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Legal Stuff: Let's just say that even in my wildest dreams I can still only *wish* that I created/owned Fushigi Yuugi. It's actual owners are Yuu Watase, Flower Comics, and Shogakukan Inc. I'm not taking credit for their hard work and I don't think you should either.

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Author's Note: This is my own version of the story of the Byakko Seven and their Priestess. It takes place in 1925 (our world's time), roughly ninety years (book time) before Fushigi Yuugi.

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Author's Note (the sequel): My information on the names of the Byakko Seven and the locations of their symbols comes from "Byakko no Shijin Tenchisho" at http://garuby.com/byakko/   I suggest you take a look there, it's quite nice.

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In The Beginning...

A Fushigi Yuugi Prequel

By: 18th Angel

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Chapter One The Maiden in the Book

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Morioka, Japan

1925

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      "I never knew Mr. Okuda had so many books." Oosugi Suzuno said exhaustedly, laying a heavy box on top of a stack that was already perilously high.

      "He collected them from all over the world." Her father said, carrying another box up the stairs into their attic. "Only one more to go."

      "Why did we get all these Daddy?" Suzuno asked.

      Her father hesitated. "Einosuke...wanted me to look after his collection...if anything ever happened to him." He finally said.

      "Oh..." Suzuno said quietly. It had been over a year since the tragedy, but the pain was still fresh. Losing her best friend Takiko had been bad enough. But when Takiko's father, Suzuno's godfather, committed suicide less than a month later, it was almost too much to bear. And Suzuno didn't even want to contemplate the latest rumors; that Mr. Okuda had taken his own life out of guilt for having killed his daughter. Suzuno could never imagine Mr. Okuda ever doing anything to hurt Takiko, let alone killing her. They were too happy a family.

      Her father gave her a comforting smile. "I'll get the last box." He said. "Then what say we go have some dinner?"

      Suzuno forced a smile and nodded. The smile faded as soon as her father turned his back to go down the stairs. The Okudas had been more than friends; Takiko's death had hit Suzuno as if she had lost a sister. Oh, she could pretend for her father; act like she was getting better, but part of Suzuno felt as if she would never truly recover.

      Suzuno couldn't keep thinking like this or she would be the one committing suicide next. She glanced around at the dozens of boxes surrounding her. There was an idea. One thing that never failed to cheer her up was reading. It had gotten her through the first few months after Takiko died. For a few hours at least, she could leave all the problems of her own world behind and get lost in a good story. There were certainly enough books around here. It wouldn't hurt to look.

      How she found the Book she couldn't say. Part of her simply opened a box at random. But another, deeper part seemed to be drawn to that particular box. Almost before she even opened the box, Suzuno knew which book she would take from it. She was drawn to it like a magnet.

      At first, nothing about the book seemed that unusual. It was a small book of medium thickness, bound in faded red leather with strips of brown cloth holding its spine together. The pages were yellow with age. In fact, everything about the book screamed "Old!"

      Suzuno picked the book up out of its box and turned it over. The cover was adorned with Chinese writing. Fortunately, her father had taught her how to read Chinese some time ago. "The Universe of the Four Gods." She read out loud.

Hmm...sounds like an adventure story... She thought. She carefully opened the old book and began reading aloud again, chiding herself for not keeping up her studies enough to read the foreign language silently.

      "This is the tale of a girl who made her dreams come true after she gathered the Seven Stars of Byakko; and many powers were bestowed upon her. The story itself is an enchanted text. The one who reads it entirely will be granted the powers and given the wishes just as the girl was. For it begins and becomes real the moment the first page is turned..."

      A strange feeling came over Suzuno as soon as she began reading the words, but the more she read, the more the words on the page seemed to call to her. She was so engrossed in the words, she didn't even notice the brilliant white glow beginning to fill the small attic.

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      Oosugi Takao was halfway up the stairs, a heavy box of books in his arms, when he heard his daughter's voice. She spoke slowly and deliberately, as if reading aloud. Takao strained his ears to hear her words.

      "...were bestowed upon her. The story itself is an enchanted text..."

      Takao's blood ran cold. Not that book! Of all the books she could have picked, why that one? He dropped the box and sprinted up the stairs, desperate to stop Suzuno before something terrible happened. He burst into the attic and saw Suzuno sitting on the floor, reading from the Book, oblivious to the blinding white light that surrounded her.

      "NO!" He yelled. "Suzuno, stop! You mustn't read that book!"

      But it was too late. The white light flared up, blinding Takao and blocking his view of Suzuno. When the light faded, she was gone. Only the Book remained. Takao rushed to where she had been, calling her name even though he knew his daughter was beyond hearing.

      Reluctantly, dreading what he would see, Takao picked up the ancient tome and opened it. There, on the second page was a drawing of Suzuno. Tears sprang into his eyes. It was just like Einosuke had said. He hadn't wanted to believe it, but it was true. Suzuno had been snatched away into the Book, just like Takiko.

      As Takao looked on, words began to appear on the opposite page, magically writing themselves. Einosuke had told him about this as well. Whatever happened to Suzuno inside the book would be inscribed on its pages. Overcome with a profound sense of helplessness, Takao did the only thing he could do for his daughter now. Sitting down on the cold attic floor, his back propped up against the wall, he opened the book once again and began to read her story...

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      Suzuno awoke in an open field, staring at a clear blue sky above her.

Huh? She thought. That couldn't be right. Seconds before, she had been in her attic. And it had been raining outside. She dimly remembered hearing her father call her name, but nothing else. What had happened?

      She had been reading a book. That much she remembered. It was some kind of old adventure novel from China. She must have fallen asleep, but she couldn't figure out how. She hadn't been tired before she started reading, and few stories were boring enough to put a voracious reader like Oosugi Suzuno to sleep. Even if she had fallen asleep reading the book, that didn't explain where she was now.

      Suzuno sat up and looked around. The green field stretched out as far as she could see. Somewhere in the distance, she thought she heard cows mooing. She definitely wasn't in Morioka anymore.

      "Where am I?" She wondered aloud. On one hand, this looked like any other pasture. On the other hand, everything seemed...different; unfamiliar somehow. It was nothing that she could really put into words, just a feeling. Maybe it had to do with how the air was just a little cleaner than ever before, the sky just slightly more blue.

      "Are you okay?" A concerned voice came from behind her. Suzuno turned and saw a boy about her age staring at her. The boy's clothes struck Suzuno first. He wore a simple combination of pants and a tunic. The clothes looked like they were hand-woven. They also looked old. Well, the clothes themselves didn't look all that old, but their style was very archaic. "I saw a bright light over here." The boy continued. "Are you all right?"

      "Bright light?"

That's right. Suzuno realized. I do remember a light while I was reading the book. Of course! The book!

"Where am I?" She asked urgently.

      "You're...on my family's farm." The boy replied. He looked at her strangely, seeming to really study her for the first time. "Who are you?" He asked. "I've never seen you in the village. And I've never seen clothes like that before either."

      Suzuno hadn't even considered that her clothes were just as strange to the boy as his had been to her. "My name is...Oosugi Suzuno." She said. "Is this...is this even Japan?"

      "Japan?" The boy asked. "What's that?"

      "Where am I then?" She demanded.

      "Our farm." He repeated. Seeing the confused look on her face, he continued. "Right outside Tso-Pao Village, about a day's journey from the Imperial City."

      Tso-Pao? Suzuno thought. That sounds Chinese. Is it possible? Am I actually *inside* that book? 'The story begins and becomes real the moment the first page is turned.' I don't believe it!

      "Maybe...you should come with me to my parents house." The boy suggested in a concerned voice. "You don't look so good. Oh pardon me; I forgot my manners." He reached down and helped Suzuno to her feet. "My name is Chao Shien." He said. "But everyone calls me Toroki."

      "Toroki?"

      He smiled. "Yeah. It's kind of a nickname."

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      Toroki led the strange girl named Suzuno back to the small cottage where he lived with his parents. He kept glancing over at the girl as she walked silently beside him. She was very pretty, he had noticed that immediately. She had light brown hair, which she wore in two long braids. Her eyes were green, and sparkled with intelligence and determination; but at the same time, seemed to be slightly faded, as if by a great sadness. More than just being physically attractive though, there was something about the girl. It was just a feeling Toroki got looking at her that said there was something special about her. Of course, if she turned out to be who he suspected she was, then that would explain it.

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      At first, Suzuno struggled to keep up with Toroki on the uneven ground. But as soon as he noticed that she was having difficulties, the young man immediately slowed his pace. Once they got out of the pasture and on to a narrow dirt road she was fine and took a moment to look over her companion.

      Toroki seemed to be about Suzuno's age, perhaps a year or two younger. His head was dominated by an unruly mop of dark brown hair that flashed with just a hint of red when the sun hit it, and a pair of inky black eyes. His skin bore a deep tan that spoke of a lifetime out-of-doors.

      "So tell me, Miss Suzuno." He said as they walked. "How did you wind up in our pasture?"

      "I...don't really know." Suzuno replied hesitantly. If I tell him about the book he'll think I'm some kind of lunatic. "It's all very confusing." She finally said.

      Toroki smiled warmly. "Well we're almost home. You'll feel better once you've rested a bit and eaten something."

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      Toroki's home was a small cottage on the edge of the pasture. A thin trail of smoke drifted out of the house's chimney.

      "Mother! Father!" Toroki called out as they entered the small house. "I've brought a visitor!"

      Toroki's father was the first to greet them. He was a pleasant-looking man, slightly older than Suzuno's father. Suzuno felt the first twinges of homesickness creeping into her. Would her father even realize what had happened to her? Or would he think that she had run away? Or been kidnapped? She had to get back home somehow.

      The man smiled at his son when he caught sight of Suzuno. "So...you've brought home a wife at last, have you Toroki?" He said only half jokingly.

      "Father!"

      "Not a wife? Hmmm. Fiancée maybe?"

      "Father, please!" Toroki's tanned cheeks turned several interesting shades of red.

      "What? An old man can dream about his son finally settling down with a nice girl and taking over the farm, can't he?"

      "You're the last person I'd ever dare to call an old man." Toroki replied, regaining some of his composure. "This is Suzuno. She was lost in the pasture."

      "Suzuno." Toroki's father greeted her. "It's a pleasure. I see you've already met my son." He leaned over and whispered in her ear, just loudly enough for Toroki to hear as well. "He's single, you know."

      "Father!"

      "What's going on in here?" A middle-aged woman joined them.

      "Our son's finally engaged." Toroki's father said proudly.

      "I'm not engaged!" Toroki insisted. "We just met!"

      "You'll have to forgive my husband." The woman said. "He just decided a while ago that he wants grandchildren. Toroki." She turned to her son. "Hino's being stubborn again, would you please go talk some sense into her?"

      Toroki nodded and disappeared out the back door.

      "Well don't just stand there child. Sit down, sit down."

      "Uh...thank you." Suzuno sat down at a small table across from Toroki's father.

      "Are you hungry, dear?" Toroki's mother asked.

      "Um...yes ma'am."

      "So where did you say you were from again?" Toroki's father said.

      "I'm...I'm from Morioka." Suzuno finally said. "In Japan."

      "Is that far? I don't believe I've ever heard of those places."

      "Yes." Suzuno said quietly. "I think...I'm very far away from home."

      "Poor dear." Toroki's mother said sympathetically. "Here, this will make you feel better." She placed a bowl of steamed rice in front of Suzuno. "It's not much I'm afraid."

      "No, it looks delicious. Thank you." Suzuno said.

      "Well have all you like." The older woman said cheerfully, sitting down next to Suzuno. "And while you eat, maybe you can tell me where you got such amazing garments."

      "What this?" Suzuno asked, looking down at her clothes. "It's just a school uniform."

      "School Uniform?"

      At that moment, Toroki's father stood up, a strange look on his face. "I think I'll go help Toroki with Hino." He said, leaving quickly through the back door.

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      Toroki was sitting on the short stone wall that ringed his family's farm, watching the sun set. He heard footsteps approaching behind him. He could tell from the sound of the footfalls that it was his father. "You can tell mother that Hino's fine now." He said. "She just needed a little encouragement."

      "That's quite an interesting girl you brought home, son."

      Toroki sighed. "I told you, she's not my fiancée. I don't even know her." He turned, expecting to see a friendly smile on his father's face. Instead, his eyes fell on a look of cold determination. "Father?"

      "Lift up your sleeve, Toroki." His father said.

      "What?"

      "Show me your wrist boy!"

      Toroki was taken aback by the forcefulness with which his father spoke. He quickly rolled up his right sleeve. As soon as he began rolling the sleeve, a white glow began peeking out from under it. With his sleeve rolled up completely, Toroki turned his arm over and gasped in surprise.

      His father nodded grimly. "That's what I thought." He said quietly.

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      Suzuno was chatting animatedly with Toroki's mother when Toroki and his father came back into the house, both wearing very somber expressions.

      "Suzuno." Toroki's father said. "Where did you say you came from?"

      "Japan." Suzuno said.

      "Is that...another world?" Toroki asked.

      "How...how did you know?" Suzuno whispered.

      In reply, Toroki held up his right arm, revealing a glowing white symbol on his wrist. Suzuno instantly recognized the Kanji for 'Turtle Snout'. "I have had this mark my entire life." Toroki said. "That's how I got my nickname. But it's never glowed like this...until I met you."

      "That symbol is a gift from our God, Byakko." Toroki's father explained. "It marks Toroki as one of Byakko's Celestial Warriors.

      "I...I don't understand." Suzuno said.

      "There is a legend, that in a time of need, the Priestess of Byakko will appear from another world. She will gather the Seven Stars of Byakko and save Sairo from our enemies."

      "And you think that...I'm that girl?"

      "There's only one person who can tell you that for certain." Toroki's father said. "You must go to the Imperial City of Sairo and speak with the Empress."

      "The Empress?" Suzuno asked, slightly intimidated by the idea.

      Toroki's parents both nodded. "She will be able to tell for sure whether or not you are the Priestess of Byakko." His father said.

      "Don't worry, Suzuno." Toroki said. "I'm going with you."

      "You'll have to leave as soon as possible." His father continued. "It's getting too late to go now, so you'll have to wait until first light tomorrow." He smiled at Suzuno. "You can stay in Toroki's room."

      "Father!!" Toroki sputtered, his cheeks turning red again.

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      Suzuno did end up sleeping in Toroki's bed that night. The young man slept on the floor in front of the fireplace. When she awoke the next morning, the house was empty. She found Toroki and his parents outside, loading a small mule with supplies.

      "When you reach the palace, make sure you give the guards this letter." His father said, handing Toroki a folded piece of paper. "And show them your mark."

      "Yes Father." Toroki said, fastening a saddle to the animal.

      "Be careful Toroki." His mother said, throwing her arms around her son.

      "I will." He assured her.

      "Take care son." His father said, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Safe journey."

      "Oh good, you're up." Toroki said, noticing Suzuno for the first time. "We're almost ready to go."

      "Good luck, Suzuno." Toroki's mother said.

      The best reply Suzuno could come up with was a quiet "Thank you." Everything was happening just a bit too quickly for her to keep up. Yesterday she had started reading a book to ease her sadness for a while. Now she was about to meet an Empress and find out if she was some kind of legendary priestess. On top of that, she was growing more and more homesick as time went on. By now her father would undoubtedly know she was missing. She felt horrible for making him worry like this through her own carelessness.

You just *had* to read that stupid book, didn't you Suzuno? She scolded herself.

      "Ready to go?" Toroki asked, smiling.

      Suzuno nodded. The sooner she met with this Empress of theirs, the sooner she could find a way to get home. If she was very lucky, she'd be home in time for dinner tonight.

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      The first half of the journey passed easily. Suzuno walked next to Toroki as he led the mule along the narrow road. Suzuno's modern clothes earned her some odd looks as they passed through the small village near Toroki's house, but she ignored them.

      Once they left the village, they were alone on the road. Toroki explained that very few people traveled to the Imperial City anymore because it was becoming unsafe.

      "What do you mean 'unsafe'?" Suzuno asked, not liking the sound of it at all.

      "There's going to be a war soon." Toroki said. "It probably won't reach out here to the smaller villages. But no one wants to be in the City when the attack begins."

      For the next few miles, they walked through the forest in silence. Suzuno was searching for something to say to Toroki, just to break the uncomfortable silence, when she heard a rustling sound above them. Toroki shoved her aside just as a huge shape dropped down onto the road where she had been standing. A sudden pain shot through her leg as she fell. When she looked up, Suzuno saw Toroki staring down a huge, angry tiger. Anyone else would have been terrified to be so close to the big cat, but Toroki seemed completely calm. He stared straight into the tiger's eyes as it growled and hissed, clawing at the air just inches from his face. After a minute or two, something amazing happened. The tiger left! It just turned around and disappeared into the forest.

      Suzuno tried to stand up, but fell back down as pain shot through her left ankle and ran up and down her leg. She cried out as tears sprang into her eyes.

      "Suzuno!" Toroki ran over to her. "I'm so sorry." He said. "I didn't mean to push you so hard."

      "It's...okay." Suzuno said weakly. "But...what happened. That tiger...I was sure it was going to attack you."

      "Actually she wanted to eat you." Toroki said. "But don't worry. I talked her out of it."

      "You...talked?" The conversation had just taken a dangerous turn for the surreal. "You can talk to tigers?"

      "All animals actually." Toroki replied. "Though 'talking' isn't really the best way to describe it. We...communicate. We understand each other."

      Suzuno nodded and tried to stand again. Once again, she was stopped by the sharp pain in her ankle.

      "That looks bad." Toroki said, examining her ankle. "It could be broken. I'm really sorry."

      "Don't worry about it." Suzuno said. "You saved my life. I'd rather have a broken ankle than be tiger food."

      Toroki smiled. "You'll have to ride the rest of the way." He said, lifting her in his arms. He carried her over to the small mule, which had remained surprisingly calm during the attack. He placed his hand on the animal's head and looked into its eyes. "Hino." He said slowly. "You're going to have to carry Suzuno now. You won't give her any trouble will you?" He was silent for a moment, then he smiled. "That's a good girl."

      Toroki lifted Suzuno and placed her gently on the mule's back, taking care with her injured ankle. "It's only another mile or two." He assured her. "We'll be there before sundown."

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      The young girl, nursing an injured ankle, followed the strange boy named Toroki into the Imperial city where she would find out if she were indeed the long awaited Priestess of Byakko.

      Takao paused in his reading. Suzuno had only been gone for a few minutes, but nearly two days had passed in the book. If time really moved that much faster in the book than in the real world, Suzuno could end up a grown woman before she managed to get out. If she got out. Takao shuddered, remembering what Einosuke had said happened to Takiko. Was Suzuno destined to share her fate? Was there anything he could do to stop it?

      For now there wasn't. He couldn't enter the book to help Suzuno. She would have to find her own way out. Then he would find a way to save her from what had befallen Takiko. He would not lose his daughter to this damned book.

      But for right now, all he could do was open the book and continue reading...

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To Be Continued

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