A/N: Welcome to Illumination, the second in the Trilogy of Light! (I just made that up, just so you know.) If you haven't read Kindling Dawn yet, the precursor to this story, then hop on over to my profile and pick that up first! This story will follow the Oni OVA, and instead of being labeled as chapters, they'll be labeled as "episodes" and will actually track with each individual episode. There are nine episodes in the OVA, but this story will actually have ten. But anyway, I hope you all enjoy this story! Thank you for reading!

And also, some mild mature content ahead, so read at your own risk. :) ~Halo

Episode One

Atsuna's marvel with the way the sun kissed her skin, kissed the earth, would never fade. She felt the heat radiating through her body, renewing her and the passion she had for the fact she was alive.

The sun's unrelenting rays bled into her pores, breathing into her a fresh breath of life. She peered down below the mountain, watching the definitive ripples of the lake grasp at every last beam of light, forming a rather breathtaking sight for her to stare upon.

Atsuna hardly had the opportunity to revel in time to herself. Now living at the bandit hideout on Mt. Reikaku eliminated most of her chances for silence and time alone with her thoughts. She couldn't complain, though; she enjoyed being there with Tasuki, Koji, and the other bandits. They had welcomed her into their home as one of their own. Sometimes she had to wonder if that had been Tasuki's doing, as protective of her as he was.

She had to admit that she felt left out at being the only woman. She didn't know if it was because she was a female that the bandits all treated her with extra care and manners where, according to Tasuki, they never had. They were often screaming profanities at the top of their lungs and being, well, men until she came to live at the hideout. Atsuna knew that Tasuki would never admit it, but she was sure the bandit leader had spoken to his fellow men in a cautionary gesture to ease her into the life of bandits after her unsavory past with them.

Tasuki was sweet to a fault in that regard, but if that was the case, she would have to remember to give him a swift slap across the head. She didn't want him to go out of his way like that; she needed to let go of her past and her worries at living with a building of bandits again. She could tell they were much different than Ryozo's band of thugs.

Unable to control the smile spreading across her lips, she was glad she was there with Tasuki and his bandits. When she first arrived there, she could tell the place needed a woman's touch. In the matter of a week, she had shaped up the hideout and cleaned every nook and cranny until each surface held her reflection. She didn't mind the busy work; it gave her something to do when she wasn't running about Konan fulfilling her duties as Hikari's champion.

Tasuki, on the other hand, was not so happy about her wish to act as their maid, although she didn't refer to herself by that description. Everything she did around the hideout was of her own free will, and that in itself was the biggest difference between her stay at Mt. Reikaku as opposed to her imprisonment with Ryozo.

She felt blessed, normal. Or at least as normal as she was ever going to get.

"Miss Atsuna!"

Atsuna turned over her shoulder, feeling the sun's light leave her cheeks as she did so, to watch one of Tasuki's bandits rushing out to her. "What's the matter?" she asked as he came to an abrupt halt before her, clutching his knees as he gathered air into his straining lungs.

"You got a message, Miss Atsuna," he informed breathlessly. "Demons were seen on the outside of a nearby village. They're asking for you to come." He reached into his pocket, jerking out a crumpled piece of paper.

Atsuna took it, her eyes skimming over the wildly written words. "I see. I will leave immediately, then. Thank you." She folded the paper in two and tucked it into her shirt, bowing her head to the bandit as she began to walk towards the hideout.

"Want me to get a horse ready for you?" he asked hurriedly, rushing up to her side as she continued her trek out of the field.

Atsuna flashed him a smile. "That's not necessary. I can saddle a horse myself, thank you. But there is something else you can do for me. When Tasuki and Koji return from their rounds, inform them what has happened. I will return as soon as I am able. Tasuki would hate to be kept out of the dark about this."

The bandit couldn't help but chuckle, his thin lips curling into an amused grin. "I'll tell him as soon as he gets back."

"It's certainly appreciated," Atsuna replied with a nod. "I would wait until he returns, but I would rather not chance the lives of-"

Something hot and churning suddenly sparked to life in the pit of her stomach, causing her to jerk to a stop and spin around her shoulder, staring off into nothing. There was something there, or rather, someone. Someone familiar. Her breath caught in her throat. "It… can't be."

The bandit leaned invasively over her shoulder. "Miss Atsuna? Ya okay?"

Atsuna hesitated, barely hearing the concern in the bandit's voice. "Fine. Just…just fine." She shook her head and turned back towards the hideout, her feet tearing blades of grass from the ground as she hurriedly made her way towards the stables. She heard the bandit call out to her, but she did not answer him. Instead, she curled one hand into a fist at her side while pressing two fingers to the side of her temple, dulling the sudden headache that pulsed through her head.

It had to have been her imagination. The energy of the person she'd just felt hadn't walked this plane of existence since the summoning of Suzaku.

Koji's boisterous laughter resounded throughout the mountain as he hiked up towards the hideout. He had tears in his eyes; he didn't think he had laughed that hard for a long time. "Man, Genrou, ya crack me up," he said in between chuckles, turning to his best friend and boss. "But I don't think Atsuna'll enjoy ya tellin' me stuff like that. That's pretty freakin' personal."

Genrou, otherwise known as Tasuki of the Suzaku Seven, merely clapped a hand over his friend's shoulder. "Hey, it's nothin' private when ya can hear us through the whole damn hideout," Tasuki pointed out with a nonchalant shrug. Through slanted eyes, Tasuki nudged his friend in the side. "Don't tell me ya don't like hearin' it."

"Ha! I'd rather not hear ya do anythin' like that, but it's not like ya can stop yerself or nothin'," Koji scoffed. "An' to think that ya used to hate girls. Doesn't sound like ya hate 'em when yer bangin' the hell outta the wall every night."

Tasuki puffed out his chest as Koji swung the front door open, merely waving to the guards at the entrance. "Yeah, well, it's what I do best, among some other things. Don't be jealous."

"I'm not jealous of ya, Genrou. Believe me," Koji replied with a smirk. "Yer a damn pervert."

"Genrou! Koji!"

Said bandits came to a stop upon hearing their names, watching as a bandit came barreling down the hallway. "What's the deal?" Koji asked, rested his hands on his sides. "Ya look like someone beat the snot outta ya or somethin'."

He shook his head when he came to a stop before the both of them. "No. I just have somethin' to tell ya. It's about Miss Atsuna."

At the mention of his woman's name, Tasuki's brows instantly pulled together. "What about her? What's goin' on?"

"She had a message a couple hours ago. She had to go to one of the villages below the mountain to take care of some demons. She just wanted me to tell you about it and that she would be back as soon as she was done," the bandit explained, taking a large gulp of air at the end of his hurried explanation.

Tasuki folded his arms over his chest. "I don't like that," he grumbled. "She coulda waited for me. I woulda helped her do it."

"Hey. Don't be like that, Genrou," Koji replied, smacking his friend on the middle of the back. "Atsuna can probably take care of herself a hell of a lot better than you can."

Tasuki ignored the sarcasm in his friend's voice. "Shut up, Koji." He shrugged, loosening his arms so he could shove them into his pockets. "I guess there's nothin' I can do about it. I'll just wait fer her to get back. She won't be long. I'll wait up fer her tonight to get back."

"There's somethin' else, Genrou," the bandit spoke up quickly, noticing that his boss was just about to walk off.

"Hmm? Well, what the hell is it?" Tasuki asked, his patience waning quickly.

"Before Miss Atsuna left, she seemed bothered by something. I tried to ask her about it, but she just kept walking away from me. It didn't seem like her," he replied. "Just thought maybe you should know about that, too."

Tasuki processed the bandit's words for a few seconds. "Could mean anythin', but then again, it might just be nothin'. Atsuna coulda just been thinkin' about the demons. I'll ask her about it when she gets back tonight. I'm not gonna worry about it unless I need somethin' to worry about. An' if she decides she doesn't wanna tell me, I'll get Chichiri to do it. The monk will probably be rollin' around here eventually. We're about due to make a pass through Konan to check fer anythin' suspicious. Ya know, do our celestial duty an' all that."

Koji turned to the bandit. "Thanks fer the info. Ya can go back to yer stuff now." As soon as the words parted his lips, the bandit turned on his heel and rushed off. Koji turned to his boss. "Do ya think we should be worried?"

Tasuki shook his head. "I spend too much time worryin' about that woman as it is, Koji. She keeps takin' years offa my life. I'll ask her about it when she gets back. An' like I said, if I can't get through to her, I'll get Chichiri. If anyone can get through to her, that monk can."

Atsuna heaved in a deep breath as she dissipated her staff into fireflies of light. As it turned out, it was an entire family of darkness demons plaguing the village. Not only did the number worry her, but so did their strength. They were not a normal group of lower-level demons. They proved to pose her a bit of difficulty, which was an anomaly for her. She would have to think on it.

"Miss Atsuna, thank you so very much!" one of the female villagers gushed, coming up to her side with a grateful smile. "Is there anything we can do for you? Would you like something to eat and drink? We could provide you a place to stay for the night, as well."

Atsuna shook her head, waving her hand dismissively. "None of those are necessary, although I do appreciate the offers. I am merely doing my duty. Don't ever hesitate to call for me again if you need anything."

The woman's face fell. "But your face! You're bleeding! One of the demons got you!"

Atsuna pressed a finger against her cheek, feeling the warm stickiness there. She took a peek at her finger. Red now painted messily over it. She hadn't even realized she was injured. "It's nothing serious, so you have nothing to worry about," Atsuna replied, rubbing her fingers of the annoying wetness. "I appreciate your concern, though. I should be going now, as long as I am assured that everyone in the village is well enough."

"Wait just a moment, Lady Atsuna." An elder man, short, gray-haired, and relying heavily on a walking cane, wobbled through the line of villagers. "Before you depart, there is someone here who would like to speak with you. A friend of yours, he says."

Brows furrowed in thought atop Atsuna's forehead. Curiosity got the better of her as she nodded in understanding. "All right. Show the way."

The village elder tapped the end of his cane on the night-shrouded ground as he turned towards his hut, villagers parting a path for him and Atsuna. Most of the villagers bid her another round of quiet thanks as their elder led her towards his home. As they came to the front door, Atsuna rushed forward, opting to open the door for the both of them.

The elder glanced up at her and smiled. "Go on in, dear. I think your friend would like a moment alone with you." He chuckled weakly, using his cane to motion her inside his home.

Atsuna opened her mouth to insist that he come inside and rest, but a familiar life force suddenly flickered in the middle of her stomach. She snapped her head inside the house, and sitting down in the small den was none other than Suzaku's very own monk, Chichiri.

Despite the mask covering his face, Atsuna could see his cheeks twitch into a smile. "It's good to see you, Atsuna," he said, waving his hand.

Atsuna walked inside, kneeling down before her friend. "Chichiri, what are you doing here?"

"I sensed your life force as I was making my journey to Mt. Reikaku and thought I would stop to see you, you know," Chichiri replied. "I also detected the presence of several demons, but I suppose you were the one responsible for taking care of them."

"Yes," Atsuna said with a nod. "I was called down from the mountain to dispose of them. I was surprised to find so many of them together and even more surprised that I hadn't felt their presence until I was almost here. My range normally extends further than that." She lowered her head, focusing on the clenched fists in her lap. "I can't explain their sudden presence here, but I'm unnerved by it. I should have known they were here long before receiving any kind of missive."

Chichiri was silent for a moment, studying the marred features of his friend. "You were injured, you know," he pointed out, changing the subject. "Your cheek is bleeding. You should have it cleaned and bandaged before it gets infected, you know."

Atsuna scoffed lightly to herself, brushing her palm along the minor injury. "It's nothing," she replied. "I'll take care of it back at Mt. Reikaku. The demons didn't have any poisonous properties about them, so I can be assured that they have not infected me with anything. I feel perfectly fine." Shrugging, she cleared her throat and unclenched her hands, flexing the aching knuckles. "In any case, I was just about to return to the mountain. At this rate, I'm sure I would be able to arrive a little after midnight. I'd rather not keep Tasuki waiting any longer. He's probably worried, knowing him."

"There is something troubling you," Chichiri interrupted, his voice an octave lower. He watched as Atsuna perked her head up, eyes widened at the sudden statement. "I can sense your unease, you know."

Biting her bottom lip, Atsuna shook her head. "There's nothing bothering me, Chichiri, other than the strange appearance of the demons. I'm just a little concerned about not having detected them early enough to prevent damage done to this village."

Chichiri rubbed his chin, a deep-throated hum reverberating through the small room. "Strange, indeed. I don't know what would cause your blindness in such a matter, you know."

Atsuna flashed him a quick smile. "It doesn't matter now. The demons have been dealt with. Right now it would probably be a good idea to head up the mountain. You're going that way anyway. We could travel together."

"Certainly, but it would take us mere minutes if we travel my way," Chichiri replied with a grin, lifting his hat from the floor next to him.

Atsuna tilted her head to the side. "But what of my horse?"

"I have no problem in transporting your horse, as well, you know," Chichiri assured her. "There's no need in making the several hours' journey up the mountain when we could be up there in several minutes."

Atsuna sighed in gratitude. "Well, I see no reason to wait any longer, then. We could go to Mt. Reikaku, take the night to rest, and begin our travels throughout Konan tomorrow morning. Is that all right with you?"

Chichiri nodded, pushing himself to his feet. "It's fine with me, you know." He walked over to her, offering his hand so he could pull her up. He jerked her to her feet and reached for his hat. "So, shall we get going?"

Opening his eyes, he had to blink several times to make sure he was not dreaming. The last thing he remembered, he was standing before Takiko's grave in the rain with Miaka, and now…

Now he was in Konan. But how? How could this possibly be happening to him now?

Groaning, he sifted his fingers through his raven bangs, pushing them away from his eyes. He had a splitting headache. He didn't know how long he'd been out, but he assumed it couldn't have been long if he was not found lying unconscious on the outskirts of Konan's royal city.

The first thing he wanted to do was try to figure out how in Suzaku's name he had made his way back here. His mind was racing, throwing him in a million different directions. There was a warm inkling of power flickering in the gut of his belly, telling him to first find his sister and tell her he was there.

But he didn't even know where to look. How much time had passed since Seiryu was defeated? Where was she now? Where were Tasuki, Atsuna, and Chichiri? Were they all still together? Those questions and more posed a serious threat to his sanity.

Gathering his wits about him, he pushed himself up, brushing the dirt from his clothes. They would surely attract attention here, much like Miaka's had when she first arrived with Yui. Eyes scoping through the array of buildings, he settled on one of towers coming from the palace courtyard.

The Royal Palace of Konan. If there were any place suitable to begin his search for answers, it would be there.

Atsuna leaned against the open windowsill of her bedroom, peering out into the darkness of the night. It was clear, stars hiding somewhere far off in space and the moon a small crescent-shaped sliver of light hanging high in the sky.

Since returning to the mountain several hours ago with Chichiri, the warm feeling swimming around her stomach had intensified. She was almost certain the life force she was detecting was that of Tamahome's, but she couldn't be sure of that. Even after everything transpired with Seiryu, she had always been able to feel him inside of her, so close and yet so far away from her. Apparently time and space only had so many restrictions when it came to her connection to him as her twin brother. She was always comforted by that.

But now she was confused and, admittedly, scared. She had no idea what to make of the feelings swirling inside of her like a windstorm. Sighing and closing her eyes, she rested her chin on her arms. She wished she knew why she was feeling this way, and why it had to be now.

"Man, that bath was great," Tasuki spoke up from behind her. Clad in only black slacks, the bandit leader scrubbed his wet tangerine locks with a towel, his grin as wide as the sun's rays across the sky. He tossed the towel to the floor, his bottom lip popping out in a pout. "It woulda been better if ya joined me, babe. It's not like ya not to wanna bathe with me. I always make it a real good time."

When Atsuna remained silent and still at the open window, Tasuki planted his fists on his hips, watching her with an arched brow. It wasn't the first time he had seen her unresponsive; she'd been this way a lot since Tamahome left in search of Miaka's world, since their friends had been lost in the war with Kutou, with Seiryu, since the loss of her family had a chance to sink in after the dust settled with the war.

Stomping over to her until his body pressed against her bottom, he released a heavy gust of air. His fingers splayed against her hips. "Okay, woman, what's goin' on? It's not like ya to be so quiet."

Atsuna shrugged, but didn't turn around to look at him. "It's nothing, Tasuki. Just thinking," she answered in a whisper.

Tasuki leaned over her shoulder before she had even finished her answer, his head jutting invasively next to hers. "It's never nothin' with ya. Now spit it out, or I'm gonna go get Chichiri an' make him do it. I'm not a patient man, an' ya know that."

Finally opening her eyes and turning ever so slightly to gaze at his hard amber gaze, she sighed. "I can feel Tamahome."

Blinking several times, Tasuki straightened his body and stepped back, giving her room to turn around and look at him. "So what? Ya said you've always been able to feel him, even after everythin' happened with Nakago an' Seiryu. What's different about it now?"

Frowning, Atsuna folded her arms under her breasts. "Something has changed about his life force. It's stronger, for one thing, not to mention there is just something…odd about it now." She dropped her hands to her sides, sighing exasperatingly. "For all I know, my emotions are merely playing tricks on me. I just miss him. He and I didn't have much of an opportunity to be together after being reunited. We were always stuck in the middle of something else, and then our family was taken from us and he left for Miaka's world." She looked away from him, her face lowering. "Now I know how they all must have felt when I disappeared as a child."

"Hey, don't think about that," Tasuki scolded, coming up to her once more. He pressed his hands against her arms, rubbing them soothingly. "If ya can feel his life force, then that means he's alive, right? Maybe that means he an' Miaka got together in her world. Maybe our worlds aren't as far away as we thought they were, an' that's why ya can feel him. Yer twins, right? That's not an easy bond to break."

Somewhat disgusted with herself, Atsuna tore her eyes away from him. "I should be relieved more than anything to know I am feeling his presence, to know that somewhere out there, he is safe and happy. But instead, I'm acting like a selfish child. I want to see him for myself. I want to know that he is all right with my own eyes rather than just the feeling of him I have in my heart."

"There's nothin' wrong with that," Tasuki said. "Ya wanna know fer sure that he's out there an' yer not goin' nuts. I get it. But I don't think ya are. Tama's out there with Miaka. I know it."

Atsuna made a humming noise in the bed of her throat, giving him a quick smile. "Thank you, Tasuki. I'd like to think so, as well." Slumping her shoulders with another sigh, she peered over her shoulder at the night-blanketed sky. "In any case, I think tonight is going to be a rather restless one for me. Sleep will not come easily."

The bandit leader couldn't pry the curling smirk from his lips even if he wanted to. Instead, he jerked Atsuna hastily into his chest, his arms forming a barricade around her back.

She snapped her head up at him, hands pressed against his bare chest, with a discontented look on her face. "Tasuki, what are you doing?"

"If yer gonna have a restless night, I wanna have somethin' to do with it," he replied, baring his fangs in a widening grin. He moved a hand over her shoulder, fingers playing over the thin fabric so easily swayed from her skin.

Tasuki's grin was contagious, Atsuna came to find, as he shrugged her yukata from one shoulder then the other. His calloused hands couldn't have felt better on her skin. She much preferred them to hands soft as silk; the roughness of his hands mirrored his personality, mirrored the passion he displayed in everything he did - including what he was about to do.

"Sometimes I have to wonder if you find an excuse to do this," Atsuna mumbled as Tasuki yanked her towards their bed. She yelped loudly as her body slammed against the mattress, his body tumbling over hers within seconds.

"Don't hafta make any excuses when yer willin' to do it as much as I am," Tasuki pointed out, sliding his tongue over his lips as a litany of sexual positions flew through his head. His face flushed at the thought of making love to her throughout the rest of the night, half as a means to keep her mind away from the onset of depression at her brother's absence and half for the most obvious enjoyment of it.

Atsuna couldn't argue with him; she was always willing to his touch, a slave to the simplest graze of his fingers against her skin, to his kiss. She hungered for it, even now. It was her sweetest escape.

"Tell me ya want it, an' I'll give it to ya," he rasped, his mouth tugging on the outer shell of her ear. He ground his pelvis into hers, rousing a moan from between her lips. "Tell me ya want me."

Atsuna opened her mouth, fully prepared to comply with his demand, but his own mouth crushed hers, tongue attacking hers. Broad hands tore wildly at her bathrobe while jerking his pants down his knees so he could bury himself deep within the cavernous warmth of her body.

No, sleep would not come to her this night.

It was hard for Atsuna to shake the haze of sleep from her body. For what seemed like moments stuck in time, she lie there within the protective blanket of Tasuki's arms, fingers skimming about her back like the sun kissed the grass every morning.

Lips pressed against her temple, prompting her to turn her head up, looking into the exhausted amber eyes of her bandit. "Didn't know if ya were awake or not," he said with a yawn.

Atsuna nodded, twisting her body into his. "Thank you for last night. I really needed that."

A smirk stretched across his face. "Hey, I'm only that good with you. I can't take all the credit."

Chuckling, Atsuna propped herself on her hands, hovering over him. "That's not exactly what I meant. You made me feel better by what you said. I should be happy that my brother is with Miaka somewhere. I know he would only want for me to be happy with you. I shouldn't focus on the negative aspect of things. I should just be thankful that his presence still lives on within me, whether it be strong or dull. It's still there, and it makes me feel like I will never lose him. It's nice to have you around to help keep me grounded."

"It's what I'm here for," Tasuki replied. He flicked a stray lock of hair behind her shoulder, moving his fingers over the side of her neck. "Ya just miss him. I kinda miss him, too. It'll be okay eventually. I think it might get easier with time."

Atsuna nodded in agreement, hoping that he was right. She wasn't sure how long she would be able to keep up her renewed strength on the matter. She retreated back onto his body, sighing deeply as she rested her head under his arm. "Thank you, Tasuki," she whispered.

"Don't thank me just yet," he said. His arms tightened around her, and within seconds, Atsuna found herself flipped onto her back, Tasuki hovering above her much like he had last night. "I have a feelin' yer gonna need to save all yer thanks fer after this." He leaned forward, lips sliding across the underside of her jaw.

Atsuna knew she shouldn't have been surprised that he wanted her again, but she couldn't have asked for more proof than his hardened erection pressing against the inside of her thigh. She wrapped an arm around his neck, her fingers finding the wildly untamed ends of his orange hair. His mouth teased her, made her want for more, as it journeyed over the base of her neck, trailed the top of her shoulder, circled her nipple.

"Do ya know how good it feels fer me to be inside ya?" he asked, his voice raspy against her skin. His tongue slid between his lips, moving a perfect circle over her nipple, suckling it, tugging it gently between his teeth.

Atsuna felt her face flush as she unconsciously arched her back into his mouth. "You…You shouldn't talk so forward like that," she scolded breathlessly.

A deep-throated chuckle vibrated against her breast. "Ya like it every minute of it," he rebuked, puckering his lips over her nipple a second time.

Drowning in her own mounting passion, Atsuna tilted her head to the side, a completely submissive slave to the bandit leader as his mouth continued to suckle her, his fingers weaving their way down her body to the aching center that begged for attention.

The bedroom door thrust open, followed by a very cheerful greeting. "Good morning, you two!" Chichiri greeted with a wave of his hand.

Atsuna felt her heart come to crashing halt in her chest. She cried out, slamming her palms against Tasuki's face to stop his overly intimate kisses. She grabbed the blanket and pulled it over her exposed body, avoiding the embarrassed look on the monk's face.

Tasuki cared much less about his modesty as he snapped his head over his shoulder, shooting daggers into his comrade. "Chichiri! Haven't ya ever heard o' knockin'? Fer Suzaku's sakes! I oughta kick yer ass!"

Chichiri turned away, thankful he bore his mask to hide the climbing blush in his cheeks. He rubbed the back of his neck. "Apologies. I had to wonder why I felt a sudden spike in Tasuki's life force, you know. I guess I know why."

Tasuki growled. "Don't just stand there an' think about it more! Me an' Atsuna are naked under here, damn it!"

"Tasuki! Don't tell him that!" Atsuna spat, shoving him away from her.

"I'm sorry for the sudden intrusion, you know," Chichiri apologized again, his voice growing hasty. "But I thought I would ask for the both of you to get ready so we can leave soon. Take the time you need to get dressed and grab breakfast, and then we will depart for Konan, you know." He bowed his head quickly and scurried from the room, pulling the door shut behind him.

"Damn monk," Tasuki grumbled, turning to look at the mortified woman beneath him as she hugged the blanket to her chin. "I'll get him back fer this."

Atsuna finally settled back onto the bed, loosening her whitened grip on the blanket. "That was embarrassing," she sighed, shaking her head. "I can't believe he walked in on us. If it would have been several minutes later, we would have been—" She bit off the rest of her sentence. "I should just be thankful it didn't work out that way."

"Honestly, what did the guy think we were in here doin' if he felt my life force go up?" Tasuki snapped. "Fer bein' so smart, he can be so stupid." He shook his head in disgust at his friend's obliviousness. "So, are ya hungry? Do ya wanna get some breakfast?"

"I'm not really hungry," Atsuna replied. "We had a large dinner late last night. I should be fine for a good part of the day. I just need to get dressed and pack a few essentials, and I'll be ready to leave." She tossed the blanket away from her body and prepared to slide out of bed, but Tasuki lowered his arm next to her body, preventing her departure. She looked up at him, confused. "Tasuki? What are you doing? We have to start getting ready to leave. Chichiri is waiting."

"I'm kinda hungry myself, but it has nothin' to do with food," Tasuki growled, gliding his tongue over her lips.

Frowning, Atsuna shook her head and wagged her finger at him. "Tasuki, we don't have time. Chichiri is expecting us to start getting ready so we can go."

"Hey, I'm always up to the challenge, babe," Tasuki replied. "So we have a time limit? Let's just see how many times I can get ya to scream fer me."

Tamahome sat before his homemade fire, trying to get warm as the sun prepared to rise above the trees around him. His body ached, but that was to be expected after the travesty at the Konan Palace. He had found himself unable to enter the Suzaku Shrine. He didn't know how that could be. He was Tamahome, one of Suzaku's own warriors. Was his connection to this world completely severed when he went to live with Miaka? It was the only explanation he could give himself.

He didn't know how long he'd been sitting at the fire, his eyes boring through the red-orange flickering flames as they flickered into the cool night air. Fifty years had passed - or so was told to him by the current emperor, Hotohori's descendant. How had so much time passed since he left the book? Did that mean that Tasuki, Chichiri and Atsuna were old? Or worse, had they passed on from age? He couldn't bear the thought of being in the world he grew up in and finding everything had changed.

The thing that most troubled him was his supposed purpose for being back in Konan after so long. If fifty years had truly passed here, why bring him back now? And why bring him back without Miaka? Normally, he would consider it a blessing to be brought back to his home, but the way everything had played out so far only worried him.

There was a rustling in the bushes next to him, and when he looked up, he found a pink-haired woman staring down at him, a smile slowly stretching across her lips. "It's you. I'm so glad I found you," she sighed, kneeling down to his level.

A brow arched on Tamahome's forehead. "I'm sorry. Do I know you?"

The woman lowered her head. "You've lost your memories. After everything that's happened, I suppose it's almost to be expected." She reached forward, placing her hands on his arm. "But I will do everything in my power to restore them."

"My…memories? I don't know what you're talking about," Tamahome said, his brows furrowed in confusion.

"It will be all right now," she assured him, her smile perplexing. She pulled away from him and bowed low to the ground before him. "You're my master, and I am forever here to serve you…Lord Nakago, sir."