Disclaimer(s)- You know the drill. Saiyuki does not belong to me, nor am I affiliated with the greatest manga-ka in the world (Kazuya Minekura-sempai/sama). I'm making no profit from this whatsoever, save for the pure enjoyment of myself, my friends, and all lovers of Saiyuki. If you feel like flaming, flame away, it won't do a damn thing to faze me. (Also, if you're one of those deranged people who are so utterly bent on pointing out all original characters as being a Mary Sue or a Marty Stu, I suggest you go to ; the terms on what actually entails a character to be considered an MS can be found there. Then come back and apologize for being a freaking moron. :).

Claimer(s): Original characters such as Tsung Lao, Mandi, Katie, Ashley, and Erin all belong to their respectable owners (and selves) and are not to be stolen by any means or the wrath of the Elementals shall strike upon your hapless pathetic form. :D

PSS- I must apologize for any formatting mistakes you might see here as well; for some reason, the edit tool here is refusing to be nice to me. -growl- Oh yes, and there will be chapter omakes, so for anyone who liked those, just keep looking out for them- I thought I'd actually let you get to the story at last.

Chapter Sixteen
Break Away

In the midst of a dimly lit room, flashes of neon lights accompanied by pulsating music filled the air with near tangible energy. On board a ™Dance, Dance Revolution platform stood Goku and Erin, prepared to face off for a third and final round of the popular Japanese dancing game. Both were red in the face, flushed and worn from the previous two "dance-offs", delaying their last one for a breather.

A crowd of cosplayers and diligent DDR gamers had gathered over time, having been taken by the insane speeds which Goku conjured up to move his feet across the four arrows lighting the dance floor. He was without youkai powers, yet it had not hindered his flexibility and agility. He had taken this game by storm, learning very quickly the fundamental basics of falling perfectly in synch with the directional arrows on the screen.

"Alright…this is the last time. Whoever wins this one is the DDR champion," Erin breathed erratically, grinning challengingly to her opponent.

Goku swept his cape back. "You're one! Let's start this baby, c'mon!"

They let the computer randomly choose a song once more and to Erin's delight it had landed on one she basically had memorized.

"You're going down, monkey boy!" the young woman teased good-naturedly and cracked her knuckles, accentuating her point.

The music initiated with an upbeat Indy-techno melody as both players commenced. Goku stumbled over the first few steps, trying to find the pattern of the beat with some difficulty while Erin had hit the ground running.

'She knows this one! She's gotta know it- damnit, now I've gotta work extra hard to beat her. Step-left, step-right, double left step, jump, jump, back, forward, left- NO that was RIGHT. AGH, man…'

Following the rhythm with flawless effort, Erin quickly found herself with more watchers cheering her on. She panted lightly as the end of the round drew closer, daring to risk a glance toward her dancing foe. He had gotten the hang of the beat, but it seemed he did it a little too late. Laughing between breaths, the young woman lifted her gaze to the crowd and across the way, almost in the very back of the cramped room; she noticed a face watching her closely.

Her heart lurched then sank and she misstepped, faltering in her dancing. 'I should have known he would be here. He loves DDR. Damnit Erin…pull yourself together. He won't bother you, Goku is here with you…right?'

Not convinced by her thoughts, Erin transferred her focus to sticking out the end of the round, just able to pick up where she'd made a mistake, and still came out with a "Perfect" scoring.

Stepping away from the platform, the heretic gazed in amazement at his friend. "We need one of these things in Shangri La, that game is bitching!"

Erin replied with a halfhearted smile, shrugging. "It'd be cool, but I don't think ya could fit one of these in the back of the Jeep. C'mon, we'd better get back. We promised to meet everyone in the room like an hour and a half ago."

"Alright…hey, are you okay?" Goku sidestepped in front of his female comrade, amber eyes shimmering curiously. "I saw you make that mistake. You looked kinda like you saw somethin' you didn't wanna see."

Hesitantly, she nodded to him. "Steve was in there," her voice dropped to a soft whisper, feet continuing out into the hall toward the escalators. "It startled me is all, but y'know, I guess I shouldn't worry about him too much, huh? I have a Goku to protect me, right?"

At the thought of being somebody's "protector", he smiled broadly, nodding vigorously. "That's right! He won't bother ya 'coz I'm here! So don't worry, okay?"

Laughing, feeling lighter hearted, Erin replied with corresponding enthusiasm. "I'll try not to, thanks. By the way, ya did great in that game. You're a fast learner."

"Yeah, I guess so, but I don't think ya won that last round fair and square." Goku argued, moving onto the escalator. "I think you knew that one, didn't you?"

Embarrassed, the young Dr. Huang cosplayers ducked her head, giving a toothy grin. "Yeah, but for that being your first time ever playing, you beat the living shit out of anyone else who would've gone up for their first time."

Brightening, Goku lifted his chin. "Really?"

"Hell yeah! Mandi, Ash, and Katie can't do DDR and they're from here. Some people are really good, some people just really suck; you're really good."

Content, the youth beamed as they retreated from the escalators to get to the elevators. There they coincidentally came across Greg Ayres, the voice actor who depicted animated Goku's voice in Saiyuki, among many others. Erin bit back a squeal of excitement as the punked out skater styled man held the door open for them both, making sure it shut before any weird fan girls came on board.

"Thanks!" Goku cried enthusiastically. He'd had his fill of being groped in strange places, and not just by females. Apparently groping cosplayers was a natural order at Anime cons. "You're that guy we met before…aren't you?"

Greg leaned back against the metallic paneling, crossing his arms and gave a crooked primate-like grin. "Hey yeah, I remember you two from the autograph lines. Man, you have got the most kick ass Goku gear I've ever seen in all my years as an anime fan. It looks damn authentic, too wicked."

Erin bounced a bit in her high heels, hoping Goku didn't say anything to give it away. "Are you heading back to your room?"

The voice actor shook his head in the affirmative, bringing a black nail polished finger to scratch beneath his chin. "Yeah, I've gotta take a break. I love hanging out with my fans, but they get crazy sometimes. Oh, man, that totally reminds me. You…ah, what's your name?" He gestured toward Goku.

"It's…Goku." He replied, noncommittal to making up a false name.

"Ah, you're like a method cosplayer. That's cool. So listen, I've got this website I run and I put up pictures of people I meet at cons and stuff. I meant to ask before, but hey- could we get a couple photos before we get to our floors and are bombarded by people?" Greg broadened his grin, taking out a miniature digital camera.

"I'll take it for you!" Erin jumped at the chance and as Goku agreed, she stepped back, pressing against a corner of the moving elevator to snap a few quick pictures of the two.

Taking back his camera just as the doors opened for the pair's floor, Greg thanked them and said he hoped to see them at the Soap Bubble Rave later. He'd be guest Deejaying. Making a promise to stop by the stage to say 'hey', Erin and Goku slipped down the hallway toward their hotel room.

Once they stepped inside, and the entire group of eight was reunited for the late afternoon, everyone decided to order up room service to sate Goku's grumbling stomach as well as their own. Afterward, they'd unknowingly prepare for their final evening at ACEN, and for their last hurrah in that world.

A world of concocted anime music vibes mixed healthily with techno punk dance beats caused the walls of the Hyatt's Grand Ballroom to throb. By day cosplayers had dressed down into more casual clubbing apparel, gathering in droves at the double doors, flashing badges to get inside.

Among those waiting were only three of the young men of the original party of eight that made up the Sanzo-ikkou and the girls. As he said before, Sanzo opted not to attend, threatening death to whoever tried to force him. When the others left him, he had settled into a chair at the table with newspaper in hand, grunting as they filed out into the hallway.

Erin had the idea that everyone dress up in some gothic punk outfit. It just fit the theme of an anime rave, and so after ensuring that the three young men had been dressed to their tastes and had them sent down to wait in line, she and the girls remained behind to finish getting ready. She'd assembled what wearable clothes there were and helped people bring together something unique for each. Looking around now, the young woman appeared rather proud of the results.

As Ashley was not much into the certain style, she chose something more her flavor: a pair of baggy grey and black camouflage bondage pants from Hot Topic and the black tight T-shirt depicting the multi-tonal horse iron on. The fabric of her shirt fit snugly about the young woman's torso, riding up at the waist to allow a peek of midriff to show. Ashley had continuously tried to pull the hem down, but Erin convinced her it was a sexy look and to just leave it alone. Honey blond hair had been drawn up into a fountain ponytail leaving the just washed strands to appear wavy with tendrils of purposely-left out tresses to frame her face. Not being one for make-up or jewelry, her face bore a minimum of soft lip gloss, hints of cover-up, and a faint touch of smoky gray eye shadow while her ears held borrowed silver hoop earrings and a spiked camouflage bracelet wrapped about one wrist.

Katie decided for a more punk approach, choosing a color scheme of black and red. She wore fire engine red bondage pants with silver snaps up the calves and black straps, the legs falling over knee high black platform boots. A black tank top trimmed by red mesh at a low scoop collar and a red mesh stripe at the stomach covered her torso where black and red fishnet arm covers played from hands to elbows on each arm. Leaving some brunette locks to hang into her carmine shadowed blue eyes, Katie had pulled the rest into a bun on either side of her head, stayed by black bobby pins. To match the eye shadow, she chose a light cover up, colored her lips in a lush strawberry hue, and ran a mascara brush along her eyelashes, causing them to elongate and curl just so. She had even painted every other fingernail black and red, having borrowed the polish from Erin, and then finished off her jewelry with black ball earrings wrapped in silver and a playboy bunny necklace.

Taking the lead of a more hardcore J-Rock Princess, Mandi went feminine. A black mesh shirt layered above a white spaghetti strapped tank top, the sleeves pushed up to her elbows to allow sight of cut up black and white striped nylon arm warmers. The hem of the mesh top fell just above a black skirt which had a white sash about the waist adorned by black polka dots, matching a stripe of the same décor at the bottom where pleated fringe lay above her knees. Mandi covered her legs with black tights and striped socks that'd been pushed down about her ankles, strapped in by clunky Mary Jane shoes. Around each wrist a leather band containing silver stars was bound, fringe earrings of black, white, and bright pink hung above her shoulders, and a neon pink butterfly rested in the hollow of her throat held in place by a strand of balled silver. Cherry-chocolate long hair had been left to fall in waves to her waist, save for the strands pleated into a tri-ribbon of white, pink, and black, made so that the loose ends of the ribbon continued to stream to her back.

Erin went elegantly gothic and for her small frame it worked quite well, also in a black and red theme. Her shoulders were left bare as a red corset with black lace designs cinched tightly about her torso, arms dressed with black satin warmers lined with red ties, encircling the middle finger of each hand. A form fitting black spandex skirt ran the length of her slender lower body and two slits cut into the fabric at the front lined by silver eyelets and her legs were covered by fishnet leggings and knee high clunky black leather boots. The young woman allowed her eyes to go with her clear contacts so that the blue of her eyes shone through rather than hiding behind red lenses and dressed them with Egyptian styled eyeliner which colored all around her lids. Topping off the sultry look, dark silver eye shadow had been added, her lips were colored black, and she wore jewelry consisting of a choker with a skull pendant, large hoop earrings, and one spiked bracelet on her left wrist.

The four young women paraded in front of Sanzo, who hardly batted an eyelash in their direction.

"Am I supposed to be impressed by those ridiculous outfits?"

"They're stylish in this world. Your outfit is ridiculous." Katie defended somewhat crossly. She wasn't happy that the monk wasn't planning on going to the rave after all the work that'd been put into taking an outfit out for him. "You should still go. Your friends are."

"They're not my friends." Sanzo snapped, this time lifting a violet gaze hotly toward the young woman and then brought it to rest on the rest of the girls. "Just go and leave me alone already. You all look stupid so have fun being stupid with everyone else."

"Let's hear it for High Priest Genjyo Sanzo, Master of Insults made up by Two Year Old Children." Mandi rolled her eyes, making way for the door. "I think it's time to go before he pitches a temper tantrum."

A whoosh sounded by her ear as the harisen whizzed past the young woman's head, thwacking hard against the wall before falling to the floor, crumpled. That was their hint. The young women wordlessly left the room, going to the elevators and crowded into one consisting of other rave attendees.

When the bottom floor was reached, Erin held up a hand. "Alright, I don't know about anyone else, because you're not smokers, but I'm going out for a cigarette break."

The remaining trio shook their heads in unison and their "hair and make-up artist" laughed, dragging Mandi to keep her company outside.

"We'll meet you in there, Ash and Katie. See if ya can find the guys, we'll find ya in there." A devious giggle left Erin's throat and she and Mandi moved to go outside where storm clouds had gathered. The threat of rain loomed very near.

Inside the hotel, Ashley and Katie forced their way to the open doors where the Soap Bubble Rave was taking place, scrambling inside after showing their badges. Bodies gyrated in several places on the dance floor, illuminated only by rapidly flashing neon colored lights, making it difficult to really tell anyone's facial features apart from the person next to them.

Immediately, Katie pressed her palms over her ears, turning to look at Ashley. "I'd better not stay here too long- all these lights flashing might trigger a seizure or something. They might not but all the same I don't want to take that chance!" Her voice increased in volume to be heard above the music.

Ashley concurred, pushing farther into the throng. "So then we won't stay that long. I can't say I'm used to anything like this in Bryan or Montpelier! Let's just go make sure that Gojyo, Hakkai, and Goku aren't out spilling their secrets."

Both girls continued on until a hand latched onto one of each of their shoulders, tugging them backward from their path. They let out a cry in unison, spinning sharply, only to look up into the faces of Gojyo and Hakkai.

"I thought that was you, but I wasn't too sure." Hakkai stated, his smile barely visible in the dim setting of the dance floor. "Though, Gojyo said he was positive so we took a chance. Turns out he was right."

The hanyou grinned cheekily, removing his hand from Ashley's shoulder to sift his fingers through his crimson locks. "Ya both look really different. Ya look cute, actually, especially you hon." One red orb winked lazily in the honey blonde's direction.

Fortunately, nobody could see the blush spreading on her cheeks. Ashley contained herself, shrugging dispassionately though couldn't help but notice how Gojyo's gaze still roamed over her figure. He appeared impressed by the alteration of her day-to-day clothing and so she supposed she couldn't complain about the results of Erin's suggestion.

"I guess you don't look half bad either." She replied coolly even though her mind bended to how good Gojyo really looked in his new clothes: a pair of black bondage pants which hung loosely about narrow hips, a long sleeved grey thermal shirt beneath the black "I'm With Stupid" monkey T-shirt he'd chosen from their mall trip. Around his neck Gojyo wore a choke chain with dog tags attached to the front and three camouflage rings dressed every other finger on each hand.

He smirked smugly, looking past both girls. "If ya say so, Ash. Where is the other two?"

Katie quickly explained that Erin was in desperation of a cigarette break after having spent the past hour and a half getting everyone else ready with hair and make-up, so Mandi was keeping her company.

Both Ashley and Katie made the inquiry of where Goku could be found and the two young men shrugged in reply. Apparently they had lost Goku some time before in the crowd, suspecting he might be loitering stage side where some dancers experimented with glow sticks.

The four stood for only a few moments more before Mandi and Erin were spotted approaching at last, both seeming a little…damp.

"Whoa, what in the hell happened to you? You look like drowned rats!" Katie exclaimed, trying not to laugh. At least their make-up and hair hadn't been ruined, though the girls' clothing could have stood a tumble in a dryer.

Erin waved a hand in placid displeasure. "The sky decided to open up and rain on us. It's coming down really hard out there."

"Indeed," Mandi murmured, "the awning didn't do much to keep us dry, evidently, and well…it put out Erin's cigarette."

"My last one!" The blue haired girl wailed, stomping one boot clad foot heartily on the ground. She eyeballed Gojyo. "Hey Roach-man, mind bumming me a cig later?"

Chortling, he shook his head. "I'm not giving ya anything if ya call me Roach-man again…damn…all of ya look hot, ya know that?" Gojyo's teeth shone under the black lights as he smiled widely. "Ain't that right, Hakkai?"

"Heh?" Hakkai blinked, having been lost in thought, and glanced at Gojyo. "Yes, sure they do." To be honest, he had no idea what his friend had just said, and wondered why, when he looked to the group of girls, they laughed at him. "You all look very nice, I must admit. The clothes suit you all. What's so funny?"

"Nothing, don't worry about it, Hakkai." Mandi brought one hand to cover her mouth, suppressing her laughter. "I think you guys fit it too, though. We were all saying how great you were going to fit in. Nobody would ever know who you really are."

Her almond colored gaze studied the brunette young man as closely as possible, straining through the darkness without advancing upon him. He'd pulled off a rather classy gothic appearance thanks to Mandi. Nobody had even noticed her buy the clothes from Hot Topic before for Hakkai, she had pulled it off stealthily and so, very much to his surprise, Hakkai did have something to wear after all for the rave.

He stood finely in a pair of black Dickeys pants which were fitted about the waist but slack in material down from there, a black silk shirt with silvery white tribal markings monogrammed onto the right side, the top three buttons were undone and beneath the flip collar was a silver necktie, loosely done.

Apparently still embarrassed about having someone buy him clothing which he imagined were quite expensive, Hakkai rubbed the back of his neck. "I want to thank you again for this- really, you didn't have to do any of it. I still don't know how none of us saw…"

"…Hey, I'm just magic like that!" Mandi beamed, scooting out of the way of a train of dancers. "Don't worry about it. Besides, it looks good on you! You wear it well."

Erin spun around and jumped, trying to see over the hundreds of heads bobbing to and fro. Finally, she spotted Goku who skillfully wove glow-sticks around his body while he shuffled his feet to the music's beat.

"Okay, well I'm going over there! I'll see y'all later! Have fun!" The slender young woman disappeared into the crowd, the last of her words almost lost in the noise.

"Why don't we dance?" Gojyo circled his fingers easily around Ashley's wrists, tugging her toward the middle of the floor. "Damn, it's been ages since I've let loose- though I can't say I'm familiar with this kinda music."

Ashley shook her head, glancing toward Katie who still appeared dejected that Sanzo refused to attend. "Nah, I think I'll just keep Katie company. I'm not much of a dancer anyhow."

The elder young woman scoffed. "Oh please, don't worry about me. Go on, dance, and live it up. I'll go mingle or something and if I don't see you later down here, I probably went back up to the room." Making her point, Katie gently shoved Ash and Gojyo further away. If anything, she'd go sit down and watch people, or maybe join Erin and Goku to see what the hype was about the glow-sticks.

As Katie's form vanished as well, all who remained was Hakkai and Mandi, both appearing suddenly very awkward about being left alone. The young woman gestured the dance floor.

"You're probably not used to this stuff either, I'm guessing, but do you want to try?"

"Try what?" Hakkai chuckled nervously. "Dancing? I can't say I'm very good at what I do know how to do, and this style is so…bizarre, I'm afraid I won't be able to."

"Eh, I'm not too good, but it's basically instinct. Just go with the flow, like…this." Mandi gingerly picked up Hakkai's wrists, trying to move his arms, though he was following along with very stiff posture. She laughed, continuing to try and loosen up his limbs, but they refused to become lissome. "I guess you're just trying too hard."

Hakkai smiled, "I suppose." He felt a lurch in his stomach, and, exhaling sharply, rested his hands firmly onto his dance partner's shoulders. "I've got something to say to you, and it's not easy, I'm afraid."

By this time, the volume of the music had increased several decibels and Mandi shook her head. "I can't hear you!"

Frowning, Hakkai gestured for her to follow him, leading her out of the ballroom to where the expansive hallway had emptied out, save for a few stragglers.

"I said I have something to say to you, Mandi, and it's not an easy task, I'm afraid."

Her smile began to fade. "What is it?"

"On behalf of my companions, I want…to say thank you, to you and your friends, for doing all of this for us. For welcoming us into your home, for putting up with us…and I want to offer my apologies for any inconvenience our presence has made for you all."

Shifting on her feet, the young woman laced her hands together. "It's fine, you don't have to apologize for anything. Why are you saying all of this anyway?"

Expelling a sigh, Hakkai ducked his head. "I imagine Gojyo is telling the very same thing to Ashley now, or at least his version of it. I've been having a strange feeling all day today that something is awry. It's more or less the feeling we had before we were brought to your world here. What I'm trying to say is…well, we think we're going back to Shangri La before the night is done."

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Back to Shangri La?" Ashley gazed, somewhat dazedly up at Gojyo. He had led her to something of a 'quiet' corner to speak with her. "Are you sure?"

The hanyou quirked a corner of his lips up, "Well we're pretty sure. Look, Hakkai had a feeling and if ya remember, ya said you had one earlier too, right? That something was gonna happen today. That's gotta be it, and I'm not about to argue with it. Shangri La needs us, even if we're not too fond of being tossed back into whatever chaos has happened since we've been gone."

The blond young woman lowered her hazel gaze. "I forgot about that. I knew you'd have to go back eventually, and I was just used to you all being here too. I guess you didn't find what you were looking for then."

Gojyo shook his head. "We don't know. Maybe we did, maybe not. I'm thinking we'll find out before the end of the night, Ash, ya know? Hey, ya know what though?"

"What?" She tilted her head up to glance at him. Didn't she know it? Didn't she tell herself not to get attached to Sha Gojyo the womanizer? Didn't Ashley refuse to give into his charms because she knew this would happen? If she was so prepared, why did it hurt so much?

"If it counts for anything, ya definitely made this mission interesting. I don't know any other girl who has constantly turned me down like ya did. It bruised my ego a little, I'll admit, but all the same…maybe it was good for me."

A tiny smile lingered on Ashley's face. "What can I say, I'm good at doing that. Look, whatever happens, happens, then all right? For now, let's just forget about it. I'd rather not think about it."

Gojyo conceded, bringing his head down toward Ashley's shoulder. "Fine by me…but how about a goodbye kiss, honey. Just in case this is our last dance, eh?"

Her heart jumped, but as much as she wanted to give in, the young woman shook her head lightly. "Why don't we see what happens first? If it seems pretty clear that we're not going with you, then it'll be negotiable."

"Fair enough," the hanyou smirked, taking her back out to the dance floor. For now, they'd enjoy themselves.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the hotel room, away from the mess and the noise of sweaty bodies dancing in close confines, Sanzo sat at the table near the window, nose in his newspaper. He wasn't reading it, however since his mind had been preoccupied by what Hakkai had told him earlier.

So tonight was the night they'd return to Shangri la.

They were long overdue by Sanzo's terms.

The night fit the same evening they had arrived in modern America, complete with a ravenous thunderstorm.

"Damn rain," the monk muttered emptily, shoving away from his place, moving to stand near the window. The droplets clung to the glass panes as silver rivulets creating criss-crossing patterns, rippling across Sanzo's reflection.

Behind his reflection lay the image of one bed, the clothes for the rave still spread across it. He sighed heavily, wondering what would happen if he attended. Sitting around alone was beginning to get tiring after all, and while he'd never admit it aloud, Sanzo even began to miss having his group all to himself to harass and nag.

At least going home would ensure that.

He supposed those girls weren't the avatars after all. Perhaps the so-called Merciful Goddess had gotten her locations mixed up. Or maybe she really had just played them all for fools.

Sanzo hoped he'd wake up in the morning sitting on the passenger side of Jeep with a sore back and a stiff neck to see all this had been one hellacious long dream.

"More like a hellacious nightmare." He grumbled in low tones, turning to eyeball the outfit still pestering him by simply lying on the bed.

What did he really have to lose by going?

He'd have to change to fit in with the crowd. From the sounds of it, there'd be so many people; he'd be able to check it out undetected and go back to the hotel room before anyone else noticed.

Incognito, so to speak. Surely someone would notice bright white monk's robes, but if he changed…

"I'd fit right in."

Smoothly, a smirk curved his thin lips, and putting out the cigarette he held in between his fingers, Sanzo advanced to the waiting outfit.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Katie's laughs couldn't be heard above the strident melodies still pumping out of the speakers as she stood by Erin, watching Goku flip and flail neon glow-sticks. The strange liquid did well to light up and accentuate his simple outfit of a black fishnet shirt and baggy black pants, sending flashes to bounce off of the metallic spikes coming out of the two bracelets on each wrist.

Clearly the heretic youth had found his dancing niche and brought it to an entire new level. He cried out about how much more fun it was than DDR- at least he didn't have to follow anyone else's orders about which steps were the right ones. All the same, Goku still fumbled a glow-stick here or there simply because he decided to pay more attention to Erin's eye-catching outfit than coordinating his movements. He blushed fiercely when he dropped his tools and scooped it up without missing a beat, grinning chimp-like toward both girls.

Sighing exuberantly, the oldest of the young women brought a hand to rest upon her forehead. She was beginning to get a headache, which couldn't exactly be considered a healthy sign.

"Hey, Erin! I'm going to step outside for some air."

The shorter girl spun around, frowning lightly. "Are ya ok?"

"Just a headache, I'm sure it's fine. I'll be right back." Katie waved her hand, hurriedly shoving her way out of the ballroom, hindered only briefly by an unbreakable wall of chain dancers.

The empty hallway brought relief.

Being away from the thumping bass soothed her aching head, her form propping up against a wall to recuperate. Heading back to the room began to seem like a better option than waiting it out.

Slowly, Katie's azure gaze traveled the length of the wide hall, stopping quizzically upon two familiar figures occupying a corner. For a moment, she wasn't sure what to make of it, but clearly it hadn't been what she thought. Hakkai and Mandi were simply talking, although it appeared he did most of the talking while she chewed her bottom lip and played with the hair ribbons.

When her mouth opened to call out to them, sensing some disturbance, another voice cut off Katie's own.

"Gee, what a surprise. I can't believe you're not partying away with everyone else, considering you were so set on having everyone go to this ridiculous event."

Sanzo had somehow crept up on her and now stood directly across from Katie.

She raised her eyebrows. "I had a headache. What the hell are you doing here if you didn't want to come?" And then her anger subsided when she realized the monk had swapped the cloth for the club gear.

Tight leather pants fit snugly, depicting Sanzo's long legs nicely. Around his hips he wore a thick belt containing three rows of silver eyelets which ran the length of the piece, and above that the black shirt with mesh sleeves and giant safety pins at the collar covered his torso.

He'd opted out of the jewelry. He thought he looked absurd enough without it.

"Curiosity got the best of me, but really, it's none of your business. I figured I might as well fit in, for my own reasons." Sanzo grunted, crossing his arms, bringing violet orbs to peer out of the large paned windows parallel to the wall. "Tonight we're leaving."

"We are?" Katie all but cried out with zeal, feeling refreshed quite suddenly.

"Not you, we, me and my party, we." Sanzo retorted, snapping his gaze heatedly toward the young woman. "Hakkai felt it, and I'm starting to get that notion too. Our work here was in vain, so we're going back. We've come up empty, probably for the best. I don't need anyone else's help."

Disheartened, Katie shook her head in refusal. "No way; no fucking way. We are the elementals, come on, you have to believe that by now! Especially because of that DVD; how can you ignore something like that?"

The outburst had attracted the attention of Mandi and Hakkai and they slowly made their way over but Sanzo held up a hand to stop them. He didn't want or need any more opinions on the matter; this time, Hakkai's words would do very little.

"Come off your high horse and get over the fact that you can't have everything you want." Sanzo bit back. "You're just a stupid girl with a stupid idea that just because you happened across us when you did that you're automatically what we were looking for. I don't believe in the gods, I don't believe in the elementals; all of this has been a complete waste of my goddamned time. I'm going home, Hakkai, Gojyo, and Goku are coming with me, and we're going to complete our mission. You and your dysfunctional friends are more than welcome to watch us, but not in Shangri La. Watch us here, in this world, where you belong."

Katie's eyes stung with tears that didn't fall, mouth agape with words she couldn't begin to say. It'd hurt, hearing that from him, in this way. She had the urge to both throw her arms around him and beg him to let them go along or to slap him soundly across his pretty face.

"We're going." She persisted, and would have said more if not for the resounding boom of thunder that literally shook the foundation of the hotel.

The lights flickered and then died completely, all sound fell into silence and then panic ensued. Screaming raised toward the ceiling mingled with confused muttering, glow sticks and flashlights from hotel officials swung about in attempts to find the exit safely. In the din of it all, Katie found herself pressed against Sanzo just to avoid getting trampled.

Apparently nobody had an idea of what "calm and orderly" meant whilst evacuating. Not that this was any true emergency. The power had just cut out.

The emergency didn't happen until a spherical shape expanded from nothing above everyone's heads, spinning and flattening out until it rested in a flat mirror-like surface. Two figures catapulted forth from the swirling opening to land heavily upon a clear space on the carpeted floor.

All went still and remained so even when the lights returned.

Everyone had become silent, simply frozen, unable to move, speak, or give any indication of being something more than statues gathered in pandemonium.

"Why isn't anyone moving? Sanzo?" Katie peeked up, stepping away from the monk. She had full mobilization, as did the blond man beside her.

"As if I have any idea," he muttered dryly, seeking out Hakkai. The young man was toting along a perplexed Mandi, both of them stunned by the occurrence. "Obviously it hasn't affected us."

"Who were the people who fell out of that thing?" Mandi questioned, eyes fixated on the portal hovering several feet above the floor. "What is that thing?"

Hakkai kept a hand securely wrapped around her wrist as he thought. "It looks a lot like the opening we went through to come here, Sanzo, doesn't it?"

The monk lit a cigarette, remaining fairly calm. If that was the portal home, then he had nothing to worry over. Unbeknownst to anyone else, he had brought the sutras with him- there they were tucked safely beneath one arm.

"Yeah, it does. So we're going home, this is it. It's about time. Where the hell are Gojyo and Goku?"

"Right here, jeez, don't pitch a bitch fit," Goku spoke up from behind a group of petrified people. Erin walked behind him, eyes wide in bewilderment. "What the heck's happening? We're going home?"

"That's kind of sudden." Erin stated blandly, unsure of what to feel at the moment. She frowned, studying the placid opalescent opening. "So you…have to go then, I guess. Without us."

"Doesn't it suck?" Ashley's voice sounded and she stepped forward to join the others, Gojyo close behind. "I guess we got our hopes up for nothing then."

"Hasn't anyone else realized that we're the only eight people able to move, though?" Mandi pointed out, finding her voice.

Gojyo harrumphed. "She's right, ya know. Look- everyone else is like an ice cube without the cold. I'm wondering if they can come along after all. What other reason is there?"

"To be able to say good bye, perhaps." Hakkai suggested humbly, lowering his gaze to the floor. He hoped that wasn't the truth.

Sanzo dropped his cigarette to the floor, smothering the ashes into the carpet until all heat lay dormant. He moved away, heading toward the open portal. "What about Hakuryuu, Hakkai?"

The young man's eyes went wide. "Oh shit, he's outside!"

All eyes went to him at the curse word but realized the monk was right. Hakuryuu was still stuck in Jeep form. Wouldn't it make sense for the portal to be outside?

However, as though to prove everyone wrong, a cheery chirp echoed followed by tiny flapping wings. Heads turned and a perky white dragon zoomed through to land perfectly upon his perch on Hakkai's shoulder.

"Kyu!" Hakuryuu nuzzled his owner in obvious relief to be able to spread his wings once more.

"Guess that answers that. Obviously we are going home."

"Don't move."

A voice uttered in a foreign language, which only the Sanzo party appeared to comprehend. Sanzo's eyes narrowed.

"Kougaji?"

At hearing the name, the four girls immediately began searching for the familiar demon's face. This was getting good- they seemed to have landed smack dab into another episode.

"The Fire Soul is among you. I want it, it belongs to me."


Goku retorted in the language that the girls still couldn't make out. "What're you talking about? Where the hell are you anyway? Why don't you come out and stop being so chicken?"

"Very well."

"What's going on?" Ashley inquired, glancing between Gojyo and Hakkai, hoping one of them would explain it.

Gojyo snorted. "Apparently Kougaji is looking for something called a Fire Soul. Like we've got anything like that."

"I suppose that explains one of the two people who came out of that portal." Katie concluded, stepping forward, coming up behind Sanzo. She dropped her jaw immediately after. "Holy shit, it's Kougaji and Yaone."

"Miss Yaone?" Hakkai murmured, tilting his head enough to be able to see between Sanzo and Katie. "Indeed it is."

Erin wrapped her fingers around Goku's arm. She had the strangest sensation…a burning in her stomach that was far from ignorable. "…Goku…"

He turned, brows furrowing at his friend's expression. "What's wrong? Hey, are ya okay?"

"No. Something doesn't feel right."

Mandi, Katie, and Ashley took a collective step forward in concern as Kougaji's voice rang clear again.

"Okosu! Okosu!"

"Someone care to translate?" Mandi asked over her shoulder.

"Awaken; he said awaken." Hakkai replied worriedly before proceeding to call out to the youkai prince. "What are you looking for? How did you even get here?"

"The Fire Soul brought us here. It's mine, and it's here I have to awaken it! Doko ni arimasu ka? Tell me! You've been hiding it out here all along haven't you?"

"We don't know what you're talking about," Sanzo sniffed, and the young women had come to realize that the language being spoken was Japanese- (which to them made sense yet none at all, considering the entire plot took place between China, Thailand, and India). "You're wasting your time here. There is nothing here- there was nothing here for us."

"Kougaji-sama…" Yaone stepped beside her prince, tangerine gaze occupying the space where the opposing group stood. She felt they told the truth, however, she had noticed something appeared to be wring with the strange blue haired young woman. "Kougaji-sama, look, there—that girl."

"Nani?" Kougaji swung his chin in Erin's direction, noticing the young woman hunching, doubled over with one palm pressed urgently to her forehead. He would have thought nothing of it, if not for the swirling orange-red orb rotating above her. "There! The Fire Soul has found its host."

Startled, all eyes turned to Erin. While the girls couldn't understand what was being said, they could very well follow the direction of Kougaji's pointed fingers. Their friend gritted her teeth hard together as a whirring sound pierced everyone's eardrums; the pitch intensified, causing everyone to wince and Erin to crumple to her knees.

Once more the walls shuddered, the floor quaked beneath countless pairs of feet, yet only those who remained animate felt the effects. Their voices held no match against the shrieking whistle of the Fire Soul Sphere, which spun so quickly its eddies had become invisible, causing the orb to appear nothing but a fiery blur. Rays mimicking sunlight poured forth from the sphere, stretching to consume Erin's form in bright yellow-white, exuding heat and thwarting any who attempted coming near.

"Okosu!" Kougaji cried, taking a step forward in desperation. At last, he was getting what he wanted. This girl would play host to the Fire Soul, she would complete the puzzle, and he would be freed of Koushu's hold.

The effects of such grand power started to take its toll upon the hotel; cracks sped along the walls, splitting apart wallpaper, plaster, and wood, peeling the paint from a patch of ceiling directly above Erin's luminously consumed figure. Her own cries couldn't be detected over such a ruckus and everyone else was forced to lean against each other to remain standing.

Ashley brought one shaky step toward her friend, words overwhelmed and lost in the ear-splitting screeches, and Gojyo pulled her back without delay as a chunk of ceiling dropped heavily to the floor. The hanyou braced himself against the trembling, drawing the honey blond human close to him. If anything else fell, they'd hit him before her.

Goku had not given up on the task of pulling Erin free from whatever held her captive. He sensed she was either in great pain, great peril, or perhaps both. His golden eyes shone determinedly, hands daring to thrust into the light shield's searing heat only to withdraw and howl in pain himself.

Without his youkai powers, he was helpless.

Why did Kougaji and Yaone still look like demons?

Why hadn't Goku and Hakkai transformed back to their original selves?

What was so wrong with this picture?

Goku promised to protect Erin, and he couldn't do it. Something was happening to her and he couldn't help, even though she was so very close to him.

He couldn't do it.

He couldn't help her.

"Damnit!! Damnit all to hell!" He cried in frustration, kicking the wall, managing only to bring down another piece of debris.

What struck everyone as ironic was that the chunks falling harmed none of those who stood frozen in the hall yet seemed to have vendettas against the ten who could move.

"Hakkai let me go!" Mandi struggled to free her arm from the dark haired man's grip, reaching on hand out toward Erin. "She needs help, let me go!"

Though she was barely audible, Hakkai understood what Mandi was saying, and he refused, shaking his head. Even Hakuryuu had clamped his jaws down onto the mesh fabric of the young woman's shirt, trying to hold her in place. It wasn't safe; she'd get hurt too. Clearly this was something none of them could touch. Nonetheless, he regretted standing idly by.

Nobody enjoyed feeling quite so helpless when a friend was in danger.

Even Sanzo had taken to detaining Katie from reaching to their friend, whose form now had disappeared completely within blinding golden radiance where her outline had been visible only moments before.

"This is it, it's mine, Yaone!" Kougaji's tone was one of a madman, dark violet eyes glowing in passion for what went on. "My mother will be freed at last!"

Yaone merely watched in discontent. The fears she shared with Dokugakuji were proving themselves before her very eyes. Their prince vied to turn into some power hungry maniac, an Oedipus set on destroying all who stood in his way of helping one person.

She had no words for him, for he would not hear her at this point anyway.

At last the rumbling subsided and along with it so did the light from the sphere begin to fade.

It dissipated leaving behind no remnants save for scorched carpet where Erin once stood, the echoes of her screaming loitered in the air mingled with the last of the shrill whistling whirrs. The orb lingered in midair before promptly pitching itself to Kougaji's open and waiting palm. He cared nothing now for those who remained, shouting for their missing friend, and backtracked calmly for the portal, calling Yaone after him.

"Where is she?! Where did she go?!" Mandi cried out hysterically, wrenching free from both Hakkai and Hakuryuu, skidding on her knees to where the blackened carpet lay.

"She's gone…" Ashley too broke away from Gojyo, quickly stepping behind Mandi as though to help inspect the area. "…where the hell did she go?"

Goku growled fiercely, leaping after the youkai prince. "You have her! Give her back to us, she's not yours to keep! What the hell is wrong with you, why don't you turn around, damnit?!"

Kou shirked the idea of replying, wrapping one arm tightly about Yaone's waist, instructing her to jump on his count.

"Goku, get back here!" Sanzo demanded, yet this time couldn't seem to control the youth. He freed himself of Katie's grip, raising his voice. "Goku!"

"Goddamnit you stupid chimp, what are ya doing?" Gojyo joined in, contesting right along with the monk.

Uncaring, Goku swung one fist, latching onto Kougaji's jacket as the prince and his apothecary made a leap for the open portal. He managed to hang on, yet just as the opening was reached, lost his grip and tumbled harshly to the floor.

"Damnit! Get back here you chicken! KOUGAJI!" Goku's chest heaved in rage, figure still kneeling and bent on the floor.

The portal appeared to thin out, blinking and wavering, causing the other three young men to take a fleeing step towards it. Wasn't this their way back to Shangri la? If the way closed before they got through, would they be stuck here?

"Oh please, don't be such worry-warts. I swear, you four are just pathetic." A lilting female vocalized border lining insulting. The source was unseen, though the portal broadened, the circumference stretching to touch the floor. "I've been watching this entire time, and I must say I'm disappointed, though you've kept me very amused."

Sanzo swung a hand around to his back pocket, withdrawing the pistol he had kept there, discarding a bullet into the swirling space of silver. "What the hell took you so long?"

" I've never seen anyone so hard-headed as you are, Priest Genjyo Sanzo. Don't you know you've completed your mission a long time ago? You completed it the second day after arriving here, but it was your stubbornness which hindered a way home."

"Is that who I think it is?" Katie inquired, gaping, searching for the body of the woman who spoke.

"If you think it's the great Kannon, or the Merciful Goddess, then yes, you're probably more than right." Hakkai chuckled nervously, tugging at his shirt collar with one hooked finger. "Err, then, pardon me, are you inferring that these girls were who we sought?"

An airy chortle wafted from the abyss of hoary nacre. "Let's hear it for the smart one of the group, and I mean that in the utmost of compliments, dear."

"Wait a minute! What about Erin?" Mandi cried out, shuffling forward, having picked up from off her knees. "Something happened to her, is she okay?"

A pause signaled something grim. "I suppose all depends on your definition of 'okay'. Know this: your friend is alive, and she is much more than first conceived, very much as you three girls standing here now. This world is not your own. You've never belonged, you've never quite fit in no matter how hard you strove to meet society's expectations. Think of this as your awakening, your birth right…your break away."

"I'd like to argue the case," Sanzo growled. Notwithstanding his prior acceptance of who the original trio was, he differed. "Aren't the Elementals ancient souls of wisdom, supposedly? Not that I believe any of that bullshit, but if that's the case, these three cannot be who we looked for."

"Oh just shut up already." Kanzeon huffed warily, her indigo eyes appearing from within the vortex. "If you want to make a point about maturity then you ought to first take a lesson from them, Genjyo Sanzo. Now, enough of this drivel, I'm getting tired holding this open. Questions will stand to wait a while longer. It's time to go home."

Ashley, Katie, and Mandi brought their gazes to rest upon each other, each apprehensive about what lay in store for them. Those of the Sanzo-ikkou appeared to embrace the word "home", knowing at last they'd be returning to their true place of belonging. Without hesitance, the four young men stepped up to the portal, three glancing back as though wondering if they'd meet up once again.

"No worries." The bodhisattva soothed, urging her motley band of misfits to press on.

Their forms became no more than silhouettes before vanishing altogether.

"Our turn?" Katie asked nervously, a twinge in her stomach tightening.

"Your turn," was the confirmation.

"Here goes nothing…" Mandi breathed, impulsively taking the hands of both remaining friends.

They latched onto her as well and the three hesitantly approached.

The world they knew would be no more.

They'd perchance never see it again.

Any worries or fears of dying without adventure had been laid to rest.

Their fates had intertwined with what once was deemed purely fanatically impossible.

As the portal shut, swallowing their forms into deepest pitch mottled by brightest white, the girls would lose their lives of the world that so shunned them given a chance to start anew in the land of Shangri la; their unlikely destiny.

End of Saiyuki: An Unlikely Story

Next to come- Saiyuki: An Unlikely Destiny

--IMPORTANT NOTICE—

I guess I need to do more disclaimers for the simple face that I completely forgot about ALL of the other anime crap I used in here simply for the sake of ACEN.

So we'll start there. ACEN (Meaning Anime Central) is the fifth largest anime convention in the nation which takes place generally in Chicago, but to be more specific, in Rosemont, IL at the Donald E. Stephen's Convention Center. I'm not any member of the ACEN staff, nor am I gaining anything on behalf of using their name- this is only for the sake of the story being as realistic as possible. Some aspects of how ACEN is run have been changed, so don't be a conventioneer and believe that you can really sneak in eight people in one room and get away with it, or that the breakfast buffet is free (because it's not) OR that it's possible to pre-register three days beforehand. Sorry!

I'm also not a staff member of the Donald E. Stephen's Convention Center or a worker at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare; again, I'm making no profit from using these places in my fiction, and neither are they. This is purely for fan-fiction purposes!!

Onto the fun stuff-Other anime, as well as Voice Actors and song(s) mentioned in this chapter (as well as in Chapter 14, which I can't recall whether I put a disclaimer there or not.). I'll make a list of ALL the ones I can find/remember, and say this for all of them: I don't own them, I don't have an affiliation, don't sue me, I have no money, and am making NO profits.

Ah! My Goddess

Cowboy BeBop

Weiss Kreuz © Project Weiss/ Takehito Koyasu

Trigun © Yasuhiro Nightow

Voice Actors

Greg Ayres (ADV Films, voice actor for Son Goku "Saiyuki")

Vic Mignogna (ADV Films, voice actor of Kougaji "Saiyuki")

Illich Guardiola (ADV Films, voice of Sha Gojyo "Saiyuki")

David Matranga (ADV Films, voice of Genjyo Sanzo "Saiyuki")

Braden Hunt (ADV Films, voice of Cho Hakkai "Saiyuki")

Hilary Haag (ADV Films, voice of Lirin/Ririn "Saiyuki")

Chris Patton (ADV Films, voice of Koumyou Sanzo "Saiyuki")

Shin'ichiro Miko (Japanese seiyuu of Yohji Kudou "Weiss Kreuz")

Monica Rial (ADV Films, voice of Poker Groupie #3 & Houmei "Saiyuki")

Music

"Redneck Woman" –Gretchen Wilson (Off the album ™ "Here for the Party")

Thank you to everyone who has been so kind as to follow along with this story for so long. It took me NINE months just to get this far, folks! And guess what, the ride is only halfway over! ::yay:: So stick around! Part Two will be posted sometime soon (I hope).