Koumyuu continued the walk along the river, letting the crisp autumn breeze blow pieces of his long hair free from the loose braid. It was beginning to turn northward, meaning winter was coming, and coming fast. One of the weather wise old men in the nearby village was predicting it was going to be a hard, cold winter. The monastary was already preparing for a good many dead.
The leaves were blowing in great swirls and it made him smile, reminding him of the airplanes he liked to fold. None of the students had been impressed and had tried to decipher the greater meaning of why their Master would bother showing them this. He sighed, the smile slipping a little. Not much more time, he knew. The demons were getting more and more violent, targeting Sanzo Priests with zeal that was terrifying. Three already dead and any temple they happened to visit being attacked and burned to the ground. That was why he'd purchased the banishing gun. It had cost him a rather nice sum, but it was worth it for his own protection. He'd tracked down and killed the youkai (demon) that had stolen one of the three sutras from the dead Sanzos and had added it to his own until he found someone worthy of taking its burden.
And it was a burden. It didn't physically weigh much, but the amount of power in each sutra weighed heavily on the mind and heart. It was why he'd taken up smoking. The numbing effects of the nicotine helped with the constant pressure. If he didn't die from a heartattack or an aneurism by the time he was forty, he'd be surprised.
He stopped walking, all focus now on listening to the wind. What was that? He thought he'd heard...yes, there again! He was certain he heard a voice. Surely, not from the river! The river was very swift and treacherous, not to mention freezing. If anyone had fallen in...
Koumyuu worked his way carefully down the steep bank, lifting the silk robe he wore out of the way, boots barely leaving a print on the frigid mud. Where was that voice coming from?
He narrowed his eyes against the sun beginning to set. He was sure now that it was a real voice, someone calling weakly for help. But where was it? Looking into the river itself, his eyes went wide in surprise.
A pale arm was clinging to a sharp rock, cut and bleeding from the travel. And barely above the surface was a head. But the boy was getting weaker, he could tell. How long had he been in that water?
"Hold on," Koumyuu called, hoping the boy could hear. Looking around, he tried to see if someone else was there to give him a hand. Not a soul in sight. Sighing, he stripped his robe off, leaving him in the leather under shirt and arm warmers with khakis. He stepped into the swiftly rolling water, sucking a breath as the coldness bit into his skin instantly. Gods, this was freezing! He struggled against the current, wading in so that the water was swirling around his chest. The rocks underneath were round and smooth and he almost slipped a number of times as he made his way to the rock.
He reached it just as the boy began to let go. Lunging forward, he grabbed the slender wrist and held on for all he was worth. Not now, not after he'd just gotten here! Koumyuu pulled against the current, muscles straining, and managed to get the boy into his arms, steadying himself against the same rock.
"Master Sanzo! Master! Hold on, we're coming!"
About time, he thought quickly as the older monk shouted orders at some gaping juveniles to get a rope and be quick about it if they didn't want to be whipped. The boys ran back to the temple in record time and returned with a good length of rope. The older monk looped it around his arm a couple times before aiming, not for Koumyuu, but back a bit so the current carried the rope forward.
Koumyuu siezed it and wrapped it around one wrist, holding tightly to the unconscious boy. He HOPED he was unconscious at any rate! "Don't you die on me now," he said, not expecting the boy to hear him.
He was towed to the bank and climbed up, shaking and teeth chattering. "B-b-blankets! Lotssss of b-blankets," he stuttered, trying to rub the boy's back and arms to stimulate a little warmth.
"Who is that, Master?" the elder monk asked.
"F-found him." No blankets were coming, they were all gaping at the boy. Never mind, he thought, quickly walking into the temple. He would get them himself.
"Master, your robe," one of the boys shouted. "It's in the mud!"
"G-g-g-go get ittt. T-t-too cold." Koumyuu ignored the startled whispers of the monks lining the hall entrance, carrying the boy to his own room with attendants rushing behind him anxiously.
"Master?" one asked hesitantly.
Koumyuu began stripping the boy's clothing off quickly, tossing the wet stuff aside without much regard for where it landed. The boy's skin was turning an unhealthy bluish-grey color. Please, a pulse, he thought desperately, shaking fingers going for the throat. His heart began to sink. No, he couldn't be...THERE! There it was, weak but steady. He let his breath out when he realized he'd been holding it and noticed the small chest rising and falling. He was alive. Thank the gods.
"Master, who is this boy?" someone asked.
"I don't know," he said, barely controlling his irritation. "He was drowning in the river. Get me blankets, hot broth and towels, now!"
A few monks ran out immediately to follow his orders. The others simply crowded around his bed and gaped. "Is that a-," someone said in a harsh whisper.
Koumyuu frowned when he noticed what had caught their attention. The small red mark on the boy's forehead. A chakra? The gods clearly favored this boy. How odd that he should find him drowning in the river just as he was thinking of the problem with an heir to his legacy. Could it be that this was the answer to his prayers? He put that thought aside for further consideration.
"Master, you need to get out of your clothing," an older boy said, coming forward with a robe.
Koumyuu took it and stood up. "Everyone, out. Now." The blankets and other items were left for him, the eyes curious and a little worried. Once the door was shut, he peeled the wet leather off and put the warm robe on before going back over to the bed, carefully wiping the water from the boy's skin, which was already returning to a normal hue. How very odd indeed. The boy was definately very pretty, he could tell even in the battered condition he was in. Something for him to keep an eye on. Some of the monks were a little less than obvious with the prettier ones. And, if this boy WAS his successor, he would have to do all in his power to protect him.
He had just finished wrapping the boy in every blanket they had brought when the thick lashes parted a little and violet eyes peered out. Koumyuu couldn't help but stare. Eyes that color were not human. Couldn't be human...
The boy managed a tired little smile before closing his eyes again. No fear or panic. Complete trust and certainty.
Koumyuu watched him sleep for a bit, still puzzled by that one look. It wasn't one he would expect to see on a child this young. He couldn't be more than six at best. But it was full of a firm determination to live. He smiled and lay down next to the boy, tucking him in against his chest. Maybe, for once, the gods really had answered his prayers. He closed his eyes and fell asleep, listening to the slow, slightly rasped breathing of the child.
Koumyuu looked up from the fold he was making in a piece of paper when the doors to his office were flung open and an older monk came in, eyes blazing. He had two boys in tow, one by the ear and one by the hair. The one boy was a monk in training, looking to graduate this year. The other, the one with thick golden hair, was Kouryu. He had woken up from the river rescue with no memory of who he was or where he was from. Naturally, the monastary took him in as a servant and posted flyers everywhere, but no one came to claim him. Thus, he had remained and took classes with the other boys in exchange for the work he did.
"Let go of my hair! You're gonna rip it out and then I'll HAVE to shave it," Kouryu bit out sharply, violet eyes blazing angrily.
"What happened now, Riuko?" Koumyuu asked, keeping the pleasant smile pinned on his face. He could already tell from the bruises forming on Kouryu's pale skin. The other boy was mark free.
"This little...rat," Riuko spat out, flinging Kouryu away from him in disgust. Kouryu stumbled but remained standing, hands bunched into fists but silent. "Started a fight in the yard with Taipan! He must be punished!"
Koumyuu remained silent for a bit. Kouryu was furious, he could tell from the fine tremble running through the boy's body. Taipan stood with his ear still firmly pinched in Riuko's grip, but there was something to the twist of his lips...he was actually smiling, not grimacing. So, it was like that then..."You're right, Riuko. Punishment must be dealt." He stood, drawing Kouryu's startled gaze with him. Coming around his desk, he layed a gentle hand to Kouryu's shoulder. "But I first want to hear both sides of the story."
"What's to be heard? That hellion started a fight! Taipan and his friends saw it! He must suffer the consequenses just as any other servant who causes trouble!"
"From where I stand, the only one showing signs of a struggle is Kouryu. Taipan looks to be unscathed. Tell me what conclusion I'm to draw from this?"
Riuko spluttered a bit, face reddening in shock. "Surely, you don't mean to suggest our star student would start a fight with the serving boy!"
"As I understand it, Kouryu scores much higher academically than even Taipan, and he's been making up for lack of education. In two years, he has exceded even the students in his age bracket. Now, Taipan, how about you explain to me what happened."
Taipan stood up straight when Riuko let him go and said with a derisive sneer, "That good-for-nothing was out in the yard slacking off when he SHOULD have been raking those leaves up and I reminded him of his duties. Then he...he called me...I don't even want to repeat it!"
"I didn't necessarily call you anything. Sir," Kouryu replied, adding the last part on late on purpose.
"You see how he insults us! After we took him in and offered him shelter and an education," Riuko pounced.
"Riuko, please. Now, what exactly DID you say, Kouryu?"
" I reminded him that he was late for class and only an idiot would waste time talking to a servant when he should be learning," Kouryu answered calmly. Koumyuu saw a twitch of lips that suggested a smile. The boy certainly was clever.
"You see! He said it again!" Taipan railed.
"On the contrary, Taipan. I see no insult directly placed to you. Kouryu never specifically said YOU were the idiot." Though you are, he added silently. "After this 'transgression', what happened?"
"I started walking to my next class," Taipan answered stiffly.
"Through the pile I had just raked," Kouryu added.
"It was in my way!"
Kouryu didn't say anything to this.
Koumyuu looked down at the boy and wondered. Why back down now? Kouryu had a stubborn streak that was both impressive and frightening. What was going on in that boy's head? "Do you have anything to add, Kouryu?"
"Nothing except that Initiate Taipan should invest in smaller sandals. They seemed to kick the leaves everywhere," was the flippant remark.
"The audacity! In front of Master Sanzo no less!" Riuko grabbed Kouryu's shoulder and spun him around sharply, laying a quick slap to the pale cheek.
Kouryu took it, carefully keeping his eyes down. The rage was almost like a burning energy in the air, Koumyuu could feel it sizzling around the small boy in front of him. So carefully contained. There was a bright hand print on his cheek, the outline of fingers visible against the smoothness of his cheek.
"Riuko, I am conducting this interview. If you cannot contain yourself, you will be flogged. Is that very clear?" Koumyuu said, his tone dropping to icy tones he knew would scare most people into submission.
He wasn't disappointed. Riuko blanched and bowed low. "Apologies, Master. The boy's insolence got the better of me."
Koumyuu let it slide and looked at Kouryu again. "Now, what would give Initiate Taipan cause to accuse you of being lazy?" he asked gently.
"It was you, actually, Master."
"Me?" he asked, surprised by the answer.
"I remembered something you had said about the leaves falling and I wanted to see if it was true. That's why I had stopped working, only for a minute."
Koumyuu hid his shock behind a pleasant smile. He had remembered that little lecture? How odd...and yet, touching. "And, did you find your answer?"
"You were right, Master. They don't tip over."
"What is all this about leaves and such?" Riuko demanded angrily. "When is he going to be whipped?"
"He isn't. It is in my opinion that Kouryu was not at fault here. Taipan, please deliver yourself Haije for ten lashes with the leather strap."
Taipan went white and looked from Riuko back to Koumyuu. "S-sir?"
"I believe you heard me correctly. Ten lashes. Now. Then seclude yourself in the dorms for an hour of meditation about baiting others and lying."
Taipan backed out of the room, now looking a little scared. Kouryu barely hid his smile by looking at his feet.
"Riuko, I believe punishment has been dealt. Don't you have a class to teach?"
Riuko, face red and angry, stomped out of the office.
Once the door was closed, Koumyuu relaxed and sighed. "Okay, kiddo, turn around."
Kouryu did as he was asked, looking him right in the eye. He didn't just do that with Koumyuu, either. If he looked away, it was because he didn't want you to see what he was thinking. The bruises were going to be nasty. Both eyes blackened, his jaw and cheek swollen, and not just from the open handed slap he just received. He could see bruises covering his legs, not just from one pair of sandles. It had been a whole group of them. He sighed again and said, "So, do you want to tell me why you didn't fight back? I know you could have."
Kouryu made a disdainful look. "Me fighting them wouldn't have solved anything. It would have made it worse because then I WOULD have been punished for fighting. By coming here with bruises, justice was served."
Koumyuu blinked and stared again in shock at this boy. Barely eight and speaking more wisely than many monks who had been studying here for years. Perhaps he had been right all along. Yes, he was certain of it now. Smiling, he went behind his desk and wrote a quick note, handing it to the boy. "Take this to Ti Pong at once. Give it directly to his hand."
Kouryu took the note and ran out the door to deliver it, not questioning and not hesitating. Yes, he had been correct all the while.
"WHAT!" Ti Pong roared, crumbling the note and throwing it into the coal fire. He was the head of the servants and slaves in the monastary and had been called down to the coal room when one of the slaves took a nasty fall and broke a leg. "Has he completely gone mad! You forged this, didn't you? Why, I oughtta beat the living-,"
"I didn't do anything! That note was sealed and unopened when I gave it to you," Kouryu answered back. This was getting really stupid! Why couldn't they just leave him alone?
"Oh, you didn't, did you? That note was to inform me you are no longer a servant to the temple but Master Sanzo's apprentice! Gods know why he would waste his time on a useless piece of shit like you!"
Kouryu couldn't keep the shock from his face. Master Sanzo chose him? Out of all the students being trained to take vows? But why? A million more questions poured through his mind and he quickly tuned out to Ti Pong's rantings. He'd heard them all before anyway. Everything from how he was a useless piece of shit to how maybe they should go back to sacrificing boys to the gods again.
"Did you hear a word I said, boy?"
Snapping back to the current, Kouryu shrugged. "No, I didn't."
Ti Pong scowled, heavy jowls shaking as he struggled not to lay a punch to his head. "Get outta here, now! Your new master wants a word with you!"
Kouryu left at a run, heart practically jumping from his chest. Master Sanzo wanted him! Him, the orphan they'd pulled from the river! He had questions, yes, but none that Master Sanzo wouldn't answer! When he got back to the office, it was empty. He stopped, frowning and looked around. It wasn't time for any lectures, he knew that. Kouryu stood in the empty room and was completely lost as to what he should be doing.
Something hit him in the head. Glancing down, he picked up the bright orange paper airplane and looked around again. It must have come in through the open window. He went over to it, ducking as another one went sailing in. There was a small pile of them by the desk. Kouryu leaned over the edge and found Master Sanzo sitting across from him. In the cherry tree. He was already folding another airplane.
"Ah, I was wondering when you were going to notice," he said pleasantly. "Don't tell anyone, but this is my secret exit."
"Your secret exit?" Kouryu repeated, a little confused.
"Uh-huh. From the paperwork. It's not much fun, really, and not of any great import either."
"So why do you do it?"
Master Sanzo smiled. "I don't. The one good thing, Kouryu, about being a Sanzo priest is that no one questions you when you do or don't do something."
That made Kouryu smile. "Is that why you took the position?"
Master Sanzo finished folding the new airplane and this time sent it sailing across the courtyard. "I didn't take the position, I inherited it from my master."
"Is that why you took me as your apprentice, Master?"
He only smiled in answer. "Do you want to know a secret?"
Kouryu raised a brow and smiled. This was getting to be interesting. "Another secret?"
Master Sanzo laughed and began folding another airplane. "Two secrets in one day. Most men would kill for one."
"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard!"
"Oh, and why is that?"
Kouryu shrugged, suddenly wishing he hadn't said that. " I don't know. It just seems like a waste, that's all."
Master Sanzo smiled again and this time sent the plane up against the sky. "Isn't it beautiful? Look at how the colors contrast each other, yet accentuate the other so nicely." He sighed, looking at his hands. "To be honest, this is the only real talent I have worth passing down. A waste of time, most say."
Kouryu watched the plane until it disappeared over a tiled roof and out of sight. Then, looking back at the man sitting in the tree, he said, "I don't think it's a waste. It's beautiful."
Master Sanzo tilted his head a little to one side, brown hair falling across that gentle face. "Well, then, if you think so, come on out and I'll show you how."
He straightened, a little shocked at the idea. "You mean climb out the window? Into the tree?"
"Yes, that's exactly what I mean. Are you afraid?"
Kouryu thought about it. He wasn't scared, he knew that. It's just...what? Since he couldn't think of any reason why it wouldn't be okay, he climbed out the window carefully, and slipped into a spot next to Master Sanzo.
Master Sanzo smiled and handed him a piece of orange paper. "Here you go, kiddo! Okay, just watch me first and then try it yourself."
Kouryu spent the next hour in the tree learning how to fold the planes. The courtyard was littered with their attempts. After he sent a really good one down almost to the river, he asked, "Master, is this the only way you can fold the planes?"
"Hm?" Master Sanzo asked abesently, biting his lower lip and squinting. He was aiming for Riuko, who was teaching a class in history just across the way.
"Well, what if you fold the wings longer? Will it still fly?"
"I don't know. To be honest, I never gave it much thought. There!" Riuko started shouting at the class about origami NOT being one of the weapons used in the Great Feudal Wars.
Kouryu grabbed another piece of paper, having decided to find out for himself. When he was done, the wings were longer, but not as strong. Still..."May I try it?"
"Sure!" Master Sanzo said cheerfully, sitting back to watch.
He took aim for the office window and let go. It dropped straight down into the leaf pile below that another servant was doing. That used to be his job.
"At least you tried. That's all anyone can do."
Kouryu looked up when he heard the sad note in that last statement. "Master?"
Master Sanzo seemed to blink himself out of a trance and smiled. "Nothing, Kouryu. Let's go inside now. I believe I have splinters in places that aren't too comfortable."
Kouryu smiled and followed him inside, shutting the window after himself.
Koumyuu wiped the sweat from his brow on his sleeve, eyes burning with lack of sleep. The chill winter air was biting into his skin, even under the heavy robes. But he continued on with the prayers for the dead and dying of the village, caught by a sudden plague that came with the cold snows. This family was the last. Not that it mattered that he prayed for them. They were Christians, one family of a very few who lived out in these parts. There were three nuns there, who happened to be in the village at the time and had stayed to help through the worst of it, but now they had to be moving on. They would have said some prayers, but they were busy trying to pry the two children apart and away from their dead parents.
"No, don't take my sister!" The boy was begging, trying to get free of the two nuns holding him back.
"Gonou! Gonou! Lemme go!" The girl cried.
Koumyuu wanted to step in, to make them take the children to the same house, but it wasn't in his position. The Christians handled things differently and the two were going to be separated. He sighed and stood, settling the heavy robes around himself better. "I said a prayer for their souls, sisters, as you requested. Are you quite sure there's no way the two can go together?"
Two sets of green eyes, one emerald and the other jade, looked at him hopefully.
"Very certain, Priest Sanzo," the nun holding the girl said. "Boys and girls do not belong in the same orphanage and as the nearest orphanage is the boy's one, they must be separated"
"Please, don't take her! Please! We've only got each other," the boy kept begging, eyes growing bright with tears.
"I don't wanna leave him! Gonou, don't leave me!"
"And there isn't anyway I can-,"
"Out of the question! They're not your type," one of the nun's holding the boy snapped.
"My type? Ah, so they're not human! My mistake, and here I thought they looked like twin brother and sister struggling to keep what little is left of their family together."
"This is NOT your concern, heathen!"
Koumyuu nodded, checking anything sharper than, "You might want to look up the definition of heathen before you use it again, sister." He left them there, tuning out the screams of the little girl and boy as they were dragged away on different paths. He truly hoped the gods would heed him again and let the two be reunited.
"Gods, but he's a lovely thing!"
"A shame that Master Sanzo isn't willing to share."
"Those eyes...and that hair!"
"What I wouldn't give for..."
Kouryu ignored them. This was why he hated having to cut through the bathing hall, where most of the monks who "enjoyed their students" seemed to be, but it was the quickest way to get to the lecture hall where his Master was.
"How old is he now?"
Kouryu stopped by the two grinning monks and said, "You know, I CAN hear you! And I don't like what you're saying about me."
"Oh, are you really all that uptight? Here, come sit on my lap and I'll relax you," the older one said, dark beady eyes glinting. He reached a puffy hand out to try and grab Kouryu's wrist.
Kouryu reacted instinctively, twisting his wrist free and jamming his elbow right into the man's windpipe. It took him a second to realize he'd just attacked a full fledged monk before he took off at a run, feet slipping a little in the water splashed everywhere on the tiled floor. He could hear the other monks raising an uproar but didn't look back to see if they followed him.
He pushed the heavy door open to the lecture hall, out of breath but safe at least. Master Sanzo smiled at his entry and held a hand out. "Did you bring it?" he asked.
He nodded and pulled the rolled up parchment from his belt. "Here it is, Master."
"Thank you, Kouryu. I see you took the shortcut through the baths."
Kouryu frowned. How did he- oh, the wet footprints. That was a bit of a giveaway. "Sorry, Master."
"No need, just be careful in there. You may take your seat. Alright then, this is what I was trying to explain to you. It's a principal of believing in yourself. The story of the old woman lifting the cart full of hay off of her granddaughter is true, but it was no miracle."
There were shocked whispers at that. Kouryu sat in the back, listening again even though he'd heard these lectures before.
Master Sanzo waited for the whispers to die down, a pleased little smile on his face. "No, it was no miracle," he repeated. "That grandmother was not aided by any god. She was aided by her need to save her granddaughter and the belief in herself that she could do it. Believing in your own abilities is far more powerful than any prayer."
"Are you saying we shouldn't give praise to Buddha, Master?" a student asked timidly.
"Of course not! Where do you think these teachings came from? Was it not Buddha himself who said, 'Live your life for yourself'? You can't bind yourself to one cause or one person. Or even to one faith. You become blind to all that isn't that cause or that person or that faith. It hinders you from learning and understanding your world and thus you cannot help it. The path to enlightenment is through embracing others and knowledge of this world. How can you do that when you're trapped in or for something? The simple answer is, you can't."
"B-but the very idea that-," the same student spluttered.
"YES! Yes, good point! The IDEA! Which word do you feel has more power; belief or idea? Anyone?"
Everyone was looking around at each other. Kouryu sat forward, now very interested. This wasn't something he'd heard before. And it made perfect sense when you thought about it. He looked around at the other students. A few of them looked close to figuring it out, but most were lost and writing it down to analyze later. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he raised his hand.
"Kouryu, you think you have the answer?" Master Sanzo called.
"Belief, Master, but and idea is stronger."
"Explain that, please?"
"Belief has more power because people follow it blindly, whether it's right or wrong. An idea is the stronger of the two because, if it's wrong, an idea can be changed. It's much harder to convince someone their beliefs are wrong than their ideas."
Not a single sound from anyone. Until Master Sanzo clapped his hands. "That is exactly the point I'm trying to state. It's wonderful if you have faith in an idea. But when that idea turns into a belief, that is where trouble starts. Now, on this parchement is that very quote from Buddha, written in its full form. I want you to read it, copy it if you must and then be ready next week to discuss it."
The students rose and left after copying down the short scroll, leaving Kouryu and Master Sanzo alone. Kouryu went down to the desk and waited for his master.
"Why don't you go ahead, Kouryu? I want to have dinner in my room tonight. Who was it this time?"
"Master?" he asked, confused by the sudden question.
"Who was it? At the baths?" Master Sanzo asked again, face completely blank.
"Goro and Matsu in particular, Master."
He sighed and nodded rather sadly. "Be careful, Kouryu."
Kouryu nodded and went straight to the kitchen to get his and his master's dinner onto a tray. He didn't like eating with the other students when Master Sanzo wasn't there. It got really annoying trying to ignore the food aimed for his head. He got the tray and started back through the compound to his master's room. Just as he was rounding the corner and going heading for the door, an arm looped around his neck and a hand clamped over his mouth. Kouryu struggled but was lifted off his feet, arm tightening painfully and cutting off the flow of air. He gagged and choked, trying to draw enough breath for a scream. The tray of food dropped with a loud clatter, spilling the contents everywhere.
A low chuckle came close to his ear, followed by a quick press of wet lips. "Oh-ho, you certainly are a fighter! Let's see if there's fight left in you after I'm done!" Matsu, the one who had tried to grab him at the baths.
Kouryu struggled, kicked, dragged his heels against the ground and clawed at the meaty arm choking him but it wasn't working. This isn't happening, please, this isn't happening, he kept saying over and over, hoping something or someone would help him. He was slammed into a wall, a big hand pressed painfully into the middle of his back. Eyes went wide when hands went places they shouldn't be and any thought of controled fighting left in a wash of panicked struggling. But he had a voice now. He wasn't being choked.
"Let me go," he shouted, trying to push away from the wall.
Matsu chuckled again and Kouryu screamed in pain. Gods, it hurt! How could anyone do this! Where the hell was everyone!
"Matsu, that better not be my apprentice there," came a cold voice Kouryu barely recognized as his master's. But it WAS him, he could see the braid over one shoulder.
"Completely consensual, Master Sanzo," Matsu lied quickly. He let Kouryu go. And that was a big mistake.
Kouryu snarled and kneed the older man in the groin. "Don't TOUCH me again!" he shouted at the doubled over figure.
"Kouryu, go wait in my room. Matsu and I need to...chat."
Kouryu limped off to his master's room, and lay down on the cot by the bed. He winced and shifted, tears stinging his eyes. He wasn't going to cry. Not over a piece of filth like Matsu. It's just...it was so...why?
He didn't hear the door open or close or his master sit on the bed. He did feel the familiar gentle hand brushing through his hair and it made him relax. "Did he...?"
"Yes," he choked out, still trying not to cry.
"It's alright to cry, Kouryu. It might even be what you need."
"I'm not crying, not for him or what he did. It's not worth the tears."
He knew Master Sanzo was smiling, even if he couldn;t see it. "A warm bath will help. With those salt crystals I picked up at Gasan."
Kouryu opened his eyes, a little surprised his master would suggest that.
Master Sanzo nodded sadly. "I know EXACTLY what you're going through, Kouryu. And I didn't cry either."
"Why did he do that, Master?" Kouryu asked, voice a little hoarse still.
"Because he could. There are laws of men, Kouryu, and then the laws of life. The laws of life are two rules: What a man can do, and what a man can't. What Matsu can do is violate you. But what he can't do is break your spirit, not unless you let him." He smiled again and looked away. "Now really isn't the time for spouting off philosophy. I'm sorry I didn't hear you sooner."
"But you did come, Master. And that's good enough for me. Master?"
"You've never...with anyone...have you?"
Instead of being angry or offended as he half thought, Master Sanzo smiled and answered, "Not once. It's fine if both are adults and willing, but not children. It's unhealthy."
"Oh. I was just wondering."
"Well, stop wondering and go take that bath. Use the one in my bathroom tonight, okay, kiddo?"
Kouryu wrinkled his nose at the old nickname. "I'm hardly a kid anymore, Master."
Master Sanzo laughed and shoved him in the direction of the bathroom. "I doubt you ever were truly a kid, Kouryu."
Koumyuu rubbed his temple to try and ease the pain. Yes, the demonic aura was definately stronger. It had gotten to the point of being a steady headache just around the time that bear showed up. The one that mysteriously left after Kouryu confronted it and told it to go. Yes, time was running out faster than even he had thought. He had to do it and get the boy out of here fast if he expected to keep the sutras safe.
"Master?" Kouryu asked, a tinge of worry in his voice. It hadn't even changed yet. He was still a boy. You can't thrust this onto a child, his conscience screamed at him. But his heart new Kouryu was ready. He'd been ready since he was pulled from that river, almost seven years ago.
Koumyuu managed a tired smile and motioned Kouryu closer to the small trunk he had open on the table in his room. "Come here, Kouryu, I have something I want to show you."
Kouryu came over, wide violet eyes peering into the box curiously. "It's just like yours, Master."
"The crown, yes, but the sutra is different." He lifted out the gold crown and set it aside before pulling out the rolled sutra. "Do you remember that chant I gave you almost two years ago?"
"Every word," the boy answered. He was starting to guess what was going on, judging from the almost petrified look on his face.
"Those words activate this sutra. This is the Maten Sutra, the one of shadows. Mine is the Seitan Sutra, the one of light. Ours work opposite each other in the balance. Mine creates or preserves life. Yours will destroy or harm it."
Koumyuu nodded. The beast was inside the compound. Kouryu looked up when he heard a scream, starting to turn toward the window.
Koumyuu cupped his face and made him turn back to him. "You have been training for this since the moment I found you, Kouryu. Are you afraid?"
"A little. Master, I'm not old enough."
"Age doesn't matter, Kouryu, it's knowledge. And you are ready. I give to you-,"
"Master, please don't. I don't want this!"
Koumyuu smiled again and knew he was close to crying. So little time left now. The beast was in the hall. Kouryu jumped at another scream and some loud thuds.
"Is that...what's going on?" Kouryu asked.
Koumyuu stopped him from going to the door. "Kouryu, listen to me. I give to you your new name. Priest Genjyo Sanzo, keeper of the Maten Scripture. It is an honor that only you are worthy to hold. And it is my honor to have confirmed it to you."
Kouryu looked up with those wide violet eyes and licked his lips nervously. " I accept it, Master, but only because you wish it."
Koumyuu nodded and let his breath out, hugging the boy to him and letting the tears fall. Unfair, really, that the gods should send this boy to him. Unfair also that he wouldn't be alive to watch him grow up. He stopped the tears and managed another smile just as the door was broken down.
"The sutras! Give 'em to me," growled the demon, eyes piercing the darkness easily, teeth dripping with blood and saliva.
"Get out of here," Kouryu shouted, stepping in front of Koumyuu.
Koumyuu had expected this, had known the whole time the boy would die for him. And he knew it was a weakness that wouldn't be cured by anything except his death. That knowledge and his love for the boy he would have called 'son' if he could gave him the strength for the next step.
The demon lunged. Koumyuu dropped the banishing gun near Kouryu's side and pushed the boy away. The immediate pain of claws tearing his stomach open was only a momentary shock before he saw his own guts and blood staining the wooden floor.
Koumyuu fell and the sutra was ripped from his shoulders. The Maten one was the one that needed to be kept out of the youkai's hands. Blood was pouring into his lungs, he could feel it slide down his cheek from his mouth and nose. It was difficult drawing breath around the blood. He saw it as if in slow motion; Kouryu grabbed the gun and fired, aiming for the chest and keeping steady just as he had been trained. The demon howled and managed to jump out the window to his friends below, escaping with the Seitan sutra. Kouryu was frozen, hands still around the gun, breathing hard and eyes wide open and unblinking.
"K-kouryu," Koumyuu gasped, his throat gurgling in the wash of blood.
Kouryu turned slowly to him, blood splattering his golden hair and pale skin. The tears were there and this time they would fall. He smiled, managed to get a hand to the boy's face and wipe the first of them away. The very first tears he'd ever seen fall from those violet eyes.
"Listen to me," he said, voice fading. Not yet. just a little more time, he begged. The room was already starting to go black. "Y-y-ou must be ssstrong, G-genjyo Sanzo. You...must be...strong."
Kouryu felt the fingers go limp in his hand. Opening his eyes, he saw the ones he knew so well blank and glossy, the life in them gone. "No," he whispered, trying to find a pulse. "No." Shook him, maybe he was in a trance. "No!" Pressed his mouth over the one hanging limp. Blow three breaths. Push the lungs, just as he'd been taught. "NO!" Kouryu lay his head on the chest that was still and quickly becoming cold and cried. Be strong, be strong, be strong. But he couldn't. He couldn't be strong. He WASN'T strong! If he was...if he was...
If he was, this man, the one he considered his father, wouldn't be dead.
Saying it finalized the pain and he was found like that by the other monks, crying over his dead master.