"Hey, you! What are you doing?"
The blond man turned from his study of the caged beasts to stare cooly at his questioner. The three beasts which had gathered near him spread out slightly along the chain-link fence so that they could all see what he was looking at.
A shiver ran down the speaker's back, but he continued, "Can't you read? Those things are dangerous!"
One gold eyebrow tilted slightly. The smallest of the beasts stood behind him grabbed the fence, teeth bared as he stared at the questioner. The fence shook, but the blond didn't look round.
"So you should get the hell away from there!"
Another beast took hold of the fence, his fingers almost touching the man's shoulder. He stared solemnly at the speaker with his one good eye. The third beast seemed to smile slightly, resting his hand on the part of the fence beside his face.
The speaker followed the line of his arm, to realise for the first time that a hole had been torn in the fence. He started backing away in horror, then stopped, telling himself that it was obvious the beasts couldn't get free. If they could, they would have done so already, instead of just standing there.
The blond shifted position, one hand resting on his hip, the other grasping the fence. "Something wrong?"
The smallest beast growled, shaking the fence again. The speaker fled.
Sanzo spared a moment to curse the fact that security at this supposed zoo was too tight for him to have brought a gun, turning to direct one of his deadliest glares at the boy. "Exactly what part of your tiny brain decided that sending him running to lodge a protest would be a wise move?" he demanded as he resumed his efforts to cut through the wire fencing. The boy looked up at him uncertainly as the one with a damaged eye - dubbed 'Monocle' by regular visitors, according to the plaque back by the walkway - came over to help by pulling at the rip already present in an attempt to widen it. 'Crimson' did the same to his side until the boy - 'Monkey' - got the idea and tore the two sides apart. He looked up at Sanzo again, clearly seeking approval.
Sanzo grunted, reaching through the tear to grab his arm. "Come on. We're going," he said, hauling the boy out of the cage. He turned away, then looked back at Crimson and Monocle. "Well?" he asked impatiently.
Neither of them needed any more encouragement than that to force their way out through the hole. Monkey grinned widely, bouncing in place. We're out, we're out, look guys, we're out! We're on the other side of the fence!
Sanzo whapped the back of his head. "Shut up, idiot!" he ordered.
Monocle raised his eyebrows, surprise making his face unguarded. Crimson, by contrast, was as angry as he was incredulous.
Hey, where d'ya get off acting like that?
"We do not have time for comments from the peanut gallery," Sanzo snapped back. "Now move!"
You can hear us? Monocle asked in wonder as he gently prodded the other two into obeying.
Sanzo glared at him but, since he was actually doing what he was told, decided to answer. "That -" he pointed at Monkey - "has been calling me, non-stop, for more than a year. And I only reached this city last month."
So why not fetch him then? Crimson asked suspiciously.
"If you think I'm going to risk going to prison for a lack of research, you're out of your mind."
Lack of research?
"Into the security measures here," Sanzo explained, making it obvious that he was running low on patience. "Now hurry up. The alarm attached to your cage will be going off in five minutes, and then the staff here will notice that the security cameras aren't working."
We can fight 'em, Monkey assured him.
"Which they will know and be prepared for," Sanzo gritted out. "Move!" He caught Monkey's arm again and dragged him along, leaving it to the other two to follow them.
They found themselves following a very convoluted path, trying to avoid visitors as well as staff. Sanzo recited the path they were taking under his breath over and over again, apparently not realising that all of his companions could hear him. "Keeper's path to the third junction with the walkways, then right; second left, under the bridge, head for the tall white building until the junction where we should double back; follow the walls of the green enclosure to the alleyway, and hope none of the staff are smarter than they look."
Why should we double back? Monkey asked the other two during the fourth recital, trying to do so as quietly as possible. Before Monocle could do more than start to shrug in answer, a squad of guards rounded one of the buildings - and saw them.
"It's the escaped beasts!" one of them shouted as they brought their weapons up, ready to use.
Sanzo cursed, moving to stand directly between the guards and their prey. Keep going, I'll catch up.
But! Monkey started to protest.
"Go!" Sanzo shouted, jolting Crimson and Monocle into moving.
The nearest guard tried to push Sanzo out of his way so that he could aim at them. Sanzo grabbed his arm and swung him around so that he served as a human shield, drawing the man's second gun with his other hand and aiming it at the remaining guards. He didn't hesitate, shooting them before they'd come to terms with the changed situation. One of them, with reflexes almost as good as his own, managed to squeeze off an answering round which took out the guard Sanzo was stood behind an instant before Sanzo shot him.
Sanzo scanned the pile of bodies before him for any movement, all too aware that the gunfight would have drawn attention. Seeing no sign of life, he spared a moment to check that yes, the magazine of the gun he was holding was now empty. He tossed it to the ground and ran, taking a different, faster route to the alleyway than the one he'd described for the escapees.
They were stood waiting when he got there, but he'd been expecting that. They could move much faster than the average human, after all. The way Monkey's face lit up when he saw Sanzo was less expected, but easy to ignore. Sanzo brushed past all of them, searching for a particular spot on the stone wall facing the green enclosure. Finding it, he turned to face the three beings watching him. "Break it," he ordered.
Crimson and Monocle both paused, but Monkey stepped up to the wall and smashed a hole in it with a single blow. Sanzo gave him a brief nod, privately relieved that the stories he'd heard about the boy's strength weren't exaggerated.
The ex-prisoners were clearly bemused that the hole seemed to lead to a small, badly-lit room, instead of to another part of the zoo or to freedom. Sanzo climbed into the room first, then turned to glare at them impatiently. "Hurry. Up."
Monkey followed him immediately, pressing close and clutching at his shirt. Crimson glared at Sanzo suspiciously, before turning a doubtful look on Monocle. Think we can trust him?
Monocle shrugged fatalistically and followed Monkey. We should probably have thought about that before coming this far.
Crimson bounded in after them. Well, you're not gonna leave me behind!
Sanzo slapped the wall furthest from the zoo. "Move!" The room jerked into motion, going a few feet away from the wall before pausing. Sanzo looked at Crimson and Monocle. "Close the doors. I don't want everyone in the city to see me riding away from the zoo in the back of a van with three escaped animals."
So where are we going? Crimson asked as he swung one of the doors shut, Monocle handling the other.
"You'll see." Sanzo felt more than saw the disgruntled stares. "It's not as if the answer would mean anything to you," he pointed out irritably.
He had always been convinced that that would be the worst stage of the operation. Being stuck in a small space with three genetically-engineered creatures who would probably be claustrophobic and almost certainly paranoid about his intentions made his skin crawl, but this was the plan with the best chance of success.
As long as Monkey was content with holding onto his sleeve, and neither of the others touched him, things would be fine. This part of the journey wouldn't take long. He braced himself against the van's movements, counting the seconds off in his head.
Slightly more than fifteen minutes later, the van's engine switched off. Sanzo started feeling along the wall with his free hand, reaching for the compartment where his gun was hidden. Monkey, with his superior eyesight, saw what Sanzo wanted and opened the compartment himself, handing Sanzo his gun just as the van's doors opened.
The driver stood there meeting Sanzo's gaze. "All change," she said flippantly, moving back so that they could see past her. Crimson jumped out first, scanning the deserted garage as he was followed by Monocle. Sanzo and Monkey climbed out together, Monkey still refusing to let go of Sanzo.
The driver walked around the van, first slipping the fake numberplates off, then peeling away the black panels that covered the outside and folding them into empty boxes which she stacked inside the van. She moved with the easy speed of long practise, transforming the van in less than a minute. Then she turned back to Sanzo.
"Y'know, with the amount I'm risking here, I think I deserve a raise."
"How much?" asked Sanzo, unimpressed.
Her tongue flickered across her lips. "Let's say... one of the guys you just took. Still leaves you with two-thirds of your profit, right?"
The three young men she'd just referred to stared at her in shock. Crimson lunged in her direction, only to be restrained by Monocle as Monkey clung even tighter to Sanzo.
"What would you do with any of them?" Sanzo asked, casting a dismissive glance at them.
She shrugged. "I could name you at least three companies who'd fill a room with gold to get their hands on even a partial success from Houtou Laboratories' Youkai experiments. Hey, I'll even help you sell the other two if you want - for a percentage."
"No buyers already lined up?"
She shrugged. "You know how it is - better make sure of your supply first -"
Sanzo shot her before she finished the sentence. "No disgruntled morons coming after us, then. Good." He dumped the body in the van beside the boxes and slammed the doors shut. Ignoring the way the other men were staring, he looked at the other vehicles available in the garage, and headed for a motor home. A quick check revealed that the keys were waiting in the ignition. He studied his companions measuringly. At least the clothes they wore looked normal, but Crimson's hair and eyes were far too distinctive and Monkey looked too young to be behind the wheel. He settled on Monocle. "Can you drive?"
Crimson gaped at him. You've gotta be kidding me. You mean you can't?
Sanzo's lips tightened. "I know the basics."
Monocle stepped towards the vehicle. I don't know where we're going, he pointed out.
"You drive, I'll navigate." Monkey yanked on Sanzo's arm. "There's food in the back," he added, watching with a curled lip as Monkey and Crimson both dived for the door. Monocle laughed softly as he climbed into the driver's seat. The way to a man's heart, they say.
"I've always preferred going straight between the ribs." Sanzo scowled as the two in the back started arguing about who got to use which tin-opener. "Shut up!" he yelled over his shoulder.
Monocle gave him another wondering look. How can you hear us? I've never met anyone with that ability who wasn't youkai before now.
Sanzo glared, jaw clenched. "The people at Houtou are scientists, not gods. They can't just create a brand-new gene for telepathy."
Monocle's eyes widened. You're a natural telepath?
Sanzo aimed the gun at him. "Start driving."
Ah, you'd better fasten your seatbelt first. Legal requirement, Monocle pointed out, not at all disconcerted by Sanzo's manner of warning him off the subject. Sanzo's glare intensified, but he did what Monocle had said.
Be careful, both of you, we're moving, Monocle called back to the others before starting the engine. Judging fromt the shrieks when the campervan started moving, neither of them had listened to the warning. Ignoring them, he asked, What do you plan for us after this?
Crimson's yelling shut up. Sanzo could feel his interest in the answer as strongly as if he was staring directly at him. Given the improved and altered senses the youkai had, he might be, even through the wall between them.
"I don't. My orders were to get the three of you out of there and keep you alive. Once I've finished the second part, what you do with your lives is up to you. Go to hell, for all I care."
Monkey's outpouring of shock and dismay made him flinch. But I wanna stay with you!
Perhaps you should distract him from further annoying our - rescuer, Monocle suggested to privately to Crimson.
Whatever Crimson did, it was effective. Something close to peace descended in the cab, Sanzo wrapping himself in his own thoughts as Monocle enjoyed being in control of the vehicle he was riding in for the first time in far too long. All too soon for his liking, Sanzo ordered him to park in front of a large building.
A sign beside the door announced that they were outside the Temple of the Setting Sun. Sanzo glared at it, and Monocle, watching him, realised with a shock that he'd actually been more relaxed on the way here than he was now that they'd arrived.
Sanzo swung himself out of the campervan, face settled in a haughty mask. "Get out here," he ordered, projecting the words with his mind more than his voice. Monkey and Crimson tumbled out of the back as Monocle climbed down and joined Sanzo. Sanzo didn't look round, but he waited until they were all stood together before stepping forwards and pushing the door open.
A bald man in an orange robe looked up, first annoyed, then startled. "P-priest Sanzo -" he stuttered as Sanzo swept past, followed by his three rescuees. Sanzo ignored him, heading for the room where he'd left the items he needed to complete his task. He steadfastly ignored the slight tugging where Monkey had grabbed hold of the back of his shirt, silently promising a slow, painful death to anyone stupid enough to mention it.
They made it without running into anyone that stupid, but two men were in the room.
"Get out," Sanzo snapped at them, in no mood for dealing with any of the temple's inhabitants.
"Yes, great Sanzo! Immediately!" They both bowed hastily before fleeing.
Crimson looked from their retreating backs to the blond man who'd just rescued him and his friends. Great Sanzo? he asked mockingly. If you think I'm ever gonna bow to your holy ass, you can forget it.
Sanzo snorted, giving his equipment a final check. "I ever decide I want that, I just have to stay here." Satisfied with the preparations he'd made, he reached behind him and grabbed Monkey's arm. "Get around here," he growled, tugging the boy to stand in front of him.
"Chin up," he ordered as he picked up a pair of sterile gloves and put them on. He wrapped one hand around Monkey's exposed neck, squeezing gently. The boy's eyes widened slightly, but he stared at Sanzo with absolute trust, unlike the other two youkai. Ignoring their audience, Sanzo pressed gently until he was sure of what he was feeling, then opened the sterile wrapping on the first scalpel.
Once again, Monocle held Crimson back as the young man lunged towards a perceived threat. Sanzo didn't notice, all of his attention focussed on avoiding any major blood vessels as he made a careful incision in Monkey's throat. He slipped one finger inside it, closed his eyes, and whispered something none of them could quite hear.
"OW! Hey, that hurt! That really - wait, I'm talking?"
Sanzo pulled a small piece of metal out of the incision he'd made, turning it around as if checking that nothing was missing from it. "Don't tell me that you didn't realise that they must have done something like this. You could still understand speech and make some noises, after all." Apparently satisified, he dropped the tiny machine on the table and picked up a needle already threaded with gut. As an afterthought, he picked up the disinfectant/anaesthetic spray, and applied it to the wound before sewing it closed. He finished by sticking a plaster over it, then shoved Monkey away.
"You next," he said, pointing at Monocle with a bloody finger. Monocle walked over as he stripped off the gloves, replaced them with a clean pair, and opened the wrapping of the second scalpel. He offered as little protest over Sanzo's manner of finding the implant as Monkey had, although Sanzo felt that in his case it sprang more from a willingness to die than an excess of trust. Perversely, the thought made him take more care than he had before - if the idiot wanted to commit suicide, he was welcome to, but not by using any part of Sanzo's efforts.
Monocle proved unable to restrain a short cry when the implant was deactivated, but held still as it was removed and the cut received the same basic care as Monkey's had. He smiled in thanks, not bothering to use his newly-regained voice.
That just left Crimson, who stood eyeing Sanzo and his very basic preparations as if expecting them to turn into a torture chamber complete with torturer. Sanzo's minute patience had all been used up herding the three of them this far, and he had none to waste on Crimson's incipient paranoia. "Get over it," he ordered, pulling on yet another pair of gloves and opening the third sterile scalpel. "I need to know where the implant is in order to dig it out."
"He won't hurt ya," Monkey assured Crimson.
Sanzo snorted. "If he's too afraid of a little pain to want his voice back -"
Crimson strode forwards, glaring. Do your worst, pretty boy!
Monocle winced as Sanzo's eyes narrowed dangerously, but the blond didn't let the taunt affect the care he took over the operation. Unsurprisingly, that didn't stop Crimson's first spoken words being a complaint about how rough he was. Sanzo cuffed him as casually as he had Monkey back in the zoo, and waved a hand towards a plastic bag.
"There should be some other clothes in there. See if anything fits."
"And then?" Monocle asked, watching him carefully.
"I. Don't. Care. I've done my part, Hakkai."
"Hakkai?" Monocle repeated, startled. Sanzo looked at him suspiciously.
"That's the name I was given for you. The boy with gold eyes and brown hair is Son Goku, the man with red hair and red eyes is Sha Gojyo, and the man with green eyes, one damaged, and dark brown hair is Cho Hakkai."
The other two youkai looked at each other, puzzled. "Well, you got my name right, but the kid never had one, and his name is Cho Gonou, not Hakkai," Gojyo said.
"I like the name Goku, though. What does it mean? Can I be Son Goku? Please, please, please?" the boy asked.
Sanzo glared. "Like it's my business. You like the name, go ahead and use it. Just stop talking."
The door opened, but he ignored it to tell all three of the youkai, "I've done everything I'm supposed to, so you three can get out any time now."
"Afraid they're not supposed to leave you just yet, sweetie," an amused voice said behind him. He spun around, positioning himself between the three youkai and the intruder. Curious about his reaction, they peered around him to see who had spoken.
The voice had been in the range where it could be a deep-voiced woman or a light-voiced man. The person's face was equally androgynous, either a beautiful man or a handsome woman, but the clothing - what there was of it - should have revealed more than enough to answer the question. Should have.
Sanzo looked the intruder over carefully, head to feet. Long, messy waves of black hair fell over the face and shoulders, drawing attention to a thick black leather collar, and from there down to a pair of magnificent breasts held solely by a black leather top with a zip at the front. If not for the material, the item could have been considered a strapless bra.
Long gloves served as sleeves, also of black leather and fastened with zips. The fingers were missing, giving the wearer greater dexterity.
The person wore 'shorts' which appeared to consist of two pieces of black leather laced together at the sides to reveal bare skin. The leather at the front had yet another zip in it, with a bulge behind it that contradicted the indications of sex higher up the person's body. A few inches below, long boots of zipped-up black leather with surprisingly low heels completed the outfit.
None of the youkai could find their voices, staring at hir in blank amazement. Sanzo had no such difficulty.
"You look like a hooker. In fetish gear."
Se cast a proud glance over hir outfit. "I do, don't I?" Se snickered suddenly. "You should have seen Jiroshin's face when I showed him it."
Sanzo folded his arms. "What do you want?"
"Oh, I'm here to tell you why we sent you to rescue these fine young men," se said glibly, leaning around him to smile at the others. "I'm afraid you won't be losing their company just yet, honey."
A muscle in Sanzo's jaw started twitching. He strode past the hermaphrodite and out of the room, drawing a protesting "Hey!" from Goku.
The hermaphrodite watched him leave, then gave hir remaining audience a conspiratorial smile. "Don't worry. I'm not gonna hurt you, and he wouldn't have left if he thought I would. This'll probably be good for him, you know; he's been getting awfully stuffy lately."
"What will be good for him, precisely?" Hakkai asked coldly.
Se arranged hirself on a chair. "Well, you do know that the three of you are partial failures of the youkai experiments, yes? Close enough to what they wanted that they kept you around to refer to, not so close that they wouldn't let you leave the laboratory." Se paused for a response.
Gojyo obliged. "Yeah, so?"
"Have you never wondered about the successes?"
Goku looked puzzled. "We've seen 'em. Lots of times. They just strut around and act like they're better'n anyone else, and get into fights."
Se shook hir head. "Those are the foot soldiers. They're small fry. No, the successes I'm talking about are four youkai who could destroy the world. Maybe even literally."
"Destroy the -? You've gotta be kidding."
"'Fraid not. You four have been chosen to find them, rescue them from Houtou Labs, and try and keep the world in one piece while you're at it. Don't fail, sweethearts - we're counting on you." Se stood up, and turned to leave.
"Wait! Shouldn't you tell Sanzo this?" Hakkai asked.
Se shook hir head again. "He's communing with the Sanbutsushin - for some reason, he doesn't trust me as much as he does them." Se shrugged mockingly. "I can't imagine why not, can you?"
"Communing with?" Gojyo repeated.
"That's what makes a Sanzo. Having the ability and training to hear and speak with the Sanbutsushin is what makes them the most highly revered priests in Buddhism." Se grinned. "Even the ones who disobey every rule we have." Se started to leave again.
"At least tell us something to help us find those youkai - or recognise them when we do!"
Se gave them a wide-eyed stare from the doorway. "Now where's the fun in that?"