A Different Life
A Saiyuki Reload fic
DISCLAIMER: I don't own the Sayuki guys (or Jeep). They're probably better off that way. ^_^
It was the perfect place for an ambush.
The foothills of the mountains had faded beneath the tread of Jeep's wheels about mid-morning. The vibrant green, gently rolling landscape had given way to rougher, starker terrain, a vista dominated by bare rock faces, boulders, and the dark green conifers of an alpine forest. The wind was cool but not yet chill, although the higher peaks ahead of them were still frosted with the remains of last winter's snows. Past glaciers had shaped the land, scraping the bedrock to jagged edges and piling mounds of till that could easily start a rockslide to trap the unwary traveler. The landscape dropped away completely on one side of the packed dirt road in a sheer cliff that stretched many meters downward before ending in the white, frothing torrent of a rain-swollen river.
It was the perfect place for an ambush. For that reason, if for no other, none of the four travelers in the Sanzo party were the least bit surprised when the road suddenly dead-ended in a pile of boulders and logs--a roadblock too carefully constructed to be a natural landslide. The Jeep screeched to a halt as black-cloaked shapes suddenly rose up from the scrubby mountain pine trees across the road from the sheer drop.
Goku was out of the Jeep in an instant, Nyoibou in his hands almost before he set foot on the ground. "Looks like they brought lots of company."
"You don't have to sound so happy about it, monkey." Though in truth, Gojyo was spoiling for a little bit of a fight himself. He'd had enough of checking over his shoulder every five minutes just to see if their enemies had started to make their move. He summoned Shakujou as ten youkai advanced on the pair of them, stalking up the slope of the road from the direction they had just traveled. "At least they finally showed. I was beginning to think we'd have to go and look for them ourselves."
"Genjo Sanzo!" A large youkai, apparently the spokesman of the group, appeared on top of the roadblock, and pointed menacingly at the priest. "We've come for the Maten Scripture! Hand it over, or...."
His speech was cut short by a bullet through the forehead. "Shut up and die."
"My my," Hakkai commented, smiling cheerfully, "That was sudden. He didn't even get to finish his sentence."
"It's not like we haven't heard it before." Sanzo was already aiming again, but was unable to get a clear shot as a wave of blue fire roared down at him from the top of the barrier. Hakkai took a single step forward, his hands weaving together in a motion smooth as flowing water. The fire collided with the front of his ki barrier, rolling away from both of them and harmlessly dissipating on either side. Not without effort, however. Hakkai's jaw was set, frowning with intense concentration under the onslaught of magical energy. As the burst of fire waned, the youkai swarmed over the top of the barrier and leapt down at them.
Shakujou's crescent whipped through the air, slicing deep gashes in the arm of one of Gojyo's attackers, in the leg of a second, and the cloak of a third. Two injuries and a miss. His crimson eyes narrowed. "These guys are...." A fourth youkai ducked Shakujou's paddle-like blade, and raked a clawed hand at Gojyo's chest. The half-youkai swayed back to evade it, but his adversary still hit, the claws raking just deep enough to draw blood. "Shit," he hissed. "These bastards are fast."
Goku moved to guard Gojyo's back, occupying the space where the Jeep had been. The little white dragon had wisely made himself scarce, haring off to wherever it was that he usually waited out these battles. Nyoibou was a blur, keeping six of the demons at bay. Well, the monkey was welcome to them. Of any of the group, he had the speed and strength to handle them all right. Many of the demons were fighting with tooth and claw, but several had swords or spears, which gave them the benefit of longer reach. They knew how to use them, too. Sparks flew as Nyoibou glanced off metal again and again and again.
Gojyo would never admit to keeping score--but even in the middle of a fight, the gambler in him never stopped keeping track of the odds. Sanzo had racked up the highest body count so far, but had become separated from the others. The monk's last shot left him without any more bullets in his gun, too hard-pressed to reload. A youkai that sought to take advantage of this situation found out the hard way that the priest was far from helpless. The demon crumpled, knocked out cold from a blow to the back of the head with the butt of the Smith & Wesson. The reprieve as the rest of them regrouped was just enough time for the monk to jam two more bullets into the cylinder of the gun.
Hakkai was trying to get to Sanzo, concentrating his hand-to-hand attacks on the two youkai who had managed to interpose themselves between the two men. One fell to an opportune ki blast, and wouldn't be bothering them again. The other took a hit across the face from the blade of Hakkai's hand and fell to one knee. It was an obvious ruse rather than an actual stumble. Hakkai took the bait anyway, well prepared against the inevitable sneak attack.
The downed youkai launched to his feet, leaping forward in a flying tackle to catch Hakkai and bear him to the ground. ...Or he would have, save that large black bat wings suddenly unfolded from underneath his cloak as he pushed off from the road. A single powerful wing beat doubled the speed of his lunge, and his shoulder caught Hakkai squarely in the gut, not to pin him to the ground, but to sweep him the five steps backward over the edge of the cliff.
Sanzo saw it, and leveled his revolver, only to have a second winged youkai interpose himself between the monk and his target. Sanzo obliged its suicidal rush towards him by shooting it between the eyes. "Fucking mutants!" But even as his revolver resumed its bead on his initial target, the remaining youkai threw off their cloaks--four of them taking immediately to the air above him, trying to get close enough to grab him and drag him over the cliff as well.
Winded, taken by surprise by the sudden change in tactics by their opponents, Hakkai still retained the presence of mind to act. His desperate grab at a low-lying shrub left him with only a stripped handful of leaves, but the trunk of a sapling a few feet behind it offered a more secure grip. Even that didn't solve the problem, however. Razor-sharp talons sliced into his back as the youkai held his grip, wings beating furiously as he sought to tear Hakkai's hand from its anchor point. Gasping in pain, Hakkai cracked the elbow of his free arm hard into the monster's temple. His adversary bellowed, but didn't let go. The youkai's claws were digging deeper into his flesh, and he was loosing his one-handed grip on the tree.
"Hakkai!" Gojyo spun and took a step towards the cliff, but three youkai stood between him and his companion. "Get out of the fuckin' way!" One of them, reaching for Gojyo, lost his hand to Shakujou's silver blur. The demon fell back with a howl of pain, only to be replaced immediately as another winged demon swooped in and to take its place. As Gojyo dispatched that one, a second youkai that he hadn't even seen fell beside it, a victim of Nyoibou's vicious swing. "Shit," Gojyo hissed, giving vent to his frustration at being unable to aid his companions. "There's just no end to these guys!"
By now Goku had surpassed Sanzo in the body count...but that didn't seem to be deterring his attackers. Youkai swarmed all around him, seeking any opening in his wall of defense. Nyoibou's segmented form was barely visible, just a smear of color striking in lightning fast blows that, despite their power, injured more often than killed. Goku was trying to push forward through the swirling flock of youkai to join Sanzo, who had been left to fight on his own. Sanzo was a more than competent fighter in hand-to-hand techniques when he had the occasion to use them, but it was not his primary method of combat. As Gojyo watched, one of the demons got in a lucky hit, fast and deep, the claws ripping open Sanzo's right arm from shoulder to wrist.
"Sanzo!" It was impossible to miss the note of panic in Goku's voice. The demons heard it too, instantly taking advantage of the moment of distraction. A set of taloned hands fastened through the cloth of Goku's shirt, hauling upwards. Another pair of hands joined the first, and Goku gave an angry yell as his feet left the ground. "Let go!" The red and gold staff swung around in a tight arc, connecting with one of his captor's wings with the brittle sound of breaking bones. The youkai fell, but the wing fouled the weapon long enough for another youkai on the ground to get a grip on the far end of the staff.
"Nyoibou, extend!" The staff snapped out, telescoping into the chest of the youkai who was trying to wrest it away. Goku twisted it free of the body, struggling as the youkai carrying him flapped higher. Dangling over the ground, he tried to get the leverage to swing the staff at his captor. But he only managed to get off a single glancing blow before more flying youkai closed in around him, looking for an opening for a lethal strike.
Hakkai wasn't faring any better. The sapling he was holding gave way, the little tree tearing up by the roots. He was swung out over the white water of the river below. Sanzo, knocking the last of his opponents to the ground with the fist of his uninjured arm, hissed a curse and put up his gun, unable to use his remaining bullet on the demon lest Hakkai fall. He transferred his aim from Hakkai's opponent to Goku's. His precisely placed shot ripped through tendon and bone, causing one of the demon's black wings to crumple, and sending the demon and Goku crashing the to the ground bare centimeters from the edge of the cliff. "Idiot," the priest snarled. "Be more careful. I don't have time to look after you."
The demon carrying Hakkai chose that moment to drop him. Hakkai had obviously been expecting that, however, which is why his hands had already twisted firmly in the cloak the creature was wearing. The demon's wingbeats faltered at the sudden transfer of weight to his neck, and he grabbed the cloak to keep himself from overbalancing and plummeting from the sky. His problems multiplied a moment later as a length of chain whipped out, wrapping itself securely around a flailing leg.
"Where do you think you're going," Gojyo drawled, having finally fought free of his assailants long enough to act. He hauled at the chain hand over hand, pulling the struggling demon by main force back towards the edge of the cliff. "The party's over here."
The youkai snarled. "Idiots!" he barked at his comrades, "What are you doing? Get him!!" Without waiting for them to obey he turned his attention back to his dangling passenger. His hands flexed around the neck of the cloak as he glared down at Hakkai. "Die." Then his talons shredded through the black cloth, and Hakkai began to fall....
"No!" Shakujou's chain whipped out, its trajectory a straight-arrow flight to intercept Hakkai. But it was brought up short before it reached its target, as a spear-point from one of the youkai above thrust through the links and pinned the chain to the ground. Gojyo could only stare in dismay as Hakkai fell past the level of the road, disappearing below his line of sight.
The haft of that spear spun around and cracked Gojyo across the face, making bright lights dance across his vision. He swore, lashing out with the smaller end of Shakujou, and was rewarded with a grunt from solid hit. "You bastard!" he yelled, as the injured youkai beat a flying retreat. Gojyo blindly cast Shakujou's chain again, but knew with a certain, sure sinking of his heart that the action came too late. The chain fell, but failed to jerk back against his hands with the added weight of a person on the other end.
No time to absorb the full impact of that realization, much less to react to it. The battle was still going on. Goku's voice was shouting, "Look out!" and Gojyo ducked as Nyoibou slammed into the space he had been, a space now occupied by yet another flying menace.
The air was split with the sound of Sanzo's gun. The revolver fired five times, dropping the youkai who were rushing towards him and wreaking havoc on the swarm around Goku and Gojyo. The monk had at last had a chance to reload. He didn't stop there, but spun the cylinder open and dropped in another round of bullets. That was the last straw for the youkai. The tattered handful that was all that remained of the band grabbed up their comrades who were too injured to fly, and peeled off from the party, winging their way up into the crystal blue sky.
Gojyo didn't waste time tracking their retreat. He was too busy looking down. It was a long way, to the bottom of the cliff. "Shit." Gojyo hissed under his breath, disbelief mixing with dread in his tone. He isn't dead. He can't be dead. I won't let him be dead. But the litany alone was not enough for him to convince himself. There was no mistaking the glistening stain of crimson painted on one of the clusters of rocks in the middle of the river below. Fresh blood. Fighting to keep his voice level, he said, "Could anyone survive a fall like that?"
"There's no body," Sanzo said flatly from beside him.
Goku's golden eyes came up immediately, glowing with a sudden surge of hope. "Then, he might be alive, right Sanzo? He might have traveled down the river and gotten out somewhere on the shore. Right?"
"Maybe." Neither Sanzo nor Gojyo cared to voice the thought that the amount of blood on the rocks indicated serious injury at the very best. Hakkai might have been able to get to shore on his own...or he might have drowned trying. "We won't find out by standing here. We'll have to find a path down to the river."
"But Sanzo, you're hurt!" Goku protested.
The monk was, Gojyo noticed, holding his gashed shoulder, as blood welled between his fingers and dripped onto the ground at a rather alarming rate. As much as Gojyo wanted to split off immediately and begin to search for Hakkai, Sanzo's injury needed to be taken care of first. "Oi, Monkey. Get some bandages. We don't want poor Sanzo-sama keeling over in a faint."
A vein popped out in Sanzo's forehead. "I don't recall asking for a nurse," he growled. His finger twitched on the trigger of the Smith & Wesson. Too bad he'd had time to put more bullets in the gun.
Goku, however, had stopped, and was standing in the middle of the road. "Hey," he said in a rather small voice, looking towards the barrier that still blocked their intended path further into the mountains, "Have either of you guys seen Jeep?"
The small white dragon had not returned, and in the end they'd had to walk, backtracking down the slope of the mountain for over two kilometers until they found a spot where the descent to the river became passable. By the time they'd walked along the river to reach the place Hakkai had fallen, it was getting on towards sunset.
By then, Sanzo wasn't looking too good. They'd had to re-wrap the bandages around his arm twice already as they became soaked through. He should be lying down, not scrambling over rocks and trees in the wilderness. Gojyo had patched up plenty of his own scrapes and bruises growing up, but it had been a while since he'd had to take care of someone else's wounds. Ever since they started this journey, Hakkai had always been the one to take charge of any injuries, quiet and competent, the bright glow of his ki erasing the worst of the damage. Don't go that way, Gojyo told himself firmly, and lit up a cigarette to calm his nerves. Dwelling on past events wouldn’t help the current situation. Better to concentrate on thinking up what they were going to do to patch Hakkai's injuries once they found him.
On Sanzo's orders, they fanned out along the riverbank, looking for any signs of Hakkai. Gojyo almost opened his mouth to tell the monk to stay put and rest, but received a glare when Sanzo caught him looking in his direction. He shut up. They wouldn't have light to search by for much longer, they might as well make use of it before night fell.
Goku was the one who actually found something. His shout was followed by the sound of splashing in the river. Gojyo started over, squinting through the gathering gloom to see if the dark shape he was headed toward might possibly be the outline of their missing comrade. But no, it was only a formation of river-worn rocks, cast into shadow in the fading light of dusk. Goku reached the base of the rocks, up to his knees in the strong current, and reached down into the water. He came up with something clutched in his fist.
"What is it?" Gojyo asked, as Goku waded back out of the water and up the bank to join Sanzo. Wordlessly, Goku held out his hand.
A single silver ear cuff lay in the center of his palm.