Yukiyasha Den

"The Legend of Yukiyasha"

C onc ept by:

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

The novel of Nuriko. We will know what did before being sent to palace like consorte of the emperor. Both facts that traumatizaron to him during their life. First it is the sacrifice of his mascu-linidad and the second it is to enter harem of Hotohori Emperor.

Byakuren

A rather stuck-up little snot, but a good girl underneath. She is one of the prettiest girls in her village and has the hots for Saihitei (Hotohori). She is VERY attached to her older brother, Tenbun, and because of the attention Tenbun gives Korin (Nuriko), she gets jealous of Korin, but in the end, is very noble… Tenbun

Byakuren’s older brother…. Not much to say about him. Tamatama

A gay transvestite, who looks like Mitsukake in a freakish way. A very funny character.

Chapter 1: First Chapter of Snow

The Konan Kingdom’s capitol, Eiyoh. The streets were filled today, just as any other, with the kingdom’s lively subjects. "Ah!" rang out a girl’s voice amidst the hustle. The small, azure ball had escaped her grasp and was rolling into the street. Releasing her mother’s hand, she dashed after the ball. No sooner did she reach out for the ball than her eyes darted up to see a dustkicking horse-drawn carriage headed straight towards her. Her mother desperately called out her daughter’s name. The girl could do nothing, save stand still and squeeze her eyes shut. Even the villagers around her stood grimly and prepared to watch the inevitable scene. It was then that suddenly, a young boy darted into the street at lightning speed. He pounced on the girl and rolled with her off the street to safety. With the sounds of the carriage’s wheels scraping past her, and applause from the surrounding spectators, the girl cautiously opened her eyes. "Are you all right?" Her rescuer wore a kimono and a noble smile as he gently brushed the dust off her and returned her ball. The girl clutched the ball her mother had just bought dearly to her chest. "What a beautiful boy…" the speechless girl thought to herself as she stared dumbly at the boy. She caught a faint glimmer of red writing on the left side of his neck as three men came running up to them. "You mustn’t attempt such insane heroics! Your majesty…" one of the men spoke harshly in a deep voice. "Your protectors already worry for your safety enough…"

The men calmly, yet gruffly lifted the boy off the ground and stiffly surrounded him. The girl still sat on her bottom and, with rosy cheeks, stared up at the boy. He smiled and bowed to her secretly as his men pushed him back into the crowd. "Byakuren…!" At last, her mother rushed to her side and scooped her precious daughter into her arms. But instead of flinging her face into her mother and crying, the nine-year-old girl stared off into the distance with wide eyes, as the silhouette of her hero slowly disappeared. At the same time that day… On the streets of a different city not too far away, another girl, nearing nine years, was waving excitedly from the crowd. "Brotherrrr!" Spotting her brother not ten meters in front of her, she dashed off to see him. The brother in question looked back when he heard his sister call. "Korin?!" He called the name of the rosy-cheek’ed girl rushing towards him. "Watch out!" It happened almost instantaneously. A speeding carriage from the next street over carelessly cut into the street on which the girl stood. The carriage sent the girl’s body flying as it flashed by. A circle of curious spectators formed around the girl’s body that had been slammed onto the ground.

The boy violently pushed his way through the crowd, and lifted his sister off the ground. "Korin…! Can you hear me?!" "…Brother…" The girl opened heavy eyes, and with the last of her strength, smiled meekly. The brother of the victim held a lovable face, just like her. It would not be odd to mistake them for twin sisters. Perhaps pitying the poor boy, the spectators watched on in grave silence. Holding the girl’s still body to his chest, the boy turned towards the heavens with wet eyes, and whispered with quivering lips, "…This can’t be…This can’t be…This can’t be…" The parents arrived on the scene and tore the murmuring boy away from his sister’s corpse…

The lone carriage had torn through Eiyoh’s streets much like a tornado. One girl’s life was barely saved, while the other girl’s life had been sacrificed. The experience the two nine-year-old girls had shared this morning would change the destiny of the ten-year-old boy. * "…Korin…!!" the young woman yelled as she woke up with a start. The man next to her spoke, "What’s the matter? You were talking in your sleep, my lady."

The girl clenched a fist to her chest and gasped for air. Catching site of her bare legs from the folds of her kimono, the man gulped nervously. "…It’s nothing," the girl answered sharply as she smoothed her rumpled hair. The bodies of the two passengers in the carriage carrying supplies to the Kutoh Kingdom were jostled from the rocky road. The man stared at the maiden. It had been barely three hours ago that this young maiden, gasping for air, had forced her way onto the carriage, apparently indifferent to the fact that such a filthy man as he was already hitching a ride. She was around fifteen or sixteen. She wore nicely-made clothes, and her long, shiny hair was tied behind her. At first glance, she looked like a wild, dirty girl, but it was clear that with a bath and some primping, she would be quite a beauty, indeed. Her big eyes slanted downward slightly. The lone mole just under her left eye was exotic and sexy. Her careless, husky voice was also quite nice. The man’s body shivered suddenly with lust. "Are you traveling alone, Miss?" "….Yes," the maiden answered, not removing her eyes from the passing scenery ahead. "Where are you going?" "To Yukigase Village." [*"Yukigase" means something along the lines of "snow rapids"] "Yukigase Village, eh. We’re almost there now…" Frustration brewed inside the man. He wouldn’t forgive himself if he let her get away. Was it not her own fault for riding alone in a

carriage with a strange man such as he? With a sudden breath, the greasy man dove for the maiden. The next instant, the man looked down at her, confused. The maiden grinned voluptuously up at her pursuer. "…Oh, s-so, this was your plan all along, then?…" The man chuckled in his gravely voice. "Don’t worry. I’ll be gentle." Then, he asked the maiden, "That’s right…what’s your name?" "…..Korin." Upon hearing this, the man cocked his head sideways. "Korin… Isn’t that the name the girl had yelled out in her sleep? That’s strange, never heard of someone screaming out her own name during a nightmare… Oh well, I won’t let something like that stop me." Unable to contain himself any longer, the man fell onto her. "Korin, dwarrrrrrrling!" He violently grabbed the collar of her kimono and ripped it open… then suddenly froze in shock. "What’s wrong? Come on, Mister, get on with it." Facing the girl (?) who was smiling innocently at him, the man spoke with a wavering voice. "Y…you’re a…" No matter how he looked at his prey’s bare chest, he could not bring himself to see it as "female". "Hmhmhm! Do you like your boys pretty?" "……Huh…?

"People like that always have THIS happen to them." With his right index finger, the young victim poked the man’s chest. "Waaaah!!" That instant, the large man’s body was flung several meters in the air. As his scream rang through the forest, he flew well behind the carriage’s tracks until he finally landed with a thud. "Jackass," said the girl (?) named Korin, with a stick of her (?) tongue. "Woops, it came up again…" Noticing the glowing red character on her (?) left breast, the girl (?) hastily closed up her kimono. "Hey, what’s the ruckus back there?" The driver of the carriage lifted up the cloth in the back. "Oh my, where’s the man that was with you?" "He got out." "He got out?? But he said he was going to Kutoh…" "He probably remembered something else he had to do." "People can be so reckless sometimes…" "I’ll say." The driver shook his head in disapproval. "Miss, you were headed for Yukigase Village, right? We’ll be there very soon." "Say, Mister, since it’s called "Yukigase Village", does it snow a lot there? I’ve still never even seen snow before."

The chilling northern breeze did bring tidings of winter, but there was no sign of snow. "Yes. There used to be a lot of snow around these parts…" "Ohhh, so it’s just a legend then…" After a moment of thought, the driver replied, "Now that you mention it…I heard something else about that… In that Village… there’s a certain custom they used to hold whenever it snowed…" "Hmmm." With a "woah", the carriage stopped. "Here we are, Miss." * At the bare fielded entrance to the Village, the boy dressed in woman’s clothing took in a deep breath. "I am Korin. No matter what happens…you and I will always be together." After Korin whispered that to herself, she smoothed her hair, straightened her collar, then began to walk. It wasn’t too difficult to find the farm where she was headed, as there were scarcely 100 houses in the tiny village. She slid the front door open. "Excuse me…" On the floor in the hallway sat a man weaving straw. The strong face of the man in his mid-thirties looked up at his visitor. "…Uncle? Uncle…Sonjun?" As the man nodded slowly, he took the staff that had been laid at his side, and limped on his left foot towards her.

"….Korin? Are you Korin?" "Yes!" With a cry of joy, Sonjun embraced her. "It’s been about six years, hasn’t it. I’m so glad you came. But what are you doing all the way out here…!" The man stared at Korin with popped-out eyes, as if he thought she were an illusion. "My parents said that Uncle Sonjun was probably lonely living by himself and that I should go visit him…" Hearing that, Sonjun let out a hearty laugh. "I see, I see. So I guess my home will be even more lively now!" Sonjun turned towards the back garden and called out, "Heeeeey! Fuyoh! Fuyoh! Come on out here. We’ve got company!" * The pot of stew surrounded by the three began to bubble. "Let me see here… Korin is my grandmother’s younger brother’s cousin’s daughter…is that right?" Hearing this, Fuyoh spoke up excitedly. "My, what a relation you two have!" "There was a time where I decided to do one last luxurious thing, so I went to see the capital. Since she was the only relation I had in Konan, I stayed at her house for a while…" Korin remembered that time well. It had been around the time when Sonjun had just hurt his right leg, but despite this, his

cheerful, friendly spirit had made him a favored playmate for the kids. When he left for Yukigase Village after having barely stayed a week, the children were in tears. But the one who had sobbed the most and had to be hugged and comforted by Sonjun, was the youngest sister… "But I’m sure honored you came all the way to this boring farmland." Fuyoh gazed at Korin with glittering eyes. "Didn’t something dangerous happen to you on the way over? I’ve never heard of such a pretty girl as you traveling alone…" "I was fine! I’ve studied some self defense…" as he said this, Korin struck a dramatic pose for the couple. It had taken a full days to travel from Eiyoh to this village close to the Kutoh border. Though his parents had provided him with plenty of money for the trip, it had been stolen the first day. He made it the rest of the way through hitch-hiking and begging for food and lodging, and taking whatever roads he could. He estimated about 20 men had tried to force themselves on him during the trip. And on each of these occasions, just as with the last man, Korin had used no such "self-defense", but had instead lightly "tapped" her attackers away. Remembering this made Korin’s shoulders shake with laughter. "But never mind that… Uncle Sonjun, since when did you have such a pretty wife?" Korin smiled at Sonjun with wild eyes. Sonjun had continued to live alone since he lost his parents, because after the accident, he was unable to court ladies. Korin remembered well how Sonjun used to have a lonely look in his eyes as he played with them.

"Hahahaha… I think we’ve been married nearly half a year… right?" "I proposed to him." Fuyoh said with a smile towards her husband. Though her body was clothed in a quaint farmer’s dress, she was still beautiful enough to turn all the eyes in any room towards her. "Welllll, I sure AM lucky to have such a pretty, young wife at my age… The other villagers still tease me about it." Sonjun scratched his head shyly. "But you see… she came to live with someone like me… where she would obviously have to work extra hard… so I really am grateful to her. There are some days where I still can’t believe it… Sometimes, I wonder if I’m dreaming." Sonjun was admonished. "How could you say that? You know I married you because I loved your gentle spirit. I never even considered the extra work." Fuyoh lightly wiped her eyes. "Oh…Oh, dear! It looks like I came at a bad time!" In order to revive the sinking mood of the scene, Korin raised his voice gaily.

"Don’t say that, Korin. Stay here as long as you want. Here’s an idea, until our baby gets here, Korin can be our practice-daughter. Sound good, Fuyoh?" "….Yes, it does…" Perhaps embarrassed about the subject, Fuyoh bit her lips and turned her red face towards her lap. "Well, tell us about the folks back home. Are they all well?" Sonjun asked Korin. "Yes…" "You had a quiet brother, if I remembered. Rokoh, right?…" "Yes, he’s doing well." "And then there was Ryuuen. Your strong brother who looked and acted a lot like you!" Korin stayed silent. "What’s the matter?" "Ryuuen…is dead. It happened six years ago, a little after you left. He got hit by a carriage…" The room hung with silence. "I see… What a shame to put such a sweet boy to waste…" "But my brother is still alive. He’s still…a part of me…". At those words from Korin, Sonjun and Fuyoh raised their heads from their bowed positions.

"Ummm, I’ll help out with the chores, or anything you want. Just tell me how I can help!" At Korin’s offer, Sonjun and Fuyoh glanced at each other. "Don’t say that. We couldn’t let a pretty, well-bread girl like you do our dirty chores." "Aw, pleeeease. I’m a pretty good cook, and I can even handle hard labor.." as he said this, Korin demonstrated his strength by lifting the nearby stove with no apparent effort. "Oh, my goodness!" Fuyoh and Sonjun’s eyes popped out at the sight. "That reminds me, your late-brother also seemed to be very strong." Korin gulped uncomfortably at Sonjun’s reference. He had been extra careful not to let anyone see the red mark on his chest. "Y-yes, that’s true! My whole family is pretty strong, really…" At Korin’s laughter, the couple calmed down again. "Well, dinner’s ready," Fuyoh said as she began to pile the contents of the pot onto their plates. "I’m sorry, but we only have vegetables. It might not be enough…" "Fuyoh hates killing other living beings… So we forbid meat in this house." Sonjun gave a loving glance towards his wife. "She’s a sweet girl, isn’t she?" "Oh, please stop it, dear…"

Amidst the flirting of the newly-weds, Korin spoke up cheerily. "Uh…I love vegetables. They’re good for your health and beauty anyway!" "That’s right! If you eat too much meat, it soils your blood. Your cholesterol levels rise, and your tummy gets bigger and bigger. It can seriously hinder your way of life!" "Yeah, she’s right, Uncle! If you wanna be a sexy man, you’d better keep yourself in top health and strength!" "My, Korin-chan, you say such fine things!" As she said this, Fuyoh grabbed Korin and squeezed him tightly. "….A, Aunty…stop it…" Korin’s body stiffened. "Oh, please don’t call me ‘Aunty’. Say, Sonjun, we seem more like sisters, don’t we?" "Now that you mention it, you do. Hahahaha," Sonjun squinted his eyes and laughed at the gay scene before him. "You can call me ‘Fuyoh’, okay Korin?" Fuyoh affectionately patted Korin’s head, unable to contain her joy. "…Yes, ma’am…" "I’ve got it. Let’s take a bath together later this evening. We’ll discuss all sorts of girl-stuff together." Korin’s heart made a loud thump. "Huh…? Yeah…but I…sorta…can’t…" "Now, now, Korin is in the middle of puberty. I imagine it would be a little embarrassing for her… Just leave her alone…"

Admonished by her husband, the excited young woman shied a little away from her distant relation. That night, it was warm in Yukigase Village. After dinner, Sonjun’s parlor rang with merry laughter until it was night. * After settling down on the bed in the room he was given to sleep in, Korin quietly closed his eyes. In his mind, he saw images of his older brother and parents seeing him off when he left the capital ten days ago. "Tell Sonjun we said hi…" his mother had said in a choked voice. "Listen. You are a chosen one. You should leave this city for a while until you figure out what you should do about it," his father had told him firmly. And then, his meek brother could only stare at him in concern and say one thing. "Take care… Ryuuen…" Ryuuen and Korin, only one year apart, had been as close as twin sisters. After his younger sister had encountered her unfortunate accidental death, Ryuuen, unable to accept the grim truth, had dressed himself in her kimono and begun to go by the name of "Korin". His parents and older brother had tried to come to grips with this, but their attempts were weak, as their hearts were swollen with sadness. However, after six years had passed and the boy had still not given up on his sister, his parents decided something must be done. The solution they arrived at was staying for a while in Yukigase Village. A special boy with a red symbol on his body.

When his parents saw the symbol on their baby, they used it in his name, "Ryuuen". Ryuuen’s symbol and his powers that accompanied it surprised those around him time and time again. "Isn’t he amazing! This boy is, you see, one of Suzaku’s seven warriors!" The owners of a successful clothing business were so proud of their special son. But from that fateful day forward, everything changed immediately. They not only worried about their son’s mental state, but how to explain to the neighbors. But Ryuuen was not unaware of his family’s hardships. That is why he had agreed to come here. "But…I won’t change. No matter where I go, I will always live together with Korin…" He once again repeated his steadfast vow to himself. Suddenly, Korin pulled himself out of bed and stared out the window with wide eyes. Seeing the faint flickering of something white flash in front of the thin moon, Korin dashed for the front door. * In front of the house, Sonjun and Fuyoh were snuggling together, staring up at the sky. "Look, Korin! It’s snowing. The first snow we’ve had in 100 years." "Wow! So this is snow, huh. How prettyyyyy…!" Watching Korin twirl around with both arms spread wide, Sonjun spoke with emotion, "This is the first time for us, too. After having

lived in a village with ‘snow’ in the name for so long, I finally get to see the real thing. After all, the only one in this village who has seen snow here is 103 years old…" Fuyoh stared up at the sky as her husband rested his arm around her. Then, it happened. From an unknown direction, and unknown voice sounded. "Wooooooo, woooooo" At the sound of the confusing man-like, beast-like voice, the three shared an anxious look. "Woooooo, woooooo" "I wonder what that is? It sounds like it’s coming from Goddess Peak…" as he said this, Sonjun pointed at a large rocky mountain in the distance. "Goddess Peak?" "Yes. It’s said that the goddess who protects this village calls us from that mountain…" "Ngh!…" When he said this, Fuyoh slapped a hand over her mouth and slid to her knees. "What’s the matter…? Are you okay?" "Yes…It’s nothing…" Fuyoh’s face was white as snow as Sonjun helped her off the ground. "…Um…could it possibly be that…this is…?"

As the fifteen year old girl said this, the thirty five year old man gasped and looked at his twenty three year old wife. "…Stop…you’re embarrassing me!…" Releasing hold of her husband’s hand, Fuyoh fled indoors. The remaining two exchanged glances again. Sonjun’s face filled with red. "Maybe I should go back to the capital, huh…" Sonjun grasped firmly on Korin’s shoulders when she said this. "I’ll have none of that! For starters, you said you were out of money! Hahaha! If that’s the case, then you’ll just have to stay with us forever. The more kids you have around, the more fun life is!" Then, Sonjun settled down and spoke seriously. "You see, she has no living relatives. When she wandered alone and starving into this village, I rescued her… Even now, she still won’t tell me about her past. She must have undergone some horrible trauma. She never even told me her real name…" When Korin said nothing, Sonjun continued. "So I took her name, Fuyoh, from the flowers that bloomed where I found her." Sonjun smiled when he said that. "As if she were repaying some debt she owed to the village, she worked very hard, and cared for children and the elderly… Even now, yes…it’s almost like she is the goddess protecting our village…" Sonjun gazed up at the heavens from which the little white angels were falling. "So I decided that I would make her happy. This means I’d better make her a warm and happy family." The shimmering, white snow fell more and more until it covered the village in blankets of white. With various feelings in their hearts, Sonjun and Korin beheld the pure and innocent whiteness.

Naturally, neither of them knew the truth. Neither of them knew that this white snow would soon be stained in red blood. The curtain of this heinous nightmare had just then been lifted… ----------

Chapter 2: Messenger from the Emperor

The ten or so centimeters of snow that had piled up on the ground from last night was glittering in the morning sun. The family happily enjoyed the scenery as they ate breakfast. "Fuyoh, you need to eat more," Sonjun said as he took the empty bowl from his preoccupied wife’s hand. "…Ah…I’m already full…" Korin made clicking noises with his tongue. "Oh, no you don’t. Aunty…er, I mean Fuyoh, you’re eating for two now!" "What are you saying, Korin? We’re still not sure that’s really true…" Fuyoh protested meekly. "We’ll get a doctor’s opinion once the snow lets up." Sonjun laid a gentle hand on Fuyoh’s shoulder. Since Yukigase Village had no doctor of its own, they would have to walk over the hills and rivers to be seen. "And in the meantime, we’ll just have to keep you healthy and well-fed." After he said this, Sonjun pulled an egg out of his pocket. "Mr. Bokujii from next door gave this to me. Starting today, you’ll no longer be a vegetarian." "…Sonjun…" Fuyoh opened her eyes wide as her husband cracked the egg into her bowl. "Eat it, Fuyoh." Fuyoh could only stare at the object in her bowl for a while. The hand holding the bowl was trembling slightly. The trembles grew in intensity and her breaths became irregular. "…Fuyoh…?!"

At Fuyoh’s confusing state, Korin and Sonjun exchanged glances. Fuyoh quickly brought the bowl to her lips and gulped the egg down. Then, wiping her mouth clean, she blew out a big breath. "Sonjun… Don’t worry about me anymore. Please…" She looked at her husband with unusually sad eyes. Just when Korin thought to himself how difficult it must be for a vegetarian to convert, the voice of someone announcing something could be heard from outside. "We’ve got a messenger from the Emperor! Apparently, he has important news for the village. Everyone should assemble immediately at the Chinju Courtyard!" The messenger’s voice rang out around the various farms. "What could that be about?…" Sonjun said as he cocked his head. "I’ll go see. Uncle Sonjun, you just stay with Fuyoh." Sonjun nodded at Korin’s suggestion. "All right, thanks. Give our regards to the other villagers." "Yes, sir!" Korin energetically bounded out of the house. * Korin dragged his feet through the snow as he made his way to the Chinju Courtyard. When he finally arrived, nearly 50 other villagers had gathered. At the center of them was a very regallooking carriage with a team of four horses. As if this had all been coordinated by a designer, the horses and their breaths were white to match the snow. Korin strained his neck to look beyond the crowds and to the carriage. Just when the curiosity of the villagers could contain

itself no longer, the door of the carriage opened, and an important, busy-looking man emerged. "My, my, but we are sure honored that you would make your way to such a humble village as ours." The 103-year-old man of whom Sonjun had spoken earlier inched his way up to the messenger with his cane. Although his appearance was quite ancient, his mind and speech were so clear, it was hard to believe he was 103. "And what business has brought you here?" the old-timer asked the messenger. Giving another apathetic and busy glance towards the villagers, the messenger finally opened his mouth. "We are making rounds all over Konan. …We do this, because…" After he paused to cough, he said, "To find the Emperor a bride." Upon hearing this, an excited murmur rang out from the crowd. "Saihitei will soon turn 17. He has grown to an age where it is imperative that he finds an Empress. So we have been traveling through all the villages and cities to collect the most beautiful girls of the land and…" "Is his Majesty in the carriage right now?!" The voice of an excited girl cut off the messenger’s speech. "Please…please let me speak to him!" The girl tried to peek into the carriage, but was harshly pulled back by the guards. At first, the messenger was annoyed. "How dare you be so rude!" …but then, after taking a good look at the girl’s face, he seemed to smile in satisfaction. "Hmmm, at first, I thought this village would be another disappointment, but it looks like we do have potential here…"

"Never mind that, just let me see His Majesty!" The 14-year-old girl glared up at the messenger fearlessly. Although she was obviously poor and dirty, her flawless, young features glimmered with beauty. She also held a bluish-purplish ball tightly in her hand. The messenger spoke calmly to the girl who was struggling to move forward. "His Majesty is in the palace." "…Huh?!" As if all the strength had been drained out of her, the girl’s shoulders sank. Giving her a sideways glance, the messenger continued his announcement. "We will chose one maiden from this village to join the harem. And to that maiden’s family, we will bestow rich compensation. And then, if she is chosen to be his bride, and if she gives birth to a son to take over the throne, we will supply this village with endless riches." The murmurs of the crowd immediately grew in intensity. "Mr. Messenger, Sir! Please take my beautiful granddaughter, Aiai to join the harem!" The speaker turned out to be an ugly, aged man, dragging his piglet of a granddaughter up to the messenger. The crowd exploded with laughter. "What’s so funny!" After yelling at the snickering villagers, the old man turned towards the messenger and clasped his hands together. "Now, Sir, surely you can see that with a little dieting, this girl could become the finest beauty of all." "Not so fast!" Along with that cry of protest emerged another old man. Attached to his hand was a girl with unruly curls, and a face full of spots. "Mr. Messenger, Sir! By all means, take my lovely

little Rinrin to join the harem. Look? She’s cute and red-headed just like Annie! I guarantee you, His Majesty will adore her…" Pushing the current two old men out of the way, several more men came before the messenger. "Mr. Messenger, Sir! Take a good look at my granddaughter’s large hips and breasts. I can promise you she will be an excellent mother for our future Emperor." "Mr. Messenger, Sir! My granddaughter bears such a unique face, it’s hard to forget. I’m sure the trend for the next decade will be individuality!" "Mr. Messenger Sir, my granddaughter is a…" Unable to tolerate the pushy old men and their ugly granddaughters surrounding him, the messenger yelled out. "Enough, enough!! I did not come here to take away the girl today!" That comment calmed the crowd a little. "I will return to this village again, after you have chosen a few finalists for me. Then, I will chose the best maiden." The messenger gave the practically slobbering old men around him a scornful look. "But what a strange village this is. I understand you might want money, but wouldn’t most grandfathers want to keep their offspring with them at home?" At that remark, the grandfathers looked at each other with challenging glances. "Hmph. You needn’t worry about your granddaughter. She’ll never be chosen," one of the old men murmured to another.

"What did you saaaay?! The ugliest girl in the village belongs to you!" A grandpa-battle ensued. "Just knock it off, will ya?! You ought to be ashamed!" With the fierce tap of a staff on the snow-covered earth, the old men halted their squabbling. On the one again quiet scene, the messenger gave an exasperated sigh. "What in the world is wrong with you people… I don’t understand." "I apologize, Sir. They each have their own reasons…" The oldest man tried to explain. While shaking his head tiredly, the messenger continued. "Anyway, we wish to take the most beautiful maiden of this village back to the palace with us. That is all." "…We understand, Sir." "However, if any of the maidens you bring before me to chose from do not meet the standards of us…" Saying this, he paused and glanced at the old men with their ugly daughters. "…We will withdraw our offer." A sudden look of fear spread through the faces of the men this time. "And when shall we expect your return?" After a few moments of thought over the oldest man’s question, the messenger answered. "Hmmm. Probably one week from now." *

After a few moments of silence after the messenger’s carriage rushed off into the distance, the villagers slowly peeled away from the crowd. Amidst the excitement from their first snow in 100 years, and the visitor from the capital, none of them seemed to notice their visitor, Korin. But Korin wondered why those old men had made such a fuss about sending their granddaughters off. It seemed to him that they didn’t necessarily want their granddaughters to join the harem… they just wanted their granddaughters out of that village. Pondering all these mysteries, Korin stood still at the courtyard. Then, something came tumbling Korin’s way over the white snow. It was a violet-colored ball. Taking it into his hands, he slowly walked towards its owner. "Here…this belongs to you, doesn’t it?" The girl, still sulking from not having been able to meet the Emperor, suddenly returned to reality and snatched the ball from Korin with a gasp. "Who…are you…?" She suspiciously eyed the new girl. "I’m Korin. I came to Sonjun’s house last night to visit." "You mean with Fuyou…?" "Yes." The girl gave Korin a good stare. "Hmmmm. So, where’d you come from?" "Eiyoh." "Whaaaat?! From the capital?!"

Saying this, the girl grabbed Korin by the shoulders and shook him violently. "Then, have you met the Emperor? Do you know what he’s doing now? How is he? Tell me, tell me!" "Hey…not so fast," Korin spoke, trying to soothe her. "Listen, even I have never met the Emperor before. Just because I live in the capital doesn’t mean I, or any of the other villagers, have anything to do with Saihitei." The girl stared silently in disappointment. "Listen, you, are you some sort of crazed Emperor-freak? I guess they are out there. Well, that’s not surprising, since I hear from the rumors that Saihitei is so beautiful it’s a shame he isn’t a woman." SLAP! "Eep! What was that for?!" The girl glared at Korin and spoke sternly. "The Emperor and I are fated to be together! So don’t speak so lightly of my love for him!" Korin was dumbfounded. Not only were the old men desperate, but this girl held a violent desire to leave this village. "Heeeeey, Byakuren!" While tromping through the crunchy snow, a boy quickly made his way to the two. "Tenbun!" The girl who was called "Byakuren" smiled warmly and called the boy’s name. "How’s Mom doing?" "She’s much better now." "Oh. What a reliiiiief."

Upon closer examination, these two bore similar features. They must be brother and sister, one year apart Korin thought to himself, then instantly felt a pang of pain in his heart. When he finally approached Byakuren’s side, the boy called "Tenbun" gave Korin a surprised look. "Byakuren, who’s this…?" "Oh, she’s come from Eiyoh to visit with Fuyoh and Sonjun. Her name is Korean… or, I mean Korin?" "Um…excuuuuuse me!" Korin, exasperated by Byakuren’s rudeness, glared at her. "…Oh. Nice to meet you…" Tenbun said shyly as he bowed. Just as his little sister, who was found beautiful in the eyes of the messenger, Tenbun was also quite good-looking. And to top off his beauty, unlike his sister, he was very nice and cordial. Korin smiled sweetly and bowed back. "Well, what did that messenger from the capital want?…" Tenbun asked his sister. Ignoring his question, Byakuren dropped her gaze to her violet ball and spoke. "Say, am I prettier than Aiai?" "Huhhhh? Why the sudden…" "Never mind why, just answer." "Well, I suppose… I can’t really say since we’re related, but I’m sure everyone thinks you’re prettier…" "…Correct." Byakuren nodded. "Then am I prettier than Rinrin?" "…Well, yes, I guess if I were to ask anyone that…you would be prettier…"

"…Correct." Then, Byakuren proceeded to list through the names of all the young virgins of the village. "Byakuren… What’s gotten into you? I assure you, you are the prettiest…" "Then what about her?" Byakuren shot a pointed finger at Korin. "Huh?!" a startled Tenbun looked at Korin. "Well, what about her? Which one of us is prettier?" Tenbun nervously backed away from his prying sister. "I can’t answer that question here…" "Awww… Brother??" Byakuren tugged on her brother’s face and brought it down to her level. "You don’t mean…" Saying this, Byakuren’s eyes shot like bullets towards Korin. "Saaaay, you’re just coming to this village for a short visit, aren’t you." "…Yes, for the time being…" "Then it’s decided." Sticking out her chest proudly, she faced her brother. "Brother, I will go to the palace. And then I will marry the Emperor!" After Byakuren told Tenbun the story of the messenger’s visit about Saihitei, he folded his arms in thought. "I guess so… But you shouldn’t get your hopes up. Just because you’re joining the harem doesn’t mean you’ll become his Empress."

"How can you say that? The Emperor and I are…" her gaze dropped slightly to her violet ball, but then was raised up fiercely. "I’m just sick of living such a poor peasant life anymore!! I want to live in the capital like we used to!!" "Huhhhhh?!" Korin’s eyes were round with curiosity. "Did your family used to live in the capital?" "Only until our business failed and Father died, leaving behind a debt. We ran away in the middle of the night and came here to hide; just the three of us…" Tenbun told him sadly. "Ohhhh…I had no idea." Korin once again took a good look at the siblings. He now knew why these two looked and acted slightly different from the other members of the village. Byakuren tightly clenched her fist. "Brother, I will never get this sort of opportunity again." Tenbun murmured quietly, "…If that’s really what you want…" The harem, eh… Korin thought to himself as he watched the siblings talk. There was sure to be days of fierce battle between the maidens of this village to join the harem…Just thinking about this made Korin exhausted. Then, the crunching sound of snow grew louder and louder. Glancing in the direction of the sound, the party could see someone riding towards them on a goat. Byakuren made a sour face. "Awww, just who I don’t wanna see…" "Who is that?" "The daughter…if you were… of the head of this village. Tamatama."

"Tamatamaaaaa?" Korin asked with squinted eyes as the person got off the goat and sauntered over to the trio. "Oh, myyyy, good morning everyone." Tamatama was around 20 years old and the rich, elaborate kimono showed high status in the village. Bright flowered decorated the kimono. Long hair was brought up into a beautiful style. Heavy, elaborate makeup was worn… At first glance, one would assume this character was a young maiden, however… "I hear a messenger from the capital came to chose a woman for the haremmmm? Oh, heavens, I surely hope I’m not chosen to join!" The character’s speech-pattern was also quite feminine and beautiful, however… "Don't worry. I don’t think they let homosexuals into the harem." With a "Awww, Byakuren, you meanie", Tamatama excitedly flailed his brawny body about, but suddenly calmed himself and turned his thickly made-up face to the crowd. "Hey, I tried wearing light makeup today. What do you think?" Byakuren and Tenbun quickly averted their eyes from the grotesque site of Tamatama’s eyes coated heavily in black. "Hey, who in the world is this girl?" Tamatama then asked, pointing a finger at Korin as if he were a beast. "Saaaay, Tenbun, you’re coming to my birthday party today, aren’t’chaaaa? I told Daddy I’d introduce you." Byakuren swiftly stepped in between her brother and his pursuer. "Just stop flirting mindlessly with my brother already, Tamatama!"

"Flirting mindlessly, you say? Awwww, try not to misunderstand, dear. I seriously want Tenbun to court me properly." "I don't believe this! Hey, Tenbun, let’s settle this once and for all. Tell him you’re not interested in marrying a male transvestite!" Sandwiched violently between the two girls (?), Tenbun could only stare down at the ground meekly. "Listen, Byakuren, when it comes to love, no one decides what’s ‘supposed to be’," Tamatama told Byakuren sternly, then turned to her brother. "Tenbun, do you have anyone else in mind? Last time I asked, you said you weren’t in love with anyone. And you also said you thought I was a nice person." "Eew! Did you actually say that, Brother?!" This time, Byakuren tugged her Tenbun to her. "….Tamatama…" Tenbun finally spoke up timidly. "I’m sorry… I can’t go to your birthday party…" Hearing this, Tamatama gave an over-dramatic reaction of disappointment. "…Because… I do have…someone in mind…" "Huhhhh?!" This time it was Byakuren who cupped both hands to her mouth in horror. Tenbun, his face bright red, turned and dashed away. Barely a second after, gazes from Byakuren and Tamatama both fell on Korin. "…Wh-what is it?…" Byakuren’s shoulders were heaving up and down in fury. Tamatama was glaring at him with a demonic frown.

"This’s unforgivable! Coming to our village out of nowhere and stealing my brother away from me!" "Hey…wait a minute, who ever said anything about steal…" "Listen, Tenbun belongs only to me! No matter how many girls of the village tried to catch his attention, he’s always remained loyal to his sister, Me. He’s so popular even this drag-queen likes him! But you see, he’s never fallen for a girl ever before!" "Hey! I object to the term ‘drag-queen’," Tamatama told Byakuren with a sharp glare. "Aw, shut up!" Pushing Tamatama away, Byakuren brought herself level with Korin’s nose. "I’m not going to let you have him. I won’t be defeated by the likes of you!" Korin stayed silent for a while. Then, he suddenly snickered through his nose. "Byakuren, it seems as though you really dislike me…" There was no response. "Well that’s a coincidence, seeing as how I’m not too fond of you either. Well, I like your suggestion. As long as you’re going to babble on mindlessly about not being defeated by me, I think I might as well take up your challenge." Tamatama’s voice rang out in protest. "Don’t worry. I won’t take Tenbun away from either of you," saying this to Tamatama, he then faced Byakuran again. "I will stay in this village for a while longer. And I’ll join in the contest to join Saihitei’s harem."

"What did you saaaaay?!" Korin spoke coolly to the wide-eyed Byakuren. "If it’s such a dispute, let’s have the messenger from the capital decide which of us is prettier!" ---------Notes: Tamatama speaks in the Kansai dialect (the same as Tasuki). Tamatama’s name means something along the lines of "round jewels", but it is also slang for "testicles" ^_^; …………..

Chapter 3: The Way of a Transvestite Two days later.

Taking three eggs down in one gulp, Fuyoh smiled at her husband. "…They’re delicious…" "I told you so. Come, eat this too." Sonjun scooped something out of the pot, placed it in a bowl and handed it to his wife. "What…is this?" "It’s chicken. I cut it up into little pieces, so you’re okay with it, right?" Fuyoh only stared blankly at the bowl below her for a while, then suddenly began to chomp on the meat. Sonjun, watching from her side, nodded in approval. "I don’t think we even need to see a doctor to be sure. With that appetite, it’s pretty clear you’re pregnant." Then, Sonjun asked Korin, "By the way, are you really going to go through with the competition to join the harem?" The news had spread like a disease and villagers had been popping in quite often to take a look at this "new beautiful girl". "…I guess things kinda got out of hand…" Korin scratched his cheek as he let out a sigh. "But I got to visit with you, and Fuyoh is going to have a baby, so I guess I’ll be getting back to the capital soon. But, you know, if I’m chosen to be in the harem, I’ll get a free ride back. Don’t worry, I’ll jump off the wagon before I get to the palace! There’s no way I’m joining the harem!" "My, Korin you silly…" Fuyoh laughed affectionately at him. "But I guess this all depends on if I’m chosen or not," Korin laughed sheepishly as he stuck out his tongue.

"Don’t worry. I’m certain you’ll be chosen. Byakuren is very pretty, but she is still immature. You know she is very attached to her ‘Darling Brother’," Fuyoh assured Korin. "That’s probably because she and Tenbun have been taking care of their sick mother all this time. Their bond is much deeper than the one most siblings share." "I guess so… But even if Byakuren is chosen, I’m not sure she will be able to leave her brother when the time comes." Korin nodded firmly at Fuyoh’s hypothesis. "So, you see? …That’s why I think Korin should be chosen." Sonjun added to that thought. "Anyway, I think you should be getting on home soon. There’s been talk the past couple days about some bad luck from the past coming back to haunt us." "Bad luck from the past?" "Yes. And I wouldn’t want you to get tangled up in it. I wouldn’t know what to say to your parents." "Awww, please! I’ll be fine! Ya know, I’ve practiced self-defense!" Korin laughed as he posed mightily. Sonjun cut in, "Never mind, just go home!" "Uncle…" "You will be chosen for the harem!" "…Fuyoh…" Korin stared dumbfounded at the suddenly earnest faces of the couple. *

The next day, Korin walked the snow-covered streets of the village with a tired frown on his face. On the path just ahead of him stood a house that looked much different from the others of the village. "Korinnnnnnn! Morning-Morninnnng!" Someone called to Korin cheerfully from one of the windows. It was Tamatama. "What’s the matter, dear? You’re all soaked…" Tamatama had taken Korin into his room and wrapped his damp body in a large cloth. "This is perfect harassment, isn’t it…" Korin then went on to explain that before coming to Tamatama’s house, he had been pelted with snowballs from girls under Byakuren’s command. "Ahahahaha! Looks like you’ve got it tough, girl. But I suppose it can’t be helped. You got yourself into this mess. Since you stole Tenbun’s heart in a flash, you’ve become the number one enemy of all the girls in the village. Well, I suppose they would behave, though, if it weren’t for Byakuren." Tamatama smirked. "Fear not. I won’t ever stoop to such nonsense." Realizing that this strange gay transvestite was his only friend in this village, Korin let out an odd laugh. After the incident at the Chinju Courtyard with Tenbun, Tamatama had dragged him home as the only guest at his birthday party and had introduced Korin to his father as his "bestest-friend".

"But when you told Byakuren that you’d try and join the harem, I felt realllllly relieved," Tamatama said as he poured Korin some jasmine tea. "Yes, but…I’m a bit tired…" Korin pulled a bunch of papers out of his robe. "What’s that?" Tamatama took the papers in his hands and his voice trembled in confused anger as he read the sentences one by one. "Outsiders go home? You are the ugliest girl in the village? You man-killer?" "They throw those at my room every day. What a nuisance…" "Well, Byakuren is still just a child. We must forgive her… Hmmm?" Tamatama’s gaze fell on the last piece of paper. Noticing this piece, Korin asked, "Say, you notice the handwriting on just this piece of paper is different, right? And what do you think it means anyway?" Tamatama stared at it silently. "Say, Tamatama, ‘I hope Yukiyasha eats you up’… What does that mean?" Tamatama crumpled up the paper and laughed irregularly. "Geeee, I wonder myself! I don’t get it at all. Well, don’t worry about it." Korin let his head fall back and sighed. "I just feel like this has all become so ridiculous." Korin suddenly returned a flirtatious glance to Tamatama, who was staring blankly at him. "Hmhmhm. Maybe I should give that little sissy Byakuren another scare…" Imagining the scene, Korin let out another deep chuckle.

"What are you talking about" "Hmhmhm…" Korin grinned wickedly at Tamatama. "What I’m talking about is, well you see, the truth is… hmhm… I. Am. Actually. A…" Tamatama clamped a swift hand over Korin’s mouth. "Don’t finish that sentence!" Tamatama removed his hand and shifted his body away from Korin. "Tamatama…?" Korin tilted his head in confusion. While showing his broad back to Korin, Tamatama whispered, "Once you’ve made that decision, you’d better carry it out to the end…" Korin gave him a puzzled look. "If you’re doing what you’re doing ‘just for fun’, I won’t forgive you…" "…Tamatama…" Korin opened his mouth slightly. "…Did you think I couldn’t tell? …It takes one to know one." "…You’re…lying…" Tamatama whirled around, faced Korin, and grabbed his kimono. "Understand?! The Way of a Transvestite is a straight and narrow path!" Before Korin could let out a yelp, Tamatama tugged down on his kimono. When Tamatama saw the young man’s chest, he let out a cry of alarm. "What’s that red symbol on your chest…?"

* After smashing the final meat bun into his mouth, while chewing, Tamatama spoke. 55 "Hmmm. So that’s what happened… I guess we all have our dark pasts," he said after he had heard Korin’s story. Then he said awkwardly, "You can let me down now." Korin, who had been holding Tamatama’s gigantic body in the air with a mere index finger, carefully lowered it to the ground. "But to think you were not only a super-strong transvestite, but a Suzaku warrior as well! You’re quite a desirable character, I think." "Aw, cut it out. I don’t feel like a warrior at all. I don’t want to be one, either…" "Well, if that’s the way you feel, then at least try and do well with the transvestite-side of you," Tamatama said with a relaxed sigh. "Ahhh, I sure am glad I have a Southern accent. If I didn’t, the readers might mix us up since we’re both beautiful transvestites." Korin, whose body had been stiff during this comment, suddenly stood tall. "Stop calling me a transvestite all the time. I’m only doing this so I can stay with my sister forever!" Tamatama let out a snort. "Yeah, but if you really want to live with your sister forever, then how do you expect to be successful if another transvestite like me can see through your disguise?!" "You’re so incredibly vulnerable. If ya let your guard down for just an instant, everyone will find you out. It makes me irritated to think this’ll happen when I’m around."

You’re the last person I’d like that advice from… Korin thought to himself. "Why’re you looking at me like that? Lemme tell ya, dear, I’m saying this to you as a friend!" "…I see… a friend." "What’s with the sarcastic tone?," Tamatama asked in exasperation. "Well fine, then. Just tell everyone. Tell them all you’re actually a man." That made Korin think. Everyone would probably be shocked. But I know Sonjun and Fuyoh would understand me if I told them the whole story. And how liberating it would feel to be rid of Byakuren’s harassment. I don’t need to worry about getting a ride back home. I can just hitch-hike like I did last time… "And if you tell everyone you’re a man…" This time, Tamatama spoke with an unusually serious face. "Then I’ll forget about Tenbun and chose you instead." Hearing this, Korin burst out laughing. "mata…mataa… Tamatama…! Stop joking with a straight face!" "Listen, we all realize that I, Tamatama do have tamatama [testicles]." Tamatama gave his crotch a firm squeeze from over his clothes. "But my heart it one hundred percent female. This means I only fall for males." Silence. "And you are my ideal type of man." "…D, don’t say that…"

"Well, what do you chose? Male or female?" Saying this, Tamatama raised the hem of his robe and stomped his hairy leg firmly on the floor. "Just spit it out one way or the other!!" Korin’s spine tingled from Tamatama’s voice. "A…A…A…..A… female!" Tamatama grinned. "I seeeee. In that case, we’ll just stay friends, I suppooooose," Tamatama told the nervous Korin with a wink. His gaze then fell on his bare leg. "I’d better tend to my hairs now. Aww, how embarrassing!" "Come visit again sometime. Oh, wait a minute…" Tamatama went off through the kitchen to answer a visitor at the door. Korin could faintly hear the voices of Tamatama’s father and the oldest man of the village talking by the doorway. "Are you sure this is true, sir?" "Yes, it is… The curse has come back to haunt us after 100 years of silence…" Curse…? Korin strained his ears further. "This is a very unfortunate thing, but if we ignore it, our fate will be even worse…" "Well, do the other villagers know about this already?" The old man hummed thoughtfully. "All the older ones probably remember it… And the rumors have probably spread by now. But I’d like to keep this secret from the maidens of the village as long as possible…" The old man’s gravely voice continued. "Never fear, we needn’t make a decision until the next full moon. We would appreciate your attendance at the next meeting of the elders…"

"Yes… So… we would probably chose Ko’s daughter Byakuren, right?…" "This is sadly ironic as we have the harem contest going at the same time. We can only hope the messenger from the capital comes before the full moon…" "That’s right, sir, I just remembered. Apparently, the young girl staying with Sonjun also wants to join the harem." He then lowered his voice. "She’s named ‘Korin’, and she gets along very well with my Tamatama. She’s over right now visiting. It seems we have yet another complication on our hands…" "Hmmm. So it will come down to those two girls. Heaven or Hell… But we can’t avoid our fate." When Tamatama came into view by the door, Korin quickly whisked himself out of sight. * Refusing Tamatama’s offer of an escort back to his uncle’s, Korin set off alone. He crunched through the silvery snow with his arms crossed as small flakes blew around him. "Ah!…" Catching his foot, he toppled over into the snow drift. "Son of a bitch…" Korin swiftly hushed himself in embarrassment of the male-like speech coming from his mouth. He then noticed a presence next to him and nervously looked up. "Are you okay?" "…Uh, yes. I’m fine, Tenbun." As he gently helped Korin off the ground, Tenbun smiled nervously. "When I went to call on you, your relatives said you had

disappeared and that they were worried about you. Fuyoh suggested you’d be at Tamatama’s house, so I came this way looking for you." "Oh…Yes, that’s right…" "Well you see, actually…I…wanted to talk…" Instead of letting go of Korin’s hand, Tenbun squeezed it tightly and stared deeply into Korin’s eyes. Korin’s body stiffened. That’s right. I may have gotten rid of Tamatama, but I still had this guy to worry about. Since everyone back at the capital knew who I really was, no men ever came on to me, but things are different here. Korin put a hand to his cheek. "…Tenbun…." Korin squeezed Tenbun’s hand and smiled flirtatiously. "Ya knowww, back at the capital, I’ve had boyfriends and lovers of all ages. So ya knowww, it’s like I’m completely surrounded by men…got it?" Tenbun stared back at Korin. "…I see…" "Y-yes, it’s truuue. So you shouldn’t get involved with a dirty girl like me or you’ll get in trouble. Ahaha." "…Korin…" Before Tebun could get the words out, he was pushed away from Korin. "Byakuren!" The brother-obsessed girl stood squarely in front of Korin. "Hey, you! Just stop tempting my brother like that!"

Korin grabbed the open-hand which was headed for her cheek and with his free hand, poked Byakuren on the shoulder. "Owwww!" Though Korin had intended to tap her lightly, Byakuren’s body flew away and rolled into the snow. "Wha, what was that for!" "Oh dear, I’m sorry." Korin stuck his tongue out. "This is just in return for all the favors you’ve been doing me the past few days." While clutching her aching bottom, Byakuren glared at Korin silently. "Say, why don’t’cha try competing more fairly with me? Oh, I get it. You must not think you can win fairly, so that’s why you’ve resorted to such pranks." "What did you saaaaay?!" Tenbun anxiously inched his way in between the two girls, trying to stop their flying sparks. "Korin… Please go back to the capital…" "…Huhhh?" Korin frowned at Tenbun’s words, but Byakuren spoke angrily. "Brother, you don’t need to worry about that." "Byakuren, that’s not what I mean…" "Never mind, Brother, you just stay out of this." Pushing her brother out of the way, Byakuren faced Korin again. "Fine. I’ll do it your way. So please stay here. Let’s settle once and for all which of us is better."

"…Byakuren!" Tenbun tried to restrain Byakuren, but she held him back. "Brother, I promise, I will become the emperor’s wife. And when I do, I’ll send over for you and Mom right away. …Before Korin can get to you, that is!" To the angry girl with flushed cheeks declaring war to him, Korin murmured,

"I will stay in this village, but not because you asked me to. … There’s still a lot of things I want to investigate around here." As if another mission had entered Korin’s mind, he narrowed his big eyes firmly. There was a black shadow a few paces away that watched this scene. It watched silently for a while, then ground its sharp teeth together and bounded away into the distance faster than the wind. ---------Chapter 4: The Smell of Blood

The man clutched his body in desperation and writhed on the floor of an old shack which stood on the outskirts of the village. The snow was flickering down steadily outside. Though the man was native to the north and was used to the cold snow, there was little he could do to satisfy his empty stomach. "Nnnnnngh…" The man whimpered like a dog. "Meat…Human… meat…must eat…" The man had not eaten anything in five days now. Due to the cold, the villagers had stayed indoors and not one had walked alone down his way. This might have been because villagers might have spotted him prowling around earlier, searching for his prey. If he encountered one man, he had confidence he could defeat him, but if two or more villagers came upon him, he knew in his weakened condition that his life would be in danger. Just the other day, he had witnessed two beautiful young maidens and a boy engaged in some sort of argument. But unfortunately, he was unable to make a move. This man had escaped his former place of employment - a freak show at a circus - and had retreated to Yukigase Village. When he stood at the peak of the highest mountain overlooking this village, snow had begun to fall softly on his head. Reminded of his homeland in the north, the man’s body was filled with a nostalgic hunger. I am free now. Never more need I be chained and shown to herds of laughing humans… Now it is my turn to laugh at you. I will drink your blood and rip your flesh to pieces. Yes, especially the flesh of your young, beautiful maidens…

The man let out a howl. It was then that he felt it. He felt the presence of someone else…carrying the same blood as his… The man took a sudden interest in this village. Not only that, but there was something else very important which was holding him to this village. He had overheard the whispered conversation of a couple villagers as they passed by his hut. Their conversation couldn’t have been more ideal. All he must do is wait until the next full moon. Then he will be able to eat all the beautiful young maidens he wants.

The man swallowed a mouthful of saliva and looked out the window of his hut, where he could see the snow falling. He was unable to see when the next full moon would arrive… The man ran anxious fingers through his hair. His stomach was so empty he felt he might lose his mind. He was so hungry that even the tough horse meat he was fed at the circus sounded like a banquet to him. "Nnnngh… woooooo…." From his throat emerged an eerie moan that was half man, half beast. The man’s body began to transform. His back twisted, and hair began to grow on his face, legs, and

arms. The chains which still remained on his body made clinking noises around his arms and waist. With one hairy arm, the man pounded on the door to the hut and ran outside. The man had never been called by name by anyone. The only record of his name to the public ever since he was a young boy in the circus was a little sign beneath his cage that read, "Wolf-Man". However, before his mother had died, the man remembered her clearly, calling his name. He didn’t understand why she had called him what she did. Perhaps she had created the name from the glowing blue symbol on the right side of his lower back? His mother had called him "Ashitare". * "Ahhhhhhh!" Hearing the screaming voice, Korin jumped up and hastily ran out to the front. He found Sonjun holding the nearly unconscious Fuyoh. "What happened?!" Sonjun silently pointed his finger at the neighboring house. The chicken coop belonging to their neighbor had been destroyed and all ten or so birds were missing. What remained was a few scattered feathers, along with dismembered feet, beaks, and bones. The snow on the ground was stained in blood. There was no mistaking this: someone had broken into the coop last night and had devoured all the chickens on the spot. The neighbor, who had rushed out when he heard Fuyoh’s scream, only stood dumbly and stared at the mess.

"…Ngh!…" From inside Sonjun’s arms, Fuyou clutched her mouth painfully. "Let’s go home…" Sonjun said as he gently leaded his wife away. After setting his wife down in bed, Sonjun walked into the living room. "Is Fuyoh okay?" "Yeah… She just wants to be left alone right now." Sonjun looked worried. "Let’s eat breakfast…" The two sat down to some porridge that Fuyoh had made earlier that morning. Sonjun smiled at Korin grimly. "I’m sorry you had to see that…" "That’s all right…" Korin said as he shook his head. "I wonder if it was the dirty work of that mysterious intruder of which the council spoke?" "Could be…" Sonjun spoke vaguely. According to witnesses, this "mysterious intruder" was clothed in tattered garments and seemed to yearn strongly for something. That was all that was known. But what had happened last night could not have been the work of a human… A human could not eat ten raw chickens in one sitting… Is the answer to this puzzle possibly… Sonjun suddenly shook his head. "Say, what’s this legend everyone keeps talking about?"

Interrupted from his thoughts by Korin, Sonjun uncomfortably choked on his porridge. "Le…legend, you say…?" "Before I came here, someone told me this village had a legend to do with snow…" "B-but we have no such legend," Sonjun said with a laugh, but it was obvious he was hiding something. "Then can you tell me what Yukiyasha is?" "Bwaaaaa!" This time, Sonjun really choked on his porridge and his eyes blacked out. "Uncle, are you okay?" After a few pats on the back from Korin, Sonjun finally regained his senses. "Yukiyashaaaa? G-gee, I wonder? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that." Again, Sonjun let out an unconvincing laugh. "Listen, Korin. From now on, you are never to go outside alone." "…Yes, sir…" "And also, I’m embarrassed to say this, but…" Sonjun faced the ground and continued. "We don’t have enough money to send you back home… So the only way we have for you to leave is to be chosen for the emperor’s harem…" "Uncle… That’s okay. Don't worry about me… I don’t need money." "I can’t let you say that!" Despite the super-human strength, Sonjun still thought of Korin as his weak, innocent little niece. "I’m almost certain it will come down to either you or Byakuren…"

Korin did not respond. "But if you are chosen, Byakuren will… Well… she won’t be…so lucky…" Sonjun cut off and held his face painfully. "But I must get you home safely… I just don’t know what to do…" Korin stared silently at the depressed man. * Later that evening… Sonjun spoke to his pale-faced wife as she lay on the bed. "Why did Korin have to come visit us at a time like this…" "You’re right… Her timing couldn’t have been worse…" Fuyoh’s tone dropped. "But I wonder if the Yukiyasha legend really is true?… I still don’t believe it." "Me neither, Sonjun. That was supposed to have stopped 100 years ago, right?" "Yes. I hadn’t even heard the story until the council head told me a few days ago." "On the night of the first snow, if you should hear Yukiyasha’s voice roaring from Goddess Peak, you must find the most beautiful virgin of the village and sacrifice her to Yukiyasha by the next full moon… That’s awful…" "And if we don’t appease Yukiyasha, horrible misfortune will befall our village…"

The couple exchanged sighs. The only link the village had to this 100 year old legend was the 103-year-old man who was still living. According to his testimony… Just as the village was named from "snow", it used to snow heavily every winter. A monster named "Yukiyasha" lived on Goddess Peak on the outskirts of the village. On the night of the first snow long ago, Yasha cried out to the villagers, and days later, violent blizzards destroyed many homes and lives. In order to calm her wrath, the villagers offered their chief as a living sacrifice to her. But Yasha’s fury remained and the following year, the village suffered an extreme famine. The sacrifice must be female. When this was discovered, the following year, their oldest and wisest woman was brought to Goddess Peak. That year, a plague struck the village, killing nearly half of its inhabitants. They then concluded…the female must be young and beautiful. And if this girl was not brought to Yasha by the full moon, pestilence would befall the village. However, if a suitable sacrifice was brought to her, their village would enjoy a year of wealth and prosperity. Every two to three years, Yasha would demand a sacrifice. Occasionally, families with beautiful daughters would send them off to other villages in secret. However, it was those families that met with the most misfortune of all. All the villagers could do is take their crying, beautiful daughters solemnly up to Goddess Peak for Yasha to devour… However, one hundred years ago, this practice had suddenly ceased, and their village had been peaceful. Before long, knowledge of the legend also slipped away. The true identity of the goddess who protected their village from Goddess Peak was also forgotten…

Releasing his ear from Fuyoh’s and Sonjun’s sleeping quarters, Korin let out a sigh. "I see. So that’s what’s going on…" Korin murmured to himself and folded his arms. The couple continued to talk. "Say, Sonjun, why don’t you return to the capital with Korin? I’m sure she’ll be safe if you’re with her." "How can you suggest that?… I can’t just leave you by yourself." "I’ll be okay… But if Korin has to stay in this village much longer… I’m worried she might…" Fuyoh lost her breath. "I won’t have that… Korin is family, isn’t she?!" Sonjun nodded with his eyes still on the ground. "Even if it should come down to that…" Sonjun took his wife’s hand. "Don’t worry. I won’t let Yasha have Korin." "….Sonjun…" Hearing Fuyoh’s teary voice, Korin quietly left that place. * The next day, the chicken coop three houses down was attacked. Then the day after that, the chicken coop belonging to the 99-year old’s house was destroyed. And then, today, Tamatama’s beloved method of transportation, his mountain goat, became a sacrifice. The red blood of the victims of this mysterious beast began to stain the pure white village with red. Korin was forbidden to leave the house, but later that night, he slipped out his bedroom window. From the house next door, he could hear several men’s voices discussing something. Korin inched up closer to the wall and peeked through a crack in the window.

"This must be the work of Yukiyasha…" "You’re saying the one who messed everything up is Yukiyasha?…" "Yes, I am… Don’t you think she’d be hungry after 100 years of sleep?" "So you’re saying… that she can’t even wait until the full moon?" came Sonjun’s uneasy voice. "Unless we present a sacrifice to her soon, our village might be in danger…" At that comment, Sonjun’s tone changed dramatically. "Wait just a minute! The messenger from the capital is coming any day, right…?!" "Sonjun…I understand how you feel, but…" The man stared at Sonjun and said, "No matter what happens, some virgin will be killed. Korin has no blood relation to you whatsoever, does she not? … If so, then consider this for the sake of the village and give her to us." "What did you say!? How can you say such a thing?!!" Sonjun cried out and dove towards the man. The men scuffled and others tried to stop them. The room was filled with chaos. "…Uncle…" Korin whispered and dragged his feet back home. He immediately headed for the kitchen. He was very thirsty. "Huh…?" From inside the pitch-black kitchen, he sensed the presence of someone. Korin squinted his eyes. With her hair messed up, and wearing her nightgown, Fuyoh was sitting in the corner of the room, gnawing on something that was in her hands.

It was a piece of pork that Sonjun had left out. Korin only stood dumbly behind her as she ferociously chewed on the meat, waiting for a chance to speak to her. Suddenly, Fuyoh faced Korin. "….Korin…?" Wiping the oil from her mouth, she got up and shakily walked towards Korin. "Please excuse my bad table manners…" "…I don’t care about that…" "I had nothing to eat for the past three days, so…I was just so hungry…" Korin nodded silently. "Let’s keep this a secret from Sonjun… If he finds out I acted like this, he won’t like me…" "Don’t worry about it. I’ll tell him I was the one who ate it." "…thank you." Fuyoh smiled weakly. "With all the horrible things that have been happening lately, I…. I’m starting to feel very strange…" she said as she pressed a hand to her forehead. "Don’t worry about it, Fuyoh. You know, they say pregnant women suffer more anxiety. You should just get some rest…" Korin gave Fuyoh his arm and lead her into the bedroom. "Ah, the snow stopped…" Looking out the window, the slightly larger half-moon shone in the night sky. "We have less than a week until the full moon, right…?" When her innocent young visitor from the capital asked this, Fuyoh whirled to look at Korin. Her beautiful, slanted eyes were

moist. And the sad ocean which came from her eyes sparkled in time with the light of the moon. ---------Notes: "Yuki" means "snow". "Yasha" means "female demon". I still thought I’d keep her name as "Yukiyasha" or "Yasha" to make it sound more like a *name* ^_^;

Chapter 5: The Law of Virgin Sacrifice

"Yukiyasha, eh…" Korin, who was forbidden from leaving the house, pressed his cheek against the window and watched the snow fall outside. "I wonder if she really exists…" His gaze dropped once more to the note which had been thrown to his room days ago: -I hope Yukiyasha eats youKorin once again remembered how Tamatama’s mood had changed drastically after having seen this note. Perhaps, having asked someone, Tamatama knew of the legend. There was also no doubt that the old people of the village had talked among themselves after the snow and had learned about the 100-year old legend. That is why they were so eager to give their granddaughters to the harem when the messenger from the capital came. "…So those senile old men weren’t so stupid after all…" Korin chuckled sarcastically for an instant, but then his serious expression returned. He once again repeated the conversation between Sonjun and Fuyoh that he had overheard. Unless the village’s most beautiful virgin was brought to Goddess Peak by the next full moon, pestilence would befall Yukigase Village…The night Korin arrived, this village experienced its first snow in 100 years. Perhaps the howl Korin had heard coming from Goddess Peak that night really was Yukiyasha… And perhaps this Yukiyasha, starved from her 100 years of sleep, had been traveling every night to the various houses and feasting on their livestock… The only ones who have ever seen Yukiyasha were those that were brought to her as sacrifices. It is said that no one else has ever seen her. Korin cocked his head and folded his arms. "So they say it’s either me…or Byakuren?" Korin sighed deeply. When Byakuren came to mind, the problem with the harem also did. I wonder if Byakuren knows about the legend?… Korin puzzled to himself. And what about all the other girls in the

village? I suppose if the old timers of the village let this news out, panic would erupt in the village; just like with Tamatama. I can’t be sure how far the rumors have spread… So could this note have been written by an ignorant girl? And what’s more suspicious is that the messenger from the capital hasn’t come back for a whole week. Isn’t he a little late? Just how far off is it snowing? "…Maybe because of this snow, he’s having a hard time traveling…I guess." The snow had piled so deep that it threatened to smash down the roofs of the houses. Korin saw no one outside, except for the occasional man shoveling snow off of the roofs and walks. There was also no news of another demolished chicken coop today. All the people of the village only held their breaths and waited for the fated night to come… Yukigase Village was engulfed in this eerie, quiet aura. Would the messenger from the capital come first? Or would the full moon come first? This truly would determine Heaven and Hell. Korin’s eyebrows wrinkled faintly in the middle. At that time, a presence was felt from outside the window. "Who’s there…?!" Korin’s body stiffened in readiness. Along with the sound of the crunching snow, a figure was approaching. Perhaps to ward off the snow, this person wore a blanket on the head. "…Yukiyasha…?" While fighting his nerves, Korin leaned slightly out the window to determine who this was. CRUNCH…! The figure clumsily got one foot caught in the snow and yanked it out. The blanket fell off and Korin recognized who he was.

"…Tenbun…!" Tenbun rubbed his head sheepishly, but his eyes were filled with a strong, determined sparkle which had not been there when he had last seen Korin. "What’s the matter?…" Tenbun made his way to the windowsill and stared at Korin. "I-I have…s-something…to tell you…" he stuttered. Korin shook his head in aggravation. Now he finally understood why Tenbun had told him to leave the village. Tenbun must have heard the legend of Yukiyasha from someone. "Well, for starters, why don’t you come in…?" Unable to turn him down, Korin invited the innocent boy in. "…No…I can’t quite…do it…from here." Tenbun’s impatient eyes darted to and fro, and he spoke hoarsely. "Could you come out here for a minute…?" "…Outside…?" Korin looked at Tenbun suspiciously. "Please!!" Tenbun yelled as he grabbed Korin’s arm. "Ah…!" Korin’s body turned a flip and crashed into the snow. "Sorry…" "…You really are…pushy, aren’t you…" Tenbun grabbed the laughing Korin’s hand and began to shuffle through the snow. *

Korin looked over the inside of the barn which Tenbun had taken him to. It was an almost morbid-feeling place filled with straw and rusty farming tools. Korin and Tenbun each sat on their knees at a corner of the room. "What?! Fuyoh is pregnant?" Tenbun said in surprise. "That’s right. Shouldn’t she be?" "No… It’s just that she always said that she was perfectly happy working for the village and for Sonjun and didn’t need to have a baby…" "…Hmmmm…" Korin started to think things over: pregnancy, renouncing vegetarianism, keeping secrets… "But anyway, it’s just horrible. You see, Uncle Sonjun has to stay by Fuyoh’s side, right? And he also says he can’t let me go back to the capital alone…" Korin then explained to Tenbun why he could not return to the capital. "…I see…" Tenbun’s eyes fell into his lap. "So annnnyway, what did you want to talk to me about?…" Korin asked teasingly. "I just want you to know that just like I said before, I do have someone back at the capital." "No you won’t!" Tenbun fiercely stood, took his momentum and charged towards Korin. "You’re not that kind of girl." "…Te, Tenbun…" "You can’t lie to me. I know you’re not such an easy woman. You’re dignified and gentle.

You’re an angelic girl." Tenbun clenched his fist and continued. "You just made up that story to hurt my feelings…" "…But I…" "Never mind. I understand. You don’t have feelings for me at all…" Korin’s conscience pricked his chest. Tenbun’s chest heaved up and down. "But… This is the first time I’ve ever felt this way…I just can’t help it…" "Te…Te…Ten…Ten…ten-teke-teke-ten…" "Stop joking around. I’m serious." "…Tenbun… Come on, just calm down… I’m begging you…" While scooting back, Korin pushed against Tenbun with both hands. "…I’ve done a lot of thinking…" While murmuring quietly to himself, Tenbun took another step towards Korin. "I think the messenger from the capital will come first." His black eyes were wet with tears. "Wha…what are you talking about…?" Korin inched another pace back. "Ah!…" His body was buried in the straw. "This is the only way I can protect you and Byakuren…" Tenbun fell onto one knee in front of Korin and took his hand. "Marry me!" "…Ma…" Korin took in a sharp breath. "Ma, Ma! Marryyyyy?!"

"Yes, that’s right. Let’s consummate our marriage vows right here and now!" Tenbun said hastily as he threw himself on top of Korin. "Argh!…" Barely escaping his pursuer, Korin clutched his chest and panted. "Wh-what do you think you’re doing!" Korin demanded with a glare, but Tenbun was losing his senses. "This is the only way!" Tenbun said as he walked towards Korin again. His hands fell on Korin’s shoulders. Thud. The two fell into the pile of straw and stared at each other. "…Korin…" Tenbun whispered meekly. "If we do this, then…" Korin said as he felt Tenbun’s breath on his cheek. "…you’re saying I won’t be sacrificed to Yukiyasha…?" Tenbun paused and opened his eyes wide. "That’s riiiiight. Yukiyasha only likes virgins. She sounds like a picky eater to me." Tenbun’s strength dropped suddenly. Korin slid easily out of his grasp. "…So you knew…?" "But what about Byakuren? Does she know?" Tenbun shook his head slowly. After Tenbun was able to process what Korin had just said, the fever overcame him again and he continued to speak to Korin.

"So you understand, then? The girl for the harem must also be a virgin… So… If we do this, then Byakuren can join the harem, and you won’t have to be sacrificed to Yukiyasha…" "…but what if the messenger doesn’t come before the full moon…!" Korin snapped at Tenbun, who was advancing on him strongly again. "If that happens, then won’t Byakuren end up being the sacrifice?!" Tenbun continued to shake this head. "There’s still five days left before the full moon. …I know he will come by then… I know it…" He said as if to comfort himself. "…Korin…" Tenbun’s hands once again found their way onto Korin’s shoulders. "…I-I’m flattered you feel that way about me, but… wait a minute…" "…I love you…" "…B-but I’m ugly…" "How can you say that?… You’re the most beautiful girl in Konan…" "B…b…but my boobs are reallllllllly small…" "That’s good. I hate large breasts." Tenbun’s right hand brushed against Korin’s cheek. "…Eep!…" Korin’s body stiffened in panic.

Tenbun smiled gently. "See?… I knew it… You have never known a man before…" "Tha-that’s not true at all! You see… I’m just very boyish and really strong…" "But you have such a soft, frail figure…" Tenbun said as his left hand drifted down to Korin’s hip. "Ah!… St-stop it…" But it was too late. Tenbun was completely aroused. "…Korin!!" Tenbun, about to lose himself in a sea of passion, and Korin, about to hit his pursuer, were suddenly interrupted. "Hey! Cut it out, you two!!" When a savage-sounding voice sounded from above, the two were suddenly paralyzed. Tamatama grinned. "Tenbun, I’d give up on Korin if I were you." Tenbun, unable to speak to the intruder, could only respond with a hurt glare. "Because you see, Korin is not suitable for you." Tamatama smiled daringly. "Because, you see… Korin is…Well, you probably don’t realize it, but…" "…Ta-Tamatama?!" Korin stared at the transvestite in shock. Could Tamatama be in love with him? But didn’t Tamatama just give him the noble speech about the Way of the Transvestite?

"What exactly…is…Korin…?" Tenbun was finally able to open his trembling mouth. Inside his mind, Korin covered his face with his hands. The situation was a total mess. Tamatama stuck his head in close to the pair. "You see, Korin hates men…" Both Tenbun’s and Korin’s jaws dropped in disbelief. "She hates…men…?" Tenbun asked slowly. "Yeah, that’s right. You sure are a dense one. Korin likes women. Sheesh, stop being so close to her and get away," Tamatama said as he shoved the two apart and tossed Korin roughly to the side of the barn. "I’m disappointed in you. You confessed your true nature to me just the other day, and now what are you doing? You didn’t even fight back!" Tamatama scolded Korin as he shook a fat finger at him. "Or were you just trying to mess up my Tenbun’s fragile heart?" Korin sat with his hands holding his sore bottom with a look of disbelief. "Tenbun belongs to me, ya see." This time, it was Tenbun who shook his head in disbelief. Tamatama faced Korin directly and yelled, "So just scram! And be careful some strange monster doesn’t eat ya!" Tamatama gave Korin a piercing look. At last, Korin returned to his senses. "…Tenbun… I…I’m sorry!" Korin yelled as he ran out of the barn.

* Korin headed for a certain house. Night was beginning to fall on the silvery landscape. Korin sensed the urgency in the stare Tamatama had just given him before he left the barn.

It was about that innocent girl. Without her precious brother around, she was sure to be wandering aimlessly on the paths in the dark. Korin passed by Tamatama’s mansion and headed for arguably the worst-looking farm in the entire village, and creaked the door open. "Excuse me!" Korin was answered by the silence of the house. In a corner of the room, the fire of a lone candle flickered eerily. Then, a painful cough could be heard. By the light of the candle, a figure lying in bed could be seen. Korin quietly walked towards this person. "Are you…Byakuren’s…mother?" The pale-faced thin woman nodded when she saw Korin. "…And you are…Korin…right?…"

"Yes…" The woman coughed again. "Are you okay?…" Korin asked as he lifted her back off the mattress. "Yes, I’m fine, thanks…" she said with a weak smile. "Um…Do you know…where Byakuren is…?" Korin asked as his eyes scanned the empty room. "When I started my coughing spell again, she went off to the neighboring village to get me some medicine…" "What…?!" "We don’t even have the money to pay for it… But she insisted she’d find a way… I couldn’t stop her…" Korin’s heart stopped. Since Byakuren’s mother was bed-ridden, she must not know anything. She didn’t know about the legend or Yukiyasha, or of the various barn robberies… "I will go bring her back. In this heavy snow… it’s too dangerous for her to be alone…" With a bow to Byakuren’s mother, Korin turned to leave. "…Korin…" Korin stopped and turned around when he heard his name called. Byakuren’s mother spoke weakly. "You are so nice… And you’re even prettier than Byakuren…" "…Ma’am…" "I’m sure the messenger will chose you for the harem…"

"You see, that Byakuren… she is very jealous of you. And it seems like she’s responding with hostility to you… But you see, the real reason she wants to join the harem is… not so she can marry the emperor. She just wants…to meet him… and then thank him…" Byakuren’s mother turned and looked at the violet-colored ball which rested next to her pillow. ----------

Chapter 6: The Forbidden Night Amidst the snow flurries, Byakuren made her way along the path that lead back to Yukigase Village. When she had left the house, only a few snowflakes were falling, but now, it came down so thickly that it was as if blankets of white covered her eyes.

Byakuren dug the medicine for her mother out of her cloak. She had begged the doctor to let her have it and promised that she would pay him back a couple days later. She felt she couldn’t waste another minute what with her mother’s spells increasing in frequency. "Mom, wait for me… I’ll bring your medicine back for you very soon…" Byakuren thought this over and over to herself as she slowly made her way along the pure white path. Crunch… Crunch… One of her feet had already lost most of its sensation. A footbridge came into sight just ahead. Once she crossed it, she would be in Yukigase Village. Just a bit more Byakuren assured herself as she mustered up her strength. But Byakuren caught her breath and her eyes darted sharply through the flurry when she caught site of someone who appeared to be waiting at the other end of the bridge. The figure’s head was wrapped in a cloth and seemed to be staring directly at her. "…Tenbun? Brother…?" Byakuren cocked her head. That’s right. Tenbun disappeared off somewhere today. And just when I was going to go look for him, Mom’s coughing spell started. That’s right. Tenbun must have come home, heard what happened from Mom, and then came here after me. "Brother!" Byakuren called excitedly as she hurried to her brother. She took one step onto the footbridge. The bridge shook fiercely. Undisturbed by this, however, Byakuren continued to walk. The one on the opposite side of the bridge from her seemed excited, too, and hurriedly made his way across. They ran until they were nearly three meters apart. "Grrrrrr…"

Byakuren’s feet stopped when she heard that sound. While clenching onto the rope of the bridge, she cautiously called out. "Br…Brother…?" "Wooooo…" An eerie moan escaped the man in front of her… "…Who are you…?!" Just barely after she screamed that question, the thing leapt onto her. "AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!" Byakuren’s voice echoed across the empty, silver scene. * As Korin had been hurrying to the neighboring village, a dark shadow had leapt in front of him. It looked like a sort of man who was wearing a shabby cloth over his head, hurrying to the footbridge. When Korin saw what looked to be a young girl on the other side of the bridge, he kicked up a pile of snow in panic. "…Byakuren…!!" The mysterious creature crept up to her. The girl gasped in horror. "AHHHHHHH!!!!" Just as the creature leapt at the girl, Korin used all his strength to kick the bridge. The bridge undulated fiercely. "Don’t let go of the rope!" Korin yelled as he grabbed onto the creature from behind. "Gyaaaaaa!!" He yelled as he grabbed hold of the creature and threw him off the bridge. Though Korin had been able to lift the gigantic Tamatama with just one finger, he still felt the effects of the unusual heaviness of the creature, who was now many meters below in the river.

"…Everything’s okay now," Korin told the trembling victim. "…Korin…" Byakuren sniffled as she looked up at her savior. * "We probably shouldn’t go outside again tonight…" Korin advised. Byakuren shook her head. "But we have to. I need to give this medicine to Mom…" "Don’t worry. Your mother stopped coughing…" "What…?!" Byakuren sighed in relief when Korin told her how her mother’s condition was. "She may start to cough again… But there’s no way we’ll be able to cross that hill in this snow…" Byakuren nodded reluctantly in agreement. After the incident, Korin had carried Byakuren back across the bridge to an abandoned hut that promised at least minimal shelter from the snow. "But why did you…" Byakuren began as she hugged her shivering body. "…come and rescue me like that?…" Korin responded with a chuckle, "Lemme tell ya something. I’ve got a sister one year younger than I…" "…Huh?"

"Which means, she’s the same age as you… But unlike you, she’s sweet and honest." Silence. "But, today for some reason, you reminded me of her… And I just got worried about you." "…Korin." Byakuren looked at Korin with new eyes. "You see, Tenbun got a little tied up in things," Korin explained while apologizing to Tenbun in his mind for what fate awaited him. "So you see, I came here in his place to rescue you." Whoooooooo, Whooooooooo. The blizzard, growing in intensity, howled and fiercely shook the walls of the hut. Korin braced his body against the rattling door, removed his upper-garment and threw it at Byakuren. Byakuren, who had been huddling with her head between her knees at the other end of the hut, cautiously raised her face. "Wear it. You’ll freeze to death otherwise…" "…But, I…" "Never mind. After all, I’m a ma…" "…n, unlike you…", is how Korin was about to finish the sentence, but he caught himself. "You’re a ma…??" "I’m a ma…ture woman, unlike you, so I can stand the cold better! So stop complaining and get that on and get the circulation back in your hands and feet!"

Unable to refuse Korin’s demands, Byakuren reluctantly put on Korin’s robe. For a while, the two sat silently, listening to the sounds of the blizzard. "What exactly…was tying my brother up…?" Byakuren eventually spoke. Korin puzzled over what to say for a while. "It has something to do with that creepy Tamatama. I guess he might have finally decided to tell him off once and for all…" "Huh…?" Korin laughed vaguely at Byakuren’s stare of disbelief. "Well, I don’t really know much about what’s going on between those two anyway." "Tamatama isn’t the issue at all. The problem is…you…" "Me?" "That’s right… My brother is…obsessed with you…" Korin shrugged his shoulders slightly. "Well, maybe so, but that’s over now…" Overcome with guilt and uneasiness over how Tenbun reacted after Tamatama told him Korin was a "lesbian", Korin’s mood fell a little. "But just be sure that no matter what Tenbun tells you, don’t be scared…" Once again, Byakuren was perplexed by Korin’s words. Silence fell on the two again. "Say, about your…little sister… Does she live in the capital…?"

Korin sucked in his breath at Byakuren’s question. "What’s her name…?" Avoiding Byakuren’s innocently inquiring gaze, Korin answered. "She is…inside of me…" Korin said as he softly placed his right hand on his chest. "…Korin…Do you mean she’s…" Byakuren urged, then suddenly, her voice dropped. "I’m sorry…" "Don’t apologize. She didn’t die. She’s still alive inside of me!" Byakuren gasped when she heard Korin’s false pride. She had no idea how Korin’s little sister died, but she could see how much Korin loved her… Byakuren looked at her companion with a tired heart. Today, Korin rescued me, thinking of me as her precious little sister… I can’t compare to her… Byakuren looked up at Korin, who almost looked like a man, kneeling on one knee and leaning against the door. It was almost as if there was a blinding aura surrounding Korin’s body, which made Byakuren see for the first time just how beautiful Korin was. Korin returned Byakuren’s gaze. The ironic tragedy from six years ago reentered his mind. It was a tragedy of which he had not known until Byakuren’s mother had told him minutes earlier…. It had happened during his final day as Ryuuen. A reckless carriage rampaged through main street in the capital. The same carriage that had killed Korin had nearly missed killing another little girl just minutes before. If there had been a slight difference in time…his

sister might have been spared…. Yes. If the other girl, Byakuren, had been killed, his sister would have been spared… "Thank…you…" Byakuren said faintly. "For saving…me…" Korin laughed at himself silently. Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to hate this girl. For he was able to settle something inside of himself by saving this girl’s life just then… A sensation of peace came over him. "Wow, aren’t’cha much nicer than usual today?!" he asked teasingly. "Korin…" Byakuren murmured. "…I give up…" "Give up?" "…The harem…" Korin gasped and stared at Byakuren. The look on her face was gone of all the arrogant confidence it bore before as she nodded and assured herself. "You just wouldn’t understand… Because…you’re much prettier than I am and you’re strong… and cool…" "How can you say that! What happened to your resentment for me?!" Byakuren looked at Korin with teary eyes. Korin reached into his pocket. "You want to take this to the palace with you, don’t you?" Byakuren’s eyes popped out when she saw what Korin held.

"Wh…why do you have that ball…!" Byakuren crawled up to Korin and took the ball. "Your mother gave it to me. She said it was your very precious good-luck charm." "…She did?" "She also told me you always keep it next to her pillow in hopes that it will heal her." Byakuren stared silently at the ball. "You know…You actually are a nice girl…" Byakuren bit her lip and looked up at Korin with watery eyes. "But, ya know, if you keep being all close to your brother, you’ll never be able to settle down…" Korin said quietly. "…Byakuren… I want you to live a happy life…" "…Ko…rin…?"

Byakuren nodded firmly. "Don’t worry. I won’t try to get into the harem." Byakuren’s shoulders began to shiver more violently. Her breathing was also irregular. "…Byakuren…?" Korin yanked on the arm of the chatter-toothed Byakuren and placed his hand on her forehead. "You…you’re not doing so good…" After wiping off her sweat the best he could, Korin once again wrapped her body more tightly in the kimono and held her tightly. "Why….Why…" Byakuren inquired listlessly as she looked up at Korin with feverish eyes. "Never mind why. I never was interested in joining the harem in the first place. I just wanted to tease you a little." "…Are you…sure?" "Yes. So have faith in yourself and go to the capital. You need to work hard to be able to earn medicine for your mother. You might be able to find a doctor in the capital who can cure her…" Byakuren nodded lightly. "And also, I won’t ever try and take your brother away from you." While gasping painfully for breath, Byakuren smiled weakly. "So be a good girl and become the emperor’s bride." No response from Byakuren.

"After all, you two are connected by a red thread…no, more like a violet ball. Isn’t that true?" Byakuren still did not respond. She gazed at the violet ball which lay on the ground beside her for a while, but then she began to murmur in a scratchy voice. "You see… I want to pay for Mom’s medicine… I also… can’t stand…living poor…as a farmer… I want to go back…to the four of us…living together in the capital… it really was…lots of fun… So… I want to go back to the capital…" This time, Korin was silent. "…I’ve always longed to meet….the emperor…who saved my life… It’s almost like he lives above the clouds… But I just thought…I just knew…that I’d see him again some day…" "…Yeah…" "I never even considered…joining the harem… But…I know that if I join, I can meet the emperor… Because… Back then… I wasn’t able to say…’thank you’…That’s all…" "…Byakuren…" Byakuren smiled faintly. "…But, I don’t really…want to become… the emperor’s wife… You never can tell for sure… I was probably…the only one thinking about him…all this time…" "That’s not true! I’m sure the emperor saw you and it was love at first sight; that’s why he risked his life to save you! So I’m sure he’ll marry you!" Byakuren lightly shook her head. "…No, he won’t…" "He won’t?"

"…I mean… I …I saw it… On the emperor’s…neck… there’s a red symbol… "Star"…is what the symbol was…" When Korin heard this, his heart skipped a beat. I had no idea the emperor, Saihitei was Hotohori, one of Suzaku’s seven warriors… Realizing that the day would come when he would fight by the emperor’s side as fellow warriors of Suzaku made Korin feel faint. "…All of…Suzaku’s…seven…warriors… are very… courageous…and strong… you know… So the emperor…won’t choose me… He’ll…choose…" Byakuren suddenly squinted her eyes painfully. "That’s enough, just go to sleep now," Korin commanded as he gently stroked Byakuren’s hair. "…Korin…" Byakuren whispered with her eyes still closed. "Hm?…" "Will you be my big sister…just for today…?" "…Sure, I will…" "Because… I don’t have a sister…this feels weird…" "Oh…really…?" "For some reason…it feels like…I’m with my brother…instead…" "Uh…Oh, dear, reallyyyyy?" "…Because, Korin… you were really brave back there…" She must mean when I threw off that thing that attacked her on the bridge… "But…but that was just my muscles from doing

housework kicking in! You’re so silly, talking to a weak girl like that," Korin laughed quickly, trying to deceive Byakuren. At that time, however, an ominous feeling embedded itself into Korin’s heart. He had warded off the strange creature before he was able to get a good look at it in the blizzard. What in the world was that thing?… Was he the culprit who robbed the village’s barns? Or was he actually.. the legendary Yukiyasha…? Korin looked at the palm of his hands. Whatever the thing was, it had left the feeling of extreme heaviness in his hands… Korin had just begun to climb the ladder of his fate. "…Korin…" "Wh…what is it? I told you to stop talking!" "…Okay…" Byakuren, her cheeks bright red with fever, slowly opened her eyes. Her eyes held the expression of the endless beauty of a young, innocent girl. "…I think…I can understand…how Tamatama feels…" "Huhhhhh?" Why is she bringing him up at a time like this?? Korin thought to himself in exasperation. "…I mean… Tamatama…dresses like a girl…but he’s actually a man, right?…" "Y-yeah, I guess…" Korin said with a nervous cough. "But Tamatama…loves…my brother… but it’s not…filthy…or anything…like that." "A-hemmmm!!" This time, Byakuren really got in too deep. "… B…Byaku…ren…?! Are…you…"

"I guess…we can’t help…who we fall in love with…" Silence. "But…I’m glad… Today… I was finally…able to say it… Say…’thank you’…" "…Byakuren…" She had closed her eyes again, and seemed to breathe peacefully in her deep sleep. "This is a real problem…" This time, Korin had stripped Byakuren down to nothing to wipe her sweat. Korin then removed all of his clothes. This was the last thing he could do to ward off the coldness which was creeping into the hut through the cracks in the walls. This is the only way I can warm her body… Korin hugged Byakuren’s body close to his and deeply ran his hands along her body. "Please, I’m begging you… Stay asleep just a bit longer…" The light reflecting from the pure white snow outside flickered on the close, naked bodies of the young man and woman. ---------Notes: Couples destined to be together are said to be connected by a "red thread"

Chapter 7: The Mark of Suzaku The next morning… As if last night’s blizzard was an illusion, the sky shone bright blue as Korin and Byakuren left the hut where they had spent the night.

"I’m fine. I can walk," Byakuren said meekly from on top of Korin’s back. "Ohhh, no you can’t. Your fever may have been lowered, but you’re still sick. Just grab on tight." Korin shuffled along the deep snowy path like a sleigh as he carried Byakuren home. Byakuren’s eyes grew wide as she watched this. The inside of her head was still fuzzy, and what happened last night seemed to her almost like a dream. On the way home from getting medicine for Mom, I was attacked by something. Since there was a blizzard, I couldn’t see very well, but It might have been the monster who’s been rampaging the barns of the village… But then, out of nowhere, Korin came and defeated the monster. And then, she took me to an abandoned hut… "Korin…" "What is it?" Korin asked without a pause in his snow-plowing. "Did I say something strange last night?" "Something strange?" Byakuren shyly avoided Korin’s gaze. She clearly remembered Korin mentioning a little sister and that’s why Korin came to rescue her, and that Korin brought the violet ball and said that Byakuren could be the one to go to the harem… But what happened after that was a thick haze in her mind. "Ohhh, so you don’t remember… Hahaha…." Korin laughed wickedly. "Wh, what is it? DID I say something strange?"

As Byakuren squirmed on Korin’s back, he lowered her off his shoulders. I guess this means she doesn’t remember her bare skin touching mine last night then… "Uhhh, let’s see, you said… ‘yummy, yummy, brotherrrrrr, I love ya’" "That’s a lie!!" Byakuren yelled. "I’d never say that!" "Oh, really?" Byakuren pouted in silence. She admitted that she loved her brother…and that she could never stand other girls making advances on her brother. But the love she had for her brother was from the deep bond they shared as brother and sister… It was nothing more than that. Byakuren felt this very strongly for the first time. "I’m not in love with my brother…" "I guess so. That’s because you’re in love with the emperor." No, I’m not… Byakuren thought to herself. The feelings I’ve kept for Saihitei all this time are not the same… I don't get why, though. Byakuren was confused over the sensation which seemed to squeeze her heart just then. "Hmhmhm. You didn’t say anything. You just slept peacefully." Byakuren’s ears perked at this. Last night, with the blizzard outside, she and Korin had spent the night alone together in that tiny hut. When she thought of this, her face flashed red. Wondering why she was blushing over this, Byakuren’s confusion deepened. "…Hey, Ko…Korin, why don’t you…like my brother…?" Byakuren asked cautiously.

"That’s because…I’m really…" Tenbun will probably tell Byakuren what Tamatama told him… "I guess I just don’t really like boys…" "Huh?! Seriously?!" For an instant, Byakuren’s voice filled with color. At this, Korin hastily shook his head. "But this doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian! I mean, you know, I’m stronger than most men, and they all just seem wimpy to me." "Hmmmm…" "Say, Byakuren, don’t’cha think we might be great friends from now on?" Korin urged. If he settled this right then and there, Byakuren might not be too shocked when Tenbun tells her what happened the day before. "…Friends…?" "That’s right. Isn’t that a good idea? There needs to be more stories about the beautiful friendship between two girls!" "…Yeah… I guess you’re right…" "What, don’t tell me you don’t WANT to be friends?" Byakuren furiously shook her head. "That’s not true at all! F-fine, I’ll become your friend." Korin chuckled lightly as he shuffled through the snow. * Just when the huts of the village began to come into sight, Korin’s pace stopped. "I wonder what that could be?…"

Around the corner of a field just a way from the road, four or five villagers were huddled. "Wait here a bit, okay?" Korin lowered Byakuren off his back and made his way over to the group. The whispered conversation of the villagers slowly made it to his ears. "…I don’t recognize this one…" "His belongings are all messed up… Do you think he was a traveler…?" "…So it’s come to…even humans…" Korin softly peeked into the center of the circle of villagers. His eyes popped wide open. The half-eaten body of a man lay on the ground. "…You…" One of the villagers approached Korin. The two remained silent and only stared at each other. "How horrible…" As Korin said this, the thread of tension finally snapped. "We’ve gotta hurry up now! The next to die could be any of us!" The man who yelled this was the same man who had gotten into an argument with Sonjun earlier at the old man’s house. He pointed a finger sharply at Korin and gave a blood-curdling scream. "We need to feed this girl to Yukiyasha! The sooner the better!" He tried to grab Korin, but the other men held him back. "What’s the matter? Korin…" Byakuren asked as she slowly crunched through the snow towards the group.

Korin panicked and snatched her up. "Idiot! I told you to stay back!" "But why? What’s going on here!" Byakuren’s gaze was dangerously close to the morbid, dead body. "Nothing’s going on at all. We just found some UFO remains and some alien-crap!" As he buried Byakuren’s face into his side, Korin dragged her back to the path. "You’re lying! Tell me who yukiyasha is!" Korin sharply answered, "The word ‘yukiyasha’ is just an abbreviation for ‘yuki ga yande, yoshaaaa!’, that’s all. Haven’t you heard of that? I can’t beliiiiiieve it." Byakuren, unable to accept Korin’s pathetic explanation, continued to glare at him with stern lips. "But never mind that!" Korin poked the tip Byakuren’s nose with his index finger. "The messenger from the capital might come today. You’d better go home, rest up, and get yourself freshened up! With your complexion in the state it is now, Aiai or Rinrin will be chosen for the harem instead of you. Eeeeew, that’d sure be embarrassing." * After returning Byakuren to her house, Korin headed for his home. Korin was relieved to see Byakuren’s mother looking well, but his heart ached when he remembered Tenbun’s feelings. When Tenbun thanked Korin for returning Byakuren safely home, Korin whispered in his ear, "Don’t worry…nothing happened between us…" As Tenbun shied away from Korin, he laughed awkwardly. "I understand… You’re not that kind of girl… I have faith in that…"

"…Tenbun." You’re just too virtuous a person… Korin thought to himself. "But please, don’t tell Byakuren about the legend. I want her to go off to the capital without having to know about it…" "Korin… You…you’re unbelievable…" Korin gave the teary-eyed Tenbun a comforting pat, then hurried out of the house. He heaved a sigh of relief, realizing that Tenbun’s feelings had been mended. "I’m home…" Korin softly opened the door. I hope I didn’t worry Sonjun and Fuyoh too much while I was gone… "Noooooooo!!" Fuyoh’s voice suddenly struck Korin’s ears. He panicked and headed for her bedroom. "Fuyoh, just calm down. Everything will be okay…" "Noooo! You need to capture that monster right away!! I feel like I’m going crazy…!" Sonjun was restraining the disheveled Fuyoh with all his might. "Uncle…!" The chaotic couple’s eyes darted over to Korin. "Korin… did you walk home from Tamatama’s all by yourself?" Korin quickly concluded that Tamatama must have lied to Sonjun and Fuyoh last night to create an alibi. "No. Don’t worry, I had one of the servants escort me." "I see…. Well, the killer has struck again, and Fuyoh is…"

So news of the murdered traveler must have leaked out all over the village by now… "D…darling… Please…Please take Korin…away from this village right away! Please!!" Fuyoh had begun to cry again. "…Fuyoh…" "Noooo! I…I…I can’t stand it!!" "Fuyoh! Leave everything to me!!" Korin yelled without thinking, and threw his arms around Fuyoyh. "I promise I’ll do something to help!!" "…Korin…" For an instant, Fuyoh stopped moving and cautiously peered at Korin’s face. "You say…you’ll help…?" Her colorless lips slowly raised themselves upwards. A surge of energy ran through Korin’s body. For an instant, Fuyoh’s face became distorted, then she shoved Korin away violently and her body began to shiver again. "Sonjun! Don’t make her stay in danger!! Catch the monster and take her back to the capital as soon as possible!!" "Okay, I understand… You can stop crying now…" Sonjun continued to gently stroke his wife. "You shouldn’t worry yourself. It’s bad for the baby…" "But I don’t want a baby anyway!!" Sonjun’s stroking hand suddenly stopped. "My child is cursed! It’s best that it never be born!!"

Fuyoh tried to punch herself in the stomach, but Sonjun pushed her hand away and slapped her face.

"…Darling…" "Were you that kind of woman all along?… This is our child… but you don’t love it?… Is that the kind of woman you are?!" Fuyoh stared deeply into her husband’s eyes. Tears slowly poured out of her eyes. "…Sonjun…" Her strength seemed to evaporate from her body as she collapsed into her husband’s arms and sobbed in agony. Sonjun embraced her with strong arms. Korin quietly left the room. * After another once-over of Korin, Tamatama snorted in approval. "Wowwww, wonderful, beautiful, tre bien, bravo! I must be a genius-stylist."

Tamatama stared in awe at Korin, who had changed into a jet-black dress with a purple flowered print that had a large slit up the side. "Is this really one of your made-to-measure dresses, Tamatama?" Korin asked with dubious glances at Tamatama’s large body. "Of course. I told them to make it to fit me after I dieted just a bit…" "Just a bit…" "Huh? Do you think you should say such un-cute things? Haven’t I been, like, a huge help to you lately?" Korin chuckled and agreed. -- I’m going to stay at Tamatama’s house for a while. Uncle Sonjun, be sure to take good care of Fuyoh -Leaving that note behind, Korin had once again escaped to Tamatama’s house. "Well, next, we’ll do your hair and makeup. Haven’t’cha been a little lazy lately? Your hair is all tangled and your skin is all blemished… You’d better watch out." Just as Korin thought to himself, "You’re the last person I’d like to hear that from", he could feel Tamatama’s harsh gaze. "What’s with the sarcastic expression?" "N-nothing!" "Don't worry. In no time, your hair and skin will be just as beautiful as mine."

Tamatama faced Korin and asked on a serious note, "But… are you really gonna go through with this?" Korin nodded quietly. "I really am fond of you… I don’t wanna lose you… So I don’t really wanna help you do this…" "Just do it…." Korin said. "I’ve decided this ever since I heard the legend. Up until now, I didn’t think much of being one of Suzaku’s seven warriors, but… this time around, I feel more strongly than ever that I am Nuriko. …I feel that destiny brought me to this village and that the legend was destined to revive itself when I came. I feel like I was brought here so my powers could be tested." "…Korin." "So don’t hold back; doll me up as much as you can!" Upon hearing Korin’s determined speech, Tamatama whisked up a powder puff. "All riiiiight! Come here, hon’. First off, we’ve got Tamatama’s special spit-gell!" Korin jerked away when he saw the transvestite spitting eagerly on the palms of his hands. "Ahhhh! What do you think you’re doing?!" Korin tried to escape, but Tamatama grabbed him. "Resistance is futile. We’re gonna smooth out your dried, split ends!" Several minutes later… Korin’s hair was braided up beautifully by the aid of Tamatama’s special spit-gell. His face was treated with Tamatama’s special snot-lotion, and was covered with makeup.

"Wowwwww! I must be a genius hair and makeup artist!" Tamatama cheered as he gazed at the fainting Korin. "Now you’re definitely much prettier than Byakuren… Everyone will think that you’re the prettiest girl in the village." Korin took Tamatama’s mirror in his hand. After he glanced at his reflection… even he had to admit that an elegantly styled beautiful young woman stared back at him. Korin slowly nodded in approval. Then, suddenly Korin’s hand holding the mirror jerked. "Huh…?" Another figure besides Korin was reflecting in the mirror from outside the window. But she quickly hid herself. "What’cha doing out there? Show yourself." A look outside the window revealed a girl who stood gloomily. "Ohhh, it’s you, Byakuren. Whaddaya want at my house?" Tamatama asked teasingly. "N…nothing, really…" Her eyes stared directly at Korin. "… Korin…" "Hm?" "Didn’t we just become friends…?" "Yes, that’s right." "Then why did you lie to me? Why did you betray your promise…?" "Huh…?" "It’s obvious you still want to join the harem."

"…Byakuren, wait a minute…. That’s not what this is for…" "Then what IS it?! You put on those flashy clothes and cake on that makeup and say everyone will think you’re the prettiest girl in the village? What’s the meaning of that?! I don’t believe you!" After yelling this, Byakuren tumbled quickly home. Tamatama and Korin faced each other. "That might’ve not been so good…" * Many people are under the impression that their own daughters or granddaughters are the most beautiful girls in the world. And even in this quiet village, engulfed in snow, excitement and panic were erupting from house to house. Some houses, fearful for rumors of Yukiyasha, dolled up their young girls in a desperate attempt to save them by sending them to the harem. However, the messenger from the capital did not return a week later as he had promised. Instead, the night of the full moon was getting closer and closer. Some houses decided to avoid the sacrifice of their girls to Yukiyasha by dressing them in dirty rags and messing up their hair. However, they were also faced with a problem. What if the messenger from the capital were to come today? Perhaps they should beautify their girls after all. But no, maybe Yukiyasha will demand her sacrifice first. Beautify…no, uglify… no, no, beautify… no, no, no, uglify… Arrgh, we’re damned either way! "This really is funny, ya know," Tamatama told Korin as they watched Aiai emerge from her house. It took all their concentration to hold back their snickers.

"In Aiai’s case, it’s difficult to tell when she’s trying to be pretty and when she’s trying to be ugly… pppppffft!!" Tamatama was making his monthly rounds from house to house with the beautified Korin partially to collect the monthly fees from the villagers, but he had one other purpose this time. "All right, we’ve got the old timers to go next, so give it your all. You’d better sell yourself good, dear," Tamatama ordered Korin as he slid the door open. "Good eveninnnng. Tamatama, heir to the lord of this village is here to collect your taxes." Just after Tamatama made his grand entrance for the elderly villagers, it was Korin’s turn. "Oh, deeeeeear, you guys are just soooo handsome. I think I’m in loooooove." The greedy old men fidgeted and grinned up at Korin from the floor. Whack! Korin’s Super-Special Sexy Dynamite Appeal had knocked them out. Everyone who saw Korin was impressed. They had all been aware that a pretty girl had moved into Sonjun’s house a few days ago, but they had no idea she was so refined and beautiful as the girl they saw. Even the overly-charismatic parents had to admit Korin had their girls thoroughly beaten and stopped worrying about the harem and Yukiyasha. This is the girl who will go to the harem… And she is also the girl who will be sacrificed… That is what everyone thought.

The full moon would rise the day after tomorrow. If the messenger from the capital didn’t come by then, Korin’s only choice to save Byakuren from being sacrificed to Yukiyasha was to become the most beautiful girl in the village. * "This’s the last place…" Tamatama told Korin as they came to the front door of Sonjun’s house. "He’ll probably have a heart attack when he sees you dressed like that. Well, shall we?…" Tamatama gave the squirming Korin a critical look. "What’s wrong?…" "…Nothing," Korin whispered with squinted eyes. "I’ll go by myself… Like I said, we’re having some problems…" "Ah yes, you mean about Fuyoh… I wonder what’s wrong with her?…" Tamatama asked in a concerned tone. "Well, I’ll wait out here for you…" Leaving Tamatama behind at the front gate, Korin went into the house. "Uncle Sonjun… Fuyoh…" The house was pitch black everywhere and there was no sign of anyone. There was also no answer. He went back into the living room and left through the back gate. Korin’s eyes fell on the footprints in the snow. The snow was dyed with blotches of red. Korin felt an evil presence nearby. It felt similar to the feeling he got when he threw the beast who attacked Byakuren. But slightly different. What he felt now…was what he had felt after the beast was gone.

Korin followed the drops of blood. After about twenty meters of walking, he ran into what looked like the mangled body of a jackrabbit. The blood must belong to the rabbit… "…Kill me…" When Korin heard this voice, he swiftly hid himself behind a nearby tree. A few meters in the distance, he saw the silhouette of a man and woman. "…Please…kill me…" Korin could hear Fuyoh’s crying voice. Then Sonjun strongly embraced his wife. "…Don’t speak such nonsense… You are my very precious wife… No matter what happens, I won’t let you go… I won’t let you… I won’t let you go anywhere…" "P…please… hurry…" "We’ll have a happy life with our new baby. And with Korin. Just the four of us can be happy.. and live a beautiful life…together…" There was no answer from Fuyoh. "Fuyoh… I love you… Fuyoh… I love you. Fuyoh… Fuyoh!!…" While embracing his limp wife, he shook her fiercely, trying to communicate his feelings to her. Fuyoh’s head, which had been looking away from him, suddenly jerked to face the moon. The moon, two days shy of reaching its peek, illuminated Fuyoh’s face in full view of Korin. "…Meat… meat… nnnnnnnmmmm…"

The corners of her mouth were smeared with the blood from the jackrabbit. ---------Notes: "Yuki ga yande, yoshaaa" means something along the lines of "it’s stopped snowing. All right!"

Chapter 8: The Maiden of the Full Moon Tenbun… The messenger from the capital…has he come yet…?"

When Tenbun heard his mother speak from the bed next to where he sat, he dropped his head. Countless times already his mother had asked him this, and countless times, he walked to the front gate of the village to check. But there had been no sign of the messenger in his horse-drawn carriage. "Not yet… and the moon is rising. Tonight is a full moon…" Tenbun looked upon his mother in envy as she stared mindlessly out the window into the dusk. Wish I were Mom. She doesn’t know anything about it… A frantic urge to scream out in desperation boiled up inside of Tenbun, but he suppressed it firmly. At last, the day he had been dreading was here. Since Korin expressed disinterest in joining the harem, it was certain that Byakuren would be chosen to join the Emperor. At least this way, Tenbun had hoped his sister would be in a safe place by now… but the night of the full moon came earlier than the messenger from the capital did. It was almost determined that the one chosen to be an offering to Yukiyasha would either be Korin or Byakuren. No matter who was chosen, thinking about either one made Tenbun’s heart ache. During the past couple days, Korin had beautified herself under Tamatama’s guidance, and had been campaigning to the other villagers. Byakuren thought Korin had broken her promise not to join the harem, but Tenbun did not see this was very likely. It even appeared to him as though Korin was purposefully trying to be chosen as the sacrifice. Tenbun hated himself for not being able to do anything about this, aside from watch and hope. But who in the world is Korin anyway?… Tenbun pondered again. Her grace and beauty stole my heart from the very first instant I saw her… And there is clearly more to her than meets the eye. But she remained shrouded in her mysterious veil and never let me look inside…

"I wanted so much… to send Byakuren to the harem." Tenbun’s face jerked up at his mother’s words. "Wha-what are you talking about? Mom, it’s not like the messenger will never come…" "But I wonder, between Korin and Byakuren…which does Yukiyasha prefer?…" "M…Mom?!" Tenbun stuttered as he jumped to his feet. "Just sit down and listen to me… Tenbun…" She said calmly. "Mom… Did you know all along?…" "I found out six years ago, the day we came to this village…" Hearing this answer, Tenbun felt as though he would faint. "After escaping from the capital in the middle of the night and wandering around desperately searching for a place to live, I finally came here… One of the old-timers of the village told me about the legend… He told me my daughter would probably be the most beautiful girl of the village years to come and that I shouldn’t stay here… But I was just so tired… and all the other villagers were so kind… I got the feeling this was the only place that would permit a single mother to live with her two children… And it had not even snowed here for a hundred years… But as the years passed and Byakuren grew prettier and prettier before my eyes… whenever winter came, I was in a constant state of prayer… I kept saying I was sorry about Byakuren… and begged for forgiveness…" "…Mom" She looked up at the wet mark on the ceiling with sad eyes.

"D…don’t worry. I’m sure Korin will be chosen as the sacrifice." Tenbun said hastily in an attempt to calm his mother. She only remained quiet and motioned him to come close. She whispered something in Tenbun’s ear. Overcoming his urge to burst into tears, he nodded faintly. "…And besides… I will not let her ever feel sorrow…" "Mom…" Just then, Byakuren came flying out of the other room. She held a large parcel in her hands. "I’ve finished packing! But once I get to the palace, they’ll have everything I’ll need anyway, won’t they?" "Hey, you mustn’t forget this," her mother said as she handed Byakuren the violet ball by her pillow. "Then you must thank the emperor properly… and you must also work hard to make him find favor in you…" "Yes, Mom…" Byakuren nodded her head, then promptly shook it. "But we’re still not sure I’ll be chosen. I mean, stupid Korin all of a sudden dolled herself up and is strutting her stuff everywhere." "She must be doing that to get into the harem." "Byakuren, didn’t she tell you she would let you join the harem?" Byakuren glared sharply at her brother. "Yeah, but she only said that to calm me down that night when I was sick. And then, while I relaxed and let myself go, she goes and beautifies herself behind my back… Arrrrgh, how frustrating!"

"Byakuren! She’s not that kind of girl!" "Brother, she’s got you fooled… What she says has no sense to it whatsoever. You can’t trust anything she tells you. Or don’t tell me you still have a thing for her?" Byakuren asked her brother with a disapproving stare. "….Well, I…" "Let me tell you something about Korin…" Byakuren said with a sudden change of tone. She dropped her gaze and said, "The other night when the two of us were alone together in that abandoned hut… She did something lewd to me!" "What…?!" Tenbun’s eyes boggled out. "I don’t remember it clearly, but… when I woke up, my clothes were half off… That’s right…" "…I get the feeling something like that…happened to me!" Tenbun swallowed hard. I knew it… So what Tamatama said must have been correct… he thought as he scratched his head. The image in his mind of sweet innocent Korin suddenly transformed into a strange, unexplainable alien. Byakuren suddenly pointed out the window. "Oh look, the elders are walking towards Tamatama’s house…" Tenbun’s head jerked up. "I wonder what they’re doing? I wonder if they’ll talk more about the monster that’s been killing the livestock. Gee, I wish they’d do something about that soon. All everyone’s doing is staying locked up in their houses; I wish they’d go out and fight it." Tenbun stood quickly. "Byakuren, watch after Mom for me!"

Leaving his mother in Byakuren’s care, Tenbun shot out of the house faster than an arrow. * In the eastern sky, the moon slowly rose and made himself visible to all. While bathing in the chilling light of the moon, the man clicked his tongue loudly. Desperate and starving, he had kept himself alive by feasting on little animals and weak travelers. He was thwarted by some impossibly strong woman and was unable to capture the young girl’s meat he coveted. But he resolved that tonight for sure, he would have a proper feast. While slowly stomping his way through the snow up to Goddess Peak, he growled quietly like a beast. "I must eat the meat of a young virgin girl… and regain my strength…" Clutching the wound in his side from having fallen into the river the other day, he unconsciously stroked the blue symbol for "tail" that glowed on that same spot. At the top of the mountain was a small cave. The inside looked almost like a mansion of ice. Countless icicles hung from the ceiling and the walls and floor were coated in a thick frost. A statue of a goddess, perhaps made by the villagers, adorned the heart of the cave. And beneath it rested many bones. The legend of Yukiyasha is probably just a myth. I may have felt a mystic presence when I first came to this village, but there is no sign of it in this cave. That must have been my imagination. It must be that the virgin sacrifices were all eaten by some other beasts….

And this year, it is my turn to feast. Yes. Very soon, the most beautiful maiden in the village will be brought before me. Stepping out of the cave, the man saw that the moon was now straight up in the sky. "Wooooooooooooooooooo!!" Ashitare howled once again at the moon. Hearing that voice behind him, Korin glanced at Sonjun’s house. "…Has Yukiyasha…already gone to Goddess Peak…?" Korin squinted at the sight before him. Even though the night was perfectly clear, there was one spot where snow poured down as if it were some artificial set. It was Sonjun’s house. "Uncle Sonjun!" Entering the circular blizzard, Korin called out his uncle’s name. Sonjun stood near the front door with a listless look in his eyes. "Uncle Sonjun!! Snap out of it!" Korin cried as he shook Sonjun’s temporarily frozen body. "This won’t do. I need to get you outside…" Korin hoisted Sonjun’s body over his shoulder and carried him outside of the blizzard. Then, Sonjun’s paralysis melted and he fell to the ground. "…Korin," he managed, before he bit his lip and shook his shoulders fiercely.

"I know…" Korin said, "I know…" Sonjun cautiously moved his head to look at Korin, who nodded. "Fuyoh went… Fuyoh went up to the mountain, didn’t she…" While shaking his head, Sonjun pounded on the earth. "She has… she has… she has struggled violently with herself all this time…" he said with a whimper. "But in the end, she couldn’t restrain herself… If only my legs were in better shape…" "Uncle Sonjun…" "She wanted so much to become a human… All those hundreds of years living alone on that mountain eating the meat of virgin girls really made her sad… She kept cursing God for making her be born as Yukiyasha… But she gave up human meat for one hundred years… and then decided it was time to try and become a human… She believed she could, so she came down from the mountain…" "And then you found her and you two got married… She became a vegetarian and as penance to the villagers, she tried to do as much good for the community as possible, didn’t she…" I can’t begin to imagine just how Sonjun felt when he discovered the woman he loved was the main character of the heinous legend of his village… Korin remembered the time when he saw the two of them embracing in the backyard. Even though he discovered then… her frightening identity, he still was able to hug her tight with the same feelings of love. "You are not Yukiyasha. You are my wife"… he said. "I love you, I love you," he said over and over again… "I think I may know why it snowed that night. The new life inside of Fuyoh might have summoned it. And then, the howling from Goddess Peak and the bloody murders of our livestock and changes in her body… All these incidents happened all at once…

And eventually, the situation made Fuyoh unable to suppress her demon blood anymore…" Korin drew his eyebrows together. I knew it. There was another monster at work. That was the monster who attacked Byakuren and who I threw into the river; the beast who left that strange sensation in the palms of my hands. It was that beast who stirred up the cold demon blood in Fuyoh… "…Korin, you must run away from this village now. Don't get caught up on what repercussions might occur, just run!" Sonjun put his hands on Korin’s shoulders. "You will probably be chosen to be her sacrifice… And if that happens… I’m afraid she’ll…" Fuyoh was fighting with herself. And she feared most of all the possibility of hurting me… Korin lightly shook his head. "Uncle Sonjun, I must be the one to go…" Without hesitation, Korin pulled back his robe, exposing the left side of his chest. Seeing this, Sonjun was at a loss for words at first, but he eventually recovered. "Nuriko…? …Are you…then… Ryuuen…?!" Not answering this, Korin pulled his robe back on. "…I want to help her… If I can…" Hearing this, Sonjun dropped his head. "She…has suffered enough… So, please… make her happy again… Make it so she will never have to suffer again…" Sonjun said with a crack in his voice and gazed up at Korin with pleading eyes.

* Four leading elders of the village assembled at Tamatama’s house. Including Tamatama’s father, they totaled five. Beneath the light of the full moon, the secret meeting was starting. "We have already gotten everything prepared for the ceremony…" The 103-year-old man said grimly. "All that remains is our sacrifice…" A wolf-like howl emitted from Goddess Peak just then. "Woooooooooooooo" The old men’s bodies shook in unison. The only man who remained calm was the oldest one, who stroked his beard thoughtfully. Was the howl from Yukiyasha I heard when I was three years old the same as this?…It didn’t sound savage like this, but more sad and lonely… and more than anything else, it was almost a chillingly sexy voice… "We…we must decide quickly…" The oldest man nodded at Saisoku, Tamatama’s father. "Well then, let’s start with you. Tell us the name of the girl and the reason you have chosen her." Tamatama’s father nodded and spoke, "I choose Korin. That mole under her eye really drives me mad." One vote for Korin. "I also choose Korin. After all, she seems to be a perfectly complete woman." Two votes for Korin.

Tenbun, who had perched himself along the wall just under the window outside exhaled deeply. "…So I guess it’ll be Korin, huh…" Hearing this coming from right next to him, Tenbun’s eyes jerked. In the darkness, Tamatama grinned and put his finger to his lips with a "shhh!" The next old man spoke, "I think we should choose Byakuren. She may not be as mature, but just like a slightly unripe fruit, her youthful taste might be just what Yukiyasha desires." "Whaaat?" Tamatama growled in disbelief as Tenbun’s heart skipped a beat. The fourth elder spoke his opinion quietly, "I also think Byakuren. Korin has not been living in this village long enough. If Yukiyasha is disappointed by this, we’re in big trouble." Suddenly, Byakuren also had two votes. The pounding of Tenbun’s heart grew irregular and fierce. "Whaddaya know… So the final vote will be decided by the oldest guy…" Tamatama folded his arms and grunted. "Come on, oldie, I’m counting on ya." The oldest one did not open his mouth for quite some time. Everyone stared intently at his lips, waiting for the answer that would determine the fate of the girls. "I…choose…" Gulp… Tenbun swallowed so hard it could have been audible to the men.

"…Byakuren…" Tenbun felt as though all the energy had been drained from his body. Tamatama, too, caught his breath. "Byakuren…?!" "And, why did you choose her…?" The old timer gave his answer again in a grim tone. "My reason is… Yes, Korin is…probably…" But Tenbun had already begun to run away. The man who was appointed to inform the villagers as soon as the decision was made also took off. "…Korin probably lacks the most important qualification for being Yukiyasha’s sacrifice…" The other men in the room listened with blank looks on their faces. * "Byakuren!! Run away!! Byakuren!!" Taking leave of his senses, Tenbun stumbled along in the snow as he ran back to the village. "Hurry! Run away! Byakuren…!" Arriving at the house, Tenbun stopped in shock. Quite a few villagers carrying lit torches had Tenbun’s house completely surrounded. One of them, seeing Tenbun, quietly shook his head. Tenbun fell to his knees. "Come, bring your sister out here…" The man who spoke to him held a white robe… and a blindfold… and he carried various ropes

and chains. Behind him was a sort of portable makeshift shrine out of birch wood that would probably carry the sacrifice. "Come on… Tenbun." Tenbun shook his head. "If you don’t bring her out here, we’ll break in and get her ourselves." As if possessed by some demonic bloodlust, a few of the men crowded up to the door of the house to break in. "Don’t do it…" Tenbun ran in front of them and held out his arms. "I will…bring her." While holding her mother’s hand, Byakuren looked at her brother. "What’s going on? What’s all that noise about?" Tenbun looked at his mother and nodded. Her eyes were soaked with sorrow. "Byakuren… The messenger from the capital just arrived." "What?! At this time of night?" Tenbun ignored his sister’s shock and continued. "That’s right. They said that you were the only girl they were even considering to join the harem." "Really? But what about Korin…?" Tenbun shook his head. "Come, let’s go. All the other villagers have come to see you off."

At a loss for words, Byakuren slowly looked around at the house, her mother, her brother, and the villagers outside. The women of the village shuffled into the house and quickly slipped the white robe onto Byakuren. They then fixed her hair and put light makeup on her. The beautified Byakuren was lead outside and hoisted onto the platform. Finally finding her voice amidst the excitement and confusion, Byakuren called out to her mother. "Mom…" Her mother remained sideways on the bed in her room, staring intently at her. "Brother…" Her brother’s blue lips were trembling. "Come…" One of the woman tried to tie the blindfold onto Byakuren, but was slapped away. "What are you doing? Why do I have to be blindfolded?!" "That’s they way it’s supposed to be done," the woman with possessed eyes answered as she approached Byakuren again. "Where is it? Hey, where is the messenger’s carriage?!" "Never mind that, just raise up the shrine!" At the man’s command, the shrine with Byakuren on it was lifted into the air. Byakuren clutched onto the railing and an unexplainable eerie feeling seeped into her heart. It was a

unthinkable black fear. She tried to cry out, but no sound would come. The old timers approached. As if that were the cue, the men carrying the shrine began to march forward. The procession carrying the emotionally paralyzed Byakuren moved on in silence. Help me… Help me!!!! Byakuren cried out silently. "Stop it right there!"

Blocking the path of the procession stood the silhouette of a young woman. Illuminated by the light of the torches, she stood with her arms spread wide. "Korin… Get out of the way…" The oldest man said. "I don’t know what this procession is for anyway, but I’M the most beautiful maiden in this village. Do you think I’ll stand for you taking such an ugly girl in my place?!"

Korin shuffled madly up to the shrine and lightly tapped on it. This little gesture made the men carrying it wobble and fall down. Korin then stood Byakuren to her feet on the ground. "…Korin…" Finally Byakuren was able to speak. Korin gave her a smug look. "Sorry, but I’ve gotta go." "…What?" "Sorry about this. Hiya!" Saying this, Korin wound up and gave Byakuren’s cheek a firm slap. "Ah!" Byakuren fell to the ground. Even though it had only been lightly tapped by Korin’s pinky finger… "Wha…what was that for?!" As if broken from her paralysis spell, Byakuren glared up at Korin. Korin casually peeled off Byakuren’s hand that was holding her slapped cheek. "Ohhhh dear, look at this horrible bruise on her cheek… Guess this doesn’t mean she’s beautiful anymore." The villagers panicked and crowded around Byakuren. Sure enough, her cheek was terribly swollen and bruised. "Outta my way, outta my way." While Byakuren and the other villagers were stunned with confusion, Korin plopped himself onto the shrine and proudly stuck out his chest.

"Come on, let’s go! And I don’t wanna hear any complaints!" "…Korin…" Knowing that Korin had just knowingly sacrificed herself to Yukiyasha, the old timers stared at Korin deeply. ----------

Chapter 9: The End of Love Goddess Peak… From the icy cave at the top of the mountain, the villagers quietly left.

Facing the sacrifice who sat on the shrine just in front of the statue, the oldest member of the village spoke these words, "You are the one we have chosen to satisfy the goddess…" Even this old, wise man could not hide his confusion as the young maiden sat casually on the shrine with folded arms, grinning up at him. According to stories he had heard about former sacrifices, they had all been bound in rope, gagged, and were trashing violently in an attempt to escape… or there were others who had lost consciousness from the shock and horror… But this Korin was different… "Your name will go on our village’s list of heroes and you will be remembered for generations to come for your sacrifice." "I don’t care about that. Aren’t’cha gonna give my family some financial compensation?" The old man coughed. "Why not? Here I am, throwing my life away for the good of the village and you think I should do it for free??" The old man finally overcame his coughing spell. The clouds beyond the entrance to the cave were moving in an eerie pattern. Little snowflakes had also begun to fall. "Shouldn’t you be leaving now? If you don’t hurry, Yukiyasha will end up eating you, too! …Yeaaaaah, right. As if she’d really want to eat 103-year-old meat. Hahahahaha!" Watching Korin laugh heartily and slap his knees during such a situation made the old-timer see in Korin a true beauty that went beyond masculinity or femininity. "…Korin. Why do you wish to fight Yukiyasha?…"

"Never mind that. Just go back to the village." Not bothering to answer his question, Korin hoisted the old man’s skin-and-bones body off the ground with one finger and tossed him gently out of the entrance to the cave. Thud… After the old man fell onto the soft snow outside of the cave, he mumbled to himself. "Could you possibly be…" The snow flurry was growing in intensity. As the old man happened to glance towards the side of the cave, he suddenly gulped in terror. A few feet away from him stood a beast he had never seen before… Its entire body was clothed in a thick fur, its back was hunched, and it stood on its hind legs. It glared quietly at the old man and bared its fangs. "Eeeeek…." Unable to scream, the 103-year-old man, despite his age, zoomed away from the scene as if his pants were on fire. * Whoooooooooo… Whooooooooooooooooooooooooo… The winds blew on with no sign of relenting. The blizzard started to pile up snow inside of the cave. Korin clenched both of his fists energetically. Just then, it felt as though the temperature in the cave had dropped many degrees. Korin hugged himself to stop his chattering teeth. Then he strained his eyes… He could feel a presence by the entrance to the cave. It was a small whirlwind of snow. It slowly came closer to him. The evil presence his Suzaku powers enabled him to sense was growing stronger and stronger. The temperature in the cave was lowering even more.

"…Yukiyasha…" Korin whispered quietly. The blizzard stopped instantly. Quiet fell onto the cave. The whirlwind of snow softly disappeared and Korin looked at what emerged from it. She was clothed in a long white robe and her long hair flowed and tangled like seaweed. Her eyes sparkled a deep red and she grinned from ear to ear. The woman who stood before Korin smiled eerily at him, painting the perfect picture for what a "Yukiyasha" should be. "Fuyoh…!" Korin yelled at her. At the sound of her name, the beast’s face twitched. For an instant, her face looked cloudy. "You’re Fuyoh, right?! Do you remember? It’s me, Korin!" "….Nnnngh," the beast moaned quietly from deep inside her throat. Fuyoh was still struggling. "Fuyoh! It’s not too late. Wake up, I’m begging you!" The woman only continued to shake her head weakly. "I promise I will kill the beast who has been bothering you. I won’t let the village smell like blood anymore! So please hang in there just a little longer! If you make it through tonight, I’m sure you will turn back into Fuyoh again tomorrow!" The beast breathed slowly and painfully. "Fuyoh!" Korin reached out his hand to Fuyoh, but at that instant, it was as though a bullet struck his hand away.

There’s a barrier around her… "Fuyoh! Fuyoh! You are not Yukiyasha! You’re Fuyoh! You’re a vegetarian and a hard-worker and you’re sweet, gentle, and beautiful Fuyoh!!" Korin screamed at the top of his lungs. The beast painfully ground her teeth. She ran claw-like fingers through her unruly hair. "And inside… of your belly… is Sonjun’s child…" "Ahhhhh…!" Hearing these words, Yukiyasha clutched her belly and raised a mournful cry. Just a bit more… "That’s right, Fuyoh! You need to come back and live with Sonjun and your baby…" That’s when it happened. Fuyoh slowly turned to look at Korin’s determined face. Then she stared at Korin with icy eyes. "…Shut up, impudent brat." There was not the faintest glimmer of humanity in her face. Perhaps the light of the full moon had completely reawakened her. Yukiyasha’s icy cold stare fell down onto Korin and sent cold chills down his back. "Fuyoh!!" "Are you… the most beautiful virgin in the village…?" No longer responding to Korin’s protests, the beast hungrily licked her lips with a bright red tongue.

Korin took one step backward off the shrine. The beast continued to come closer. The surrounding air was so cold it could freeze even breath. "Fuyoh!! Fuyoh, listen!!" The beast took another step closer. "I am…so hungry…" Korin concentrated all his energy on his body. He was able to protect himself from Yukiyasha’s freezing spell this way. "Hmhmhmhmhmhm…" The beast’s face was thrust before Korin’s eyes. Something shot out of her mouth. Ah!… In an instant, Korin lost all control of his body. "It has been so long… since I’ve eaten meat…" Yukiyasha’s red eyes opened wide. Her icy cold hand grabbed Korin’s robe and violently threw it open… Yukiyasha’s red eyes were glued to Korin’s chest. For an instant, her energy faltered and Korin was broken from her spell. "So sorry about that!" Korin dashed away a few paces and said, "Do you dislike beautiful boys?" He faced Yukiyasha and struck a fighting pose once again. "Who …are you…" Yukiyasha’s eyes were even more fixated on Korin’s chest now.

"Oh, you mean this?" Korin casually stroked the red symbol that was glowing on his chest. "Haven’t you heard of Nuriko, one of Suzaku’s seven warriors?" The beast’s face was overcome with hatred. A quiet moaning came from her mouth. Korin shook his head lightly. …Fuyoh will not come back… She’s gone… Korin raised his head sharply. "Well, what will you do? Would you still like to eat me? Sorry, but I won’t let you do that so easily. As one of Suzaku’s warriors, it’s my duty to fight to protect the peace in my country. So that’s why… I will fight you!" * "Yukiyasha… you said?" Byakuren opened her mouth wide. Her arms which had been shaking her brother violently suddenly subsided. After the procession had taken off Korin to Goddess Peak in her place, Byakuren had pounced on her brother to tell her the whole story. And at last, she finally heard the Legend of Yukiyasha… "So… So what will happen to Korin?" Tenbun shook his head quietly. "Are you saying she’ll be sacrificed to Yukiyasha instead of me?!" Tenbun bit his lip. "Why… why…!"

Byakuren’s heartbeat grew irregular. Why did Korin drag me off of the shrine and go in my place? To rescue me…? Because she thinks of me as her little sister…? That must mean when Korin beautified herself it wasn’t so she would be chosen to go to the capital. It was so she would be chosen as the sacrifice… A fiery hot sensation shot through Byakuren’s body. Just then, a large, round shadow came stumbling up to the two. "Awful news! You two had better get back in your house!" Tamatama said through his panting. "Your mother doesn’t look too good…" "Mom?!" The color in Tenbun’s face changed dramatically. Tamatama turned to Byakuren and nodded slightly. "Don’t worry. I’m sure Korin will be fine…" "…What??" Byakuren stood dead in her tracks and watched Tamatama drag her brother off towards their house. Korin will be fine? How could Tamatama say something so stupid?! That can’t be true. Korin’s going up against a flesh-eating monster. I know Korin is a bit strong, but still… Byakuren dropped her belongings on the ground and turned around to face the other direction. As if turning her back on her brother and Tamatama, she took off running. "Mom… Forgive me…" From out of Byakuren’s belongings, a small purple ball rolled. It slowly rolled along the ground in the opposite direction of Byakuren.

* "Aaaaaaaaaah!!" Out of Yukiyasha’s mouth came a savage, insane cry. Korin quickly dodged the white snow flurry that escaped from her mouth at the same time. Korin grabbed a large rock by his feet and threw it at Yukiyasha. Yukiyasha’s head turned towards the rock. Blown by her icy breath, the rock stopped midair and shattered to the ground. A small whirlwind of snow came from Yukiyasha’s body. It grew larger and larger. Whooooooooooooo… "Wah!…" Caught up in the snow flurry, Korin’s body was flung against the wall. "Nnngh…" Every time he stood, he was once again smashed against the wall. It was almost as if Yukiyasha herself were striking him with her fists. The temperature in the cave continued to drop, and with it, most of Korin’s strength had diminished. "….What’s the use of super powers… if they don’t work when you need them…" Out of strength to even stand again, Korin murmured this with frozen lips. Then, suddenly, he sensed something blazing by the entrance to the cave. "Korin!"

Seeing the girl carrying a torch bound into the cave, Korin caught his breath. "…Byakuren…" For a while, Byakuren stood motionless in the cave. After assessing both Korin and Yukiyasha, at last she spoke, trying to suppress the trembling in her voice. "Ohhh. So you’re Yukiyasha…" As if to identify the beast for sure, Byakuren thrust the torch she had found on the way to the cave in Yukiyasha’s direction. Seeing the frightening monster before her, Byakuren’s face grew pale. Little did she know that this hideous beast was really the sweet and beautiful Fuyoh she knew and loved. Yukiyasha’s eyes seemed to be drawn to Byakuren. This girl who was wrapped in the ceremonial white robe must have been the real offering the villagers sent to her. There was no mistaking it. From beneath the robe, Yukiyasha could see clear curves in this girl’s body. Though she had a swollen and bruised cheek, she was still quite a beautiful girl. And the blood that escaped from the cuts she had on her bare feet from running up here made her mouth water with anticipation. I want to kill her now and drink her fresh, young blood and feast on her beautiful, pure meat… Yukiyasha stared at the orange fire which danced in front of the girl. While Yukiyasha was distracted by Byakuren, Korin pulled himself to his feet and called out, "Byakuren, don’t come any closer!" Yukiyasha glared sharply at Korin. "Ngh!…"

Korin’s body was frozen into position. It felt as though icy water was enclosing his body. He could neither move nor speak. Yukiyasha took another step towards Byakuren. Don’t drop your torch!! Korin screamed out silently. Yukiyasha seemed to hate fire. As long as Byakuren held the torch, she would be safe. "Korin…" Byakuren said as she looked at Korin’s bare chest. "So you’re not…really a girl, are you…" Yukiyasha took another step towards Byakuren. Korin desperately tried to channel his energy. "…And you are also one of Suzaku’s warriors…too…" Crack… Crack… Gradually, the ice barrier around Korin began to break apart. "I finally understand now why you sacrificed yourself in my place…" Yukiyasha gazed up at the countless icicles which hung from the ceiling of the cave. Byakuren…! Yukiyasha was thinking of dropping one of the icicles to put out the torch. "I had the wrong impression… I thought that just maybe you did this because you loved me…" Korin clenched his teeth. Crack… Crack… Just a bit more…

"But… That’s okay. I finally understand. …This is the first time I’ve ever felt this way. It doesn’t really matter if…the one you love is male or female…" Byakuren’s eyes fell on Korin, who had nearly broken through the ice. Don’t drop your torch!! What happened after this played before Korin’s eyes in slow motion. As if she had heard what Korin had just thought, Byakuren shook her head apologetically. Yukiyasha’s eyes focused on an icicle which hung directly above Byakuren’s torch. Byakuren slipped off her robe. The body of the naked virgin girl shone dimly in the fire and ice. "Come, feast on me…" Byakuren commanded Yukiyasha. CRACKLE! The icicle cracked away from the ceiling. Byakuren faced Korin and threw the torch at him. "Run!!" she yelled. His barrier melted by the torch burning at his feet, Korin was free. Byakuren suddenly looked up at the ceiling of the cave. "Byakuren!!"

Korin ran up to Byakuren and held her icicle-pierced body close. "…Korin…" Byakuren squinted her eyes. "…Thank you… The other day… you held me like this… and kept me warm… didn’t you…" Inside of Korin’s arms, Byakuren gave a satisfied smile. "This is the first time… I ever thought… that I wanted to do something… to help the person I love…" "…Byakuren…" "…To help… you… Korin…" Korin lightly shook Byakuren’s body. "Wh…what are you saying? That doesn’t sound like you… Why don't you say something… hateful and sarcastic like you usually do?…" Korin continued to shake her violently. "…Tell me, why…. Hey… You idiot… wake up… Come on, wake up…!!" Seeing the girl’s death, Yukiyasha’s eyebrow twitched. She felt a stinging sensation in her body just then. But she didn’t know what it was. But she felt it. And it was followed by more pangs of pain. Her precious sacrifice had been soiled and it was all the fault of that horrible man-woman. "Arghhhhhhhh!!" Yukiyasha scrunched her claws through her hair in anger and frustration. Then she slowly stood to her feet and faced the remaining defenseless human in the cave. Yukiyasha saw what looked like flaming energy intensify and escape from his body.

SHHHHHHHH!!! She blew ice at him. It was blocked. The beast’s face twisted in anger, then her hair grew out. In an instant, her prey was bundled up in her hair. "Nngh!…" Freeing a hand, Korin pulled fiercely on the hair. Mustering up his strength, he gave her tresses a strong tug, sending her body flying up into the air. She smashed against the wall. Amidst his panting, Korin slowly made his way over to the motionless Yukiyasha. He cautiously peered into her face. From nowhere, the beast’s hand reached out. His ankle grabbed, Korin fell to the ground. This time, the beasts claws grew longer and longer and pierced into Korin’s body. "Nnngh!!" Both Yukiyasha’s hair and claws sank into Korin’s body. "C…can’t breathe…!" Her hair had wrapped itself around his mouth and neck. Blood dripped steadily out of his punctured body. Korin clenched his teeth and mustered up the last of his strength. It wasn’t just my sister… this time I let Byakuren die, too… I let two sweet little girls die…! I’m supposed to be a powerful warrior who will protect Konan! And I’m just going to die here with Yukiyasha without a fight? I can’t… I can’t let that happen!!

"Let me tell you about the power Suzaku gave me…" somehow Korin’s voice escaped from the tangled mass of hair and claws. "It’s super-human strength; stronger than anyone…" Hearing this, Yukiyasha narrowed her eyes. "…So you are Suzaku’s Nuriko…?" She tightened her grip on her prey. Her face suddenly looked troubled.

Her prey seemed to be tugging on her hair and claws with tremendous force. "Nnnnghhhh…!" Yukiyasha painfully tightened her grasp on Korin. "Kkkkk…!" A voice unlike a scream or whimper came from her mouth. This tug-of-war continued on for minutes. Finally, unable to withstand the hot energy which emitted from her prey, Yukiyasha let out a howl.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!" A white blizzard escaped her mouth and smashed against the walls and ceiling of the cave. Crash, crash, crash, crash, crash!! At that instant, with a loud rumbling noise, the ice cave came crumbling to the ground. * "Fuyoh!! Fuyoh!! Fuyoh!!!!" Just when the sky was beginning to fill with the white of dawn, Sonjun came climbing up to Goddess Peak, carrying a torch. Just as he arrived, he heard the rumbling noise and saw the entrance of the cave collapse. "…Fuyoh… Korin…" Sonjun fell to his knees and held his face in his hands. Crash… Just then, a huge boulder floated into the air. Seeing someone emerge from the cave, holding the boulder as if it were a toy ball, Sonjun let out an excited yell. "…Ko…Korin…!" In his arms, Korin held the corpse of the other most beautiful virgin in the village. "…Uncle Sonjun." While gazing into the cave, Korin spoke to Sonjun. "Fuyoh…wants to see you…" "…She does?!" "Yes," Korin nodded. "So go be with her… She doesn’t have much longer…please…"

Korin softly lost consciousness. ----------

Chapter 10: Final Chapter of Snow t was now daybreak… Each and every one of the villagers who peered cautiously from their windows, nearly fainted in shock. This was because the feet of snow that had piled up on the ground during the past fifteen days was completely gone.

Everyone doubted their eyesight and wondered if the snow had just been an illusion. The villagers cautiously herded themselves up towards the foot of Goddess Peak. With just one look at the peak from where they stood, it was clear that the cave at the top of the mountain had collapsed. It was no illusion. The cave where Yukiyasha lived was now sealed off. Then, the villagers caught sight of Korin slowly walking down the hill holding a white-skinned Byakuren, with Sonjun walking steadily behind… Tenbun stumbled up to his little sister while calling out her name… They watched over all of this solemnly with hung heads. It had ended. The legend was gone, and peace had returned to the village. "I was unable to save Byakuren…" Korin said as a tear rolled down his cheek. "…And what’s more… I was the one who was saved…by her…" Tenbun lightly shook his head. "…My sister…surely…was happy. …She was courageous and true-spirited…she was… Even at the end, she still followed her feelings… before she died… Compared to my sister… I’m just a…" "Don’t blame yourself too much," Tamatama said as he gave Tenbun’s hand a squeeze. "I’m sure that… with her mother at her side, Byakuren won’t be lonely…" Next to Byakuren’s body also lay the empty body of her mother. Apparently, she took her last breath just after Byakuren left to sacrifice herself to Yukiyasha.

"If Byakuren was chosen to be the sacrifice, Mom asked me to tell her she was chosen to join the harem…" Tenbun said in a choked voice. "She said… that way Byakuren wouldn’t have to suffer before she died…" "…I’m sorry…" Korin wiped his eyes. A smiling Tenbun shook his head again. Just then, a loud voice arose from outside of the house. "The messenger from the capital has arrived! Heyyy, the messenger from the capital has arrived!!" Korin, Tenbun, and Tamatama all gave each other expressions of mixed emotions. "If only he’d come a day sooner…" Tamatama whispered. Tenbun’s head dropped. "Candidates for the harem should assemble to the Chinju Courtyard immediately!" As the man’s voice said this over and over again, it grew fainter and fainter. "How stupid. There aren’t any worthy candidates left in this village…" Korin, with his hands rested firmly around the violet ball next to Byakuren’s pillow, slowly stood to his feet. "I… will go back to the capital." Tenbun and Tamatama looked at Korin in shock.

"You caaaan’t. You need to at least go to Byakuren’s and her mom’s funeral… What’re ya thinking?" Gazing deeply into Byakuren’s face, Korin stroked her hair over and over again. "…Staring today… you will also be my little sister…" A little whimper escaped Korin’s clenched teeth. "I will live out your life for you… I will do the things you wanted to do…" "Korin…?" Tamatama asked with a dropped jaw. Korin chuckled lightly. "I will join the harem," he said with a little wink to Tamatama. Don’t worry. I won’t be discovered. Thanks to you, I’ve become such a pretty woman that even a transvestite won’t recognize me. "…So you’ll be gone…then," Tenbun said, sadly gazing up at Korin. "But… I’m sure…my little sister only was a fan of the emperor…" Tenbun said carefully, remembering the special feelings he noticed Byakuren held for Korin. "No," Korin disagreed bluntly. "How do you know that? We’d need to meet Saihitei first to be sure. And I at least have to thank him in Byakuren’s place." Tamatama nodded. "I get it. So just leave then! I’ll handle things for ya. So don't worry," he said as he took Tenbun’s hand. "…Tamatama…"

"Tenbun, no matter how lost and spineless you might be, I’ve always loved ya. So whenever ya need help, just call me. … I want to help you. And I can’t just leave ya alone after what’s happened to you, can I? Not after your only living family members both died at once… So even if ya don’t like it, I’m still gonna be near you for a while…okay?" Korin smiled back at Tamatama. Tenbun spoke with tears in his voice, "…thank you…" "Well, bye…" Tamatama held a hand out to stop Korin as he tried to leave the house. "Lemme see something." He then proceeded to check Korin’s whole appearance. Rumpled clothing was smoothed, and he whipped out some rouge and rubbed it on Korin’s lips. And then, after spitting up his hands, he forcefully smoothed a protesting Korin’s hair. "All right! Tamatama Special Camellia complete! Well, stick your chest out proudly and go!" With a hard shove on his back, Korin bolted out of the house where Byakuren had spent the last six years of her life. While looking over Tenbun’s back as he watched Korin leave, Tamatama thought to himself. That’s pretty ironic… To think that a brother and sister so close they might as well be twins would both fall in love with Korin… There’s still hope for Tenbun, since he still doesn’t know Korin’s true sex, but there’s no telling how confused and guilty Byakuren must have felt at first. Imagining first hand how Byakuren must have felt, Tamatama’s chest tightened. Byakuren didn’t get the chance to say so, but perhaps she was able to see Korin’s true form before she died?…

Tamatama looked over at Byakuren’s beautiful, happy-looking dead face. I’m sure… she must have been able to tell him how she felt before she left… "Who in the world…IS Korin…" To Tenbun’s eternal question, Tamatama answered, "Korin has a fate to return to the capital. As one of the ‘chosen ones’…" In addition to Tenbun’s house, there was another house in the village that, amidst the hustle and bustle of the messenger’s arrival, was quiet and solemn. "I’m home…" Korin said as he quietly opened the front door. Just like the first day he arrived at this house, Sonjun sat crosslegged on the floor, weaving rope. "Uncle…" he said as he sat in front of Sonjun. Sonjun’s face was wet with tears as it looked up at korin. …Realizing that his distant relative was uncertain of what to call him, Korin said, "Korin…is okay with me." With a little nod, Sonjun told him, "When Fuyoh died… inside of my arms, she turned back into the Fuyoh we knew… Korin." Just when the cave on Goddess Peak was about to collapse, the strength in Yukiyasha’s hair which was restraining Korin suddenly gave out. Crash, crash, crash, crash, crash!!!! Unleashing his body, Korin caught the two heavy boulders which fell from the ceiling, about to crush the two. A now defenseless

Korin looked at Yukiyasha. All signs of the beast were now gone from the face of the woman who stood next to her. "…Korin…" While shaking her head violently, Fuyoh looked at her hands. "Hurry and run before the entrance caves in!!" Korin screamed. Fuyoh was struck dumb amidst Korin’s commands. "…How can you suggest that?… I’m… not a…human…" "That has nothing to do with anything! Don't torture yourself anymore! Go back to be with Sonjun!" "…Korin…" Crash, crash, crash, crash!!!! The roof of the cave was now collapsing even more. "You’re not Yukiyasha! You’re Fuyoh! So hurry! Hurry!!!" Fuyoh continued to stare blankly at Korin. "Don't worry about me. I am one of Suzaku’s, after all. As you can see, I’ve got incredible superhuman strength!!" "…Ko…rin…" her eyes flooded with tears and her lips quivered. For an instant, Fuyoh turned towards the entrance to the cave. But as she did this, she also caught sight of the innocent girl’s corpse lying on the ground. Her face clouded over. And then, her hand fell on her middle and she stared intently at it. She had no other chance to talk to Korin.

"The frozen beast at the front of the entrance will begin to move again soon. Don’t forget to take your torch out with you when you leave…!" Amidst the rain of falling boulders, Fuyoh ran deeper into the cave with such speed that no one could stop her. "Fuyoh said… in the end… she said thank you…and smiled at me…" Sonjun said. "She said she was sorry she couldn’t avoid turning into a flesh-eating monster again… but that she was happy to be able to hear my voice… because that’s what turned her back into a human…" "…Uncle" For a moment, Fuyoh had considered trying to live again as a human. But perhaps after seeing Byakuren’s body and thinking of the fate of her future child… she chose to end her life instead. "…She said she was happy… that she met me… and that she lived with me… and that… I loved her… and that… she also…loved me…" From then on, the rest he said was inaudible. Korin pulled Sonjun’s large body into his arms. "…Uncle" Then, rising quietly, he told him, "Thanks for letting me stay here. I’m going back to the capital now…" "Korin…" Not even asking Korin how he intended to tie up his affairs in this village or how he intended to go home, Sonjun nodded.

"I’m considering telling the whole truth to the oldest elder…" About the truth of Fuyoh and Korin’s identity… Though that instinctive man might have already figured out all of this already. It’s also likely he might be able to help Sonjun. Finally, Korin took Sonjun’s hand. "Don't see me off. Stay here and give Fuyoh a proper funeral…" Korin looked out the window that showed Goddess Peak, the place where Fuyoh chose as her grave. "From today on, Fuyoh can still continue to be the goddess of this village…" * Meanwhile, at the Chinju Courtyard, a little disturbance was underway. "Now, who wants to join Saihitei’s harem…?" Barely after the messenger opened his mouth, he was bombarded by the maidens of the village. "Ahhhh! Saihitei! Your Majestyyyyyy!!!" As if the messenger himself were the emperor, the giggling girls with flushed cheeks crowded him violently. He jumped back in terror. This time it was the grandfathers of these girls who stepped forward. "Who gave you permission to join the harem?!" "I’m not gonna take orders from you, Grandpa!"

"Listen! Don’t you even know what a harem is? It’s a perverse place where you’re used and taken advantage of whenever the emperor pleases!" "I don’t care! He’s so beautiful!" Watching the exact reverse reactions of the grandfathers and their granddaughters, the messenger from the capital scratched his head and stared on dumbly. "Nevertheless!" the messenger raised his voice to try and settle the crowd. "Those of you who have permission from your families, please step forward." After some soft murmuring from the crowd, about ten girls stepped forward before the messenger. The chubby Aiai, and the freckled Reirei were among those who stood proudly in line. After checking the girls one by one, the messenger heaved a sigh. "By the way, what happened to the girl who spoke out the first time I came by?" When he asked this, the crowd was suddenly silent. "Byakuren is…" the oldest elder hobbled up to the messenger. "She has become a sacrifice for our village and is in Heaven now…" The messenger caught his breath in shock. Well, I don’t know what they mean by "sacrifice", but the most beautiful girl in this village has died… I had even hoped she might become Saihitei’s empress… Not hiding his discouragement, the messenger said, "I’m sorry, but there is not one maiden suitable for the harem in this village…"

"Not so faaaaast!!" The heads of everyone in the courtyard turned to see the owner of the voice. "Messenger! Have you no taste at all?" An hour passed. Korin, clothed in rich clothing, was placed inside of a carriage drawn by four horses. "Giddiap!" At the sound of the coach driver’s voice, the horses took off. "Korin! Take caaaare!" "Say hi to Saihitei for meeee!" Panting voices cried out as the villagers ran behind the carriage. "Ahhhh, she really IS too pretty…" The girls of the village put their hands to their faces in disappointment. "…But that’s not all, ya know. That girl defeated Yukiyasha…" Even the man who voted that Korin be sacrificed to Yukiyasha spoke out in awe. As everyone watched on happily while Korin rode off to join the harem, the old timer was the only one who stroked his beard doubtfully.

"…Korin. You should not serve Saihitei as a woman… but as one of Suzaku’s warriors…" As the frantically waving hands of the villagers at the entrance to Yukigase Village slowly disappeared, and Goddess Peak had slipped out of vision, Korin spoke to the messenger who sat on the seat next to him. "Say, what kind of man is Saihitei?" "Good question…" the messenger paused, then answered, "He’s kind-hearted, and very virtuous. … Yes, I remember a specific incident that showed these qualities six years ago…" Korin listened with a bowed head as the messenger told the story of how one day, Saihitei rescued the life of a girl while he had sneaked into the capital’s streets. "However, it is said that his Majesty always seems to have a distant and lonely look in his eyes… That is probably because he was placed on the throne after a long struggle within the royal family… Not all those by his side are true allies." "Ohhh… I wonder if… the emperor has never been loved by anyone?…" "That is why I hope you and the other young women of the harem can at least give him some comfort… However, he has yet to even visit the harem. We want him, though, to choose an empress as soon as possible." "Hmmmm…" Korin folded his arms. "…Your name was ‘Korin’, right?" the messenger asked as he stole a sideways glance. "I think his Majesty might find favor in you."

Korin grinned back at the messenger. "If it were up to me, I would have you marry him tomorrow and bear his child." "Bft!" The messenger hastily patted the back of the suddenly coughing girl. "Hey there, are you okay? I’m sorry about that. I shouldn’t have suddenly brought up the subject of children in front of a virgin. Hahahaha." There was one shadowed figure who watched from the rocks as the carriage left the village. "…That…little shrew…" Ashitare groaned. On an earlier night along the rope-bridge, just when he was about to dine on a beautiful girl who was walking alone, that other girl had thrown him into the river. And then, just the night before, he had gone to Yukiyasha’s cave, hoping to have a nice feast, but was instead paralyzed by the beast he thought had not existed. Just when the spell had worn off that morning, the body of the girl he wished to consume was being carried down the mountain by that same girl, holding a torch. That girl’s powers are so frightening that she even defeated that beast Yukiyasha… And now, she is in a royal carriage on the way to the capital. "…Who in the world is she?…" Ashitare did not have the drive physically or emotionally to chase after the girl and get his revenge, but a fiery loathing of her lodged itself deep in his soul. His beast-like right hand crushed the mouse

it held, and Ashitare brought it to his grimacing lips. Then, after shivering in disgust, he bounded off towards Kutoh. It would be after one week of wandering aimlessly around Kutoh that Ashitare would be found by his old master, the owner of the freak-show. And it would be then after another month that Seiryuu’s warrior Nakago would find him there. One week later… The carriage entered the capital’s streets. "My, what a beautiful girl she is." "She’s probably going to join the harem." The various city-dwellers who stole glances inside of the carriage admired Korin’s beauty. Korin’s eyes sparkled and smiled in response to everyone, but then suddenly fell on one young man in the crowd. "…Brother…" Though clad in rich robes and dressed in heavy makeup, Rokoh still recognized his little brother in the carriage and stared at him intently. "Brother…?" the messenger asked Korin. "No, one of those men looked like my dead brother…" After making this excuse to the messenger, Korin spoke to his family inside of his mind: I couldn’t turn back into Ryuuen after all.

I will continue to live together with Korin. And I also have a new little sister. I need to live as a woman for her sake as well. So please forgive me. I’m sorry… The carriage that held Korin gracefully made its way into Konan’s imperial palace. * "Make way for Saihitei!" At the sound of the courtman’s voice, the 100 or so members of the harem that were collected in the drawing room bowed in unison. Korin, who stood at the end of the line, also bowed deeply. "Raise your heads." At the sound of that voice, the girls all looked up. Saithitei sat on his throne. His posture was refined and beautiful. With slightly shy eyes, he looked over the girls. A faint sigh which could not escape as words escaped from the crowd. Undoubtedly, each of them had fallen in love with the young emperor at that moment. Korin stared intently at Saihitei. His beauty surpassed that of any woman he had ever seen. And deep within his innocent eyes rested his sense of serious duty as the young emperor of Konan. However, the first impression Korin received from him was the lonely aura of which the messenger had spoken. The sorrow which emitted from his body matched the sorrow Ryuuen felt dressed as his younger sister.

Korin slipped a violet ball from her sleeve and let it fall to the floor. The ball rolled along the floor until it hit the base of the throne. After picking up the ball, Saihitei read the words "thank you" that were written on the ball. Then, he slowly faced his harem. Saihitei’s searching eyes moved over the girls one by one. Finally, his eyes fell on Korin. He sharply tilted his head. It seemed as though he had sensed something from Korin, but then his eyes continued to move along. After looking over the last girl of the harem, he looked down solemnly.

…Byakuren, he still remembers you… If perhaps Byakuren had made it to the harem, surely her simple feelings of "awe" towards the emperor would have grown into love. Korin spoke to Byakuren inside his heart, I will try and accomplish what you couldn’t…

And now, Korin’s feelings for Saihitei at this point were more intense than those of any other member of the harem. Konan’s emperor, Saihitei. As a woman, Korin fell in love with that seventeen-year-old emperor. And also, Suzaku’s warrior, Hotohori. Nuriko swore loyalty to Konan and to his priestess. However, just as the messenger had said, the emperor did not once set foot in the harem for days to come, causing Korin and the other members to grow impatient. … But that is another story. It would be another year before Saihitei and Korin would meet again. However, soon after their reunion, Korin’s fate would be changed when he reveals himself as Nuriko, and he, Tamahome, Hotohori, and their priestess start on the path to calling Suzaku. Yet another fated tragedy would await him in Hokkan when he would abandon his womanhood. And the countdown to this tragedy was already initiated. Korin spoke to his little sisters: I will continue to live. I will live with all my strength. So I won’t regret anything when I die. I will try my hardest and live on. The female Cho Korin. The Suzaku warrior, Nuriko

With these two fates bound to his breast, the most beautiful harem member in the country continued to gaze at Saihitei with sparkling eyes.

-The end----------

Freetalks from the authors
(From Nishizaki Megumi, the author):

Hello! Nishizaki Megumi speaking. So at last, book #3 in the Fushigi Yuugi novel series has come out. This novel’s star, thanks to overwhelming demand, was Nuriko! Yaaaay, Yaaaay! Why did Nuriko join the harem? Why did he fall for Hotohori? And the bottom line: IS Nuriko really gay?… To answer all of these questions, simply read this handy little book and I’m sure your eyes will pop out with revelation. Hmhmhm, but that ain’t all, folks. Nuriko is a strikingly beautiful and strong boy. And then we have the appearance of a beautiful girl who gains the attitude, "arrrgh, who cares about gender! Love is what matters!" And this girl also shares a similar relationship with her brother as Nuriko shared with his sister, Korin. Oops, but that still ain’t all, folks. The fated character who will end Nuriko’s life also appears: Ashitare (Did that make you happy? Huh? I shouldn’t have brought him in? Awww, don’t say that.) I let them encounter each other briefly to foreshadow their future. Come to think of it, this story even goes into detail over how Ashitare joined up with the other Seiryuu Seven. Hahaha. And in addition to these characters, we had the rich and colorful transvestite, Tamatama, the 103-year-old, silly old man, and also the sad and beautiful Yukiyasha that appears in the title of this book. What a cute little cast. Well then, what exactly is so appealing about Nuriko anyway?

I guess it’s his sense of warm love that comes across as genderless. He seems like the type of guy who would come up to you if you were feeling down, pat your shoulder and say something like, "Heyyyy, cheer up already. If you want, you can talk to me about it." And on top of that all, he’s strong, brave, good at caring for others, beautiful, and a good cook… Hmmmm, Nuriko’s perfect! But then, he became gay (?) over the tragic death of his little sister, and then joined the harem over the tragic death of Byakuren, and then fell in love with Hotohori… Don’t’cha think Nuriko’s sacrificed his own happiness just a LITTLE too much for the sake of others? If only he had stayed home and worked at the clothing shop, he probably would have grown up into a dashing man popular with the ladies… At the end of the manga, Nuriko DOES develop a little romantic feeling for Miaka… But in the end, he didn’t let himself experience what it’s like to be in love for himself and died while fulfilling his duty as her warrior. Ahhhhh, what’s the deal with that! But! Nuriko lived more fully than most people can boast. Just like he vowed to at the end of this book. That was what I wanted to bring across the most in this book and in Nuriko’s character. Well, let’s try and live just as good and hard as Nuriko! So, who’s gonna star in the next novel? I eagerly await your requests.

Watase Yuu-sensei, thank you for the beautiful illustrations and for editing my Kansai dialect [*I don’t remember if I mentioned this earlier, but Tamatama uses the Kansai dialect, just like Tasuki.] And also, thank you, O-sensei, Watase’s assistant. And also, thanks to all the Fushigi Yuugi fans. Well, I look forward to the next day we can meet! Ciao~ *heart* -Nishizaki Megumi (From Watase Yuu, the illustrator) Hello, hello! This’s Watase! So yet another Fushigi Yuugi novel came out, #3! This was again made possible by the glorious response from all my fans *tears* Usually, the concepts for these novels are created by me, my assistant, and Nishizaki-sensei with lots of energy and debate (I usually do the most criticizing), but we always end up talking about the other characters so much. It seems like fate is always so cruel to the characters, especially once again in this story! But… I suppose it was even more cruel of me to stick in an illustration of the character Nuriko-fans despise the most: Ashitare! *laugh* Come to think of it, Nuriko’s main image song, "Kaze no Uta", surpassed the songs of the other characters and was ranked #1! [*….it’s a nice song and all, but certainly not the best : p ]

That’s just how popular he was. Actually, he’s the favorite character among all the fans of the anime. Personally, I think he is pretty much "perfect" *laugh*. But he’s the kind of character that makes you wonder… how did he become that way? To those who write him off as "just some gay dude", let’s laugh back at them and say, "Hmph! Don’t you understand what it is to be *human*? You’re so immature". *laugh* Actually, in April, '98, I went to an all-Fushigi Yuugi doujinshi convention in Tokyo, just for a peek at what was going on, and everyone seemed very peaceful and friendly with each other. At first, I went into the room a little embarrassed, thinking maybe no one would recognize me, but it only took about 30 seconds before someone did recognize me. (or rather, I was forced to introduce myself) And then, when many people asked me for autographs, most of the requests were for ones with illustrations of Nuriko. And on top of that, the BGM they used during the convention was all Fushigi Yuugi anime music, and whenever Nuriko's songs came on, lots of people sang along. I sorta went "Wowwww" *laugh*. And thanks to those people who gave me copies of their doujinshi! They were fun! So I wonder if those and other Nuriko fans enjoyed this book? I was very happy to be able to draw him dressed as a woman again after so long. Well, I wonder who's going to be next? … I might even go with one about Seiryuu next time. Fushigi Yuugi World will still continue!! Even today, I still get fanmail from people, saying they've started to read the manga and love it… Incidentally, Fushigi Yuugi will not be aired in reruns on TV, due to that Pokemon incident… you know, the light-flashing one [*I have no clue what she's talking about here…]. Awwww, but Taiwan is rerunning it over and over again! *laugh*

But isn't it nice to have more Fushigi Yuugi come in the form of novels instead? It's nice to be able to use your own images in your mind for the stories, and not images from other people's heads. And finally, I'd like to thank Nishizaki-sensei again and my editor (sorry I didn't get the illustrations done on time). See ya later! [sketch of Tasuki and Nuriko] Nuriko: Is this fan service? On the way back from a convention, my assistant and I were talking, and she mentioned that many Fushigi Yuugi fans are very nice people. I wasn't too surprised. Yup. ----------

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