Disclaimer: I disclaim Fushigi Yuugi and the base Seishi. However… I do own the plotline and other Seishi and the ketsu! There! I said it! Now I can go forth and make millions off of my creation::looks at wallet: OK, maybe not… 'Telepathy' is bold, thoughts are italics. I do use Japanese honorifics, so here's the basics of them: -san is used for someone you respect or is older than you and -kun is used between friends, but generally more between guys. –sama is for someone you really REALLY respect, and –chan is an affection between girls (usually) or from a girl to boy if they're really close.

Notes: The Seishi/ketsu idea came from Jennifer Roberson's books on the Cheysuli. However, I took a different turn and sort of combined the two in what I hope is a unique idea. This takes place in the same time/place as the original FY, though I do plan to change a few things (some major and others minor). Probably the only thing I should mention ahead of time is that there may be confusion because of all the names (you'll see). And just as a reminder, people introduce themselves last name then first name. Now… on with the fic!

And as a final note…:hugs Ryuen to death: A million trillion thank yous! This first chapter is for you!

Between Seishi And Gods

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The forest was quiet this time of day. Most people were either toiling in the fields to bring home a good day's pay, or they were in the city trying to earn an honest coin. No one had time, as they walked by the shadowed land, to admire the breathtaking landscape of trees mixed with a gentle river. The forest was a very peaceful place, hiding its secrets beneath a colorful blanket of leaves, sky, and animals.

Thus, the sound of a young man's footsteps pounding the ground as he sprinted over the ground was more than a little obvious (and disturbing) to the denizens of this natural domain.

Can't wait until I hit the city! Oh Suzaku, I've been waiting for this day for too long, he thought with more than just a touch of joy.

Birds took flight and small creatures scurried away from the noisy intruder, fearing for their homes and lives. However, this giant had no intention of malice of any sort. His whole being was focused on the city rising and growing before his very eyes. His long legs carried him over the forest debris, while his uncanny agility made every movement calculated and perfect.

But when he was only a few feet away from the road, he stopped in mid-step.

For the first time in a long while, Sou Kishuku felt something akin to fear.

'Toshi… what if I don't make it?' he asked uncertainly, stepping back into the cover of the forest. 'I mean… I come from a farm practically - a little hole in the ground. How am I gonna measure up to the rest of the people there? And what if something happens to Dad or the kids? I don't have much money, I don't know if I can-'

'Kishuku, if you keep this up I swear to Suzaku I will tear your throat out myself!' an irritated bass echoed in his head. Kishuku looked to his left and saw, with relief, that Toshi had silently padded up to his side. 'Relax, I'm not leaving you. I would never leave you.' And the leopard rubbed his head against Kishuku's side in a strong but eternally affection fashion.

He smiled and bent down, hugging the huge cat around the neck. Toshi was a good-sized leopard, over six feet long and tall enough that his head came right to Kishuku's hip. Built strong with fangs and claws to die for (or under), Toshi was also the most beautiful creature in his eyes. His golden fur shone with its own energy and small black rosettes were bullseyed with a darker shade of sunlight. Though the pair looked nothing alike, a midnight haired teen verses a sunshine leopard, they shared more than most people could ever understand.

In his head, Kishuku could hear words of pride and reassurance in Toshi's mind-voice. Unbridled satisfaction welled up inside, knowing that this graceful yet deadly animal was his ketsu - his animal bondmate for life and no one else's. Kishuku was sure no one else had a ketsu like Toshi, and he was equally sure no one else could ever be as good a Seishi as he planned to be.

For that was the reason he was traveling to the city. Although he and Toshi had become bonded almost two years ago, he couldn't leave his family at the mercy of farm life without his help. Even though it was required to visit the Center almost directly after bonding, Kishuku couldn't find it in his compassionate heart to just up and leave his father and beloved siblings. But finally, his father had insisted on sending Kishuku to the city to begin his training as a real Suzaku Seishi. It took a few months but Kishuku had managed to scrounge up enough money to keep his family fed for a time and to allow him to make this journey. He would need money in the city, and Suzaku only knows how much it cost to stay at the Center.

Being a Seishi sounded like so much fun when I was younger, the blue-haired boy sighed. Going around fighting, shifting, other fun stuff… I'll be lucky if I can keep from getting kicked out my first day.

'We should probably get moving,' Toshi broke his thoughts, using one large paw to bat Kishuku off his neck. 'We don't want to be late.'

'We're not even being expected,' Kishuku laughed aloud. He gave the leopard one last swat on his thick head. "Race ya there!"

And Kishuku took off down the road, his braid whipping around his face as Toshi let out a sound that could have been a laugh or a threat. They entered the city gates completely oblivious to the looks and sounds of the shocked merchants at the sight of a teen boy running like the dickens with a leopard hot on his heels.

Kishuku risked a glance backward to see where his ketsu was and stopped in mid-step when he realized the golden cat was nowhere in sight. Panic rose up unbidden as he called out Toshi's name both verbally and mentally. Looking through the crowd, it shouldn't have been that hard to see a leopard, but the people were milling around everywhere and blocking his view of everything. Luckily, Toshi took pity on his frantic Seishi and answered the call.

'Kishuku, my honored Seishi, wonderful bondmate… you took a wrong turn,' the leopard's voice was tinged with amusement and more than a little mockery. 'I believe that means I won.'

Kishuku grumbled a few unrepeatable words under his breath as he followed the telepathic pull until he came upon Toshi was sitting placidly in front of a long black-barred gate. "So this is it?" he asked. "Isn't it a little big for a school?"

'You've never been to one before, how would you know how big it's supposed to be?'

"Stuff it, kitty," Kishuku said, and Toshi merely smiled a well-fanged smile. Then it dawned on him. "Holy Suzaku this is the Palace!"

Toshi merely stood up and padded through the gates to the Palace of Konan. 'Yes it is.' Kishuku almost didn't enter, hesitant at stepping upon hallowed ground, but he merely took a deep breath and followed his ketsu through.

The Palace… he thought dazedly. What am I getting myself into?

And was immediately stopped by a pair of guards.

"Halt!" they crossed their spears in front of him. "Who are you and what is the reason for your appearance?"

"I, uhm, I-I'm a Seishi," Kishuku managed to spit out. Oh that sounded so pathetic! "I'm here to join the Center." With no further delay, Toshi sat down next to Kishuku, further emphasizing their right to be here.

They dropped their spears immediately and their temperaments changed from frigid to warm. "Then welcome to the Palace of Konan and it's Discipline Center," one man said kindly. "Let me call someone to relieve my post and I will take to you Akihito-sensei."

"Thank you very much," Kishuku released the breath he didn't realize he was holding. Quickly, a third guard was called over and the first man turned back to him.

"My name is Pa Metsuza," the guard introduced himself as the trio went walking. "Who are you, young Seishi?"

"I'm Sou Kishuku, and this is my ketsu Toshi," he explained. "We've just arrived like, ten minutes ago and I'm a little nervous about being here."

Metsuza let out a disarming laugh. Kishuku got a good look at the man under the helmet and realized Metsuza must be over 50 years old. "Don't worry, son. I'm sure you'll do fine. I've been here for over 20 years and every Seishi I've seen enter these gates has always done Suzaku proud."

Wonder if I'll do Suzaku proud…

"You might want to look around," Metsuza advised him. "The Palace and Center are connected at the back and multiple intervals, so you will have to learn the layout of both in a short amount of time."

The young man looked around and figured out that he was completely lost.

'I know where we're going,' Toshi said, his voice smug.

'Smart-mouth cat. I'm beginning to wonder how much you care about me!'

'I love you dearly, but that doesn't mean I can't tease you like the kitten you are.'

Kishuku took it as a partial insult and began paying extra attention to their guide. "Why is the Center next to the Palace? What if something happens and the emperor is killed?"

"I doubt the emperor is in any danger," Metsuza said wryly. "But it's so close because Emperor Saihitei prefers to have Judges nearby aiding them in decisions concerning Konan, Seishi, and everything in between. Besides, I think every country has their Center closer to their Palace for defensive measures, if you get my drift."

That made sense to Kishuku. If you're going to rule a country, you may as well have the smartest and best minds helping you along with the strongest and fastest fighters. "Do you know any Seishi personally?"

Metsuza grinned. "Sure. My granddaughter is one. She's not here now, since she's only 11, but she'll be coming here for formal lessons as soon as she's 13. She's going to do the family proud."

"I'll bet," Kishuku smiled. His whole village had made a huge fuss over him leaving to become a full-fledged Seishi that he still couldn't even remember the affair without blushing self-consciously. He was the first of their village to become one and they felt the undeniable need to show their pride in this boy.

"What do you think you'd like to be?" Metsuza asked, referring to one of the three roles a Seishi could fill.

The answer came without hesitation. "I want to be a Warrior," he declared.

Metsuza chuckled and clapped the younger man on the back. "I may see you in the future then, Kishuku-kun. I help train some of the new students in weaponry." He stopped in front of a building, a rather unimpressive thing but obviously important if it was the first place he went to. "Go on now. Akihito-sensei should be in there."

"Thank you, Metsuza-san," Kishuku bowed politely to the guard. Toshi made a motion of bowing by stretching his forelegs out and bending on his hindquarters.

"Good luck, Sou Kishuku-san and Toshi-ketsu," Metsuza bowed back to both and went to return to his post.

Kishuku looked at the building. It was an outpocket set away from the main Palace and the big building he assumed was the Center. It was shaded, though one of the doors was open. A sense of friendliness came to him and he hoped he wasn't too far off. He climbed the stairs and knocked on the doors, his heart pumping madly at this second trial.

"Come in. The door's open."

He looked at Toshi, but when the cat only stared at him with crystalline eyes Kishuku knew he had to enter first.

The first thing Kishuku noticed was how bright the room was. There were windows on almost every side, allowing sunlight to filter in with the gentle breeze. There was a scent like vanilla incense floating around the room, calming his jittery nerves. There was no other way to describe it - the room was alive and familiar and a place that Kishuku didn't feel so worried about entering.

Sitting calmly at a desk was an older man, possibly even older than Metsuza judging by his salt and pepper hair, reading a few scrolls and frequently signing them. A bird of prey was perched on the back on his chair, apparently reading over his Seishi's shoulder before turning to the duo.

The man looked up and smiled. "You are a new one, aren't you?" His voice was attentive and strong, as his eyes and mind studied every inch of Kishuku and Toshi. "I can tell- you have the look as if you're afraid I may snap your head off."

Kishuku's eyes widened all by themselves and the man laughed. "No, you don't have to fear that, young Seishi." He stood up with an amiable expression on his well-worn face. "Welcome to Konan's Discipline Center for Suzaku Seishi. I am Master Haon Akihito, Headmaster of the Discipline Center and a Tasuki Judge. However, I'm not one for sticking to dry formalities, so you may call me Akihito-san or Haon-san or wherever your preference lies. This is my ketsu Rune," he laid his hand out and turned to show his ketsu. The bird-

'He's a falcon and would like you to know that,' Toshi told him.

The falcon spread his wings and ruffled his feathers, puffing up his size in an attempt to intimidate Kishuku. It was working - he would hate to get on that bird's bad side.

"And who are you?" Akihito asked.

"I'm Sou Kishuku, a Tamahome Seishi, and Toshi is my ketsu," he indicated the leopard with a hand on his head. It did two things; to show the bond between the duo, and to calm Kishuku's still-sparking nerves.

Akihito came around the desk and the two exchanged bows. "Well, Kishuku and Toshi-ketsu, I am pleased to formally meet and greet you to this hallowed place of learning. May you always know the grace of Suzaku and follow the destiny he has set for you," he said politely, but a smile brightened his face as it did his manners. "So… now that the protocol is out of the way, please tell me a little about yourself. What kind of Seishi would you like to be, first off?"

"A Warrior. I really want to be a Warrior," Kishuku admitted, his voice excited and alive.

"Any reason?" the man asked, genuinely interested.

"I've lived to protect people, ever since I was little. I want to keep doing it, be it my family or a Suzaku no Miko or even a whole city."

Akihito nodded in thought, still studying the duo with intuitive eyes when they finally rested on Toshi. "A leopard… how interesting. I haven't seen a leopard for near… 10 or 12 years I think. You must be quite a special young man."

He bent down and reached his hand for Toshi. The cat walked over and gave himself up to being petted and admired (not that he'd have any objection in the first place). "And your ketsu looks like he's part of the reason you want to be a Warrior. I cannot imagine a leopard sitting through infinitely boring meetings or unending ceremonies." Kishuku hid a smile - he couldn't see it either. Both of them were too lively and energetic to become a Judge or Priest.

The Tasuki Seishi traced a finger over the black spots on Toshi's head and neck with infinite gentleness and respect. Toshi was lightly purring at the affection, and Kishuku understood why this feeling of ease had come from him. Haon Akihito may have been the most powerful Seishi in Konan and Headmaster of the Center, but he was a kind and friendly soul. The sort of man that people went to when they had problems, and knew he would treat every one of them with equal and genuine care.

Kishuku liked him.

'And he knows my soft spot,' Toshi's thoughts were languid and relaxed. 'Anyone that can make me purr deserves my love. Ahhhh that's nice…"

At this, Kishuku did laugh. Akihito spoke again, this time to his ketsu. "Rune, would you mind fetching either Miruka-san or Donai-san? Whoever is free at the moment is fine." A quick symbol of red flashed on Rune's chest as he mind-spoke to his Seishi, then he flew out the nearest window.

"So that's why you have all those windows," Kishuku thought aloud.

Akihito nodded as he stood up to return to his desk. "Mostly for that reason. Neither of us function quite as well if we can't up and get away when the papers become taller than myself." He pulled out a scroll from a drawer. "But also because I just like the way the room looks with some sunlight. Don't you agree?"

"Yeah," he nodded, watching Akihito's movement with cat-like curiosity. "May I ask what you're doing, Akihito-san?" Normally Kishuku would have kept his mouth shut, but the headmaster had put him at such ease he felt he could ask some questions.

"Oh of course - it has to do with you anyway. Come look," he waved the young man over. The Seishi came around the desk while his ketsu chose to lounge on the sun-warmed floor. "This is the scroll of the Tamahome Seishi. It is a compilation of all the Tamahome Seishi that have ever been brought to the Center and trained. You are the newest one, obviously, so I'll put you down here at the bottom of the list. However, I do need to see your symbol, so if you wouldn't mind shining it for me we can be getting on with all this."

Kishuku nodded and focused his ki. The Suzaku no Seishi symbol of Tamahome known as oni appeared on his forehead, shining like a fiery beacon in the midst of the white light. And from this point, he could use his ki to do one of three things: open the telepathic link with Toshi, use the energy for fighting, or shapeshift.

All three were the gifts each god saw fit to give their Seishi. The first was the blessing of the ketsu themselves, to remind their Seishi that they are to respect all animals as they would their animal gods. Thus, if Toshi chose to speak back, the same oni symbol would glow on the cat's forehead as double proof of his sacred status. The second was like a reflection of their ketsu; depending on their animal, they would be endowed with a talent relating to the ketsu. Kishuku was a fighter to be feared and admired because Toshi had given him that gift - leopards are known for their uncanny fighting prowess, so now Kishuku could become a fighter too.

And the final talent was the ability to shapeshift into the animal of their ketsu. When he first bonded with Toshi, Kishuku spent a good amount of his time wrestling as a leopard cub with his much smaller ketsu. Kishuku expected that all the windows helped Akihito fly away as a falcon when he needed to relax.

"Thank you, Kishuku-kun. You are a Tamahome Seishi, which I suspect you know," Akihito inked the newest Seishi/ketsu pair into the scroll, gently teasing the young man. Kishuku relaxed and his symbol faded away into the sunlight. "Age and place of birth?"

"17, and the village of Hakukou in the Jusou county," he rattled off the information.

At this, the Judge stopped writing and gave Kishuku with a bemused look.

"Only 17? That doesn't sound right. You two have the look of being used to each other," he commented. "Most newly bonded pairs walk in here looking like they still can't believe what it's like to be bonded. What's your real age?"

Kishuku flushed as he explained, "Toshi bonded with me when I was 15 and my birthday is in a month, so it's actually more like three years I've known him. But I couldn't leave my family because my dad's been sick and there's no one around to help my brothers and sisters. I've been taking care of the family and only recently have I had enough money to get to here and keep them supported."

Akihito's face went unnaturally serious. "Money and illness problems? Hmmmm…" he mused thoughtfully. "And it lies near the border of Kutou, which further complicates things."

"Complicates?" Kishuku's worry suddenly felt like a boulder in the center of his chest. "Is that bad?"

"Not so much bad, but we seem to be-"

"Haon-san?" a voice came from the doorway.

A man stood there with Rune alight on his outstretched arm. To Kishuku, the first thing he noticed was the sheer presence of the other man. If a rock could live and breathe yet retain its solidness, then this is what it would look like. Not only was he a good head taller than Kishuku and at least twice his age, but his whole body looked as if to be made of pure muscle. His light brown eyes held the look of a man that knew what he could do, and would do it if pushed that far. It was the seriousness of a weathered fighter and the wisdom of one that had learned when it was best to lay down his weapon. Yet there was a lightness to his face; tiny crows feet belied the man's penchant for smiles.

OK, now I'm worried.

"Good morning, Donai-san," Akihito waved to indicate he saw the man. Rune took off and returned to his Seishi partner. "Kishuku-kun, I'd like you to meet Te Donai, a Mitsukake Seishi. He is the Chief Warrior and a very fine one at that. He's the man that you will be your superior if you are to be a Warrior."

"Thank you, sensei," Donai bowed politely while red colored his face, and Kishuku noticed the big man had the same problem he did; he couldn't take a compliment for the life of him.

Kishuku made the first move. "It's good to meet you, Te-sama," he bowed. "I'm Sou Kishuku, Tamahome Seishi." 'I wonder how many more times I'm gonna have to introduce myself.'

'A lot,' Toshi decided.

"You plan to be a Warrior Seishi?" Donai looked him up and down. "And your ketsu is…"

Toshi got up and stood next to Kishuku, his tail lashing back and forth in a demand for attention. "This is Toshi, my ketsu."

At this, Donai grinned brightly. "Heheh, you and me are gonna have a lot of fun. Come on outside and meet Shioki!"

Kishuku shared a glance of worry with both Toshi and Akihito, but the cat merely followed the Chief Warrior out while Akihito gave a smile of encouragement. He finished writing in additional information before standing up. "Let's take a break, shall we?"

"All right," he agreed and followed Akihito out the door as Rune flew overhead. The sounds of growling and grunting were evident as the two stepped onto the patio, and Kishuku's mouth dropped when he saw what was going on.

Toshi was engaged in a wild fight with a steer. Though it was obviously just a mock battle, neither was showing any need to roll over and play dead. Donai was standing on the steps, watching the scene with amusement and calculation in his eyes. "Shioki is a bull!" Kishuku asked, managing to fit his jaw back into place.

Donai just smiled and said, "Brahma bull. I think he has the upper hand at the moment."

It was true. As hard as Toshi tried to bite and claw Shioki, the latter was simply too big and too learned to allow Toshi to hurt him. And even when the leopard got a pawful of flesh, the black skin was too thick to be cut so easily.

'Come on, Toshi! You can do it!' Kishuku rallied for his ketsu.

'Ki, I have no idea what I'm supposed to do!' Toshi thought wildly, his mindvoice a snarl. He was tossed off Shioki's back and landed on all fours, sides heaving and mouth foaming with exertion.

Finally, Shioki decided to end the fight. Lowering his head he ran at Toshi, and the agile animal jumped over him. But as if Shioki had been expecting that, he merely stopped a few inches short of gutting the Toshi, kicked his rear legs into the air, and hit Toshi full in the stomach with both feet.

"Toshi!" Kishuku cried out, leaping down the stairs to his ketsu. Oh God, oh God, oh God… Skidding to a halt next to the sprawled animal, his heart was beating so hard he thought it would break out of his chest. "Toshi, are you all right?"

The cat let out a wheeze. 'Ouch…'

"He'll be fine, Shioki didn't kick that hard," Donai said, his voice not unkind. Shioki was behind him and watching Kishuku and Toshi with great curiosity, though Kishuku decided he didn't like it much. "Your Toshi is good. He's strong, with good skills for being so young."

And as Donai predicted, Toshi stretched his body before slowly getting onto his paws and standing up. 'That was… that was amazing,' his voice was filled with awe. 'That's why Donai-san and Shioki-san are so strong, because they're smart. Not just physical strength, you know? They don't have okane for brains like a certain Seishi I know.'

Kishuku ignored the intended stab and looked at Donai. "That was some lesson. Remind me not to go flying headfirst into a fight with you anytime soon, Te-sama."

Donai laughed heartily while Akihito simply shook his head in amusement. "Kishuku, I'd appreciate it if you'd just call me Donai-san. We will generally be avoiding strict manners like the plague."

"Yes, Donai-san," Kishuku nodded agreeably.

"It's the middle of the day, so almost everyone is either in the middle of classes or doing other things to keep themselves busy," Donai explained as Akihito handed him a scroll. "Haon-san, I'm going to take Kishuku around and help him find a place to stay, then I'll run this over to Emperor Saihitei."

"Good luck, Kishuku-san, Toshi-ketsu," Akihito waved to him. "Please come visit me sometime soon. I do appreciate the company."

Kishuku grinned happily. "All right!" he waved before following Donai and Shioki around the premises. Catching up to the Chief Warrior, he saw the similarities between the Seishi and ketsu; the strength in their gait, their easygoing confidence, and even Donai's earth-brown hair matched Shioki's equally dark fur.

'Toshi?'

'Yeah?'

'I think I'm gonna like it here.'

A pause before Toshi answered with a confident, 'Me too, my Seishi.'