*   *   *   *   *

Legal Stuff: Do I own Fushigi Yuugi? Hell, I can't remember. Do I? Come on think, THINK! Oh yeah, I remember! No. No, cause if I did, I'd have, you know, the money and the fame, so...nope definitely not mine.

*   *   *   *   *

Author's Note: 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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Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! Whoever nominated me, thank you!!!!!!! This story is now one of the fics nominated in the 'Best Overall' category in A-ano~: the FY Fanfic Contest. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!

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In The Beginning...

A Fushigi Yuugi Prequel

By: 18th Angel

*   *   *   *   *

Chapter Seven

The Prisoner

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

      "We can't let her do it." Takao said. "Even if she finds all seven Warriors, we can't let Suzuno summon Byakko."

      "What?" Megumi asked. "But Takao..."

      "We have to find a way to stop her." He insisted.

      "Well... Even if we could tell her not to... If she doesn't summon Byakko, she'll be stuck there forever."

      Takao hung his head, clearly a man whose heart was in profound conflict. "...Maybe that's for the best." He said quietly.

      "For the best?" Megumi couldn't believe her ears. "What on earth was in those notes?"

      "Exactly what I was afraid of." He replied. "If Suzuno manages to summon Byakko...she'll die."

*   *   *   *   *

      Megumi was silent, obviously struck wordless by his pronouncement.

      "What do you mean?" She finally asked.

      Takao handed her the notes he had found. "It's all in here." He said. Megumi scanned the first few pages.

      "This has happened before?" She asked.

      Takao nodded. "It was a little over a year ago." He said. "Einosuke found the book on a trip to China. Somehow his daughter, Takiko, got ahold of it. She was taken into the book, where she became the Priestess of Genbu. She found all the Warriors of Genbu and Summoned the Guardian God."

      "And it killed her?"

      Takao shook his head gravely. "It destroyed her soul. Slowly and painfully. Rather than see her suffer...Einosuke killed her. Then he took his own life and gave the book to me to keep it safe." He looked into her eyes. "If that's what it takes to get her home, then I'd rather have Suzuno spend the rest of her life in the book. Even if it means I'll never see her again."

      "Are you sure?"

      Takao nodded.

      "Then how can we talk to her?"

      "We need to have something in common." Takao said. "Some kind of clothing or personal item. Einosuke said in his notes that he could talk to Takiko because she had an extra pair of glasses in their house. As long as Takiko had her glasses on and Einosuke wore the extra pair, they were connected and she could hear him."

      "Okay. So we need to find something that you and Suzuno can use the same way." Megumi said. "Well there's her school uniform, but I don't think we should try that. But she isn't wearing anything else."

      "Wait." Takao said. "Her earrings!"

      "Her earrings?" Megumi asked.

      Takao nodded. "They were her mother's." He said. "There's a necklace that goes with them."

      "Okay." Megumi said. "I'll go get the necklace, where is it?"

      Takao's face fell.

      "What?" Megumi asked.

*   *   *   *   *

      Takao couldn't believe his own stupidity. How could he have forgotten that the necklace was in storage? Megumi had gone to retrieve the necklace from its safe deposit box, leaving Takao alone with the book. He prayed that Suzuno wouldn't summon Byakko before he was able to warn her.

      The Priestess of Byakko and her companions set out to find the final Warrior. Meanwhile, in Sairo, Toroki carried out a search of his own.

*   *   *   *   *

      "That's the last of it." Jianna said, pointing to the small collection of scrolls on the table next to Toroki's bed. "This is everything the scholars have ever written about the Guardian Gods. Or at least, all we could find. It would help if we knew what you were looking for."

      "Actually it wouldn't...help." Toroki said. "It would only...make you more upset." He smiled weakly.

      "I take that to mean you don't want me to help you look."

      Toroki shook his head. "I have to do this on...my own." He said.

      "Just don't wear yourself out." Jianna said. "You need to stay strong for just a little longer."

      "I'll try."

      "I'm serious." Jianna said, kneeling next to his bed. "You've got to live until Suzuno can wish for a cure."

      "I know." He gently took her hand in his own. "I won't...overdo it. I'll still be able to summon Byakko."

      "You really don't understand do you? I don't care about Byakko or Kutou or...anything else. I just don't want anything to happen to you."

      Jianna leaned over and pressed her lips gently to his. "I love you, Toroki." She whispered. "I don't care who you are. Warrior, farmer...it doesn't make any difference. It doesn't change how I feel about you." She hugged him tightly. "I love you. I always have. And I always will."

*   *   *   *   *

      The hallway was dark as Jianna quietly closed the door to Toroki's room.

      "You've been spending a great deal of time in there, Highness." The sudden voice behind her startled Jianna. She spun around. Her chief advisor Liu Huang stood before her. "Perhaps you would care to explain the nature of your relationship with that boy."

      "Toroki is an old friend of mine and a Warrior of Byakko." Jianna said, not about to back down to the old man. "And if I recall correctly, Liu. You answer to me. Not the other way around."

      "You forget, Highness. Your father specifically instructed me to be a guiding hand until you are ready to rule on your own. That was the last order he ever gave me, and I intend to obey it."

      "I'm not a child." Jianna said defiantly. "I can take care of the Empire on my own."

      "Forgive me for saying so, Highness. But your decisions of late have been somewhat rash."

      "I know where this is going. And you know my answer."

      "Highness, we cannot stand against Kutou. And placing our faith in an outdated myth will not save us." Liu said. "If we surrender to Kutou, if we accept their rule, we can save thousands of lives. ...Lives that will be wasted if we continue to resist."

      Jianna's eyes narrowed. "Sometimes..." She said quietly. "I wonder where your loyalties truly lie, Liu."

      The old returned her icy stare. "My loyalty is to the Empire." He said.

      "Well my loyalty is to my people." Jianna replied. "...People who would rather die free than live as slaves."

*   *   *   *   *

      "So where to now Karasuki?" Tokaki asked.

      Karasuki frowned. He was finding it difficult to read the scroll and hold his horse's reigns at the same time. "Well, this says something about a prison."

      Tokaki looked over his shoulder.

      "Hey, pal!" He called. "Any of your friends get thrown in jail lately."

      "That's funny." Amefuri deadpanned. "I'm laughing on the inside. Really."

      "Just wonderin'."

      "Speaking of wondering..." Amefuri said holding up his bound hands. "Are the ropes really necessary?"

      "Is it makin' you uncomfortable?" Tokaki asked.

      "No, I love being tied to a horse and forced to follow a bunch of idiots who don't know what's good for them all day. OF COURSE IT'S UNCOMFORTABLE!"

      "Then I'm sure it's really necessary."

      Up in front of the group Suzuno sighed wearily. "Are those two ever going to get tired of picking at each other."

      "Well they've been at it for three days with no sign of slowing." Tatara replied. "So I'd say we've got a long road ahead of us."

      "Fine." Suzuno said. "Time to nip it in the bud." She pulled on her reigns and dropped back to ride midway between Tokaki and Amefuri.

      "Would you two give it a rest?" She said. "We're all on the same side here. Can't you at least try to get along?"

      "You could solve all this by just untying me and letting me go, sweet-cheeks."

      "You ain't goin' nowhere!" Tokaki said forcefully. "And for the last time; you call her 'Priestess' or 'Suzuno'! Not 'toots', 'sweetheart', 'babe', or anything else! Got it?"

      Suzuno shook her head. "As soon as we're sure you won't run off, we'll untie you. I promise."

      "You'll be much better off if you just let me go now." Amefuri replied. "I promise."

      "Wouldja knock it off, already?" Tokaki groaned. "You are not cursed!"

      Subaru shifted uncomfortably in her saddle and tried to block out the sound of two grown men bickering like children. "This is going to be a long trip."

*   *   *   *   *

      "So here we are." Tokaki said.

      "Yes."

      "We have arrived."

      "Yes, we have." Karasuki confirmed.

      "It took us a long time, but we're finally here." Tokaki continued.

      "What are you getting at?" Karasuki asked.

      "Just, ya know, wonderin' where the hell we are."

      Karasuki sighed. "You know, I haven't been outside the Palace since I was eleven, and I know more about the world than you do." He said. "This is Wujiang. This city has one of the largest prisons in all of Sairo."

      "I'm still not sure about this." Tatara said. "What does the scroll say exactly?"

      Karasuki pulled the scroll out of his pack and read aloud. "The final Warrior, Kokie will cross your path while escaping from her prison."

      "So..." Tatara said. "A woman, escaping from prison."

      "Hence, the largest jail in the empire." Subaru added.

      "Good thinking." Suzuno said.

      "Now we just need to find out if any women have escaped lately." Karasuki said with a nod.

      "You guys are much dumber than you look. And that's saying a lot." They all turned at Amefuri's harsh words.

      "What are you talkin' about?" Tokaki demanded.

      "I spent a whole year in prison once. And believe me, I didn't see a single woman the entire time. Because they don't put women in jail. I thought at least one of you would know that."

      "What?" Suzuno asked.

      "Sorry, Priestess. You're not going to find this Kokie lady escaping from any prison around here."

      They were all silent for a moment. "Well...let's...split up and look around anyway." Tatara finally said. "We're here. We might as well have a look around. Karasuki, take Amefuri and...take another look at the scroll I guess; see if there's anything you missed."

      "Subaru and I can check around town." Tokaki suggested. "See if anyone knows anybody who might be our girl."

      "Okay." Tatara said. "Then Suzuno and I can check around the prison."

*   *   *   *   *

      "I don't get it." Suzuno said dejectedly. "Why would the scroll give directions that are impossible to follow?"

      "I don't know." Tatara said, gently taking her hand. "But Kokie is out there somewhere. We'll find her."

      "But will we find her in time?" Suzuno asked. "Toroki only has a month or so left. And...if he dies..."

      "Stop." Tatara said gently but firmly before she completely surrendered to tears. "We'll find her on time. I promise."

      "But how can you be so sure?"

      "I can't." Tatara admitted. "But have I ever lied to you before?"

      Suzuno gave him a look.

      "Okay." Tatara amended. "Have I lied to you lately?"

      A small smile finally came to Suzuno's face. "No." She said.

      "Then when I promise that we'll find Kokie in time to save Toroki, you believe me right?"

      Suzuno nodded reluctantly. "Yes. Or... Well, I believe that you and the others will do everything you can to help me find her."

      Tatara smiled. "I guess that will have to do." He said.

*   *   *   *   *

      "So what's the deal with Suzuno and Tatara?" Amefuri asked.

      Karasuki looked up from the scroll briefly. "What deal?"

      "Come on!" The skinny thief replied. "Don't tell me you haven't seen the way they look at each other. You guys hadn't even been dragging me around a whole day before I noticed it."

      "Amefuri?"

      "Yeah."

      "This will go a lot faster if one of us doesn't talk." Karasuki snapped.

      "Oh really? Well I'm already bound, why not just gag me too?"

      "You're making that sound more and more like a good idea with every word you say."

      "Ooh, someone's touchy." Amefuri taunted. "What's the matter? You jealous? Want the little Priestess all to yourself?"

      Karasuki started to laugh but stopped himself.

      "Did I say something funny?" Amefuri asked.

      "Funnier than you realize."

*   *   *   *   *

      "This isn't working." Subaru said. They had spent the better part of an hour roaming through back alleys and badly lit taverns without a single lead to show for it.

      "Yeah." Tokaki agreed. "But hey, we got to spend some quality time alone together, so it wasn't a total waste."

      "Tokaki..." Subaru began.

      "I know. I know." He cut her off. "It's takin' you forever to realize the depth of your feelings for me. That's okay." He smiled. "Take your time. It's enough for me just havin' you around at all."

      "You really mean that, don't you?"

      "'Course I mean it!" Tokaki said.

      For a moment, Subaru was actually overcome with emotion, something that simply never happened to her. She turned away quickly.

      "Subaru...?" Tokaki asked. He sounded concerned.

      "I...I don't get you, Tokaki." She finally said. "Why do you...care so much about me?"

      "You want the honest answer?" He asked. Subaru nodded. "You're the first girl who ever made me work."

      "Huh?" That wasn't the kind of answer she had expected from Tokaki. And yet, it had a ring of truth to it. "What do you mean?"

      "My whole life, I've been able to have any woman I wanted. But...I never really wanted any of 'em. I could never figure out what was missin' but...now I think I know."

      He stood behind her and placed his hands lightly on her shoulders. At first Subaru stiffened under his touch, but she found herself relaxing almost immediately.

      "See...I don't want a woman who just throws herself at me 'cause I'm handsome or charmin' or whatever." He continued. "I want someone who's an actual person. I want to be with someone and know that she loves me as much as I love her."

      Now he had done it. Everything had been going close to fine, but then he had to throw the 'L Word' into the equation. "I'm sorry." Subaru whispered, on the verge of tears. "I don't...I can't. I'm sorry."

      "I already told ya." Tokaki said. "I'm willin' to wait."

      "You don't understand." She said, turning to face him. "It doesn't matter how long you wait. I'll never love you...the way you want me to. I can never love anyone like that again. You'll only get hurt in the end, and I don't want that. Please...for your own sake...please just forget about me."

      She pushed past him and hurried away before he could respond. It wasn't until she was sure that Tokaki could no longer see or hear her that Subaru finally let her tears come.

      "It's not fair." She whispered through her quiet sobs. "Why couldn't I have met you first?"

*   *   *   *   *

      "We've been walking around here for three hours." Suzuno said. "This is hopeless."

      "Well it's a big empire." Tatara replied. "She is out there somewhere."

      "We just...we found Subaru and Amefuri so easily. It was almost like fate was guiding us to them, or them to us." Suzuno said. "And now...I feel like fate has abandoned us."

      "I think you're giving up hope too soon." Tatara said gently.

      "Well...that's what I do." Suzuno admitted. "My teachers always say I give up too easily."

      Tatara placed his hand lightly on her shoulder, sending shivers up and down Suzuno's spine. "Well I'm not giving up yet." He said with a smile.

      Suzuno returned his smile. "Then neither will I."

*   *   *   *   *

      Fate waited another hour before smiling again. When the time finally came, Suzuno nearly missed it.

      She and Tatara were headed away from the prison when a girl, a few years younger than Suzuno, darted out of an alleyway, not looking where she was going, and ran headlong into Suzuno. They both fell to the ground in a tangled mass of arms and legs.

      The girl was the first to stagger back to her feet. "Why don't you watch where you're going!?" She snapped.

      "Hey you little brat!" Suzuno said, standing up. "You're the one who ran into me!"

      "Yeah right!" The girl said defiantly.

      "She went this way! Come on!" A voice shouted from the alley.

      The girl turned to the alley with the look of a fox who has just heard the hounds behind him.

      "Uh...well...anyway." She said. "I'll forgive you this time...so, bye!" She darted off in the opposite direction, down another side alley.

      "What a weird kid." Suzuno said. "Rude too."

      "I wonder..." Tatara said quietly.

      "What?"

      "I'm not sure but...let's get out of the flow of traffic." Tatara replied.

      No sooner had they stepped away from the alley than a group of men barreled out into the street. They seemed to Suzuno to be composed of about ninety percent muscle and ten percent brains.

      Noticing them, the biggest man in the group turned to Tatara. "Did you just see a girl run past here?" He demanded, leaning so close, it looked as though he might bite Tatara's head off if the answer wasn't to his liking.

      "Could you be more specific?" Tatara asked politely.

"What kind of girl?"

      "Don't get smart!" The other man yelled.

      "Oh no, of course not." Tatara said. "Blonde girl, kind of skinny, had on a brown cloak?" He asked.

      "That's the one! Where did she go?"

      "That way." Tatara said without hesitation, pointing down the main road. "You'd better hurry, she seemed pretty quick."

      The thugs didn't bother to thank Tatara; they simply took off in the direction he pointed.

      "What are you doing?" Suzuno asked when they had gone.

      "No time to explain." Tatara said, pulling her into the alley the girl had disappeared into. "Come on!"

      The alley turned out to be a dead end. Huddled in the corner, trying to hide behind the trash that littered the street was the skinny blonde girl. The fiery temper she had displayed earlier seemed to have gone out of her, leaving her in 'cower and hide' mode.

      "Are you alright?" Tatara asked gently.

      "What do you want?" The girl demanded. "Stay away from me!"

      "Hey calm down." Suzuno said. "We're not with those guys."

      Tatara nodded his agreement. "And anyway, they're probably looking for you on the other side of town by now."

      "I wouldn't be so sure." A voice came from behind them. The girl leaned against the wall behind her, trying to get as far away as possible. Tatara and Suzuno turned around to see the men from before looming over them.

      "You're a bad liar, little man." The leader laughed.

      Suzuno looked desperately at Tatara. He shrugged. "Sorry. They must be smarter than they look."

      "What did I tell you, boys? Appearance is everything." The leader said. His voice had lost it's rough edge; clearly the whole 'stupid thug' thing had been an act. He turned back to Tatara. "Now if you'll just hand over the girl, we might ignore your little misdirection."

      Tatara shook his head. "I'm afraid I can't do that." He said.

      "What's she to you?" A smile crossed the big man's face. "Don't get any ideas pal. She's already spoken for."

      "Spoken for?" Suzuno asked, looking back at the girl. Suddenly it hit her. "You mean she's married?" She screamed. "But she's just a kid!"

      "She's not married." Tatara said softly. "Not in the way you're thinking at any rate." He turned to the leader. "How much did you pay for her?"

      "I paid nothing." The man said with a laugh. "But I'm told she set the boss back a decent sum. Which doesn't include all the trouble she's caused." He threw an evil look at the girl, who tried to make herself as small as possible. "Don't think I don't see you back there." He called. "You're lucky the boss wants you unharmed. As soon as he gets tired of you, I will pay you back for this." He lifted up his right arm. On his forearm, right below the wrist, was the outline of a full set of human teeth. The marks from the front teeth were still oozing blood.

      "She's a slave?" Suzuno asked, now thoroughly disgusted. No matter how rude the girl was, she didn't deserve to be chased by these men.

      "Slavery is against the law in Sairo." The leader said. "Mei here was adopted legally."

      "Did your boss tell her parents what he planned on doing with her?" Tatara asked. He seemed to be getting more and more angry.

      "Her parents weren't around. And her former guardian didn't ask; he was too eager to be rid of the little bitch." The big guy replied. "Look at the girl. She's one of the Hin Tribe. What do you care what happens to one of those barbarians?"

      "I don't care what she is!" Tatara said. "She's coming with us, not with you!"

      "Now that won't do." The man put on a face of false sincerity. "I can't allow kidnapping after all."

      "Then let me talk to your boss." Tatara said.

      "Oh my good sir." The big guy grinned. "You would have done that no matter what." Two of the thugs darted forward with impossible speed and grabbed Suzuno and Tatara. A third rushed past them and grabbed Mei, who kicked and screamed in protest.

      "I can't just let you wander off after everything you've heard." He said. "Besides, your woman looks like the boss's type."

*   *   *   *   *

      Tatara and Suzuno were led to a large mansion on the outskirts of town. Just inside the house, the group split up. Two of the thugs pulled Suzuno and Mei down a side hall. Tatara tried to stop them, but strong arms grabbed him and pushed him into the main hall.

      Tatara found himself in a plush sitting room. The decor seemed more Arabian than Chinese, as did the clothing of the people arrayed throughout the room. But the man in the center was no Arab.

      "Who is this?" He demanded, pushing one of several scantily clad concubines away from him.

      "Answer him!" The head guard said roughly.

      Tatara took a moment to consider his answer. It wouldn't do him any good to reveal his true identity to these men. And if they then surmised who Suzuno really was, that would be even worse.

      "My name is Kasaru." He finally said. "I come from the Hseing Monastery in Konan."

      "You're not dressed like a Monk." The boss said.

      "I've been on a missionary journey." Tatara said.

      "What is this monk doing here?"

      "He interfered when we were bringing Jing Mei back." The guard said.

      "Hmmm. Tell me, Kasaru; what interest does a monk have in a disobedient concubine?"

      "There is more Sir." The guard said. "He had a woman with him."

      "A woman?"

      The big man nodded. "I don't think he's a monk at all."

      "The woman he speaks of is...my sister." Tatara came up with another quick lie.

      "She doesn't look like his sister." The guard said. "She's some kind of foreigner."

      Tatara silently cursed his luck. Why did he have to run into the only smart guard in the world?

      "What's your game?" The boss asked.

      "Fine." Tatara said, laughing. "It seems I can't fool anyone today. I was actually trying to get the girl without paying, but you're obviously too clever for that. How much then?"

      The other man's eyes narrowed. "She's not for sale."

      "Oh come now." Tatara said. "Everything's for sale."

      "You tried to kidnap my property, now you try to buy her off me before I've even...assessed her value?" The boss said. "I paid good money for that girl and you aren't getting your hands on her."

      "Sir." Another guard spoke up. "The foreign girl is demanding to speak with you."

      "Very well." The boss said. "Bring her here. Bring Mei too, while you're at it." He added.

      The guards brought Suzuno and Mei back into the room. The younger girl seemed to have regained some of her previous fighting spirit. She kicked and fought against the man carrying her. But as the guard outweighed her by at least two hundred pounds, it was largely a futile effort.

      "Tatara!" Suzuno called. "She's Kokie, Tatara!"

      "So." The Boss said, grinning. "You just lie about everything don't you, Tatara?"

      "Fine." Tatara said. "The truth is, that girl is vital to the safety of the Empire. As a representative of Empress Jianna, I can offer you up to twice the amount you paid for her."

      "Vital to the safety of the Empire? How so?"

      "Suzuno?" Tatara asked.

      "Take off your cloak, Mei." Suzuno said gently. "Show him what you showed me."

      "Hey, don't talk to me like I'm three." Mei snapped, shrugging off her long cloak. Underneath, she wore a harem girl's outfit, which, in Tatara's opinion, showed off far more skin than was proper for a girl her age. What he noticed immediately however, was the glowing symbol on her bare midriff, right above her belly button. It was undoubtedly the symbol of Kokie, just as Suzuno had said.

      "That girl is one of the Seven Warriors of Byakko." Tatara said. "I've already offered you generous compensation for her. I suggest you take it, because one way or another, she's coming with us."

      "I think not." The gangster snapped his fingers. The guards surrounding Tatara drew their swords and pointed them at him. "I think I'll have you disposed of, and keep both women for myself."

      The Guards grabbed Tatara and pulled him toward the door.

      "No!" Suzuno cried.

      "Shut up!" Another guard hit Suzuno in the stomach. She doubled over, gasping for breath.

      "No!" Tatara struggled free and sent a bundle of vines across the room, wrapping them around the offender's neck. "Don't you touch her!"

      "I've had enough!" The Boss yelled. "Kill the bastard!"

*   *   *   *   *

      The head guard seized Tatara again and pressed a dagger to his throat. But before he could draw it across, the room seemed to explode.

      The little girl, Kokie, stood in the center of the blast, white light radiating from her fists.

      "Let him go!" She ordered, sending a bolt of energy flying toward the guard with the knife.

      Takao set the book down for a moment. They had found all seven Warriors. Assuming that they survived and escaped from the harem, they could summon Byakko at any time. His only hope was for Megumi to return soon with the necklace so he could tell Suzuno not to. What was taking her so long?

*   *   *   *   *

To Be Continued

*   *   *   *   *