ohhh, Kinboh-dear. Then I suppose you will need to be patient until age 100. I'm sure that by then, His Majesty's eyesight will be so bad he won't be able to distinguish the pretty harem girls from the ugly one." Kinboh, who had a face far from the ideal harem girl, had bribed a harem scout man to join the harem, as the rumors said. "Don't think you can get away with anything just because you're pretty!" Suddenly, her tone became defensive. "This is an era when status and men can be bought with money. Listen, Saihitei may not be interested in women right now, but even a palace

can get into money-troubles with war and all that. And when that happens, he'll come to my Daddy, begging for help. Don't you forget that." As Korin stood there blankly, at a loss for words, Kinboh continued, "And besides, I just had Gentokuin read me my fortune. Hmhmhm!… He said that His Majesty would come to visit me very soon." "Whaaaat?!" Gentokuin was the head caretaker of the harem. Korin had heard rumors of harem girls secretly visiting him to have their fortunes told. "Soooo sorry. He also says I'm going to give birth to a boy, so I'll have rights to the throne." Hearing the word "birth", Korin choked. "Well then, have a nice day." Kinboh shuffled off, as if kicking dust at Korin. "Mmmmrrrrg!" Stomping a foot in frustration, Korin headed towards Gentokuin's room. Coming to the door of his room, Korin heard what sounded like chanting. Curiously, Korin placed an ear to the door. "Kambakpipi… Kambakpipi… Kambakpipi…" "Kam bak pipi?" Korin's head cocked sideways, then finally, a revelation came. "Kam bak pipi…I wonder what that could mean?" Hearing a voice from behind, Korin jumped midair. Houki smiled innocently back. "Ahhhh, you scared me. What are you doing here of all places?" "I was a little bit bored, so I decided to have Gentokuin tell me my fortune."

"Fortunnnne? About what?" "I was going to ask if my family and the other villagers were okay…" "Oh, I see…" "So, what is the kam bak…about?" Korin coughed delicately. "Well, you know, Gentokuin is a eunuch." "Unique? In what way?" Korin's shoulders slumped in embarrassment. "Girl, you really are an innocent farmer's daughter, aren't'cha." After letting out a long sigh, Korin began to whisper in Houki's ear. After hearing that a eunuch was a man whose manhood had been removed, Houki's eyes grew wide. "Huh?! But then… umm… how do they go pee…?" "Listen, youuu… They arrange it so he can still do that. The reason they take away his manhood is because he's working in an area surrounded by young women. They castrate him so they can be sure any child born belongs to the Emperor. That's why he was saying 'come back peepee'!" "…Ohhh…" Houki turned her bright red face towards the ground. "But actually, I hear rumors that he was made a eunuch even before he was put in charge of the harem. Some sort of punishment, I think. But either way, he's a pretty creepy guy. I mean, when he talked you into coming here, it was a sort of threat, wasn't it?" "…Yes…" Just then, the door slid open. "Well, well, Lady Korin and Lady Houki. What do the both of you want?" Korin hurriedly said, "Uh…well, could you consider stopping telling harem girls their fortunes? Don't you find it improper?"

Gentokuin squinted his eyes and laughed. "Now, now, try not to be so uptight. My fortunes are very perceptive. Would you like to give it a try?" Saying this, Gentokuin swiftly took Korin's hand and stared deeply in concentration. "Ohh!! You are not supposed to be at the harem. You are supposed to go off to war… Hm?" Just then, Korin slapped the clouded-faced Gentokuin's hand away. "Stop that! What a preposterous thing to say. How ridiculous… a war…huh?" By then, Gentokuin was already busy looking into Houki's hand. "Ohh…Ohh…Ohh!!" Gentoku rose cries of utter ecstasy. "Lady Houki, you will be the one Saihitei will choose…" "Just cut it out!" Korin shoved Houki's hand away. "She's not interested in the Emperor. And why should we believe you anyway? You just told Kinboh a couple minutes ago that the Emperor would visit her soon; you fraud!" "If you have that much time on your hands, why don't you try making Saihitei more interested in the harem? Like…yes, you could make a catalogue of the girl's faces to appeal to his manly desires!" Gentokuin nodded with interest. "'Catalogue, you say. That is a very nice idea." "I wish you'd actually do your job around here!" "I understand," Gentokuin said humbly with a bow. "Well then, good day to you." Dragged away by Korin, Houki smiled back and said, "Have a nice day, Mr. Comebackpeepee." * One night, about one week later…

While Kinboh was counting the money she kept under her mattress, she felt the presence of someone outside her door." "…M-M-Majesty???" After hurriedly hiding her money, Kinboh softly opened her door. Seeing who it was, her body stiffened. "Wh…who are you??" Before her eyes stood the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. "I am a new entry to the harem. I have come here to pay my respects to you, Lady Kinboh… I am very honored to meet you." "O-oh. Well, good luck to you…" "You too. I greatly appreciate your kindness. Farewell…" After answering in a soft voice, the visitor disappeared. Kinboh rubbed her eyes, thinking she might have seen an illusion, but realizing she had yet another difficult rival, the flame of determination flared up once more inside of her. "Haku, I think these likenesses are a little too unrealistic," Saihitei said as he tossed the catalogue back to his Prime Minister. "Especially this one of Kinboh…" Saihitei complained as he pointed to the beautified drawing of her. She had probably bribed the artist. "But what about the other girls? Look at this one; she is so beautiful your eyes might fall out…" Haku pointed at the portrait of Houki, who had at last gotten used to dressing as a harem girl and was drawn very beautifully. "That is enough. Not one of them is more beautiful than I." When Haku had coerced him into dressing as a woman earlier to look in at all the girls, he had returned in annoyance after having only been to Kinboh's room. A disappointed Haku flipped through the portraits again. "M…my, how horrible…" Haku whispered through his hand as he tried to stifle his laughter. "To think that such

an ugly girl made it into the harem… If she is truly this ugly, I would like to have her expelled tomorrow…" The picture he indicated was an unimaginably horrible nude portrait of number 54, "Cho Korin". Naturally, that had been the work of Gentokuin. It was also he who had made Houki's portrait extra beautiful. Since he was the one who had scouted Houki, he would be promoted and honored if Saihitei found favor in her, but most of all, he could return to his former position if she became Empress. "Tell Gentokuin to take his job more seriously." "Yes, Highness…" The next day, girls of the harem curiously assembled outside the door of Gentokuin's room after having heard Haku yelling at him. "Is it true that His Highness sneaked into the harem last night?!" "No way!!" Realizing the true identity of the beautiful woman who had visited her last night, Kinboh nearly fainted. Her fortune had come true… "You girls are too noisy," Haku said as he exited Gentokuin's room. "By the way, is one of you named Korin?" "Yes…" Korin stepped forward from the crowd. Seeing how this "Korin" looked, Haku once again shot an angry "Gentokuin!!" in the man's direction. Stealing a glance at the picture in the catalogue Haku held made Korin's shoulders tremble. "Why that… Comeback…asshole…!" As the Prime Minister stepped away, the girls pounced on Gentokuin. "Is it true that His Majesty got angry and said he would never set foot in the harem again?!"

"Now, now, calm down, girls…" Gentokuin spread his arms wide and spoke soothingly to the girls. "His Majesty is still young. We must be patient." As the girls let out disappointed cries of "oh no!", Gentokuin said, "And besides… this is only a rumor, but I hear he already has a girl in mind…" "What did you saaaay?!" Hearing this, Korin smashed to the front of the crowd again. "Who is she!" "She is… Suzaku no Miko…" "Suzaku no Mikoooo?!" a discontented cry rang from the harem girls. So Saihitei had already devoted his thoughts to a girl he had not even met yet… "Sue Jack knows me cold?" Ignoring the usually confused Houki, Korin snorted and said, "This is not funny! You think we're gonna let some ugly weird girl who may or may not show up steal our man's heart?!" "Well said, well said! She's probably some hick-girl anyway!" The once fainted Kinboh revived herself with a bang and was by Korin's side in support. "We won't let her get away with it!" Suddenly, the harem girls had formed a formation with linked arms, and had begun to march off shouting, "hell no, Suzaku no Miko!", leaving behind the still confused Houki. Watching this from the side, Gentokuin murmured quietly, "But fate has already decided his wife…" He looked over at Houki and grinned. Then, suddenly picturing the face of another in his mind, he put a hand to his chin. "I suppose very soon, an even more impressive fortune reading of mine will come to be true…" Gentokuin's gaze fell to his crotch. His eyes gleamed with light. *

"Arrrgh…" After sighing for the 258th time, Korin threw a small stone into the pond. "What's wrong with you, Korin? You've been sighing all day…" Houki sat by Korin's side at the pond in the palace harem's garden. "A month has passed since then… And the Emperor shows no signs of coming… If I have to keep this up much longer, my body and soul will rot from boredom." "But he's waiting for Suzaku no Miko, isn't he? …There's nothing we can do to change that…" Up until a month ago, Houki had not known of Suzaku no Miko. "Unlike us, Suzaku no Miko sounds exotic and mysterious. It doesn't seem like any of us could compare to her…" "Oh, just shut up!" Korin yelled in a fluster. But actually, what she's saying is true. Ever since then, the harem girls had formed alliances and created "plans of battle" to try and get Saihitei to open up to them. "Our plans to get him with letters or home-made lunches failed. And we tried to form a harem girls' chorus to attract him with our beautiful singing, but he wouldn't even come to hear that…" Houki then cut herself off and shook her head. "I thought that opening a beauty clinic in the harem for him to come to was a good idea, though…" "Yes, but Kinboh disgraced us by trying to pay him a thousand gold pieces to use it." Korin sighed deeply once again. "You sure are lucky, not having any feelings for the Emperor and all…" After stealing a quick glance at Houki, Korin asked again, "Didn't you have a boyfriend back at home?" "…Huh?" Houki's gaze fell to the ground. "I thought so… And he must've been realllllllly handsome, huh…" "N-no, that's not it. Tendoh is…not really my boyfriend; more like a big brother I can depend on…" "Oh, so his name is Tendoh…"

"Huh? Y-yeah…" Korin carefully patted Houki's shoulder. "And you didn't want to come here, right?" Houki nodded meekly. "And your 'big brother' tried to stop you from leaving, right?" Houki nodded meekly again. Korin shook a sympathetic head. "Poor thing. The harem life is pleasant and easy, but it must be awful not ever having the opportunity to fall in love…" "…That's not true. I consider this a good life, and with you around, I'm never sad or lonely…" Korin smiled warmly at Houki's honesty and purity. "But you really are in love with the Emperor, aren't you, Korin…" "Huh? Me? Well, yes, of course I am!" "Did you always have your sights set on him?" Hearing this question made Korin remember the original reason for entering the harem. For the sake of Byakuren, a girl from the village where some relatives lived… "Well, I guess so, but it's a bit complicated…" After having heard the details of the story from Korin, Houki's wide eyes stared at Korin in disbelief. "So you're actually in love with the Emperor for Byakuren's sake?" "Welllll, that's not exactly it. As of now, I love him for personal reasons, too!" Hearing this, Houki nodded in relief. "Don't worry. You're certainly the best girl in the harem. I'm sure the Emperor will come around eventually and he'll choose you. Then, you'll give birth to a boy, and…"

"Yes, that's where my problem is," Korin puzzled with crossed arms. "You see, I know that if given the opportunity, I have the ability to seduce him, but… when it comes to giving birth…" "…Huh?" Just then, Peipei, Korin's chamber maid, called out from across the pond. "Lady Korin! It is time for your bath! You can't escape me this time! To think, you haven't had a bath in a week… goodness!" "Yikes! She's here!" A panicked Korin grabbed Houki's hand and pulled her to her feet. "Please! Will you be my double again?!" "Whaaaat? Agaaaain?" "Peipei! I'm coming right away, so be patient! Come on, hurry…" "But I just took a bath." "Aw, cut out the technicalities." Lifting Houki with one arm, Korin shuffled off in the opposite direction. Once behind closed doors, after dropping the wide eyed Houki to the floor, Korin snapped, "What're you just sitting there for? Come on, change into my clothes…" After saying this, Korin promptly walked behind a screen to change. "Hey, why do you always hide yourself when you change? I don't see any reason to be shy about it," Houki said in a slightly frustrated tone. "I made a vow with myself to not let anyone but His Highness see me naked!" Korin yelled back. "And don't forget to draw a mole under your left eye. And make sure that mole doesn't wash off. And you mustn't say anything in front of Peipei. You know how our personalities are exactly the opposite. …Ummm, and then…" Just then, as Korin happened to look up, there were the two eyes of Houki, staring from above. A long moment of silence passed.

"Ah…ahahahaha…" Korin's eyes fell on his clearly naked chest. "Uh…what…" Houki's face clouded and her words were warbled. "Bloody hell!" Shoving the screen away, Korin stood naked, face to face with Houki. "There you have it! Understand now?" Seeing the red mark for "willow" appear on Korin's chest, Houki was even less able to form any legitimate words. "Yes, that's right. I'm secretly Nuriko, one of Suzaku's seven warriors. So hurry up and take a bath in my place!" "…O…okay…" After Houki put on Korin's clothes and a fake mole, and wobbled out of the room, Korin slumped onto the floor and shook his head tiredly. "Well, I guess it's a miracle I lasted here two months with no one finding out in the first place. Hmph!…" ---------Notes: You will understand this chapter (and book) much better if you read Yukiyasha Den Chapter 4: Nuriko Departs for the Front The second spring fell upon the new harem. Houki, who sat by her window, admiring the plumb blossoms, suddenly caught sight of Korin hurriedly darting between the trees with her chamber maid, Peipei in hot pursuit. "I wonder what's happened…" Houki stood to her feet, curiosity getting the better of her.

Nearly one year had passed since she had discovered Korin's true identity. But that incident did not change their relationship. After having heard his accounts of the deaths of his little sister and Byakurn, Houki was so sad she had stayed up the entire night crying. Korin had held her gently all night, stroking her back like an older sister would. That event made their friendship even stronger. "And if you are also one of Suzaku's Seven, surely you will meet the Emperor eventually." When Houki said this encouragingly, Korin nodded in agreement. She's right. I don't need to panic about it. Suzaku no Miko will probably appear here very soon. Simultaneously, the girls of the harem had finally seemed to give up hope that Saihitei would ever come visit the harem. "Lady Korin, we should go back. If we're caught, we will be punished," Peipei's frustrated voice called at Korin from ahead. The two had left harem grounds and were headed towards the palace. Hiding herself in the shadows, Houki followed Korin's tail. The front garden of the courtyard to where Korin was headed was terribly noisy with some commotion. Several palace guards were angrily lined up, ready to take on an opponent. And strangely enough, it appeared that their "opponent" was actually… a young girl. And that girl wore unfamiliar clothing. Her bare legs stuck out from a short skirt. She looked as though she had stepped out from another world. Just then, Houki's eyes opened wide in surprise. "Could that be Suzaku no Miko…?!" Just when she thought this, the soldiers threw their weapons at her towards the east tower. Crackle, crackle… smash, smash! The east tower crumbled to the ground with a loud noise, and the girl who had been standing under it was buried in an instant beneath the ruins. Seeing a boy dash in to the rubble just before it collapsed, Houki gasped and covered her eyes.

How horrible… Those two poor people will probably die under there… Then, cautiously peeling her fingers away from her face, Houki saw a confidentlooking Korin walk casually up to the accident. "Leave this to me," Korin said in a crisp voice as he stood there strongly. * "So your power from Suzaku was superhuman strength… Come to think of it, you did pick me up with just one arm a couple times…" Having seen the real Nuriko before her very eyes, Houki sighed. Then remembering the touching scene that followed, Houki's heart once again raced. That accident in the garden had apparently occurred during a search to find Suzaku's warriors. Then Korin, who effortlessly tossed the rubble off of Suzaku no Miko and Tamahome, the boy who had leaped to her rescue, introduced himself as Nuriko. Houki thought he looked especially divine then. "And that Hotohori, apparently when he first saw me in the lineup of harem girls, he felt something." Houki raised a surprised cry, "Whaaaat?! He did?!" "Yes, but he felt that I was his 'comrade', not 'future bride'." Korin shrugged his shoulders.

"…Korin, you're going to leave the harem, aren't you…" Houki said with watery eyes. After having revealed himself as one of Suzaku's Seven, Korin was instructed to live in the palace with the other two warriors and Suzaku no Miko. "Don’t cry about it. I'm just moving a bit away. I'll keep coming back here to visit." "But you'll have to go out soon to look for the remaining four, right?" Korin softly stroked Houki's hair. "When that happens, I'll send you letters. And one of them'll say, 'I got Hotohori! He's MINE now!', okay!" Hearing this, Houki slowly cocked her head. "But… After you pulled the rubble off, why did you say, 'I actually wanted to rescue this one,' and then kiss that Tamahomeboy?…" Korin made exasperated clicking noises with his tongue. "How naiv you are. That was just my way of declaring war with Suzaku no Miko, aka Yuuki Miaka!" "Declaring war?" "Yes. It's kinda obvious she and Tamahome are in love, but she's still letting His Majesty get close to her. I won't let her get away with that. So I thought I'd try and steal Tamahome away from her. Hmph…"

"…Korin… You shouldn't…" "Why?" Korin stared critically at Houki. "Anyway, there's no way I'm letting some priestess take away my man. It's a full-out war now. And I'm not losing!" Houki strongly grasped Korin's hand. "So I guess you mean… it all begins here. Good luck! I'll pray for you." "Thanks. I'm gonna do it!" An image of the Saihitei Houki had just seen minutes earlier entered her mind. I'll admit, he is beautiful enough to make anyone's heart flutter. And he looked full of kindness and maturity… I guess it's no wonder the harem girls all love him. But the feelings Houki held for Saihitei were not longing or lust… but more a nostalgic and warm feeling. The two turned their identical faces towards each other. "Well, I'll be off then…" The events Houki and Korin had shared during the past year at the harem flashed before their eyes in an instant. "It seems like I always manage to find a girl one year younger than me to be my honorary sister…" Korin said with a smile. "But…this time, I won't let you die… If something ever happens to you, no matter how far away I am, I promise I'll protect you…" "Korin…" Both simultaneously fell into each other and embraced tightly. * After Yuuki Miaka had left his room…

Saihitei… Hotohori ran his hands through his hair with a sullen expression on his face. "Once Suzaku is summoned and everything has settled, you will be my bride." The troubled expression on her face after he had told her that was burned into his eyes. Three days earlier… He coincidentally found a strange girl wandering lost in the palace gardens. When he discovered she was from another world, his heart raced. Suzaku no Miko…! Although he had not been able to picture her in his mind all these years, his heart had already decided she was his ideal woman. On the contrary, this "Yuuki Miaka" seemed to lack the divinity one would expect of a priestess, but it was her carefree spirit and compassion for others that had stolen Hotohori's heart in an instant. And when she suddenly appeared at his room to speak with him, he could not keep himself from telling all of this to her. "I want to learn more about you… I want to know everything…" Just when he had gotten his arms around her, he was unfortunately interrupted by Nuriko and Tamahome - who had been eavesdropping - and Miaka fled the scene, as if to reject his advances. I wonder if Miaka truly understood my feelings… And I wonder if she will come to accept them… "Orders can't change people's hearts!" Those words from Miaka still pierced his heart. He, who was the very top of the entire Kingdom, and was adored by all, for the first time in his life, hid insecurities about his own worth beneath perfectly sculpted eyebrows. It was not only to do with his feelings for his Priestess. There was another bud of concern that had lodged itself in his mind. Suzaku no Miko was supposed to come only when the country was on the brink of destruction…

Hotohori's worst fears threatened to become a reality. It was suspected that spies from their former hostile neighbor, Kutoh, were lingering around Konan in larger numbers these days. The two years of peace which Konan had acquired after Motaiko's death was about to crumble to ruins. * Many days passed… The three of Suzaku's Seven that had been assembled journeyed to Mt. Taikyoku so seek the help of the deity, Taiitsu-kun to send Suzaku no Miko back to her world to recover from an illness. Miaka, Hotohori, Tamahome, and Nuriko saddled horses and left through the palace gardens. Houki watched them secretly from the window of a tour in the harem. Korin had just rushed up to her minutes ago to say goodbye. "Listen, Houki, I don't think that Miaka-girl is so bad after all. It looks like it's Tamahome she's really in love with, so if I can get those two together, I can get on with MY romance. Hmhm!" Korin left Houki's side with an aura of bloodlust. "Be careful out there…" Houki whispered back with a little wave of her hand. "Houki! How’ ya doing? I’m super-fine!" "Listen to this, stupid Miaka and Tamahome are too shy, so I was trying to get them together, so I got them to meet at a lake last night, but my plan failed miserably. On top of that, they all found out I’m a man! Dammit…! MY Hotohori still has the hots for Miaka so bad it’s sad. I’d better do something soon! But when I told him about Byakuren, he seemed deeply touched…so I’m still gonna give it a try!"

"Houki, today I’ve got some amazing news for you That Miaka put her arms around my Ho-ri-dear and made puppy eyes at him! And then what do you think Hotohori did? He pulled out his sword and demanded who she was! That’s right, as it turned out, that was a fake Miaka and the real Miaka was trapped in a mirror by Taiitsu-kun. And then, you know what happened? In order to destroy the fake Miaka, the real Miaka stabbed herself in the chest… That enabled Hotohori and Tamahome to kill the fake Miaka (I was the one who made the final blow. Just in case you were wondering!) But when the real Miaka came back to us, she had lost so much blood, we thought she was a goner. But then, Hotohori and Tamahome…declared that they would give Miaka all the blood they had…and cut themselves…" "The two of them…were very serious…. Eventually, Taiitsu-kun saw how loyal we were to Miaka and healed her wounds. And then, with the aid of our ki*, Miaka went back to her own world. She told us once she got better she’d come back. Hotohori is saddened by this, but…I can’t really hate Miaka… She’s so straightforward and innocent… Yes, she’s kind of like you, Houki. Without realizing it, I was thinking to myself as Miaka left ‘Hurry up and come back’…" As soon as these two letters arrived, the party of three that had taken the Priestess away returned. Suzaku no Miko - Yuuki Miaka - would not return to Konan for another three months. However, in exchange for Suzaku's Priestess returning home, Kutoh was sent its Priestess, Seiryuu no Miko. And, ironically, she was Miaka's best friend, Hongoh Yui. It was nearly time for Seiryuu warrior Nakago, with world domination as his intent, to begin his invasion of Konan and attempt to destroy the friendship of the two Priestesses. *

When Suzaku no Miko returned to Konan, she left again with Korin. Once again, Houki watched them quietly from the tower. "…Korin… I suppose I should call you 'Nuriko' from now on…" In order to better protect his Priestess, Korin had stopped dressing as a woman. His hair was still long and beautiful, but the harem-girl Korin was no more. "Houki, How is Hotohori doing?… But then again, I guess you wouldn’t know either… Right now, we’re near your home village. I wanna see about meeting that guy, Tendoh, but I don’t think we’ll have enough time. Too bad… Today, Miaka and Tamahome had a touching love scene. They’re so much in love and hug each other a lot that I can’t stand watching sometimes. Oh, yes, and we met Tamahome’s family. Lots of poor children… He has four little brothers and sisters, and as if that weren’t enough, his father is ill and can’t work… They’re poor, but a very warm family. Now I finally understand why Tama was so obsessed with money. And then, Tamahome’s family was targeted by Kutoh’s spies and things got pretty dangerous. And would you believe it, but the one who rescued us was Suzaku Warrior, Chichiri! He told us he came because Kutoh was after Miaka, and that Kutoh was looking for Seiryuu no Miko. When Miaka heard that, she looked pale all of a sudden; I wonder why?… I’m a little worried about her… Now that Seiryuu’s in the picture as well as Suzaku, things have gotten a bit complicated. Oh, dear…" The very day after Houki received this letter, Miaka left for Kutoh by herself out of worry and guilt for her friend, Yui. Tamahome chased after her and Nuriko returned to Konan by himself to deliver the news. *

"So I wonder if Miaka will be all right…" Houki asked Nuriko, who had sneaked into the harem to visit Houki. "Probably so. Chichiri and Tamahome went after her, so I'm sure she'll be okay… But you know, I feel so sorry for my Hotohori that I almost can't stand watching him… It looks like he isn't sleeping well, and I don't think he's eating much either…" Nuriko said with a sigh. "…He really cares that much for Miaka…" "Sure does…" Nuriko sighed once again. "Even though Miaka is already in love with Tamahome… ya know…" "…How sad for His Majesty…" Houki murmured. Nuriko stole a sideways glance at Houki, and said, "I suppose heartaches can be good for you sometimes….but he really needs to concentrate on protecting the Kingdom. I mean, the Shi Jin Ten Chi Sho scroll tells us that the Priestess will only appear 'when the Kingdom is on the brink of destruction'. And I hear rumors that Kutoh's army is closing in on Konan…" "What?!… Are you kidding?…" Houki clasped a hand to her mouth. "You're letting yourself become too soft living in the harem, girl. Those Seiryuu bastards are trying to kill Miaka." "I've just got a bad feeling about all this… So Miaka needs to come back here so we can find the rest of the Seven and summon Suzaku…" Houki nodded in response. Suddenly, Nuriko raised his head. "Oh my? The palace sounds very lively. I wonder if someone came…" "…Korin! You don't suppose…" Nuriko and Houki faced each other. "Miaka came back!" Yelling this, Nuriko sprang to his feet. He had probably sensed Miaka's ki through their bond with Suzaku. Then, raising his hands slightly, he bounded off in the direction of the palace.

It was clear to Houki that Nuriko, who had first greeted Suzaku no Miko as a rival of love, had slowly become a proper warrior, devoted to protect her. ---------Notes: *"Ki", meaning the Chinese "chi", or "spiritual life force energy"…something along the lines of that.

Chapter 5: Kutoh Invades As the warm morning's sunlight streamed through the window, Tendoh's mother timidly offered her silent boy another helping of porridge. "No, I've had enough…"

"Tendoh… You're the hardest worker of the house. You need to make sure you get enough to eat." Her only son shook his head. Meanwhile, her husband had stirred himself off his bed on the floor and weakly sat at the table. "Dad, you need to stay in bed." "No, I feel much better this morning. That medicine you buy me really works well…" saying this, he peered deeply into Tendoh's face. "It's been over one and a half years since Houki left for the harem…" Silence. "I can understand how you can't forget her… But it's not like she left 'cause she wanted to." "She left for her family… 'Cause her father asked her to go so she wouldn't have to suffer in poverty anymore…" Tendoh stayed silent and looked at the floor. "But listen, Houki will not come back." "I know that, Dad." Tendoh's mother rushed to her husband's side and shook his shoulder. "Dear, you don't need to say things like that around him…" He looked back at his wife and shook his head lightly. "Tendoh, you have always been a hard worker. And even now, when I can't work the fields anymore, you do all the work for me… I'm really grateful." Tendoh looked up at his father's words. "Why're you saying that? It's only natural I'd do that…" "…Yeah, I guess so. But wasn't the reason you were able to work so hard all those years before that Houki was near? Didn't ya have in mind that you two would eventually get married and settle down together?…"

"…No, I didn't…" Tendoh mumbled defensively. "I'm a peasant. If my father gets sick, I work in his place. That's all there is to it. It's my duty to take care of the farm." "If that's the case, then why don't ya marry one of the other girls in this village? You're already nineteen years old, ya know." Hearing this, Tendoh was unable to answer. "THAT is also a part of taking care of the farm. You need to get married so you can have kids who will take care of the farm when you get old…" Still no response. "Tendoh, stop pushing yourself so hard… I know you're working yourself to death to try and forget about Houki… And seeing you like this makes me so sad…" "…Dad…" Tendoh looked glumly at his father's face. "All I want now… is for you to be free from me…" Tendoh's expression warped for an instant at this. "…Dear…" his mother's lips quivered. He continued, "You should leave this village. I don't want you to die here… Move to the city and begin a whole new way of life… If you want… you could even go to the capital…" Saying this, he reached into a box behind him, pulled something out and lay it before his son. It was a sword. "Your grandfather was given this sword for an act of bravery in the war. You should have it…" Both of Tendoh's arms were trembling. As the intensity of the trembles increased, he took the sword in his hand, raised it above his head, and threw it into the corner of the room.

Then, standing, Tendoh told his parents, "I'm proud to be a farmer. I care about my fields. And I also care about both of you… Of course, I still…can't forget Houki. That's why I can't bring myself to marry someone else right now. But that's no excuse for me to abandon you two and the farm and start a new life!" "Tendoh…" his mother covered her face with her hands. "Why are you both treating me so special? I'm your son. Why does my working hard make you feel so guilty?! Just stop acting like that…" Tendoh said, "I am…I am your son… And I love you both…" * Finishing his work in the fields earlier than usual, Tendoh departed for the city closest to the village. As he passed through streets that held various items, he noticed his shoulder touching someone else. As he tried to pass on, his sleeve was tugged. "Hey, son, can't ya at least apologize for bumping into me?" A street tough massaged his shoulder and aggressively approached Tendoh. As Tendoh shoved off the man's hand and continued to walk along his way, the street tough yelled back, "Hey, what's your problemmmm! You shitty farmer, learn some manners!" Effortlessly parrying the street tough's flying fist, Tendoh sent him flying to the ground. Scarcely giving the whimpering and crawling street tough a second glance, Tendoh continued to walk down the street. "Wowww! How amazing!" came cries of young girls from the sides of the street. "Is it just me, or is that man really handsome?" "Yes, but he's a farmer…" "Too bad. If only he were a rich merchant's son or a soldier, huhhhh." Not honoring the girls' presence with a glance, Tendoh continued to walk on.

After buying his father's medicine at the drug store, he then proceeded to a general store to buy his mother a hairpin. This would be the first time in his life to ever give his mother a present, and he had no idea what sort of thing women liked to wear, so the clerk helped pick it out for him. He was unable to afford any of the pins that were covered in jewels, but Tendoh was pleased with his purchase and sure his mother would love it. With those two purchases, Tendoh's spare money had nearly run out. Earlier that morning, his mother had approached him with wet eyes and said, "Today is your birthday, so let's at least have a little celebration with just the three of us." To Tendoh, his birthday was a day of thanksgiving to his parents. A day to thank them for loving him and taking care of him these past nineteen years. His parents had never told him, and he did not hear anything from the villagers, but Tendoh knew the truth on his own. He also felt no bitterness towards his parents for trying to hide the truth. "The heartless people who abandoned me are not my parents. The ones who raised me, Shu Chushin and Shu Sho'un are my true parents…" Murmuring this to himself, Shu Tendoh glanced up at the sky, which was being shrouded in black clouds. Tonight will be a nice celebration, just the three of us. Tendoh hurried along the path home. * While stepping along in the gradually muddier path, Tendoh approached the entrance to his village. He suddenly stopped and his eyes opened wide. The screams of people and the whinnying of horses… and flames darted up here and there. Tendoh hastily dashed forward. "It's Kutoh's soldiers! They've invaded!!" The screaming voices of the villagers entered his ears.

Carefully stepping around the bodies of villagers who had run from their houses trying to escape, Tendoh made way to his house. Arriving in front of Houki's house along the way, Tendoh scooped up a boy who had been cowering on the ground. "Ogaku! Ogaku! Look at me…" Houki's little brother, Ogaku, slowly opened his eyes. There was a huge gash in his back. "Brother… After all that sword practice I had with you… they still got me…" Ogaku tightly gripped a tree branch in his hand. Tendoh bit his lips so hard, blood nearly spilled out. "Where are your mom and dad?!" Ogaku shook his head sadly. Taking a closer look, Tendoh realized that Houki's entire house had already been consumed in red flames. Those flames were traveling to Tendoh's house as well. Tendoh trembled, "Where are our soldiers?! Didn't Konan send its army to protect us?!" Ogaku shook his head again. "Brother… Hurry to your house… The soldiers just went in there…" "…Ogaku…" Tendoh softly lay Houki's brother's body onto the ground, closed his eyelids, and ran off towards his house three fields away. "Dad! Mom!" Seeing his father and mother huddled together on the floor of their room in the back, Tendoh rushed to them. Two soldiers, dressed in black, were frantically rummaging through the house as if they were looking for anything valuable.

"Hmph. They've got jack shit." One of the Kutoh soldiers glared at Tendoh. "Hey, don't'cha have a wife around?…" The two pulled out their swords and faced Tendoh. "What are you trying to do…!!" Watching Tendoh protectively stand in front of his parents with outstretched arms, the two soldiers chuckled. "Don't worry, we'll send ya all to Hell together." Just as the soldiers charged towards him, Tendoh quickly picked up the sword that he had thrown into the corner of that room this morning. CLANG! The sword of the Kutoh soldier connected with Tendoh's sword just inches away from his forehead. With their swords locked, Tendoh mustered up his strength and shakily stood to his feet, shoving his enemy away. Fixing his stance, Tendoh glared once again at the soldiers. That was the first time he had ever held a real sword. But seeing the flames of rage rise from the young man holding the sword with such a natural posture, the two Kutoh soldiers trembled for an instant. "Raahhhh!" With a cry of Tendoh and his sword, one of the Kutoh soldiers was pierced instantly. Suddenly, many soldiers trampled into the house. "He's just a peasant! Cut him up already!" Five soldiers raised their blades towards Tendoh. Clang! Clang! The sounds of the swords echoed throughout the house. The flames had crept inside of the house and smoke began to fill the room.

"…Tendoh…!" Clasping each others hands, Sho'un and Chushin breathlessly watched their son fight amidst the flying sparks and curling smoke. Both were shocked to see him fight so well for the first time. "…Gehh!…" Another one of Kutoh's soldiers fell. "Mom!…Dad!…" Tendoh whirled around to face them. It was then that Sho'un caught sight of the red mark she had seen only once before on the left side of Tendoh's neck. "Tendoh!!" While her son was distracted, Sho'un caught sight of a soldier threatening to slash through Tendoh from the side. Letting go of her husband's hand, she threw herself in front of Tendoh. "Nnngh!…" The dagger Sho'un had pulled from her pocket stuck itself into the soldier's back. "You…old…hag…" Tendoh slashed away the advancing soldier, causing him to tumble to the ground, defeated. With crackling noises, the kitchen roof fell in. "Hey, men, this looks bad. Retreat!" The remaining three soldiers coughed as they left the house. Kneeling on the floor and grabbing his mother in his arms, Tenoh rushed to the room where his father was. "Dad! Come on, we need to hurry…" Tendoh cried, taking his hand. Chushin shook his head in response. "…But Dad!"

Then, looking at his mother quietly sitting by his father's side, Tendoh cried again, "But Mom!!" * "Sho'un and I had decided earlier to talk to you today," Chushin said. "Tendoh, I'm sure you already know this, but you are not our son…" "I don't care! I was born and raised here!" Tendoh said frantically. "Since those people abandoned me, I think of you two as my real parents!" Sho'un answered firmly, "You were not abandoned! You were…you're actually…" but the rest never came out. Tendoh's eyebrows shook. Chushin finished what his sobbing wife could not say. "Please don't be shocked… You see, you're actually… the son of our former emperor…" At first, Tendoh could not process what his father had just said, and his mouth dropped open. "Please forgive us… we were unable to keep the promise we made with your mother…" "We promised her that… we would take care of you until you were old enough… to take care of yourself…" Chushin's words began to slur together. Sho'un took her son's hand and buried her face in it. "But you were just so precious to us… that we couldn't let you go…" After finally understanding everything the two had to tell him, Tendoh spoke. "So I am… the son of the late Emperor and Motaiko?…" Chushin nodded. "When I saw a portrait of Motaiko, I was shocked… But she really was the harem girl who entrusted you to us. And this means… that the current Emperor, Saihitei, is your full-blooded younger brother…."

"Legally speaking, you should be the Emperor of Konan right now…" Since Tendoh could only stare blankly in response, Chushin spoke, "That red mark on your neck is the symbol of Suzaku, the ruling deity of this kingdom…" Tendoh touched a finger to his neck. Up until then, he had thought it was mere coincidence that he had a birthmark shaped like a bird. Then, Sho'un drew a heavily jeweled hairpin from her pocket and handed it to Tendoh. "Motaiko gave us this hairpin. It was supposed to cover your living expenses, but we never sold it…" To that day, she still regretted not offering it to the messenger from the capital the day Houki was taken away. "Please forgive me… The two of us…made a waste out of your life… We should have sent you off to the palace much sooner… But you were such a hard worker and were so nice to both of us, calling us 'Mom' and 'Dad'… And the whole time we were worried that Motaiko would send for you… " "…Mom…" Chushin continued, "Take that to the palace with you. I'm sure the Emperor will accept you… And then you will be able to be with Houki…" The smoke had started to make its way into the room. Tendoh spoke to Chushin and Sho'un. "You two are my only parents… Come on, let's leave." Tendoh once again took his parents' hands, but they had already made up their minds. "We were born and raised in this peasant village. So we will die here." Chushin continued to shake his head stiffly. "Please let us die here… Tendoh." Sho'un spoke with teary eyes, "Tendoh, you have no idea just how happy you've made us… You've made our lives complete…"

"So, hurry out of here! If you waste your life dying here, we'll surely be sent to Hell as punishment…" Tears began to fall from Tendoh's eyes. He quietly pulled out the present to his mother from his pocket. "Mom… Thanks…for everything…" Clutching the hairpin to her chest, Sho'un flew into her son's arms. While nowhere near as extravagant as hairpin Motaiko had given her, this hairpin from Tendoh was the most beautiful treasure she could ever imagine. Tendoh softly placed the hairpin into the graying hair of the woman who had protected him since birth. With a tearstained face, Sho'un gazed up at Tendoh.

"Hurry along…" Chushin smiled faintly and said, "You are a savior sent to us from the heavens…" Tendoh rose to his feet. The house was about to collapse from the flames. The faces of Chushin and Sho'un were fulfilled and peaceful.

"…Dad…Mom…" Tendoh shook his head violently. I can't… I can't let them do this! Tendoh once again offered his hands to his parents… Crackle, crackle… Crash, crash! Just before the roof fell in, Sho'un's frail hand shoved Tendoh out through the window. As Tendoh hit the ground hard, he saw nothing but red flames… For a while, Tendoh stood and watched as the house burned to the ground. Then, he took another look around the village. At some point, the rains had stopped and the soldiers had all left. The eerily quiet village, with fields burned to the ground, had no survivors. Everyone had become the soldiers' prey. Tendoh looked at the sparkling hairpin his mother had just given him. An unexplainable anger began to boil inside of him. Tendoh did not know at whom the anger was directed. Perhaps it was simply frustration over his own fate. Tendoh crushed the jeweled trinket of his birth-mother with his fist. The expensive jewels fell to the ground that was littered with the burned corpses of innocent villagers, and gleamed with vacant brilliance. ----------

Chapter 6: Love Brought to Life "Houki, are things still okay over there? Miaka and I are using a magical ball Taiitsu-kun gave us to search for Suzaku Seishi. Right now, we’re deep in the mountains. And then, just when Miaka and I were in danger, Hotohori came and saved us! He looked really cool with his sword!

So that means….that the Hotohori in the palace this instant is really Chichiri in disguise. I wonder if he’ll be okay….hmhmhm!"

Reading this far, Houki stopped suddenly and gasped as she remembered Gentokuin having mentioned His Majesty was acting a bit peculiar lately. The usually noble and graceful man had taken to swinging his legs and rolling on the floor; even his way of speaking had changed. When a spy from Kutoh sent the message, "Send Tamahome to us if you don't want your country to be invaded any more", Tamahome left alone for Kutoh. Nuriko and Miaka soon left on their own, in search of the remaining Seven, and this letter had come a couple weeks after that. Nuriko had heard that several villages in Konan had been invaded by Kutoh, but no one knew at this point that Houki's village had been among them. Naturally, such grim news as this would never reach Houki in the sheltered harem. Knowing that the man sitting on the throne was actually Chichiri made Houki chuckle. "But, you know… My heart’s in a lot of pain now with the way Hotohori is feeling… he knows Miaka is in love with only Tamahome, but he still can’t stop loving her… I understand how he feels more than anyone…. That’s because I’m in the same position as him… Well, I’ll write again later." After finishing the letter, Houki's chest throbbed with pain. All three travelers seemed to be having trouble with the loves of their lives. Though Tamahome and Miaka loved each other, they were separated. And Hotohori was not even aware of Nuriko's love for him. Feeling helpless of the situation, Houki heaved a deep sigh.

"Houki! Sorry I haven’t written in a while. I’ve been real busy lately. We got captured by bandits, Miaka was blinded, got sick, and we were attacked by zombies….ah, I’m exhausted. But, it all resulted in us finding two more Suzaku Warriors, Tasuki and Mitsukake. Now all that’s left is Chiriko! Isn’t that great? And now, about Hotohori …To be blunt, I feel defeated. When Tamahome’s not around all he does is protect Miaka…Even if I were a woman, I don’t think I’d have chance…But to be blunt, I feel refreshed now. Right now, I don’t feel the same pain in my chest when I see Hotohori. So, anyway, I’d better stay healthy until we can call on Suzaku! Bye." Only one more remained…! Houki's heart fluttered as she imagined her best friend traveling with his companions. However, there was one bit of news that concerned her especially. "Korin… Did you give up on His Majesty…? Even though you loved him so much…" On the other hand, Houki also felt sympathetic for Hotohori's feelings for Miaka. His Majesty loves her so deeply… Thinking over Hotohori's unrequited love for his Priestess enveloped Houki's heart in grief for an instant. Then, she softly placed her hand to her chest. * After a while, the last Warrior, Chiriko, was found, and the party returned to the palace. Then, in order to retrieve Tamahome, who had been taken hostage by Kutoh, and Yui, who had been instated as Seiryuu's Priestess, Miaka left for Kutoh with Tasuki and Chichiri.

However… Tamahome had been drugged with kodoku* and was under control of Seiryuu. Not only did he refuse to come back to Konan, but he attacked Miaka. Somehow, the three had escaped back to Konan, but… "Miaka wasn't really herself and she jumped into the palace pond. But Hotohori jumped in to rescue her…" "It was really something to watch…" While listening to the pounding sounds of the rain against the windows, Nuriko told Houki about what had just happened. "Hotohori had sunk to the bottom of the pond to grab her, then by his mere will, he parted the waters. Love sure is powerful stuff. Ahhh, I wish Hotohori would hold me that way at least once…" "Korin… I thought you'd given up on him…" "That's not so at all! If the right opportunity comes up, I've still got a chance…" Nuriko said as he folded his arms gruffly. "But with Tamahome like that… It makes me wonder if Miaka might forget about him and accept Hotohori instead…" Then, his expression changed from Korin to Nuriko, "But even more importantly, if Tamahome's like that, we can't call on Suzaku and Kutoh will keep invading us. I hope we can get out of his mess somehow…" Hotohori softly stroked the face of the girl he had just rescued from the pond. "Worry about nothing and sleep well…" He gently squeezed the hand of the girl who was murmuring in her sleep, while thinking to himself, I will never let you go again… I want you to marry me… I have been holding back…my feelings for you all this time… But I cannot contain them any longer. I will help you…to forget about Tamahome… I love you… Miaka…

Hotohori felt that this time for sure, Miaka would be able to return his feelings. While staring at Miaka's sleeping face, Hotohori whispered inside his heart, This time for sure… It was then that it happened. Amidst the stormy weather, a Seiryuu-controlled Tamahome had arrived at the palace garden… After Nuriko left her room, Houki felt an unexplainable pang of anxiety in her heart. Following Nuriko's tail, she headed towards the palace. "Ah!…" Seeing Nuriko and the others stand stiffly as Tamahome and Saihitei clanged swords together, Houki caught her breath. "…Your Majesty!" But wasn't Tamahome merely under the control of Seiryuu; fighting against his will? Seeing the absence of soul in Tamahome's eyes made Houki's body tremble. Surely, he had come with the intention to kill Suzaku no Miko. However, Saihitei's strong desire to protect Miaka had made him a stronger opponent. Seeing Saihitei lose his footing for an instant, Tamahome charged violently. "Die!!" With his sword raised, he ran to his opponent. "Don't do it!!" Tamahome's body, stopped for an instant by the cry of Miaka's voice, was then pierced all the way through by Saihitei's sword. Houki clutched a hand over her mouth.

However, the scene that happened after this stayed in Houki's mind for the rest of her life. Miaka crawled up to the hurt Tamahome, grabbed his hand that held his sword and asked him to kill her. "I don't care if I die as long as I'm killed by you… So please don't die. I love you…" Next, an unbelievable thing happened. The binding power of the kodoku that was supposed to be indestructible had been broken by Miaka's love. As Tamahome regained his senses, Miaka tightly embraced him. Seeing the two hold each other, Saihitei said, "Tamahome… I'm glad to have you back…" Then, he quietly left their side. The image of his retreating back symbolized an end to his romantic pursuits. It was then that something burst out of Houki's heart unconsciously. I want to take care of him… Houki could not comprehend the suffering he had endured having to balance ruling his country with his feelings for his own Priestess. Saihitei's suffering had been passed on to Houki. "You don't need to suffer… I will take care of you…" Houki whispered quietly. * With all of the Seven Warriors assembled, the palace was bustling with preparations for the summoning ceremony. Having heard news of this from Nuriko, Houki sent a silent prayer that the ceremony would be successful. "What kind of being is Suzaku?" she had once asked Nuriko earlier.

Nuriko responded, "You still haven't been to the mausoleum yet, haven't you." Then he proceeded to draw her a sketch of the phoenix. It was then that Houki noticed something. She had seen glimpses of that figure all her life. "…Tendoh…" The birthmark on Tendoh's neck was the same form as Suzaku. When they were children, she had often teased him about his strange birthmark. But she never would have guessed it was in the shape of the defending deity of Konan… For the first time since she moved, Houki started to think of her family and the other villagers. Just as she wondered if they were all doing well, a flash of uncertainty ran through her body. She violently shook her head in response. Once Suzaku is summoned and the Priestess wishes for peace for the Kingdom, there would be nothing to worry about. However, Suzaku was not summoned. The final Warrior, Chiriko, had actually been Seiryuu's Amiboshi, sent as a spy to sabotage the ceremony. Due to his presence, the ceremony ended in failure. As a result, the Priestess and her Warriors were faced with a new set of ordeals. "And so, we can't summon Suzaku unless we go to the northern kingdom, Hokkan, and get a talisman…" "Hokkan…?! But that's so far away…" Houki took Nuriko's hands. "I think we underestimated the difficulty of summoning Suzaku. And since Seiryuu's side is now missing Amiboshi, they'll probably come searching for the talisman, too…" "…I suppose so…"

"It looks like I'll be gone much longer this time." "Will you be okay…?" To the obviously anxious Houki, Nuriko laughed. "I'll be fine! All the other times I left I managed to come back in one piece." "I know, but…" "Never mind that. What's important is that Hotohori can't accompany us this time. I wish I could stay here and keep him cheerful… I mean, right now he's still probably depressed over losing Miaka…" Houki firmly griped Nuriko's trembling fist. "Don't worry. I'll cheer him up." Nuriko peered into Houki's face with a confused expression. "But you're closed up in the harem. How do you expect you can cheer him up?" Houki suddenly looked down realizing Nuriko's logic. "It just felt like I was part of your party… traveling on your adventures…" "Sheesh, you're a weird girl. But I think that if Hotohori saw your face, he would probably be calmed thinking I'm near him. But that won't happen as long as he doesn't set foot in the harem." "…I guess so…" Nuriko stole a deep glance at Houki's face. Then, after cocking his head a little and giving a knowing nod, he said, "Well, I'd better get going. It might be hard for me to send you letters this time…" "…Korin…" Lightly patting Houki's anxious head, Nuriko stood up. "You know, these days I've really been overcome with the sensation that I'm alive. Of course it's partly because I have so much responsibility as Nuriko, but I also kind of feel like I'm regaining my real self…"

Houki looked up at Nuriko with wet eyes. What she saw before her was not a womanly-dressed replica of herself, and not Suzaku Warrior Nuriko, but a Korin different from any she had seen before. "…Be careful out there." With his usual cheerful wave goodbye, Nuriko left with a wink as a final impulse. Almost as if to say, "I'll be back in a couple minutes"… But that would be the last time Houki would ever see Nuriko… * The race between Suzaku and Seiryuu's parties to find the talisman burned intensely. On the way to Hokkan, the ship carrying Suzaku's party was violently attacked by Seiryuu Warrior Soi's Hakuujin Raihoh** attacks. Then, after nearly escaping the sadistic amazon tribe of the Nyosei Kingdom***, what awaited them in Hokkan was the blood-thirsty half-wolf, Seiryuu Warrior, Ashitare. Tamahome finally discovered the whereabouts of the talisman while camping at Tohran City. Unable to make contact with the rest of the party, Nuriko decided to travel by himself to claim the talisman while Tamahome and Miaka went back to get the others. It was said that the talisman Genbu no Miko wore when summoning Genbu was held deep in a cave at the top of Mt. Koku, guarded for hundreds of years by two of Genbu's Warriors, Hikitsu and Tomite, in spirit-form. As Nuriko trudged through the icy paths of the mountain, scenes from Yukigase Village reentered his mind. Once again feeling the evil sensation creep along his skin, he jerked his head to look up. After finally arriving at the entrance to the cave, he suddenly felt a presence near him. The half-wolf, half-man creature born in Hokkan glared at him with eyes filled with hate. Though neither had seen each others faces back in Yukigase Village, black flames of animosity were clearly visible between them.

"You think I'll let an abomination like you come near Miaka or my friends?…" Nuriko shouted out valiantly. "I will defeat you!!" It was then that both Hotohori and Houki simultaneously felt pangs of ice hit their hearts. While breathing heavily, Houki placed her hands to her chest. It felt as though her heart were being frozen… "…Korin?!" Ever since he had left for Hokkan, she had not received one letter. Something must have happened… Something must have happened to Korin…! Unable to sit still, Houki sprang out of her room. Rushing down the hallway, without hesitation, she entered the tunnel that connected the harem to the palace. "Lady Houki! Where do you think you are…" Just then, someone nudged himself in front of Houki. It was Gentokuin. "Please let me go. I must see His Majesty!" "That will not happen! A harem girl may not enter the palace unannounced!" Houki struggled with all her might to escape Gentokuin's grasp. "No!! Let go of me!!" "What is the problem…" At the sound of that voice, Gentokuin's hands stiffened. Suddenly, he fell to his knees. Standing in front of an equally paralyzed Houki was Saihitei. At last, Saihitei spoke, "You are… Nuriko? When did you return from your journey?" "No, Majesty, this is Houki, one of the harem girls. Though she does look almost identical to Nuriko."

Gentokuin spoke from his spot on the floor. "…Houki…?" Saihitei stared deeply into her face. "Your Majesty! I think something terrible has happened to Nuriko! We must rescue him!" Screaming this, the harem girl fell to Saihitei's feet. "…So you…" Saihitei began quietly, "You felt Nuriko's ki?…" "…Yes…" Saihitei continued to stare with mysterious curiosity at the face of the harem girl who looked exactly like Nuriko. * "…Nuriko… Nuriko…" As a fellow Warrior of Suzaku, Hotohori had felt Nuriko's death telepathically. Sitting alone on his throne, he buried his face in his sleeve. Several days later… Houki held the single scroll that had just been delivered to her. She had also already felt Nuriko's departure from the world telepathically… "…Korin… Ko…rin…" While shaking her head, Houki continued to call out her friend's name. Her undying tears continued to drip onto the letter, causing the writing to blur. "Houki! Are things over there still peaceful and are you still being blissfully happy? But if there’s a little mistake along the line, Konan could be in big trouble, huh. Please prepare yourself for that eventuality. Sorrrrry for scaring you like that. You’ll be fine. That’s what we Suzaku Warriors are here for. I’ve got some good news for you today.

Ever since we left Konan, we’ve ran into lots of difficulties, but we finally discovered where the talisman is! We’re going to go tomorrow to get it. And also, I cut my hair. In one chop! I feel like I can put aside my past now. While I’ve been acting as Suzaku Warrior, Nuriko, with the others, I’ve come to discover my true self."

"Before I realized it, I’d fallen in love with Miaka as a man. That’s pretty strange, isn’t it… But I feel more that I want Miaka to be happy. But! You’ll always be my best friend, so don’t worry. And I also want Hotohori to be happy. Houki…I’m leaving Hotohori in your hands. Ahh, I can’t say this very well in a letter. I just have so much stuff I want to tell you. I’ll be sure to get the talisman tomorrow and bring it home to show you. After I get back, let’s catch up on lots of things… I’m very happy right now. Because I love all of you; Hotohori, Miaka, Tamahome and the others, and you… Being able to be alive with the people you love most really is wonderful, isn’t it…" ---------Notes:

*I'm not sure how this was translated in the official translation of the anime, but "kodoku" is a drug made from a worm. It's the pill that Yui gave Tamahome (through a kiss) to brainwash him. **"Hakuujin Raihou" is a spell Soi chants to control thunder and lightning and stuff. ***For those of you unfamiliar with the manga version of Fushigi Yuugi, there's a hilarious couple of episodes where the party winds up in a Kingdom controlled by women. To escape being killed, everyone (except Miaka) has to dress up as a woman ^-^;

Chapter 7: Heaven and Hell Make way for Saihitei!" At the sound of that voice, the harem girls, who had been scattered about the halls doing not much of anything in particular, suddenly sprang to their feet.

"H-H-His Majesty…?!" Those who had been walking in the gardens hastily fled to their rooms to fix their hair. Kinboh, who had been busying herself counting her money, swiftly hid it in a pot and readied herself. " Kambakpipi… Kambakpipi…" Gentokuin, who had been in the middle of an incantation, stopped mid-sentence and bounded out of his room. "Your Majesty! So pleased to finally be honored by your presence in the Harem…" With an eager expression, he looked up at the tall man. "Hmm…" Glancing briefly at Gentokuin and continuing down the corridor, Saihitei stopped in front of a room at the end of the hall. Gentokuin patted his hands. "Just as I thought, you came to see Houki. I already knew this would happen…" Gentokuin said proudly. If Houki were chosen as Empress, he would be rewarded well. He might even be able to leave the Harem and reclaim his more prestigious post. Saihitei said to Gentokuin, "First, there is something I must ask you." "Yes! What would that be?" "I hear you were my father's advisor. So why were you castrated and banished to the Harem?" Gentokuin was struck dumb. "Well, I…" "If you do not wish to give the reason, that is acceptable. But I get the impression my father was not too pleased with your service… I have heard many rumors saying similar things." "…Your Majesty…" "I will eventually choose a wife. And when that happens, the Harem will be disbanded. Since we will no longer need your services, you can leave the palace and live however you wish."

Hearing this, Gentokuin fell to his knees. Then, Saihitei quietly opened the door to Houki's room. * Nearly an hour passed… The unmarked carriage holding Saihitei and Houki quietly left the palace grounds. "Your Majesty… Where are we going?…" Saihitei smiled gently at the concerned Houki. "Never mind that; just stop looking down. I am taking you to a place that will brighten your spirits…" A week had passed since Nuriko's death. "You really do look alike…" Houki shyly averted her eyes from Saihitei's gaze. Losing the one friend she had during her year at the Harem, Houki's face was sunken in from sadness, yet still beautiful. "Sitting with you like this makes it feel like I'm journeying with Nuriko again…" Houki looked into Saihitei's warm gaze. "Life in the Harem must have been dull for you. I truly apologize…" "Your Majesty…" An angry Gentokuin sat behind the horses, taking his wrath out on them. "He wants… He wants to send me away from the palace?…" He then glared quietly back at the two sitting in the carriage. "Just you watch… I'll teach you to underestimate my powers…" The image of a man's face appeared in Gentokuin's mind.

After racing along the path for nearly half a day, the carriage finally stoped. "It seems we have arrived." "…Oh." Saihitei smiled at Houki. "We are at your village." "What…?!" "I finally understood the true source of your sadness… You should rest at home for a while. If you wish, you can continue to live with your family, or you can come back to live at the Harem…" "Your Majesty…" Houki felt her heart would collapse under Saihitei's kindness. Even though he surely is struggling with grief himself, he would go through all this trouble to help a Harem girl… As Saihitei helped her down from the carriage, Houki took a look at her familiar village. * "…….Gentokuin…!" Seeing the scene before him, Saihitei's voice shook. "Where in the world are we??" "This is Houki's home village, Your Majesty…" Gentokuin whispered. "Why did you not tell me the name of her village…" "You never asked, Majesty…" Saihite's arms trembled in anger. Beside him, Houki's arms hung limply as she stood still. They stood in Seirin Village of the Jusoh Prefecture.

That village had been invaded by Kutoh's soldiers one month, leaving behind acres of burned fields and houses to welcome Houki. "…No… No!… This can't be!" Houki dashed away in a trance. Working her way through the remains of the houses, Houki suddenly stopped. Seeing the remains of her own house that stood behind the well where she had gathered water every day, she let out a silent moan. Then tears began to stream down her face. "Dad… Mom… Ogaku… Where are you? Where are you!!" Houki's eyes darted to a burned field. It was then that she suddenly sensed the presence of someone standing behind a charred tree. "Who is it!…" Recognizing the figure that was slowly turning to face her, Houki called out, "Tendoh!!" * Dashing over to Tendoh, Houki threw herself into his chest. As Houki made breathless whimpering noises, all he could do was hold her as tightly as possible. "It happened a month ago… Kutoh's soldiers did this… I'm the only one…who survived it…" Houki sobbed even more in Tendoh's arms. "Ever since you left, your dad pulled himself back up and worked hard. He said he was proud of you and wanted to work hard so your sacrifice wouldn't go to waste… Your mom and Ogaku worked very hard, too…" Softly pushing Houki back, Tendoh looked at her elaborate clothes. "His Majesty let me come home for a visit…"

Tendoh finally noticed the man who was standing a few paces away from them. By his side Tendoh recognized a short monk that had come to the village earlier. Tendoh said, "Houki, stay here…" Houki looked up at Tendoh. "Stay here with me and we'll rebuild this village together." "Tendoh…" With doubtful eyes, Houki glanced over the charred landscape. "We can do it. After the invasion, I tilled all the fields over. I can't just let them all die. This is the village where we were born…" Houki thought to herself, But this isn't the village where Tendoh was born. And I thought he knew that full well… Everyone had known Tendoh was adopted, and everyone also kept silent about it. That was because all the villagers considered Tendoh, though an outsider, as one of their own. A beautiful image of this gracious and accepting Seirin Village burned beneath Houki's eyelids. Then, she thought of the day that marked her sixteen years together with Tendoh. Ever since that day, Tendoh had been waiting for her. He waited alone in a village that wasn't even his own, defending the land that belonged to his adoptive parents; simply waiting for her, though it was unlikely she would even return. "…Tendoh…" Houki's heart fluttered. Then, she slowly turned around. Saihitei's eyes were filled with sadness, staring uncomfortably at the ground. She then faced Tendoh again. "Houki…" Tendoh reached out his hand. "I promise I'll be a good husband to you…" Houki quietly lifted her face, then shook her head gently. "…Tendoh, you should leave this place… This isn't even your home village. So forget about the past and move on to a new life…"

A large tear drop fell from Houki's eye. "…Goodbye… Tendoh…" As Houki turned her back to Tendoh and began to walk away from him, he spoke, "Is living in the palace that much fun? Is being near a man with lots of money and respect that comfortable?! You're not…You're not that kind of girl, and I know it! Or was it a lie when you told me I was handsome and perfect even though I'm a farmer?!" "It's not a lie!" Houki whirled around. "That's not it… Tendoh…" Tendoh's lips shivered. "Are you… in love with him….?" Houki looked down. "If I were the Emperor… would you then want to marry me?…" "Tendoh… Why are you talking like that?…." To put more pressure on the already passive Houki, Tendoh took an aggressive step forward. "Hey you, are you Saihitei?" The man in front of Tendoh nodded quietly, and Tendoh took a long look at him. Then, taking a deep breath, he said, "I don't suppose anyone ever told ya this, but you had an older brother… And he was born from your dad and your mom…" Saihitei suddenly remembered his mother having told him about the miscarriage she had before giving birth to him. How does this man know about that? As Saihitei stared with wrinkled eyebrows, the man continued with the rest of his unbelievable story. "Just after that baby was born, the other harem girls tried to kill him and his mother, so she loaned the baby to a couple of farmers she happened to run into."

"But that couple was unable to have a child of their own and got too attached to the baby. And it didn't matter anyway because the Empress gave birth to another son right away. Her second son was Hotohori…" Then, Tendoh glanced at Saihitei's neck. "The Empress eventually forgot about her first born and instead put all her concentration and strength into her second son. And that's why you're the Emperor now." Saihitei was still silent, so Tendoh continued, "Legally speaking, her first born son she gave away should be the Emperor right now. And what's more, this first son also has a red mark on the left side of his neck!" When Tendoh exposed his neck to Saihitei, Houki gasped. "So the Mark of Suzaku of which my Mother spoke was…" Saihitei at last spoke in a thin voice. …Mother did not have a miscarriage. Her first born son is alive and standing in front of me… Tendoh smiled coldly. "I've spent the last 19 years of my life working like a dog in these dirty fields. It wasn't a life to be proud of, but I was content with it. And that's because my parents loved me and I loved them. And also because I loved Houki…. But now, you're trying to take it all away from me…" "That's not true!" Houki stopped Tendoh mid-sentence.

"If it's not true, then why did he create a harem he wasn't even interested in and kidnap all those girls? And why did he let Kutoh invade our village so easily? You're Hotohori, aren't you? Then why don't you call on Suzaku and get something done already? Why aren't you making some important execute orders instead of sneaking a harem girl back to her home village for a visit?! And don't tell me, you didn't even realize that Houki's home village was invaded in the first place?!" Unable to respond, Saihitei stood dumbly. "Why… Why did you come into my life?…" Tendoh asked. "When my adoptive parents died, they told me the secret about my birth. But I had no intention to meet you at all. You and I are Heaven and Hell. Our lives are just exact opposites… So I decided I'd stay here by myself and live my life… But then… why did you come into my life?" Tendoh finished with, "I'll hate you until the day I die." Then, turning his back on Saihitei, Tendoh disappeared into the sunset. Saihitei and Houki watched him in silence. Beside them, Gentokuin smiled secretly. ----------

Chapter 8: Spirit of Malice

After returning to the palace, Saihitei sat on his throne and held his head in his hands. "Your Majesty…" The one who came to Saihitei's side to speak was the Prime Minister, Haku. "Seirin Village and the others who were invaded and destroyed by Kutoh's army will be given memorial services as you requested. I have already instructed our armies to go to these villages at once." Saihitei lifted his face and suddenly spoke furiously, "We must ensure that no village of ours is ever invaded again!" "Yes, Majesty! We have sent special units to the other villages and our men at the borders are currently undergoing special additional training." The tone of Haku's voiced changed suddenly, "But Majesty… We need extra funding to carry out these orders. And I fear our Royal Treasury… does not have sufficient …" "Surely we face no challenges with the money we have now!" Haku was struck silent by Saihitei's sharp tongue. "Innocent villagers were killed by Kutoh's army… and I am at fault." "No, your Majesty, that is not so." Saihitei shook his head violently. "I was naiv to think that simply signing a peace treaty with Kutoh would keep them at bay. I should have reacted quicker knowing that Suzaku no Miko only appears when the kingdom is on the brink of destruction…" Saihitei clenched his fists. Unaware of all these things, I foolishly spent my energy pursuing Suzaku no Miko's love… "…I am ashamed of myself." Since Kutoh was intent on summoning Seiryuu, they had not only targeted Konan, but the neighboring countries Sairo and Hokkan as well. Presently, Suzaku's side was engaging Seiryuu's side in fierce battles over obtaining the Talismans to be sure to

Suzaku was summoned before Seiryuu. And Nuriko had been the first sacrifice in these battles. While Miaka and his other comrades were risking their lives every day to protect the Kingdom, all Saihitei could do was sit at home. Overwhelmed with guilt over his lack of action, Saihitei felt hopeless for the first time in his life. "Your Majesty, you must not blame yourself for this…" Saihitei looked glumly into Haku's face. "…Perhaps I should have not been the Emperor…" "Majesty! Surely you jest!" Haku panicked and rushed to his Master's side. "Bring Gentokuin before me." "Huh…?" "Never mind why, just bring him forth!" * Summoned from his post at the Harem, Gentokuin kneeled before Saihitei. "How is Houki feeling?" Saihitei asked Gentokuin directly after the customary introductions. "She is keeping quietly to herself, Majesty. She says she is very grateful for your kindness yesterday…" "I see…" Saihitei's chest tightened. He had intended to do good for Houki but ended up hurting her instead. Though she would have discovered the massacre eventually, the way in which the truth was shown to her was an unnecessary shock. But more than that, the man who loves her appeared… Saihitei closed his eyes and folded his arms.

"That man named 'Tendoh' truly is my elder brother… I suppose…" he murmured quietly, as if to himself. "Yes… I believe so. Empress Motaiko surely was reluctant to speak of his possible existence for fear of disturbing you, Your Majesty…" Gentokuin said quietly. "That Mark of Suzaku on the left side of his neck is surely… a genuine thing. Though the former Emperor and Empress are deceased and the original Ladies of the Harem are no longer with us, I, Gentokuin, still remember it well…" "You do…?" Saihitei opened his eyes. "Yes, Majesty…" Gentokuin paused and glanced up at Saihitei. "After all, that was the very reason I was made a eunuch and sent to govern the Harem." "What…? Explain the meaning of that." Saihitei involuntarily leaned forward. "Just before your elder brother came to this world, I gave an oracle. The oracle said that very soon someone with the Mark of Suzaku would be born. Then soon after this… our Divine Deity, Suzaku would come down before us…" Saihitei's eyes opened wide in shock. "That serf… er, I mean, that man is probably the one of whom the oracle spoke. That is why evil members of the Harem sought to destroy that special child." "So that is why Mother panicked and surrendered the child to a couple of strangers…" As Gentokuin nodded in response, Saihitei asked, "Tell me, why were you punished?" Gentokuin stayed silent for a while, then answered, "Suzaku is said to appear only when the Kingdom is on the brink of destruction. Since the Kingdom was peaceful at the time, His Majesty was angered by my improper oracle and punished me…" Saihitei nodded lightly. "…So that was it…"

Saihitei suddenly remembered that Gentokuin had left the palace just after news of the Mark of Suzaku had made way through the palace. Then, taking a deep breath, he commanded of the eunuch, "Bring my brother here at once." "Yes! However, I do not believe he is still in that village…" "Then search for him! Waste no time!" "Yes, Majesty! Your will is my command." As Gentokuin shuffled off, Saihitei once again cradled his head in his hands. He had met with his true older brother at the charred remains of Houki's village… Tendoh… Realizing just how drastically different their two lives had been, Saihitei saw just how cruel fate could be. Surely, anyone would consider their lives Heaven and Hell, just as Tendoh had said. But was my life - the top of a Kingdom, worshipped by my subjects, leading a life of complete luxury - … was it truly a happy life? I tried my best not to bring shame to the Crown. I took pride in my position. But, I could not say… that I was happy… And Tendoh said that he had been happy. And that was because he had a father, mother, and a girl to love… "But I had no one… No one loved me; not my father, my mother…or Miaka…" Saihitei's words crept out of his mouth in a whimper. The day of his mother's death, when he had begged her not to leave him, returned to his mind. Back then, his mother had said that he was not alone, and that he must search… for the Mark of Suzaku… "I have found him, Mother…" Saihitei reported to his deceased mother. A trick of fate had reunited the brothers, yet his brother had turned his back, refusing to forgive him for stealing away his happiness. "Brother…" Saihitei bit his lip.

I want to meet you once more and speak with you. We may have leaded completely different lives, but we are the only two people on this Earth who share the same blood. And we are also brothers who bare the same duty to summon Suzaku. If we open our hearts, I'm certain we can come to an understanding. And also… I'm certain you will come to realize just how much I have also suffered. Saihitei softly touched a finger to the matching red mark of Suzaku on the left side of his neck. * Rattle, rattle, rattle. Gentokuin stared intensely at the pebbles he had cast on his desk. Then he smiled. "So that's where he's headed…" Gentokuin had felt the powers he once had surge back into his body day by day. The strength he possessed as a powerful priest of the former Emperor was being revived in his blood. It is true that when I was made a eunuch, my powers disappeared instantly. I was scarcely able to do anything more than tell fortunes on the street corner. When I met with that man Tendoh, however, life was breathed into my magic once more. Now that I remember, this must have been initiated when I first scouted that girl Houki in her village. "So that man truly is Motaiko's first born…" Motaiko had told him her baby was lost, but Gentokuin had witnessed the transaction from the shadows. Then, the previous day, having seen the Mark of Suzaku on Tendoh's neck with his own eyes, a spark was set to his magic. The spark was triggered by the intense levels of malice that permeated from Tendoh's body.

"Surely, he has reason to loathe. Anyone would loathe Saihitei for that…" Gentokuin's own malice was intensified by Tendoh's. " Kambakpipi… Kambakpipi…" While humming this, Gentokuin shivered with a sudden rushing feeling of manhood returning to him. By locating Tendoh and returning him to Saihitei's side, not only would Gentokuin's honored post be restored, but so would his very life. However, even that would not satisfy Gentokuin at this point. At last, a big opportunity had reached him. The powers he once held as a priest to bring happiness and good fortune to the masses were twisted into the dark and evil powers of a sorcerer. In the north-eastern Gankutsu Castle of Konan… Choko squinted her eyes at the sight of the visitor said to have come from the southwestern area of the Kingdom to come visit the wild, mountainous land on which the castle stood. My, what a flawlessly sculpted man… "What do you wish of me?" Choko asked of the young man curiously, yet cautiously, as she had her soldiers withdraw their weapons. Three years had passed since Motaiko banished her to this castle. Having no other choice for survival, Choko struggled to regain her beauty and grace and worked her way to the throne as Empress of the region. And just last year, with the death of the Crown of that castle, and with all his heirs of the Harem women still in infancy, Choko overthrew the throne just as Motaiko had done in Konan's capital. "So nice to see you again, Lady Choko," the young man said as he bowed deeply. Choko's eyebrows crinkled. The young man wore clothing not suitable for someone of the peasant or military class. His face did look somewhat familiar to her, however.

"Oh, it seems you do not remember me…" The man raised his head and simultaneously lowered the left side of his collar. "Do you remember me now…?" Hearing these words, Choko's face clouded suddenly. "C…Could you be…could you be…" "My name is Tendoh. It was given to me after you drove me away from the Palace." Tendoh then addressed the soldiers who had quickly leapt to their ruler's side. "You need not fear. I did not come here seeking revenge." Tendoh, who had pawned his grandfather's sword for a change of clothes, smiled with the grace and beauty of royalty. Having heard Tendoh's story, Choko stared intently into his face. I thought he looked familiar… So that is because he is Saihitei's full-blood brother. Since he was raised on a farm, he has a rugged masculinity Saihitei lacks, but looking at him closely, I see his perfectly sculpted face. If I had not threatened his life when he was born, he would be sitting on the throne this very minute… "I am surprised, however, that you found me so quickly…" "In the capital, I found a former chamber maid and she told me everything. She told me how you were Motaiko's fiercest rival and that it was you who tried to dispose of me…" Choko's lips quivered slightly. Tendoh raised his hand lightly. "But that is all in the past. My enemy now is… Saihitei. I need your assistance, Lady Choko." Choko peered into Tendoh's face. "…Is that so…"

Sensing her hesitation, Tendoh continued, "I hear your son who was killed by Motaiko was very gifted…" Instantaneously, the grief and anger over losing her only son flooded back into Choko's veins. Her fourteen-year-old son, whose life was more important than her own, was killed by Motaiko. "…Bogyoku…" If Bogyoku had lived… and if Motaiko had not gained as much strength and power as she did, It might have been my son on the throne this very minute instead of Saihitei. But that was not all. Remembering all the mistreatment Motaiko had given her after the Emperor's death, Choko was filled with rage. And the rage she felt for Motaiko was shifted onto Saihitei that instant. That robotic boy who blindly obeyed his mother. Even when her banishment was announced and she had abandoned her pride, imploring for mercy, Saihitei had merely shaken his head emotionlessly. "Lord Tendoh, what do you propose?…" Choko asked stiffly. Tendoh answered, "For starters, I would like an army suitable to go against Saihitei." "Every soldier in this castle is very skilled. I am certain they will make you a fine army." "I suppose…" Tendoh said. "However, it still seems insufficient…" "No, it is perfectly sufficient," someone spoke up as he was led into the room. Seeing the man enter the room, both Tendoh and Choko gasped in surprise. * "I am an ally of Lord Tendoh," Gentokuin announced. "We must not allow the Kingdom to be entrusted to Saihitei…"

Then, Gentokuin once again looked deeply into Tendoh's eyes. "All along, Saihitei has been nothing more than a puppet of Motaiko. Now that she is gone, he still cannot handle ruling matters by himself and relies too much on his government officials." "…I thought so." Tendoh stared into Gentokuin's eyes. "The gentle and beautiful Saihitei is merely an image created by the politicians. In truth, Saihitei is merely a narcissist who spends all day staring into mirrors…" "My, how disgusting!" Choko spoke up. "What's more, even when a Harem was created for him, he devoted all his time to Suzaku no Miko, even to the point of ignoring his duties as one of Suzaku's Seven…" While staring into Gentokuin's flickering eyes, the intensity of Tendoh's malice multiplied more and more. "And even Lady Houki, who used to love you, is now under Saihitei's spell." A flaming hot iron was struck into Tendoh's heart with this remark. "Saihitei is turning his frustration over losing the attention of the Miko towards capturing Houki's heart. Under the guise of 'returning her to her family', he took her from the Harem to show her the destruction on purpose. And it pleased him so!" As if guided by the red-hot flames of hatred, Tendoh rose to his feet. His eyes flickered with the same red flames of malice that shone in Gentokuin's eyes. "Lord Tendoh…" Gentokuin began, to strike the final blow. "With the strength you have now, defeating Saihitei will be a very easy task. Only if you do as I say, that is…" Choko nodded. "Just as you said, Lord Tendoh should be Konan's Emperor. And as long as the man who bears the Mark of Suzaku is alive, Suzaku will not be summoned." Choko spoke frankly, is if she had forgotten what she had tried to do to Tendoh in the past. Narrowing his eyes even further, Gentokuin slowly stood to his feet. "Let us begin the Reign of Tendoh. The Reign of the true King of Suzaku and of Konan…"

Then, clasping both hands together, Gentokuin began to chant. Unimaginable powers surged through Tendoh's body.

Anger over his birth-mother abandoning him. Anger over his days covered in filth, toiling all day in the soil. Anger over his beloved being torn away from him. Anger over himself for leaving his adoptive parents to die. And finally, anger over the throne that belonged to him, yet was occupied by Saihitei, puppet of the politicians and plaything of the harem girls. Saihitei, the sole man who stole all prosperity from him. The malice continued to pound violently through Tendoh's body. His original plan to simply overthrow Saihitei with Choko's aid had completely escaped his mind. Tendoh clenched both fists as tightly as his strength would allow. "By my own hands… by my own hands…" His eyes shot open. "I will kill you!" ----------

Chapter 9: Bloodline of Misfortune Are preparations for the banquet ready yet?!" "Yes, Majesty! All plans are running smoothly," Prime Minister Haku answered the pink-cheeked Saihitei. "My elder brother is scheduled to arrive any minute, so please see to it that he is treated properly." "Yes, Majesty." "Have you dismissed the soldiers in the gardens as well? I do not wish for my brother to feel ill at ease when he visits." "Yes, Majesty…" Haku looked cautiously at the excited Emperor. "But, Majesty, I must say I truly am happy for you. I was hoping your brother would understand your honorable feelings…" "As was I. I am grateful that Gentokuin was able to convince him to come. …From this day forth, we must start fresh." "…Yes, Majesty." Haku spoke quietly into Saihitei's ear, "Actually, I want a word about Gentokuin. I have heard that his fateful prophecy of years past had more to it…" "…What do you mean?" Saihitei asked with a wrinkled forehead. Haku shook his head. "Well, I myself do not know the particulars… I am simply concerned over whether or not Gentokuin can be trusted…" Saihitei suddenly remembered what his mother had told him long ago, You must never trust that man. But Saihitei shoved that warning out of his mind. "Never mind. We will discuss this later." "By the way, Majesty, what position do you propose for your elder brother to have?"

"I am certain he would make a perfect Grand Advisor… No, more a co-Emperor, I should say." Saihitei's eyes sparkled. "I am also certain he will help us summon Suzaku. He will put my heart at ease." "I suppose that is so." Then, Saihitei whispered quietly, "This means that… I am no longer… all alone…" Just then, Saihitei greeted the new entree to the room with a smile. "Houki, come to my side." Houki, who had been suddenly summoned from the Harem, shuffled anxiously to Saihitei's side. "There will be a celebration today." Houki opened her mouth slightly. "…Celebration…?" "Very shortly, my elder brother will visit the Palace." "Tendoh…is coming?" Houki's heart began to pound like church bells. "You need not worry. My elder brother and I have come to an understanding and I have invited him personally." After the news, Houki returned to her room and sat stiffly, waiting for the jitters in her heart to clam down. But settling her anxiety was no easy task. Before she knew it, her entire family had departed for a far-off world… Unable to even embrace her sadness over this, she was slammed with another hard truth: the relation between Saihitei and Tendoh… She never would have dreamed that Tendoh was actually a prince… The reason she had felt nostalgia the first time she saw Saihitei was probably because he bore such a strong resemblance to Tendoh. And the reason Tendoh had always looked so regal to her, despite the mud and hard work, was because he was royalty.

Even still, knowing his true bloodline, Tendoh still wanted to stay with her in their old farming village. But she was unable to run into his arms and accept him… …That was wrong of me… Tendoh had walked off, declaring that he would never forgive Saihitei. It's my fault… If I had only stayed behind in the village with him that day… Houki's chest threatened to collapse with the pain pressed to it. Would Tendoh really come to see Saihitei in peace after what he had said? When Houki looked down in concern, Saihitei had said, "Houki… You may marry my elder brother if you wish." "What?!…" Houki's eyes opened wide. "My elder brother has loved you so deeply for so long…" Houki was troubled. Her little head shivered faintly. "…Your Majesty, I want… I want…" Houki's words were lost amidst the cries from the gate attendants. "Lord Tendoh had arrived!!" * The loud, scuffling noise of many feet came nearer and nearer to Saihitei's throne room. "What is going on?!…" Saihitei shot to his feet. "Your Majesty! Horrible news!" One of his soldiers, covered in blood, worked his way up to Saihitei. "What in the world happened?!"

"T-T-Tendoh has brought soldiers from Gankutsu Castle… to invade!!" "What?!" Saihitei's eyes shot wide open. Battle sounds had already reached his throne room. Cabinet members who had hastily run to the entrance of the throne room were casually tossed aside. In their place now stood Tendoh. Since he was now clothed in armor instead of peasant's clothing, Tendoh looked like a completely different person. His savage, glimmering eyes, flickered with a mysterious non-human spirit deep within. Saihitei swiftly stepped in front of Houki. Ordering the soldiers behind him to await further orders, Tendoh casually stepped towards Saihitei. "…Brother…" Saihitei nearly whimpered towards the man walking towards him. Tendoh laughed. "Brother… you say…" "Why are you doing such a thing… Did you deceive me…?" "I didn't deceive you. Don't ya remember? I said I wouldn't ever forgive you." Saihitei's eyes dropped to the floor in frustration. "…Gentokuin…" "Correct. You were a fool for trusting my council all this time…" Gentokuin said with a smug smile as he walked into the room. "Thanks to you, this unprotected palace was easy for us to obtain." Saihitei glared deeply at the sorcerer who had deceived him and his brother. "Your Majesty, your father treated me horribly in the past. That frustration and sadness has still not left me; indeed, it has only continued to burn stronger." The same fire that flickered in Tendoh's eyes shone in Gentokuin's eyes as he said this. Tendoh took a step forward. "Saihitei… No, I think I'll call you Hotohori…"

"…Brother!" Hotohori cried at Tendoh. "You are being manipulated by Gentokuin. Please regain your senses! Then let us both sit down and discuss…" "I don't need that!" Tendoh swiftly raised his sword. "I will defeat you." "…Do you… do you truly hate me so much?" "Draw your sword! Hotohori!" Tendoh's voice roared throughout the room. After Hotohori merely stood, silently staring at his brother for a while, Tendoh's sword slashed the air. "…Your Majesty!" Houki cried out. A small trickle of blood ran along Hotohori's cheek. As he wiped the blood away with his finger, his eyes flashed with light for an instant. "Unless you want me to put more cuts on that pretty face of yours, draw your sword," Tendoh smiled faintly. Hotohori's arms began to shiver slightly. "If this makes you mad, then defeat me and rebuild Konan to prosperity." "…Brother" "I don't consider you a brother at all. You're just an unqualified Emperor who stole my throne…" Hotohori's hand fell on his sword. Then, he slowly drew it out. "Please stop this! Majesty, stop this!" Softly pushing Houki away from him, Hotohori spoke coldly. "This man… is no brother of mine…" Hotohori's sword made a swishing noise. Clang!

Tendoh's and Hotohori's swords violently touched. In their eyes burned sparks of fury. "Hotohori, today will be your last day to suck on an endless flow of honey," Tendoh said from the other side of his sword. "You have no right to say anything like that to me." "So you've finally shown your true form, eh. You probably were gonna try and bribe me." "That's not true!" The two swords made grinding noises together. "I decided that I would even surrender the throne to you, if it were for the good of the Kingdom." Tendoh snorted. "Ohhh. So now you're starting to fear for your life, I see." Tendoh exerted more power into his sword. Hotohori began to scoot back along the ground. "…No, that was not why… It is because you are… my full-brother…and because you bear the Mark of Suzaku…" Hotohori was staring deeply at the red mark that shone brightly on the left side of Tendoh's neck. "Exactly. I am the Prince of Suzaku, and also…" Tendoh coldly stared at the red mark that appeared on Hotohori's neck. "You are nothing more than a subordinate to me." Saying this, he pounced on Hotohori. Hotohori fell to the floor from the shock. "Stay back!!" both Hotohori and Tendoh yelled simultaneously at both Choko's guards, and an armed Haku, who had tried to come between the duel. "You must not interfere. This is a sacred battle between Lords Tendoh and Hotohori…" Gentokuin murmured. Then, facing his amulets together, he began to chant.

"Rise!" A mysterious light began to glimmer in Tendoh's eyes as he looked down at Hotohori. Hotohori rose to his feet and strongly bit his lip as he gazed up at Tendoh. Then, he cursed the fate that had divided them. Tendoh lunged at him. Answering the attack with his own blade, Hotohori continued to shake his head emptily. "A man who leaves the governing to his officials and sends his Priestess off to her doom is not fit to be the Emperor or one of Suzaku's chosen ones!" "And a man who casually toys with the affections of an innocent girl, too…" Tendoh's eyes shot open. Hotohori blocked Tendoh's attack with his inertia. Tendoh was completely under the control of Gentokuin's magic by then. "…I cannot allow my Kingdom… to be surrendered… to the likes of you!" The small space between the glaring eyes of the two men was too deep and too dark to be disturbed. The blades of their swords raised at each other shone sadly. "Tendoh… Majesty…" Before the eyes of the trembling and paralyzed Houki, the relentless battle continued. The two remained silent, merely clanging their swords together. It was clear, however, that despite Tendoh's lack of sword-training, he had the upper-hand against Hotohori, the accomplished fencer. Converting the anger and hatred in his heart into energy, Tendoh continued to fight to the limit of his strength. Houki shook her head. That is not Tendoh… That is not Tendoh… Gentokuin's chanting grew more and more intense. Houki's body began to feel stiff and cold. Just then, a desperate lash from Hotohori's sword struck Tendoh's shoulder. Tendoh glanced briefly at his shoulder. At the sight of the spurting blood, the fire in his eyes burst stronger.

"Let's end the games here, Hotohori…" Gentokuin's chanting voice was now near shouting. Tendoh rose his sword high. Behind him, a shadow of something rose. Seeing the demon spirit behind Tendoh's back, Houki let out a silent scream. A frightening, fanged beast rode on Tendoh's back and swatted Hotohori's hand off his own sword for an instant. Then, its eyes shot open as Tendoh's blade lunged in for the decisive blow. It was then that Houki flew in front of Hotohori. "Ngh!…" Tendoh looked down in shock at the girl who held the tip of his blade just inches from her chin with her own bare hands. "…Houki…!" Her strength was inhuman. "Let go! Let go of my sword, Houki!" Houki shook her head. "If you wish to kill him, then kill me first!" Houki yelled defiantly. Tendoh had never seen Houki like this before. Gentokuin's chanting pulsated louder and louder inside his head. Kill her! Kill her! Kill her! Some unknown force continued to command to him. That girl betrayed you. She is a trivial girl who cares only for money and fame. Anger boiled up inside of Tendoh. He concentrated his energy into piercing through her… But the sword that was held by Houki's hands refused to budge. "If it will make any of your hatred disappear, then… you should kill me," Houki said. "But I won't allow you to hurt His Majesty in front of me!" Houki's eyes pierced through Tendoh. Tendoh's face clouded over. "No… You're just… being brainwashed…"

"No! His Majesty is not that kind of man. He took me back to the village only in hopes that it would make me happy. He didn't know that my home village was the one that had been destroyed… And the one who forced me to enter the harem was Gentokuin. It was Gentokuin who was only concerned with money and fame." Not lowering her eyes from Tendoh's trembling body, Houki continued, "His Majesty has cared for this Kingdom more than anyone else. Have you forgotten how much peace Konan has regained since Motaiko's death?! While living amidst royalty in constant competition, he was never loved by his mother or father, and has been alone his entire life. Even so, His Majesty still loved each and every one of his subjects from the bottom of his heart." "…Houki…!" Unable to move, Hotohori cried out from behind Houki. He had no idea where Houki's current strength was coming from.

Houki's crisp, kind words seemed to pierce through Tendoh like a cold blade. "And His Majesty's feelings of love for his own Priestess… I understand them well. His Majesty… was lonely. He just wanted to love and be loved as a man… And it was a loneliness that no harem girl could cure… His loneliness was deep and sad…" Houki then shook her head, "You would never understand, Tendoh…"

Gentokuin's amulets suddenly snapped. The shadowy beast behind Tendoh began to waver. "His Majesty was excited to have you visit. He felt… he felt that with you by his side, he could finally be saved from his loneliness…!" At that moment, Tendoh was overcome with the sensation that the stone of contempt inside his body was breaking into little pieces. Hotohori was sad and lonely? He wanted me to save him? Gentokuin frantically broke into a speedy chant. "His Majesty… also told me that I should marry you…" Tendoh gasped and looked at Hotohori. While staring at the writhing monster on Tendoh's back, Hotohori nodded slowly, believing that his brother would be able to win against the magic. Then, a single tear rolled down Tendho's cheek. "…Tendoh… I really was…fond of you. You were like a big brother to me…" "…Houki." Tears began to trickle from her eyes. "I'm sorry… But… His Majesty is… the man I love…" Something was struggling fiercely inside of Tendoh. Since when?! Since when?! Since when did I become such a weak man consumed by a demon…?! His gritted his teeth, bearing pain that threatened to tear apart his body. Before he realized it, Houki had released her hands from his sword and was staring into his eyes. "I just want to be able to help His Majesty in any way I can. So… Tendoh…" Houki closed her eyes on the blade just inches away from her neck.

"…Stop this… stop this!" Tendoh's arms shook violently. "What are you waiting for?! Kill her at once!" Gentokuin screamed as Tendoh's arms suddenly stopped moving. With a clanging noise, his sword fell to the ground. "…Brother!" At the sound of Hotohori's voice, Houki opened her eyes. There was no longer any sign of the monster on Tendoh's back. "Tendoh…" as she called his name, her body was released of strength. She collapsed into Hotohori's arms. Returning to his senses, Tendoh gasped when he saw Houki. Hotohori told him, She's fine through his eyes, then stretched his hand towards Tendoh. "Brother…" Tendoh looked at his little brother in confusion. "Brother…" Tendoh quietly called his brother's name once more, and softly raised his hand. "… Hotohori." Just as their two hands touched, Tendoh's movement was stopped. His face clouded. Gentokuin let out an insane cackle from behind him. Tendoh fell to his knees. Seeing the bloody dagger in Gentokuin's hand, Hotohori grabbed his brother's sword, screamed, "Filthy beast!!" and pierced through Gentokuin's body. Gentokuin smiled blankly at Hotohori. "Let me give you one last piece of advice… The full prophecy I gave your father…" Hotohori stared intently at the dying eunuch. "When the boy with the Mark of Suzaku is born into this world, Suzaku will appear. However, as for the boy… he will die before seeing Suzaku with his own eyes…"

A chill ran down Hotohori's spine as he glared at Gentokuin. So that was it. That was what had made Father so angry… "…However, it was I… it was I who killed the Prince of Suzaku…" Gentokuin had turned out to be another sad human, manipulated by the same fate that drove the two brothers apart. In the end, Gentokuin smiled smugly. "So you see?… My prophecies are always correct…" * With Gentokuin's evil presence gone, the intruding soldiers hastily retreated from the palace. In the throne room, Hotohori held Tendoh's body in his arms. "Brother… A physician will come here soon." Tendoh smiled lightly. "… You're a good Emperor… I'm sure you'll bring peace to the Kingdom…" "…Brother… If you stay by my side, this Kingdom can grow even stronger. So let's work together and…" Tendoh shook his head. Then he whispered, "I wonder why the two of us had to meet…" Hotohori answered, "I am certain… Mother had something to do with it…" The day Motaiko discovered she was too weak to protect her own baby, she had changed. Poisoned by her lust for strength, she had eventually died. But the origin of everything she had done was her desire to protect her beloved sons. "Mother never forgot you. On her deathbed, she told me that I was not alone…" "…She did…" Tendoh reached into his chest pocket and pulled out her hairpin. "…I don't bear any grudges anymore…" Tendoh stared into his little brother's eyes. In the eyes, he saw the endless gentleness, strength, and beauty.

"I'm sorry… I put a scar on your face…" "No problem…" Hotohori shook his head, completely indifferent about it. "It was essential that you give me this scar to clear up my confusion… And now I have a clear purpose…" "Hotohori…" Tendoh smiled peacefully. Take care of our Kingdom, his gaze told to Hotohori. "My life was happy… So I hope that you… and Houki… can also find happiness together…" "Brother…" "That's my dying wish…" Hotohori's eyes squinted shut. Drops like jewels fell from his eyes and wet his brother's face. Tendoh's arm softly reached out to Hotohori's cheek. Gentling touching him, he said, "…After all, you're my only… brother…" The scar on Hotohori's cheek seemed to disappear from Tendoh's touch. "Brother…" Tendoh quietly closed his eyes. From his lips, a quiet murmur of words escaped, "…I really…do… love you… Hotohori…" "Brother!!…" Hotohori tightly hugged his brother's body to his chest. "Brother… Brother…" Gonnnnng, gonnnng, gonnnnng… The dreary sound of the bell that announced the sunset continued to echo through the halls of the palace, bidding farewell to the Prince of Suzaku. ----------

Chapter 10: A New Determination After that, a week passed. Throughout the palace, preparations for Saihitei's marriage to Houki were solemnly underway. Then, the Harem was disbanded, and the girls were sent back to their respective homes. Naturally, there was not a single Harem girl who looked at Houki with hatred or jealousy. Everyone knew how she had risked her life to save Saihitei. Even the wealthy Kinboh, who had tried to lure Saihitei to her side with money and power, accepted the turn of events. "After all, Gentokuin predicted that you would be the one to marry Saihitei…" she said with a sigh as she gathered her jar of gold and her other belongings, and left. Amidst all the accepting and understanding people, there was still one person who still could not quite understand or accept what was happening. And that person was Houki herself. "You must be tired…" Saihitei said to her as they returned to their room. Houki looked up with a gasp at the man who had just become her husband. Gently carried by him, Houki was set silently on their bed. "Are you certain… that I am the right one…for you…?" Saihitei gazed into her eyes and answered, "Of course you are… I love you…" "…Majesty…" Houki softly buried her head in his chest. "I noticed my strong desire to protect and care for you. I am certain that when Nuriko died… and when I met you, that desire first took root…" Korin… Houki softly called out inside her mind. Come to think of it, Saihitei and I experienced the same thing. It's almost like Korin's feelings for him was transferred to me when he died, until I came to love him on my own… "Majesty… when I stopped Tendoh's sword between my hands, I know I felt Korin's presence inside of me…"

"I thought so…" Saihitei quietly lowered his gaze. "When he left the Harem, he promised me he would never let me die, and that he would protect me." Saying this, Houki pressed her hands over her eyes. It had not only been Nuriko's strength that had released Tendoh from Gentokuin's control. Saihitei felt deep within him that it was also Houki's feelings for him that saved his life. "From here on, I will be the one to protect you. If you will let me… Houki…" "Majesty…" Saihitei softly touched Houki's cheek. "I will dedicate my body and soul towards protecting both you and our Kingdom… I must not rely entirely on my Suzaku comrades anymore. My Brother entrusted strength to me. I will protect my subjects as Emperor, and I will protect you as a Man. I will not allow any of the people I love to be soiled by injustice." Then, Saihitei cradled Houki's face in both hands. "I am no longer alone. I have you. And my Brother lives within me. But that is not all. I have finally come to understand what love is. Houki… For so long, I continued to believe that no one ever loved me. But I was wrong. I was loved by many people… By my father and my mother… and by all my subjects… It was when I finally realized this that I understood what love is…" Tears flowed from Houki's eyes. "The ones who taught me this were you and my Brother…" Tendoh… Houki called out silently. She vowed then that she would never forget his dying wish for her and Saihitei to be happy. Saihitei spoke frankly to his new bride, "I will grow stronger. Then I will vow to do whatever necessary to protect the ones I love." Houki nodded. "I vow, too…"

Pulled strongly into the Emperor's arms, Houki then experienced his boundless love through passionate flames madly flowing through their bodies. * "Your Majestyyyyy! Your Majestyyyyyy!!" Nearly one month later, a messenger came rushing to Saihitei, gasping for breath. "Seiryuu has appeared in the sky above Sairo!" Saihitei's gaze jerked towards the direction of Sairo. "….Miaka" Seiryuu was summoned. So apparently, both of the talismans fell into Nakago's hands. Are Miaka and the others safe?… Saihitei's mind was flooded with anxiety. A trembling and sad Houki leaned close to him. "…Majesty…" "Fear not. This is certainly not the end…" Two days later… Suzaku no Miko and her Warriors returned to the palace. However, Chiriko, who gave up his life when possessed by Seiryuu's Miboshi, returned only as an empty shell. Then, as Yui's first wish to Seiryuu, Suzaku's divine power was extinguished, releasing all of Suzaku's Warriors of their powers. "I'm sorry, Hotohori. I wasn't able to protect Konan. And on top of that, everyone lost their powers…" Hotohori spoke to the remorseful Miaka, "Never mind, Miaka. Both you and the others tried your best. That is all anyone could ask for. Konan is prepared to go to war with Kutoh. From the start, we have relied too much on Suzaku's power. We grew soft under the idea of a Priestess saving us and forgot to fight for ourselves. Even if it is likely we will lose the battle, we will not give up hope."

"It is each and every person's duty to stand up for what is important…" Then, Hotohori introduced his wife to everyone. It is not necessary to mention how shocked they were at the likeness she bore to Nuriko. After receiving blessings from the others, Hotohori spoke privately to Tamahome and Miaka. "Next, it should be your turn. Since Suzaku is sealed off, you are no longer a Priestess and Warrior. You may marry whenever you wish." Hotohori smiled warmly as Tamahome and Miaka gasped and exchanged shy glances. Then, it happened. "Kutoh's soldiers… they've just invaded! The sixth division of our fist unit has launched a counter-attack at the border, but it is only a matter of time before they will be defeated…" the messenger informed his Emperor. Saihitei raised his head suddenly and commanded, "Fine, send out more troops. We must prevent invasion of the capital at all costs." "Yes, Majesty!" "Let's give 'em a challenge!" All of the remaining former Warriors of Suzaku raised firm fists in spirit. That night… "So a war has started…" "Yes…" Saihitei softly embraced his wife's shoulders. "Don't worry. Konan will not lose." "…I know." "I vowed to protect you." Houki nodded strongly, then she took hold of the Emperor's hands and touched them to her stomach.

Saihitei turned his head in confusion and Houki answered, "This is your child…" Saihitei's eyes fell heavily on his hands. "My child…" "Yes… I have known of it since it came to life inside of me…" "Houki…" Saihitei squeezed his wife's hands. "It is my child with you…" "Yes…" "Then it must be beautiful…" Houki smiled playfully. "Now I have added another loved one to my life. And what a happy life it is…" Saihitei said with wet eyes. "Our child is a boy… I know this well. I am certain he will be an excellent heir…" Houki's face was already filled with motherly joy and strength. "Houki…" Saihitei softly embraced Houki's body. * Then, the next day… "Miaka and Tamahome disappeared…?" Former Suzaku Warrior, Tasuki announced the news to Hotohori early that morning before departing for the front. "Yes, 'fraid so. They were gone in a flash of red light…"

Yui had made her second wish to Seiryuu. It had been to send herself and Miaka back to their home-world in order to separate Tamahome and Miaka from each other. However, due to Tamahome's strong bond with Miaka, he had been sent along with Miaka to her home-world… or that was what had been assumed. To make matters worse, news arrived that Mitsukake had been deeply wounded by Nakago's hand. "The enemy is close now. But I'm sure those two'll be back soon. So we'll just have to hold the fort until they come back, right!" Tasuki cried. Hotohori shot to his feet. "I'll join you." Hotohori turned to Houki, "I must help defend my own Kingdom. And I must also protect you and the coming heir." Saihitei smiled consolingly at his anxious wife. "…Return safely, Majesty." Saihitei nodded slowly at the woman he was about to leave behind. Then, he silently told her, I love you… Then, he thought of Yuuki Miaka, the other woman who had helped him come to understand love. "I hope she did return to her home-world. With Tamahome… That was probably for the best. I hope that at least you two will live a happy life in a peaceful world…" However, despite Hotohori's prayer, Seiryuu's hand had fallen on Miaka's world, spreading the battle grounds across dimensions. Unknowing of this, Hotohori headed out to battle to defend Konan as its Emperor and as one of its chosen Warriors. As he sat on his horse at the front of his troops, he remembered his brother. "Brother… I am certain Suzaku will appear…" Hotohori envisioned the fierce, yet beautiful image of the flying phoenix on Tendoh's neck. Brother will always protect me… Simply thinking this increased his courage.

Then, he thought of those who had fought hard for Konan, Miaka, Tamahome, Chichiri, Tasuki, Mitsukake… and also those who had given up their lives, Nuriko and Chiriko… Once more, Hotohori felt pride in his own destiny. Then, he remembered his allies in other countries, his wife, and his unborn son. "I will not let my Kingdom be taken…" A large sense of pride and duty as Konan's Emperor welled up inside of him. Immeasurable amounts of love and courage threatened to burst forth… "Come, we must hurry, men!!" Saihitei yelled the command, arched his back, and fiercely kicked his horse's sides. The Kingdom was saved. And the beautiful Suzaku did appear in the sky. Hotohori could clearly envision himself watching this from somewhere. A smile far warmer and more beautiful than anyone had ever seen melted into his face. *** Arriving in Seirin Village, the couple glanced over the burned fields. "Darling…" the tired wife holding her sleeping baby spoke to her husband. "Do ya really think we'll be okay here?" "Yeah…" Her husband, also holding a young girl in his arms, answered with a sigh. "Ain't got no choice. If we wanna start from scratch, this'd be the best place." "Guess so…" This couple, who had formerly been living in a south-eastern village, found themselves unable to pay rent to their landlord and set out to find a new place to live. And though this village had been destroyed and burned by Kutoh, it at least had no landlord.

"Darling, look over here. It looks like someone's been tillin' soil…" "Looks so. Guess someone else tried to come start over here before us…" Just then, the couple also noticed three stones lined up next to each other. "Guess these're graves…" he said as he squinted to read the carvings. The stone on the right read, "Shu Ko'un" The stone on the left read, "Shu Chushin" Then, the stone that was nuzzled in between the others bore the name "Shu Tendoh". "…Guess they were family…" the wife said sadly. "Yup, guess they were. They were probably all killed by Kutoh's soldiers…" But neither of them knew just who Shu Tendoh was. Neither did they know that Tendoh had not been killed by Kutoh's soldiers and was instead buried there later by Saihitei. Neither did they know that Tendoh was the one who had come here after the massacre to till the soil. "Hey, look at that…" the man said, pointing to a shimmering object in front of Tendoh's grave. "What's this…?" "Ain't it a hairpin…?" The wife slowly stretched out a hand to the slightly rusty, yet beautiful jeweled hairpin. But just then, something sparked. "Eep!…" she snapped her hand back. "Yikes, this just sparked! How creepy." "Cut it out. It's probably protecting the grave," her husband said wisely. Naturally, not thinking of the possibility that it was Motaiko's spirit herself that was protecting him… "Good idea. Rest in peace, rest in peace…" his wife said, hastily clasping her hands together and chanting a prayer to Tendoh.

"But this village really is creepy. After all, it's a village where everyone was killed…" she said, looking into her husband's face. "…Yeah, but where else should we go then?…" The couple's faces suddenly clouded over. "…Your Majesty…" For some unknown reason, they both fell to their knees and spoke to Tendoh's grave, with tears in their eyes. The two had heard of Saihitei's passing the night before from the owner of the lodge in which they were staying. According to the rumors, Saihitei had died in battle against Kutoh's army- specifically against Nakago, Kutoh's Shogun and one of Seiryuu's Seven. "I'm sure there was never an Emperor who cared and sacrificed more for his subjects…" "He was young, kind, beautiful… he was such a wonderful man…" The wife sniffled. "Say, Darling, what do ya think's gonna happen to Konan from now on?…" "Since Hotohori is gone, they can't summon Suzaku anymore. … And I hear that Seiryuu's already been summoned and their side is gonna wish for world domination…" "What? But if that happens, then…" He sadly shook his head. "Everything'll be over…" But then, it happened. The sky above Seirin Village suddenly shone brilliantly. The couple's eyes darted upwards. Unable to speak for quite some time, the couple merely gazed up at the sky. Then, he man quickly shook his daughter awake.

"Hey, look up! Look at that!" The sleeping baby on its mother's back also opened its eyes to look at the sky. What appeared amidst the light in the sky, was Suzaku. The beautiful, golden phoenix, circled grandly around the sky above the village. Then, flying down to where the family was, it flapped its brilliant, fiery wings three times. From this, the three stones lined above the three graves suddenly lit up. As the family blankly stared on, Suzaku shot up into the sky and disappeared. "Darling…" the woman said. "Did you see that?.." "Yeah, I saw it…" With their chests violently heaving up and down from the excitement, the couple stared deeply into each other's faces. Their Emperor had died, but Suzaku was summoned. Surely, peace would return to Konan. Saihitei had sacrificed his life to protect them. They had heard news that Saihitei had chosen Houki, a girl from the harem, to be his wife and that they were expecting a child soon. If the child turns out to be a boy, he would surely make an excellent Emperor. Beams of hope illuminated the penniless family. "Let's set up here…" His wife nodded enthusiastically. Then, she pointed to the gravestones. Beneath the lettering "Shu Tendoh" on his grave, Suzaku had left behind a new engraving, "Prince of Suzaku". "Prince of Suzaku…"

Though they still did not know exactly who Tendoh was, the couple agreed that he must have also been a divine man who sacrificed his life for the sake of the Kingdom. The two bowed deeply before his grave and chanted blessings to him. "Suzaku! Suzaku! Suzaku!" The young girl who had just seen the phoenix rise into the sky called out its name over and over. Konan Kingdom, Jusoh Prefecture, Seirin Village. The family who had come here to reconstruct the previously destroyed village were the only people in this world who had seen Suzaku. Konan's Deity, Suzaku, was indeed summoned. And peace did return to the Kingdom. However, Suzaku only showed Himself in the sky above that one village. No, put more correctly, He appeared in the sky above His Priestess's world. However, He also appeared simultaneously in Seirin Village.

The couple marveled over the mysteries of the world. "Don't'cha think Suzaku might've only come here to show Himself to the man in that grave?" "Guess so. After all, He left behind 'Prince of Suzaku' in his stone…" Yes. Though we don't know who that man was, surely the "Prince of Suzaku" was just as divine and virtuous as Saihitei. Without hesitation, the couple renamed the village. This is the one piece of land where our Deity has shown Himself to us. Therefore, we name this village, "Suzaku". ---The End------------

Freetalks from the Authors [Freetalk from Nishizaki Megumi, the author] Hello! Nishizaki Megumi speaking. Fushigi Yuugi Gaiden Novel #5 has finally appearrrrrrrred! And what's more, it's got more pages than the others! Yaaaay. This time's hero is finally! The very holy, beautiful, and yet sad young Emperor of Konan, Hotohori. Hotohori has had some cameo appearances in the other novels before this one, but at last he gets a chance to be the main character! And what's more, we get to experience his whole life along with him. And what's more, what's more, this's a super-convenient book that helps us understand the original story a bit better. Ohhhh, so THAT'S what happened (thumpitty-thump), and THAT'S what happened (sob, sob)… this book brings back some nostalgic memories of the manga. So anyway, when Hotohori comes to mind, I guess the main thing people think of are his feelings of unrequited love for Miaka…right? So the theme of this book is how he was able to meet and marry the harem-girl Houki instead. And along with that, we also see how the lonely Hotohori also had a long-lost brother! When it was first decided Hotohori would have a big brother, the first thing that came to my mind was, "damn, he must be beautiful, too…" but we decided to make him a rough farmer-type (though he cleans up in the end…) to make him the exact opposite of Hotohori. But the two are twisted in fate and even turn swords on each other. Oh, Jesus! To think that while the others were wandering around Hokkan and Sairoh looking for the talismans, Hotohori was actually caught up in quite a fierce adventure himself! So he wasn't just sitting at home doing nothing. I had no idea. Yup.

And also, there's Houki! So she and Nuriko were like peas in a pod. And so, we also put plenty of Nuriko's harem-days in this story, too. Since the other parts of this story were so heavy, I tried to cram the harem parts full of comedy (laugh). Oh yeah, that's right, and this also helps us better understand the process Nuriko went through to change from being a transvestite to a "man". And also Nuriko's last moments… waaah, waaaaaah, we get lots of fan-service there, too. And also the first release of Nuriko's letters… An essential set of documents for you Nuriko-lovers out there. If you read the third Novel in this series, "Yukiyasha Den", you'll understand these even more. With just these two books, Nuriko's entire life belongs to you *heart* And now, when we think of who was most conspicuous in this novel, it has to be Hotohori's mom, "Motaiko". Even her name sounds sorta scary, huh. Well, in reality, she WAS a pretty scary mommy. But she's too powerful! Even writing about her made me scared. And then there's the eunuch, Gentokuin. Those of you who don't know what a "eunuch" is, try and learn from the context of this book! [*Incidentally, one of my friends - a 22 year old guy - didn't know what a eunuch was when I used the term once in conversation ^^; so if you can't figure out from context and don't have a dictionary, it's a guy who's had his balls chopped off. Whee. ^-^v -TnM] I kinda like his chant…. Mwahaha. I also like the chant that was used for the tessen in "Genroh Den", but I also like the silliness of this one… haha. But this chant IS a personal thing. Genny-boy can only chant it by himself. So the chant he was using in the final battle between Saihitei and Tendoh was different. Don't mix them up! And the inappropriate harem-girl Kinboh was also fun? (laugh) Ah, I've suddenly forgotten who I'm supposed to be talking about. And so! Hotohori, who believed all his life that he was alone and unloved, finally awakens to the true meaning of love. That's what I wanted everyone to get from this. In the end, he learns not only about what it is to be loved, but what it is to love.

That's right. Even all of you reading this are loved by many people. You just fail to realize it. But you will realize it for the first time when you love someone, too… Ahhh, how romantic… *heart* Well then, well then, the Fushigi Yuugi novels have really pushed on through. So, out of all the remaining characters, who will be next in the spotlight?! (Is anyone gonna be a bit sympathetic to those who haven't even spoken one line yet? Namely Mitsukake, Chiriko, Tomo, and Miboshi…) We await your requests and responses. Thanks goes out again to Watase-sensei and her assistant, "O". Well, I look forward to the next day we meet. Ciaoooo *heart* -Nishizaki Megumi spoke! [Freetalk from Watase Yuu, the illustrator] Hello, everyone. That's right, recently I've been hearing more from fan letters and from fans I meet in person that they love Hotohori. At first, I was surprised at how many there were, but that's why we made this next book about Hotohori! While this book uncovered Hotohori's life and his past with his mother, it also tied together with the third novel, "Yukiyasha Den", and what's more! It even brought out Houki, who was formerly a side-character, and showed her life from farmer's daughter to Empress in a sort of Cinderella Story. It was like killing three birds with one stone. How delicious! (Then of course, there were lots of scenes we borrowed from the manga) I'm sure you were all surprised to hear that Nuriko and Houki were best friends in the harem. At first I wasn't sure how the story should go between them, but I really loved the funny and sweet scenes between them. Even though I'm the creator, I found myself in awe (laugh) Also, from all the Hotohori fans, I heard some cries of protest that Houki wasn't suitable to marry Hotohori (…Jealous, I wonder?) So I wonder if through this book,

you finally understood just how much Houki cared for him and just how much he came to love her…? (I know I did!) But I feel so sorry for them, having such a short marriage… "Well, how do you think Houki felt about that!" was what one of my assistants retorted back… But I know that there are many fans who think that Hotohori should have loved only Miaka the whole time. I kind of have mixed feelings about this (laugh) I do admit he loved Miaka so much he would die for her, and he said so many times, but unless you are open to multiple possibilities about his love, then Houki seems a bit left-out. Even I thought this myself as I was writing the original manga, but I tended to classify his love for Miaka as something beyond romantic-love, and more the simple pure love for her as a person. …It's kind of hard for me to explain, but I think his love for her bloomed out of the notion that someday they would meet and she would rescue him; sort of the deep bond all Seven felt for her. That's why it was easy for me to transition into the scene with Hotohori, Houki, and Boushin in part 2 of the manga… Well, as far as Hotohori is concerned, he thought of her all those years because she was his Priestess. It's probably hard for those of you in your teens to grasp this, but there are many different kinds of "love". I was sort of surprised when I realized that many readers probably looked at all the love-relationships in the series the same way as the Tamahome-Miaka romantic-love*. In my mind, Nuriko's love for Miaka, Tasuki's love for Miaka, and Amiboshi's love for Miaka all fall into different categories of "love", and I'm not sure any of them have straight "romantic-love" for her. It seems that sometimes the word "love" sends a red flag, "soandso is in love with whatsherface, dammit!!" (laugh) Which reminds me of the painful, romantic ballad Tasuki sings from the second OVA. Sorry, but I disagree with the image of that song. The words don't really describe Tasuki's feelings for Miaka; I'd actually say they fit Yuuhi's feelings for Aya (in Ayashi no Ceres) better. [*wow, cool. Me, too ^-^ -TnM] Ah yes, I remember I talked about those CDs and such in some freetalk space in volume 11 of Ayashi no Ceres, so those of you who want more Fushigi Yuugi stuff, please take a look at that. …which is all I can suggest…

This time, I did the illustrations with no assistant, so it took extra time… I usually listen to Fushigi Yuugi CDs while I draw illustrations for Fushigi Yuugi, but this time, I felt like something different, so I listened to the BGM from the CD-drama version of the manga. ("K" from Animate Films, thanks for the copy!) The BGM from the CDdrama version is much more Chinese-sounding than the BGM in the anime and I really like it. There's also instrumental versions of the songs, but… unfortunately this particular CD was never released and I'm the only one who has this music. Though I do believe there are still some copies of the CD drama for sale floating around. So thanks to Nishizaki-sensei and to my editor, who once again had to put up with me barely making the deadlines, and also to all the readers for your encouragement! Thank you! And so… next up…will be who? We eagerly await your suggestions (laugh) Let's meet again someday! Myyyy, but Nuriko's letters sure made me cry. -7/2/99

"Fan Service Cut" Since I wasn't able to draw them a love-scene in the manga… ----------

Notes: Unlike with English (stupid English >_<) the Japanese language has many more words for "love" than we do, each of which expressing a different kind of "love". There's "suki" which is sort of an all-purpose word meaning "to favor" or "to be fond of". This is probably the most commonly used word for "love" (at least in manga). Then, there's "ai", which is like the Greek "agape" (sort of an all-purpose word for "love"… I suppose like "suki", only stronger.) This is usually thought of as a more "pure" love. Another major word for love is "koi", which is strictly "romantic feelings" (even bordering on "lust" or "sexual desire"). The word Watase uses to describe Tamahome-Miaka's love is "ren'ai", which is written with the characters "koi" and "ai", meaning "romantic-love". This is pretty much the deepest, most romantic and pure love 2 people can have. There are plenty of other words (mainly by using a prefix or suffix with "ai", like "jun'ai" for virgin-love or "aijou" for affectionate-love), so it's much easier to use words to describe the concept of "love" in Japanese.

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