THE SHADOWS BEYOND
Epilogue

Consciousness returned slowly. Sanzo cracked an eyelid open, and promptly shut it against the blinding light that filtered in.

"Sanzo..."

He sighed, and opened his eyes again.

"I'm sorry," Hakkai smiled at him. "I was gunning for a youkai near you. You must have been caught in the backwash of the blast."

Sanzo continued staring at him. Hakkai's smile faded, and he opened his eyes to regard the priest. "How are you feeling?"

"I've been better," Sanzo muttered, sitting up.

"Oh, we picked up a couple of souvenirs for you," Hakkai continued. "Here."

Sanzo stared at the sutra and the exorcism gun for a moment before taking them. Turned the sutra over in his hands and peered at it.

"It is the real thing," Hakkai said.

"What happened?" Sanzo asked.

"After you disappeared, we fought off Isir's soldiers, and I went in search of you. Impressive trick, by the way. Did you deliberately break your mirror to launch it?"

"No. Not exactly," Sanzo murmured.

"...I take it that you relied on sound to spot him?"

"He has a heavy tread," Sanzo nodded. "Something I noticed when one of his illusions paid me a visit in this room. After I'd bashed the mirror."

"And the noise of crunching glass would tip you off as to which was the real Isir. I see."

"But continue."

"I got both of you with the blast, then I picked you up and went back to look for Gojyo and Goku. Goku took a pretty serious wound, by the way. He's still recovering, but he's going to have a very sore throat for a while."

Sanzo raised an eyebrow.

"There was more I could have done," Hakkai admitted. "But I needed to save my energy..."

"Thank you," Sanzo said.

"...Gojyo and I proceeded to Isir's castle. Isir had taken his elite guard with him, so what remained was just a handful of green sentries. We broke in, searched the place, and located the sutra. Then we came back." He glanced at the window. "It's been a day or two since."

A day or two...

"And...?"

"Was there something else I was expected to do?" Hakkai asked.

"Is Isir dead?" Sanzo said.

"Well..." there was a pause there.

"He's not, is he?" Sanzo asked.

"We went back. I saw a lot of blood, and no corpse."

The knot that had started to unravel in his chest strung itself together again.

"I know... I should have made sure."

"Difficult," Sanzo scowled. "The bastard can fake his death all too easily."

"So... do we go after him?"

Sanzo glanced at the sutra in his hands.

Revenge had been the keyword. Revenge had been the reason why all of this had started in the first place. Isir had taken the sutra... to keep them coming back to him. So that he could cast them out and reel them back, tied to invisible strings.

Revenge had been the reason why Isir came after them, and tried to do more than simply kill them. He'd very nearly succeeded.

"He was fiendishly clever," Hakkai said quietly, guessing at Sanzo's thoughts.

"Indeed."

Revenge had been the reason why he failed.
Insufficient, a simple quick kill with a bomb or a ki blast. No, he had to draw blood, had to come after me himself.

Revenge had, by and by, been the name of the game.

Sanzo looked out of the window. Several roads wound out of town, and his eyes traced the one that skirted the edge of the forest, wandered down the river, and beyond that, to the tower that Isir called his own.

So... predictably human, Isir had called him.

So... predictably youkai, he thought back.

"Sanzo?" Hakkai prodded gently.

"Prepare to leave. I want to be on the road before the sun sets."

"And we're going to after Isir?"

"No." Sanzo shook his head. "We're going to run away."

Hakkai had been moving towards the door. Now he stopped and turned back. "Out of curiosity..."

"I'm not a youkai," Sanzo replied shortly.

"I see." Hakkai nodded. "Of course, he might follow us... and we might never know until it's too late."

"Which is why we're going to run as fast as we can," Sanzo returned. "Tell the rest."

"Certainly. And Sanzo...?"

"What?"

"Thank you."

"Ah."

Sanzo waited until Hakkai was out of the room, then climbed out of bed. The robe was where he had stuffed it, in the back of the closet. He stood for a moment, staring at it, then shrugged it on. Down the hall, he could hear Gojyo's voice rising in complaint at the eviction and Hakkai trying to pacify him. Goku's voice joined in -- sorethroat or not, the boy was still the loudest of the lot. The complaints grew, becoming more incessant. It was rapidly degenerating into a major whining session.

Silently, Sanzo draped the sutras around his shoulders and stowed the gun. Then he retrieved the paper fan from his pocket and went forth. There was much to do.

***

Somewhere, he imagined, there was a jeep, and the jeep was leaving town. The two in the back were rather quieter than usual. The ones in front were always quiet, but this time, the one in the passenger seat was dozing, and the driver was focused and alert.

Somewhere, he imagined, the jeep came to a fork in the road, and the driver shook the passenger awake.

"Which way should we take?" the driver would ask.

And the passenger would instinctively call on his usual answer -- katte ni shirou, ceding the responsibility of the decision... then pause, words unsaid, thinking of recent events...

"The left," he would say, as uncertain of the outcome of his decision as his comrade, but trusting firmly in himself.

"The left," Isir said, watching the jeep in his scrying crystal take the left fork, and continue on its journey West.

And so... what is the lesson? To trust in others, or to trust in yourself?

He glanced around the office. The wind gusted in through the broken windows.

"Unexpected," he said aloud.

"Should we allow them to get away?" his newly appointed second asked.

"No," Isir replied, turning back to crystal. A ruckus had started again in the backseat, and Sanzo was laying about with his fan. "But neither should we ignore the more pressing problems of the clan." He closed his fingers around the crystal. Goku was pointing something out to Sanzo. The priest frowned, smacked him over the head with the fan, turned, and sat down. But not before glancing briefly but directly at Isir.

Breaking mirrors to reveal the truth, eh?

Isir hefted the crystal and flung it out of the window. He counted five beats before there was a distant tinkle.

"Let us not neglect the greater good in the pursuit of hobbies." He sat down at his desk. "Winter is coming. There is much to do."

The End.

And I'd like thank each and one of you who've reviewed this fic. Like Sanzo, I had a mid-fic crisis. Like Sanzo, I nearly gave up the fight before the finish line. But like Sanzo, I had people coming after me to drag me back -- the reviewers.

...And like Sanzo, I think this fic is atrocious. *hangs head*. It's so full of plot holes that I'm amazed that it hasn't sunk yet. (So do me a favor and don't ask inconvenient 'why' questions, ya?)

Incidently, since this is the last fic along these lines -- which is to say, adventure-type fics that aren't AU, (beginning with Circumstance, encompassing Borderline, and ending with The Shadows Beyond), I would appreciate it you enjoy this genre of fics and would like more. If not, I'm going to run back to my strange and wacky Alternate Universe ficcies ^_^.

The Shadows Beyond
Begun : April 20, 2002
Completed : July 6, 2003