In This World
The events of the past hour began sinking into his head. And when he realized it, he felt a tide of anger rising within himself. Wait til I get my hands on you, Enki, you &*$%^ bastard, he said to himself.
"You stay here." Tasuki had instructed Rei earlier as he witnessed Enki and his group of thugs attack the bandit stronghold.
"I want to come with you." Rei insisted. "I can help."
"I said stay, girlie. It's for your own good." he ordered firmly. And in a gesture that surprised even the redheaded bandit, he drew the bewildered girl in his arms and gave her a warm hug."I don't want you to get hurt."
Tasuki, don't...Rei said to herself. She savored the warmth of his embrace, not caring what he meant by it, but wishing it was more than a brotherly one. When he withdrew from her, she felt a mix of sadness and a hint of fear.
"Find Chichiri. He'll get you home." he said finally. And with that he bolted away from her in his seishi speed and headed towards the burning village.
Even Tasuki was overwhelmed by the number of thugs Enki had with him. They were the size of an army! His own set of bandits fought gallantly but they were severely outnumbered. Tasuki held his own, burning everyone he ran into with flames from his tessen. He went into hand to hand combat in some instances and made mincemeat out of them. But what he wanted was not a footsoldier. He wanted their ambitious leader.
He found Enki in his quarters.
"So, we meet again, Gen-chan." declared the rotund ex-Mt. Reikaku bandit. He was seated on Genrou's chair. "You haven't really forgotten me, have you?"
"How can anyone forget a face as #$@^& ugly as yours, Enki?" he seethed. "You're going to pay $%@ big time. Lekka Shineeeeen!!!" he aimed his iron fan at the enemy.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." laughed Enki, and in a flash he had drawn a weapon that surprised Genrou. "Leeeekkaaaa Shineeeen!!!" he had screamed, blasting the flame-haired bandit with flames from the silver fan he wielded.
"Oh no..." Rei whispered as she peered through the back window of Tasuki's bedroom. "That's impossible...a second tessen?" she wondered. She had gone against Tasuki's wishes and followed him all the way here. She had then transformed into Sailor Mars and had whipped a fair number of enemies with her own fire power.
Tasuki lay on the floor, getting knocked off his feet by Enki's flame thrower. His spirit didn't dampen however and tried to get up. "You'll pay for that, a**h@le." he threatened and fired another blast from his iron fan.
"Not in this lifetime!!!" Enki sneered and blocked Tasuki's attack with a fire shield from his own tessen. "Surrender now while you're still in one piece."
"Shimatta." Tasuki got to his feet. "I'm never going to surrender to the likes of you. I'll ^&%$# die first."
"If that is your wish." a diabolic laugh escaped from Enki's lips.
Genrou had decided to take Enki on hand to hand combat and replaced his tessen at its holster. The obese bandit was slow to his feet and Tasuki decided to use his seishi advantage. "^&%$ you!" he snarled and charged at Enki full speed. The sudden change of pace surprised the other bandit and before he knew it, Tasuki had knocked him off his feet. The Mt. Reikaku leader used his fists and beat the crap out of his adversary.
"Take that, and that..." he punched and kicked his fallen foe.
"Oi, not too hard on the face." a voice came from behind.
"What tha hell..."
And before he could fully react, Tasuki found himself getting kicked in the chin by a large booted foot. He smashed against the wall, causing his mouth to bleed. The ousted bandit was not satisfied with this and picked a dizzy Tasuki, smashing his large fists against the latter's face. He threw Tasuki against the opposite side of the room, almost hitting the mirror.
"Two Enkis?" Rei muttered. "But how?" she gasped as she saw the second Enki pull out a sword from his back. "I have to do something."
"Now you die!" he declared as he charged towards a fallen Tasuki.
"Burning Mandala!!!!" Rei called forth her ring of flames and sent them towards the advancing enemy. With that she jumped into the window and ran towards Genrou. The flames had stalled Enki and enabled her to pick up a dazed Genrou, half-dragging him with her. "We have to get out of here."
"You shall pay for that, you little witch!" Enki dusted off his charred outfit and threw the sword towards Rei. She felt something sharp pierce her shoulder before she could summon a protective flame barrier.
"I have to get you out of here." she told a half-conscious Genrou. Her eyes widened in horror as she saw the enemy pull out his tessen and aim it at them. "I won't let you die, I won't." she dragged Tasuki and whispering a silent prayer, she stumbled towards the mirror.
And everything was pitch black.
Tasuki couldn't remember clearly what happened after getting his head smashed against a wall. He did recall however, a fleeting, blurred vision of a girl with ebony hair shielding him against Enki. He cursed silently as he surmised what occurred. He shook his hurting head. She has got to be the most hard-headed female I have ever run into, he thought. His gaze fell on the unconscious girl on his chest. "You're as %^&$# stubborn as a bull, you know that?" he told her. "But you saved me...arigatou..."
"Rei-chaaann!!!" a cheerful voice called out from outside the door. And before Tasuki knew it, the door flew open, revealing a genki-looking girl with odangos on her head. "Aiiieeeee!!! Who are you? What have you done to Rei-chan???"
The next thing he knew, he got whacked over the head with a pink purse string.
"So you came from another world?" Usagi was staring wide-eyed at the now-bandaged Tasuki as she downed her upteenth rice ball.
Genrou was staring in shock at the food Usagi had consumed in the past half-hour. "Uh-uh." he muttered. He couldn't believe there was another person who had the same appetite as Miaka. The human world seems to have an abundance of these kinds of people.
"We have to be mum about this, Usa-chan." Minako commented as she tied the knot on Rei's injured shoulder. "We can't have people snooping inside." she turned, smiling conspiratorily at Rei."So you did try the spell,ne Rei-chan?" The golden-haired senshi stifled a giggle as her injured friend gave her a deathglare. "Maybe I should try it too." she said smiling. Fortunately, Tasuki didn't hear her, as his eyes were glued to all the food Usagi had consumed.
"I have to go back." Tasuki declared as he attempted to stand up, but his aching feet gave way and he lost his balance. Rei whose reflexes were still intact quickly cushioned his fall and they landed atop each other on the wooden floor.
"I think yot two look sugoi together." teased Usagi as the two crimson-faced fire-wielders tried to regain their composure.
"You can't go back just yet." Rei argued. "You're not in shape to go fighting. You have to get better."
"But my bandits...my friends..." his voice toned down, almost cracking. "My home..."
Rei's heart broke seeing the look of despair on Tasuki's face. She knew how he felt, having been in the same situation many a year ago during the destruction of Crystal Tokyo as it was burned to the ground by enemy troops. She could understand the anxiety overcoming him as he thought of the people closest to him have their lives threatened especially...
"Ryobe-chan..." the words almost inaudibly tumbled from his mouth. His facial expression changed as it came to this realization. The little boy was in great danger! She saw the worry in Genrou's face quickly transform into one of rage. "If Enki so lays a little finger on him...I'll...I'll..." and he broke out of her hold and made a dash for the mirror in Rei's bedroom. The raven-haired priestess quickly followed him, only to find the Mt. Reikaku bandit banging unsuccessfully at the full-length looking glass.
"I've got to get there...I've got to get home...I have to..." he cursed as he tried to go through the closed passageway. "You shouldn't have brought me here!" he angrily accused Rei. "You should've just left me alone! You should've let me die..."
"T-Tasuki-kun...." she approached the furious bandit who had tears of frustration streaming down his face. "Don't be angry with me...I just wanted to help you..."
"KUSO! WHO SAID I WANTED YOUR HELP!!!!???" he screamed. "I told you to stay where you are! I told you to find Chichiri to get you home! But you didn't listen!!!"
Rei felt a sudden rush of anger overcome her, feel the blood rush to the veins in her head. "If I had let you die in there, then what good would have come out of it? You'll only let Enki win...and then what? You'd have died for nothing! But now...you're alive...you have a chance...a fighting chance to get back at him, rebuild your stronghold...make a new start! If you let Enki triumph...he'll get what he wants, and those who had lived would continue on in suffering because you had lost your chance defending them." she explained, catching her breath. Rei only realized at that moment that she had been shouting too. "Don't be angry with me, Tasuki-kun..." she continued in a much gentler tone. "I couldn't just stand there and watch you get beaten to death, I..." and she suddenly remembered her vision of Enki gloating over a dead Tasuki's body. "Believe it or not I've had...premonitions of your death in your enemy's hands." Tasuki's eyes widened upon hearing her revelation. "I couldn't allow that to happen...especially when I know I can do something about it."
And for a brief minute the two of them just stood there, the tension hanging in the air so thick you could cut it with a foreign object. Usagi and the others remained in the background, baring silent witness. Tasuki was breathing hard, and in a release of frustration, smashed his fist through the wooden floor, the other senshis gasped in response. Rei, surprisingly calm, said nothing.
Slowly she approached the flame-haired bandit and kneeled beside his sodden figure. Risking getting verbally assaulted, she wrapped her arms around him, cradling his head against her chest. Tasuki didn't utter a single word of protest. "Shhh..." she comforted. "It's going to be alright." she reassured. "They're going to be okay...I know." She rocked back and forth, as if comforting a child.
She held on for what seemed like forever, cradling the head of the flame-haired bandit who seemingly had relaxed after his emotional outburst.
"Alright..." he spoke at last in a more pacified tone. "They'll be alright..."
"We'll get Enki and his men, you'll see." she promised him. "We'll get back at them. Just you wait."
Despite all reassurances, Tasuki felt he could no longer wait. He wanted his hands on Enki now. But there was little he could do. He was a million worlds away. Right at that moment, staring at the emptiness that was the night sky, his thoughts drifted to what could possibly be transpiring at Mt. Reikaku. How were Koji and his family faring? His other bandit friends? His drinking buddies? Although Rei had constantly assured them that they were alive, deep in his heart, he couldn't help entertaining these nagging thoughts that they may have not survived Enki's assault.
Will you stop being such a pessimist!? he scolded himself.
He shifted restlessly on his futon. It was way past midnight and he could not get himself to sleep. Not when such worries about the state of his stronghold keep looming above him.
Maybe a little sake would help me, he concluded.
He almost laughed when he remembered he hadn't had a taste of his favorite beverage for more than 48 hours. Amazing. I never thought I could stay sober for more than 24 freakin hours, he grinned inwardly. Tasuki pushed the panel of his room and tiptoed, sneaking past the doors of Rei and her grandfather's bedrooms. He had been given refuge at one of the guest rooms at the temple. Rei's grandfather had been delirously happy meeting him, proclaiming the red-headed bandit to be "more than welcome at Hikawa Jinja", as the old man had apparently been lacking a male companion for the past year or so. His last lackey, a drifter named Yuichirou had left after inheriting his family's business. The old man had even given him priest wardrobes and insisted Tasuki call him "Ojii-san," much to Rei's embarassment.
Tasuki began to wonder if there was sake in the temple as he searched high and low. He couldn't find a single bottle of the wonderful rice wine! He was about to sneak further into the other storage rooms when he passed by the fireplace. He noted that the fire was still lit. Fearing it might go unnoticed and burn the place, he approached it, nearly stumbling on a big pile of cloth on the floor in front of the fireplace.
Shi-ne! It wasn't a pile of cloth, but rather a human being...
The dark-haired priestess was curled up beside the Great Fire, still in her miko robes, with ofuda scrolls scattered in front of her. Strands of her ebony locks falling across her serene face. She had been meditating all day for the past 2 days, trying to communicate with the spirits. Looking for a way to get through to Tasuki's dimension. She and her senshi friends worked overtime to find a way back to Mt. Reikaku. So far all of their attempts had been for naught. No amount of calculating nor meditating found them an answer to the question of how to get back there. She had fallen asleep here from exhaustion, having lacked any more strength to crawl back to her bedroom and sleep properly. Without second thought, Tasuki went on bended knee and brushed aside stray locks that had fallen on her beautiful face.
She's been working too hard, he thought. She really wants to help me out. The thought touched his heart.
He collected the ofuda scrolls and set them aside, afterwhich he gathered the sleeping priestess in his arms and carried her towards her bedroom. Once there, he laid her gently on the down-filled mattress and plopped a pillow beneath her head. He pulled an immaculately white blanket and covered her. Once he had her settled, Tasuki sat at the edge of her bed.
The moonlight streaming from the window illuminated her face, softening her features. The flame-haired bandit sighed. Everything was so still all he could hear were the chirping of the insects and the sound of his own heart. Beating, as though erratically, as his gaze fixed on the sleeping figure. He nearly jumped out of his seat when she turned towards his direction. She didn't awaken, but merely changed positions, muttering a sound so low he could hardly hear it.
But he did.
"Tasuki-kun..." she mumbled under her breath.
"Rei-chan..." he all but whispered in response. Tentatively, he reached out his hand...hesitating for but a second, before finally deciding to go through with his action. He touched, with one as light as a feather, the silken black strands that fanned her cheek.
Kami-sama, how could I? he swallowed as he withdrew his hand, tempted not to, but thought otherwise. How could I leave someone like her behind? How can I go through with this without...risking another broken heart?
For Tasuki had decided to go back to his stronghold and reclaim his rightful place at the helm of the Mt. Reikaku bandits and send Enki to hell where he belonged, without her help.
Without his raven-haired priestess.
He knew the cost of his decision. That he would shatter his once damaged heart again. That he would risk losing half his sanity in an effort to forget. That he would subject himself to another wave of pain, one more ruthless than physical suffering. Only because some things were not meant meant to be and because he could not allow hem to be.
If only he could teach his heart not to love again.
For the brief stay he had had in Hikawa Jinja showed him a glimpse of
what life was for Rei. She had her wonderful friends, her loving, if somewhat
ecchi grandfather, her beloved pets Phobos and Deimos and her utmost faith
devotion to the path of Shinto which she had freely chosen. Asking her to come with him on that dangerous trip back to Mt. Reikaku to help him get his homeland back sounded heartless...
Especially since he could not guarantee her a trip back.
A part of him would have liked for her not to go back to Hikawa Jinja, to stay by his side and be his...
How could he even think such a thing? He wasn't even sure if she liked him enough...
Or love him enough...
Genrou no baka!!!
He had decided. Finally. There was no turning back. He was going back to Mt. Reikaku, come hell or high water and get his home back. He had played this again and again in his head and knew it was the right thing to do. His heart ached for what he knew he could lose if he went back there, but he knew he couldn't deal with a graver loss if he chose otherwise.
What if she gets killed in the mayhem?
He would never be able to forgive himself.
And with that determination that had molded him from a boy into a man, Tasuki stood and approached the gateway that would forever be the link between him and the things that he held dear in his heart. In both worlds.
Concentrate, he could almost hear Taiitsu-kun say.
He took a longing look at the petite figure deep in slumber, wondering how far had she wandered into the pleasant world of the subconscious. Thinking that this may be the last he would hear her gentle breath and feel the ebony strands that tickled his fingers, he stared, etching into the recesses of his memory every line, every curve that made her the beauty that she was. Recalling the first time she had yelled out his name and he had looked into her eyes and got lost in their violet depths.
To be concluded....