Hidden Paths on a Cloud-Cast Night by roku kyu
Disclaimer: The characters from Fushigi Yuugi are the creations and property of Yuu Watase and related enterprises. I do not own them and do not make any profit from this fiction other than my enjoyment in spending time with them.
However, the plotline for this story, as well as all original characters, DO belong to me and may not be used elsewhere without my permission.
In the "Universe of the Four Gods" timeline, this story begins eight years after the events depicted in OVA 2. In Miaka's timeline, approximately five years have passed since the events of OVA 2. Therefore, this fiction contains spoilers for the entire television series, as well as OVAs 1 and 2. This fiction does not take into account the events depicted in Eikouden (OVA 3) and so may be considered "alternate universe," although it accepts everything preceding Eikouden as canon.
This story is also a sequel to the fanfictions "White Stones in the Moonlight" and "Bridge Over the Abyss." At this point, it is not necessary to be familiar with those two works, since direct references to events depicted in those stories will not occur for several chapters, although there will be several oblique references occurring sooner.
This story is rated "M" for violence, adult situations, and coarse language. This is a true "M" rating, designating this story as unsuitable for younger or more sensitive readers. Please respect the rating restriction, especially if you think that you may find the above-mentioned material offensive.
Chapter 1. Lightning on the horizon.
She felt it long before she saw it.
She knew it in the prickling of the hairs at the back of her neck, in the hammering of her heart and the choking feeling of panic that suddenly overwhelmed her. Her little hand spasmed in her mother's grip, causing the weary woman to frown in concern.
"Doulin-chan?" she queried, looking down into the pale, delicate features marked with dark circles around large blue-grey eyes. "Are you all right?"
The woman shifted her basket higher on her arm, placing her other hand on the ache in the small of her back, an ache caused by the added burden of her swollen belly.
Doulin gazed up helplessly into her mother's worried face, trying to find the words in her six-year-old vocabulary to explain this nightmare feeling of dread.
At that moment, she heard it. A grating, metallic screech at the upper range of audibility, like the sound of a sword sliding across a shield, the piercing, atonal notes sending shivers down her spine. She wheeled in the direction of the sound, looking fearfully down the long rows of merchants' stalls, her hand slipping out of her mother's grasp. Blocking her view was an endless stream of people moving calmly through the market, haggling with stallkeepers, acting as if it were only another normal shopping day.
"What's wrong, Doulin?" her mother asked again… and then the scream rang out.
A man's voice, raw with agony and terror, skidding up into the highest registers before being cut off abruptly. Heads snapped up, the crowd turning and moving curiously towards the source of the scream.
"No!" gasped Doulin, watching as the people moved mindlessly towards the danger. Suddenly a figure burst through their midst, that of a young woman, eyes wide in shock, stumbling in eerie silence away from whatever had taken off her arm. The screams began in earnest then, the crowd turning as a single entity, stampeding towards Doulin and her mother. The young girl looked up to see a strange swirling darkness rise above the market stalls, sending out roiling, questing tendrils… and she knew.
She turned to gaze one last time at her mother, her eyes filling with tears as she was filled with the terrible knowledge of the child who was about to die – the knowledge that there was nothing that her mother, father, or anyone else she loved could do to save her. Death was here, and it was her that It sought, tearing apart any innocent bystanders that happened to get in Its way. A strange clarity filled her in these last moments, and she pushed her mother into a doorway, the woman stumbling back under the unexpected force.
"Gomen ne, Kaa-chan – I love you!" she cried, then turned and ran, covering her ears to shut out her mother's screams for her to come back.
The strange clarity stayed with Doulin as she ran, giving her the strength to keep going, her little legs pumping furiously as she flashed past the market stalls. She felt her hair slip out of its confining loops, the brilliant white tresses streaming out after her like a flag.
Good, she thought with that adult inner vision. Keep It after me; keep It away from Kaa-chan. She might be doomed, but at least her mother and unborn sibling would be safe.
The screams of the dying followed her, the horrible wet crunch of breaking bones and tearing flesh reaching her ears.
"Run!" she screamed at the people in her path. "Get away! Hide!"
The crowd parted before her, somehow realizing that it was her, this little girl, that It was truly after. Panic seized them, and they ran from her, no one moving forward to help her. Doulin chanced a glance back over her shoulder and nearly stumbled in terror. It was close behind her, maybe only fifty paces back, the blackness that swirled around it parting briefly to reveal shining black scales, towering jointed legs, a malevolent, triangular head reaching out with needle-like teeth dripping with gore. Was it a spider? A snake? A dragon? She couldn't tell, her vision blurring from exhaustion as she drew in great gasping breaths of air, trying to fuel her desperate flight. All she knew was that it embodied every nightmare image that had ever frightened her in her young life.
At the same time, she felt an odd sensation of release. This was it then: the thing that had haunted her dreams for the past few weeks, making her wake with her throat raw from screaming, her parents hovering anxiously at her bedside. This was the thing that had made her wonder, at the tender age of six, if she were losing her mind.
She ducked beneath an overhanging canopy, skittering away from the crash as the thing tore at the colorful material. The tears continued to run down her face, but she nearly laughed aloud with her new adult sense of irony. No, she wasn't going mad; she was perfectly rational, as the monstrosity behind her could testify. Her death would be the ultimate proof of her sanity.
The crowd had dropped back, leaving her alone in her last desperate dash. She ran in a dreamlike landscape of sudden eerie quiet, the only sounds the rapid scuffs of her feet sliding in the loose gravel, her quick gasping sobs for breath, the metallic hiss of the thing pursuing her. It was gaining on her; she could smell the creature's fetid breath as it came up behind her. The child in her wanted to crumple into a ball and shut her eyes, but the adult part of her forced her around the next corner, hoping against hope for some miraculous escape – only to encounter a solid stone wall.
The wall that bordered the edge of town and marked the edge of the marketplace now marked the end of her life. Doulin turned to face the creature at her back, filled with a grim sense of finality. She lifted her chin defiantly, watching as it stalked closer to her, slower now that it knew it had her trapped.
Fine, thought the adult part of her. I hope you choke on me, you bastard!
Suddenly, a bright light shone out from her chest, illuminating her in a brilliant white glow. The creature pulled back, its beady kaleidoscopic eyes narrowing at the intensity of the beam – and it hissed in satisfaction, spreading black leathery wings to block all exits from the dead end. Doulin realized that this was what the creature sought: this thing, this sign burning on her chest.
The malignant head moved towards her, the glistening fangs extending outward from its gaping mouth. Its head and jaws turned delicately, in small increments, the viscous saliva dripping, dripping as it approached the perfect angle for…
Doulin couldn't help it; she closed her eyes and turned her face away, filling her thoughts with the people she loved. Here it was then: the end of this all-too-brief life. Behind the pounding in her ears, she almost thought that she heard a voice cry out, "Fusege!"
Too late, was her last sad thought as she felt its rank carrion breath on her cheek. Too late for me… and then…
She opened her eyes to see the dripping jaws still bared in her face, but the creature remained motionless, frozen in place. She suddenly let out her breath in a harsh gasp, not realizing that she had been holding it all this time. Her knees grew weak, and she slid down the wall.
A strange chant filled the air around her, while a harsh male voice shouted "Stay down!"
Suddenly the air resounded with a battle cry of "Rekkaaa Shin'EEEENN!"
A gout of flame exploded from behind the creature, brilliant flares of red, orange, gold, blue engulfing it, consuming it. The nightmare beast jerked and squealed in agony but remained unable to twist out of whatever invisible bonds held it fast.
Doulin closed her eyes against the intense heat, curling into a ball and choking on the foul stench that emanated from the burning monstrosity. The creature's metallic screeches sounded in her head again and again until she thought that she would go deaf or mad. Just when she thought she could bear it no longer, the thing finally fell silent, yet the flames continued to pour onto its twisted form, miraculously stopping just short of burning her.
"Enough!" rang out the other voice, and the flames stopped instantly.
Doulin heard the crunch of boots on loose shale as they approached her. She lifted her head from her knees to glimpse two pairs of long legs towering above her as their owners regarded the now still and silent form. Legs clad in midnight blue suede boots with gold ankle cords walked up to the charred mass and kicked the blackened jaws hard. The skull of the beast crumbled, revealing miniature melted coils of wire melded to tiny gleaming metal plates.
"What the fuck is this shit?" harsh masculine tones demanded, the country accent thick with annoyance.
"Tasuki…" reproved a gentle voice. "There are children present, no da."
"Well, pardon the fuck outta me, 'Chiri!" retorted the first man. "Like she's gonna be traumatized by a few curse words after being chased all over Hell's half-acre by this fuckin' escapee from a demon's nightmare!"
"True," conceded the second man, walking over to Doulin and squatting down beside her. "Are you all right?" he asked gently, reaching out a hand to her.
Doulin looked up into the creased smiling eyes, at the silvery-blue hair rising heavenward like the crest of a phoenix, a shakujou resting against his cloaked shoulder. Behind him, a tall figure clad in dark blue, his long flame-red hair caught in a simple ponytail, clutched a huge diamond-bright fan and scowled at the charred beast.
That was when the laughter bubbled out of her, shaking her tiny form. Because it was all right now; everything was going to be all right.
They were here, the famous Suzaku no Seishi, somehow here in her home country of Sairou, and for the first time in weeks, she felt safe. And that strange adult part of her knew them, not only as the legendary figures of fireside tales, but also as fellow warriors beside whom she had fought in some distant past. She laughed in relief and joy, reunited at last with those she had cared for so long ago.
The monk looked intently at her, somehow realizing her thoughts, and he reached up, removing his mystical mask. She gazed at the scar that slashed across his closed left eye and crossed onto the bridge of his finely shaped nose, somehow emphasizing the mature beauty of his unmarred features – and she laughed in delight, laughed until the tears ran down her face. She ran to the warrior-monk, and he scooped her into his arms, carrying her away from the thing that had nearly taken her. She clutched onto his kesa, glancing back to see his hot-tempered companion pick up the metallic remnants, then give one final kick to the charred carcass before striding up to join them.
"Tasuki-kun!" she gasped, making the red-haired man stare at her, surprised at being addressed as if he were a teenaged boy. "Fang-boy!" and she started laughing again at the perplexed, peeved look on his handsome face, amber eyes flashing behind long trailing bangs.
"What the fuck?" he addressed the monk instead of her.
"She's back." The gentle tones reverberated with satisfaction, and a warm mahogany eye smiled down at her. "Welcome back, Subaru, Byakko no Shichiseishi."
Glossary of Japanese terms
'Kaa-chan – Mama
Fusege – Stop! Or Block!
Shakujou – monk's staff
Kesa – monk's cloak
Seishi – warrior
-kun – suffix denoting a young man, used familiarly or affectionately
Shichiseishi – Celestial Warrior; literally, one of the Seven Warriors
Author's Notes (1-7-03) Well, here it is at last, after many delays and excuses, the sequel that you have waited so patiently for. I knoooooww that this is an unusually short chapter for me, but certain people have let me know that they prefer shorter chapters (coughAikido-chancough), so I thought I would give a try to slipping in a few less-than-ten-K chapters, at least at the beginning. (smirk) But you know me – sometime in the future, I'm sure that I will revert and inflict a 12,000 word chapter on you all! I'm incorrigible, I'm afraid!
The reason for the brevity of this chapter is that dramatically, I thought it was a good place to stop. If I continued, it probably would blow up to a ten-K chapter. You see, I write chapters like TV episodes – in my mind, they need to have a beginning, dramatic conflict, and resolution of some type – that's how they get to be so big, once I'm on a roll.
Aikido-chan: But you don't have to write that way.
Roku: (whining) Yes, I doooooooo!
A-ny-wayyyy, to make up for the skimpiness of this chapter, I promise to post another chapter ASAP. Then it's back to "Bridge" and "CS" - damn, I've got to get moving on "Bridge" before this fic exposes the whole ending of that story!
I would also like to thank Kaze-chan for her beta-reading of this chapter – aaaannnnnddd for the future use of her Byakko no shichiseishi characterizations. Yes, you heard it right! Byakko no shichiseishi… Genbu no shichiseishi… even some of the Seiryuu bunch! But this is going to be a short, brief little fic, I promise…
(the groan of heavy machinery starting up, the rattling clank of a chain drive) Fasten your safety harnesses and hold on, minna – the roller coaster is leaving the station – and it's gonna be a looooonnng, wild ride!
P.S. Happy Birthday to my baby – "White Stones" is one year old today!