Disclaimer: (sigh) Yeah yeah, I know. I don't own Fushigi Yugi and all of that…although I really wouldn't mind a certain blue haired monk to come into my possession…(yum)
Yay! It's the second chapter to my first angst/sad story! Hopefully you people will like it and give it good reviews because they make me happy :)
Tasuki couldn't seem to will his body to move as the cascade of mud and rocks fell towards him. The ground beneath him was slick and his boots couldn't get enough friction to even get him to stand up straight. The roaring of the mudslide echoed through his mind suffocating any other sounds. He looked up the embankment, the rocks were so close, only meters away. Suddenly there was another force that slammed into him, gripping him around his waist and it threw Tasuki off to the side out of the way of death. He hit the pathway hard and skidded through the mud, behind him he could hear the rocks crashing down onto the place he had been not a moment before. There were the sickening cracks of the rocks breaking open upon their impact and the groan of the trees as they felt the brute force of the mudslide. Tasuki found mud filling his mouth and nose and he sputtered and coughed trying to get rid of it. His chest was heavy and it was hard to breathe as an unknown force pressed down on top of him. He tried to open his eyes and make sense of what was happening but the downpour of the rain was blinding and made everything blurry. The last of the rocks fell and then there was just the sound of the water hitting the earth. The weight on top of him finally shifted and was released allowing Tasuki to wipe the mud from his face. The movement jarred his arm and sent a sharp pain into his skull. He grimaced and looked down to see an angry gash running down his upper arm caused by a shard from one of the rocks which had cut right through his black jacket and shirt. He could feel the blood begin to run down his arm, soaking into his already wet clothes.
With his vision cleared he looked up and saw Chichiri sitting just in front of him. His mask was gone and Chichiri's mahogany coloured eye scanned the embankment, searching for any more danger. The monk noticed Tasuki's gaze and gave him a weak smile.
"Are you okay?" he asked, his voice strained and shaking.
Tasuki nodded and realized that it had been Chichiri who had saved him.
"How…how about you?"
Chichiri sighed. "I guess I'm fine, although my leg is going numb and the world is spinning like crazy around me. Oh yeah, and there are five of you," he said lightly. Tasuki frowned and looked down at his friend's legs. One of his pant legs had been split open and there was a gash, much like the one Tasuki had, along his calf. Tasuki suddenly felt a shiver go through him and he sneezed. He wrapped his arms around him trying to find some warmth from the elements. He couldn't remember the last time he had felt this tired and his eyes begged him to let him close them and to fall back against the mud and forget all of his problems. Chichiri looked as if he wanted to do the same but instead he moved his hands under him and managed to shift himself into a standing position, keeping most of his weight on his uninjured leg.
"Come on Tasuki, we need to…" he cut off as he ran his hands over the front of his kesa. Tasuki looked up at Chichiri and noticed the fear that came over his face.
"What…what's wrong?" he asked uncertain.
"Tama…" Chichiri started before he began looking frantically around.
"Tama!" he cried, his voice hardly overpowering the pounding of the rain. Tasuki managed to get into a kneeling position and he joined Chichiri in the search for the little cat.
"Shit, Tama!" Tasuki tried. He listened, straining to hear above the downpour. There was a tiny whimper and Chichiri limped his way over to its origin and found Tama-neko huddled against a large rock. He was half buried in the mud and his drenched body was shaking like mad. Chichiri knelt down and gently placed a hand on Tama's back. The cat blinked and gazed up at him with pleading.
"Easy, easy," Chichiri soothed as his hand ran over Tama's fur, looking for any injuries.
Tasuki finally got his feet to get a grip on the path and he joined his friend's side.
"Is he gonna be okay?" he asked. Chichiri slowly nodded then carefully picked up Tama, securely embracing him and covering him with the protection of his kesa.
"We won't last much longer out here," Chichiri stated. "We need to find shelter."
Tasuki growled and scanned the area. "There's nothing out here…nothing but trees and mud and…" he cut off as a small flicker of light caught his eye. "Hey! What's that?"
Chichiri looked to where Tasuki was pointing.
"It's…it's a house, I think."
Sure enough beyond where the rockslide had been, there was a faint outline of a stone home in the distance.
"Common!" Chichiri ordered as he began making his way down towards it. The bandit followed making sure to never let Chichiri get more than a few feet ahead of him. They made their way carefully around the cracked boulders and continued along the path. Chichiri could feel Tama's shivering and every few seconds the cat mewed, tugging at Chichiri's heart. Almost there, don't worry. Just a few more feet…
He made sure Tasuki was right behind him as they reached the house and with the last little strength he had, he raised his hand and knocked loudly against the wooden door. The rain fell from the sky behind them and they waited.
A quiet shuffling sound could be heard on the other side and there was the click of a latch being lifted. The door creaked open and a young woman's face appeared. Her eyes scanned over the senshi and they widened as they took in their ragged and drenched appearance.
"Oh my! Oh…oh please come in," she said as she opened the door fully. Warmth flooded out into the rain and Chichiri couldn't help but be pulled in by it. They followed the woman into the house and she led them over to a large fireplace that was lit by a blazing fire. She pulled over two chairs from a nearby table and gently took Chichiri's hand and bade him sit. He complied and she did the same to Tasuki who gratefully sank onto the chair with a groan.
A blanket slid around Chichiri's shoulders and he looked up to see her watching him with worry.
She gave him a small smile. A meow from his kesa startled both of them and Tama cautiously popped his head out into the open.
"Ahh, would you be so kind to provide some warmth for my friend here?" Chichiri asked. The woman nodded and took Tama from him then placed him on top of a fluffy blanket beside the fire. He purred contently and stretched out, trying to dry some of his fur. The woman turned to Chichiri and Tasuki.
"I have a tub in the back room, it's hot and would be good to warm you up," she offered.
"Ano, we would hate to trouble you..."
"Oh no no, it's no trouble. I also have some dry clothes that you could wear while yours dry out. They belonged to my brother and would probably fit you."
Tasuki sneezed again.
Chichiri nodded, "I think that would be wonderful no da." The woman beamed and went off to gather the garments. Tasuki regarded his friend.
"Do ya' think it's wise for us to be bathin' and stuff. I mean, we only just met her. We still don't even know her name."
Chichiri chuckled, "I think in our situation it's fine."
The woman returned and this time Chichiri fully took in her appearance. She was about as short as Miaka with dark blond hair that was tied up in a braid that hung down the full length of her back. She had pale green eyes and was wearing a soft rose coloured kimono. He also noticed that she was walking with a small limp.
"It's all ready," she informed them. Chichiri and Tasuki got up carefully and slowly followed her to the back of her home. One room had been furnished into a bathing area and a large tub full of steaming water dominated one side of it while another had buckets of water lined up against the wall and a few bars of soap and some cloths. Towels were neatly folded along a single wall shelf along with two sets of clothing.
"You can put your clothing outside of the door and I will hang it up to dry. Please take as long as you like and then after I can get you some hot food and drink," she said.
"Thank you again…uh…"
"Ah, arigato Sambu-san," Chichiri said, grateful to at last know their hostess' name. She went back to the main room and he closed the door. Tasuki began to undress, gently peeling the torn and bloody cloth from his shoulder.
"Suzaku this stings," he complained. Chichiri knew all too well the other senshi's discomfort for his own wound was causing his leg to throb. Tasuki finished undressing and put his clothes outside the door like Sambu had told them too, however keeping his beloved tessen with him.
"Ya' can't be too careful," he told Chichiri as he lay it up against one of the walls. He began scrubbing himself with a soapy cloth, trying to get rid of the many layers of mud that had accumulated on his skin and hair. The monk sighed and began stripping himself making sure to carefully fold his clothes even though they were in a state of much needed repair. Uneasiness had been creeping up on him but Chichiri could not place his finger on what it was just yet. There was something about this house, about Sambu that seemed to lack a certain feeling. He glanced over to Tasuki who had just dumped a bucket of warm water over his head; he didn't seem to notice that anything was odd. Chichiri shook his head; maybe it was nothing at all. Perhaps the knock on his skull had done something to mess with his mind. He relaxed as he ran a cloth over his face and down his neck. The water was soothing, unlike the rain that fell outside. Mud trickled down his bare skin to the floor and into a small drain. The past hours of misery in the elements seemed to fade as the mud did and soon Chichiri's skin took on a healthy pink glow and he felt refreshed. Tasuki finished his washing and slid into the hot tub with a long and happy sigh. The water lapped at his chest and steam rose, creating small droplets that clung to his exposed skin. Tasuki's eyes were closed in bliss and Chichiri had to chuckle at the expression on his friend's face.
"Careful to not fall asleep no da."
Tasuki grinned, one fang glinted from the courner of his mouth, "Yeah I know, but this feels sooo good."
Chichiri nodded and joined his friend. The water felt wonderful and his tired muscles relaxed. A faint smell of lavender filled his nostrils having been put into the bath water by Sambu earlier. At the thought of her Chichiri frowned.
"Yeah," he said dreamily.
"Um, did you happen to notice something strange about this place no da?"
"Besides the fact that we're ass naked and bathing in a strange person's home?"
"Something about the feeling within this place," Chichiri said, abandoning his no da's indicating that he was serious.
Tasuki regarded his companion. "Well, now that you mention it, I did happen to notice a certain emptiness here."
Chichiri nodded, confirmed of his own feelings. "So did I no da."
"What do you think it is? Could she be an enemy?"
Chichiri shook his head. "I don't think so or else I would've detected an intent to harm us in her chi." Chichiri froze. "That's it!"
"I can't detect her chi."
Tasuki looked at him strangely. "Ya' sure?"
The bandit closed his eyes for a moment trying to see if he could but after a few moments he had to admit that the monk was right.
"What does that mean?" he asked worried.
"I don't know no da. Maybe she's hiding it."
"Wouldn't that mean that she can use magic?" Tasuki asked.
"No. Normal people can hide their chi if they know how."
"What should we do?"
Chichiri sighed, "Nothing I guess. But just to be sure we should stay cautious no da." Tasuki nodded and sank back into the water letting it touch the bottom of his chin. He had to admit he didn't want to go anywhere just yet especially back out into the storm.
They finished bathing and donned the clothes that Sambu had provided them. Tasuki filled them in nicely but Chichiri, who was a tad shorter and slighter build found them a bit loose. It really didn't matter since they were warm and modest. Chichiri hung up any of the towels they used and made sure that the floor was dry before leaving the bathing room. Their clothes were gone and they walked back into the main room of the house. Sambu was over by the fire stirring something in a large iron pot that let off delicious aromas. Chichiri saw Tama-neko curled in his blanket with a look of pure satisfaction and contentment. His eyes were closed and he was off in a blissful sleep. Sambu noticed that they had returned and she stood up with a warm smile.
"Did you find your bath satisfactory?" she asked.
"Yes, very much so no da. Thank you."
She nodded happily and motioned them to sit back on the chairs by the fire. There were a couple of blankets folded on the seats ready for them to use in case the senshi were still cold. Tasuki spread his over his legs and leaned back in the chair regarding Sambu. Chichiri followed suit and Sambu retrieved three bowls from a cupboard on the other side of the room. She brought them over to the pot and began spooning out large portions of stew. She gave Tasuki and Chichiri a bowl along with a set of chopsticks and a cup full of warm sake. Tasuki had a gleeful look on his face as he accepted the sake and he gratefully drank it down.
"Ahh, I needed that," he said happily.
"I'm glad that you like it," Sambu said as she refilled his cup. "Umm, not to sound rude or anything, but may I ask your names?"
Tasuki choked on his sake and Chichiri found himself blushing at how bad their manners had been.
"Of course no da. I'm so sorry, I'm Chichiri and this is Tasuki," he introduced. "Please forgive our ignorance…"
"Oh don't worry. You both were in quite a state when you arrived, I understand completely."
Chichiri relaxed at her pardon and resumed eating. The stew was thick with hearty vegetables and had a nice spicy taste. He could feel it warming his belly and his strength began to return.
"So ahh…do ya' live here alone?" Tasuki asked.
Sambu's eyes dimmed and she fiddled with the hem of her kimono.
"Oh, gomen. I didn't mean to pride," Tasuki said hastily.
"No, that's alright. I used to live with my brother but he was killed in the battle between Konan and Kutou two years ago."
"Sorry to hear that no da."
A small smile came over her face. "Actually it feels good to talk to someone. Not many people come to visit. In fact, you are the first visitors in over a year."
No wonder she was so happy to have us here,Chichiri thought.
"My brother had been taking care of me since our parents died long ago. But when he passed away I've been trying to manage this house on my own." She motioned to her leg. "So far I'm more of a klutz than anything."
"What happened?" Tasuki asked.
"I tripped on my front step after gathering some herbs. Dumb huh?"
Chichiri smiled, "Not really, everyone has their own mishap once in a while." More like once every second, he thought as he recalled Miaka's clumsiness.
Suddenly Sambu gave a startled gasp. "Oh my! You're bleeding!"
Chichiri looked down to see that his wound had reopened and blood was soaking through his pant leg. "Oh gomen, I thought the water had stopped the blood. I'm sorry, I've ruined your brother's clothes."
"Don't be silly. Now here…" Sambu got up and quickly pulled out a few strips of linen and a jar of ointment from a box near the fireplace. She knelt in front of Chichiri. "If you lift up the pant leg I can bandage it up."
Chichiri obeyed and Sambu skillfully began bandaging the gash. The ointment soothed the pain but what surprised Chichiri was that he could hardly feel Sambu's hands as she worked. Her fingers slid along his skin but she seemed to be pressing so lightly it was as if she wasn't touching him at all. She finished and looked over at Tasuki.
"Are you injured?"
"Ahh, just a little cut on my shoulder…nothing to worry about," he told her. Sambu didn't look as if she believed him and gently pulled down his kimono top to expose his wound. Tasuki turned as red as his hair as she applied the same treatment to him as she had to Chichiri and the monk grinned at his companion.
"How's it feel now no da?"
Tasuki grunted to him but thanked Sambu for her help. She nodded and returned to her position by the fire with Tama-neko. The little cat purred as she scratched him gently under his chin and he resumed his sleeping.
"So how did you come to these parts?" Sambu asked.
"Actually we sort of got lost from the main path when the storm started. We were supposed to be on our way to the town of Joai."
"Oh, well from what I remember you are still a long way from it. I believe that you have to go back down the path to the south to get back to the main road, then it's at least another three day walk east."
Tasuki groaned, "God dammit. We're never gonna get there…Nah Chichiri?"
"What no da?"
"What about if you use your kesa to transport us there?"
"Gomen Tasuki no da. I'm not strong enough to do that yet no da."
"You can stay here overnight to rest," Sambu offered. "I have extra bedrolls and I would be happy to offer any help."
Chichiri smiled warmly at her. "That would be wonderful no da."
Sambu grinned. "It's not every day that I get to entertain two warriors of Suzaku."
This startled Tasuki and Chichiri who looked at her in confusion.
"How did you…"
"Know? Well, mainly your names gave you away but I also noticed your senshi marks on your knee and arm," she explained.
Chichiri looked down and sure enough he could see his senshi mark glowing faintly through his pant leg.
"I thought these only appeared when we fight," Tasuki said confused.
Chichiri didn't respond. He also didn't know what had caused the marks to show and he also noticed that they weren't glowing the same red colour as they usually did. It was more of a reddish purple glow that was being emitted. What's going on here? Chichiri thought. Sambu didn't seem to notice her guests discomfort and went off to one of the back rooms in search of the bedrolls that they would use for the night.
"This is very odd no da," Chichiri whispered to Tasuki. The bandit nodded in agreement.
"She seems nice enough though."
"I agree. I don't sense any violence in her…well actually; it's like I can't sense her at all no da. Just to be sure I'll put a barrier around us as we sleep that way if she tries anything it will warn us."
"Good idea Chiri'."
Sambu returned holding a large pile of blankets. "Here they are!" She quickly set them up close to the fire then bowed to the two senshi. "Gomen, I must apologize for I am going to my bed now. I feel quite tired suddenly but if you need anything just knock on my bedroom door at any time."
"Arigato Sambu-san, we'll be alright no da."
They watched her walk away then when she was gone they settled down in the newly arranged bedrolls. Tasuki put his arms under his head and stared up at the ceiling.
"Ya' know, if we were in danger or anything like that Tama wouldn't be so relaxed," he said, referring to the pile of sleeping and purring fur by the fire. "He always seems to be the first one to know when things are wrong."
Chichiri chuckled. "Yes, he's some cat I must agree." He lay back and shut his eyes, his own tiredness overwhelming him. "Goodnight Tasuki no da."
As Chichiri lay there he couldn't help but wonder what was so mysterious about the house and their guest. Perhaps the answer will show itself in the morning, he thought a second before sleep overcame him.