Generic Disclaimer: Gensomaden Saiyuki and the characters contained within don't belong to me, much as I wish they were. sigh...
The idea for this came from a combination of an Inuyasha episode and an Extreme Ghostbusters episode. If you know anything about either series, you'll know which ones I'm talking about. I know I should be working on A King Reborn instead of this, but... when the muse demands, there's little you can do to resist.
This story would occur sometime after Homura appears in the plotline, but not before it starts getting obvious that he wants to steal the boy away to make a perfect world. Probably sometime after episode 39, but before episode 44. I loved writing Zenon in this fic. Makes me want to write Zenon-centric fics in the future.
This first chapter may seem stilted, but I had difficulty coming up with a reason as to why they were being hurt this time. The story wanted to go straight into the action, which just wouldn't have worked. I think this will work out. Chapter one can be considered PG-13 for language; no blood or real violence as of yet. Mild spoilers for the god's backgrounds in Heaven.
italics indicate emphasis, internal dialogue, and dialogue that has occurred in the past/memories.
"...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
Franklin D. Roosevelt, first inaugural address – March 4, 1933
It was still technically day, although the light of the setting sun had turned the sky into a painting of fire - gold before them and the black of a void behind them, a mingling of darkness and light filtering through the canopy above. Sometimes, Zenon thought a good way to describe the scene of a setting sun was death - death of a life, flaring briefly in a pathetic struggle to survive, before finally being overcome by oblivion.
Damn, Zenon thought. That was morbidly poetic.
Maybe hanging around Homura so much was starting to have an ill effect.
Nah. An effect, certainly, but not an ill one.
The one-eyed god flicked the ashes from the tip of his cigarette, resting his hand lightly on a nearby tree. No one could ever call Homura normal – completely putting aside the fact that he was a heretic and wanted to destroy the current regime of Heaven, the half-god Zenon traveled with was anything but common. No, to call him that would be like saying the War Prince was sub-par. Homura was...
He tried not to think too much into the reasons behind giving his loyalties to Homura. Thinking too much brought up entirely too painful memories – memories that he would give a piece of himself up to get rid of. Had given a piece of himself up to get rid of, although the results had been somewhat less than gratifying. He followed the prince because he no longer had purpose in life. He followed because he knew the other man could bring an end to Heaven and their hypocritical ways. He followed because Homura was charismatic, powerful, and capable of swaying an army to his side with nothing more than his words. He followed Homura because...
Zenon put the cigarette to his lips and closed his remaining eye.
Because, had my son lived, he would have been shunned by Heaven as a heretic as well.
If his son had lived, he would have been proud – more than proud – if the boy had grown up to be anything like Homura. He wondered, sometimes, if the younger god knew Zenon followed because he saw, in those strangely colored eyes, the ghost of the son he once had. If the War Prince did know, he never showed the signs of that knowledge. Zenon was eternally grateful for that.
The dark-haired man turned slightly, just enough that Zenon could see the barest sliver of a blue eye. He had been staring down at the village beneath them for the better part of an hour now – he was used to the heretic god's odd habits, and had learned how to reign in his impatience at doing nothing for hours on end, but right now he was grateful for Shien's quiet interruption. He was starting to run out of cigarettes.
Shien shifted where he stood to Zenon's left, the silk of his ribbons hissing against the shoulders of his robe. In the light of the setting sun he looked sickly, the hollows of his cheekbones and eyes cast into shadow. "What business awaits us in the village below, Homura?" the god asked.
No matter how long he had known the other man, Zenon would always be surprised at how observant Shien was. He saw everything in the world around him, even with his eyes closed. Zenon envied that, sometimes. Had he been more observant, he might have been able to change more things in his past.
But the past was just that: past. He couldn't do anything to change it now.
Homura turned away again, the ends of his cloak billowing in the light breeze that touched the cliff they stood upon. "Do you know what lies west of here?" he asked, the melodious tenor of his voice both curious and bored.
He's in a thoughtful mood tonight, Zenon thought. What brought it on this time, he wondered?
"West?" Shien echoed with a touch of confusion.
Zenon smirked and took another drag from his self-proclaimed cancer stick (As if gods can die from lung cancer – hah!), exhaling heavily through his nose. " India," he replied lazily.
The look he received from Homura was gently sardonic. He chose not to notice.
"That would be the obvious answer." The tall god looked back towards the valley they stood over. The village beneath them was silent - much too far away for the hustle and bustle of daily lives to reach them. It was easy for the one-eyed god to imagine what it might look like up close, from the top of a roof, from a street corner... all villages and cities looked the same after a time. Especially after seeing them over and over again for five hundred years. Remarkably little had changed in all that time. "But no. That's not what I meant."
Shien stepped forward into the meager light; the dappled shadows from the trees overhead cast an eerie pattern across the pale face, but the dying sun's rays could not pierce the shadows where his eyes lay. "Then please elaborate, Homura. What does lie west of here?"
The god did not answer right away. While normally he was tactfully direct and did not beat around the proverbial bush, Homura could also be aggravatingly indirect when he chose to be. He would tease and hint and deliberately herd one towards the answers without actually giving any of those answers himself. That was how he had approached Zenon with the initial idea of overthrowing the Heavens; it had all started with a theoretical question – Can the Earth survive without a Heaven? – and from there he had occasionally thrown out scraps to keep the curiosity raised from that discussion from ever being swept aside.
That was how he dealt with the Sanzo party as well – he stated that he wanted to destroy the Heavens, left the bait, and waited for the others to search for the answer of just how he was going to do that. Made them find the answers themselves. They didn't understand yet, and that was good; the boy, Son Goku, was no where near strong enough yet to help them create that perfect world. Zenon could admit, to himself at least, that he wasn't even sure he himself was strong enough for the task that awaited them. Too many doubts and fears plagued his inner soul. He didn't know just how those doubts might affect the battle to come.
But there was only one reason the one-eyed god could think of that would attract Homura to the town below them.
When the man in question did not reply, Zenon sighed and squashed the remains of his cigarette on the bark of the tree he leaned against. "The Sanzo party's in that village, huh?"
Homura only shrugged indifferently, the motion of one shoulder rising and lowering making the chains around his wrists jangle impatiently. "Yes."
"Shall we... intercept them tonight?" Shien's voice was cool and even, level, never inclined to reveal anything he might be feeling. Was he excited about another fight with the reincarnated gods, Zenon wondered? Or was he bored to death, tired of playing with them the way a cat might play with a mouse?
Truth was he was getting pretty exhausted with this game. He wanted to get the damn scripture and just get it over with. He wanted to finally give his family their revenge. He wanted the burning in his brain, behind his eye, to go away. More than anything, he wanted Heaven – and its pathetic population of hypocritical bastards – gone. Especially the king bastard of them all, the Jade Emperor. What he would give to see that pompous ass begging Zenon for his life. Squealing for mercy.
That was an honor that would likely go to Homura. But he lusted for the sight all the same.
Zenon sighed. It was no matter. They would get the scripture eventually. They had all the time in the world.
"Then... what shall we do?" Shien asked.
The sun highlighted Homura's dark hair as he turned toward them, a slight smile twisting his lips. His chains rattled fiercely in the motion. "Have you ever eaten the divine peach of the Merciful Goddess?"
Shien shifted again, a silent shadow at Zenon's side. "It is said that we gods partake of the divine fruit when our souls have attained nirvana," he said. "However, I am uncertain if that time occurs at the beginning of our lives as gods, or at the end. Regardless, they are fiercely guarded, for merely the nectar of the flowers is said to give long life, and a single bite of fruit, immortality."
Homura's smile widened. "An incredible feat, don't you think? Immortality granted by a mere plant. And yet it only makes sense, considering how many plants can bring death with just the prick of a thorn." He glanced over his shoulder, smile fading, back towards the village so many miles away. "There are many different kinds of death. One lies west of here, in the harmless form of a plant. Death in dreams."
"And this is what awaits the Sanzo party?"
The heretic chuckled slightly, one gold eye sliding towards the blind god who stood before him. "Yes."
Well, that was an interesting way to die. But Homura wouldn't let a plant kill the boy; Zenon knew that for a fact. This was another one of his tests, putting the party through the hoops before deciding they were ready for the final challenge. If it were to go his way, Zenon would just steal the itan away and toughen him up in a quicker fashion, rather than with this slow, endless teasing. However, the boy would probably resist harder if they did that. This way, while he was still with his friends, he thought he was fighting against Homura and serving a greater purpose. He had no idea that fighting for Homura would serve a greater purpose still... and get rid of that pesky Gyumaoh problem to boot.
"A plant's going to find it a bit hard to kill these folks," he said baldly, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket.
"I know." Homura did not turn to face his followers again, keeping his eyes on the dark mass past the village, on the horizon, that indicated a forest. The dying fire of the sun turned the distant treetops a muted gold. "I will be disappointed if they fall victim to this adversary."
Beside him, Shien tilted his head slightly. "Then... what is the purpose of this plant?"
"What else?" Zenon could hear the smile in the heretical god's voice, and smiled with him. One way or another, Homura would get what he wanted – what they all wanted. Whether the Heavens wanted it or not. Whether the seiten taisei wanted it or not.
"To make them face their fears," Homura said quietly. "To make them stronger."
All he wanted was silence. The kind of silence that excluded human voices. The kind of silence that, even if it was filled with bird song or trees rustling - or, god forbid, rain - was vastly preferable to the sound of two retarded demons (well, one-quasi-demon and a half, if he wanted to get technical) squabbling over jerky in the backseat.
Didn't they eat before we left?!
"Goddamnit, did you just spit on that?!"
"It's mine, jackass, so I can spit on it if I want to!"
"The hell it is! That's for all of us! Didn't your monk ever teach you to share?"
Hakkai smiled widely beside him, far too happy with the world at large to be perturbed by the scene in the back of the jeep. "They're active rather early, don't you think?"
Sanzo grunted, closing his eyes and thrusting his hands up his sleeves. One palm rested lovingly on the butt of his pistol. "I'm about ready to deactivate them. Permanently."
"Have you even thought about saving some of that for lunch, monkey boy?"
"Why? Didn't you say you lived on cigarettes and beer?"
"Yeah, but that shit'll only last for so long. You need a little variety in your life. You know, red-heads, brunettes, blondes..."
Sanzo's finger twitched on the trigger of said pistol.
"Don't you ever think about anything besides women?"
"Don't you ever think about anything besides food and beating up demons? You could use a little spice in your life, monkey. I swear, I've never seen your libido extend past meat buns and fried noodles. And to think you spent all those years stuck in a building with nothing but men - you should have picked up something. Unless, of course, Sanzo - "
Said pistol was out and clicking between Gojyo's teeth before Hakkai could think to stop the monk.
"Finish that sentence and die," Sanzo hissed.
Goku burst out in laughter, one arm wrapped around his stomach and the other clutching a piece of half-gnawed jerky. He appeared oblivious to the undercurrents of the conversation. "Shit, Gojyo! You look like you just pissed yourself!"
"Try not to get any blood on the upholstery, Sanzo," Hakkai warned cheerfully.
The redhead mumbled something that was understandably slurred due to the gun between his lips. Sanzo sat back and turned around in his seat, wiping the barrel off on his sleeve. "What did you say?"
"I said that gun must be some kind of penis extension for you. Why else would you shoot it off and stick it in people's mouths all the time? When was the last time you got laid, man?"
Hakkai sighed and leaned his head back, resigned to the fact that he was likely to go deaf in his left ear (both from gunshots fired way too close and from Sanzo's preference for raunchy insults) before too much longer. He couldn't help but smile, despite the screaming issuing from the back seat.
"Looks like it's going to be another one of those days, eh, Hakuryuu?"
Lunchtime usually brought its own share of problems, but Gojyo was still stinging from the number of close calls he had with Sanzo's gun. Instead of causing more mischief, the redhead had chosen to park himself against a tree by Hakkai, hands linked lazily behind his head as he watched his cigarette smoke dissipate into the sky. Despite Gojyo's decided lack of interaction with Goku, Hakuryuu kept his master safely between himself and the half-demon. He had probably received a few too many close calls with Sanzo's gun himself.
"Do you think the innkeeper was lying?" Goku asked around a mouthful of ramen.
Hakkai lowered his chopsticks, glancing over at the younger man. The older gentleman who ran the inn they stayed at had been quite frightened about the rumor of demons prowling the woods around the small village - and indeed, it was a story corroborated by many townsfolk. Tales of people disappearing in the middle of the night, with no sign of a struggle - younger people, in those cases - or vanishing during the journey between this village and the one further west, which was only a day away on foot, never to be seen again. Everyone was certain that demons haunted these woods - and yet Hakkai could not be certain he sensed any demonic presence. All the same... something about these woods felt... off.
"I don't know," he said finally. "These are frightening times. Anything that goes wrong could possibly be blamed on non-existent demons."
Goku set aside his empty bowl and leaned his elbows on his knees, expression both intense and innocently curious. "So you don't sense anything either?"
"These are awfully dense woods." Gojyo removed a hand from behind his head, pulled his cigarette out from between his teeth, and gestured widely around the small group. They had pulled over at the side of the path, where the road had widened enough to allow light through the branches overhead. Trees and underbrush ruled every place except for where the packed dirt of the path ran, casting dark shadows even during the height of day. Kudzu vine thickened the mixture, the impossibly large leaves giving what little sunlight that made it through the trees a sickly green cast. Visibility was compromised only a few feet into the forest. "If anyone was to wander off the main track they'd probably be lost for days. Depending on how large the forest is, they might never find their way back to the path."
Sanzo stubbed out the remains of his cigarette against his bowl, pulling out another from the ever-present pack in his back pocket. He placed the new one between his lips without lighting it. "How does that explain the people vanishing in the dead of night?"
"Trysts." The half-demon tapped away some ashes and leaned back on his free hand. "Just some kids heading out for some midnight nookie and getting lost on their way back. Probably got ate by a bear or something. Besides, the guy said that hasn't happened for a couple of months."
"That would explain the lack of youryoku." Hakkai offered the remainder of his lunch to the small dragon at his side, which was enthusiastically accepted. "And if there really were demons in these woods, they probably would have been seen... and left evidence of their kills."
"Most aren't smart enough to bother hiding the bodies," Gojyo agreed.
Goku didn't look entirely convinced, but he had always been overly eager to engage in fights. Hakkai would have thought the boy would get enough from constantly bickering with Gojyo - but then again, he couldn't actually kill the water demon...
"Regardless." The blonde priest fished out his lighter and touched the flame to the end of his cigarette, inhaling deeply. He snapped closed the Zippo and stashed it back in his robe. "We aren't here to play hero. We're just going through the damn woods. If we happen to run across any demons, we'll take care of them. Otherwise it's not our problem."
"For once I'm in agreement with you." With a sigh the red head pushed himself to his feet, bracing himself against the tree. "I don't really feel like going back to that town – the bar had piss-poor beer. The waitresses weren't exactly hot, either."
"I dunno... I thought the sukiyaki was pretty good. Wouldn't mind some of it right now..."
"Damnit, monkey! Don't you dare start whining about food right after you've eaten!"
"But Sanzo, that wasn't even a real meal!"
Hakkai smiled up at Gojyo as he pushed himself to his feet, the empty bowls of their meal stacked in one hand. "Time to get going," he said cheerfully over the sounds of Sanzo harassing Goku with his harisen.
"Yup." The half-demon stuck the cigarette back in his mouth and squinted up at the canopy. "You know, this place may be harmless enough, but it still weirds me out. I'd like to get out of here as quickly as possible."
"Agreed." Hakkai sent Hakuryuu back to the road, and dragon obligingly transformed back into his jeep form. "I can't sense any demons, but I do think I sense something. Either we're not close enough yet, or it's disguising its presence."
Sanzo managed to deliver one more swat before Goku ran for the safety of Hakuryuu's backseat. He stuffed the fan back up his sleeve and glanced towards the other two. "There is something in here, make no mistake of that. But like I said, we're not here to play hero. We keep moving unless whatever it is gets in our way. We should reach the edge of the forest in an hour or two."
"Coupla hours, huh?" Gojyo linked his hands behind his head and made his way towards the awaiting jeep. "The next town we run into better have some damn good beer to make up for the suckiness of this last pit stop. So let's get going, shall we?"
Coupla hours, huh? Fuck. Should have figured something would go wrong.
Gojyo leaned his head back against the rough bark of the tree, struggling to bring his breathing back to a controllable level. His hands were slick with sweat, making it difficult to maintain a good grip on his shakujou.
He still wasn't entirely sure what was happening – the attack had occurred so quickly that he'd barely had time to whip his weapon out of the dimensional limbo he was just demonic enough to access. Not that he hadn't had the time to assess the situation: he'd sensed the flash of searing whip, seen Homura's mocking smile, heard the retort of gunfire that was far too fast to be Sanzo. The strange part was the absolute lack of banter. No "I'm here for the sutra and nice enough to give you another chance to give it up willingly," or "Are you strong enough yet, Son Goku?" Just a textbook ambush, weapons out and guns firing willy-nilly.
Gojyo had sensed them in just enough time to avoid the initial gun fire. An unnatural rustle of branches, the sudden silence of the insects, his sixth sense raising the hairs on the back of his neck – something, he wasn't sure what. Goku had probably smelled them coming – monkey boy had been out of the seat even before he managed to tumble onto the road. Sanzo and Hakkai...? He didn't know. He'd heard Sanzo's cursing and the distinctive firing of his pistol for quite some time, as well as Hakkai's chi blasts, but Gojyo had been dodging trees and gunfire and kudzu vines for so long that he had no clue how far away he was from the path.
He held his breath, taking a moment to wipe the palm of one hand on the leg of his jeans, struggling to listen past the rapid-fire beating of his heart in his ears. Nothing – not the sound of approach or bird song, or even branches rustling together in a breeze. Absolute silence.
"Creepy," he muttered.
Well, first thing was first: he needed to get back to the path. Which, he supposed, was easier said than done; the forest was so dense that sunlight only barely managed to filter through, lowering visibility to something akin to twilight. He also wouldn't be able to make a move without touching something – if Zenon hadn't lost track of his target, then he'd be able to find said target quickly enough once it started moving again.
And, to make matters worse, Gojyo wasn't entirely sure which direction the path lay. Behind him, obviously, but 'behind' covered an awfully large area.
Guess I shouldn't have made those cracks about villagers getting lost and eaten by bears, huh?
He transferred his weapon to the other hand, wiping his free hand off and fishing out his pack of cigarettes and lighter. One deep inhalation of nicotine and he felt at least mildly capable of taking on a god again. Probably wasn't the best for his lungs, but it was that or his nerves. You only needed one lung to survive anyways, right?
Gojyo pushed himself off the tree and turned around, tensed to begin another cross-country dash if Zenon hopped out from behind a bush and starting firing again.
Something stung his calf, and immediately began to itch something awful.
"Damn bugs –"
Abruptly his sight tilted, and Gojyo lost his cigarette when he flung out one arm to try and regain his balance. The tree he was aiming to lean against seemed very far away... but hadn't he just stepped away from it? Breathing was suddenly difficult – a band constricting his lungs, squeezing his throat to the width of a straw – and the itching on his calf turned to burning turned to fire turned to fucking agony. Like something was eating his leg.
The world tilted in the other direction, and between one blink and another Gojyo found himself on the forest floor, sprawled out against the coarse tangle of rubbery vines and broad hairy leaves – When did that get there? – and biting his lip to avoid screaming at the fire burning through his veins.
He decided that he didn't particularly like the idea of breathing with only one lung. But then the light dimmed, and he didn't have to worry about breathing anymore.
A/N: Don't worry. You don't honestly believe I'd kill any of the boys, do you?