Fushigi Yuugi Supplemental Biography 2 -- Legend of Shoryuu -[The Legend of the Rising Dragon] Written by Megumi Nishizaki Created

and Illustrated by Yuu Watase Translated by: Tetris no Miko Compiled by Annz ‘n’ Dipz

Fushigi Yuugi Gaiden 2 --Shoryuu Den-- and all included images are copyrighted 1998 by Watase Yuu, Megumi Nishizaki and Kyodo Printing of Kabushiki Company. This translation is to be strictly used for non-commercial purposes only. No profit is made from this website. If you would like to use this translation or any part of this translation (or put it up on your webpage) please let me know in advance.

Table of Contents
The Main Characters Kouran to the Rescue The Roaming Wanderer Training with a Child Companion A Danger to Seisengou To the Last Trial The Revived Nightmare Sundered Love To that Promised Place A Replay of Fate The Birth of Chichiri Afterword About the Authors
The time of Chichiri's harsh training is now approaching!! It's been 3 years since the great flood that struck his hometown, and Houjun Li continues to wander. However, his sense of guilt from just looking on as the flood swallowed his best friend, the one who had snatched away his fiance, is deep. Houjun, while in the depths of despair, throws himself into a great river. But, Kouran, a girl with the same name as his fiance, saves him, and in order to become "the Suzaku Shichiseishi Chichiri" he begins strict training under Taiitsukun at Mt. Taikyoku. That is a battle with his own heart. And at that time, Nakago of Kutou is advancing a plan to submerge Kounan's village...!!

The Main Characters

Note: I have translated the captions going from top to bottom and right to left. (The characters in the upper right hand corner of the picture says "The Main Characters". Also, sorry about the crease in the center of the picture, but I can't do anything about it. Houjun Li A buddhist monk who continues to wander because of certain circumstances. Possesses the mark of Chichiri, one of the Suzaku Shichiseishi. Taiitsukun An enigmatic old woman who lives at the summit of Mt. Taikyoku. Nyang-nyang An enigmatic girl that joins Houjun during his travels. Shuusei Ryuu

Koran’s childhood friend and her current lover, but he is drafted into Kutoh’s military and has to leave her. In many ways, he resembles Chichiri’s late-friend, Hikou. And in the same way, he and Chichiri sort of get caught in a love triangle with the current Koran…. Sheesh, they might as well’ve just written a book about Chichiri, Hikou, and Koran Kouran Ou

A girl living in Seisengou. Rescues Houjun, when he was trying to kill himself. She greatly resembles Chichiri’s dead fiancee, and even has the same name! (talk about your weird coincidences…) Her character is interesting in a way because it sort of provides insight to the late-Koran’s character. Nakago A young Kutou general. One of the Seiryuu Shichiseishi. Kenmin Ou Kouran's father and village head of Seisengou.

1 Kouran to the Rescue

Flash! Rumble, rumble, rumble, rumble!! As the earth-rending thunder crashed, rain fell from above like a waterfall. The strenghtening wind made the trees on the riverbank shake violently as a heart rending scream rose from among them. "......" The great river rapidly swelled. Clad in a flapping swirled cape, Houjun Li gazed intently at the river's edge as the rings of the staff clasped in his hand made a clattering sound. (It's just like that time...), Houjun thought. Three years ago at that riverbank I questioned you violently. The feeling within my chest is the same as that time when the terrible storm had raged at our village. It's exactly the same as that time... "Why... Why did you betray me!?" You never answered those words of mine. In a frenzy, I grabbed your right arm, but despite thrusting the dagger into your chest, you remained silent and simply stared at me. "Give her... give her back!" I shouted, just as the river ruptured. Your foothold collapsed with a splash, and as I watched you swallowed by the water. I didn't mean to let go... of your right arm, which I had been holding then.

"...Houjun. He...lp......" From within dark water, I could hear your voice pleading for my help. I hadn't meant to let your arm go. No matter how terrible your behavior had been... Despite that, I... I... As Houjun's right eye, the one which was able to see the world, slowly looked up to the heavens, he quietly murmured, "I'm... coming..." And then Houjun shouted the name of his former best friend, "Hikou..." It was three years since the flood that struck his hometown, and Houjun Li, who continued to travel alone, again questioned his lost best friend on the start of all that and the sorrow that continued to torture him. "This time I'll listen to the reason. The reason why you betrayed me..." And then with both hands held before his chest, Houjun threw himself noiselessly into the muddy eddy of water before his eyes. At that instant, Houjun could vividly recall face after face of the people that the unfeeling natural disaster had snatched away from him. His honored father, his kind mother, the older sister that reminded him of a mischievous older brother... The three smiling faces of his family. The gallant mouth and fearlessly determined looks of his unequaled best friend, Hikou. And then-I loved you with all my heart... No, I thought that I loved the smile of a very young beautiful girl-* "Oh, brother," a hoarse voice muttered in front of something resembling a gigantic mirror.

"It's finally come to this. Although you seem mature, how much longer will you take..." And then, both of those round shoulders lurched and dropped with a sigh. * (Kou...ra...n...!?) His brain responded spasmodically to the sound. "Kouran..., Kouran..." He was sure he could hear a faint voice yelling that name. "Kouran. Kouran!" That voice was louder the next time. It was a man's voice. "Okay. I'm coming now." The sound of a young woman's voice, and then, the pattering sound of running feet could be clearly heard. Houjun opened his eye slightly. (Where am I...?) Because his vision was hazy and he was only slightly conscious, Houjun barely grasped his current condition. (Didn't I throw myself into the river during that storm... Am I dead now, or am I...) Houjun tried to get out of bed. "Ugh..." he said as sharp pains shot up his entire body. Houjun, whose body had collapsed, sensed someone facing towards him panic and rush toward him. "What are you doing! You must stay quietly in bed!!" The face of a thirteen or fourteen year old girl with hard, intelligent eyes loomed above Houjun and scowled.

"Your right arm and left leg are broken. Moreover your entire body is bruised. Right now you must rest." "Am I... am I... ali...ve..." The face before Houjun's eye broke into a smile. "That's right. This isn't heaven or hell; it's Seisengou!" "Seisengou..." Houjun at least looked himself over. Putting Houjun to bed made the room seem clean and tidy. A pear tree covered by white pretty flowers could be seen from the big window beside the bed. By straining one's ears, the trickling brook, and then, a singing bird could be heard as well. Without the girl there, it was such a peaceful, tranquil, and satisfying place that one could almost think of it as heaven. "Ahh, but I'm glad you've come to." Houjun asked the still smiling girl looming over him, "Don't you think this face is... frightening...?" Why this girl? he thought as he tilted his head to one side doubtfully. "The wound on your left eye is old, isn't it? Dad said it was. Oh, my dad's a doctor. He can probably heal your recent wounds," the girl cooly answered and Houjun stared at her with disbelief. Until now no one had ever looked directly at his face. "Oh, and the large cloth is properly dried" "...That's a kesa..." "Oh? Is that so. And I also took the jingling stick..."

"...That's called a shakujou..." "...oh, then, in other words, you are a Buddhist priest from Kutou? Wow, which temple were you assigned to? For some reason that fashion and hairstyle are really unique and aren't too bad," the girl innocently asked, her face filled with curiousity. I'm not affiliated... I'm just a roaming wanderer..." Houjun said after a pause. He certainly might have wandered into Kutou at the end. He had so little idea of where he had walked that he could only remember exhausting his mind and body. "That was a really impressive storm yesterday. It also seems the Shoryuu River ruptured just before it came. But, you're lucky you flowed to the Hijiri River branch. If it weren't for that, you might have seriously gone to heaven by this time." "......" That he had thrown himself into the Shoryuu River startled Houjun. Flowing from Kutou to Konan, the Shoryuu River was the river which had caused that flood three years earlier and had snatched away everything from him. "You were really surprised. People are buyoant in the Hijiri River and float. I was in a trance when I jumped in the river and pulled you out, but to say it bluntly, it was really hard." Because until then she alone had been speaking, the girl pouted a little. "Hey. Anything's fine, you know. Don't be silent. Aren't you going to say something?" And then, the girl's eyes gleamed mischievously. "For me, Lady Kouran Ou, who favored you with your life!"

"...Kouran...!?" This girl's yelling voice had answered to that name earlier. Houjun muttered softly about Kouran once again. For these three years, I have repeated that name many times within my heart and continue to shout it. Along with Hikou's name... Why? Why did you betray me? Why did you two betray me... "...Why... are you... Kouran?" "Wha?" He looked away from the face of the girl called Kouran. "Why did you help me? Why didn't you let me die..." "...huh...?" Kouran trailed off. "You... couldn't possibly..." Unsightly Houjun, who had escaped death, grew very angry at himself. A new feeling of despair started to seep throughoout his entire body. As he faced toward the wall, Houjun spat out, "Three years ago, I had a fiance with the same name..." "The same name... as mine? Called... Kouran?" "When we decided to marry, my best friend, Hikou, was the first to know. He was delighted and gave us his blessing... We three were childhood friends..."

"And... then...?" "...Immediately after that... Hikou snatched Kouran away from me... She could no longer become one with me, and was going marry Hikou... She changed her mind completely and with my best friend, betrayed me... I was an idiot... for believing in the two of them with my heart..." "......" "Why!? In extreme anger, I, whom they had forgotten, stabbed Hikou with a dagger and pressed him about it. However, he never answered since the two of them died in the great flood..." Houjun's mind distinctly recalled that scene three years before. "...No, I virtually killed Hikou... At that time, if I hadn't let go of his hand..." Kouran said in a low voice, "By any chance, is that wound from that time...?" "......" For Houjun, even if his whole body would have been smashed up, letting go of the hand because his eye was smashed by a log in the middle of the muddy waters was the same as letting his friend die without helping. "That happened since I had feelings of hate for my best friend inside. Moreover... I was the only person to survive that flood... But for me... that was too heavy a burden..." As she looked to the side, Kouran unconsciously frowned. "...You understand, don't you? My fate is to go to hell, and those two are waiting for it..." As Houjun spoke, he eyed the picturesque heaven-like scenery.

Speaking of coming here, perhaps he should also introduce this naive girl, who hasn't experienced one taste of things such as pain, to a little of his suffering. Before long, a silense lapsed beteween the two of them. "...And you were going to die for that..." Kouran mumbled. "I gave you your life!" Houjun looked at her, startled. "You know, yesterday, the one I love was taken into the military for three years. There's a chance that he might not ever return. He might run into a battle and die! If he dies like that, I wish you could take his place!" As Kouran rose, her fists trembled and she shouted, "...Don't act like a spoiled brat!" Her eyes were wet and open wide. "Don't ask for that!" "......" "Besides... Besides, that's an awful thing to say about the girl who had the same name as me... I won't forgive you for it." A single tear dropped and fell.

"You didn't believe in Kouran at all...!" *

Then, he sensed a person enter the room. "Hey, hey. What were you yelling at the wounded man?" As he said that, the courteous middle-aged man with a moustache growing beneath his nose peered at Houjun from above. "Pleased to meet you. I am called Kenmin Ou, and I am her father. My daughter is excited due to helping people who were drowning

in the river. Please accept my apologizes." Embarassed, Houjun covered his eye. "Well, I am going to examine the condition of your injuries for just a minute." Having said that, Kouran's father began Houjun's medical examination. "You must rest for one or two months. I am the village head here. Please stay here as long as you like." "...Dad, this man..." Interrupting Kouran's words, Kenmin continued, "My wife passed away five years ago and the boy I virtually raised as a son left for Kutou to become a soldier yesterday. Now, it is just my daughter and me. Please, do not be afraid of troubling us." As she heard her father's words, Kouran suddenly turned her face away with a slightly complex expression on her face. Houjun wondered if the boy in that story was the same person that the girl had said she loved earlier. "By the way, I wonder if you could you please tell me your name." "...I'm called Houjun Li..." "You are from Konan, right?" "What?" Houjun was surprised and Kenmin Ou looked up at him. "Moreover, you have another another fine name." The village head of Seisengou pointed at Houjun's right kneecap. "The South's Suzaku Shichiseshi..."

"What!?" sullen Kouran said with a surprised voice, and her eyes strayed to Houjun's kneecaps. "That's right! You can see the character donburi. It's so cool! You're the Suzaku Shichiseishi Donburi1?" The father rebuked his daughter, "The line in the middle of the 'donburi' is a wound. I properly taught you about the shichiseishi, did I not?" Kouran nodded, and she rested her hand on her forehead, while she repeated what she had memorized. "Um, The animal gods of the four countries Konan, Kutou, Sairou, and Hokkan are Suzaku, Seiryuu, Byakko, and Gembu and... Each of the miko has shichiseishi to protect her, and Suzaku's are Tamahome, Hotohori, Tasuki, Nuriko, Mitsukake, Chiriko... and then, that's it, Chichiri!" Houjun's face reddened as she pointed at him. "...I... I don't have the competence to become a shichiseishi..." "What are you saying? That is a not matter of competence, but of destiny," Kenmin informed him with a smiling face. "I think my daughter is proud of saving the precious life of a Suzaku Shichiseishi. You will recover one day soon and can return to Konan." However, Houjun didn't even nod. * The nights and days of two months flowed by since that day-A fishing line, which was suspended upon river's surface, moved suddenly .

"Oh, it's getting away, it's getting away," Kouran shouted. Houjun nimbly reeled it in. "Wow, it's big. We can eat..." Despite the fact that Kouran was speaking, he removed the fishhook and tossed the fish back into the river. "Man, you threw it back. And you don't have to for fishing. What a strange hobby!" Houjun said to pouting Kouran, "Just catching them is enough. I find it calming..." Once again Houjun cast into the river, and Kouran shrugged her shoulders. In the peaceful early afternoon, the water, which was clear enough to see the riverbottom, filled the Hijiri River and glittered as sunlight reflected off the river's surface. "In truth, this place is the village of the river that will become holy2... right?" Houjun, who had not even known the village called Seisengou existed, at least could see the beauty of that village. Kutou, which was closed off by mountains, lay upstream. And then downstream was Konan. The great river, the large Shoryuu River, meandered to that hollow at the exact center of Seisengou and gently flowed into the Hijiri River. "Houjun, do you know about the legend of Shoryuu?" "If I'm not mistaken, it's said that lovers who see a dragon3 heading up the Shoryuu River will be happy forever..." "Hey, I'm glad the Hijiri River is a branch of the Shoryuu River. I'd like to try it." Kouran's eyes were entranced by the river's flow.

And then recently Kutou had gained control of the peaceful village by which this beautiful river flowed. There seemed to be unreasonable taxes and such collected for Kutou. However, the villagers didn't break the peace by complaining and continued their humble, quiet living. Kouran faced towards Houjun. "How's your leg?; "Oh, it seems to have already mostly healed..." "Oh. That's great!" Kouran, immediately getting to her feet, mimicked Houjun's favorite phrase, "Now, two months have already passed." "You've taken care of me in so many ways..." "Well... you know," Kouran said. "I've asked you before, but, well, what sort of person was your lover, Kouran?" Houjun looked away from his fishing line and answered, "She was the exact opposite of you." "Wait a minute, that's..." Kouran leaned close to Houjun's face and said, "Was she really beautiful, ladylike, and graceful?" "Exactly." "Geeze! Houjun, you're an idiot!"

Kouran, who had sulkily turned her back towards him, said after a short while, "Believe in her." "......" "I'm sure she had some reason. She didn't betray you. For some reason I think she didn't have a change of heart." "...It's ok." "It's not right! Why can't you believe in the one you loved!?" "......" Believe...? She says I should believe in something... Houjun didn't think he had the ability. If only someone would understand the pain... of seeing Kouran, who had decided to marry me, embrace Hikou's chest... "If something happened with him, I'd believe and wait!" Kouran said to Houjun, half angry. "To Kutou for three years of the military... huh," Houjun muttered. Houjun had heard the story of Kouran's lover that day she had saved him. During the storm that had nearly taken my life, that lover had been taken to Kutou as a soldier... huh. But, outside of that, Kouran hasn't said anything about the story. That lover had lived as if he was one of Kenmin's household, but they haven't mentioned his name even at the dining table. It's probably that Kouran kept company with that boy although her father forbid her to.

"...Well, three years is a really long time, but..." Her voice slowly grew softer, but revived at the end. "Believe in her!!" Kouran leaned against the large pear tree. "When he resolved to enter the military, we promised to... get married under this tree..." Hearing the word marriage from the girl's mouth surprised Houjun a little. But, by this time the girl should have grown into a magnificent girl of seventeen. Houjun imagined his once beloved Kouran at seventeen, and then, recalled that when he was seventeen Kouran had turned his life upside down, and his chest constricted. Putting away those thoughts, Houjun smiled quietly at Kouran. "I want you to be happy. Since I can't..." "...Houjun." "To be helped by a girl with the same name as her... I'm sure this is fate... Kouran was... telling me to live..." Since Houjun looked worried to her, the girl gave a smile. "You're fine, aren't you... Houjun." "Yeah." As Houjun rose, he placed his hand upon Kouran's head. Since Houjun had risen from bed, he had slowly nursed himself back to health... Even after that, truthfully, they had always casually watched over him without any slip-ups. "I'm worried... Kouran." At his words, Houjun roughly scrubbed and wiped his teary eye, and Kouran said in a cheerful voice.

"Alright! tonight let's throw a party to make you cheer up! If I have the time, I'll have to prepare for an early meal! Man, why did you let that fish go earlier, stupid!" And after that was said, Houjun's single eye narrowed and watched Kouran, whose cheeks were flushed, until she was out of sight. In the center of the clear river pear, apricot, peach... the fragrant orchard was on one side of spacious, beautiful, peaceful Seisengou. With his gashed eyelid Houjun once more quietly looked out over that scenery. 1 Translator's Note: "Donburi" is type of dish where something is eaten on a bed of rice. There are many different types, including beef and chicken ones. 2 Translator's Note: The reason Houjun says this is because Hijiri literally means "Holy" and Seisengou literally means "Holy River Village." 3 Translator's Note: The reason they say this is because Shoryuu literally means "Rising Dragon."

2 The Roaming Wanderer When he came to, Houjun was standing alone in the dark. He couldn't see anything... neither left or right, front or back. It was so dark that everything seemed to be painted many times over with India ink. "You're Houjun Li," a voice said from somewhere. It was like the crying voice of a baby, the whispering voice of a young girl, the angry voice of a large man, and the muttering voice of an old man all at once. "......" Without facing anyone, Houjun nodded slightly. "What are you doing right now?" the strange voice of infinite variations again questioned Houjun. "I'm... traveling..." "A journey of penitence for one wearing the robes of a monk?" "......" Houjun didn't answer and hung his head in shame. "I know how much suffering the flood three years ago has given you." Startled by the words that announced his past, Houjun survyed the jet blackness, but in the darkness was unable to see the his own fingertips, let alone the owner of the voice. Houjun had been born and raised in the prosperous house of a government official and had been promised to marry a beautiful girl from a young age, but after those few days his life of smooth sailing groaned and collapsed. After those three years, Houjun sought to save himself by donning the robes of a monk, and

continued wandering to various places. And then in the end he lost the willpower to save himself and live... "Who do you hate? Your fiance who had a change of heart? Your best friend who stole her from you? Or is it..." the voice asked. "I hate myself..." "...huh" "I would have been glad if I had been swallowed by the water with Hikou then, but... Why did I have to be the only one left to... live..." The amount of unbearable anger in Houjun's voice increased. The mysterious voice continued, "I understand what you felt as you watched your friend drown in the water back then." The pounding in Houjun's chest became violent. Sweat collected on both palms of his clutching hands. "...It was... as if I was in a different dimension above the river watching that..." "At that time you raised a barrier around yourself and protected your body." "......" "That's when you realized that you were a Suzaku Shichiseishi." Houjun gulped. That was certainly when he saw it in a tear in his clothes. The Suzaku character, the mark of a Suzaku Shichiseishi, which had surfaced on his right knee.

"Then... why!? Why wasn't I able to save Hikou...!" Houjun shouted as he faced the darkness. "If I had the power to raise barriers, then why?" The voice paused for a little while. "At that time that was the most you could do. You were the same as a newborn child." The genderless, ageless, mysterious voice was composed of a captivating, husky voice and a quiet, laughing voice. "However, although three years have passed, in the end you are still a baby." "......" Houjun bit his lip. Since the day of the great flood, when he had used his power without thinking and realized he was one of the Suzaku Shichiseishi, he had frequently discovered portions of his ability... However, it would suddenly appear only when he wasn't expecting it, and he was so inexperienced that he couldn't control it. "You also know you cannot use your jutsu1 the way you want to," the voice sighed surreptitiously. "You are really ashamed because you are the only one who survived and you didn't save your friend with your power although you could have." "......" Since it had said everything he had been thinking, Houjun simply nodded. "Was the mission of the Suzaku Shichiseishi oppressive to you...?" Houjun nodded his head more and more fervently.

"However, you are not allowed to escape. Those who are born as shichiseishi and have not fulfilled that mission cannot end their lives." "......" The voice quietly asked Houjun, "You made some sort of resolution today, right?" "...Yes" Houjun lifted his head. "I have been given life again, no, three times, so I decided to live on as a Suzaku Shichiseishi..." "That resolution is sincere, huh." Houjun slowly nodded. "So, what are you going to do?" it asked, and Houjun became a little flustered. "...That is... Anyway, I'll continue my travels..." said confused Houjun and the voice chuckled. "Are you ready? Right now you are inside your mind." "Inside my mind...?" "Well, which way are you going to proceed? Forward, backward, or maybe left or right..." Houjun shook his head weakly. As he stood in the darkness, even taking one step forward took all Houjun had, when his bottomless fear urged him not to take any. "Right now you can't even see yourself here. You're thinking even that would be preferable to this, aren't you?" the voice admonished. "Well, I'm going to ask you again."

Houjun closed his eyes. I see. It was this dark inside my mind... It was also like that during those three years as I was just going with the flow and puttering around. But now it's different. I've finally found my purpose. "You're prepared to fulfill your mission as a Suzaku Shichiseishi." That's why I wanted light. Even if it's only enough light to illuminate my feet. (It's there...!) Houjun shouted desperately without saying any words. (Are you ready...) This time the voice resounded in Houjun's mind. (You must become stronger.) Houjun hung his head slightly. (The Suzaku Shichiseishi Chichiri is an advanced jutsu user. Strong force of will be necessary. If your resolution is half-hearted, you won't be able to handle using the jutsu.) Houjun bowed low in assent. (The training will be long and severe. Will you endure despite that?) (...I will.) (Do not forget those words.) During the last moment with the voice, a beam of hope suddenly appeared out of nowhere to shine at Houjun's feet. *

Houjun suddenly opened his eye. The ceiling of Kouran's house, on whose hospitality he had presided for the last two months, greeted his eye. Glancing at the window, he saw that the sun had set awhile ago, and that it was a misty, moonlit night. Then Houjun got up, made the bed, and left the room carrying his kasa and shakujou. He had planned on doing this since before he had that revelation in that realistic dream just a few seconds ago. First coming before the room of the master of the house, he put both hands together, and bowed his head low. Then, he stood before Kouran's room. In his heart he told the girl, (I'm going to live treasuring the life you saved...) After smiling slightly, he quietly opened the front door to Kouran's house. Because dinner that night was not very fun at all, Koran wasn't really unable to sleep, tossing and turning the entire time. In a corner of her mind that voice suddenly resounded, (I'm to live treasuring the life you saved...) "Wha...? Houjun...!?" Kouran shot upright and lit her bedside lamp. But, there was no one in the room. Then, hearing a slight noise as if the front door was closing, Kouran threw open the window next to her bed. (...Houjun...) She could see Houjun slowly and quietly walking in front of the house. (No way...! Why!? Why is he leaving on his own without saying anything!) Although Kouran had meant to yell at him as loud as she could, for some reason her mouth just opened and closed.

Houjun couldn't possibly be leaving here without notice.... Kouran thought. Maybe the reason I wasn't really able to sleep was because I had a premonition of this. After her confusion, Kouran tried to follow him, but this time her body wouldn't move at all. (Houjun, you idiot! Leaving without saying a word of farewell to the one who saved your life, you mannerless, damn, shitty monk!) While Kouran was opening her mouth to scream, Houjun grew smaller and smaller. (...Houjun!?) Out of nowhere a mist appeared as if from being boiled, and after it had engulfed Houjun so that his back had disappeared, Kouran was able to move her body. "Huh...? Ho... Ho... Ho... Ho... Ho... Hokekyo2!... Or rather, Houjun~~, wait~~!" she shouted in a shrill voice this time, while she dashed out of her room. However, she then got grabbed and pulled back by her father. "Dad! Houjun is..." Kenmin faced his daughter and silently shook his head. "We shouldn't interfere... He has probably left on a new journey..." Houjun was travelling because he carried a lot of suffering, and it wasn't a despair that he had brought upon himself. Kenmin had understood this since two months ago when he began caring for the youth and had watched over him ever since then. Knitting his eyebrows slightly, Kenmin muttered, "It would be good if it continues to be peaceful between Kutou and Konan like it has been recently, but..." If by any chance, Kutou and Konan should become enemy nations, we may be at war against that youth... he thought.

"......Houjun..." Next to her father was the girl who had saved the youth's life with her own hands, took care of him in various ways, and lived with him for two months as if he had been a member of the family. Actually, him leaving without saying anything made her shoulders droop with discouragement. As she was moved to tears, Kenmin quietly held the shoulders of his only daughter. And then, She was also lonely, huh... Kenmin thought with an understably strong ache in his heart. * What greeted his eyes after closing the front door of the Ou family house was not the landscape of the familar, beautiful front yard. "What the......" Houjun gathered power into his right hand, which was grasping his shakujou. The rugged cliff of a desolated, rocky mountain was spread before him. Glancing back, of course he did not see any trace of Kouran's house. On the rocky mountain he couldn't tell whether it was morning or afternoon because of the ambiguous amount of light. However, when he compared it to the dark fear in the dream earlier, he was thankful for even the dark, rocky mountain. Because of that bout with the owner of the mysterious voice in his mind, he slowly started walking. How long had he been walking? Half a day, a whole day... Houjun couldn't grasp the flow of time at all as he continued climbing up towards what resembled the peak on the totally deserted rocky mountain.

"......?" Just then he suddenly thought he sensed someone's presence. Or to be more exact... the sound of crying. Houjun strained his ears. He could definitely hear it. The hiccuping, muttering voice of a child. Houjun hurried off in the direction of the voice. "Where's... home? Where's... home...?" The young girl's voice, which was repeating the same words over and over, gradually grew louder and lounder. "Where are you!?" Houjun asked, and the voice immediately replied with, "Who? Who?" A small figure popped out from ten meters ahead in the shade of the cliff. To Houjun she looked like she was a child of seven or eight as she tilted her small head. The child's clothes, which were in a strange midrift-revealing style almost as if they were the robes of a heavenly maiden, was entirely made up of a thin, flapping cloth. Why is this girl on this rocky mountain...? However, there was no time for Houjun to contemplate this. Crash, crash! Houjun, who saw a giant boulder falling from the surface of the mountain next to and above where the child was standing, tensed at once. This is... my training...? In that case, how can I save the child? What kind of powers can I use? Can I make a barrier around the child like I did that time?

What in the world should I do? he asked himself during a mere one or two seconds. However... Crash, crash, crash!? The boulder was ten meters above the child's head. "Duck!" In a deep trance Houjun suddenly appeared at that spot, but wasn't able to do anything but shield the girl.

"You're... heavy..." A short time later he was able to hear the voice. Houjun, who had returned to normal, lifted himself off the confused child. Looking down, the boulder had suddenly turned its course away from them and had was still pounding downward. "...Whew. That was close..." Houjun waited to pull the girl up, and as he stood there, looked over the condition of that strange girl.

"Miss, what is... your name?" "What about you? What about you?" the girl threw back, as she regarded him with her deep eyes. "...I am called Houjun..." "Houjun, Houjun, Houjun, huuuh." "So, what's your name? Where is your house? Why are you here? If you don't tell me, I'll be upset." Because Houjun was flooding the girl with questions in such rapid succession, a her expression changed into a frightened one. "......!" Taken aback, Houjun turned his face away from the child. During the last two months when he met Kouran and Kenmin and lived among the tenderhearted people of Seisengou, Houjun had completely forgotten about the scar on his face. When this young girl sees my face so close up here, how frightened she must... Probably, I won't be able to find out one thing from the child. Then Houjun looked at what was fastened to the back of the child's neck. It was a toy mask that looked like the face of a fox. Its two thin eyes were like cresent moons pointing straight down, and in the center of the mask was a bright smile. "I'm giving this to you..." Perhaps because she felt Houjun's eyes on her, the child removed the mask from around her neck and immediately held it out to him. Speechless, he took that mask and tried putting it on. He thought maybe the child's heart would open up in front of this fun, smiling mask.

Sure enough, the child showed masked Houjun a smile and said, "My name's Nyang-nyang!" Even though she hadn't been asked, she had introduced herself. "Is that so? It's a really cute name!" Houjun also replied brightly. "It suits you. Houjun, the mask suits you," Nyang-nyang said as she happily took Houjun's hand and cheerfully jumped up and down. Taking the hand of Nyang-nyang, who reminded him of a heavenly maiden's child, they leaped together, and altogether Houjun felt like he had become a totally different person. Now, I've been completely set free from the suffering. Yes, without the scar on my face I gently smile. "Ahahahahaha!" "Dahahahahaha!" The two of them continued to laugh and jump up and down for a long time. As she gasped for breath Nyang-nyang said to Houjun, "Let's go, let's go." And having said that, she pulled on Houjun's hand. "Go? Where are we going?" "My house. Let's go visit my house" "...So you were lost after all..." However, why did she get lost on this mountain... Houjun inclined his head to the side in doubt as Nyang-nyang dragged him along. And then when he tried to take off the fox-face mask, Houjun's legs completely stopped.

"...What in...!?" Somehow the mask had become his face. His eyes and his nose and his mouth... They were the same as the mask, as if it had melted into his face and become a part of it. What in the world is this... For a moment he became flustered and confused. However, the moment after he accepted it. That's right. This time... I might be able to severe my ties to the past. I might be able to make a fresh start in life. Beside him, Nyang-nyang pointed to his knee, and asked, "What is this? What is this?" When he was protecting the child earlier his monk robes had torn, making it visible. Because the Suzaku character looked interesting, Nyang-nyang had started pointing at it. "This? This is..." Houjun took a deep breath, and then declared in a bright voice, "This is the character that proves someday I will become a very strong person called the Suzaku Shichiseishi Chichiri!" 1 Translator's Note: Jutsu literally means "technique," but in this context, it also has the undertones of "magic." 2 Translator's Note: Hokekyou means "the Lotus Sutra." In Buddhism a sutra is a collection of sermons by Buddha, doctrine expositions, and other writing considered sacred to the religion. The Lotus Sutra is considered the highest form of teaching given by Buddha.

3 Training with a Child Companion Houjun listened to sleeping Nyang-nyang, who was draped on his back, breathe heavily as he reached what seemed to be the peak of the rocky mountain. It was quite a tall mountain, and a sea of clouds spread out over the whole surface below. "...Oh boy." Houjun, at any rate, took a breath. And then because Nyang-nyang was threatening to slip and fall off his back, he pushed her up into a better position. Casually looking ahead, he saw there was an old, tiny shrine. However, Houjun's eyes latched onto the very short, stooped-back figure in front of it, and he walked toward her. "Excuse me, but I would like to visit for awhile..." Dressed in clothes for working in the fields and carrying a hoe, the old woman turned her head as he asked his question. "Da...da!" Houjun uttered the strange sound without thinking and threw his head back when he saw that face. "What do you mean 'Da?' Do you have any business with me?" answered the old woman, who you could easily think was a living fossil that exceeded one hundred years of age, as she shook all over due to the way she spoke. "Yeah. Do you recognize this child?" The old woman glanced child sleeping soundly on Houjun's back. "That's Nyang-nyang..."

"Ma'am, you know her!?" Houjun suddenly moved sideways in front of the old woman's eyes and leaned way over. The old woman was right overhead. There was over eighty year's age difference between Houjun and the old woman, and they were staring at each other from three inches away: point blank range. "You have a carefree look on your face, don't you?" the old woman burst out, laughing, when she saw Houjun's fake fox-mask face. "Wha...What are you laughing at? Your face is..." "Sunakake baba1... That's what you're thinking." "I... I wasn't thinking that...!" Sunakake baba is, well, right, I suppose... he thought silently. "Um... So, I'd like you to tell me about Nyang-nyang..." After Houjun made the request, Suna baa2 pointed at the girl in annoyance. "This child is a child from the village in the mountains below. Take your eyes off her for a minute, and she'll fly off somewhere." "A child from a house in the village in the mountains below..." "This place has some sort of association with abandoning stray children. You've properly escourted her back. Look, the lost kitty of a lost child~ Nyang-nyang meow Nyang-nyang Nyang-meownyang o/~3" When Houjun saw the old woman suddenly burst out into song, he immediately tried to leave there to avoid getting affected by her sand. "Wait!" Sunakake baba called to Houjun's back, and he twisted around.

"You insult me! Who comes to the summit of this mountain and doesn't even visit the shrine!" She commanded him forcefully without saying anything at all, and as Houjun was forced towards the shrine, she said to his back, "You're a priest in training, aren't you..." "Yeah. Well, something like that..." "You're tired, aren't you? Rest in the shrine today." "Okay." As he looked at the decrepit building that looked like it was falling to ruin even now, Houjun replied genuinely with, "By the way, what is this mountain called?" "Fool!!!!" "This is Mt. Taikyoku. There isn't a monk in training who doesn't know that name." Mt. Taikyoku-Well, I feel like heard I've name or something like it before, but... Houjun tilted his head to the side in doubt and turned around. "...I... don't." Behind Houjun, Nyang-nyang, who should have been held by the old woman, rubbed her sleepy eyes then and just stood up. *

"Surprise and comfort is good!" For some reason after arriving at the summit of Mt. Taikyoku and spending the whole night in the shrine, which was prepared with fluffy bedding and plentiful meals, Houjun and Nyang-nyang were cheerful and energetic. After walking down the path half a day, they reached the village at the base of the mountain. It was totally different from Seisengou, and as for relaxation it was a really declining village. "Well, let's go to your house, Nyang-nyang," Houjun suggested to the child. "This way, this way!" Nyang-nyang jumped up and down happily, while galloping up the village lane, creating a cloud of dust in the process. "Nyang-nyang, cut it out." After going back and forth between the same places for hours as if she was mocking the adult, Houjun faced the child, who was searching for her home, and snapped at her. "Wa...wa...wahhhhh!" The girl started crying like she had caught on fire, and Houjun was at a loss at what to do. "Do...don't cry..." he said. When he knelt in front of the child in a fruitless attempt to humor her, the child's body fell on the center of Houjun's chest with a thud. "...She's fallen asleep again..." Charrying the child on his back, Houjun went from house to house, checking each private home. "There ought to be a family in this village that calls itself this child's relatives, but..." And then after hours without even one

person knowing her relatives, finally the time for the sun to set came. At what was perhaps the last house, Houjun knocked on the front door with an exhausted look on his face. "What is it?" A thin middle aged man showed his face from inside the dilapidated house. "I'm searching for this child's house... Are you her..." The man looked at the sleeping child on Houjun's back and gasped. "I am her relative. Ah, this child is our child! Yesterday, we were worried because we didn't know where she was," said the master of the house on the outskirts of the village, and Houjun let out a sigh of relief from the bottom of his heart. "Well, come on in." Nyang-nyang's father gently picked his sleeping daughter off Houjun's back. "From now please take good care of your daughter." "Yes, I will do that. Thank you so much." The father bared his yellowed teeth and smiled. After leaving the house of her relatives, he walked for a short while. Then suddenly Houjun had a chilling sensation run throughout his body and his legs stopped. "...Maliciousness...!?" Houjun's body was surrounded by a repulsive thought. It was the first time he had felt such a sensation. Houjun concentrated on the with all his might.

"...what is it... This voice is...!?" The familar male voice laughed cruelly and echoed inside Houjun's head. "Nyang-nyang!" Houjun dashed off. He knocked on the front door of the house he had been to earlier, and opened it. "Wha...what business do you have with me..." The disconcerting man's face twitched while smiling happily. Houjun angrily slammed his shakujou onto the dirt floor. "You're a slaver! Give the girl back!" "What are you talking about? Didn't I tell you that this child is my child? "In that case, try telling me that child's name!" Houjun said, and the man faltered for a moment. "Name? She's... that's right... Min-min." As the man said that, he suddenly had an aggressive expression on his face. "That child is Nyang-nyang." "Damn, it was cat, not cicada4, huh?" he exaggerated. When he yanked the child to his chest, Nyang-nyang woke up. After she realized she had been caught by a man she had never seen before, the child started bawling. "Hey, you damn brat!" The man drew a dagger from his breast and pressed it against the child's throat. "Yo, monk. If you don't leave this house immeadiately, I'll slit her throat." "......"

"You have no relationship to this brat, do you! Get out fast!" Houjun opened his eye wide in rage. At that moment the man's body grew completely stiff. Before the man, who could only move his eyes about restlessly, Houjun walked forward briskly and took Nyang-nyang into his arms. Nyang-nyang's face was crumpled up from crying, and Houjun gently patted her head. "I'm sorry... for scaring you..." After leaving the house, Houjun gasped and stood there stunned. Standing there like the two guardian Deva kings5, was the old farmer woman. "This happened because you thought to interfere with this girl's life. You made that assumption about him without knowing whether or not that man was a slaver. How are you a monk in training?" The old woman from the summit of the mountain thrust her hoe at Houjun What she said was certainly true. It's true that the man who claimed to be her relative appeared and with that I was relieved to hand over Nyang-nyang over to him... That feeling blurred so I couldn't even sense the maliciousness of the evil man. "However... the one who said the house of this child's relatives was in the village below... was you." Houjun objected slightly. "Who said it was in this village? There are many villages at the foot of the mountain." "......"

"Right now you think I'm a shitty old hag, don't you?" "...I wasn't thinking that..." Shitty old hag is, well, right, he thought silently to himself. "Umm. Could you please tell me exactly where this child's village is..." Houjun said gracefully to the old woman with some restraint. "Hmmm. To get to that village you need to cross through the deep forest a little further on. Monsters who are dreaded worldwide inhabit it. Going there now is dangerous. Tonight you ought to ask to stay at that house." The mysterious old woman pointed at a house, and then began walking briskly. "Oh brother. He still hasn't had enough training..." she sighed with her back to him. * The next day after thanking the people for staying overnight at their house, Houjun and Nyang-nyang left the outskirts of the village to stand before the forest. "Nyang-nyang, do you know that old woman?" Nyang-nyang nodded vigorously. "She's my grandma6!" "...Is that so..." If what that suspicious old woman of unknown character said could really be believed, Houjun was a bit confused, but if she was Nyang-nyang's relative, they were probably ok. After Houjun had

prepared himself, he pulled the child by the hand and advanced one step into the forest. They pressed on through so many densely-packed overgrown trees that sunlight didn't even reach them. "The lost kitty of a lost child. Nyang-nyang meow Nyang~" Their voices rebounded in the giant trees and shrubbery and echoed back to them multiple times. "Don't be scared, you're with me. Don't be scared, you're with me!" Nyang-nyang's face was beaming, and Houjun, who was holding her tiny hand, told himself that no matter what happened, he had to at least protect this child. I wonder how long we've been walking. Rustle, rustle. Not long after the two of them heard a loud sound like something trampling on dry twigs, a pitch black shadow stood in their way. "Aiie!" Nyang-nyang clung to Houjun. Houjun eyed the shadow before them. It was a huge snake about ten meters long. While lifting its curved neck and flicking its red tongue, now the huge snake was surely in the middle of aiming in order to strike the two of them. Houjun instantaneously turned his shakujou, which was in his right hand, horizontal and concentrated intensely at that spot. Whoosh!

With an awful sound, the snake went towards Nyang-nyang. The snake, which was planning on swallowing the child in one bite, came into her view, and was splendidly repelled. Houjun thought, Alright! in his mind. He had raised a barrier around Nyang-nyang. I was able to protect her... However, after that moment of relief, Houjun let out a groan. The huge snake, which had given up on the child, had quickly wrapped its tail around his body, and was squeezing him with straggering strength. "Houjun! Houjun!" Nyang-nyang yelled frantically from the other side of the barrier. "...Ugh... If it kills me, the barrier around Nyang-nyang will get... cut off..." Houjun closing his eye, tightly grasped his shakujou, hooked his rosary beads around his neck on his left hand thumb, and held only his first and middle fingers of that hand straight up. All the while the huge snake continued squeezing Houjun unmercifully. "...Ughhh..." Due to the intense pain, his ability to concentrate got disrupted. "Houjun---!" Nyang-nyang's yelling voice grew farther and farther away. "...U...ugh..." It's useless... at this rate I'm going to die...

"...can I..." Within Houjun's fading consciousness, the resolution he declared in that dream pushed itself forward like a tidal wave. "If I can't even protect one child... how can I protect Suzaku's Miko...!" Houjun finally opened his eye, as incantation-like words escaped from his mouth, "Kaiha7-------!" Boooooooooooooooooooom! The huge snake rolled like electric current was running throughout its body, crashed into the trunk of a large tree, and then ceased moving. Nyang-nyang ran up to him, and when Houjun's shoulder moved as he breathed, she steadied him in her arms. "How far are we going to have to go..." After he had exterminated the huge snake, they walked and walked without being able to see the way out of the forest, which greatly perplexed Houjun. "At this rate we won't have any place to rest when night falls..." Houjun casually glanced to the side and saw Nyang-nyang playing alone while wearing his hat.

"...I might possibly be able to do... it." Inside Houjun's head an idea was rising to the surface. Just one time before he had been touching this hat and kesa and suddenly appeared at a strange place. If he thought about it hard enough, he might be able to do it. Houjun wanted to chide himself for not realizing he had the ability to do it sooner.

"Nyang-nyang... listen up." After Houjun spread his kesa on the ground, he said to the lost kitten of the lost child, "If you want to go home, wish for it really really hard." Nyang-nyang nodded in agreement and meekly obeyed. "I want to go home! Home, home." "That's right. Home, home. That's h-o-m-e, h-o-m-e!" Rustle, rustle, rustle... Both their voices stopped upon hearing that sound. "...Houjun... the huge snake from earlier is..." Where Nyan-nyan was pointing, the huge snake, which should have been exterminated, with glowing eyes that were burning for revenge was proceeding toward them.

"...It had just fainted..." While he was grinding his teeth at his immature jutsu, Houjun urged the child on. "Listen, we're going home! H-o-m-e! H-o-m-e!" "Yeah. Home, home." While the huge snake was closing in, the two of them continued chanting their goal of home. "Eeee, the huge snake!" Nyang-nyang covered her face. In front of the huge forest monster with its curved neck and its mouth open wide, Houjun had in his mind, (Let's go to Nyangnyang's house!) And then was holding Nyang-nyang under his arm, wearing his hat securely on his head, and ringing his shakujou on the ground. In the next moment Houjun and Nyang-nyang, continuing with the hat, kesa, and shakujou, disappeared. * Houjun looked around and fell down onto his shoulder. "This isn't your home. This is where you met me..." A north wind blew between the two of them as they stood speechless on the rocky mountain. The instantaneous transportation had been successful, but its results made Houjun get another attack of trembling due to the feeling of incompetence. "Nyang-nyang... listen up. I want to devote myself to training to be a Suzaku Shichiseishi soon. So, if you're always with me, it puts me in huge bind... so..." In a twinkle Nyang-nyang's face crumpled up and tears started pouring out of her eyes. "Wa... wa... wahhhhh!" Houjun scratched his head.

"Ah, I understand. I was wrong... I won't talk about that anymore, so don't cry..." "Grandma! I want to see grandma!" Nyang-nyang said suddenly while hiccupping. "By grandma, you mean that Sunakake babaa?" "Grandma! Grandma!" If they didn't stop at their goal of Nyangnyang's grandma, Houjun would be exhauted. Well, I suppose it's fine Thinking there was no way he could do that, Houjun clasped both hands together while holding up his first fingers, and thought hard. "Sunakake babaa!" Pop! After the line of smoke that it produced cleared up, Nyang-nyang jumped at him. "Wow, it's grandma!" Arriving at the summit of Mt. Taikyoku, Houjun pulled Nyangnyang by the hand until they had walked before the shrine. Almost exactly as he predicted, the mysterious old woman was there. "Well, well, you're still wandering around here aimlessly?" the old woman griped, as she arched her eyebrows in amazement and stared fixedly at Houjun.

"Besides, what is it? If only I was more beautiful. Then my body would be enough as is," she said, and pulled Houjun's mask off his face with a pop. "Now with proper feelings you'll transform. Even though your mimickry is a first rate performance, it's been eliminated in the first match." "I have a favor to ask of you..." Houjun said hoarsely. "If you know how to transform... I'd like you to teach me..." "Me?" The old woman shook her head. "I wouldn't know that sort of thing. Figure out what you can do for yourself." Having said that, the old woman sighed and turned her back towards him. "Oh brother. You still haven't had enough training..." "......" After going a short distance, the Sunakake babaa, who had lapsed into silence, warned Houjun, "Visiting the shrine is dangerous. Don't be innocent about it." 1 Translator's Note: "Sunakake baba" is a Japanese folktale character. Basically she's a very ugly old woman who throws sand in the face of people walking outside alone in the dark. 2 Translator's Note: "Suna baa" is just a shortened (and thus more colloquial) version of the name "Sunakake baba." 3 Translator's Note: "Look, the lost kitty of a lost child~ Nyangnyang meow Nyang-nyang Nyang-meow-nyang" is actually the line from a very famous Japanese song (the o/~ at the end is an ASCII approximation to a music note.) Here the song is used as a play on words. Nyang-nyang's name (which is a Chinese name

meaning "girl" or "daughter") sounds the same as "meow meow" in Japanese. The words that were translated as "meow" were actually "nya" in Japanese, but also mean "meow." 4 Translator's Note: A "minmin" is a specific type of cicada. And as mentioned earlier, Nyang-nyang's name sounds the same as "meow meow" in Japanese. 5 Translator's Note: The guardian Deva Kings are deities of the 12 directions (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, northwest, up down, sun, and moon) in Esoteric Buddhism. In Japan many temples have two statues of these deities guarding a gate. This phrase refers to those statues. 6 Translator's Note: To be polite when addressing or talking about strangers, Japanese people will refer to (or address) the stranger as aunt, uncle, brother, sister, grandmother, or grandfather depending on the stranger's approximate age. Here Houjun refers to the old woman as "grandmother" to be polite, but when Nyang-nyang replies it's unclear if she realized he was talking about the old woman or thought he was talking about her grandmother. 7 Translator's Note: This incantation literally means "open destruction."

4 A Danger to Seisengou "That's it for today's training!" At the orders of the captain of the third unit, the soldiers, who had been orderly standing in formation, each headed off as they pleased like scattering baby spiders. "I'm exhausted." The one who hit to Shuusei Ryuu's shoulder was Taimei Kou, who had also been conscripted from Seisengou. "Yeah. Today's peace is also over. After we'll just eat a meal and sleep. Alright!" Shuusei said, and for some reason began counting numbers on his fingers. (Three more days...) Shuusei was reminded of a girl who was smiling almost until bursting. His face grew slack without thinking. Taimei, who had glanced at Shuusei just then, whispered into the ears of the soldier from the same village, "Hey, have you heard any rumors lately...?" "Rumors? What kind?" "...um," The tone of Taimei's voice fell a little. "We might not be able to go back to the village..." "WHAT!?" said Shuusei loudly, and Taimei quickly covered his mouth. "Hut, in shree days time our going hack to the village will hinally1...!" he whispered after Taimei silently put his index finger to his lips.

"That's right. If things go as they should, in three days time our going back to the village will finally... happen, but..." With that he folded his arms. "Somehow, the indications seem to point to an extended military service, don't they?" "H...how?" Shuusei leaned closer to Taimei. "We've come this far with our three year contract. Would extending it to the beginning of the month do anything for them? My point is, it's been so peaceful that during our military service we weren't even dispatched once." "You're so naive." Taimei looked at Shuusei with a side glance and weakly smiled. "They're saying that Kutou has launched an invasion of Konan." "What~!? There's no way. I mean, aren't Kutou and Konan under a peace treaty?" "Idiot. That's why I say you're naive." Taimei narrowed his eyes to mere slits. "Listen. There's no diagram, but I've heard Kutou's invasion plans are already done. If that's how they feel, then Kutou will smash Konan. At any rate, military might is a totally different thing." "T...then will we be dispatched to Konan although we're about to go home to our village" "That's right." Shuusei muttered, No way... and craddled his face. "You should forget the girl," whispered Taimei and Shuusei snapped his head up "Wh...what are you talking about? There is... no girl..."

"Idiot. Every night you're going on about Kouran, Kouran loudly in your sleep." "......" "Shuusei thought, Is that so... as he looked down. "You've always been cared for by the village head, right? Taking even his daughter Kouran on top of that is being the world's worst scum." At Taimei's cold words, Shuusei looked down and chewed his lip. Shuusei Ryuu didn't know what his real parents looked like. When he was a baby, he was abandoned in the overgrown Japanese pampas grass on the bank of the Hijiri River along with a scrap of paper reading the name Ryuu. The mother who found and raised that baby was the now deceased wife of Kenmin Ou. As he was born in the fall, they named him Shuusei2 and decided to raise Kouran, who was a year younger than him, and him as if they were really brother and sister. And then after the day when Kenmin told him the truth, a natural romantic love budded and grew between Shuusei and Kouran. "Why!?" Even now Shuusei clearly remembered Kouran's proud voice as she protested against her father. "Why can't it be Shuusei?" "Listen carefully. I also want both of you to marry people you like. However, the Ou family has a lineage of Seisengou village heads that stretches back for generations. In other words, the man who

marries you will follow in my footsteps... It's unfortunate, but the villages won't accept Shuusei..." "Because Shuusei was an abandoned child?" "No one knows if he was born in Seisengou..." Shuusei unexpectedly overheard the conversation between Kenmin and Kouran while he was outside the room the day before he was conscripted. "That's not it! That's so cruel!" "Hm, things might be different if Shuusei had a really, really distinguished service in a vangard, but..." Kenmin said indistinctly. "Furthremore, Shuusei is like a real son to me... Could you please understand how I feel? Look, as an example, how about Taimei of Mr. Kou's family... There's other men around your age, isn't there?" "No way! I'm not going after that rude guy with narrow eyes!" "...Kouran." "I love Shuusei. I don't want anyone but Shuusei! That's enough, father, I hate you!" Kouran burst out of the room, crying as she ran. Even now the back of that figure was scorched on the inside of Shuusei's eyelids. Shuusei was indulging in a reverie when Taimei said to him, "Kouran's also around seventeen. She might have been married a long time ago." Shuusei suddenly grabbed Taimei by the collar. "Kouran is... waiting for my return!" "Oh? Is that so?" Taimei said as he forced Shuusei's hand to open.

"No matter what, we still will not be returning home for the present. Well, from now on we do our duty. It makes a man's blood jump for joy. If you're even part of a man, don't you think you should try for at a distinguished service in battle and not depress yourself over things like girls?" "...distinguished service..." When Taimei said that, Shuusei remembered Kenmin's words. If he had a distinguished service, Kenmin and the villagers might acknowledge him... If he was awarded a brocade here and wore it to his home town, he and Kouran would even be allowed to marry and everything would be so wonderful. "If I'm active in a great number of battles, some day I'll be able to command thousands of soldiers like that cool blue-eyed general." As Taimei spoke of his dream arduously, his thin eyes sparkled with all their might, and he said condescendingly to Shuusei, "You want to meet that girl? If fear you'll die in battle, you could even desert. However, up until now not even one person has managed to do it... What happened after that, well, use your imagination." Taimei sliced his hand across his neck. "......" Shuusei Ryuu felt something beginning to stir in his heart. * That night, Shuusei was unable to sleep at all and kept tossing and turning. (Was I the only one who didn't know the rumors about Kutou's invasion?) Including Taimei, there were ten youths who had been conscripted from Seisengou along with Shuusei, but wherever they were

returning home to, it seemed everyone's young blood was boiling for battle. "Don't depress myself over things like girls... huh?" Even when Taimei's words hurt his pride as a man like they did earlier, Shuusei still thought about Kouran. "Kouran..." "Shuusei..." On that night three years ago, as they watched each other only by the light of the moon, two people drew each other close beneath an ancient pear tree on the riverbank. "Come back alive..." Kouran said as she gazed into Shuusei's eyes. "You don't need to have a distinguished service in battle. No matter what live and return to me...!" "......" It was the conversation that he had unintentionally heard sometime ago between Kouran and her father. Shuusei's heart jumped. "But... you know. Who can know what will happen three years in the future? Man can't know if we'll break up during that long time, you know," Shuusei intentionally answered in a blunt manner after he realized that. "What are you talking about?" Kouran stiffened her face and peered at Shuusei's eyes. "Like I said, I'll get a new lover there, and here you'll..." Smack-----!

Kouran slapped him violently. "Don't say such disturbing things! Don't you trust me?" " It wasn't disturbing things, though3..." Shuusei answered with his hand on his cheek. "After three years if you are discharged, come here. And then take me somewhere far away." "......Kouran..." "There we can live happily... Forever... just the two of us." Kouran's heated look as she resolved to abandon their beautiful home town, where they had been born and raised, pierced Shuusei's heart. "I believe in you, Shuusei, and will be waiting the whole time." "...Kouran." Shuusei quietly embraced the girl around the chest. It was an evening in the spring of Shuusei Ryuu's fifteenth year and Kouran Ou's fourteenth--The evening breeze blew the falling pear blossoms toward the Hijiri River as the couple kissed for the first time. I might not be able to grant Kouran's wish that I return alive and then we go live somewhere far away. Instead, if I prepare for death in battle and somehow have a distinguished service, the path may open up again...

The worries in his heart would not abate. Trying not to awaken his comrads, Shuusei quietly left the room. If he got some fresh air, it might calm him down a little. After exiting the barracks in the Imperial Palace and walking around a little, he saw the magnificent palace. Within it was the emperor of Kutou, who Shuusei had never seen. At that moment from a long corridor in the palace, he could see a shadow of a walking man cutting the air. He was a tall, muscular, well-proportioned figure with battle armor, somewhat long gold hair, and blue eyes set in his cold, emotionless face... (Isn't he the general...!) Shuusei instantly hid himself in the shadow of a nearby pillar. He had seen this young golden haired general, who held two-thirds of Kutou's army, one or two times before from a distance. That graceful figure did not speak, but had an air of intellectual composure, as if absolutely everything he did was calculated, and was the aspiration of just Taimei or maybe the target of all the soldiers. (So a general has to work until this late hour of the night.) The blue-eyed general passed by Shuusei and continued walking inside. Unnoticed, Shuusei stealthily followed behind the general. * The general entered a magnificient room facing the palace courtyard. The palace guards in front of the room quietly dispersed from there when the general whispered into their ears. Probably he was clearing them out. Shuusei came before the now unoccupied room, and put his ear close to the door.

"Please excuse me for coming so late at night, your highness." He heard the general's voice, and at once Shuusei's tension increased. This was the emperor's bedroom. "Hmm. I don't mind..." answered the unrefined voice of someone in their fifties. "By the way, does the assault on Konan seem to be going well?" "Yes. Please leave it to me. I plan on dispatching troops at once and quickly getting them into position," said the general in a calculating voice. They were going to be dispatched to Konan, after all. (But, isn't assaulting Konan, with whom we have a peace treaty, a terrible thing...?) Shuusei thought at least. " As always, you are adept at doing things." The general interrupted the emperor's words of praise. "No. If I am not quick, things would get bad. I have received information that Suzaku's Miko has appeared in Konan." "What, Suzaku's Miko?" "Yes. So, we must capture Konan before they gather the Suzaku Shichiseishi and summon Suzaku." As a child Shuusei had heard about the legend of Sukazu, Seiryuu, Gembu, Byakko, each of their mikos, and their shichiseishi from Kenmin Ou. If he remembered correctly, in Hokkan and Sairou the animal gods Gembu and Byakko had already been summoned by their mikos and shichiseishi, and they received eternal peace between them. The remaining two were Suzaku of Konan and Seiryuu of here, Kutou.

Shuusei wondered whether the appearance of a miko in Konan was true. "One might wonder whether the completion of an aqueduct is necessary for the march." The general had made a concrete proposal. Shuusei pressed his ear closer. "The Shoryuu River, which has its upper stream in Kutou and passes through Konan, due in part to its large meandering, will cost the march time and money." "Hmm. So...?" "In a nook of the river's meandering there is a small village called Seisengou, which has an insignificant population of just one hundred, under our country's rule." Shuusei's heart pounded hard. "The Hijiri River, a tributary to the Shoryuu River, passes by this village. If this tributary were to change the main river, our problem would be solved." (What is he saying?) The palm of Shuusei's hand was totally covered in sweat. "That is, in other words, submerge the village...?" "Yes, your highness." Shuusei desperately resisted the urge to cry out. "And, how will you persuade the villagers?"

The general answered without any hesistation to the emperor's question, "There is no need. I have arranged for all of the useful youths to be conscripted." "Ahh4... You're also a suitably bad person, aren't you?" "Construction work and starting construction work have been taken care of. It will be here in two or three some-odd days." "Is that so... There is nothing wrong with what you have done. Dismissed." "Thank you very much, your highness." With those few words, Shuusei collapsed where he stood. In two or three days Seisengou would be submerged under the river!? "Anyway, how are things going here? Has Seiryuu's Miko appeared yet?" "Probably things here will soon..." the general replied ambiguously. "If we can just summon Seiryuu, the world will be ours without lifting a finger." Having said that, the emperor laughed in a condenscending voice, "Isn't that so, Nakago?" "Yes." Shuusei again felt like he had just taken a direct punch. (Did he say... Nakago!?)

Wasn't Nakago one of the Seiryuu Shichiseishi? For that general to be Nakago... "Then, please excuse me." Shuusei became really panicked upon hearing that, and after turning around, from the hall dropped into a ditch in the garden. The general, who had left the emperor's room, glanced at the courtyard. Shuusei's body grew as stiff as a rock. He lifted his handsome face inhaled sharply at the threat of the general noticing he had been tailed, and glanced up at the moon. "...Idiot. Your term at Kutou is about to end. You should be peacefully dreaming empty dreams..." he softly muttered as he settled onto the nearby earth and clearly saw the blue character "heart" surfaced on the general's forehead.

* Although Shuusei's determination was wavering, he couldn't hold out ten more seconds. For a moment he considered whether he should consult his companions who were also conscripted from Seisengou, but quickly decided against it. He didn't know whether one person would be able to. "...Kouran...!" He thought about the most important person in the world to him, Kouran. And then, about the man who had raised him, Kenmin Ou. And then about the kind village people. And then he thought about beautiful Seisengou. That evening when he had listened to his friend Taimei's rumors about Kutou invasion, Shuusei had just thought of these three years and Kouran. He had just thought of Kouran's request that he live and return, disappearing without a trace. At any rate, he hadn't been born in that village. It was inexcusable to Kenmin as the man that raised him, but he planned on starting a new life in some unknown land with Kouran, who had resolved to leave her hometown. But now things were different. Now that he had heard the frightening plans from General Nakago, things were different. Kouran's beginnings and all the villagers had and were was wrapped up in Seisengou, and he thought of it as his irreplaceable hometown.

Hurry... I need to hurry and do something this instant. It was outrageous that Kutou soldiers were going to fight in Konan to gain recognition. That Kutou was going to sink his hometown along with all its villages to the bottom of the river. In the disorientation of the darkness, Shuusei continued to walk along the walls of imperial palace. However, the roughly twenty meter walls were impossible for him to climb over by himself, and there were palace guards vigilantly standing watch all around the area before the gate. "...Geeze, there's no time to return to the barracks. Damn... It will be too late once dawn breaks..." At that point Shuusei knelt, heartbroken. As someone's black shadow appeared before him, Shuusei's entire body stiffened. "Are you a soldier?" a girl-like voice asked. Looking up in the dark, he realized there was a girl with excessively short hair standing there, wearing strange clothes like none he had ever seen before. "Could you be a desserter?" she continued in an extremely cool voice. "...W...Who are... you..." Seeing Shuusei finally speak up because of that, the girl chuckled and smiled a little. "Want to see your lover back at your hometown?" "..."

"Bullseye." The girl's face looked as if she was inspecting him as she said it. "That's right," Shuusei answered curtly, just short of saying, "Boil me or grill me, do whichever you please," and immediately sat cross-legged on the ground with a thump. "I have to go or she'll die..." "Oh, so that's how it is..." The girl turned around and started walking. And then she suddenly looked over her shoulder and said to Shuusei, "Follow me. I'll let you out of here." Shuusei gaped at her, open-mouthed. At the same moment, the thought passed through Shuusei's mind, (Could this girl possibly be Seiryuu's Miko?) Didn't Nakago say earlier that very soon Seiryuu's Miko will probably appear...? But would Seiryuu's Miko, who protects Kutou, help a desserting soldier? He didn't have the time to think. "...H...Hey! Wait up..." Feeling like it was do or die, Shuusei followed after the strange girl who had briskly walked on ahead of him. 1 Translator's Note: In the novel this sentence was written with intentional errors to indicate he was whispering.

2 Translator's Note: The first character in Shuusei's name is "fall" and the second one is "birth." 3 Translator's Note: In Japanese this line was slurred due to Kouran's slap. 4 Translator's Note: This was a yawning sound.

5 To the Last Trial With his fishing line cast into a pond on the outskirts of a certain town, Houjun took a deep breath. "Houjun, you're not very cheerful... What's wrong?" asked Nyangnyang over his shoulder. The charming little seven year old girl's face wavered on the surface of the pond. "Your mask is slipping off..." "Yeah." Houjun peeled off the torn fox mask. "Houjun, you've gotten really strong!" Nyang-nyang said, trying to cheer Houjun up. "Yesterday you quickly defeated three huge sea monsters, didn't you? I feel safe when I'm with you!" Even though the child was praising him, Houjun didn't show a happy expression at all. "...Nyang-nyang, you haven't changed a bit." The little girl in the water tilted her head. "Close to three years have passed since then, but... It's very strange." "......" Houjun stared at the pond. "That's not true. I've definitely grown..." As he watched the figure of the girl in the pond gained two or three years. Without turning around Houjun stood and said to Nyang-nyang, "Well, we should be getting home soon." "...Houjun." Upon hearing Nyang-nyang's anxious voice, Houjun spread out his kesa there. "I'm no longer Houjun." Having said that, he turned to Nyangnyang and laughed animatedly. "I want to prove that now..."

Plop! Houjun and Nyang-nyang flew out from the kasa. "Houjun, your body proportions are getting..." "That's fine. I match you." Nyang-nyang, who had become ten, and Houjun, whose body proportions had become the exact same size, faced each other. And then they looked up at the landscape of Mt. Taikyoku, which they had visited countless times before during what was nearing three years. "Come, let's go to the peak," Houjun suggested to Nyang-nyang. Without saying a word, the two began climbing the winding mountain path on the mountain, which always desolate whether it was spring, fall, or any other season. After going awhile, they could see the peak. Houjun caught his breath and at once ran towards it. And then, when that old shrine was just coming into view, Houjun started and turned his head. "...She's not there..." The shadow that was always waiting for him whenever he came there was nowhere to be found. Turning around, Nyang-nyang, who should have been just behind him, had also disappeared. "......" Houjun folded his arms, closed his eyes, and gathered his chi1. "I'd like you to show yourself.... Taiitsukun." Houjun's voice echoed back at him.

"I'd like you to show yourself.... Taiitsukun." A gust of wind blew, and a cloud of dust enveloped Houjun's face. Brushing it away with his hand and seeing what was in front of his face, Houjun yelled without thinking, "Daaaa-!" "What's with that 'da!'" said the Sunakake baba floating backwards before him as she repositioned herself in front of him. Today instead of farming clothes she was clad in divine clothes. "I'd like you to not startle me. Don't suddenly levitate..." "Then you don't keep on always having manga-like body proportions." Upon being told that, Houjun hastily reverted to his normal stature. While she was floating in mid-air, Sunabaa, whose sickening face was at Houjun's eye-level, laughed, "Anyway, I never told you my name." Houjun answered, "When I was young my dad taught me about you..." Somewhere in this world there was a mysterious mountain where you could know everything. That mountain's name was Taikyoku. And living there was the one who ruled everything in the world... "He said you were Taiitsukun." Houjun meekly gazed at Taiitsukun. "You're thinking that how could Taiitsukun be this old hag... aren't you?" "...no...that's..." Since Houjun certainly couldn't make any excuse to Taiitsukun, who knew everything, he simply scratched his head.

"Well, no matter," Taiitsukun said after backing away from Houjun a bit. "You should have realized it a lot earlier." Houjun nodded silently. It hadn't even been a month into his training journey before he noticed that the voice of the complaining old hag who had appeared at his destination when he had been searching for Nyangnyang's house was the owner of the unknown mysterious voice of revelation from that dream. "That entrusting me with Nyang-nyang, a young child, having me protect her life while escourting her to a safe house and surmounting numerous trials was your recipe for my training..." "Hmm, so did you accomplish it because of that?" "Yes," Houjun answered plainly, "because Nyang-nyang's home is here on Mt. Taikyoku." When he was beginning his training journey and used the instantaneous teleportation to escape from the giant snake in the forest, for the first time he tried to bring Nyang-nyang back to her home, and ended up arriving at this mountain. At that time he had felt let down deep in his heart, but no matter how many times he tried it again afterward, they always arrived at this mountain and returned to the starting point of the journey. It was around that time that he remembered hearing about Taikyoku and Taiitsukun from his father. "In other words, like you Nyang-nyang also lives here..." "That's right." Taiitsukun nodded emphatically. "Nyang-nyang is a goddess serving me." And with those words, she hit her hand

lightly. At that moment with a poof, poof, poof... All around Houjun floated numerous things like large round crystal spheres. "......!!" Houjun's fox eyes bugged and the goddesses that flew out of the spheres circled about him in the air. "Houjun! Houjun! Houjun! Houjun!" "Meow, meow, meow2 Nyang-nyang wasn't just one person..." "No matter how long you were with her, you never took a good look at her, did you?" Taiitsukun said in an utterly amazed voice. "Houjun, thanks for saving me from the giant snake!" "Houjun, thanks for saving me from the snow woman!" "Houjun, thanks for saving me from the kappa3!" "Houjun, thanks for saving me from the pervert!" "That's enough!" One after another the Nyang-nyangs zipping before Houjun were quietly driven away. "Come to think of it now, each day I had the feeling that Nyangnyang's personality had... changed subtly..." Houjun hit his hand on his head, and Taiitsukun asked again, "If you had noticed that Nyang-nyang was a goddess here, wouldn't you have reached the goal more quickly?" Houjun shook his head. "I think that until I gained confidence in my Suzaku Shichiseishi jutsu you would have remained quiet and given me more training..."

"Oh..." Taiitsukun seemed satisfied and nodded. "Well done." Houjun faced the master of the mountain and quietly began to speak. "When I received this mask from Nyang-nyang, I felt like I had been reborn as a new person. Before then I hadn't been able to control my powers at all, but strangely I was able to start concentrating on my jutsu..." Learning to use his jutsu hadn't been easy. He had already wondered if he had reached his limits more than one or two times. Despite that, Taiitsukun began giving him sarcastic, though satisfactory advice, and due to him learning about his body, Houjun's jutsu had steadily improved. Three years had passed during his training journey. At eighteen he lost his family, his lover, his friends to the great flood, and at twenty-one he tried to take his own life. Now Houjun was about to see his twentyfourth spring. "Today for the first time I tried to use a jutsu without wearing the mask..." "I see. It's because you brought Nyang-nyang here without relying the mask." Houjun nodded. "I...," he told Taiitsukun, "I think I've already become Chichiri..." Upon hearing Houjun's remarkable declaration, Taiitsukun quickly soared up three meters into the sky. Houjun slowly gazed up at Taiitsukun. "Listen carefully," a voice floated down from above "Who do you have to thank for being here now?" "That's... thanks to Taiitsukun." "Just her?"

"And also thanks to Nyang-nyang..." "And...?" "......And......?" "Fool! The parents that raised you, the people who have influenced you up until now... everyone!" Houjun straightened his back. "Haven't you forgotten one among them who saved you from dying at a critical moment!" "......Kouran Ou..." "That's right." Taiitsukun again came down before Houjun's face with a whoosh and came in close to his face. "Go to where she is and thank her properly." "...Un...understood..." Taiitsukun quickly looked away and said, "In the meantime I'll prepare your diploma." "......O...ok." Houjun blushed and hung his head really low. "Good. To reach Seisengou, go down the mountain, turn right, and cross two mountains and a river..." "Yay, together, together, together!" Brushing aside the Nyang-nyangs, who had started swarming Houjun, Taiitsukun shouted, "That's enough, you're too noisy! You don't have a part anymore~" She hit her hand, and the Nyangnyangs were again confined in the spheres.

"One more thing. Until you arrive at the village, don't use your jutsu at all," Taiitsukun informed him, narrowing her eyes to slits. * As if he were a child that had received a huge prize, Houjun joyously descended the mountain, and Taiitsukun sighed as she saw him off. "Houjun, when you left Seisengou three years ago, you unconsciously used a spell jutsu flawlessly on the girl named Kouran. You really don't need the mask..."

Then one of the Nyang-nyangs in the spheres said, "And on this mountain he sacrificed his body trying to protect me from a

boulder. He was already a Suzaku Shichiseishi..." Within their spheres the Nyang-nyangs agreed and kept nodding their heads. "During these three years, you followed my command well and cultivated yourself by studying hard... With your will-power it might even be possible for you to defeat Seiryuu's Nakago..." Taiitsukun said, and then appeared on the ground on Mt. Taikyoku's summit standing like two Deva Kings. "But for you the final trial is still to come." Out of nowhere a sudden gust blew on the summit, the Nyang-nyangs' spheres opened, and they flew to her. "Have you forgotten that abominable past!?" Taiitsukun said as she faced in the direction Houjun had gone. "There's no way you'd forget. No, you mustn't forget. That past is connected to the future through your power. Return to the Shoryuu River and then settle it. Can you do that?" Her voice became the voice Houjun had heard in his dream sometimes. Taiitsukun's body disappeared into a sandstorm. "If you can't, I can't allow you to become Chichiri. Come, will you show me your full true power?" And then that voice, along with the sandstorm blowing in the wind, rose to the sky. "Suzaku's Miko has already appeared in Konan. The miko needs your power." 1 Translator's Note: Chi is a Chinese concept that the Japanese have also adopted (called ki in Japanese). It is energy that can be gathered and used to do things with just one's mind. 2 Translator's Note: This is again a play on Nyang-nyang's name since in Japanese Nyang and meow sound the same. 3 Translator's Note: A kappa is a creature from Japanese mythology. It's similar to a frog in that it's green and lives in water. It has a dish on its head containing water, and if the water is knocked out of the dish it will lose its power. 6 Returning Nightmares

"I wonder how Koran is doing…" Hojun made his way back to Sacred River Village with intensifying feelings. "She has to be doing well, you know," Hojun said to himself with a chuckle. During the past three years, Koran had probably matured into a young woman by now. And thinking that she was now the same age as his Koran was when she died made Hojun’s heart ache. As if to shake off his nightmares, Hojun reminded himself excitedly, "That’s right. Her boyfriend has probably returned to the village by now…" When Hojun had thrown himself to the mercy of the river, Koran had scolded him for seeking sympathy and being so wasteful. Thinking of her boyfriend, she demanded that if Hojun wanted to lose his life, he should give it to him instead. While remembering his own fond memories from his youth, Hojun thought seriously of Koran’s lover. He will return soon. Imagining Koran’s sparkling, happy face, Hojun’s strides became lighter. "Not only do I need to thank her, but I’ll need to congratulate her, you know!" Hojun was now at the boarder of Kutoh and Konan. Once he passed over the mountain in front of him, he would be in Sacred River Village. It was then that a young man came stumbling out from a bamboo cluster to Hojun’s right. "…He…lp…me…" The man looked very young. He crawled along the ground by Hojun’s feet and was breathing violently.

"Please, blessed monk…help me…" "What’s wrong? Your leg is wounded, you know…" Blood was flowing rapidly out of the man’s right thigh, which appeared as though it had been struck by an arrow. "They’re following me… If they find me, they’ll kill me…" The young man shook his head and looked up at Hojun with desperate eyes. "Please help me. I can’t die now…!" That instant, Hojun’s heart stopped beating. "…Hikoh…!" What are you doing here? Why are you here?! Hojun’s head was filled with confusion. "Hikoh…?" The man’s face twisted in pain and confusion. "I am Shuusei. Ryuu Shuusei." "Ryuu Shuusei?" Hojun peered at Shuusei’s face intently. He looked like an exact replica. His slanted eyebrows and eyes, and his manly mouth… His age was even the same as Hikoh’s when he died. And this man was asking Hojun for help… "What could be the meaning of this?…" Hojun was paralyzed from the shock. But then, he caught the faint sound of men’s voices coming from deep in the bamboo patch. "Hey, I see blood on the ground!" "He couldn’t have run much farther than this." "He’s this way! Hurry…"

Hojun faced Shuusei and opened his frightened mouth. "Unless we hurry, your pursuers will find you, you know." Hojun clutched his head in anger. "But I don’t have the power to heal…" Maybe I should use my magic to defeat his pursuers?… No, I can’t. Taiitsukun made me promise not to use my magic until I reached Sacred River Village. Hojun was suddenly pulled from his thoughts when he felt a little tug on his cloak. "..Nyan-Nyan…!" "I’m Number 5," Nyan-Nyan #5 said with a mischievous grin. "Taiitsu-kun got worried and said I could come follow you!" "I see," Hojun clapped his hands. "Do you know how to fix wounds, Nyan-Nyan?" Number 5 nodded proudly. "Yes, I can. Okay, fix! Fix!" The voices of the men chasing Shuusei got louder and louder. "Nyan-Nyan, take this man to an inconspicuous place and fix his wounds." "Okay. Nyan-Nyan will fix your wounds, okay?" Then, after a couple seconds of thought, Hojun told Nyan-Nyan, "Then, I want you to turn yourself into a girl old enough to be this man’s wife. If you two link arms as you walk, no one should suspect him." With a nod, Nyan-Nyan’s body began to change rapidly.

"..Eeeeek!…" Shuusei’s back gave out and his eyes opened wide as the 7-year-old girl transformed into a beautiful 17-year-old woman. "Sorry to startle you like that. Just trust this girl, and you’ll be okay, you know," Hojun said as he avoided the gave of the man who looked like Hikoh. "…Th…thank you so much…" "Never mind that, just hurry!" "…Yes, sir…" "And also, this girl may be very attractive, but just remember she is not human, so you needn’t feel uncomfortable, you know…" "…Of…of cworse I’w feew comfowtable…" Shuusei managed to say. He look one long look at the man who had rescued him without question, and noticed that there was a red symbol glowing on his knee. While being supported by Nyan-Nyan’s arm, he faced Hojun and said, " I will always be indebted to you… If there’s anything I can do to help you, please tell me…" Hojun shook his head and answered. "…No… I should be the one thanking you, you know. Rescuing you took a great burden off my soul…" Hojun removed his mask and smiled with his true face. Seeing the deep scar that ran along the monk’s right* eye, he noticed a deep, unfathomable sadness behind his smile. He saw a scar that marked a tragedy which the monk had tried to forget, but still couldn’t. Shuusei wondered if this had anything to do with the man he had just been mistaken for… "Well, Nyan-Nyan, it’s all in your hands now."

"I got’cha." Nyan-Nyan nuzzled up to Shuusei and began to walk down the path with him. After seeing the two off into the distance, Hojun took a long, deep breath, and continued down the path to Sacred River Village. After a while, three of Kutoh’s soldiers on horseback came galloping in front of Hojun. However… Hojun had no idea that this would be the start of a huge battle. * "It seems like I’ve been wandering for quite a while, you know…" During his cross over the mountain, he had run into a little lost child and had cared for it for one day. "But it hasn’t changed…" Hojun said as he admired the beautiful scenery of Sacred River Village as it was bathed in the morning sunlight. =105=

Just like three years ago, when Hojun had soothed his body and soul at this place, the pear trees were full in bloom and the waters of Sacred River glided peacefully. To Hojun, who had spent the last three years traveling from one hellish place to another to train, Sacred River Village was like a heavenly oasis. Hojun smiled and proceeded on to Oh Kenmin’s house. But as he walked through the fruit orchards, a strange sensation overcame him. The farmers working around him also looked very strange. Villagers were clumped in twos and threes, whispering amongst themselves, seemingly oblivious to Hojun’s presence. Unable to shake off this uneasiness, Hojun arrived at Kenmin’s house at the center of the village. He took in a deep breath and raised his hand to knock on the door… "You’re lying!!" Screamed someone from inside the house, followed by the slamming of a door as she ran out. Not even noticing Hojun, she continued to run out to the back garden in distress. Hojun noticed the hem of her long, red robe was flapping in the breeze. The girl in the red robe stopped by the well at the back of the house. Her waist-length hair rippled sadly in the breeze. "…Ko…ran" Hojun quietly spoke to the girl. Her back stiffened at the sound of his voice. "Koran…!" Koran slowly turned around and gazed at Hojun with intense eyes. "…Hojun…?" Hojun nodded.

"…Hojun… Y-your face…is peeling off…" Koran said in a quivering voice. "Oops, I completely forgot about it, you know…" Hojun removed the mask which Koran had never seen before. "Nice to see you again!" "…Hojun…!" Koran’s frightened tone melted. "You’ve grown very beautiful, you know, Koran." Ever since Hojun had left, Koran had been spending her days as she pleased. Her round, girlish face had grown more womanly. "…You too. Somehow, you look much more manly," she said as she looked up at Hojun. "And for some reason, you look happier or like you’ve changed… But I like it!" Just after she said this, her cheeks filled with red. "But, whyyyyy? Why did you leave so suddenly like that! You could have at least said goodbye? I was reallllly mad about that!" "…sorry about that…" "But…" Koran’s eyes shot up to the heavens, as if she had just remembered something. "It felt really weird back then. It almost seemed like it was all a dream… I heard your voice, then came running to find you, then I tried to stop you from leaving, but my voice wouldn’t come out and my body wouldn’t move… I couldn’t do anything…" So my magic worked as soon as I heard Taiitsu-kun in my dream?…

Hojun’s eyes fell to the mask in his hand. "We’ll talk about that later. First, I want to hear about you." "About…me?" Hojun nodded. "I thought your boyfriend was supposed to return any day now." Koran looked down sharply. "…Koran?" Hojun gasped. Could her boyfriend have lost his life in battle?! And that’s why Koran just ran out of the house?… Because she just heard this news…? "…sorry about that…" Hojun’s voice dropped. "That’s okay," Koran said with her head still turned downwards. "I guess I said something I shouldn’t have…" "Say anything you want about that bastard. I don’t care…" Hojun’s ears twitched. "’That bastard’…?" Hojun placed his hands on Koran’s shoulders and pulled her closer to him. "What are you talking about?" Koran’s eyes grew moist as she looked up at Hojun. As a faint cry escaped her closed lips, a sea of tears flooded from her eyes. "… It’s awful…It’s just too awful…" Koran said as she threw herself onto Hojun. "I waited for him all this time! I waited for him all this time…!"

"W…what happened, Koran?" Hojun lightly shook Koran, unaware of what else to do. "…I just heard he deserted… And he also ran off with some girl…" Apparently, Shuu Takoh, a wandering merchant who came from Konan, had seen Koran’s former lover on the arm of a mysterious young woman around the border of Kutoh. Rumor of this spread instantaneously in the village. So that is what the villagers were whispering about… Hojun thought to himself. So what Koran had just heard from her father was not news of his death, but of his eloping with another woman. "Koran… you mustn’t believe rumors like that with no substance, you know…" Hojun told her. Silence. "Koran, you told me, you know? You told me that no matter what happened, you would have faith in him, you know…" "…Yes, but…" Various emotions were swimming around inside of Koran’s heart. "Why did he desert? He wasn’t the kind of man who would be so cowardly! He must have changed during these past three years…! And then he probably eloped with one of the pretty court ladies." Now that Koran thought about it, she remembered that three years ago, the night before Shuusei had left for the army, he had mentioned something about changing during the three years.

"…I hear he and that woman were linking arms…and they came out of a barn together! I just can’t believe it… How could he do such a thing?… Did he even consider how I must have felt these past three years waiting for him?!" "Koran, you need to calm down, you know" "Calm down?" Koran pulled herself away from Hojun. "Then… what about YOU, Hojun? Can you honesty say you were able to stay calm when your best friend stole your fiancee from you? You can’t, can you. You’d never be able to stay calm. Even you lost control and pointed a dagger at your best friend! You hated him for betraying you so you let go of his hand when he was in the water!!" To Hojun’s horror, the fateful flood scene which he thought he had forgotten returned vividly in his mind. From inside the raging waters, Hikoh’s face begged for mercy. The two were linked only by one hand. But their bond was suddenly broken, and only his body was surrounded by the protective aura and rescued… I let go of his hand because I hated him. My magical powers only worked to save myself. I let my best friend die. Noticing Hojun’s expression, Koran placed her hands to her mouth. "…Sorry…for saying that…" Hojun weakly shook his head at the apologetic Koran. "Hojun… What should I do?… I just don’t understand… Please… help me…"

Hojun could not find the words to tell to Koran. Because he did not know which words might have saved him back then… Hojun gently drew Koran into his arms. "What’s best is to cry as much as you want in my arms…" "…Hojun… Ho…jun." As Koran buried her tear-stained face in Hojun’s chest, he strongly embraced her. Koran… Hojun called out to his former lover inside his mind. Why didn’t I just embrace you strongly back then? No matter what you said, I should have told you not to leave me, and I should have embraced you like this instead… "I guess…he’ll never come back…then…" Koran whispered. "… Shuusei…" When Hojun heard that name come from her mouth, he suddenly raised his head with a gasp. Shuusei…?! Then, Hojun caught sight of someone far off in the shadows, witnessing this scene. He felt a pang of uneasiness, but no words came from his mouth. As Shuusei retreated into the distance, Hojun quietly released hold of Koran. "I’ll be back right away… With Shuusei." "Hojun…" Hojun grasped Koran’s shoulders and squeezed them tightly. Then, he said, "…You must have faith in him…!"

Koran looked confused. "Have faith in him!!" ---------Notes: Yes, Nishizaki-sensei messed up in saying it was Hojun’s *right* eye that was scarred. It’s his *left*

7 Love Torn Apart After Hojun rushed away like the wind, Koran could only stand there dumbfounded. "He’s bringing Shuusei with him…?" She whispered what Hojun had just told her. But how would he do this? Koran shook her head wearily. Once a heart has left, it will never return… "That reminds me…wasn’t Hojun one of Suzaku’s seven?…" Koran suddenly remembered. If he is one of Suzaku’s warriors, he must have incredible powers of some sort. But even if he were to use his powers to bring Shuusei back to me… "It won’t be the Shuusei that I loved…" Koran told herself quietly as she turned to leave the back yard. "Huh…?" When Koran caught sight of the two beautiful chestnut horses at the front door, she cocked her head sideways. "Do we have visitors? I wonder who they are?" * "…Where are you…" Hojun concentrated hard. He had chased after Shuusei immediately after having seen him, but Shuusei’s rush of emotions quickened his pace so that Hojun lost him. Hojun tried to use telepathy to find Shuusei, but he could not bring himself to the proper level of concentration. "… I guess I created a big tear in their relationship…you know…"

What a horrible coincidence… To think that Ryuu Shuusei, the man who looked exactly like Hikoh, turned out to be Koran’s lover… And as if that weren’t enough, I helped him desert the army, and then got him into trouble with the villagers because I assigned Nyan-Nyan to take care of him. To think that such a thing would happen to me just before Taiitsukun was about to give me my diploma… Just how much must fate taunt me before He’s satisfied? Hojun bit his lip and once again concentrated. * Oh Kenmin looked at his visitor and shouted. "What was that? You plan to sacrifice Sacred River Village to construct a waterway??" "Yes, that is so." The self-introduced advisor to Kutoh’s Shogun gave the village head a stern look. "If we link the current of Rising Dragon River with Sacred River, we can greatly shorten the route to Konan." "So you’re suggesting…that we bury this village under water…?!" Kenmin demanded as he shook his fists in the air. "We have already received permission from the emperor." "Why… why do you even consider such a plan?" "So we can quickly and efficiently invade Konan," the messenger from Kutoh answered matter-o-factly. Kenmin, who had believed Kutoh and Konan signed a peace treaty, was stunned into silence.

"Sacred River Village has assisted Kutoh for many years. We would not be too pleased if you would refuse us." The man continued casually. "You needn’t worry about the aftermath. We will simply move your villagers to a section of Konan, once we have invaded." "Onto invaded territory…" Kenmin’s trembling intensified. "You…cannot expect that we will accept such a trade. Each and every member of this village loves this land… And you dare suggest we move onto invaded territory?… That’s absurd…" "I sincerely hope…that you do not refuse. You should already know all too well what should happen to you if you disobey Kutoh." Facing the village leader, who could only hang his head, the man whispered sympathetically. "I admit, it would be a shame to destroy such a beautiful village as this…" Kenmin’s head jerked up when he heard those words. "There is a way to save this village…" Kenmin’s gaze fell upon the other visitor from Kutoh, who sat in a chair next to the advisor. The man, who had been sitting there quietly with his eyes closed up until now, suddenly opened his eyes. From beneath the golden hair on his forehead, his cold, blue eyes stared piercingly into Kenmin. * Hojun’s heart jolted. He was finally able to catch Shuusei’s presence. Facing the direction in which the young man had run, towards Kutoh, Hojun lost sense of everything else.

Shuusei! Wait for me! Shuusei! Wait for me! When Shuusei heard that voice calling him, he stopped dead in his tracks. However, he saw no one. Right before Shuusei’s squinted eyebrows appeared a bamboo hat from nowhere. "Ah!…" A pair of legs emerged from the hat, then a torso, then a neck, then a head slowly inched their way out. The fact that a man just emerged from thin air was shocking enough, but when Shuusei finally recognized who the man was, he was even more surprised. "…It’s you…" Shuusei’s face clouded with confusion. "Who are you? ‘Hojun’…is what Koran called you…" "Never mind about me." "But I DO mind!" "What happened to Nyan-Nyan?" "Nyan-Nyan?" Shuusei questioned angrily. "After she fixed me, she said she was going back to Mt. Something-or-another, and disappeared!" "…So that’s what happened…" "Who the hell do you think you are?! I am grateful you rescued me from Kutoh’s soldiers, but… after I came back to the village, everyone accused me of being a traitor. Thanks to you, no one will

even listen to me. It’s all because you made me walk with that goddess! And to make matters worse, when I went to Koran’s house…" "…you were there…!" Shuusei’s shoulders trembled. "Just what ARE you to Koran anyway! You had me thinking you were just a wandering monk, but you’re actually a greasy pervert! Stealing my girl away from me like that! Don’t tell me you had me black-balled from the village on purpose?!" Unlike the cool and calm Hikoh, Shuusei screamed at Hojun with intensified rage. "That’s not right. I’ll explain everything later, so come with me back to the village right away." Shuusei slapped away Hojun’s extended hand. "Don’t mock me! I can’t return to the village again. I don’t have time to waste making excuses to the villagers!" Shuusei yelled and took off. "Where are you going!" Hojun demanded as he chased after him. "To Kutoh’s palace!" "But why?! Isn’t it a bad idea to return from where you just escaped, you know?!" Halted in his tracks by a tug on the arm from Hojun, Shuusei clenched his fist and answered. "I’m going…for Nakago…" "Nakago…?!" Shuusei spoke bluntly. "I’m going to kill him!"

* "And what exactly do you propose?…" Kenmin asked suspiciously of the Shogun and his advisor after they mentioned a way to save Sacred River Village. "If I recall, last spring, His Majesty visited your village." "…Yes. We all saw him." "His Majesty was quite taken by the beauty of this village. But he was also quite taken by something else…" "…Yes?…" Kenmin gave the messenger a dubious look. "He has taken a liking to your daughter." That instant, a chill ran through Kenmin’s heart. "My Koran…?" "Yes. His Majesty was quite taken with her." "….So…you’re saying…." "I am sure you understand. His Majesty has generously offered to overlook his decision to destroy your village if you allow your daughter to join his harem." The advisor of the Shojun stole a brief glance at the man seated beside him. The lips on his expressionless face moved slightly upward. "…I cannot do that…" Kenmin said in a strained voice.

"Most people in your position could never dream of their daughters winning approval of His Majesty. We are even offering to spare your village, yet you refuse?" "…You expect me… to hand over Koran…to that man…" Disturbing images of the emperor giving his daughter greedy glances seeped into Kenmin’s mind. "Do you say you can’t do it?" As the head of this village, I have a responsibility to protect it. But I’m expected to sacrifice my only daughter, all I have left of my wife, to become prey to that greedy slob of an emperor… As a father, I can’t allow that to happen. "…I…can’t…do it…" "You certainly are a stubborn man…" the Shogun’s advisor said with a sigh. "You see, only two nights ago, Ryuu Shuusei, one of our soldiers from your village deserted us." Kenmin looked down in silence. "Oh, so you know him? I don’t suppose he’s come running back to this village for refuge…" "He hasn’t!" To avoid sounding suspicious, Kenmin continued calmly, "All I know is that I heard from a wandering merchant that he had been seen wandering off with some woman…" "But isn’t that Ryuu Shuusei also the same boy you raised as your own son?"

Kenmin fell to his knees and bowed apologetically before the two men. "… I am greatly remorseful over this. I didn’t think Shuusei was the type of boy who would do such a horrible thing. Even I find it difficult to believe…" The Shogun’s advisor spoke to the groveling man. "In ordinary circumstances, we would prosecute you in his place. But even that can be pardoned if you give us your daughter." Having lost all places to run, Kenmin could only sit there grimly. "Come, give us an answer," the man demanded in a slightly irritated tone. "…I can’t…give her…to you…" "Bastard! Even the Shogun has come out of his way to see you, and yet you give such rude responses!!" The advisor, his temper lost, quickly drew his sword out if its sheath. The Shogun put a hand out to stop him. "Kenmin…" the Shogun said, facing him. "Konan is now Kutoh’s enemy. And you have crossed paths with one of Konan’s seven warriors…" Remembering the wounded monk’s visit from three years ago, Kenmin caught his breath. How did the Shogun of Kutoh know about this? I never told anyone else that Hojun was one of Suzaku’s seven… =125= The Shogun’s eyebrow twitched unconsciously. "Oh… I do believe I sense Suzaku’s presence this very minute…"

"I…I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’ve never met…one of …Suzaku’s warriors…" The Shogun shot a cold, blue stare at the furiously resistant Kenmin. He was instantly struck with the painful sensation of an iron ring pressing into his head. Through squinted eyes, he saw the glowing blue symbol on the Shogun’s forehead and panicked. … Nakago…?! This foreign Shogun is one of Seiryuu’s warriors? So he came all this way because he sensed Chichiri’s presence. But Hojun left three years ago… "You say…you don’t know?" Nakago’s eyes flashed open. Through the severe pain, Kenmin clenched his teeth and thought, Maybe that means Hojun is near again…. And Nakago thought he would be a hindrance… Ready to deliver the final blow, Nakago squinted his eyes harder. At that moment, the door to the room was violently thrown open. "Please stop it!! Don’t hurt my father anymore than that!!" Koran shuffled determinedly before Nakago and spoke strongly. "Fine. I’ll go back to the palace with you. And as for that ‘Sue Zach’ business, I have no idea what you’re talking about, so stop speaking that way to us!" * "Are you SURE there’s nothing between you and Korannnn?" "You certainly are a doubtful one, you know…" Hojun’s face, which reflected deep into Shuusei’s eyes, looked away slightly. "But I had no idea Sacred River Village…was in that much trouble."

It had taken quite some time before Hojun could clear up the misunderstanding and gotten this information from Shuusei. "But I don’t see why Nakago has to be killed…" "He’s controlling the emperor. He won’t stop with Konan, either. I’m sure he’ll take over all the other countries in the world. So he must be killed…" An image of Nakago’s icy cold smile Shuusei had seen that night reappeared in his mind. "How heartless of him…" "Yes, I know. And he’s also one of Seiryuu’s seven, isn’t he…" Hojun nodded silently. "And aren’t you one of Suzaku’s?…" "….uh…" Shuusei continued to speak to the startled Hojun. "Konan is a peaceful country with a young, gentle emperor, right? I just… I can’t stand to be a part of Kutoh anymore. … I originally wanted to go back home and tell everyone in the village about this. I thought I’d tell them to stop doing Kutoh’s bidding. I thought that maybe I could stop them from destroying the village if we all worked together…" "…Shuusei…" Hojun took Shuusei’s hand. "Come, we must return to the village, you know. It’s not too late. We must clear your name with Koran and the other villagers and get them to help… And I will help too."

"Thanks!" Shuusei’s face bloomed with hope. "But you… Hojun, why are you so concerned about us?" "That’s because…" Hojun chuckled lightly. "You and Koran… and all of the other villagers are very precious to me. Let’s go. I’ll explain everything else later." Hojun threw his hat into the air, grasped hold of his staff with Shuusei, and jumped inside. * The catatonic Kenmin was jolted back to his senses when the two suddenly materialized in his room. "…Shuusei! And …You’re…Hojun!" "Father, I’m home!" Shuusei said proudly to his adoptive father. "I have a very urgent matter to discuss. Please call Koran in here immediately."

Kenmin’s face clouded over. Seeing this, Hojun gasped as he realized that he could not sense Koran’s presence. "Father… Is Koran not at home?" Shuusei asked. "Koran has…left for Kutoh’s palace…" Kenmin managed slowly as he buried his face in his hands. "To the palace?! Why? Why! Why did Koran go there…!" Shuusei demanded angrily. Kenmin dropped his head even further. "In order to prevent the flooding of this village to create a waterway to Konan, she decided herself to join the harem…" "Impossible…!" Shuusei and Hojun gasped simultaneously. "Looks like we’re barely too late…" Hojun bit his lip. "Kenmin, Koran is under the misapprehension that Shuusei has left her. But Shuusei didn’t desert the army for that reason. He deserted because he overheard plans for the flooding of this village and wanted to warn everyone about it!" "…What did you say?" Kenmin raised his voice and looked up at his son. "And when I hurt myself running away from Kutoh’s soldiers, Hojun rescued me." "I had a female friend of mine heal his wound for him, you know…" "…What an extraordinary turn of events…" Kenmin shook his head as he learned the truth behind the rumors. "Korin said she wasn’t doing it because she felt abandoned by you, Shuusei… She

said she was doing a wonderful thing for her village and proudly left…" "…Koran…" Anger seeped into Shuusei’s face. "Father… Did the man who take Byakuren away… have blue eyes…?" Kenmin nodded silently. Shuusei glared off in the direction of Kutoh. "Hojun… Nakago sensed your presence and seemed very interested…" Nodding at Kenmin’s words, Hojun took his cloak in his hand. "Sir, I will bring Koran back safely with me, you know." "…And we also won’t let this village be destroyed! So, Father, don’t worry." The two jumped on top of the cloak. "Shuusei…" Kenmin called to his son. "You’ve grown very manly during these three years…" "Father…" "Please forgive me… for not realizing you loved this village… more than anyone else…" Shuusei shook his head at these words. "And that you loved Koran more than anyone else… Would you do me the honor… of marrying my daughter?…" "…Father." Kenmin looked up at his son as he disappeared off to Kutoh.

8 Bound for the Promised Place

Sitting atop Nakago’s horse, Koran was lead out of her homeland and before the gate of Kutoh’s palace. Some soldiers swarmed around Nakago’s horse and marched along with them. The eyes of seventeen-year-old Koran were wide open in bewilderment over the surroundings of the palace that were so different from the quaint village in which she had been raised. "What do you think? Surely, it’s quite different from what you’re accustomed." "…Not really. It’s nothing that impressive. After all, this was built with money you stole from the now poor villagers." Nakago smiled coldly. "You are a very brave girl. But I suggest you stay a little more subdued before His Majesty." "Never mind that…" Koran turned and questioned Nakago, "You will keep up your end of the bargain, won’t you?" "Of course I will," Nakago answered simply, then continued, "And your lover who deserted our army will be caught and executed." "Stop it!!" Koran covered her ears with her hands. Seeing this, Nakago smirked. "He betrayed you, didn’t he? It’s best you forget about him and be loyal to the Emperor for the sake of your village." Nakago stopped his horse, took Koran in his arms, and dismounted.

* Poof! Hojun and Shuusei appeared in the middle of a forest. "Damn… Looks like I was a little off, you know." "Hojun, I hear a river nearby." The two hurried off towards the direction of that noise. "Isn’t this the place where Rising Dragon River’s main current splits off?" "Shuusei, look at that." Hojun’s finger pointed into the distance. Despite the lack of light from the set sun, men could be seen hauling large boulders through the river. "They’re planning on using those boulders to divert the flow of Rising Dragon River into Sacred River Village." "Shit…!" It was hardly noticeable, but the water levels of Sacred River had already risen. "It doesn’t appear as though they intend to stop construction, you know…" Just after Hojun said this, a yell rose up from the construction site.

"Hey, hurry up! Put the boulders closer to the edges of the river! If we expect to cut of the flow of the main current by tomorrow morning, we’ll need to get this done all night tonight!" Shuusei mumbled in anger, "Knowing Nakago… he probably had this planned all along…" Hojun glanced around them. "Kutoh’s palace isn’t far from here. We were probably unable to appear inside of the palace because Nakago put a barrier around it, you know." "Let’s hurry, Hojun!" Nodding at each other, Hojun and Shuusei kicked up dust as they ran towards the palace. * "Well, if you would excuse me," Nakago said as he left the room, leaving Koran and the emperor alone. The large room was adorned in gaudy jewels and decorations. And the emperor, who was sitting sideways on the large bed in the center of the room, spoke commandingly to the girl who stood by the door. "Come closer…" No response. "Girl… Come closer to me." "…Yes, your Majesty." With trembling footsteps, Koran approached the emperor’s bed.

The emperor gave the virgin a good looking-over and peered into distant eyes. "Your name is Koran, right… Hmm, You’ve become much more womanly since I last saw you. Hmmmmm." While playfully stroking his beard, he let out a satisfied snort. Koran gulped. "Come…" The emperor reached out to her and tried to pull her on top of the bed. "…No…!" The emperor dragged the passive girl into his arms and whispered in her ear, "I heard from Nakago that your lover deserted our army and ran off with another woman. Koran’s body stiffened and she faced away from the emperor. "Why do you still resist me? I will take very good care of you from now on." The emperor touched Koran’s belt. "…No…" Koran’s strong determination was swimming inside her body in confusion. She seriously thought this was the only way she could save her village. She thought that it was okay to sacrifice herself to save everyone else. Have faith… But then, Hojun’s final words reentered her mind. Have faith…? How can I have faith? Koran demanded.

Just have faith… just have faith… just have faith… Hojun’s voice would not disappear. It echoed in her mind over and over again. You didn’t even try to have faith in your girlfriend! Her own voice which had spoken to Hojun three years ago also reentered her mind. She didn’t betray you. I don’t think her feelings for you ever changed. Koran’s face clouded and she shook her head. If you really love her, then why don’t you have faith in her?! It was then that something inside of Koran’s heart snapped. Shuusei…! She screamed inside her mind. I’m sorry… ! I’m sorry! I…did something…horrible… At last, Koran realized something. Having faith in someone was the same as loving someone… And she realized just how much… she loved Shuusei… "Oh dear, you’re trembling. There, there…" The emperor slipped Koran’s robe off her shoulders. His hand skimmed over her bare skin. "…Help…me…" Koran whimpered. Help me!! Shuusei!!! *

"It’s no use, you know. The barrier is too strong. Those of Suzaku can’t enter…" Hojun squinted his eyes as he looked up along the wall of Kutoh’s palace. "I’ll go by myself then. Nearby there’s a secret exit I used when I escaped here. I can get in through there," Shuusei told Hojun. "I’m worried about you…" "Don’t worry. I’m pretty familiar with the insides of the palace. I even know where the emperor’s personal quarters are. It’s the village I’m worried about. We need to do something before the sun rises tomorrow." Hojun nodded. "I’ll go back to Sacred River Village and help evacuate the villagers. After I finish, I’ll come immediately back here, so find someplace to hide with Koran nearby…" With little time left on their side, the two men clasped hands. "…If something happens, then call out to me. No matter what, I promise I’ll come to rescue you, you know…" "Sure, thanks. After all…" Hojun stared deeply into Hojun’s eye. "We’re friends." Sensing that Hojun once had a friend who looked exactly like him, Shuusei smiled at Hojun. "…Yes, we are…friends…" Hojun answered. After lighting squeezing Hojun’s hands, Shuusei slipped quietly behind the trees that led into the palace.

Seeing him off, Hojun murmured quietly, "…We were friends, you know… You have no idea just how much I loved you… Hikoh…" * "Shuusei…!" "Disrespectful wench!" the emperor yelled with a slap on Koran’s cheek. "How dare you call out the name of another man while you are with me!" Cradling her cheek in her hand, Koran glared at the man advancing on her. "Listen, this is your only home left. By tomorrow afternoon, your village will be sunk beneath the river." "…What did you say…?" Koran’s mouth dropped open. "That wasn’t our deal… You promised you’d spare my village if I joined your harem." "Promise?" the emperor laughed sarcastically. "What a gullible girl you are. Just be grateful I spared your li..." WHACK!! Before the emperor could finish his sentence, Koran’s flying fist knocked the right side of his face. "Eee…ee….eeek…" "That was a fist of fury!" SLAP!!!!

This time, her palm connected sharply with the left side of his face. "And that’s in return for the slap you just gave me!" The emperor of Kutoh cradled his face in both hands, on the verge of tears. Koran pointed a sharp finger on his nose. "Now YOU listen to ME! Sacred River Village will not be exploited! Any country with a perverse emperor and satanic shogun like Kutoh will someday be destroyed by its angry citizens, so I’d be careful if I were you!" Koran spat on the emperor’s head, then whisked her kimono back on and flew out the door. Seconds later, after the emperor had returned to his senses, he yelled out, "Someone! Is there anyone around?! The girl has escaped!!" * "It seems unusually busy here tonight…" Shuusei hid himself in the shadows of the trees as he watched over the palace grounds. Even though night had already fallen, many men were bustling about. But I must hurry. I must get to Koran before the emperor does… "You think I’m going to let him have her…?!" Shuusei headed for the middle of the courtyard where the emperor’s room was. *

A barefooted Koran dashed across the palace courtyard and into the dark shadows. She tumbled into the plants of the back garden, hid herself, and panted heavily. "The girl has escaped! Hurry and catch her!" She could hear countless voices yelling from inside the palace. It was a miracle there had been no guard outside the emperor’s room, but seeing nothing but tall walls in front of her now brought her spirits down. "What should I do?…" Koran was at a loss. Dawn would come in a few hours. And when it did, Sacred River Village would be submerged. "…It was tomorrow, wasn’t it…" Koran said out-loud to no one. "The promised day…" A single tear fell down Koran’s cheek. "…Shuusei." Koran was jerked back to her senses when someone grabbed her arm. "Everyone’s looking for you," a girl a couple years younger than her spoke in a deep voice. Her hair was cut short like a boy’s and she wore clothing Koran had never seen before. The girl smiled lightly, "Come with me. I’ll help you escape." "Huh…?" Koran doubtfully pulled her body away. "Ohhhhh, so Shuusei was your boyfriend…" "Huh?! Do you know Shuusei?"

The girl answered coolly, "How could I not know? Rumor says he’s the first man to ever desert Kutoh’s army. …And you know what he said? ‘I need to go now, or my girl will die’, he said." "Huh…?" Koran looked at the mysterious girl. "How do you know that?…" The girl answered no more and only tugged on Koran’s arm again. "Who…are you…?" Koran asked the girl as she opened the secret wooden door hidden by the foliage. "…Yui." She answered quietly. "Why did you rescue me?" "Because it’s best a girl give her virginity to the man she loves…" Koran caught her breath. She must have also been the one who got rid of the guards in front of the emperor’s room… "You miss someone terribly, don’t you? …I miss someone, too…" She smiled sadly, "She’s just a friend…though." Saying this, the girl called Yui turned her back on Koran and walked back to the palace. * Shuusei slowly crept to the emperor’s room. "What is wrong with you! Can you still not find the girl?!"

Hearing this, he froze. Koran escaped?! Shuusei held his head in his hands. So that’s why this palace has been so busy tonight. But that must mean the emperor still hasn’t had his way with her yet. So does that mean that she’s hiding somewhere? If she is, then I’d better find her before one of the emperor’s soldiers does…! "Why are you standing in such obvious danger?" Hearing this voice behind him, Shuusei flinched.

"…Shuusei, I assume." Seeing the man who stood before him, shivers ran up Shuusei’s spine. "…Nakago…" But Shuusei’s shivers instantly changed into courage. He quietly slipped a dagger from the right side of his belt and pointed it at Nakago.

"I won’t let you have Sacred River Village or Koran or anything else!" "Oh, and you intend to defeat me with that…?" Nakago’s body shook as he laughed. "Shut up!" Shuusei clenched his dagger and charged at Nakago. "Ah!" But he was thrown back by an invisible shield in front of Nakago and fell to the ground. "Dammit, fighting dirty, eh? If you’re really a man, then fight me man-to-man!" Nakago smiled coldly at the desperate boy. "You weren’t born in that village, correct? And the woman you love gave up on you and joined the harem. So why do you resist so?" Shuusei rose to his feet. "…You’re a lonely man…" Nakago looked confused. "Stop asking me pointless questions with obvious answers." Shuusei continued, "The reason I’m doing this for them is because I love them!" Shuusei once again charged at Nakago. Nakago opened his eyes wide and sent him flying back onto the ground. "Nnngh…!" Pushed down with an incredible force, Shuusei writhed in agony on the ground.

"You have no time to waste pointing a blade at me," Nakago informed him. "The girl is no longer on the palace grounds." "What…?!" "She headed straight for the village." "For Sacred River Village…?" "Correct. She will probably arrive there when day breaks. And just after that, the village will be flooded. "You should escape though the place you used last time… in order to save the girl you love." Saying this with cold eyes, Nakago chuckled deeply in the back of his throat. "But before you go, there is something I want you to answer, is the man with you one of Suzaku’s warriors?" Shuusei struggled to his feet and took one step towards Nakago. "Listen, you, someday, Suzaku and His warriors will destroy you! So try and be patient until then!" Barely after having said this, Shuusei took off running. Nakago’s eyes narrowed to fine slits as he watched the deserter escape once again. "Yui-sama," he murmured. "It’s best you not wander around the palace courtyard so much…" A shadowed figure behind Nakago flinched slightly. "All that you have accomplished is sending those two off to die," Nakago said as he once again smiled coldly.

* POOF! Appearing in the place where he and Shuusei had promised to meet, Hojun looked around. "He’s not here…" Hojun had returned to Sacred River Village, told Kenmin of the circumstances, and had all the villagers moved to safety. All that remained now was the huge task of getting Shuusei and Koran to safety and somehow putting a stop to the flooding. "I dread to think the two of them might have been both captured…" Hojun clasped his fingers in front of his face and sent his energy out to Shuusei. Where are you, Shuusei… There was no answer. Shuusei, where are you? Answer me. A gloomy sensation trickled through Hojun’s body. Perhaps neither of them were in range? Hojun…? Hojun, is that you…? After a while, Shuusei’s voice sounded. Shuusei, where are you? Koran escaped from the emperor and is headed towards Sacred River Village. I’m following after her right now. Hojun panicked. Come back! If the river overflows, you’ll both…

Knowing her, she’s headed for that place. What place…? Hojun’s energy fluctuated. Shuusei’s voice answered faintly, There’s a place where Koran and I promised three years ago that we’d meet… She said she has faith in me…and that she’s waiting for me there… …Shuusei…! …So…I’m…going… Shuusei’s voice faded softer and softer until it died away. No matter how many times Hojun called out to him, there wasn’t another answer from Shuusei. Hojun’s hands slowly fell to his sides. "I lost him…"

Chapter 9: Replay of Destiny "I lost him…" Spreading out both of his arms, Hojun’s empty eyes fell to the ground. Hojun’s energy was completely drained. The magic which he had acquired and practiced during the three years under Taiitsukun, this was the first time he had completely run out of powers. Under the original plan, after Shuusei and Koran had escaped to safety, Hojun was going to transform into Nakago and tell the men to stop blocking the river. Hojun cursed his destiny. The girl with the same name as his former fiancee: Koran. The young man with the same face as his former best friend: Shuusei. Hojun’s crossing with these two distorted their destiny. And now, Shuusei and Koran were going to die in the place where they had originally promised to marry. Hojun’s feelings over the hopeless situation became a jumble inside of him. Hojun looked off into the eastern sky which was beginning to show some light. Those two will probably reach Sacred River when day breaks. That is also the time when Rising Dragon River will be linked with Sacred River. And when that happens… They will go off into another world where I can no longer reach them.

Just the same as before… Hojun took off his mask. "I won’t let them die this time…!" Murmuring this, Hojun ran off towards the east. * Thud… "Ah…!" Koran massaged her foot which had banged against a rock. The soles of her feet were swollen and dripping with blood from the three hours of running. "I need to warn the villagers right away… right away… right away…" Koran said this as if to encourage herself and continued to run… But then she suddenly stopped and hung her head. "I need to leave or else she’ll die"… I wonder what he meant by that? Koran remembered what the girl who rescued her had said. If he were just a flaky two-timing deserter, he wouldn’t say something like that… I guess what that traveling salesman said was just a false rumor after all… Koran shook off these thoughts. It doesn’t matter who Shuusei is with right now… or what he’s thinking about. I’m not going to let others decide how I feel about him, either.

"…Shuusei," Koran called out to her lover in between gasps for breath. "It was today, wasn’t it… Our promised day… I’ll come there right away… I promise I’ll come there!" After I warn the villagers about the flood, I’ll wait at the pear tree forever… With tangled hair and an aching body, Koran continued to drag herself along the path which led to Sacred River Village. * Shuusei was running on a mountain path just about one village away at that time. "Hojun, I hope you got the villagers out safely…" He had just exchanged a couple words with Hojun telepathically, but had been cut off for some reason. "Koran…" Shuusei whispered. "So you really do have faith in me after all…" Thinking this caused strength to well up inside of him. At first, he had considered to regroup with Hojun first and use his magic to find Koran. But he couldn’t do that. Just like Koran, he wanted to fulfill the promise they made. And he wanted to fulfill this on his power alone… Unspeakable dangers might await him, but all Shuusei could think about right then was his love for Koran. The eastern sky which led to Sacred River Village was mostly white by then. Noticing the fallen leaves on the ground were stained red with blood, Shuusei caught his breath.

"…Koran?!" With pangs of pain in his chest, he quickened his pace. * A peddler who wandered from capital to capital selling his goods set off that morning from Sacred River Village towards Kutoh. Just as he got on the mountain path, he cocked his head in confusion. "Oh, dearrrrrr." Wobbling towards him was an almost zombie-like wounded girl. "Aren’t you Mr. Oh’s daughter Koran?! You look awful!" The peddler put his arms around her for support and said, "Not a single person is left in the village. Why are you going there?" "No one is there…?" Koran asked the peddler. "Even though there’s no storm, for some reason the water levels in the river are rising. Maybe everyone else evacuated to another village?" "Oh… So no one’s there…" Koran spoke quietly to herself. Then she removed the mans hands from her body. "…Let me go. I’m in a hurry…" "B…but wait a minute. If you go now, it’s too dangerous…" Koran walked on as if she couldn’t hear what the peddler said. Then she suddenly turned around and said, "Listen, the next time

you spread strange rumors about Shuusei, I won’t go so easy on you. You slimy old fart." "…I’m not a fart… I’m a peddler…" The "old fart" quietly watched Koran walk off into the distance as he scratched his head. It happened a few minutes after that. Seeing yet another running figure approach him from the distance, the peddler once again cocked his head in confusion. "Aren’t you… that man Shuusei…?" Noticing the peddler, Shuusei stopped running and caught his breath. "Did you see Koran?" "Yes, I sure did. She looked like a sack of potatoes, running into the village…" "Is that so…" Shuusei’s eyes glimmered with hope as they glanced towards Sacred River Village. "You’d better get her out of that village fast…" the peddler told Shuusei. "She may be rude, but she still deserves to live. We can’t let her life go to waste, now can we." "We’re going to get married in Sacred River Village this morning." The peddler opened his heavy eyes wide. "Wh…wha…wha…what are you saying? The river has nearly reached its limit! … A…and besides, son, didn’t you already elope with someone…" Shuusei glared at the peddler with squinted eyes. "The most important virtue of a salesman is trust, right? So if I were you, the

next time I thought about spreading a rumor I’d look into it first. Blabbermouth Peddler." The "Blabbermouth Peddler" could only stare with his mouth dropped open as Shuusei ran away towards the village. "Blabbermouth…? That’s what you may call me, but… I did see you walking arm in arm with another girl so beautiful she hardly even looked human… I saw you… so…there…" And then, yet another few minutes later… Another figure approached the peddler at the speed of wind. "?????" All the peddler could pick out from the figure was that he wore what looked like a bath cloth around his body and carried some jingling staff. "Huhhh??????" The peddler smacked his hand to his forehead in exasperation. * Once Koran arrived, she fell to her knees. "…I kept the promise." While struggling to keep up her body, Koran whispered under the pear tree. "Thank God… I didn’t betray you… I kept my faith in you…"

Koran closed her eyes and smiled. To Koran, the only remaining member of the village, there was not an ounce of pain or regret. The water level of Sacred River rose to the banks and already looked as though it was going to overflow. "Koran!!!!" Amidst the roaring sounds of the rushing river, Koran quietly opened her eyes at the sound of her name. She could never forget such a familiar voice… Koran wobbled to her feet as she saw the familiar figure approaching her. "Shuusei…? Are you Shuusei…? It’s really you, isn’t it!" Koran took a long look at her lover, who had matured immensely during the past three years. "You came… You kept the promise…" "…Of course I did." The two embraced tightly. Shuusei stroked Koran’s shaking back over and over again. But the waters of the river only grew more intense and loud. The pair silently looked into each others faces. "I don’t mind… As long as I got to see you here again." "….Koran" Even if we were to leave now, we probably wouldn’t make it out of the village on time.

Inside his mind, Shuusei silently apologized to Kenmin. In the end… I couldn’t save your daughter or the village. But… I am happy, and Koran is happy… So don’t feel sad, Father… As soon as Hojun entered Sacred River Village, he immediately headed for the pear tree on the river bank. Whooooooooooosh! Whooooooooosh! Whooooooooosh! Its water level much higher than it had been the day before, the waters of the raging river crashed and rang out like rumbling gods. "Koran!!!!! Shuusei!!!!" Hojun ran through the empty village screaming at the top of his lungs. "Koran!!!! Shuusei!!!!" "…Hojun?!" The couple under the pair tree perked up at the sound of their names. "Shuusei… Do you know Hojun?" Shuusei quickly brought Koran up to date on the details of his past three years. "I’m sorry… At first, I believed the rumors about you were true…"

Shuusei shook his head silently. Just then, Hojun approached them. No sooner did he arrive on the scene than he nudged urgently at the two. "Come, we need to get out of here fast…" But then it happened. A chorus of rumbles so loud they could split the earth rang out. "…So it’s finally here…" Shuusei said. "Hojun, can you use your magic…?" Hojun shook his head and chuckled sadly. "I still didn’t get enough training, you know…" "But then…why did you come here…?" Hojun smiled back at him. "Because I promised I would come back to you if something happened…" "Aren’t we friends?…" Shuusei shrugged off Hojun’s words. "You should leave right now. You still might be able to make it…" Koran could no longer walk. This time, Shuusei urged Hojun. "…No, I’ll stay…" Hojun softly shook his head. Boomboomboomboomboomboom!!!!!! From that point on, the rumbling of the river was ear-piercing. "…It’s come…"

Barely thirty meters away, a huge tidal wave around 10 meters tall rose up from the river and crashed back down. "…Shuusei." Koran clung on to him. "Shuusei, you must not let go of Koran, you know…" Saying this, Hojun extended his hand to Shuusei. "And you must also…not let go of my hand." With a nod, Shuusei took Hojun’s hand. Boomboomboomboomboom!!!!! "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!" Koran let out a scream. Rising Dragon River, which had already devoured nearly half of the village, now bared its fangs at the trio. Hojun squeezed Shuusei’s hand. "No matter what happens, I will not let go of your hand." Then, spreading the fingers on his other hand, Hojun held it firmly in front of his chest. Right now, I can’t use any magic. But I know my feelings are strong enough at this point to smash through any boulder. My mind is no longer cloudy… I am no longer the man I was back then. "I will save this couple! And I will save this village!!" Hojun’s entire body grew hot.

"Even if my body is shattered to pieces…" The heat which encircled Hojun’s body whirled around and gathered energy. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!! An almost dragon-like wave rose up right in front of Hojun’s face. "I will save those I love!!!!" At that moment, an enormous surge of energy emitted from Hojun’s hand. "KA!!!!!" "Wahhhhhhhhhh!!" Shuusei and Koran, who had winced at the sight of the huge wave, suddenly looked up in surprise. "…Eek!…" The waves had stopped completely. It even seemed as though the three were in their own separate dimension. In front of Shuusei, Hojun knelt with his right palm spread out in front of him. And from his hand, Shuusei could see a magic energy flowing. "…This is a barrier…" Shuusei and Koran exchanged glances. Hojun shoved his hand further out. "The water…!" Koran raised her voice. Boomboomboomboomboomboom!!!!

As if being pushed by Hojun’s hand, the current reversed itself and retreated away from the three. "…Look! Shuusei…" Koran pointed at the water with a trembling finger. "…A dragon…" "Yes… I can see it, too…" Koran and Shuusei clearly saw a shining dragon from inside Rising Dragon River. It looked almost like Kutoh’s god, Seiryuu, calmly transporting Himself back to His homeland. Koran and Shuusei also clearly saw on Hojun’s exposed right knee, the shining red mark of Suzaku. * Just then, Nakago’s eyebrows squinted.

"Shogun! Horrible news…!" Apparently uninterested in whatever the solider who intruded his room wanted so say, Nakago murmured. "So the river project ended in failure…" Then he closed his eyes. "…I sense one of Suzaku’s seven… Cheeky…" Crumbling the world map in his hand, Nakago turned his eyes in the direction of Konan. "No matter. I had little interest in that war anyway. A far more entertaining game is about to begin." * Surrounded by Koran, Shuusei, Kenmin, and then the other villagers, Hojun was showered with thanks. "We are going to secede from Kutoh and form our own country. We don’t want to have to fight in a war against your country," Kenmin declared. "For this to happen, we might endure several hardships…but we’re prepared for that." Then, the head of the village gripped Shuusei’s hand. "After all, the brave and strong man who will succeed me is here with us!" Loud applause came from the villagers. Koran and Shuusei gazed at each other with flushed cheeks. Shuusei spoke to Hojun, "If Konan and Kutoh do go to war, we will side with Konan. It’s the least I can do to begin to repay you…"

Hojun shook his head as if to say, "speak nothing of that." Then, walking up to Koran, he said, "Koran… The reason I originally came back to this village was to thank you…" "Thank me…?" Hojun nodded. "Three years ago, when I had lost my will to live in depression, you brought me out of it…. And you also reminded me of what I had forgotten… Thank you, Koran." Koran smiled and slowly drew her arms around Hojun. Hojun panicked and looked at Shuusei. Having heard about Hojun’s past from Koran, Shuusei awkwardly coughed and turned his back on the two. "…Hojun," Koran softly whispered in Hojun’s ear. "Hold me tight… Pretend I’m your Koran…" "…Koran" Inside of Hojun’s heart, something hot, painful, and nostalgic flowed. "Wo ai ni… I love you…" Koran said in Hojun’s arms. From Hojun’s eye, a single teardrop fell quietly. ---------Notes: I don’t know what "ka" means in this case. I looked up the kanji, and it wasn’t even in my dictionary. It might be Chinese

Chapter 10: The Birth of Chichiri After Hojun was escorted out of Sacred River Village by NyanNyan #5, he took a look at his surroundings and spoke out in shock. "Wh…what is this place?!" "This is Mt. Taikyoku, Hojun!" Nyan-Nyan smiled cheerfully. "Mt. Taikyoku…? But Mt. Taikyoku was just a bunch of dingy boulders and wasteland…" "No, it wasn’t…" Taiitsu-kun said as she appeared in mid-air right in front of Hojun. "That was Mt. Tokyoku. And what you see now is also Mt. Taikyoku." Taiitsu-kun continued, "This mountain reflects the inside of the heart of that who views it." "The inside of my heart…" "Exactly. To those with clouded hearts, this mountain looks like a mere wasteland. Just like it did for the former you." Hojun was speechless. "But what do you see now? The true form of Mt. Taikyoku is what you see now." Taiitsu-kun spread her arms out wide, indicating the beautiful surroundings. All around the mountains were deep green trees and various shades of flowers, waterfalls with crystal-clear water, rainbows in the sky, and the sky was also filled with many little lavender spheres which floated playfully around. And where the old mausoleum once stood was now filled with a luxurious palace.

"…This is almost like Heaven, you know…" Hojun sighed. "It appears as though you’ve finally regained a human heart…" Taiitsu-kun said with a chuckle. * "Take a good look" Lead by Taiitsu-kun into a room inside the palace which held a giant mirror, Hojun peered in to the scene that was taking place inside the mirror. "Is this Sacred River Village?" "Yes, it is. In order to secede from Kutoh, the villagers are already making preparations." Amidst the destroyed huts and fields, the villagers worked as one unit to restore prosperity. "Hm? There are some young men there I don’t recognize…" Some Nyan-Nyan appeared before him and eagerly satisfied his curiosity. "That’s Shuusei’s first friend, Taimei, you see." "And that’s the other men in Shuusei’s unit, you see." "But they all found out about the village’s struggle and deserted, you see." "They all decided not to let Kutoh decide their fate, you see." After all of the ramblings, Hojun faced Taiitsu-kun with a worried expression. "Speaking of which, I don’t think Kutoh is likely to

just sit back and do nothing about this, you know… They would surely…" "Never mind that. You need not worry. Nakago’s interests have gone elsewhere recently…" Elsewhere…? Hojun wondered uneasily at first, but then sighed in relief hearing that Sacred River Village would be all right. Sensing Hojun’s relief, the Nyan-Nyan crowded him. "Look, Koran’s there, too." "Look, Shuusei’s there, too!" "Look, Kenmin’s there, too!" "Look, the wandering merchant is even there, too!" "Arrgh! You’re too noisy! I am trying to speak here! Won’t you ever outgrow your habit of interrupting key lines of the plot?!" Taiitsu-kun barged in and broke up the circle of Nyan-Nyans. "Hojun…" the master of Mt. Taikyoku spoke seriously. "What have you learned here?" Hojun looked inside the mirror. Following Kenmin, the villagers worked excitedly and virtuously. Shuusei and Koran worked together, looking almost like a married couple. The prosperous future of Sacred River Village could be seen in their eyes, which were sparkling with hope and joy. No matter what happens, Koran and Shuusei will probably never part. Because of their strong love, and because they both saw Shouryuu, the rising dragon. "I’ve learned… about the power of a faithful heart," Hojun said.

Taiitsu-kun squinted her eyes. "And can you now say that you have faith in your former best friend and lover?" "Yes," Hojun said as he bit his lip. "I have faith that I loved them both, and that I still love them now… And that from now on, I will continue to love them…" Taiitsu-kun nodded in satisfaction, then continued. "Has your selfloathing for not being able to rescue your friend disappeared?" "…Yes." Hojun squeezed his staff in his hand. "Back then, my powers were too weak… But now I can to journey out to use my powers to help Suzaku no Miko and Konan, and as many people as I can…" Yes. Just the way that Koran’s and Shuusei risked their lives for their love and for their village… A smile slowly spread across Taiitsu-kun’s face. "Good… Well said, Chichiri…" "Taiitsu-kun…!" Hojun raised his voice. "You pass." Just as Taiitsu-kun announced this, Hojun had a sudden realization. "Is it possible that this whole business with saving Sacred River Village was also part of my training?" "No, it wasn’t," Taiitsu-kun corrected him. "That was merely fate mocking you. But you struggled against it and you defeated it." Something hot began to bubble inside of Hojun’s chest.

"Well done… Now, you must devote your life to being a strong Suzaku warrior Chichiri to protect your priestess and the country." "…I will…" Hikou… Koran… Inside his heart, Hojun called out to his friend and lover. Please watch me… From now on, I will live as Chichiri… Taiitsu-kun spoke quietly to him. "Now you must look at this..." The scene inside the mirror changed from Sacred River Village to Kutoh’s palace. * "What is the meaning of this?! First the flooding of Sacred River Village fails, then our soldiers from that village desert our army, and then there’s that little brat of a girl! Nnnngh, I can’t take it any longer!" The enraged Emperor whined from his throne as he pounded his fist. A cold voice answered, "Your Majesty, that insignificant village is no longer our concern. Greater excitement is now upon us…" "I see…" Swiftly turning his back on the emperor, Nakago grinned mysteriously. "Two maidens from another world have just arrived." "Two…?" Nakago narrowed his blue eyes.

"Suzaku’s priestess has already appeared in Konan and is currently out searching for her seven warriors. According to our spies, she has already found three of them." "Whaaaat? W…we must do something about this fast! If Konan summons Suzaku, I will no longer have the chance to conquer it!" Nakago snorted lightly at the panicking emperor. "No need to worry, your Majesty… Seiryuu no Miko has already come near to us." "A…are you serious?!" the emperor jumped out of his throne. "Yes. And compared to the unskilled warriors of Suzaku, Seiryuu’s warriors are much stronger. They will all assemble here in time, when they feel the presence of their priestess." "I…I see." Lowering his arms with a sigh of relief, the emperor let out a dirty laugh. "I would certainly love to summon Seiryuu and have this world at my command!"

"You can count on me, your Majesty," Nakago said, suddenly opening his eyes. "And to ensure our successful summoning, I would like to assassinate Suzaku no Miko as soon as possible." "Good. Then do so." "…Yes, Lord." * "Chichiri, do you understand?…" Taiitsu-kun said. "Currently, Suzaku no Miko has already met three of her warriors: Tamahome, Hotohori, and Nuriko and is searching for the remaining four. However, an assassin from Kutoh is already on his way to meet the party." "…I see." "There is no time to waste. You must go to them right away." "Yes." Chichiri swiftly placed his mask on his face. "It appears as though you like that mask…" Chichiri nodded through his smiling face and said, "It appears as though you also like looking like Sunakake Baba, you know…" "…Chichiri" "…Those are just forms we take on to show others… While underneath, we are really…"

Taiitsu-kun snorted loudly. "Oh, fine! If you don’t hurry, your priestess will be killed!" With a deep nod at Taiitsu-kun, Chichiri threw his hat into the air. On his way down to meet Suzaku’s priestess and warriors, Chichiri heard that voice inside of his head again. Nakago is a dangerous man who worships the antithesis of me. The battle between Suzaku and Seiryuu will prove to be long and painful. "….Creator…" You are the only magician of Suzaku. Become the sun and the shadows and protect your priestess. And fight on… Chichiri nodded strongly. And his determination and sense of duty as one of Suzaku’s seven was engraved deeply in his heart. * "Hmmmm, this maiden must overcome several hardships…" After Chichiri left Mt. Taikyoku, Taiitsu-kun peered into the large mirror. "Hongo Yui. She will become consumed by her hatred of Suzaku no Miko and will become Seiryuu no Miko to fight against her. Yes, Chichiri… She will feel just as you did all those years…"

Inside Kutoh’s palace, the girl who let Shuusei and Koran escape sat in the windowsill of her room, gazing listlessly outside. Then, looking at the scar on her wrist, her face clouded. "Yui, perhaps you will learn the truth later…" Taiitsu-kun changed the channel of her mirror. Inside was a vision of Chichiri in Konan, searching for the presence of Suzaku no Miko. "And I suppose you will also learn the truth later…" she told Chichiri inside the mirror. "Love can sometimes bring out the worst sins in people…" And then, Taiitsu-kun continued to speak to herself. "Listen, Hikoh loved Koran just as much as you did. You must consider the pain in his heart when he was forced to smile as he heard of your plans to marry Koran. And that uncontrollable pain… ignited a short-lived flame of lust inside of him. For all we know, he never intended to steal Koran from you. Then Koran felt guilty over having a kiss stolen from her. Because she loved you so deeply, she couldn’t forgive herself for becoming soiled…" Taiitsu-kun took a deep breath. "Chichiri, in the end, you will undergo your biggest training yet… You will need to face Hikoh, who sold his soul to the water-demon, believing that you deserted him… This unavoidable encounter will come upon you…" Inside of the foggy scene in Taiitsu-kun’s mirror, suddenly an extreme close-up of girl’s face appeared.

"Wah!…" As Taiitsu-kun recollected herself, she shook her head. "Yuuki Miaka. As usual, she shows little sign of being a good priestess with that carefree face of hers. Chichiri will certainly have his work cut out for him." Taiitsu-kun then closed the mirror. * Appearing in a village within Konan, Chichiri suddenly felt the presence of both his priestess and her assassin. He bolted forward and found a girl wearing clothing he had never seen before. "…It’s an arrow…!" Countless arrows flew out at her from the darkness. Kicking the ground, Chichiri teleported behind the girl and threw his arms around her, knocking the arrows out of the way. Then, a sudden pain jerked through his hand. "Owwwwwwwwwwww!!" Being bitten by the girl in return for rescuing her, Chichiri made himself visible and spoke, "That hurt, you know!" The maiden looked at him with round eyes… She looked about fifteen years old. She possessed an honest and charming face. THIS is Suzaku no Miko…?! Having expected his priestess to be a more mysterious and exotic looking young woman, Chichiri was surprised with what he saw.

"Biting me is nice and all, but…" Chichiri spoke bluntly, "Priestess, you are being targeted by spies from Kutoh, you know!" "What?!" The girl asked with a blank expression. "Well, farewell then!" As Chichiri lowered himself into his hat, he felt a huge surge of energy. Yes…. At first glance, she looked carefree and docile and gluttonous, but inside of this ordinary girl, Chichiri sensed a heart stronger than any he had ever sensed before. Some day, this girl will call on Suzaku… with her strong heart… Chichiri predicted. It would be days later before Chichiri would reappear before his priestess and introduce himself properly. And then would begin an enchanting story filled with Suzaku’s priestess and seven warriors. This story’s prologue has just finished. What now lies ahead are the chapters that will guide the characters through this chaotic world. -The end---------Notes: Ahhhh, the end. That took forever

Afterword by Megumi Nishizaki Da~, hello! I'm Megumi Nishizaki! We meet once again. Finally Fushigi Yuugi Supplimental Biography 2 has been published! Puff~ puff~! Well, this time's hero has answered numerous requests about the character "Chichiri". When he was 18, his fiance was taken by his best friend, although even more than the shock of just that, he lost first the family retainers, then his fiance and best friend in the great flood. However, as he had made up his mind to stand and watch as that best friend was swallowed by the flood, his heart was already in tatters... Such was the young man called Houjun Li. This is the story from that young man in the depths of despair attempting to end his own life, to becoming the Suzaku Shichiseshi Chichiri after three years of training under Taiitsukun. How was it? You probably thought, "Oh, Chichi... Chichiri had a past this sad and severe?" That's right. As a result, Chichiri is kind, deep, and reliable. All of you Chichiri fans from across the country, do you agree with this...? However, if you think about it, Chichiri's skills were already perfect.

Stretching the world's bindings, binding hands and feet, telepathy, teleportation, transformation, and moreover, the power of being ultrasensitive to the reverse current of even a river~! Furthermore, is that mask also a technique? Yes, yes. On top of that, no matter when he can become three times life-size. Don't you think he's just the coolest? You want Chichiri as a member of your household, right? Well, despite his powers, Chichiri isn't arrogant, he always calm and reserved, and he leads everyone else. Yeah, he's an adult. Yes, as such his time as Houjun piled up, and there were abundant life experiences. That's this story. All of you Chichiri fans from across the country, do you understand it...? However, if you think about it, from this time on "Chichiri" never fell in love, did he~? Yeah, that's right By Chichiri's side, Nyang-nyang and the cat and such other characters somehow give a feeling of closeness like lovers of marriageable age, don't they? Probably, he will always be alone.

But, he stated, "I love her now, and I will continue to love her forever" about his lost lover from the past. Yes, that is this story. All of you..., was it enough? (Smile) But, when Kouran was reborn into this world, perhaps they couldn't openly conclude it, or so I privately think and believe. Wah, it's so beautiful By the way, a lot of characters make an appearance in this time's book. Taiitsukun, Nyang-Nyang, Nakago, and furthermore, Yui. Until at last Miaka. Fushigi Yuugi's separate volumes, volumes 1-2 are stories that take place at the same time and I thought they were fun as side-stories. Because I'm a fan of Taiitsukun, that also made me a little happy. But, I'm sorry. With all due respect to her, she is really the Lord of the Heaven, and I made her wear workclothes with a hoe. Yeah, Lordy, forgive me~. Yes, yes, from all of that, all of the readers can really gain from Watase's full illustration space. Hey, friends who are standing and reading, you can buy this book, buy it, buy it! Also this time, Yuu Watase and Overseer O took care of me in various ways.

By the way, who is the next main character, I wonder, who is it~? Give me lots of your impressions and demands. Bye bye, let's have fun the next time we meet. Everyone, farewell!! Afterword by Yuu Watase The second "Fushigi Yuugi" novel!! But, with some help it was published!! Thanks to all of you who gave us a hand, Ms. Nishizaki, and the overseer. Thank you very much! Who will be this time's the main character... I thought about this and that, and because I said in the end, "I wonder, how about Chichiri...," this time with the usual support of Ms. Nishizaki (Hey), we have once again put together a magnificent story. I'm so happy because Nakago made an appearance. The one and only Suzaku Shichiseishi Chichiri is very enigmatic (Some may clain that a character who's passed through disaster and this legend should be better than that) and suddenly becomes three times smaller, and if he thinks about whether you know about poyayan he suddenly becomes serious... But, since this time is about his past, we show him as he is recovering so manga Chichiri probably has a slightly different flavor. (And his name made its first exhibition!) By the way, about the name "Houjun," "Hou" --> superior person. "Jun" --> different. Forgive me... I thought that sort of meaning when I named him. I wonder if Chichiri has a lot of male fans? What do you mean, he's strong at using techniques. In the book compilation outside of dragging Tamahome, the hero, around to say, "Here" he didn't fight, but more than anything it was because he was a spiritual

pacifist who gave "consultations on what you could do." Fighting with "power" isn't everything. Because of that, many felt that he was limited by not having "this really awful opponent..." But, until then he was maturing, and like in this novel, he overcame some very immature feelings. Without suffering, you won't grow up!! (Aaa, it hurts, it hurts *laugh*) To understand the pain of others, you must first understand pain. Well, well, with last time's "Tasuki" I received a lot of letters from everyone, some which made me happy and some which made me sigh. Well, saying "when you compile books, the pictures are different" is easy (laugh), but one person wrote "There isn't such a thing as unchanging. I love even your pictures now. Please don't mind them and keep at it" That's right, Watase is Watase!! That's what I say!! Alrigh'! I'll take ya on!! (being a naive jerk) Speaking of that, there are still many who say "Continue writing Fushigi Yuugi." There is no continuance. (Once and for all) At ShoComi "Refusing Less Than Puberty" is done being edited but it isn't completed. At 18 volumes "FushiYuu" is complete. I have no interest in writing more and if I write more it will be sloppy, which I don't want. That's why I won't do any "third part." That's why I'm delivering these extra pictures. I wonder, will it be Nuriko if there's a next time? (Everyone give me your support) But, I'm glad everyone has "FushiYuu" in their hearts!! I'll ask where the 6 "bargin manga" are located now! By the way it's being televised on Wednesday nights in Taiwan? It seems to be number 3 in favorite manga. (Number 1 is "Kinda" Shounen~ Number 2 is "Slam Dunk") In the entire manga, the favorite character (male) -> Tamahome is number 2! For women Miaka is number 1! "FushiYuu" is strong even in Taiwan!! Thank you!!

Last of all, this picture was a really deep one that I thought of using for the cover illustration of the "Chichiri novel" but stopped because it was plain. Well, let's meet again!

About the Authors Megumi Nishizaki She was born on 2/29, which only occurs once in four years. Honestly, why did she change jobs from a steady reliable job as a public servant to a shoujo novelist!! Her bestselling novels from Palette Bunko are the four volume series Refusing Less Than Puberty: a Novel, Let's Do Good Stuff!, Persona of Midnight, Labyrinth of Karma, and the Fushigi Yuugi Supplemental Biography series. Her hobby is moon-gazing (It's quiet!).

Yuu Watase Born 3/5 at a Noh theater, she was born and raised in Osaka. Her blood type is B. Her hobbies are appreciating music and video games. Her favorite video games are RPGs and puzzle games. She likes BGMs etc more than vocal music... Presently, she is heavily engaged in doing manga at "Shoujo Comics"!

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