Disclaimer: The characters from Fushigi Yuugi are the creations and property of Yuu Watase and related enterprises. The characters from Doctor Who are the property of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). I do not own them and do not make any profit from this fiction except for my own enjoyment in spending time with them.

However, the plotline, as well as all original characters in this story, do belong to me and may not be used elsewhere without my permission.

This chapter is rated M for adult content.

XxX

Epilogue. Hidden Paths

A small square of paper fluttered along the dirt road bordering the fields outside town. Farmers and field hands headed homeward, ignoring the paper that skittered between their feet as they trudged wearily through the lengthening shadows. Finally the pamphlet caught on the rough material of a farmer's trousers, flapping against his leg. He bent and picked it up, scanning the ornate writing while his neighbor looked over his shoulder.

"Whatcha got there, Chen?"

The farmer grunted and waved the paper. "Stupid frolics for the lazy rich."

"Aiiiie-yah! Don't you want to go to the play, Chen?" His neighbor, Guan Ho, laughed and minced along, waving his dirt-caked hands in absurdly elegant gestures.

The other farmers looked up and grinned. Guan Ho was still young enough to have energy to joke at the end of a long day.

Chen snorted. "Oh yeah. I want to spend my rest hours sitting with the rich folks while they—" He pantomimed taking a sip from a tiny cup with one hand while pumping the other crudely at his crotch.

The field workers burst out laughing as Chen crumpled the pamphlet and flung it away. The sound of their weary good humor dispersed in a sudden gust of wind, the air current carrying the pamphlet swirling high above them.

A short time later, the paper fell to earth again in an open field, almost at its point of origin. It rolled for a few meters before being crushed into the dirt by a stout boot.

The man stomped onward, too absorbed in balancing two-meter lengths of board on his shoulders to notice any bits of paper in his way. He flung the boards down in a pile, and soon the sound of hammering joined the sickly sweet smell of sawdust that wafted around the circle of garish wagons.

Set apart and back from the others was a small wagon with paint peeling from its rough wood. It rocked rhythmically in the fading light, as if it were being pulled along a bumpy road—but its wheels never left their ruts and no horses stood in the empty traces.

One of the stage hands smirked over at the distant wagon. "Boss is breakin' in the new kid," he guffawed, and coarse laughter from his fellow workers rolled out into the evening air.

"Urusai!" snarled a woman walking past, her cheap, gaudy robes trailing in the dust. Deep lines marred the corners of her downturned mouth, impossible to conceal even beneath her heavy white makeup. "If he hears you, you can expect to get a taste of his attention—and you all remember what that feels like, right?"

The stage hands turned away, muttering under their breath. A grumbled curse of "You bitch, Shinju!" reached her ears.

"Yeah, go ahead and call me a bitch, Goro, you stupid shit. But from what I remember, you were his bitch long after I was!"

Goro flushed and shot her a crude gesture, ignoring the snickers from his mates.

Shinju returned the gesture with interest, then glared at the rest of the men. "Now get to work and finish building that stage…or you can expect him to take it out of your hides."

She looked away from the sullen workers, her eyes fixing on the wagon with an expression both bitter and sad. Nori, that sadistic bastard, had a driving need to defile anything innocent or beautiful; she'd had her own firsthand experience of that. But sympathy was an emotion the powerless could not afford, so Shinju continued on her way, forcing the image of the boy's delicate, haunted features from her mind.

Inside the wagon, the man called Nori increased his rhythm, ignoring the boy's indrawn gasp of pain, then expelled himself with a deep grunt of satisfaction. Now satiated, he roughly pushed the boy from him, sending him sprawling across the floor. Something loathsome in him reveled in the sight of the blood trickling down the boy's pale thighs, the purple fingermarks staining his white shoulder. He sneered as the boy tried to pull his robes up over his bruised nakedness.

"Not a half-bad piece of ass," he slurred, wiping a line of drool from his chin. "Ya done all right, kid—though what was that ya called out? Shou-ry-uu? What the hell does that mean, anyway?"

The boy's face was hidden by his long, dark hair as he crouched low in servile obeisance. His voice was a trembling whisper. "It means 'Rising Dragon,' Master Nori. It's…it's an expression from my village, a…compliment to your manhood."

"Hah!" Nori huffed out a breath that reeked of garlic and sour beer. "Risin' Dragon, is it? Ya know how ta respect yer betters, unlike others around here. Tell ya what," he said, hitching his trousers up around a heavily muscled torso gone to fat. "Jus' fer knowing how ta talk, I'm gonna letcha go onstage tonight." He nodded as the boy crouched lower.

"Thank you, Master. I'm very grateful, Nori-sama."

"Yeah, just shut up and getcher makeup on. You can show me how grateful ya are tonight, after the show." Snorting at his own joke, Nori slammed the door on his way out.

The boy waited a few moments longer, then rose painfully to his feet, wiping at the tears that ran down his face. He tried to clean himself with a coarse rag that sat beside a basin of water, stopping when he realized that he was scrubbing his skin hard enough to draw blood. Seating himself before a dim, cracked mirror set above a crude table, he lifted a horsehair brush and dipped it into one of the pots of facepaint. He drew a sweeping line across his cheekbones, as Shinju had shown him earlier in the day.

"Black is for loyalty," he whispered, drawing another stroke to join the first. "I can be loyal, Shouryuu. I was loyal to you—until you betrayed me. Now you don't deserve my loyalty."

"Blue is for trickery." Another sweeping line from temple to cheekbone, just above the black. "I have a great destiny before me, Shouryuu. I'm a Celestial Warrior of Seiryuu—and I could've brought you with me into my glory. But you were too stupid to understand—and now you're dead.

"I saw it. I saw the school collapse on you. There was nothing left—and you never came out. I watched and waited, but…" The hand trembled, scattering drops of blue facepaint across the table. "So as far as I'm concerned, you can burn in Hell!"

The boy dropped the brush on the table, fighting to stifle his sobs. After a few moments, he regained control, lifting another brush and dipping it into the tiny pot of gold paint. "Gold…for accents." He touched the brush in delicate strokes around his eyes and mouth. "I have a great destiny, Shouryuu. Someday I'll find someone. And he'll be better-looking than you, and taller, and more powerful, too! And—and he'll never use me the way you used me, and he'll love me the way you said—the way I loved— He'll love me!"

The strange painted face stared back at the boy from the mirror, the dark-rimmed eyes swimming with tears. "Something's wrong," he whispered. "I did something wrong." And the tears spilled over, smearing black into blue, washing away the gold.

"I forgot the white base makeup! I forgot!" the boy sobbed. He wept into his hands, his tears trickling black and blue and gold through his fingers.

After a while, the sobs died away. The boy picked up the rag and scrubbed at his face until it shone pink and raw. Dipping his fingers into the pot of white paint, he covered every inch of skin on his face and throat. He stared at the ghostly visage in the mirror.

"You see, Shouryuu? I can start again. No matter what happens to me, I can always…start again."

He lifted the brush once more. "Black…is for loyalty."

XxX

The young monk Kiyoshi dismounted in the center of town and hurried through the drizzling rain towards the Temple of the Four Gods. Dodging the water streaming from its curved roof, he ducked through the elaborately carved doors. Once inside, he removed his bamboo kasa and shook his light brown hair from his eyes—then froze in place.

Something was wrong. Everything was wrong. Instead of the warm, golden glow of lamplight and the fragrance of sacred incense, the temple seemed still, cold...dead. The place practically reeked of death, the same way it had the night the strange girl had shown up mortally wounded on their doorstep, gasping out a story of a demon attack on the secret school of the magicians.

This had been a year of ill luck for the Temple of the Four Gods, starting with the disastrous exorcism in the spring. The death of the possessed innocent Toumo, the suicide of the young exorcist Shouryuu, followed by news of the attack on the school of the mages—it seemed as if jaki, an evil aura, had hung over the town and concentrated its malignant influence on the holy place in its midst.

Kiyoshi whirled around at a sound behind him. To his relief, he saw his brother monk standing there, bearing a lamp. He realized that he'd half-feared to find the entire order lying slain in their beds—but here was Brother Ichiro, coming to greet him as was his custom.

"Ichiro-san, what is happening here? I thought—!"

"Oshou-sama wishes to see you," Ichiro intoned in a flat, dead voice. He wore a cloak with the hood pulled up so that it shaded his eyes. Turning away, he beckoned Kiyoshi to follow.

Kiyoshi frowned, his relief shading back into apprehension. "What's wrong, Ichiro? Usually I can't get you to stop chattering, but now… And why is the Temple so dark and quiet?" For some reason, his feet refused to follow the other monk.

The hooded figure paused and tilted his head, as if listening to a distant sound—then turned back to Kiyoshi, bearing a strained smile under the hood. "I am sorry. I have been ill. We have all been ill. The girl who died here bore a strange disease."

"So she ended up dying?" Kiyoshi's voice was tinged with regret, but he wasn't surprised. He had no idea how the girl had found the strength to drag her tattered body all the way from the school to the town. In his opinion, she should have died instantly from wounds that looked as if they'd been inflicted by the razor teeth of a demon beast. But Oshou-sama himself had tended to the girl, murmuring prayers and healing sutras long through the night.

How tragic that she had been infected with a contagious disease as well. Kiyoshi felt a shiver pass through his frame, and before he knew it, he was following Brother Ichiro through the darkened corridors in the shrine.

"Did Oshou-sama fall ill as well?" he asked anxiously.

Ichiro tilted his head once more and paused before answering. "No…but he grows weary from meditating day and night to drive the illness from the temple."

Kiyoshi had no time to ask anything more before Ichiro stopped before the door to Oshou-sama's quarters. Ichiro motioned him into the room, following him and closing the door firmly.

For a moment, Kiyoshi had to fight an impulse to bolt from the room—but he soon felt ashamed, for there was nothing more frightening before him than the tiny figure of the Master of the Monastery caught deep in meditation; eyes closed, legs crossed, and palms pressed together.

Yet…

The lamps were turned down low, but even in the dim light, Kiyoshi could swear that the tiny monk was levitating above the surface of his bed. He had never seen Oshou-sama levitate before…but wasn't levitation one of the powers of the holy pilgrims from the shrouded West? Why should it frighten him, if it were a power that showed the deep spiritual strength of the meditator?

"Kiyoshi-san."

The young monk jumped at the unaccustomed raspiness of the monk's voice. "H-hai, Oshou-sama?"

"What news do you bring?"

Kiyoshi fought back his shudders and tried to concentrate on the details of his mission. "As you'd asked, I rode out to the school of the warrior-magicians. I spoke with some of the students who were fleeing from the battle. What the girl told us was true—there had been a battle between Magus and a demon-possessed former student. Some said that it was his apprentice Shouryuu, but how could that be true? Hadn't Shouryuu drowned himself months ago?"

"Perhaps," rasped the Master. "Or perhaps he disappeared because he had fallen under the influence of a demon. It is difficult to predict all of the ramifications of the failed exorcism."

Kiyoshi grimaced. Could this be possible? Could that accursed exorcism have had such tragic and far-reaching effects?

"Go on, Kiyoshi-san. Did you find any trace of Magus or—Shouryuu?"

"No, Oshou-sama. The school had been utterly destroyed. There was no trace of anyone's ki under all that rubble." Kiyoshi shook his head. "No one could have survived that collapse, man or demon."

The tiny monk suddenly opened his eyes and stared straight at him. For a moment, Kiyoshi could have sworn that Oshou-sama's narrow eyes flared yellow in the dim light, and his heart leapt into his throat. He felt the overwhelming impulse to bolt again, but Ichiro-san stood behind him, blocking his way out of the room.

Oshou-sama suddenly smiled at Kiyoshi, showing tiny, even teeth. "You have done well, my son," he rasped in a strangely androgynous voice. "You have been of great use—and shall be of even greater use in the future."

The young monk bowed silently, anxious to leave the room, when suddenly an iron hand seized his shoulder. Brother Ichiro held him tightly in place, and before Kiyoshi could struggle or even cry out, Oshou-sama was unexpectedly hovering directly before him. Kiyoshi's eyes went wide in horror as he finally saw the changes in the old monk. His aged wrinkles were gone, leaving him with a deceptively young and childlike appearance—except for the ancient evil in his snakelike eyes. In his forehead was embedded a jewel that shone with a roiling, reddish light.

Kiyoshi screamed as he suddenly felt a wrenching, searing pain inside his head. He howled in agony as his soul was ripped from his body, leaving behind a corpse that stood obedient to his demon master's command.

"Brother Ichiro," rasped the demon monk. "Take Kiyoshi-san to join his brothers and prepare to close down the temple. We shall depart tomorrow for Sairou; there are too many people here who know the ways of the former Master of this place."

Ichiro threw a cloak across Kiyoshi's shoulders and pulled the hood forward to conceal his dead, empty eyes. Bowing to Oshou-sama, he turned and led his compatriot from the room.

The demon monk hovered above the floor, his eyes dark with thought.

"Dead, are you, Shouryuu? Somehow, I don't quite believe that. It seems a favorite trick of yours, staging your own death." The cold, dead lips lifted in a sneer. "Nor am I that easily destroyed; my god sees to that. But I have a promise for you, Shouryuu. If you are alive in this world, I will find you again.

"Then I, Seiryuu no Seishi Miboshi," the voice dropped into a vicious, hissing whisper, "will make you weep tears of blood."

XxX

Thousands of light years and at least twenty dimensional shifts away, a multijointed appendage paused above a translucent, pulsing membrane that covered tubular structures resembling veins. The appendage stroked the membrane in a pensive manner, seeming to feel out the fluids that ebbed and flowed through the veins. Suddenly the appendage shifted to one side, and its owner arched its back, sending a sharp tail spike whipping over its head to plunge into the membrane below.

The membrane burbled and shrilled in agony, yielding up its analysis of the data fed into it to the creature that had just impaled it. After the last bit of data had been spat out, the creature withdrew its tail spike, leaving the injured slave beneath it keening in pain.

The creature ignored the organic computational slave, instead focusing its four-part brain on studying the data. As always, one part of its brain remained attuned to the commands issued from the hive center of the mothership. The other parts drew on the collective logic circuits of the hive as well as feeding on the stores of psychic energy parasitized from innumerable races, many of whom were now extinct.

The data were accurate. The faint energy fragments detected by their deep space probe had originated from a psychic blast in an unmapped dimension. The creature paused. Even with their sophisticated methods of triangulation, it would take multiple standard solar rotations before they pinpointed the source of the blast.

However, the fragments were of the purest and most powerful form of psychic energy, a form that could feed all colony functions for a minimum of two hundred rotations. This valuable resource was a worthwhile goal, in spite of the fact that the probability data whispered of significant danger in attacking a species that possessed such raw power. There was a zero-point-one percent chance of colony annihilation: the highest risk factor that they had observed in nearly five hundred rotations.

The creature sent the data analyses and attendant concerns to the hive center. Yet it was attuned enough to the hive mentality to anticipate the final decision.

The hive center would order them to carefully sift through the dimensions until they found the energy source, then send in their bioengineered gathering beasts for the initial forays. The beasts would harvest the younger, more vulnerable members of the target species before attempting to capture the more powerful members. Once the risk factors were eliminated, they would implement their usual invasion and collection strategy.

The commander of the Swarm mothership relaxed his outer appendages and nestled deeper into his command module as he awaited the official decision.

It was a clean and logical plan. All that was needed to locate the target world was time—and time was one resource the hive did not begrudge.

They had all the time in the universe.

XxX

Fin

Xxx

Glossary of Japanese terms:

Urusai! - Shut up!

Jaki - evil aura

Oshou-sama – "Master;" respectful term of address for a Buddhist monk

XxX

Author Note: (4-4-05) Oooooohh, brrrrr, scary!

Hello, Bridge fans! Toughest bit of scifi to get through yet, ne? Unless, of course, you've read Chapter 6 of Hidden Paths. Yeah, that "Tasuki-vs-the-Black-Beasts" section was a bit technical...but back to this story: Sorry for my long absence, but along with the usual work insanity, I've been risking my neck on the ski slopes of Park City, Utah. Luckily, neck is still intact, as are larger regions further south, so I have returned to post the Bridge Epilogue! Actually, I also returned to be confronted with this funky new rating system. I'm a "M" author, huh? Makes me think of "Mmmmmm." "This Fic Rated M for Mmmmm." I think I like it! :P

Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed the Epilogue…well, "enjoyed" might be the wrong verb, but maybe we'll just say you found it interesting. I'm pretty sure I surprised most of you with some character revelations, but some of you might have known Kurayami's identity all along.

Okay, before I go any further, I AM gonna do a "shout-out" to all you thoughtful reviewers of Chapter 21. As always, the faithful Purple Mouse and Ryuen…Ryu-chan, your review made me cry! Jack, Riverwood, Jessica Wolfe, Fire Senshi, Eikou—thanks so much for the warm words of encouragement. Carol and CG—made ya cry, eh? Well, I made myself cry as well; I hated saying goodbye to the Doctor! Dee-chan, Tenshi Kitsune, Otaku Pitcher: thanks again for your wonderful, insightful and comprehensive reviews. Wow, Otaku, I am waaaay flattered by Bridge being your favorite FY fanfic ever; high praise indeed! Etrurielle and Dragonheart; thanks for the kind words, aaaand—I'll answer your questions in the next paragraph. Finally to my two newest Bridge reviewers, Cheeto and Aynslesa: welcome aboard, and thanks so much for your input! I'm always happy to see new faces, especially those of long-time readers.

Okay, now for the questions…well, all I can say to those of you who are going to miss Joss and the Doctor is: there IS a sequel to Bridge, you know. You might have heard of it: Hidden Paths on a CloudCast Night. :P And I'm going right back there as soon as I post this Epilogue. How does that answer your questions? Well, think about what the word "sequel" means—then wait and see.

Now I know that I promised you an interesting addendum to the Epilogue, but I've been falling behind (as well as falling on my behind.) Someday, perhaps, when my other responsibilities back down a bit (yeah, hah!), I may be able to get to it. But until then, I'm going to work on Hidden Paths and my original work, and I hope to see you all on this site again soon!

Till then, take care

Ja ne!

Roku