Disclaimer: You know the drill. Konan, Suzaku and all characters and seishi pertaining to them are not mine. Kiori and Ritsuka are my own product, however, as are all other originals. The story is mine, too, naturally.
Rating: PG-13, for crude humour, language, and violence. But what would Fushigi Yuugi be without it?
Timeline and Spoilers: Takes place two years after the "Oni" OVAs, so yeah, there are spoilers for the whole kit 'n' kaboodle, except "Eikou Den."
Fushigi Yuugi: The Next Chapter
--Episode One: A New Book--
The light tinkle of bells above the door alerted the visitors of the library to a new guest. A few heads turned, watching as a pair of college students entered the wide double doors of the National Library, both looking around cautiously. The other residents shrugged, ignoring the two young men and going back to their work. One of the pair, a student with light-brown hair and nervous eyes, breathed a sigh of relief. He glanced over at his friend, a dark-haired man wearing sunglasses, and gave him a small, reassuring smile. "Not too busy today, Tetsuya." He unconsciously tightened his grip on the ancient book tucked under his arm.
"Yeah yeah, that's great. Now let's get this done quick and make sure no one sees us," his friend whispered in his ear. He paused, then inquired: "But hey, are you sure it's safe to put it back in the library? If someone else finds it..."
"I already told you, since all four gods have been summoned it's perfectly safe," the young student assured his friend. "Now let's hurry; if the librarian catches us, we're dead."
The two walked quickly through the building, glancing a few times to either side to make sure no one was paying attention to them.
A pair of green eyes glanced up from a math book, watching the two college students with curious recognition in her gaze. She touched a hand to her companion's arm. "Ne, Ikido-san, who's that?"
"First of all, I told you to call me Ritsuka. And secondly..." The other young woman turned her red-haired head upwards, following the path of her companion's glance. "Which one?"
"The one with light-brown hair. I think I have a class with him but I can't remember his name."
"Oh, that blockhead is Yuki Keisuke."
"A friend of yours?"
"Mm." The girl named Ritsuka sneaked a peek at him over her math book. "Hm... I wonder what he's doing out here anyway? He never studies, not 'till the very last minute." She stood up, her long braid swishing behind her. "I can't let him just walk by without saying something, you know. I'll be right back."
The other girl smiled cheerfully, but there seemed to be a look of pain behind the grin. "Okay. Hurry back, though - you know how bad I am at math."
Ritsuka giggled a little and made her way over to her male friend. She tip-toed quietly behind the pair, making sure they didn't see her, then poked her head up between them and flashed her most cheerful grin. "Hiya, Keisuke, Tetsuya! Whatcha doin' out here? I thought you prided yourselves on being first-class procrastinators."
Keisuke turned chibi and jumped, whirling to face the friendly redhead. "Uh, oh, um, hi there Ritsuka-san! Who knew I'd see you here? Uh, so, what are you up to, hm?"
"I'm giving Sakamoto Kiori a little help with math. You know how wonderful I am when it comes to numbers," Ritsuka explained, jerking a thumb in the other girl's direction.
Keisuke looked to where she pointed. "Sakamoto Kiori, hm? Isn't she the transfer student?" A nod. He lowered his voice a little. "Are the rumors true, then?"
Another nod, this one not as perky as the last. "She's living in an apartment off campus. Doesn't have any other family, from what I understand."
"What's she like?"
Ritsuka looked over at Kiori, who waved and smiled that same cheerful, but somehow sorrowful, grin. "Well, she seems happy enough... and she's pretty nice and all, but..." the college student chewed on her lip. "You can still tell it bothers her. That kind of stuff takes a while to heal, I guess." Keisuke nodded sympathetically. "You wanna come over and meet her?"
"Yeah, I'd love-" the college boy took an elbow sharply to the ribs, courtesy of Tetsuya. Remembering his previous mission, Keisuke flashed Ritsuka a nervous smile and edged his way towards the back of the library. "Maybe some other time, I'm in a bit of a hurry, you see, and we really gotta get back to our apartment... mid-terms coming up and all—"
"So anyway," Tetsuya interrupted through gritted teeth. "We need to get going. Really nice talking to you, see you tomorrow at school and all."
Ritsuka glared at them suspiciously. Her blue eyes roved down to the book gripped in Keisuke's hand. "Hey, what's that? Are you returning it?" She squinted to read the title, but the only word she could clearly see was 'Universe.' "Wow, it looks ancient. Where in the world did you find that thing?"
"Reference section," Tetsuya said briefly, nodding towards the area he had mentioned. "Now, we really do need to get going... and maybe Sakamoto-san would like that help you said you'd give her."
Ritsuka glanced over her shoulder at the new student – in her curiosity, she'd completely forgotten about Kiori. "Good point! I guess I'll just see the two of you..." the girl turned back and found that she was talking to air; the duo had already dashed off in a small cloud of dust. "...La... ter."
Kiori glanced up through her bangs as her study partner returned, noticing the look of puzzlement on the other girl's face. "What's wrong?"
"Keisuke and his friend Tetsuya are acting really strange." Ritsuka watched as the two scurried around the corner of the library and headed towards the back: away from the reference section. "Those liars. What're they up to?"
The young woman blinked. "Am I missing something?"
"Kiori," Ritsuka began, an almost dangerous glitter in her eye. "How would you like to do a little spying?"
"I think Keisuke's messing around with something he doesn't want me to know about..."
"And you wanna know about it?" the brunette finished flatly.
"Exactly," Ritsuka stuffed her books into her bag and stood, slipping the satchel over one shoulder and turning to go. She looked back at her study partner. "You coming or what?"
Kiori sweatdropped. "Maybe there's a reason he doesn't want you to know about it. Don't you think we should stay out of other people's business?"
Ritsuka shot her an incredulous look, laughing as she did. "You're joking, right? Torturing the boys in this school is part of my job, plus it's a lot of fun! You don't have to come if you don't want to. I shouldn't be gone more than a few minutes..." the redhead trailed off, turning her attention back to the task at hand. She shifted her book bag into a more comfortable position, trotting between the shelves in the same direction the other college students had gone.
"But Ikido-san..." Kiori glanced at the homework that was due tomorrow, then back up at her only potential friend in this new school. She sighed. "Oh, for the love of... Matte (Wait up)! If you're going to get yourself in trouble, you at least need a partner in crime!"
Ritsuka and Kiori turned the same corner the two young men had disappeared around, only to find themselves facing a row of vending machines and a set of stairs. The redhead immediately darted towards the staircase, her companion following with a bit less enthusiasm. They reached the bottom just in time to see Keisuke and Tetsuya glance around nervously, open a door, and disappear inside.
"Well, there they go," Kiori said. "Now can we go?"
Ritsuka pursed her lips. "That little... what's he up to?" She stomped up the stairs and to the door, Kiori at her heels.
"What's the big-?" the new student stopped, reading aloud the sign next to the door. "'Restricted.' Mm? What's in here, private records or something?"
"I wouldn't know. Obviously, I've never been allowed inside," Ritsuka explained with a shrug. She put her hands on her hips, frowning at the sign. "What in the world is Keisuke doing? And what's so special about that book?" She put her hand on the doorknob.
Kiori turned chibi, waving her arms in wild anxiety. "Hey wait a minute Ikido-san! If we aren't allowed in then maybe we shouldn't go in, you know? I'm new here, it's only my second month at school, and I'm really not interested in getting in trouble so quickly!"
"Then don't come." She paused, glaring at the other girl irritably. "And call me Ritsuka already, would'ja? Yeesh..."
The brunette woman watched, momentarily torn, as her tutor walked into the restricted room, leaving the door open in a silent invitation. She sighed in resignation. "If you get me arrested..."
"Relax, we'll be in and out in half a second," Ritsuka snapped her fingers to prove her point. "Now: sh, I don't want Keisuke knowing we tailed him."
The two girls tip-toed through the rows of books, following the sounds of the young men's voices. "Did it go here? Or here? No, maybe here..." Keisuke murmured to himself. The college girls peeked through a shelf and watched as he darted along the bookshelf, attempting to find the mysterious book's original location.
"Come on, just pick a place!" Tetsuya growled, one foot tapping impatiently.
"Here, here? No, no, um, maybe..."
Kiori and Ritsuka stifled giggles as Tetsuya snatched the book out of Keisuke's hands and randomly shoved it between two books on the third shelf up. "There!" he snapped, grabbing his friend's arm and practically dragging him from the darkened room. "Now let's split. I don't wanna risk getting caught."
Still arguing about the book's placement, Keisuke and Tetsuya disappeared around the corner and out of sight. As soon as they heard the door to the darkened room click shut, Ritsuka snuck up to the shelf and started to scan for an old, red book with the word 'Universe' in the title.
One of Kiori's eyebrows twitched just slightly as she watched the other girl's search. "Agh, Iki – I mean, Ritsuka, why do you have to read the stupid thing?"
"Well, whatever it is, it's obviously good. Why else would they restrict it?" Ritsuka reasoned with a crooked grin. "Besides, anything that Keisuke thinks is worth sneaking in and out of here definitely deserves a look."
Kiori watched the other girl for a moment, chewing on her lip and hopping from foot to foot. After a long moment she sighed and gave up, cursing her own curiosity. "Do you need any help?"
"Hai, find an old-looking book with an all-kanji title."
The two looked over the many hardbacks for a few long minutes, until Kiori cried: "Oh! I found a couple together! What's the title?"
"I couldn't read the whole thing. 'Universe' something," Ritsuka explained.
Silence filled the room, then: "Um."
"Um... Ritsuka? There are two books with the word 'Universe' in them. Next to each other," Kiori told her, pointing at the pair.
Ritsuka trotted over, frowning at the other girl's discovery. The two books were entitled 'Universe of the Four Gods' and 'Universe Reawakened.' Both looked ancient, and the covers were almost identical in both size and shape.
"Which is it?" Kiori wondered. Even as she said it she unconsciously glanced over her shoulder, still convinced that the librarian would appear at any moment.
"I can't tell," the redhead admitted. She pulled the pair down, taking a seat and setting the books in front of her.
Kiori joined her on the floor and read the titles again. "'Universe Reawakened' might be a sequel to the other one," she suggested after a moment.
"You think so?" Ritsuka murmured. She shrugged. "Well, it still doesn't help us much."
"Maybe not..." Kiori's head shot up. "But maybe it does! Since Yuki-san-"
"Oh, just call him Keisuke."
She sweatdropped, but decided not to argue. "Hai, hai. If he'd put back the Four Gods one, he'd have gotten the sequel, right?" Kiori reasoned.
"I guess so..."
"Which means he was probably reading Universe Reawakened!" Kiori finished triumphantly, smacking the book for emphasis.
Ritsuka grinned, her head bobbing up and down in agreement. "Sou yo! Now, if I were as logical as you, I'd read the original before looking at the sequel." She grinned wolfishly. "Unfortunately, I'm not, plus I'm impatient. Universe Reawakened it is! Let's read, shall we?"
Kiori, spurred on by her deduction, forgot her caution and opened the tattered old book. She opened her mouth to read, but was knocked aside and cut off by the more loud-spoken redhead:
"Within these pages lies a story unlike any other. At the turn of this page, you shall enter a world of mystery, treachery, and war. It is a world of powerful sorcerers, courageous warriors, and dark, arcane magic. It is a dangerous place, but fear not, brave souls, for wherever evil lies, good also dwells, holding its power in the strength of loyalty, honor, and above all, friendship. If you are brave and strong of heart, then you shall triumph.
"So now, brave soul, will you turn the page? Will you have courage enough to begin an adventure far more wondrous than any other? Will you survive your quest? If your heart wavers, then be gone from here, for you will perish in the journey! But those brave few may continue on, become true heroes, and discover something new, something amazing... and, perhaps, discover themselves."
"Wow," Kiori murmured. "Great beginning. Is this one of those 'choose your own adventure' stories?"
"Sounds like it." Ritsuka giggled and faced Kiori, a somber look on her cheerful face. "So, brave soul," she said in a melodramatic, deep voice, "are you ready to embark?"
The other young woman rolled her eyes at her friend's teasing actions. Overcome with interest, the brunette hurriedly flipped the page, ready to continue the story. What she found was anything but expected. Both pages were completely void of words, pictures, or even a copyright date. It may as well have been plain notebook paper. "It's blank?"
"No way!" The redhead leaned over her friend's shoulder, scowling as she saw the blank pages for herself. "What gives?" she yelled, hands hitting the ground in irritation.
"Sh, Ritsuka," Kiori warned. "Someone might hear you."
"I don't care! This doesn't make any sense!" she snapped. "Why would Keisuke steal a blank book?" She slapped the page, as if the action might will the words to appear.
Kiori was right when she said someone would hear them. Keisuke and Tetsuya – who had spent a good deal of time assuring themselves that no one had seen them enter the forbidden room – had just reached the bottom of the staircase and heard the redhead's angry call.
Keisuke's head jerked up. "Ritsuka?" Another muffled shout echoed down the hallway; his eyes widened as he recognized its location. "What is she doing...?"
"Ah, just let her mess with it," Tetsuya said with a laugh. "She'll read a nice little story about a Suzaku Priestess who found true love. It's a pretty good book, y'know."
"I guess you're right," Keisuke agreed. He paused thoughtfully, then sweatdropped. "The part with us in it might be a little hard to explain, though..."
The pages of the book began to glow an eerie, unnatural red.
"Wah!" Ritsuka yelped, eyes growing to the size of dinner plates. She jumped back from 'Universe Reawakened,' practically clambering onto the bookshelf in her surprise. The redhead pointed wildly at the shining pages, stammering a moment before she found her voice. "Wha – wha – what'd I do? What'd I do, Kiori?"
"I don't know, but close the book!" the brunette ordered.
Both girls dove for the page, but never quite reached it. The red light engulfed them, and, with twin cries of surprise, they disappeared from the Tokyo Library.
Keisuke and Tetsuya, barely at the end of the vending machine hallway, jumped at the sound of two alarmed screams.
Tetsuya frowned, not recognizing the voices, though he could take a pretty good guess. "Ikido-san?"
Keisuke nodded. "Someone else, too..." he turned, jogging back towards the staircase and the door. "Sakamoto-san, probably. I should have warned her about hanging out with Ritsuka-san – that girl brings nothing but trouble."
"What coulda happened?" Tetsuya inquired, following his friend. "They couldn't go back into the book, now that all the prophecies have been fulfilled... could they?"
"Of course not. But..." the other college student shoved open the door and broke into a run. "Ritsuka-san! Sakamoto-san!" He slid around the corner, his eyes falling to the floor where an open book sat, its pages ruffling softly as if stirred by an unknown breeze. The girls were nowhere to be seen.
Tetsuya came around the corner so fast that he slammed into his friend. "Ow!" he rubbed an elbow and followed his companion's gaze. "Oh man..."
Keisuke sat down and picked up the book. His look of surprise quickly turned into a look of confusion. "Huh? Wait a minute, this isn't..." he checked the cover. "This isn't the Universe of the Four Gods! It's some book called Universe Reawakened!"
"Another magic book!?" Tetsuya groaned, grabbing his head in his hands. "For the love of... When do our lives get back to normal! I have really gotta stop hanging out with you, this stuff never happened to me before we met..."
But Keisuke wasn't listening; instead, he watched in growing surprise as Chinese characters began appearing in the book. He read out loud as they materialized, cutting off his friend's rants:
"'It was another beautiful, peaceful day in the Konan Empire, as many days since the Emperor's death had been. Sitting by a lake were two young men, enjoying the tranquility of the afternoon and trying to catch some fish at the same time. One of the men had a mark upon his right arm, and the other a mark upon his left knee. They were the last surviving members of the Suzaku shichiseishi: Tasuki and Chichiri, respectfully. The two had expected to live relatively quiet lives now that Suzaku had been summoned and the war ended. Had they known how short-lived their peace would be, they might have enjoyed it more.'
"Chichiri? Tasuki? The Konan Empire? Then that means..." Keisuke read the title again, confirming his theory. "This isn't a completely different book, Tetsuya! It's a sequel!"
"Suge (Awesome)! Wait until Miaka finds out there's more going on in here!" the young man exclaimed, excitement rising in his voice.
Keisuke shot his comrade a forceful look. "She's not going to find out," he said sternly, tucking the book under his arm. "If I tell her, she'll want in. She and Taka are content. We should leave them that way." He stood up, ready to leave. "This is Ritsuka-san and Sakamoto-san's story, now."
"I guess you've got a good point." Tetsuya sighed. He stood as well, putting a hand to his head and rubbing at his temples. "Aw man, if this one ends with half of Tokyo getting destroyed..."
The other college student chuckled, shooting his friend a confident smile. "Yeah, but look on the bright side: if things go well, we might find ourselves in another book."
Safe inside their apartment, Keisuke took a careful seat on his couch. Tetsuya, carrying a pair of drinks, followed suit. "C'mon Keisuke," he urged. "Get to reading! If this is anything like the last story, it's gonna be quite the trip!"
The young man chuckled at his friend's excitement. He opened the book and began again, picking up where he had last left off: "'Not too far from the last two seishi, a pair of young women – from a distant land, judging by their clothing – were just waking up...'"
Ritsuka opened her eyes slowly, blinking as she gazed up into a thick canopy of varying shades of green. Sunlight shot down through gaps in the emerald foliage, forcing the half-asleep young woman to squint against the bright rays. She sat up and yawned, seemingly unaware of her surroundings, and stretched. "Wow, what a weird dream! I thought Kiori and I were sucked into a..." she trailed off, finally realizing that she was in the middle of a forest and sitting next to a sleeping Kiori, "book. Uh-huh."
Ritsuka popped her back, trying to get her bearings and figure things out. It was awful hard to believe they'd actually been sucked into a book, but what other explanation was there? "Maybe I'm still dreaming! Yeah, that's possible!" The redhead pinched herself, then winced and scowled. "That never works in movies, anyway." She stood up, frowning and glancing around. "Well, if it is a dream," she thought out loud, "I may as well enjoy—"
Ritsuka's stopped mid-sentence, catching the faint sounds of voices. Her ears perked up and she listened intently, hoping that the speakers weren't her imagination.
"Are we ever gonna eat?" someone complained.
"We'll eat when we catch something no da," another said.
The redhead dropped back to the ground and shook Kiori, trying to be gentle as she hissed, "Oi, Kiori, come on. We need to find out what's going on."
"Five more minutes..."
"Kiori!" she snapped, her voice rising a bit.
"No Dad, please, just a little longer..."
"Oh for heaven's sake!" Ritsuka gave up the tender act – she'd never been a very subtle person, anyway – and banged a gong in her friend's ear. "KIORI-CHAN! Rise and shine!"
A chibi Kiori jumped up, yelping in surprise. She glared up at the redhead, her green eyes flashing irritably as she rubbed at her smarting ears. "Itai..."
"Gomen (Sorry)," Ritsuka said sweetly. "But you were being lazy, and this is certainly no time for being lazy." She gestured to their surroundings. "Notice anything different?"
Kiori sat up and gaped at the forest. She rubbed at her eyes, expecting the mirage to clear, but if anything it only grew steadier. She shook her head, trying to remember what had happened before she'd blacked out. "That book started glowing, and we..." she paused, listening to one of the light-hearted male voices. "Who's that?"
"That's what I wanna know," Ritsuka said. "Follow me. Maybe we can ask for directions or something."
Kiori sweatdropped, but stood and followed her comrade anyway. "Directions to where?"
The pair of college girls moved cautiously through the undergrowth, drawing closer to the unknown speakers. They peered through the bushes, looking out across a small pond and at the faces of two young men, one about their age and the other a bit older. The youngest, a redhead, yawned and flashed a pair of fangs. "Man on man, am I ever bored," he grumbled, stretching one lanky arm high above his head. The other held tightly to a fishing pole, though from the looks of it he hadn't caught anything just yet.
The other, a cheerful-looking man with short cyan hair, smiled – but then again, he always seemed to be smiling – at his friend. "You just gotta be patient no da."
"I been patient fer three hours, an' I been hungry fer four," he complained. "How d'you even know there are fish here, na, Chichiri?"
"Hm..." he grinned. "Well, Tasuki, I guess I don't!"
The one called Tasuki grabbed his head and groaned, letting go of his pole in the process. "Ya mean we been sittin' here starvin' fer maybe no good reason!? Son of a–"
Chichiri glanced down at the water. "Your pole's sinking no da," he remarked matter-of-factly.
Tasuki's eyes turned to the still pond as well, watching as the pole gradually fell below the murky blue surface. "Ach!" He yelped and dove in without thinking, intent on saving the fishing rod. He realized his mistake a bit too late. The fanged young man's head burst from the water a moment later, arms waving wildly. "Oi! Oi! Chichiri! Tasukete (Help me), y'know I can't swim!"
The older one paused for a moment, his eyebrows scrunched in a thoughtful frown. "Ano... Tasuki?"
"Stand up no da."
"Eh?" he stuck his feet out and touched bottom, his chin rising just above the water. The redhead blushed. "Oh." He paused for a moment, grimacing and reaching a hand into his coat. Seconds later he pulled out a wriggling fish. "Hey! I caught somethin', an' I think it might be a koi! Koi ga koi suru yo, heheh!" (1)
Chichiri winced at the gruesome pun. "How about you catch dinner, and I'll make the jokes no da."
Tasuki's fanged mouth turned downwards in a slight pout. "Well, I thought it was pretty damn clever..." he trailed off, noticing his friend's suddenly thoughtful expression. "Oi... Somethin' wrong?"
The other young man stood, setting his fishing pole aside and grabbing at his nearby staff. He turned his eyes towards the girls' hiding spot, focusing intently on something he couldn't quite see, but could feel as if it were right in front of him. "I'm sensing a life force..." a pause, then a headshake, "correction: two life forces. Nearby no da."
Tasuki whirled, pulling out a fan and shaking it at the underbrush. "Jus' gimme th' word and they're toast!"
Ritsuka's eyes widened as she realized the pair were talking about she and Kiori. The female redhead shoved frantically at her friend, trying to push her back into the surrounding foliage. "Ah, Kiori, move! Let's split!"
"Ritsuka, I don't think they'll hurt us!"
"I don't wanna take that chance..."
In her haste, Ritsuka didn't notice as her foot landed a bit too close to the edge of the small cliff surrounding the pond. A chunk of earth loosened beneath her, and the redhead slid backwards into the pond, grabbing at Kiori for balance right as she tumbled over. With a yelp, Kiori found herself pulled in as well. The two girls landed with a squeak and a splash, submerging briefly as they tried to untangle themselves.
Chichiri tensed, pointing his staff at the spot where the two had disappeared. Tasuki held his fan above his head, waiting for them to resurface.
The girls popped up, both spitting out water.
The young man had to turn his fan to the side at the last second, frying an unlucky tree. He whirled, facing his friend and waving his tessen wildly. "What gives?"
"I don't think they're dangerous no da."
"Well next time warn me ahead of time!" he snapped, slapping the water to emphasize his point. "I damn near started a forest fire, ya crazy monk, an'—"
"Excuse me!" Ritsuka cried, interrupting the small argument.
Tasuki's eyes turned back to the young women – or, at least, to their heads. The one who had spoken was glaring at him irritably, her bright red hair shining in the afternoon light; the other watched the pair cautiously, and perhaps with a bit of fear, as if she was afraid they really might roast her alive. The male redhead scowled, heaving an exasperated sigh. "Ah, jus' great. A couple-a girls t'cause trouble."
"And please explain to me what's wrong with a 'couple-a girls'!?" Ritsuka snapped right back, momentarily sprouting little fangs of her own and imitating his kansai accent almost perfectly.
"You'll have to excuse my friend," Chichiri interrupted, smiling apologetically and beckoning the trio towards the shore. "He can be a little hot-headed na no da."
Tasuki grimaced. "An' he said my pun was bad..."
Kiori smiled, breathing a small sigh of relief now that she realized they weren't in any danger. She flashed the man on the shore her cheerful, sad smile. "Daijoubu (It's all right). We were just surprised, that's all. No harm done."
Tasuki trudged over to the pond bank, followed by the two girls. He tossed the fish to his friend, who grabbed it and shoved it into a nearby net. The flame-throwing young man clambered onto dry land, wringing out his coat and muttering complaints and the occasional death threat to all members of womankind.
Chichiri held down his staff to help Kiori reach land. She took it, glad of the extra aid. "Arigatou, Chichiri-san."
"No problem no da. And just Chichiri is fine."
The blue-haired man shot his comrade a look. Tasuki, one eyebrow twitching in annoyance, grudgingly reached down a hand to offer to the redheaded young woman. "Ah, c'mon Red."
Ritsuka sniffed disdainfully. "I don't need your help, Fang-boy." She scrambled onto the shore with little trouble, trying in vain to shake some of the water out of her jeans.
"You already seem to know our names no da. So what are yours?" Chichiri inquired, politely averting his eyes from the pair for some reason.
"I'm Ikido Ritsuka, and she's..." Ritsuka noticed that, while Chichiri looked away, Tasuki kept staring at them, blushing fiercely in the process. "Hm? Nani (What)...?" The redhead followed his gaze downwards, suddenly remembering that she and Kiori were wearing blouses that consisted of thin, white – and now wet – cloth. Ritsuka covered her chest and slapped Tasuki across the face. "Damn pervert!"
"Ow!" Tasuki yelped, jumping back and grabbing at his stinging cheek. "C'mon, I couldn't see anything! You got a bra on! And it wasn't like I was staring straight at 'em or anything, I jus' couldn't help but notice 'cause the materials thin an' yer boobs are pretty damn big, so—!"
Chichiri heaved a sigh as his friend received another fierce slap, followed by the command: "Next time trying being a gentleman and look away!"
"He never learns no da. Here," the cyan-haired man slipped his dark robe over his neck, still looking away as he handed it to Kiori. "Go ahead and wear my kesa 'till you dry out."
The young woman accepted the gift, wrapping the soft material around her soaking form. "Thanks again. Oh, and in answer to your earlier question, my name's Sakamoto Kiori."
Once again Chichiri shot Tasuki a meaningful look, and once again he scowled and obeyed the unspoken order. "Aw, here," the male redhead grumbled, handing over his maroon jacket. "It's not dry or anythin' but you c'n wear it."
Ritsuka snatched it from his hands, wrapping it around her shoulders and glaring daggers at the flame-throwing youth. "It's the least you can do, pervert!"
"I ain't the one who ruined a perfectly peaceful afternoon!" Tasuki argued.
Chichiri sweatdropped. "Um, Ritsuka-san, why don't you and Kiori-san have dinner with us no da? I have some questions for you, and I'm sure you have some for us as well. Dinner will be a good time to do that, and it will give us a chance to get to know each other no da."
Tasuki gaped at his friend, pointing an accusing finger at the female redhead. "Ah, hell no Chichiri! I don't wanna eat with this she-devil!"
"She-devil?" Ritsuka growled, clenching her fists and moving dangerously towards the young man. "You take that back!"
The Suzaku warrior threw back his head and laughed. "Ya know what? I don't think I will!"
"You son of a—!"
"Come and catch me Red!"
"Get back here Fang-boy!"
Kiori sighed and joined Chichiri in sweatdropping. "Ritsuka's a bit of a, er, temperamental person, you could say."
"Maybe it comes with the hair color no da."
"But, uh, about dinner..." Kiori blushed as her stomach growled, "obviously I'd really like that. And answering those questions sounds like a good idea as well. We're not exactly sure where we are, or how we got here, or... well, it's just confusing, I guess." The young woman decided not to add that she was still fairly certain she was dreaming. It didn't seem polite to refer to him as a figment of her – apparently very creative – imagination.
"I'd be happy to help no da." Chichiri glanced at the girl's knee-length maroon skirt and red-fringed blouse, his eyebrows scrunched together thoughtfully. "Hm... you wouldn't happen to be from Miaka's world, would you?"
"Mm? Who's that?"
He shook his head, waving a dismissive hand. "Never mind. I'll explain later no da." He turned his attention on the other two, watching with growing exasperation as Ritsuka chased Tasuki across the clearing, a small tree branch in her hands. "Daa, c'mon Tasuki, you were the one who wanted fish so badly no da!"
"REKKA SHIN'EN!" A blast of fire shot out of Tasuki's fan, aimed straight at his newest adversary. She managed to duck just in time.
"Tasuki, you shouldn't do that to a woman no da!" Chichiri cried, waving his arms in protest.
Kiori appealed to her friend as well, though she doubted it would do much good. "Ritsuka, can we please get going?"
If either of the fighters heard their companions, they didn't show it. Ritsuka jumped up from the ground, shrieking across the clearing at the insolent young man: "Bakayarou! You singed my hair! Now you're gonna get it...!" she hurled the tree branch with perfect accuracy and smacked Tasuki in the forehead.
"ITAI!" The chibi seishi fell backwards, but sprang up almost immediately. He shook a fist threateningly at the college girl. "Watch it Red, I've been takin' it easy on you!"
"THE NAME IS RITSUKA! And I don't need anyone to go easy on me!"
"All right then! REKKA SHIN'EN!"
"Ow, ow! My bum's on fire! Put it out put it ooooooooout!"
Ten minutes and five squabbles later, Ritsuka and Kiori found themselves sitting on a log in another part of the forest, watching as Tasuki prepared dinner. Chichiri had disappeared for the moment, off on some kind of errand.
"Aw crap," the young man grumbled, poking at their meager meal with his small cleaning knife, "this fish is way too small fer th' four of us t'share."
"I wouldn't trust your cooking anyway, Fang-boy," Ritsuka assured him. "Here; I think I've got some candy bars in my bag..." she stopped short, her blue eyes widening. "My bag! I left it back where we came into this world!" She grabbed at Kiori's collar, twin waterfalls of tears running down her chibi cheeks. "We have to save it! We have to! Who knows what sort of wild animal is ripping my MP3 Player to shreds at this very moment!?"
"Aren't players banned from campus?" Kiori asked accusingly.
Ritsuka's tears dried up and she looked away, giggling nervously. "I wanted my friends to hear the new Gackt single. It's a good one!"
"Well, yes it is, but that's not the point..."
Tasuki blinked, watching the girls with open interest. "A Nuu-gakuto-shingaru?" he repeated, pronouncing it like it was one word. "What's a Nuu-gakuto-shingaru?"
The two young women sweatdropped, wondering how to explain it. Kiori turned eyes to the ground, chewing on her lip. "Hm, well, it's like..."
She never finished her sentence though, for at that moment a straw hat materialized in the ground below her feet. Kiori fell backwards off the log, covering her eyes with one hand and pointing wildly with the other. "Monster, monster!"
"That's not very nice no da."
The college woman paused, cautiously removing her fingers from her eyes. She looked up into the frowning face of her newest companion. He leaned over her, holding the same straw hat in his hands and watching her with a mixture of concern and hurt. Kiori breathed a sigh of relief, scrambling back onto the log and desperately trying to hide her blushing cheeks. "Oh Chichiri, you scared me."
"Gomen, Kiori-san! But it's a lot quicker than walking no da." Chichiri held up a net with two weakly squirming fish. "I set this up this morning and managed to catch something. And," he tossed two bags down in front of Ritsuka and Kiori. "I found these and figured they were yours na no da."
Kiori set the bag down, shuffling through it to make sure everything was in order, and Chichiri moved to help Tasuki with dinner. All seemed oblivious to Ritsuka's wide-eyed look.
"He – didn't he – Chichiri just – the ground..." she pointed back and forth between the spot he'd appeared and the spot he now occupied, her brain working hard to catch up with her mouth and not quite making it. "Wasn't... and he..."
Tasuki glanced up from his task to roll his eyes in Ritsuka's direction. "Yeah. He popped outta th' ground. It ain't his most impressive trick."
"But – how'd he... no one can possibly..." Ritsuka picked up the hat that Chichiri had left nearby. She peered inside, but saw nothing but the underside of an ordinary straw kasa. "You... you..."
"Teleported," Chichiri finished with his usual smile. "It's one of my gifts from Suzaku no da. I have some others, too. Like this!" Chichiri held up two fingers, his eyebrows scrunching together in concentration. Seconds later a red bubble surrounded the four.
Kiori put a hand to it, whistling in admiration. Even though it was transparent, it felt as hard as a rock wall. "Wow. That's amazing."
"Weird is more like it," Ritsuka grumbled as the shield disappeared. "So who is this Suzaku, and how can I beg him for some teleportation powers?"
"Suzaku isn't so much a who as a what," Tasuki explained around a mouthful of bread that he'd pulled out of his bag. "He's our god. Sorta like th' guardian of Konan, I guess ya c'd say. An' no one can just ask him fer powers, 'specially some loud-mouthed brat like you."
Ritsuka cocked her head, too confused to rebuke the redhead for his remark. Kiori mirrored the action. Chichiri skewered the three fish onto a stick, smiling apologetically at the bewildered young women. "Daa... we'll explain while we eat no da. In the meantime, why don't you tell us how you wound up here?"
"You sure you don't need any help with the fish?" the brunette woman asked. "I'm not much of a cook, but I could get some wood for a fire or something."
"Why bother?" Tasuki replied with a shrug. "We got our own way of cookin'. Saves time, an' wood."
"Howzat?" Ritsuka wondered.
Tasuki and Chichiri didn't bother answering; their next actions spoke for them. Chichiri held out the trio of skewered fish, making sure to keep them far away from his body. Tasuki pulled out his enchanted fan and cracked his knuckles. "REKKA," his voice dropped to a whisper as he held the fan under the fish and finished the small spell, "shin'en."
A small flame burned brightly beneath the fish. Tasuki yawned as Chichiri turned the meal from side to side. "See, Red? Simple and easy," the flame-throwing man said with a grin.
Chichiri switched hands. "But it is a little hard on the arms no da."
Kiori and Ritsuka sweatdropped.
"Ingenius or lazy?"
"So Red, Kiori, you were gonna tell us a little about yerselves?" Tasuki reminded them. He lay down on his stomach, attempting to find a comfortable position on the hard-packed earth.
"Well," Kiori began. "The two of us are college students in Tokyo, Japan, and... um, Chichiri?"
"Your fish are on fire."
"So, you are from Miaka's world no da!" Chichiri concluded. Nearly ten minutes had passed since the cooking had begun, and after a few minor fires the slightly crisped fish were ready to eat.
Kiori took a sip of tea – it was really fair to call it slightly bitter water, but she wasn't going to complain – and leaned out further on her makeshift chair. "You mentioned that name before. Who's Miaka?"
"The Suzaku no Miko, Yuki Miaka. She came from the same place you did, I think. Maybe ya've heard-a her," Tasuki explained.
Ritsuka nearly choked on her bread. "YUKI?"
"What is it?" Chichiri asked, leaning over and patting her back. "Someone you're familiar with no da?"
The girl coughed a couple times, chugging the "tea" and trying to find her voice again. "Keisuke..." she finally managed to gasp out. "His little sister... she came here?" Two nods. Ritsuka gripped her cup, lips set in a thoughtful line. "That's it, then." Noticing Kiori's confused expression, she added, "Keisuke didn't read this book, he read the one with his sister in it. That Four Gods one."
"The medium used between our worlds was a book no da," Chichiri agreed. "I don't know the exact title, but that sounds about right."
Kiori said nothing for a long while, preferring to eat her small meal in thoughtful silence. If this is a dream, it certainly is a very elaborate one, she thought with a sardonic smile. And as hard as it is to swallow, it looks like I'll have to start taking all this seriously, at least for now. She sipped pensively at her tea, setting her lips along the edge of the cup and gazing at the center of the clearing. "Hm."
Ritsuka chomped down on her fish. "'Hm' what?"
She grabbed another mouthful of her meal, attempting to speak around the bite. "A'out 'ut?" The redhead's attention wavered, however, when she noticed that Tasuki was shooting her funny looks. "'Ut 'ow Fang-'oy?"
"Oh, nothin'," he assured her. Ritsuka shrugged, dismissing the obnoxious young man and returning her attention to her meal. The bandit grinned viciously, fangs flashing in the evening light. "Y'know, I caught that fish..."
"In my pants."
Ritsuka's face turned a sickly shade of green. She spat the fish out on the ground, snatching up her teacup and frantically chugging as much of the bitter liquid as she could fit down her throat. She turned on Tasuki, flashing him a murderous glare. "You... you..."
"Fang-boy, I oughta..." he held up his fan and waved it back and forth, as if to say, "remember last time." Ritsuka sighed and returned to her meal, but not before neatly tossing her teacup – still partially full – in her new adversary's face.
Tasuki spluttered wordlessly, trying to find his voice. He found his tessen quicker, however, and pointed it straight at the young woman. "REKKA-"
Chichiri, sick of the arguing, reached over and smacked his friend over the head with his staff. "You're going to start a forest fire if you keep this up no da."
Ritsuka stuck her tongue out at Tasuki, but Kiori pulled on the other woman's long braid, jerking her head back and away from their fiery companion. "C'mon, Ritsuka, you should at least attempt to get along with these guys."
Tasuki whirled on Chichiri, jabbing at the air and bobbing up and down comically. "C'mon Chichiri, you wanna fight?"
A sweatdrop. "You're kidding, right?" the older man coolly took a sip of his tea.
Ritsuka blinked, really looking at Chichiri for the first time since she'd received her dinner. Her eyes widened. "Ch... Ch-Chichiri?"
"Um... well... I'm not exactly sure how to tell you this... but... you see... your face is... eh... it's sorta kinda... peeling."
"Hm?" Chichiri felt along his chin until his smooth fingers felt the loosened flap. "Oh, guess so. It does that from time-to-time no da." He jerked on the loose flap, ripping it off to reveal a similar face underneath. "It's no problem, though; they wear out pretty easily, so I always keep extras no da."
Tasuki nodded. "Guess ya musta singed it in th' fire'r somethin'."
"I told you the flame was too big."
Kiori interrupted their friendly banter, one trembling finger pointed at the "extra face" draped in Chichiri's hand. "His face... does that... often?"
"Relax, Kiori," Tasuki muttered through a bite of bread. "It's not his real face."
"It's not? Well what is it?"
"Yeah, you know, somethin' ya put over yer face t'make it look different," Tasuki said, his voice dripping sarcasm.
"I know what it is," she retorted. "It's just that I've never seen one that realistic-looking before. It moves with him perfectly." She paused, setting a thoughtful finger to her chin. "Why does he wear it, anyway?"
"Why do you ask so many questions?" Tasuki countered.
"Why shouldn't she?" Ritsuka jumped to her softer spoken friend's defense. "You know plenty of things about us, but we hardly know anything about you!"
"She's right no da," Chichiri agreed with a smile, though he seemed only too glad to change the subject. "We should at least explain who we are no da."
Kiori nodded. "That's right. I wanted to ask how Miaka got here, and why she was here, and, well..." she trailed off, not wanting to hurt their feelings by saying she wanted to get home. She did have mid-terms in a week, after all, and running through the forests of... wherever she was... didn't seem like the quickest way to study. "I guess I'd just like to know a little bit about everything, really."
Tasuki finished off his tea in a few gulps, situating himself on the hard-packed earth. "It's kind of a long story, but if y'got time we can tell ya."
"Tell away. It's not like we have anywhere else to go," Kiori urged, snuggling further into the robe Chichiri had loaned her for the evening. Though it didn't look like it would be very warm, it was really quite cozy, except for that strange lump in the front, the one that kept wriggling...
Wait a minute.
The college girl's body stiffened. "Eep."
"Doushita no?" Ritsuka asked, cocking an eyebrow at her friend's wide eyes.
"S-something in this robe, m-moved..." The lump, which Kiori had originally assumed was a fold in the material, started to crawl up from her lap to her shoulders. Before the brunette could stop herself she jumped up, squeaking a little and shaking the robe.
A ball of white and brown rolled out, letting out a disgruntled "Nya!" as it tumbled across the clearing and landed at Chichiri's feet.
The college woman blinked. The monk laughed. "Finally woke up, Tama-chan no da?"
"Nya," the small cat complained.
"Gomen, Kiori-san, I should have told you Tama takes naps in my kesa na no da." Chichiri reached out an arm, chuckling as Tama accepted the offer and jumped up, scrambling onto the monk's thin shoulder. "He's... well, I suppose he's my cat, now."
Ritsuka checked the jacket that the seishi bandit had loaned her. "Any dogs hiding in here?"
"Nah, just a snake," Tasuki told her, cackling at Ritsuka's brief look of surprise.
The redhead scowled. "Haha, very funny."
Tasuki winked. "Well, at least Tama thought so."
Ritsuka and Kiori sat in silence for a moment, allowing the Suzaku story to sink in. The tale – even with Chichiri and Tasuki telling the "abridged version" – had taken almost two hours. The blood-red sun had already sunk below the trees, and night in the strange land had arrived.
"So, where are we again?" Kiori asked, rubbing at her temple and doing her very best to understand all the information she'd just received.
"On the outskirts of the Konan Empire," Tasuki replied with a yawn.
"In ancient times?" Ritsuka said it more as a question than a statement, since of course the two young men wouldn't think of their time period as ancient. "Of course. Ancient times, in a book, with a Suzaku Priestess. Makes perfect sense." She sighed, voicing Kiori's unspoken wish as well. "Man, how are we ever gonna get out of this place?"
Chichiri shrugged. "I'm not sure no da. But Miaka was able to go back after she summoned Suzaku, so maybe you're here to fulfill some sort of task as well no da."
"Task? What kind of task?" Kiori queried. Silently, she added, 'Because if it's one that involves a guy like Nakago and almost all my friends getting killed, count me out. I've had enough death already...' She shivered and forced herself not to think about that.
The monk frowned, putting his chin in his hands. "I don't know no da," he admitted. "But the scholars in Konan might. We were on our way there to visit the Empress. If you wanted to..."
"You'd let us tag along?" Kiori interrupted, eyes shining. "Even though you just met us?"
"As long as we get to tie 'n' gag Red..." Tasuki earned a swift cuff to the head for his remark, courtesy of the woman in question.
Chichiri decided to ignore them for now, and instead turned his welcoming smile on the young brunette. "I can't promise you answers, but I can promise that they'll do their best to find a way to get you both back home. So how about it no da?"
"Hm... excuse us for a sec, okay?" Kiori turned to her friend, cupping a hand to her mouth so the pair could have a private conversation. "What do you think?" she whispered.
"Well, let's see...they're totally nuts – thought at this point, I'm thinking that we might be, too – and they're loaded with power... But they don't seem threatening, and they've been pretty nice to us so far," Ritsuka reasoned. She rubbed the singed ends of her hair, growling low in her throat. "Mostly, anyway. Besides, we don't have a better option."
"And what if there's some legend we have to fulfill?" Kiori hissed, her voice trembling a little at the thought.
Ritsuka snorted. "Yeah, right. There's a what? One out of three million chance of that? We got here because of some weird fluke. And, if there is a legend, which I wouldn't mind at all..." the redhead grinned devilishly, snapping her fingers to emphasize her point. "Then we fulfill it, become heroes, and go home. I've met Miaka, and if she could do it, then we aren't going to have any problems. It'll be a piece of cake, right?"
"Sure, a piece of cake," Kiori muttered dryly. She turned back to the pair of seishi.
"Well?" both asked, though Chichiri said it with a bit more enthusiasm than his comrade.
The brunette smiled, doing her best to wipe away the fear in her smile, and the ever present sadness. "I guess... we're in."
"A night bird overhead cried out through the sky, a witness to the temporary partnership of two Suzaku warriors and a pair of young women from a distant world," Keisuke took a breath. "End Chapter One."
(1) "Koi ga koi suru da yo!" - Is a (not very good) pun on the word "koi," which is both a type of fish and a word for "love." This is a particularly bad joke as people generally didn't eat koi, and the "koi" form of love usually refers to a more lustful or sensual kind of love. Clearly, Tasuki needs new material. (heheh)
Author's Mundane Ramblings: 12/31/04; 3:23 PM
So here we are! After three long years I've finally begun the revamp-and-edit-job on my beloved FY:NC! To those who are visiting the world of "The Next Chapter" for the first time, I would like to extend the hand of welcome to you. I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. To returning fans who might worry that I'm pulling a George Lucas, rest assured that that is not the case. The major story hasn't been changed, just... fixed. Here are some differences you might notice:
1. Fewer author's notes. (I received some complaints about those) I will use footnotes from time to time, like you saw in this chapter, but they'll only be "extras" that aren't absolutely necessary for you to understand the story.
2. I've tried to tone down the number of Japanese words and phrases, but when I use them I'll either translate them (in parantheses) or make it something that you'll be able to understand through context alone. Also, I kicked my FY dub-watching habits, so Chichiri says "no da" instead of "ya know."
3. Some basic touch-ups, such as spelling and grammar have been taken care of, but I've also done my best to add more detail to the battle scenes and so forth. "Show, don't tell" as my Creative Writing teacher would say. Fewer adverbs too, those little devils.
4. Since, when I first wrote this, a lot of it was written kind of on the spur of the moment, some events seemed to jump out of nowhere, screaming: "PLOT TWIST!" without any foreshadowing. I've tried to fix that as best as I can without changing the actual story.
5. You are now blessed with Author Free-Talk Sections! Don't you feel lucky?
Well, I want to keep these (relatively) short, so I'll wrap this up. Next time I'll give you a little crash-course in Japanese suffixes, since I'll be using a lot of them. For now, just remember that "-san" is basic respect (like "Mr" or "Mrs") and "-sama" is extreme respect (like "Lord" or "Lady"). Looks like that's about it for this time! See you in the next installment!
Your Devoted Authoress,