Disclaimer: Fushigi Yuugi purely belongs to YuYu Watase and the respective companies.

Prologue: The Book Opens

The Book of the 4 gods (ShinJinTenChiSho)

It was the story of 4 girls who single-handedly gathered the 7 stars of each guardian and gained the power to make all dreams come true. The story itself was an incantation and whosoever reads it gain the main character's powers to have their wished granted. As soon as the page was turned, the story become real and begins…

So, it came to pass that 4 maidens were chosen to be part of the Book…

To the Northern land of Hokkan, where life springs from the dust, the maiden of the guardian, Genbu - Okuda Takiko.

To the Western land of Sairou, where the air is sweetened with life, the maiden of the guardian, Byakko - Oosugi Suzuno.

To the Eastern land of Kutou, where life flows with water, the maiden of the guardian, Seriyuu - Hongo Yui.

And lastly, to the Southern land of Konan, where the flame burns with life, the maiden of the guardian, Suzaku - Yuuki Miaka

These maidens, all pure in their hearts and souls had appeared to these lands and fulfilled their destined roles. The Book was closed and all who knew about it thought that that was the end of the story. But what they should know is that stories can never end as the pages are kept turning.

For it is time for the Book of the 4 gods to be open once again…

"Go! Yumi! Go!"

"Ganbatte!"

"Come on! You can do it!"

Yumi Kunoda faced the hot summer sky as she walked towards the open field and into the arena. The screaming crowd cheered loudly, drumming their empty bottles in the air to signal their battle cry. A few boys waved their school flag high in the sky. The cheerleaders enhanced the thunderous atmosphere with their own athletic tactics. At the arena, she held up her bow that she was carrying and took a triple stripe arrow from her quiver that was slinging across her back. The short-cropped dark brown haired girl gave a slight kiss at the tip of the arrow. Then, she held up a bow drew back the string until her knuckles gazed at the angle of her jaw. The crowd instantly become silent with suspense.

Yumi Kunoda, the archer of beauty

As she stood among the golden rays of the sun

Her bow and arrow locked upon their target

Her arms steady, her feet solid…

A spinning sound came and cut the tense silence so swiftly and deeply that the blades of the grass field were spread out to pave way for it. The crowd held their breath in total awe.

With one release of her slender fingers,

With one touch of the wind

Her arrow, faithful and true

Swept through the land

The grasses of the land all bow their heads

In their utmost respect

All was still and motionless…

A man run forwards and examined the target area where the arrow has touched. Yumi coolly stood her ground and fanned herself against the heat. Her trimmed eyebrows arched at the end with slight impatience. The man stood and stared at where the arrow had struck. He stared back at her and at the arrow. The crowd became tingled with eagerness for the result.

Men will become speechless

Their silence will tell the tale

The tale of …

The man immediately ran back to the panel of judges, who are all gathered together. Their heads nod like controlled puppets. Then, a huge screen flashed the results. The crowd went completely wild. Bottles, cans, caps, flags and other colourful items were thrown up into the sky. The sun beamed with joy with them.

Victory.

"Did you see that??"

"3 bull eyes in a row!"

"For 3 consecutive years!"

"Yumi Kunoda. She is a genius!"

Kazuko Somekawa scribbled the date onto her notebook and read the poetry that she had written. She smiled as she tucked her purple hair behind her ears. The black eyes trailed after each sentence, her soft lips slowly merged into a dreamy smile.

"Ahh..," she sighed with content. "Another excellent poetry. I have to thank Yumi for giving me inspiration." Hugging the notebook closer to her. "And I will published it in the school's magazine! What do you think, Miwa?"

Miwa Sakamoto gave a slight curled smile and fanned herself; the mysterious sea-blue eyes twinkled with amusement. "You make Yumi sound like she is a war goddess or something. I'm sure that she will appreciated that." She took out a mirror from her bag and adjusted the messy locks of ginger coloured hair into place. "All this heat is killing me. I need to get into some place that is air-conditioned."

"Miwa!" Kazuko cried out in annoyance, "I'm a poet and poetry is supposed to bring out the qualities of a person, their inner strength and their inner spiritual being." She looked at the brown-haired girl whose shapely lean body was catching a lot of attention from the cameras. "And she does look like a war goddess."

"Don't flatter her when we meet her later. She doesn't like that." Miwa finished up the last touches of her makeup on her flawless white skin.

"Well, I think that Chiaki will appreciate my works. What do you think?" Kazuko looked at her left and smiled.

Chiaki Hara shyly smiled, nodded her head and fingered her plaited hair. "You should publish your work, Kazuko. After all, your poetry is a lot better than mine." Her light-greenish eyes turned onto Yumi, a shadow of envy darkened in them. "Will Yumi be able to meet us later? She seems to be occupied."

"Of course, she will," replied Miwa, tying her hair with a blue silken ribbon. "It will be so unlike her if she doesn't turn up."

"Actually," agreed Kazuko. "Come on, let's go now. Otherwise, we'll be stuck in a human traffic jam."

An elderly man stood over a stone grave, knelt and placed a bunch of flowers. His face was weathered by time and thin lines had deepened onto the hardened skin. The blonde hair had now grayed. His strength was diminishing with passing days. Yet, the eyes shone with youthfulness and energy. He looked up at the cotton-candied sky.

"Even though you have passed away 6 years ago, I miss you. Your smile and laughter." Deep creases formed at the corners of his dry lips. "Come to think of it, the day you died was on the day that you found that book. I wonder if it's still at the library…" He took in a deep breath and took in the summer's warm. "Oh well, it's not as if anyone is going to find it. I seriously doubt it anyway."

"So, what do you think, Yumi?" Kazuko tugged at her sleeve. "Ne… what do you think?"

"Hold on, will you," grumbled Yumi, taking in a deep gulp of her drink. "And stop tugging my sleeve, it's going to be longer than the other by the end of today."

"Kazuko has always been enthusiastic about her works," said Miwa, brushing off the salt off her fries with a piece of tissue paper. "Isn't that so, Chiaki?"

"Un…" Chiaki nodded in silence and chewed her burger quietly.

"Come on, Yumi," pleaded Kazuko. "I need your approval before I can published this! Don't you see how much your opinion means to me

Yumi rolled her eyes and sighed. "You want my opinion? I'll tell you. You have my approval to publish this in the school magazine but on one condition, can you do something about the 'archer of beauty'? I wouldn't want to see my locker to be filled with junk mail."

"These 'junk' mail are from your admirers, the people who adored you and cheered for you. It's simple courteous that if you could at least read their letters of praise."

"Letters of praise?" mocked Yumi, popping in a french-fry into her mouth. "Maybe I should let you read them. Maybe you can get your inspiration from them. Look, you girls should know me by now. I don't like popularity."

"You shouldn't said that," Miwa shook her finger. "Popularity is a powerful element. Win the crowd and they will do anything for you."

"That's right!" Kazuko nodded her head with a sudden surge of passion. "Right, Chiaki?"

"Un…" Chiaki nodded with silence.

Yumi shook her head. She expected them to be like this. Miwa, being the most popular girl in school; Kazuko, the dreamer of the group and sometimes, brainless and Chiaki, always agreeing with the two without giving a faint bit of objection. Popular or not, she doesn't like it one bit. All she wanted was to spend some personal time of her own.

"Well, where shall we go next?" She tried to change the subject, hoping that would end Kazuko from bugging her about the poem.

"I have to go to the library for a while," spoke out Chiaki softly. Her eyes lowered at the table.

"I'll join you then," said Yumi. "It has been a while since I last visited the library."

"Wonderful!" Kazuko's eyes shined with creativity. "I could get more inspiration."

"Well, since I have the time," Miwa wiped the grease from her mouth. "I suppose a trip to the library would be a refreshing treat."

"Wow…." Kazuko playfully spin around the fourth level of the library. "Isn't this amazing? Look at all these books!"

"Kazuko, you have been to the library thousands of times and you still act like a three-year-old kid. Please behave yourself and not embarrassed the youths who have the same age status as you."

"Relax, Miwa. Books have always been her favourite since nursery. Where is Chiaki?"

"At the returning counter, I guess."

"I will get her."

"And leave me to look after her?"

Yumi grinned, shrugged her shoulders and walked down the steps. Miwa rolled her eyes and crossed her arms with irritation.

Chiaki politely thanked the librarian at the returning counter and walked up the stairs. Yumi and the others will be waiting for her. She heaved a sigh. How she wish to be like them. Miwa's popularity, Yumi's strength and Kazuko's cheerful spirit. Among the four, she was the quietest one of them and the least noticeable person in the whole school. Unlike the other three, she liked the good lonely company of books than to be with people. Then again, it would be nice if a few people would address her by her name instead being referred as Yumi's friend, Miwa's friend or Kazuko's friend. Deep in her inner thoughts, she was totally unaware of where she was going.

The sound of falling books snapped her back to reality. She then realized that she had knocked down somebody. It was a young man with raven-black hair pushed to one side. He was rubbing his head. Chiaki could not help looking at his tanned body beneath the T-shirt and jeans. She knelt down and stammered.

"Gomenasai (sorry). I didn't mean to…"

"Daijoubu (It's alright)," the young man sat up. "I shouldn't have taken so many books at one time." His bluish-green eyes went straight into her eyes. Chiaki felt the warmth of her cheeks and held out the books she had picked up. The young man, feeling a bit uncomfortable, tried to ease the disturbing silence between them.

"Your name is Chiaki Hara, right?"

"Huh?" Chiaki's eyes widen at the edge. "How did you know?"

"I saw you with your friends, Sakamoto-san, Kunoda-san and Somekawa-san."

"Sou desu ka (Oh I see)…"

"Jaa… Boku wa Ren Sukunami desu (Ah… my name is Ren Sukunami)"

"Hajimemashita dozoyoroshiku (Pleased to meet you)." Chiaki bowed.

"Please... that is not necessary," Ren feeling extremely uncomfortable by her formality. "After all, we are from the same school and having the same extra-curriculum activities."

"You are a librarian too?"

"Yes, except that I take Mondays and Thursdays duties while you take Tuesdays and Wednesdays."

"Sou desu ka (I see)…"

"So, what are you doing here besides reading?"

"I was returning some books. The rest may be going out somewhere. What about you?"

"Just doing some reading." Ren sheepishly grinned. "As usual."

"As usual? I thought that you would be joining some other activities like baseball."

"Nope, reading is what I do best. I don't know why but I have been reading books since I could remember. Somehow, I felt a special bonding with them. Books can teach a person a lot of things rather than academic results. Some day, I want to be a writer."

"You sound like Kazuko. She wants to be a poet."

"Somekawa-san?" He shook his head. "Nah, I dislike poetry. It sounds so dreamy, so idealistic even though their style of writing can be quite artistic."

"Sou desu ka…"

"Then, what do you think about poetry?"

"Me? Well, I…"

"Chiaki!" Yumi called out to her and waved.

"Over here…" Chiaki waved back. "I have to go now. It's nice meeting you." She walked away briskly

"Wait… I would like to see you some…" He sees her leaving the room. "Some other time…" He sighed heavily.

Yumi playfully wrapped her arms around Chiaki and smiled like a mischievous elf. "So, who was that guy that you were talking to?"

"Who… no one," Chiaki looked away. "Just someone who is from our school."

"Well, that no one is definitely someone. Did he ask you out or something?"

"No!" Chiaki responded back, feeling the warmth of her cheeks again.

"Who? What?" burst out Kazuko from behind, " Did I hear something about a someone from our school?"

"You hear nothing." Yumi firmly ended before Kazuko could continue. "Are we done yet?"

"Almost," said Miwa. "I want to buy a drink, anyone care to join me?"

"Me!" said the eager Kazuko. Yumi and Chiaki both nodded their heads.

The 4 girls then walked towards the vending machines and purchased their drinks. While they were drinking, they heard the sound of a creaking door coming not far where they were standing. Kazuko, being the most curious of the 4, followed the sound until she reached a door. A sign was placed next to it - For authorized personnel only. Kazuko, feeling satisfied, turned and was about to walk away when she heard a roaring sound. A roaring sound of a wild beast. She turned sharply and saw a huge beast standing before her. It was a tiger. Its fur was white as new snow with black stripes across the muscled body. From it nostrils, whitish fumes were blown out. The pointed fangs sparkled against the fumes. Kazuko was paralyzed by fear and had every intention to scream for help but her voice was completely stuck in her throat.

Paw by paw, the white tiger paced its movement around her, observing her, studying her. Kazuko's eyes trembled as soon as the tiger set its eyes on her. It wasn't the way that the tiger looked at her. It was the eyes themselves. The eyes not of an animal but of a man, the piercing look into her inner soul. On one hand, it looked as kind and gentle as the summer's breeze and yet, cold and deathly as winter's ice. The tiger opened its mouth, Kazuko was so sure that it was going to take a bite of her that she shut her eyes, anticipating the coming pain. Instead, the tiger spoke in audible words like the blowing wind.

You must summon me, Byakko no miko (maiden of Byakko). Enter the Book of the 4 gods and find the 7 scared stars. With the 7 stars, you are to summon me. Hurry, Byakko no miko. Time is running out.

With a final roar, the tiger leaped over Kazuko and went through the door. Kazuko stared bluntly at the bizarre scene that had just happened to her. Then, she heard running foot steps and voices.

"Kazuko! Are you alright?" Yumi aided her friend back to her feet. Kazuko was shaking uncontrollably. "What happened?"

"We heard the sound of an animal soon after you left," continued Miwa, wiping off the beads of sweat from Kazuko's forehead. "My goodness, you looked like you have seen a ghost."

"I… I… I… " Kazuko struggled to speak but ended up pointing at the door.

"It's in there?" Chiaki cautiously took a few steps away.

Yumi frowned. "If it's in there, everyone would be able to hear it besides us."

"It's in there!" shrieked Kazuko. "I've seen it. A white tiger!"

"A white tiger?" asked Miwa skeptically. "Here? In Japan? Is this some kind of a joke?"

"I think we should leave," suggested Chiaki timidly. "We might get scolded for being here."

"I'm not making this up!" Kazuko snapped. "I'll prove it to you!" She reached out for the doorknob and turned it. The door opened and everybody jumped back. But nothing came out.

"You were saying?" Miwa raised her eyebrow. "I don't know about you but I'm leaving."

"Not so fast!" growled Kazuko, grabbing hold of Miwa. "I can still prove it to you" Dragging her inside, Yumi and Chiaki reluctantly followed, knowing full well how demanding Chiaki could be when she wants to.

"You are satisfied with your ridiculous behaviour?" Miwa yelled at her "And what you looking at the shelves? Surely, that tiger of yours need a bigger space than that?"

"The Book of the 4 gods. That's what the tiger told me to find." Kazuko browsed through the rows of books. "That's where it will be."

"The Book of the 4 gods?" questioned the girls in chorus.

"Kazuko. Are you okay?"

"I think she has gone insane."

"We should leave. This room is meant for authorized personnel only."

"Not until we find that book!"

"Oh please Kazuko," Miwa waved her hands in the air. "It's not like the book is going to pop out and drop at our feet…"

Miwa had barely finished her sentence when an old book dropped out from one of the shelves and landed on the floor. A cloud of dust encircled the worn-out pages. Everybody looked at each other, unable to speak the proper words to suit the situation that had displayed before them. Kazuko smiled at the dumbfounded Miwa. She bent down and picked up the book, turning to the cover, she blew away the dust. On a faded, wrinkled red cover, written in black Chinese characters was the title.

"The Book of the 4 gods," read Chiaki slowly, peering over Kazuko's shoulder.

"You know how to read Chinese?" asked Yumi in surprise.

"A little…" said Chiaki while Kazuko gently flipped over the frail tea-yellowish page.

"It is the story of 4 girls who single-handedly gathered the 7 stars of each guardian and gained the power to make all dreams come true. The story itself is an incantation and whosoever reads it gain the main character's powers to have their wished granted. As soon as the page is turned, the story become real and begins… "

"I wonder that means…" pondered Yumi.

"Should we turn the page and find out?" asked Chiaki.

"I don't know, I don't like it the way it is written. It's like a riddle," said Miwa.

"Don't you see? It's like those in a fairy tale or something. Fantasy," said Kazuko excitedly. "We would be having an adventure or something."

"What century are you living in now, may I so kindly ask?" mocked Miwa. "I can't believe you still believe in childish stories."

"I distinctly saw a white tiger and it called me Byakko no miko. It told me to find the Book of the 4 gods and now we are holding it in our hands. Now how would I know about the book if it was placed in this room?"

"She has a point though…" agreed Yumi.

"I say that we should flipped to the next page and find out," Kazuko stubbornly insisted.

"Should we?" asked Chiaki, feeling very insecure about the decision.

"Alright then, I'll prove it to you this time." Miwa sighed with annoyance and flipped the page. "See, nothing has happened. We have wasted unnecessary time in this storage room. Now, shall we…."

The book glowed golden iridescent light upon the girls, slowly spreading and covering their entire bodies. The girls gaped at the brightness, too deep in awe by the magic, not alert for what was going to happen within the next few seconds The light absorbed them like an eagle catching its prey with one swoop and suck them into the book. Screams from the girls sounded like a voice in another dimension as the light diminished and the book slowly shut on itself.

Ren Sukunami jerked upwards like he has wakened from a very bad dream. He turned around and around the entire room, shifting his eyes to find the cause that interrupted him from his studies.

"That's strange. I thought I heard Chiaki's voice." He muttered to himself.

A wrap ambience surrounded the frightened girls. Its vortex went spinning and spinning around Kazuko had this feeling of what was it like been inside a washing machine. Colours were blurred and fuzzy as it merged into the dark winding stripes. The girls felt dizzy at the falling sensation that seemed to last endlessly. Cold with an odd touch of warm touched the girls' skin, making them hot inside and yet freezing outside. In fear of losing each other, the girls hanged onto each other, locking themselves in their arms. Yumi tried to put on a brave front so as that it would give a spark of confidence into the others. Still, the others were too shaken to open their eyes. Yumi, who was getting used to the atmosphere, stare at the spiraling surroundings and pondered over the last few sentences of the passage.

As soon as the page is turned, the story become real and begins…

"Minna (everybody)," she said. "Remember the phase, as soon as the page is turned, the story become real and begins? If my assumptions are right, I think that what it meant. We are becoming the main characters of the story."

"I don't care about what it meant," Miwa yelled out, shaking her head with her eyes closed. "I want this thing to stop!"

"Me too!" screamed Kazuko. Chiaki nodded her head fiercely.

Yumi sighed and looked at the surroundings once more. To her surprise, the colour had changed into brown. It was as brown as fresh soil. She could smell the earthly scent of it – the trees, the grass, the flowers, and the rocks. The sound of a stampede of animals passing by rang into her ears. Sweet juices of the fruits lingered onto her taste buds. She opened to speak but closed it. A smile curled at the corner. She might as well as let herself embrace the feeling before it ends.

Kazuko was next to open her eyes. She found Yumi staring into space, her face looking so peaceful. Turning to her direction, Kazuko saw the surroundings becoming misty white in colour. She felt a gentle wind blowing across her face, whipping her hair from side to side with each passing and the whistling rush in her ears drowning out all other noises. The touch was warm like the summer heat changing into a cool evening breeze. Then, she heard the roaring of a tiger calling out to her.

Come to me, Byakko no miko…

Miwa finally had the courage to open her eyes. She saw sea blue mist coming towards her, cleansing her body. It gave her a refreshing feeling to herself. The touch was extremely inviting. Miwa held out her hand to it. The mist wind itself between each finger and over the palm. For a spilt second, she felt her skin turning in something hard and scaly.

Chiaki was still too afraid to open. Deep down, she wished that it would end. She wanted to go home. She wanted to shut herself in her room. A phoenix's cry echoed in her ears. Her eyes shut even tighter. Something was burning within her.

Do not be afraid, dear child. Even the most timid creature is the bravest of all creations.

Who are you? What do you want from me?

Learn to have courage.

But I don't want to learn anything. I want to go home.

You will. But you will have to find the 7 stars first and summon me….

Why?

Why?

Why me?

"Hold on!" shouted Yumi, waking the others up. "We are reaching a opening."

"I don't like this!" screamed Miwa.

"ARGHHH!!!!!!" the four girls screamed as they crashed onto the ground.

"Oh…" groaned Yumi, trying to free herself from the tangled bodies. "Is everyone alright?"

Miwa rubbed her head. "No, I am bruised all over!"

"I think I can live for another day," murmured Kazuko.

Chiaki blinked for a couple of times and quickly examined the surroundings. The ground seemed to clear as a mirror. It was squeaky clean as if it had been polished for thousands of times. There were green marbles floating about the place. One of them drifted towards the girls, then it burst and out came a little girl.

"Nyan-Nyan," the girl said, smiling very cheerfully at the stunned girls. Her green hair was plaited and she was dressed in oriental red clothes. "Welcome! We are been expecting you!"

"Expecting…?" Yumi stammered.

More bubbles burst and more little green-haired girls appeared. All of them were smiling and shaking hands with the four girls. Each of them was greeting the girls in their own special ways.

"Hold on a minute!" Miwa raised her voice louder than the crowding little girls. "Who is expecting us?"

"I am, foolish girl," boomed a coarse voice. The little girls hushed and scurried to their standing positions. A mirror rise up from the ground and expanded into an enormous globe and shaped into an elderly woman. The sight of her dumbfounded the girls. Even though she had a noble look, she looked as if she had been born with an oversize head upon the skinny shoulders. The cheeks of her face were fat and sagging at the corners. Thick lines deepened across the foreheads and at the lines of the sausage lips. When she parted her lips to speak, the girls thought that she sounded like a toad.

"Welcome, I have been expecting you all. You have been chosen."

"Chosen for what?" demanded Miwa, her face displayed annoyance. "We just opened a stupid book that is already falling apart!"

"That stupid book is the Book of the 4 gods. It's no ordinary book. It's a portal that connects your world to here. Not everybody can get through the book. Be thankful that a brat like you was given an opportunity of a lifetime."

"An opportunity to do what?" Miwa spat back, not wanting to be beaten by an old hag.

"I saw a white tiger at our world" interrupted Kazuko, having her own intentions to have the spotlight at this moment, "It said come to me, Byakko no miko. What does it mean?"

The old woman's brows raised, making her look more like an ugly toad. "So, it was already chosen its maiden to find the 7 stars for him." She sighed. "Before I explain the situation to you, it would be proper for us to start by introducing ourselves. I'm Taiitsukun and you are at Mt Taikyoku, where you will stay till you set off for your separate quests."

"If so, then I'm Yumi Kunoda."

"Miwa Sakamoto."

"Kazuko Somekawa"

"Chiaki Hara"

"I thank you four for coming at our most perilous times. The 4 main countries of the Book of the 4 gods were in great need in the summing of the 4 guardians. However, in order to do so, a maiden from another world has to gather the 7 stars and summon him. You see, each country has a guardian to protect them from troubled times. Each guardian has 7 star warriors to serve and protect the maiden until the maiden has summoned the guardian. You four are those maidens that we have been waiting for."

"Then Byakko is one of the 4 guardians, then" asked Kazuko excitedly.

The old toad nodded her head. "Yes, you learn quickly, Byakko no miko. That is good for your quest."

"Quest or not. Taiitsukun -kun," cut in Miwa icily. "You haven't explained why we are chosen to do this."

"That I can't explain how Destiny works. No one can. It has already been chosen for you."

"And if I refuse?"

The toad croaked, "Either way, you will fulfilled your destiny." She waved her hand and pointed at Yumi. "You have a question?"

"Yes, if Kazuko is the maiden of Byakko. Then, which maiden do I represent?"

"It's excellent that you have adapted in quickly," a mirror materialized in front of the girls. "Look into the mirror. Maidens. These are the duties that each of you are charged with."

"Kazuko Somekawa. As you have met the brave white tiger of Byakko, you are charged to go to the Western land of Sairou as the maiden of Byakko."

"Yumi Kunoda. Your skill as an archer will serve you well in hunting grounds of the northern land of Hokkan as the maiden of Genbu."

"Miwa Sakamoto whose heart is wild and unpredictable as the waters of the Eastern land of Kutou. You are charged to be the maiden of Seriyuu."

"Last but not least, Chiaki Hara. Doubt and fears has always been your obstacle from revealing your true self. May the fiery light of the Southern land of Konan guide you to courage. I charge thee to go as the maiden of Suzaku."

The girls stared at the mystical creatures that appeared into mirror. Yumi saw a turtle like creature with several heads attached to it, she smiled when she visualized the sensations she had earlier on. Miwa cringed at the sight of the blue-scald dragon, still remembering the transformation of her hand back in the portal. Chiaki looked doubtful at the red-feathered Phoenix as she recalled the words it had spoken to her. Kazuko, the most thrilled and energetic of them all, gave a friendly wave to the white tiger. Taiitsukun clicked her fingers. The mirror whirled and vanished into thin air.

"Nyan-Nyans, lead the maidens to their rooms. They have to rest before they depart tomorrow."

"Depart?" out burst Miwa. "What do you mean by that? I didn't agree to anything!"

"Either you like it or not, you don't have a choice. It's either that you accept your duty and fulfill the tasks set before you or you could stay here for all eternity."

"You mean if we don't, we can never return home?" asked Chiaki faintly. Yumi and Kazuko stared at the old toad, with eyes wide-opened.

"I'm afraid so. You see, as long as you summon the guardians, you can able to return to your original worlds. Just like the maidens who came before you."

"The maidens who came before us?" Miwa boldly took a step forward. "You mean that people from our world had came into this world to become the maidens as well?"

Taiitsukun clicked her tongue in her mouth, puffing up her grossly fat cheeks. "It seems that I have let the cat out of the bag. Yes, Miwa Sakamoto, there were 4 maidens who came before you girls have arrived."

"Then, why did you need us for? Didn't they succeed?" She pressed the issue harder.

"Yes, they did. But," Emphasizing the word before Miwa could butt in. "These maidens have already passed away in your world. Thus, upset the balance in this world. The guardians have to be summoned once again to restore the stability of this world."

"So as soon as we summon the guardians, the faster the stability is restores and all of us can return home?" Yumi asked.

"Yes," the old toad nodded. "That is the point that I'm trying to get your friend to understand."

"If that is so," Yumi's face became grave. "Then I accept to be the maiden of Genbu."

"Yumi!" Miwa horrified of her decision. "What are you saying?"

"Me too! I, Kazuko Somekawa, accept to be the maiden of Byakko!"

"Not you too!"

"Why not, Miwa?" She smiled. "After all, this will be the chance of a lifetime."

"A chance to get yourself killed! What are you thinking of? This is no fairy tale."

'But it is the only way to get home," spoke up Chiaki, pressing her hands tightly.

"Chiaki!" Miwa sounded desperate. "Are you three knowing what kind of a decision that you are making?"

"I know what I'm doing, Miwa," Yumi turned to her. "While we were at the portal, I felt how Hokkan felt like. It's so indescribable. The land is so pure and filled with life. The thought of that being destroyed appalls me."

"Even so, how can the old hag ensure that us that nothing would happen to use before and after the guardian has been summoned? How do we know that the maidens who have came before us came back home alive after the summoning?"

"I can ensure, Miwa Sakamoto that the earlier maidens all return safe and sound. So will all of you. You have my word. Unless you wish to stay here."

Miwa stiffened, forcefully speak out the words. "Then, you leave me no choice but to become the maiden of Seiryuu."

"And I accept to be the maiden of Sazuku," said Chiaki, wanting very much to be somewhere by herself.

"Then, it is settled. Nyan-Nyan, please lead the maidens to their rooms. They will need their rest and strength for their quest. And this I can assure you, maidens. Your quest will be much more perilous than the earlier maidens."

"Can you all explain to me the outrageous decisions that you have made?" demanded Miwa, as soon as the Nyan-Nyans left them into velvet-carpeted rooms with silk curtains and beds as soft as the skin of a newborn baby. "I can't believe that all of you were so eager in this!"

Yumi opened a cupboard and examined the clothes that were neatly hanged out. From what she could see, the clothes were made for mountain trips. In the drawers, there were daggers of all shapes and sizes. She picked up and observed the sharpness of the blade. Taking out a piece of silk, she let it fall across the blade. The silk cloth broke into two instantly.

"Of course, I know what I'm doing. We just have to find the 7 stars and we'll get the hell out of here."

"You make it sound so easy!" Miwa slumped onto the bed. "If that old hag is so clever and powerful, why can't she do it herself?

"Cos' she is too ugly that all of the stars shattered the moment they see her," chipped Kazuko, digging through the contents of a bronze rimmed trunk. "Oh yes!" She pulled out a quail, a scroll and a bottle of ink. "The things that I need so much now!" Skipping to the other side of the bed, she sat and scribbled as she speaks.

The Book of the 4 gods

The Book that makes all wishes come true

"Find the 7 stars, the shining lights that bind this world together", it said.

The Book tells of the bravery of the maidens who found and gathered the stars

With them, she summoned the guardian

Who make all her wishes come true.

The story had came true

But was kept away in the shelf

By those who hoped to keep it a secret

How dreary the years were for this great Book

How much it has yearned to be opened once again

Its pages turned frail, its words faded beyond recognition

Yet, it held on to the magic that holds it together…

Not in vain, for now it is opened once again

Eager to tell more brave tales of the maidens of

The Book of the 4 gods.

"Ne, what do you think?" cried Kazuko, adding the finishing decorations to the crispy scroll.

"I think that you have fallen heads over heels about this," Miwa shook her head.

Yumi gave an encouraging smile, "You are improving." She took a bundle of clothes and walked behind a screen. "Let's hope that you would be able to write during your journey. I would like to hear about your adventure."

"Thanks a lot," Kazuko made a face. "What are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" She tossed her clothes over the screen. "Our clothes may not be suitable for traveling especially the shoes. I suggest that we get changed to more appropriate clothes. Don't argue me, Miwa. We have to take precaution. How do I look?"

Stepping out of the screen, Yumi was dressed in acorn-green pants and tunic buckled by a leather belt with a jagged dagger with the Genbu insignia sling to it. At her feet was a pair of rugged mountain boots; another small dagger was hidden beneath the leathery folds. She took a well-made long brown cloak hanging by the screen and wrapped it around her shoulders, hiding the jagged dagger. Pulling out a drawer, she selected a long beaded earring and attached onto her right ear. From another cupboard, she calmly selected a dark chocolate coloured bow and a quiver of arrows and slings them across her athletic body.

"So, what you do think?" she asked again, putting her hands onto her hip.

"You look…"Miwa, quite taken back by her actions.

"WONDERFUL!!! SO COOL!!!" cried out Kazuko, her shining with admiration. "Like those heroines in fantasy books." She hugged Yumi. "You must help me with my costume too!"

"Costume? You are going to wear it for a very long time!" Yumi tried to detach herself. "Stop holding me so tight!"

"Don't be so mean," Kazuko hugged even tighter. "I want to be cool too if I'm going to the maiden of Byakko!"

"She is really into this…" muttered Miwa, giving a sigh of submission. "Guess I need to change too. By the way, where is Chiaki?"

"Huh?" Yumi looked around the room. "I thought that she is with us all the time."

"Maybe she want to spend with time alone," Kazuko opening one of the trunks. "She always does that."

"Or maybe she is feeling the same thing like me," Miwa reluctantly swing open a cupboard. "Why should I be the one to do it?"

"That is a very simple answer, Miwa. If we don't, we can't return to our own world."

"You are not answering the question at all, Kazuko Somekawa

Doubts and fears were besieging Chiaki, who quietly sneaked the room when she had the chance. Walking briskly down the hallway, the daunting thoughts disturbed her very much. What if she were to fail? How could she succeed this all by herself? She lacked the abilities that the other girls had. They were much better in her in every single way. Then footsteps and laughter echoed down the hallway, Chiaki quickly hid behind a pillar, she took a few steps back into the shadows. Three of the Nyan-Nyans walked past her. She laid low until she felt sure that they were completely gone. A voice boomed behind her.

"Why are you hiding from those who would not harm you?"

Chiaki jumped aside like a startled hare, she nearly gave a scream but a silk cloth was immediately stuffed into her mouth. Taiitsukun sighed and drew closer to her.

"I am really that frightening?" The old toad widened her eyes, making herself looking even grosser.

"Yes," Chiaki squeakily replied as soon as the silk cloth was pulled out from her mouth. "Especially what you did just now."

"Humph!" Taiitsukun pointed her nose upwards to the ceiling. "You kids will never appreciate the things that I may do to help you in the future. As I was asking you, why were you hiding? The Nyan-Nyans will never hurt anyone unless he is an enemy."

"I was…" Chiaki struggled to find the words. "It was nothing."

"Nothing?" Taiitsukun frowned. "Is that what Chiaki thinks?"

"No, not really." Lines of worry fall across her forehead. "It's just that…. Just that…"

"Go on, child," Encouraging her. "It's better to clear doubts than to keep it inside."

"I'm scared." Tears swelled at the corners in her eyes. "What if I fail? What if I can't find the 7 stars or summon Suzaku? I don't know this place very well and I'm scared that I might get lost. In fact, I don't know what is going on!" She burst into tears. Taiitsukun held her and pat her on the head in a grandmotherly way.

"Here, here Chiaki. You don't have to worry. All those chosen will be able to be at Mt. Taikyoku. If you were meant to fail, Mt.Taikyoku will appear as a rocky mountains. Listen to me, the former maiden of Suzaku succeeded in her quest. You will too."

"The former maiden of Suzaku?"

Taiitsukun chuckled. "Yes, the former maiden – Miaka Yuuki. She too came from your world and entered into this world the same as you did. Miaka was too confused and certain when she first came. But she learnt quickly and fulfilled her destined role. You too will learn in time."

Chiaki was still doubtful. "But how did she do it?"

"Well, let me see. She was the maiden of Suzaku. She was rather reckless in certain times and brainless sometimes. But it was her heart that made her succeed. Her heart won the 7 stars over and they all loved and protected her. Some of them gave up their lives in order to do so."

"They gave up their lives for her?" Her face turned ghastly pale. "I don't want people to die for me."

"That is the destined for the 7 stars. It's their sworn oath to do so. However, there is one thing I have to tell you. In order for Suzaku to be summoned, all of the 7 stars must be present including this." Taiitsukun passed her a red-coloured scroll. "It is the only source to find the 7 stars."

"The Book of the 4 gods," read Chiaki, untying the string. "The 7 stars of Suzaku, sworn protectors of the maiden. They are Tamahome, Hotohori, Chichiri, Nuriko, Tasuki, Mitsukake and Chiriko… Are these their names?"

"These are the names of the Suzaku seishis (suzaku star warriors) only. All of them have their own proper names, therefore, they won't reveal their seishis names unless you find them."

"But how would I know?"

"All star warriors have their respective symbols engraved on their bodies even before they are born. You can see them on the scroll that I have given you. The scroll also tells you clues onto finding them. So, you see, my dear. It won't be difficult to find them. Believe in yourself, Chiaki. Have the courage to complete your quest." Taiitsukun gave her a squeeze on the shoulder. "Whenever you need help, concentrate your thoughts on me and I'll be there. Remember, Suzaku no miko, I'm always your friend."

"Thank you," replied Chiaki, smiling faintly. "You have been helpful. I think I better return to the others before they start to worry about me." She bowed, turned and run.

"Remember Chiaki," Taiitsukun called out to her. "Only you have the strength to complete the quest."

Chiaki waved back in response and continued running down the hallway.

Taiitsukun closed her eyes and pressed her lips together. Yes, these girls are the ones who will save this world from falling apart. Still, there are many things and secrets to tell them. Their quests will not be easy. By accepting the quests, they have already made an enemy. And they will stop at nothing to prevent them from summoning the 4 guardians.