Summary; Warning; Disclaimer: See First Chapter.
This is the FINAL CHAPTER, people! There will be no sequel, no epilogue, no nothing after this - I have a lot to work on story-wise, and I just won't have any inspiration for this. So please, don't ask, because it makes me feel bad when I have to say no.
Now, I'll have my notes on the bottom - so please read them when you're done! I mean, it's the last chapter, after all...please? Now, read!
The two Celestial Warriors descended further into the mountain – not by the bandits' fortress, but passages carved into the rock and leading directly into the center of the ancient mountain – completely and suspiciously unopposed by any of Keung Xi-Wang's monsters. Chichiri kept a close eye on the fire-wielding bandit, unsure what was going through the other man's mind and not wanting to let him do anything rash once they came upon the evil spirit.
"Tasuki, maybe we should take a moment to think of a plan," the monk suggested calmly, after they had been in the darkness for several hours. The only light came from the glow of Tasuki's harisen, but wasn't bright enough to allow the two young man to see anything more of each other than a dim outline. Chichiri was reluctant to use his magic so close to their enemy, for fear of prematurely altering him to their exact location – though the monk was certain the spirit knew they had arrived – and allowed Tasuki to lead him through the tunnels, even when the bandit admitted he didn't know how to navigate them either.
"Nope," Tasuki said simply, but remained still a moment to turn to observe his companion. Chichiri squinted to see his friend's expression, but quickly gave up. "Ya tired?"
"No," he had to admit, and realized Tasuki had turned back around as the harisen moved in the air.
"Can ya sense him?" the bandit asked, and Chichiri didn't even have to ask who the Warrior was referring to.
"If I used my powers, maybe," the monk nodded. "His chi may be blocked from me, though, no da." Tasuki didn't comment that that was the first time the monk had used his trademark saying since Kae's death, and only turned back around and moved closer to his friend, so they could see each other's faces more clearly.
"Do it," he ordered, and Chichiri blinked. "We gotta find that bastard before it's too late."
"Do it!" the bandit shouted, and turned away in embarrassment. "Sorry, Chiri. Please…just try."
"Daa," the older Warrior agreed with a sigh, and closed his eyes in concentration, noticing Tasuki 'turned off' his harisen to allow Chichiri better use of his own chi. The bandit shifted impatiently from foot to foot as he watched his friend, knowing the monk was doing his best considering the circumstances they were in. After a few moments, Chichiri suddenly jumped and opened his eyes in surprise. Tasuki immediately blazed his harisen to life, and peered at his friend.
"Ya alright?" he checked, and narrowed his eyes when Chichiri didn't respond. "Chichiri? Hey, ya there?"
"Daa, I'm fine," Chichiri nodded quickly. "I can sense him – but it must be a trap, it was so easy."
"Anything else?" Tasuki pressed, but his friend shook his head innocently enough to make the bandit shrug. He suddenly flashed a grin towards the monk, his fangs catching the light and glistening wickedly, and Chichiri was reminded of a rabid wolf. "Then let's go get 'em."
"It seems the two Warriors are more resourceful than I believed them to be," Keung Xi-Wang mused in amusement, sitting astride his self-appointed throne at the core of the mountain, absorbing the ancient power still residing there. A cruel smile played on his lips, and he resisted the urge to destroy the two pests immediately, deciding to toy with them a bit longer. "It is indeed fortunate I foresaw the priestess' actions and ensured my plan's success."
A shining sphere remained frozen behind him, completely and most certainly empty, while a young man's body lay close to it on the floor as if it was a rag doll the spirit had thrown aside in boredom. In truth it was a boy from one of the villages close by, and he had easily killed him once he had finished with him.
"I shall remain here, and give the next move to the two fools arriving," he murmured, anticipating quite a struggle, if not a challenge, from the two Celestial Warriors.
"We're almost there – I think," Tasuki added, lowering his harisen slightly. "Can ya sense anything weird, Chichiri?"
"Nope, no da," the monk shook his head, gripping his staff tightly. "Are you sure you want to do this, Tasuki?"
"Of course," his friend replied matter-of-factly, as large gate-like doors rose before them, seemingly created from the very rock themselves. Chichiri went to say something else, but the bandit began before the other man could sway him. "Any idea how ta get through these things?"
"I'm not sure…" Chichiri mused, inspecting them curiously. "There are strange markings carved into them, but I don't know what they are, no da. They might be wards, or spells, or almost anything."
"Good guess, monk," a voice complimented him, and the two Warriors stepped back in surprise as the doors slowly creaked to life, swinging inward loudly as if protesting against their movement. "Those symbols are actually wards created by Tai Yi-Jun, to prevent any evil from passing through the doors that guarded this place," Keung Xi-Wang continued, and both young men stepped forward suspiciously into the circular room, glowing with a blue light from the sphere, as the evil spirit rested on his throne before them.
"And what is this place?" Chichiri demanded.
"And how the hell'd ya get in here?" Tasuki added, following his friend's lead for now. The spirit before them chuckled loud enough for them to hear his contempt, and they resisted the urge to wince when his cold eyes rested on them.
"I'm disappointed – I believed you would have already guessed it, monk," he said snidely, apparently ignoring the bandit. "This place was an ancient temple of Tai Yi-Jun, the Emperor of the Heavens, long before the four gods were created and sent among us. In this place, a young woman would be sacrificed – a bloody sacrifice, I assure you – in order to appease the Emperor and ensure a safe year for everyone involved."
"So, the ancient blood in here is keeping you alive for now," Chichiri realized, and frowned suddenly. "And the doors? The symbols?"
"I did not pass through the doors – I merely destroyed the power if the wards, in actuality. No small feat, but something I had the power to do," the spirit informed them, and suddenly gestured to the sphere beside him. "No doubt the two of you are wondering what this is, and what I intend to use it for."
"Not really, since I'm gonna kill ya before ya get a chance ta use it," Tasuki growled, his harisen spitting fire. "Rekka…Shin'en!" he shouted, throwing a wave of flame at the spirit. They remained slightly hopeful, but Chichiri sighed slightly when the spirit merely ignored the attack.
"You didn't really think that was going to work, did you?" he asked in amusement, waving his hand casually as if saying 'hello'. The two Warriors found themselves trapped in a wall of chi, unable to even move, much less use their powers.
"Damn…bastard!" Tasuki grunted, trying uselessly to reach his harisen, which had fallen beside Chichiri's staff on the ground before them.
"You should be more polite, Warrior of Suzaku," the spirit chided them in amusement.
"I'm gonna kill ya, ya murderer!" the bandit yelled, and the being before them pretended mock amusement.
"You wound me," he said dryly. "After all, your lover is hardly dead, Warrior of Suzaku."
At this news, both Warriors froze in complete shock, and Keung Xi-Wang burst out into cruel laughter.
"Ah, yes, you saw her burned to ashes by your own fire," he began. "I believed you were smarter than to fall for a trick like that, monk. It was a simple matter to shift her body to another plane the instant the fire would have seared her to nothing, and so I kept my priestess safe, with the added benefit of destroying your morale, allowing you to believe her dead," he continued, a sneer on his features.
"You…you…" Tasuki chocked, and Chichiri was afraid the bandit was going actually going to have a stroke.
"No name calling, Warrior of Suzaku," the spirit smirked, and with a motion of his finger, the two Warriors found themselves unable to speak as well. "Would you like to see your lover again, Warrior of Suzaku? Of course you would – I suppose I shall allow you to see her one last time before I dispose of you," he decided, and turned to face the sphere. The two young men watched the scene before them warily, unsure what exactly was going to happen. They watched helplessly as the spirit began a strange chant in an ancient language before the sphere, which lasted only a few moments before the sphere glowed brightly, momentarily blinding them.
When they were able to see once more, their jaws dropped in amazement when they saw Kae sitting inside the sphere, looking dazed.
"It is a pleasure to see you again, Yong Tien-Mei," the spirit greeted her calmly. "I am impressed with your efforts to sacrifice yourself to Tai Yi-Jun in order to dispose of me, but luckily I anticipated your movements and was able to prevent your 'noble' gesture – especially the added power your sacrifice would have had if you had died in the flames of the Warrior of Suzaku's magic. I assume you are surprised at still being alive, but be assured that you are."
Kae took several moments to figure out what had happened, and looked around groggily until her eyes met those of Tasuki's and Chichiri's. Her own eyes widened in shock, and her mouth opened, silently forming words until she found her voice again.
"T-Tasuki…?" she managed, unable to comprehend their situation.
"These two will be the sacrifice needed to awaken your full power, Yong Tien-Mei," Keung Xi-Wang informed her coolly, and she started at this announcement. "You did not think I would require homage to my power?" he asked, acting offended. "And only blood of a Warrior will awaken the power inside of you, and allow you to act as a vessel for my might."
"You…you're not serious," she said faintly, her mind racing with what she had just heard.
"Of course I am, priestess," the spirit said mockingly. "And I will allow you the honor of choosing which Warrior shall die first – the one of fire, or the monk?"
"Ne-neither," Kae said firmly, shaking her head in protest. Only laughter met her ears, and she turned to see the spirit observing her mockingly.
"You will have to pick one, of course," he informed her, narrowing his eyes. "Now, which one shall it be?"
Kae closed her eyes in desperation, trying to think of some way to escape this, but nothing came to her. She remained silent, praying that Suzaku would come to help her, but apparently the wards created by Keung Xi-Wang were too strong for the god to break, and she was left alone. Suddenly, she felt a swelling inside of her, and the spirit smirked when he realized she was absorbing the power of the wards, believing she was ready to murder the two Warriors for the sake of her power.
"Shall it be your lover, priestess?" he suggested cruelly, but was actually surprised when her eyes opened once more, glowing with a bright light as she got to her feet inside the sphere.
"I said neither!" she shouted, her voice echoing with a previously-unseen power. The spirit was forced to step back as she shattered the sphere, in danger of being overwhelmed by the power of her own chi emitting from her body. "I will never murder them," Kae continued, her voice dangerously low as she stepped onto the ground. Her eyes moved toward the fallen weapons on the ground, and the two Warriors found themselves abruptly on the ground, released from their bonds. Their weapons came flying towards them, and they caught them reflexively.
"What do you think you are doing?" Keung Xi-Wang demanded, suddenly unsure whether he would be able to survive an assault containing the amount of power the young woman currently possessed.
"I'm going to destroy you, and purge this land of your evil," she informed him calmly. Kae's stance never changed, even as the two Warriors approached her.
"Kae…" Tasuki murmured, but Chichiri grabbed his outstretched hand before his friend could touch her.
"Don't do it," the monk hissed. "Kae is filled with the power of Tai Yi-Jun, Tasuki – she absorbed all the power of Keung Xi-Wang's wards, which were created from the wards originally created by Tai Yi-Jun. She isn't Kae right now – she is a vessel of the Emperor of the Heavens."
"So, whadda we do?" Tasuki demanded tersely.
"Give her as much chi as we can," Chichiri informed him, closing his eyes and folding his hands in prayer. Tasuki reluctantly copied his movements, and twitched as he felt Chichiri's power drag the chi from their bodies and give it to Kae, who was facing off against the spirit calmly.
"I will not allow you to manipulate me any longer," she said coldly, her hands moving suddenly, her fingers forming intricate patterns in the sky. "Keung Xi-Wang, you will pay for daring to return from your prison and committing the crimes you have dared to do. You will now feel the power of Tai Yi-Jun, the true Emperor of the Heavens!"
The spirit was unable to utter any word of protest as a light shot forth from Kae's hands, surrounding him and enclosing him as if the light was a net to catch him. Tasuki and Chichiri, almost exhausted at giving their chi, opened their eyes to see the spirit clawing desperately at the light barrier, before being completely covered and disappearing as the light continued to grow smaller until it was completely gone.
"Unbelievable…" Chichiri managed, and whirled around as a groan escaped Kae. "Kae!" he cried, but Tasuki had already lunged forward and caught the girl before she injured herself on the hard ground.
"Kae!" Tasuki called, peering anxiously at her pale face. "Ya can't die…" he begged, and looked up at Chichiri for help. "She ain't gonna die, is she?"
"I…don't know," the monk admitted, kneeling beside them and inspecting her. "Her chi is almost gone, no da. And we don't have any chi to give her, either. Tasuki…I think she's going to die."
"What?" the bandit croaked, and his friend winced at hearing the agony in his voice. Before either could utter another word, however, a bright light appeared before them, and their gazes rested upon the true form of the Emperor of the Heavens a second time.
"Suzaku has informed me of this girl's sacrifices," he began solemnly, peering at the three humans sharply. "She had offered herself up as a sacrifice to defeat Keung Xi-Wang and restore prosperity to the land. She also wished that the two of you would find happiness in your lives."
"That ain't gonna happen," Tasuki managed, his eyes fixed on the pale face of Kae, who rested in his arms.
"Although she was not sacrificed as she wished, her intentions were pure and still quite potent," the Emperor continued. "In consideration of this, I will restore the land as she wished, and ensure that you two Warriors of Suzaku will find peace in this life and the next."
Chichiri looked around in amazement, and even Tasuki was forced to raise his head to observe the Emperor as yet another light shot forth from the deity, seemingly encasing them and passing through the rocks surrounding them. Small lights remained behind, like bright fireflies in the night, hovering around the pair.
"Her first purpose has been fulfilled – defeating Keung Xi-Wang and restoring peace to the land," the Emperor informed them calmly. Before Tasuki could burst in, he waved a hand toward them. "However, her second wish was to bring happiness to you both – and you, Tasuki of Suzaku, can not find peace without her, correct?"
The bandit nodded dumbly, almost afraid to believe what the deity was suggesting. Chichiri held his breath in anticipation, and the Emperor nodded.
"This will be her final gift to you two, Warriors of Suzaku," he intoned, and chanted a brief spell before fading away. The firefly-like lights began to glow even brighter, infused with heavenly power, and gathered together until they formed a single sphere, hovering above the lifeless priestess. Chichiri's eyes followed their movements hopefully, while Tasuki clutched the young woman to him in desperation, unable to fully comprehend what was happening.
The glowing sphere of light descended until it was directly above Kae, and then lowered itself into her chest, seeping through her skin. Chichiri noticed her kanji was glowing brightly, and he leaned forward expectantly as the light dispersed, leaving the room dark once more, save from the light coming from the still-magical sphere where she had been imprisoned. Tasuki's eyes lit up joyously as her chest suddenly began to rise slowly, and the color returned to her face.
"K…Kae…" he murmured, as her eyes slowly fluttered open, registering what had happened.
"What…Tasuki?" she groaned, turning her head slowly, only to see Chichiri smiling widely at her. "Chichiri?" she asked, and found herself embraced by both young men at the same time, brought to a sitting position in seconds, causing her head to spin.
"Yer alive!" the bandit cried, tears running down his face as he buried his face in her hair, while Chichiri was to her side, arms resting on both of his friends.
"I…am?" she realized, looking around in confusion. Her eyes suddenly caught a glimpse of something, and her eyes widened in realization before a smile graced her features. "Uh…Tasuki?"
"Yeah?" he asked, looking down at her before his gaze followed her own. At the entrance to the cave stood the bandits of Ligé-San Mountain, carrying torches and led by Knei-Gong, who was smirking as another bandit sulkily handed him money.
"Pay up, men!" he crowed, turning around to collect his betting earnings from the ones who had bet against him concerning the outcome of the problem.
"You…you…" Tasuki stammered, unable to decide between anger or embarrassment. Chichiri chuckled and leaned back, giving the couple some space.
"Oh, don't be mad," Kae ordered with a laugh, resigning herself to the teasing and laughs of the men. "After all, you're pretty damn stubborn, Tasuki."
"Damn right," the bandit agreed with a shrug, and suddenly pulled her into a passionate kiss, causing her to gasp in surprise at the abruptness of the gesture.
"Woo! Go, boss!" a bandit cheered, while Knei-Gong shook Chichiri's hand with a smirk.
"Musta been some adventure," he guessed, and the monk only nodded.
"You have no idea," he sighed, rubbing the back of his head and turning around as Tasuki and Kae approached the group.
"Let's head back and celebrate getting our mountain back!" Tasuki ordered with a yell, and was greeted with cheers, yells, and general noises of agreement as the bandits turned around and stampeded back down the tunnels, as Chichiri shrugged in amusement. "How'd ya get here, anyway?" the Warrior asked his friend suddenly, and Knei-Gong grinned.
"Didya think ya were the only one who knew of this place, Huan-Lang?" he demanded in mock indignation, and then grinned at his friend. "It was easy – we just had to follow the noise."
"Hey!" Tasuki protested, while Kae suppressed her giggles.
"I bet yer tired," Knei-Gong commented suddenly, turning to Kae.
"We should head back before they eat everything, no da," Chichiri added, swinging his staff cheerfully as he and Knei-Gong began to head down the tunnels. Tasuki and Kae exchanged confused glances and a shrug before the bandit suddenly swept her off her feet – literally, and she grabbed his neck as he began to stride down the tunnels after the others, carrying her easily.
"You could have warned me, you know," she told him, but he only grinned.
"Where's the fun in that?" Tasuki demanded, and she paused before sighing in defeat.
Wow - longest paragraph ever! But, it's the longest story I've ever written, after all. I want to thank everyone who's read and reviewed this story, supporting me in all things! (grin) I hope the ending was satisfactory - I enjoyed writing it. I can now continue on my other works, so it's a bit of a relief, but sad at the same time. What an accomplishment for me - whew! Now, I'll see you all at another story, hopefully!