AN: Ummm…not really much to say at the moment, I guess. A Fushigi Yuugi one-shot, featuring my favorite character—Chichiri! Yayness! This is set during the time where they're going after the Shinzaho, I guess. Oh, and I guess I should tack on a MILD SPOILER ALERT for Chichiri's past. Very mild. I don't own FY: it and all characters are the property of Yuu Watase, the lucky…but I'll take Chichiri smile
If he thought about it for a thousand years, he couldn't have said how it actually happened. Everything had gone by so fast, it felt like mere seconds, eternities passing in the space of a heartbeat.
One moment, he and his fellow Celestial Warriors, the Suzaku Seven of legend, had been simply walking along, enjoying the fresh, cool air of late evening, as sunset painted the skies above the trees surrounding them. It was almost a pleasure-stroll, wandering through the forest. Miaka, Suzaku no miko, had been telling them a story of some strange contraption in their world that allowed people to speak with each other across great distances by holding a part of it up to one's ear. They were nearing a village, where they would stop for the night, so everyone was in high spirits.
The next, they had been ambushed. Assassins. Undoubtedly sent by Kutou to stop them.
After a moment, it became clear that this was not going to be the most difficult fight the Suzaku Seven had ever encountered. And the longer the Priestess stayed, the more chance that something could befall her. Best for someone to clean this up, and the others to make sure Miaka got to safety.
Making a quick decision, Chichiri whirled and called to his comrades, "I can take of this! Get Miaka to the village, no da!" He heard shouts of protest and one obscenity, which he wrote of as Tasuki and ignored. "I can handle the rest of them! Go ahead, I'll catch up to you after I'm done, no da!"
A moment later, they had fled towards the village, and the monk whirled on the remnants of their attackers. They lunged at him, and he dove easily out of the way, just beyond their immediate reach.
"Come and get me, no da!" he challenged with a sardonic grin, and led them away from the road, back into the forest. Better to draw them a little farther away from the village before finishing this up.
But something went wrong.
Once he was satisfied with where they were, he attacked. His attack, borne of magic, flattened his opponents with relative ease. But what happened…he didn't know. And he didn't have any amount of time to ponder the matter.
There was a back-kick from his magical attack. It was enough to throw him backwards a good distance. And it was then that he realized that those particular woods ended in a sharp dropoff, a high cliff that looked down upon an empty gully. The shock from his attack sent him flying over the edge by inches; he even managed to strike his head on a convenient rock as he fell.
The blow to his head stunned him, and he tumbled downwards, unable to pull enough sense together to use his magic and stop himself from hitting the bottom. Falling from that height…he would die when he hit the bottom, no doubt. And his mind was fogging over—a side effect from striking his head?
It didn't matter. There was no one who could save him…
Behind his mask, his good eye closed, and he let himself drift away into the darkness. It would be painless that way. And now he could go be with…them.
Unconscious, Chichiri didn't feel the slight jerk as something caught his hand and slowed his fall. And he never knew that the landing—which should have killed him—was as gentle as a mother laying her child down in his cradle.
Far above him, clouds began to roll in. And soon, it rained.
Locals of the village said it had been years since they had seen a storm like that.
Nuriko looked forlornly out the window at the falling rain, and frowned. "We should go look for him. This is ridiculous!" One hand threaded through violet hair. "Chichiri said he would catch up with us, and there's no sign of him. Something's wrong, I know it!" A jolt of thunder rocked the heavens, as though to accent the words. It was really storming out there, thunder and lightning, the whole bit.
"Maybe he decided to hide out somewhere until the rain stopped, and then come find us," Tasuki interjected. He had draped himself across a convenient chair, kicked his feet up, and was now lazily examining his flame-spewing fan.
Mitsukake stood and joined Nuriko by the window. "Chichiri wouldn't make us worry like this. And if he didn't want to get wet, he would have simply used his magic. I think Nuriko's right. Something is wrong." As if that seemed to make up his mind, he headed towards the door. "I'm going out."
"To look for him?" Nuriko demanded; when he got an affirmative answer, he nodded grimly. "I'm going with you. Safety in numbers." He turned to Tasuki. "Are you coming or what?"
"Where are you going?" Tamahome chose that moment to stick his head in the room.
"To find Chichiri."
"He still hasn't come back?" Tamahome looked alarmed. "I'll go with you."
"Well, Tasuki?" the healer regarded the former bandit with a cold glare.
Tasuki was saved by a pounding on the door. Mitsukake, who was closest, opened it.
The person standing outside was a woman—at least, they were fairly certain it was a woman, and a small one at that. She was wearing a long cloak with the hood up, obviously for protection against the rain. The hood shadowed the top of her face and her eyes, but her chin and mouth were visible, along with a few wisps of dark brown hair peeking out from beneath the hood's protection. When she spoke, it reflected a young woman, perhaps eighteen years of age or thereabouts.
"Are you the Suzaku Seven?" she asked hurriedly. Mitsukake nodded, and she reached out and took his sleeve in both hands. "Oh, thank the heavens. Please, you must come with me! I think there was an accident, and there's a man! He's hurt, badly, I think, and he's unconscious. I was told there was healer in your group. Please! You have to help!"
Nuriko appeared at the healer's shoulder and held up a hand to calm the woman down. "Where is he? Where did you find him? Do you know who he is?" Behind him, Nuriko could hear the rustle of fabric and the pound of footsteps as his fellows took cloaks and capes for a venture out into the storm that was now for certain.
"I don't know him, but I found him in the forest, just outside of town," she said, leading them out into the darkness of the storm. "I like to walk out there. I was walking before the storm started, and I saw him, just lying there. I hope it's not too late…" She sounded frantic, overcome with very real concern for a complete stranger.
Nuriko's heart sank as she realized where they were heading. She was leading them towards the place where they had left Chichiri to fight off the ambush, at his own instructions. And then past that spot.
Could it be…?
He was alive?
Chichiri struggled to get a grasp on where he was and what had happened. Apparently, he had survived the fall, through some miracle. But he found he couldn't move; everything ached, and he was in severe pain. He couldn't even open his eye. Certain senses seemed to be heightened, and he realized that his mask was no longer on his face. Had it fallen off during his flight from the cliff above?
He felt something on his bare face. Raindrops. It was raining heavily. And he could hear thunder, which probably meant there was lightning. It was a storm, and a bad one at that.
Though he didn't like to admit it, Chichiri hated storms. It wasn't so bad that he would go and hide, but…they always reminded him of things he wanted to forget and yet so fiercely clung to.
How long had it been raining, anyway? How long had he been down there? His answer came as he because aware of water pooling around him. It had puddled up to his ears already. Had he landed in a crevice or something, and how deep was it?
It felt like ages were going by, and the water around his head grew steadily higher. So he was in some sort of an indentation. If this kept up, he could very well drown. For Chichiri, that was possibly the most terrifying way to die. Was he going to drown here, in a puddle?
He had so many questions that he was powerless to find answers to. His mind was fading in and out of darkness. And he was so cold…so very cold…
As if something had answered his prayers, he felt a hand on his forehead in a featherlike touch. And a hand slid under his head and lifted it from the water and imminent drowning. When the mysterious hands laid his head back down, there was something hard beneath it—a rock. It was supporting his head, and holding it clear of the tiny pool.
"Please hold on," a soft voice whispered. He knew the voice, but his hazy mind was powerless to place it at all. "Help is coming. You must stay alive." And he trusted that voice, for whatever reason. He heard that voice humming a lullaby, a song he hadn't heard since childhood, and the unknown hand on his forehead; the combination of the two was enough to lull him back into a fitful, but painless slumber.
"Look at that!" Nuriko let out a low whistle.
"One helluva drop, ain't it?" Tasuki agreed.
The mystery woman—who hadn't even taken the time to give them her name—had led them into the forest outside the village. At the edge of that forest was a sharp and sudden drop. They were peering over the edge of it warily.
"Down there!" she pointed. "Please! You must help him! There's a way down, over here!" She led them a short ways along the edge. "It's not quite as steep here. Children climb here sometimes, so we should be able to make it from here."
And so the climb downwards began. Even Nuriko and Tamahome, the powerful people that they were, seemed to be having a few problems. The rocks were often dirt-covered, dirt which had been turned into slippery mud from the rain. Footholds and handholds were soaked, so finding a place to step where one would not slip and fall proved a bit of a challenge. Had it not been raining, it probably wouldn't have been half as difficult.
Tasuki was having considerably less trouble than the others, though. He had said it himself, he was a mountain man, and one didn't live in that kind of an area without learning a thing or two. Tamahome had given him a hard time about not knowing how to swim, and now he was getting his own back.
The young woman who was guiding them seemed to have even fewer difficulties. She flitted ahead like a shadow, scampering over the rocks with ease. Nobody really questioned it, though. They'd fairly well established that she lived in the village, and given that she knew where to climb down, they assumed that she had probably made many trips up and down into the crevice. After all, hadn't she said that even children climbed around here?
Finally, all made it to the bottom in one piece, though Mitsukake and Tamahome were a little scratched up. But there was no time. They followed their guide at a dead run, and after a few seconds, they came across the prone figure of a man, sprawled face up on the ground.
He wasn't moving at all. His mask was off, and on the ground beside him. His head was propped up on a rock, supporting him so he didn't fall back into a puddle and probably drown.
Mitsukake got to work immediately, fear gripping him. If Chichiri had fallen from that height, and his head had landed on that rock…there was no chance at all that he would be alive. Actually, the chances that he could have survived that fall alone were almost non-existant.
But to his amazement, the monk was alive. He was injured, there was a massive bruise forming on one temple (leading Mitsukake to the assumption that he had, indeed, taken a blow to the head at some point), and he was soaked and chilled. But he was alive, and when he said so, there was an outcry of relief from the others, who were all kneeling around their fallen friend.
They jabbered excitedly while Mitsukake healed him, and then covered him with his own cloak to try and offer some warmth. Chichiri did not wake, but that was probably for the best. Let him rest up a bit, and find out the whole story later.
Suddenly, Nuriko stood up and spoke to their guide, who was standing a few feet away, watching them. His voice was low, even, and suspicious. "You said you saw him while you were out walking. How could you have seen him from up there? We couldn't even see him!" He whirled as he said that last; the hood of his cloak fell back to expose his head to the rain, but he didn't care. "Who are…"
That last trailed off as the words died in his throat. The others, confused by his sudden loss of speech, followed his gaze towards the young woman who had led them to their fallen friend.
She was there, but she had changed.
She was, indeed, young, and quite pretty. Brown hair was twisted up into traditional braids, decorated with a few simple ornaments. Her clothing was traditional in style as well: long, robe-style, all in bright colors, and with sleeves that went well past her fingertips. Her hands were swallowed in those sleeves. And she was smiling, her eyes watching them with kindness and sadness.
The others jumped up. Most pushed back hoods; muscles instinctively tightened, and hands automatically reached for weapons, though none of them actually were certain that they were going to attack. It was simple reflex.
The woman didn't react at all to their tension. That sad, soft smile did not move from her face. She glided past them—she did not walk, but floated, like her feet didn't even touch the ground. She knelt beside Chichiri, paying no mind to the water on the ground, and gathered him gently into her arms, embracing the still form like a mother would hold a frightened child.
It was then that all seemed to notice something else: the rain did not touch her. It fell on her, but her appearance did not change. Her hair and clothes didn't look like they were getting wet at all.
Nuriko took a step towards the two, and the woman turned her head to look up at him. "Thank you. Thank you so much for saving him." Tears were glistening in her sad eyes. "Thank you."
Nuriko relaxed. There was no threat here, no need to fight. "We should thank you. We wouldn't have found him." He stopped for a moment, then said on an impulse, "He's a good guy."
"I know," the woman replied, still cradling him. "That was one reason I loved him."
A bit surprised by that statement, Nuriko pressed on. "Who are you? What's your name?"
The spirit—for they were all certain now that she was a spirit—carefully laid Chichiri's head down, and stood. "Kouran. My name is Kouran. Thank you, again." With that same smile, and tears running from her eyes, she took a step back…and faded away.
He winced against a name he no longer used, but the familiar voice persisted.
"Houjun, it's time to wake up now. You're safe. They'll take care of you."
"Who are you? I know you…"
There was no answer. Not from that voice, at least. Someone else was speaking to him, from above him, not from inside his own head.
Slowly, he struggled his good eye opened. Instinctively, he winced against the brightness, but finally Mitsukake's relieved smile came swimming into view. "Welcome back," the healer said, patting him on the head like he was a child who had just done something right. "You're in the village."
Chichiri took a quick inventory of his surroundings. He was in a bed, nice and warm, and blessedly dry. And though there was a dull ache in his head, he was otherwise pain free. And now that he was awake, he was fully alert, and had a load of questions to ask.
"How did you find me?" the monk managed to sit up as he asked.
Mitsukake fell strangely silent for a moment, and then replied, "A woman led us to you." He chuckled, like it was a joke. "I think you have a guardian angel watching you. I doubt we could have found you without her help."
"An angel…" Chichiri murmured, mulling over the idea.
"Chichiri, do you, or did you know someone named Kouran?" Mitsukake asked after a moment. It was a potentially dangerous question, but everyone wanted an answer. But from the way the monk's head snapped back and his good eye widened, it was certain that the answer was yes.
"Because that was what she told us her name was," Mitsukake answered. "The woman who showed us where to find you." He paused. "She was about seventeen or eighteen, I think. Very pretty. And…she said she loved you."
There were no words to describe the expression on Chichiri's face at those words. But slowly, the indescribable look changed, faded into the saddest smile Mitsukake had ever seen. There was a strange glimmer in the monk's eye for a moment, but he blinked and it was gone.
"Should I not ask again?" Mitsukake asked, rising to his feet.
"I would appreciate it." Chichiri heaved himself out of bed and stood up, stretching a little. It felt good to move again. The sad look stayed at home on his face, though. "Where's Tasuki?"
"I think I need a drink, no da."
Mitsukake shook his head wryly, and left. The two-word suffix 'no da' alone reflected that the monk was just fine for the moment. There was no need to worry.
Chichiri followed him to the door, but paused on a sudden instinct and turned around. And for a split second, he was dead-certain he saw a face in the mirror on the other side of the room. A face he loved, one that had a tendency to haunt his dreams and nightmares.
But there was nothing there now.
He sighed, and turned to leave. "I really need a drink, no da…"