It was exasperatingly hot, they hadn’t been sleeping indoors for over a week, and their food supplies were almost gone. Not to mention the water.
"Sanzo…! I’m hungry…!"
Goku’s whining was as annoying as the heat.
"Shut up, Goku."
Sanzo didn’t bother to turn around and look at the monkey boy in the back seat. It was too hot to start a fight; not even Gojyo seemed to care about the boy’s complaints.
It had been like this for three or four days, and it was getting worse. In daytime nobody cared about anything but to keep going, and hardly that. In the evenings, when the chill woke them up from their lethargy and they made camp, they were all extremely irritated and picked on each other for just about everything. Sanzo had went to bed early those nights, only smoking a cigarette, then pretending to sleep, lying listening to the others’ wild quarrels. Well, Goku and Gojyo started the quarrels, but Hakkai was always dragged into their arguments when he tried to calm them down. Even Hakkai had been in an irritated mood these last nights. About twice a minute Sanzo wished he was alone on this trip, not needing to deal with these morons.
Gojyo had stretched out his body as much as Hakuryuu permitted, looking up at the blue sky, where the sun implacably let its rays shower them with heat. He was wondering if he should put his hand in his pocket to pick up his cigarettes, but it seemed like too much trouble. This heat was killing him. How come that little monkey was as perky as ever? Well, not exactly perky, but he was more lively than any of the others.
"It’s not much further to the village," Hakkai said. "We’ll probably be there in less then an hour."
"Really?" Goku brightened and leaned forward. "Sanzo, did you hear that? Oh, I’m so hungry! I want a lot of foods; meat buns and fried noodles and fish and dumplings and…"
This time Sanzo turned around and smacked him with his fan. "I told you to shut up, idiot!"
Gojyo laughed, a little more life in his body at the thought of the village close by. "Don’t expect a stupid monkey to listen, monk."
Sanzo glared angrily at Gojyo. "You could do with a little listening yourself, half-breed. Every night I’ve told you to keep quiet, but still you’ve been nagging about everything."
"Sanzo…" Hakkai tried to say something soothing, but at Sanzo’s angry look he quickly closed his mouth again, only muttering: "I guess I should be quiet too."
There was a tense feeling in the jeep as they drove on. Goku was angry. Why would Sanzo have to beat him with this fan of his? They were approaching a village and Sanzo must be hungry, too. He should understand. And Hakkai used to protect him, or at least reassure him, a little more than this. While he was at it, he cast a glare at Gojyo too; the red-haired half youkai was always bickering at him. He had no need for that. Come to think of it, maybe this trip would be nicer without him. Goku sank into dreams about what it would be like, having the back seat all by himself, more to eat and no one (except Sanzo, of course, but he really didn’t mind that) calling him a stupid ape.
Hakkai drove in silence. He didn’t feel like talking and no one else seemed to bother either. This heat made Goku’s complaining so much more annoying, and Sanzo had been worse than ever these last couple of days. Hakkai thought about Gojyo, his closest friend. Gojyo had given him some hungry looks when they made camps by nights, but they had always started to fight before anything else could happen. As a matter of fact, he was quite irritated with Gojyo right now.
Sanzo lit a cigarette and blow out the smoke. This was a stupid trip - or the reason for the trip wasn’t bad, but he could have done it so much quicker and better if he had been allowed to take care of everything alone. If he had to take someone on this trip, it should be Goku. That’s because the boy was the superior fighter, of course. He guessed he could take Hakkai, too, it was convenient with a healer, and Hakkai was also a good cook. But Gojyo, he had been extremely annoying for quite a time now. He was the first to become stingy by this heat and these last nights… No, he could have handled this much better without Gojyo.
Gojyo was thinking dark thoughts too. Sanzo always acting so superior, Goku whining and whimpering like the monkey brat he was, and Hakkai… He usually hadn’t much negative to say about Hakkai, but these last nights his normally so calm friend had been really stingy, and they had had some bad quarrels that hadn’t been settled.
They saw the lone hill first, but when they approached they could also see the village at its foot. As they drove closer Sanzo got a bad feeling.
"Goku. Can you sense something?"
Goku, who had been half slumbering, raised his head and felt with all his senses for something different.
"Yeah. There must be a youkai somewhere near, but not in the village, I think." He frowned. "No, it’s not a youkai. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something strange about it."
"Whatever it is, it’s very powerful." Sanzo could feel its aura more and more clearly as they drove closer to the village. The feeling of the creature’s presence was… uncomfortable. In fact, if they had had a choice, he would have preferred not to enter this village. But as it was, they needed food and water, and Goku was right, the aura’s center wasn’t in the village. He decided not to say anything more and let Hakkai drive on.
They reached the village and drove in to the square at its center. Some people were out doing errands, or just for a walk, laughing and talking to each other like in every other village. When they saw the jeep, they looked at the visitors curiously to see who they were, then they suddenly started. Every single one of them looked strangely terrified, and everyone disappeared, almost running into their homes, closing the doors.
The Sanzo-party looked around at the empty square.
"Where did everybody go?" Goku wondered.
"Home, apparently," Gojyo answered.
"How the hell would I know, stupid monkey!"
"Let’s get into that inn and have something to eat," Hakkai suggested, before Goku could start another fight with Gojyo. He stepped out of Hakuryuu. "I’m almost as hungry as Goku."
"And maybe there are some girls inside." Gojyo looked expectantly at the inn. "Tonight I want a single room, Sanzo, I really need to play a little with some girl." He tried to catch Hakkai’s eyes to give him a challenging look, but Hakkai didn’t look his way.
Sanzo snorted. "Don’t you ever think of anything else, kappa?"
"Well, I’m sorry I’m not as holy as the revered Sanzo-sama!"
Sanzo made a move to let out his gun, but Hakkai interfered.
"Please, could we just get inside the inn." He sighed; he couldn’t stand all the fighting and bickering they had had during these last days.
Sanzo and Gojyo glared at each other but stayed quiet and followed Hakkai and Goku through the door into the inn.
As soon as they stepped inside, the buzzing sound of voices from the room silenced. Twenty odd pairs of eyes were staring at them. Some faces seemed frightened and some angry, but most of them seemed to be both.
The innkeeper, one of those with an angry face, approached them.
"We don’t serve his kind here." He addressed Sanzo, as the leader, but pointed at Gojyo. Almost unwillingly he then faced the half youkai. "Half-breeds are not allowed inside this inn, so why don’t you just get your ass out of here, as fast as possible."
"What’s the big idea?" Gojyo was angry, but Sanzo interrupted him.
"Get out and wait in the jeep, Gojyo."
Gojyo was about to tell Sanzo what he thought about him, but before he could say or do anything more, Sanzo pulled his gun and pointed it to Gojyo’s head.
"I said, get out!"
The innkeeper smirked. "Could have been a good idea, if it hadn’t been so that we don’t want any friends of half-breeds here either."
"I’m not his friend!"
"You’re traveling with him, aren’t you? That’s enough for me and everybody else in this village. Half-breeds bring great misfortune and we are not eager to bring that down on ourselves. If you knew what was good for you," he looked at Sanzo, Hakkai and Goku, "you should all leave him, the sooner the better."
"Could we at least buy some food to take with us?" Hakkai asked.
"No. And I don’t think you’ll find anyone in this village that are willing to give you food."
Sanzo turned around.
"Come on, let’s get out to Hakuryuu and talk."
The innkeeper called after them: "Leave the wells alone, you’re not going to get any water either." They heard him laugh as the door shut behind them.
Nobody said a word as they walked over to Hakuryuu and got seated, but Gojyo could feel the accusation in the others’ silence. What the hell, he couldn’t help being born a half-breed, the gods knew he would have chosen it differently if he could.
"So, what’ll we do now?" Hakkai broke the silence. "Fight for food and water?"
"Yeah, I’m too hungry to fight properly, but I can take care of a few humans." Goku sounded eager.
Sanzo lit another cigarette and gave it some thought.
"No. We’ll wait outside the village until they’re asleep and then we send Gojyo in to bring back water and steal some food."
"It’s your fault we couldn’t eat at the inn, so it’s you who must fetch the food."
They turned to the sound. A little girl, about ten years old, was standing by the jeep and looking frightened.
"What do you want?" Sanzo asked the girl.
"I… I just wanted to tell you, that there is a well with fresh water over at the hill." She pointed at the lone hill about 200 meters away. Then she turned and ran.
"What was that?" Goku looked after the girl. "Why did she tell us that?"
"I don’t know…" Sanzo shook his head. "Either she felt sorry for us…"
"Or it’s a trap," Hakkai filled in.
Sanzo nodded. "Probably is. Take us out of the village anyway, Hakkai."
They drove out of the village the same way they had arrived from, and stopped only a few hundred meters from the outermost houses.
"I’m huuungry, Sanzo! Can’t we eat now?"
"For once the stupid ape is right, we must eat at least a little before we decide what to do." Sanzo nodded to Hakkai. "Let’s share what’s left of our food."
Hakkai took out what little food they had left and sighed. "It’s not enough for more meals after this, and we are not going to be satisfied this meal either."
He divided the food and distributed the meager meal to each one of them. Goku quickly ate his part and then tried to steal Gojyo’s, but got hit on the head by Sanzo’s harisen before he had any chance to get it. Gojyo quickly put the last of his meal in his mouth to hinder Goku from another attempt. Hakkai was right, this didn’t fill them up, and now there was nothing left.
Gojyo took up a cigarette, and noticed there wasn’t many left. He lit it and strolled away to the other side of the jeep, so that he didn’t have to look at the others’ faces. Would Sanzo send him away to steal food and water, or should they hope the girl hadn’t been setting them up, and get some water from the well at the hill and then try to continue the trip with only water and no food? His questions were soon answered.
"Gojyo!" Sanzo’s voice.
"We’ve decided to try for the well at the hill. Hakkai says it’s no more than a two-day trip to the next village, probably less. We can make it if we have water enough."
Gojyo rose and walked around the jeep to face the others. "What if they don’t like half-breeds at that village either?"
Sanzo gave him a cold look. "You’ll stay with Hakuryuu outside the next village, until we know. I’m not going to let them chase us out without food or water again. If you refuse, I’ll shoot you myself, and dump you in the desert."
Gojyo gasped at Sanzo’s tone. He had been threatened a number of times, but this time he believed Sanzo. The monk gave the impression that he really was going to kill him if he didn’t obey.
Without a word he climbed into Hakuryuu’s back seat and Goku, just as silent, seated himself beside him. Hakkai and Sanzo, as usual, sat in the front seats.
They drove around the village towards the hill. It wasn’t far. As they came closer, the powerful aura Sanzo had sensed before became overwhelmingly strong.
"Turn the car!" Sanzo was absolutely sure they shouldn’t come closer to that hill, and at the same moment Goku yelled: "Stop!"
Hakkai immediately tried to turn Hakuryuu around, but the jeep-dragon only squeaked helplessly and continued forward. "It’s no good, Sanzo. Hakuryuu can neither turn nor stop." Hakkai’s voice merely stated a fact.
"Shit. Then we all have to jump."
They all tried to leap out of the jeep, only to find it was impossible. Inside the jeep they could all move in a normal fashion, but there was no way they could get out. All they could do was to sit in Hakuryuu, looking at the hill that rose above them.
And then there wasn’t a hill anymore. For a moment their visions became foggy, and when they cleared again they were standing inside the walls in front of a castle. They couldn’t move by their free wills, but something made them step out of the jeep, walk over the yard, through the doors and into the castle.
They entered a big hall with no windows and lit only by a fireplace at the opposite side of the room. A voice was heard, a female one, but no one was to be seen.
"One human, two demons and one of those much hated and despised creatures, a half-breed." The voice laughed. "It has been so long since I had fun with a half-breed. Oh, I hope you didn’t mind the welcome you got in the village. I love those people, they’re so adorably scared of half-breeds. But I guess I’ve had something to do with that." She laughed again.
"Who are you? What do you want?" Gojyo asked.
"I have many names, but you can call me Goddess of Fate."
Sanzo quickly raised his head. The others looked at him.
"Have you heard of her, Sanzo?" It was Goku.
"Yes. She is a most powerful demi god with the ability to change her victims’ futures."
Another laugh was heard. "Among other things, yes. Very good, little monk. As for what I want, well, that’s nothing special. I just want to make all half-breeds to suffer as much as possible before I kill them. I want every half-breed to die! That’s why I’m going to play an interesting game with you."
Gojyo looked angrily for someone to fight against. "You think this is fair? Keeping me here not being able to see you, and then you’ll just strike out to kill me? Show yourself and let me move by myself again, then we’ll see who ends up dead!"
"Well, well, at least you have guts, poor thing. No, I don’t think I’ll show myself right now. But I’m always fair, I’ll give you a chance to survive. That survival will not be up to you, though, it’s entirely up to your three… friends?"
"Ch… I’m not his friend." Sanzo snorted.
"Of course not, half-breeds doesn’t have anyone who loves them deep enough to call themselves friends. That’s why I’m sure of winning this little game."
She laughed again. "Shall we start playing?"
Gojyo suddenly found himself alone in another room, more like a cell, chained to the wall by his wrists and ankles.
"Do you want to know how fragile your future is, my red-haired half-youkai?" What looked like a plain human woman of middle-height and with brown eyes stood before him, dressed in a long green robe.
"Why are you doing this?" Gojyo struggled with the chains.
"It’s for the good for us all, including you. As a half-breed you will always be sad and bring bad luck to everyone you encounter. When I’ve ended your life, you don’t have to suffer anymore and the rest of us will have escaped from your bad luck."
"That’s not true. It’s just superstition."
"Well, you might be lucky. It is said, that if a half-breed have at least three friends who loves him so much, that they are willing to sacrifice their own future for him, then the half-breed will not bring misfortune to others and according to the rules, I’m not allowed to kill him."
"What do you mean?"
"It’s as simple as this. Your three companions will all get a choice between saving you or save themselves. They will not die, but if they choose you, they’ll suffer, a lot. If all three choose you, then you’ll live. If anyone chooses himself before you, you’ll die. So your chances are not good, are they? By the way, I sensed you coming this way early on, so I let you all feel a little extra annoyance, anger and hate towards each other, especially towards you. Did you notice?"
"You call that fair?"
"I just wanted to make sure you weren’t on an extra friendly basis the moment you reached my castle. It may have been unnecessary, though. I haven't met even one person, human or youkai, that didn’t choose himself before the half-breed. Not with the choices I give them." Another laugh. "Stop struggling, you won’t come free, you’re just hurting yourself."
"Why do you care?"
"I don’t. Just a friendly advice. Or maybe I’m just selfish, I want it to be me, hurting you. I’ll leave you here for now. I must give your partners their choices. Don’t worry, I’m going to pay you some visits during the game, but in the end, I will most certainly kill you. I’m looking forward to see how long you can stay alive in my hands."
With that she was gone. The lights went out, leaving a terrified Gojyo in the darkness.
He wondered what the choices would be about and if anyone at all of his friends would choose him, and what would happen to them if they did. Yes, his friends. The irritation and anger he had felt for the other members of the team had disappeared altogether and was replaced by a rage towards that female demi god. Knowing that what might have been his last days with those he loved most had been infected with hate by this woman made him even more infuriated. Even if he never would have told them, he knew he loved them. Would they remember and admit they loved him, too? Did they love him?
To be honest, he couldn’t be sure what choice he would make himself. If what that goddess had said was true, the choices must be really tough. Gojyo could do nothing but stand here, against the wall, thinking about them all.
Hakkai; they had been living together for three years before this journey began and they knew each other from the inside and out. Still, that only made Gojyo know there were things Hakkai might choose before him.
Goku; he knew how he would choose if it was Sanzo who had been captured. That little monkey brat would do anything for Sanzo. Anything for him, Gojyo, was another matter.
And then Sanzo… No, when Gojyo thought about Sanzo he knew he wouldn’t survive this. Sanzo never did anything for someone else. Maybe, if he was given a very simple choice that didn’t cost him so much. Gojyo had to laugh bitterly at himself. Yeah, right. Like that demi god was supposed to give any of them something that made it easy to choose Gojyo’s life before whatever the other choice was. Oh, if he only could die fighting, instead of chained to a wall. He hoped at least he wouldn’t have to stand here too long before it was over. Waiting for the Goddess of Fate to come back to kill him, Gojyo stared out into the darkness.
Hakkai found that he had been separated from the others. He was in a small room with two doors. He tried to open the doors, but they were locked. At least he could now move by his own will and was not forced to do anything he didn’t want to.
The Goddess of Fate. Why did she want to kill Gojyo? Sure, he had heard everything about half-breeds bringing bad luck and all that, but was that enough to kill them? Apparently she thought so. Hmph, for the last couple of days he almost had had the urge to kill Gojyo himself, he could be a real pain in the butt.
Hakkai could feel how his irritation over Gojyo’s behavior rose, and he started pacing the room back and forth, muttering things he would like to tell Gojyo if he ever saw him again. If he ever saw him again… Hakkai’s head started to ache, what was happening? He sank to his knees, rubbing his temples with his fingers. Gojyo was his friend, wasn’t he? He didn’t seem to be able to think clearly.
The laugh he had heard in the hall sounded above him.
"Cho Hakkai. What’s your problem?"
"How do you know my name? And why do you want to kill Gojyo?"
"It’s easy enough to draw a man’s name from his mind. And as for killing the half youkai…" He could almost hear the shrug of her shoulders in her tone as she simply answered, "I hate half-breeds, and I like to kill, so why not combine the two feelings?"
"Enough chit-chat. You’re one of them who hold Sha Gojyo’s life in your hands. I’m going to give you your choices."
"Son Goku, Genjo Sanzo and you, will all have to make a choice. If any one of you choose yourself before Sha Gojyo, he dies. You have these two choices. If you choose this…" The right door opened and Hakkai was on his knees again. Inside his mind the memories of Cho Gonou’s killing stood more vivid than it ever had since it actually happened. The blood, the bodies, the innocent men, women, children, the screams, it was like he was there once again. He had to get away from those memories, they hurt so much. There was no place to run, he couldn’t get away. He screamed, only to see the worst memory of them all taking place like in reality in front of his eyes. Kanan, with a knife in her hands, stabbing it into her own chest.
Hakkai lay on the floor sobbing. He tried so hard to hide these memories, but this was more like reality than memories. How could he stand this, he didn’t want to live through what he had done again.
The images disappeared. The demi god’s voice was heard over his own sobs.
"If you choose the right door, this is what you’ll be seeing every day for the rest of your life. But Gojyo will live. If you choose the left door…"
The left door opened and Kanan came through it.
"Gonou?" She took a hesitating step towards him. "Gonou!" And then she was in his arms, crying.
"I thought I was dead. Did you save me, Gonou? Can you forgive me?"
Hakkai embraced her, felt the familiar scent in his nostrils, recognized her body against his in the embrace. Her voice, so sweet and kind. He never wanted to let go, but… He lifted his head.
"How can this be? It’s some kind of trick, right?" he asked the goddess hovering somewhere above him.
"No trick. I have the power to make dead humans live again, if they are loved enough. This is what awaits you if you choose the left door. A life with your beloved sweetheart, but Gojyo will die."
Kanan was gone. Both the doors were closed again, but through them, he could still feel the different futures.
"I’ll leave you now, to make your choice. When I return you must walk through one of the doors. If you don’t, Gojyo dies, and you’ll get the living nightmares to deal with." Hakkai was left alone, wildly staring at the two doors.
Goku looked around. The others had disappeared and the surroundings had changed. He gasped, it was too familiar not to recognize it. Once again he was in the cave, bars in front of the only opening. The only thing that was different from those 500 years was that the chains with handcuffs lay beside him and not around his wrists. He sprung to the bars, shook them in terror. Not again!
"Let me out!" He screamed.
The bars were unbreakable; he already knew that. Outside the cave there was the same view he had had for those long, lonely years. The years between something he couldn’t remember and Sanzo, his sun.
He tried to call for his nyoi-bou. Nothing happened. Slowly, he stepped backwards from the cave’s opening. When he felt his back reach the wall he slid down to the floor, his eyes wide open in fear. He draw his knees up and hugged his legs tightly, bent his head over the knees, trying not to let this nightmare overwhelm him.
When the Goddess of Fate came to give Goku his choices, she found him sitting in that position, not moving, breathing in short gasps as if breathing were something dangerous he needed, but hardly wanted to do.
"Are you afraid, Son Goku?" Her tone was mocking, and it made Goku come back to his senses. He raised his head, looked around, trying to see the source of that voice.
"You’re the one that’s afraid, not showing yourself!" He spat the words out.
"I’m not a person who takes unnecessary risks," the voice said calmly.
Goku snorted in a Sanzo-like way. "Like I said, you’re a coward." He rose slowly. "You said Gojyo’s life depended on us, so what do you want me to do? I’ll fight whoever and whatever you want me to, and I’ll defeat everyone, to save Gojyo!"
The goddess laughed. "Oh, dear. You don’t know yourself very well, do you? What if your choice would be to fight your beloved Sanzo to the death, to save Gojyo?"
Goku took a step backwards. "No…"
Another laugh from the demi god was heard. "That would have been a fine choice, but I don’t want you to choose between each other. The choices must be something more personal."
"Choices. What do you mean?"
"I mean that every one of you must make a choice between your happiness and Gojyo’s life. If Sha Gojyo is to live, all of you must choose him before yourselves."
Goku shivered and said in a faint voice. "This cave… Is it part of the choice?"
"I don’t understand why Sha Gojyo calls you a stupid monkey. You caught that one right on."
"You mean that if I stay here, Gojyo will live, but I can choose to walk out of here if I don’t care what happens to Gojyo." Goku’s voice was trembling with rage now.
"Exactly. I’ll be back soon and then you’ll either put on those handcuffs, and stay here alone, or let me take you back to the village. This time I’ll make sure they treat you with respect and take care of all your needs. You know what happens to Gojyo in each case."
"You can’t do this to me… to us! Give us some fair choices! Let us fight to be free!" Goku was shouting, but there was no answer. The Goddess of Fate had already left.
Sanzo sat on the floor, leaning against the wall, smoking a cigarette. It was his last one, and he wondered how long it would be before he could get some more.
When the others had disappeared and Sanzo found himself alone in a quite big and well-lit room, he had picked up his cigarettes immediately. He let the nicotine flow down his lungs while he was thinking. When he was younger he had been told a lot of stories about the gods and demi gods. There wasn’t much he could remember about the Goddess of Fate, though. He knew that she hated half-breeds for some reason, and that she was an evil goddess with strong power, with which she could control other people’s destiny if they came to close to her. He also knew she herself was fated never to leave this castle, but this was about all he could remember.
Something in the room changed and he knew he wasn’t alone anymore.
"What is it you want, you bloody goddess?" Sanzo didn’t bother to look up to try to see her; he knew it would do no good.
"I’m here to give you your choices, of course." The demi god didn’t sound at all surprised that Sanzo had felt her presence. "The three of you will get choices that may save Sha Gojyo’s life."
Something struck Sanzo’s memory when he heard her say ‘the three of you’.
"That’s right. I’ve heard a half-breed can be saved from your hands if he’s got three friends that chose him before themselves."
"So you already know. Well, never has a half-breed managed to get away from me, and I have no doubt Sha Gojyo will be mine for the killing."
Sanzo blew out the last smoke from the stump of his last cigarette and then threw the stump on the stone floor. He smirked.
"Maybe so. But tell me, have all the other half-breeds you’ve killed come to this castle together with three companions?"
"No, of course not."
"Did you just kill them then, or how did they got that fair chance you were talking about in the hall?"
"I let them all name three people who they thought might be their friends. If they didn’t come up with three names, I killed them. If they did, I brought the people here, and gave them their choices. No one have ever chosen the half-breed."
"And if only one or two of the half-breed’s companions would choose the half-breed, he would still die, right?"
"Absolutely right. All three must choose the half-breeds life, to save him."
"If someone choose Gojyo’s life before his own, but the others don’t, what would happen to that person?"
"Oh, the choice stands. You choose, you live with the consequences. Do you want to know your choices?"
Sanzo shrugged. "I have to, don’t I?"
"Well, if you don’t care what happens to your partner, you can just walk out of that door." She pointed at a big wooden door, that suddenly appeared in the wall, still closed.
"If you do that, I’ll give you the Seiten scripture and you can continue your journey or do whatever you want. But, if you for some reason really want Sha Gojyo to live, this is what you must do."
Someone was suddenly standing at the room’s center. Kougaiji? He looked as surprised as Sanzo as they stared at each other.
Kougaiji was interrupted by the goddess’s voice. "I’ll explain everything to you later, Kougaiji. You don’t have to fight right now, so please just listen."
She spoke again to Sanzo. "Genjo Sanzo. Your other choice is to give the Maten scripture to Kougaiji and bow to him, promising to be his loyal servant for the rest of your life."
Both Sanzo and Kougaiji looked thunderstruck.
"Never! I’ll never honor anyone else but myself!"
Kougaiji smirked. "Right. That would be the day. Genjo Sanzo would never do a thing like that."
"I’ll take you back home now, Kougaiji, but in a little while I’ll bring you back here again."
"Don’t bother to bring him back. There is nothing that could make me bow to anyone else." A vision of Gojyo flashed through his mind, but he quickly put it away.
"I know you won’t. But it’s all part of the game. I have to bring him back so you can make your choice properly. When I return to you, you’ll either walk through that door, with both the Seiten and Maten scriptures, or you’ll bow to Kougaiji, giving him the Maten scripture."
With that she was gone.
Gojyo was standing at the wall. It was very uncomfortable with the chains around his wrists, but he hardly noticed. He felt more lonely than he ever had done before. His fellow comrades must have been given their choices by now.
The Goddess of Fate stood before him once again. "It’s all up to your ‘friends’ now."
"What choices did you give them?" Gojyo tried to sound just a little interested, as if he had asked what weather it was outside, but he couldn’t hide the fear in his voice.
"I don’t think I’ll tell you that. You can wonder about it while you await your death sentence. It’s time for me to go and find out their answers."
"Wait, can you…?" Gojyo felt silent.
"Nothing." He had almost asked her to come back and tell him what each one of them had answered, but he found he really didn’t want to know. If he was to die, he didn’t want to know which one or if it was all of them who sentenced him to death. Besides, if it pleased the demi god she would probably tell him whether he wanted it or not, if she thought it would give him more grief.
"Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon enough." She laughed a little and disappeared.
Hakkai was staring at the doors. How could anyone have to make such a choice? It would have been easier if she had asked him to die for Gojyo. He could have done that. All his anger that earlier had made him so mad at Gojyo was gone. Die for Gojyo, yes. But this… The rest of his life in that living nightmare? Reliving what Cho Gonou had done, but with Cho Hakkai’s feelings and soul.
Or he could have Kanan back. Hakkai didn’t doubt that the Goddess of Fate could make it happen. But in that case he would never see Gojyo again. He would leave him to suffer a painful death.
What if Gojyo had the choice between himself ending up dead while letting him, Hakkai, live with Kanan, or stay alive while Hakkai had to deal with the nightmares? He already knew the answer; Gojyo would sacrifice himself. In that case you’ll only do what he wishes if you choose to live with Kanan, an evil voice inside him whispered.
He remembered himself running through the forest, falling, wounded, on the path, while the rain was pouring down. When he woke up he was inside Gojyo’s house, in his bed. Gojyo had found him, picked him up, a stranger, taken care of him while he was unconscious. He had had a doctor have a look at him, and even given up on his smoking while he nursed him.
Other memories, all concerning Gojyo, seemed so bright. The most brilliant; he and Gojyo found they loved each other.
"Have you made your choice?" The voice was once again heard in the little room. "You have exactly one minute now, to walk through one of the doors."
Kanan. Gojyo. He loved them both. A peaceful life with Kanan, never to see Gojyo again, or a nightmarish life, but with Gojyo at his side. Gojyo would help him through it. After all, it was Gojyo who first managed to make Hakkai smile genuine smiles; he wouldn’t give up this time either. And he had already accepted Kanan’s death. He had to trust Goku and Sanzo to choose Gojyo, and he himself had to give Gojyo a chance to live. If he didn’t, Hakkai knew he could never have a peaceful life with anybody.
"I have made my choice."
Hakkai walked to the right door, opened it, turned to the voice and said simply, "I love Gojyo." The he took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold.
The demi god stood in front of Gojyo.
"For the first time ever, someone has chosen a half-breed’s life before his own wellbeing." Her voice was furious and she looked dangerous. "According to the rules of this game, I have to tell you what side they choose. Cho Hakkai, apparently seems to believe you two are friends. What a fool! He’ll regret this, when the others sentence you to death." Hakkai. He had chosen him, Gojyo, before himself. Gojyo fought not to let his feelings be seen.
"What did he choose between?" He tried to sound calm.
"That, I’m not going to tell you!" She disappeared again.
Gojyo couldn’t hold back his tears anymore. If he was going to die, at least it wouldn’t be Hakkai who made it happen. He only hoped that it wouldn’t be too hard on him. If he survived this, he’ll make sure that Hakkai would live a happy life, whatever his friend had had to do to give him a chance to live. What if he didn’t survive? What would happen to Hakkai then? Gojyo cried, both in relief and in worry.
Goku was pacing the cave furiously. His usually so cheery mood was replaced by a rage he didn’t seem to be able to control. He wondered if this feeling was like the one that came over him when his limiter was off his head.
Damned that goddess. How did she think he should be able to put on these chains and stay in this cave, again? Like 500 years weren’t enough? But of course, she didn’t want him to do that. She wanted to kill Gojyo. But Goku knew that if he didn’t put on these handcuffs he would feel like he had been the one doing the killing. Which in an indirect way, it would be. Damned that goddess.
The cave. He didn’t want to think about those years he had spent in it. Never a sunbeam had reached him. Cold, hungry, lonely, that’s all he could remember. If he choose the cave again - he shuddered at the thought - how long must he be there this time? The rest of his life? And how long time was that? He hadn’t aged during those years in the cave. Maybe if he choose the cave it would be for eternity this time? No, no… He couldn’t do it. Not even for Gojyo.
Gojyo, that perverted kappa. Always calling him a stupid monkey, always fighting with him. Goku smiled when he thought about their fights. They always tried to steal each other’s food, and their fights in the back seat of Hakuryuu… He had to laugh. It was fun, teasing Gojyo. He was like a big brother. They were all like a family, and families don’t abandon its own members.
But if he choose the cave, the family would still have lost him, Goku. Would they search for him? If Gojyo knew what Goku had done for him, would he go looking for him? Would Sanzo, would he come looking for him again? Hakkai maybe, he was always so kind.
What happened if someone else made a choice that got Gojyo killed? Goku’s head started to ache, this was way too complicated. He couldn’t start to think about the others right now. All he could do was to decide which choice he should make himself. That was hard enough, only… He sighed. Suddenly he knew what he had to do. It couldn’t be helped, but it was all that he could do.
"What is your decision?" He heard the despised voice above him again.
Goku was calm now when he had made his decision. He had to trust his friends, like Gojyo must trust him now. Determined he walked to the handcuffs, put them around his wrists and locked them.
Gojyo was once again facing the Goddess of Fate. This time she looked even more furious than the last time she had paid him a short visit. That gave Gojyo some hope. Someone else had put his life first?
"What?" He demanded. "Do I have another friend?"
"Yes!" She spat at him. Obviously she was both angry and scared. Scared that maybe she wouldn’t get the chance to kill him, Gojyo thought.
"That little brat, Son Goku…" She was unable to continue the sentence. "I’ll be back!" She vanished.
Goku, too. Gojyo had to smile. They do love me. ‘Well, Sanzo, now it’s up to you. I wonder if you know that?’ It wasn’t pleasant to think about. If he were to die, he would know it was because of Sanzo. He couldn’t help but having some doubts. Sanzo was a very proud man. It must be easy for the demi god to find a thousand choices Sanzo rather would choose than Gojyo’s pathetic life. Somehow, Gojyo still felt warm inside. He wasn’t alone. Even if he had to die, he would die knowing he had two friends that loved him enough to chose him before themselves.
Sanzo sat staring up at the ceiling. He, bowing to Kougaiji? No way. I’m sorry Gojyo, but that’s not an option. He snorted. It was too bad. He didn’t feel any anger anymore over that stupid kappa, but Genjo Sanzo bowing to another man? Hell, no. He had made a promise never to do that, and he was going to keep that promise.
Maybe, if it had only been about handing over the Maten scripture? Eeh, maybe not. They needed that sutra. How could they keep this journey up, if the didn’t have any sutras at all?
What about Gojyo? Didn’t they need him? Oh, shut the fuck up! What they needed was a possibility to continue this journey and stop the revival of Gyumaoh. Some sacrifices were only to be expected on such a difficult journey. As a matter of fact, he was surprised no one had been lost before this. And with no one he meant Gojyo, since he was the weakest. Only half a youkai, without any special powers. He stands his grounds in front of an army of full youkai and you know it. Man, that voice inside him was really annoying. This was an easy choice. He only had to walk through that door and he would be handed the Seiten scripture. Then the three of them could continue this journey, with two powerful sutras and no perverted kappa. That would be wonderful, right? Right? Right.
If the others had been weak and chosen something bad for themselves just to try to save Gojyo’s life, well, with two sutras he would be more than prepared to make this journey alone. He didn’t need anybody else, and he definitely didn’t have to explain to them why he chose like he did.
Goku and Hakkai. What choices did they have to do? Had they chosen? What did they chose? What had happened to them? He snorted at himself. Like he cared. They had to make their own decisions, just like he did. He wasn’t anyone’s guardian.
His hands automatically searched for his cigarettes, then he remembered the empty package. A flash of Gojyo offering him one of his own passed by in his mind. Well, he couldn’t bow to anyone else just because of some cigarettes, could he? Besides, he had paid back those cigarettes.
"Have you reached your decision?" The voice of the Goddess of Fate sounded angry for some reason.
"Of course I have. I made my decision before you left the room last time. You can take him away." Sanzo pointed at Kougaiji who once again was standing in the room a few meters in front of the door.
"I’d love too, but I can’t until you have left this room through that door."
Sanzo rose. He started the walk to the door. Strange how heavy his legs felt. He must have been sitting badly. Gojyo’s smiling face crossed his mind again. What the hell… He took a few other steps, he was now right beside Kougaiji who looked at him curiously. Had that damned goddess told him about the choices?
"What are you staring at, youkai?" Sanzo snapped at the young man.
"You. I’m wondering what the hell this is all about."
"None of your business." Sanzo managed to pass Kougaiji, finally he reached the door. He stretched out his hand to open it.
Flash, Gojyo fighting with Goku at the back seat, flash, Gojyo sleeping leaning against a tree trunk, flash, Gojyo’s head in front of his own pulled gun, flash, Gojyo helping Hakkai bandaging his arm, flash, Gojyo saving his life.
Sanzo trembled, he couldn’t make his arm open that door. Instead, he turned around. Slowly he walked the few meters back to the youkai, and without understanding himself at all, he took off his Maten sutra, offered it to Kougaiji who accepted it, stunned, and then… Genjo Sanzo bowed to his enemy.
Gojyo’s chains unlocked and he was free. He was alone in the room. The Goddess of Fate hadn’t returned yet. Gojyo sank to the floor, trying to get a grip of himself. This must mean… Even Sanzo. His heart was aching, but it was a good ache. They all were his friends.
He suddenly raised his head. What had they sacrificed to save him? He must find them and help them. Gojyo searched for a door, but couldn’t find any.
"Hey, goddess! Let me out of here!" Gojyo yelled. "What has happened to Hakkai, Goku and Sanzo?"
The demi god’s voice answered from somewhere above him. This time she didn’t show herself. The voice was calm again, or maybe resigned.
"They’re fine. Another rule of this game is that if all three of the half-breeds companions choose the half-breed’s life, not only is he saved, but the sacrifices the friends have done will also be undone. This rule you’ll never be able to talk about with anyone but your… friends." She clearly had some difficulties understanding that a half-breed could have friends, Gojyo thought.
"Now, all you have to do is walk out of that door and you’ll be free. You’ll meet your companions outside."
A door opened in the wall. Gojyo approached it carefully and looked out. He saw Hakuryuu standing in his jeep-form further down on a slope. Goku was sitting in front of it, eating from a sack that apparently was filled with food. Hakkai sat on the ground looking down and Sanzo lay in the shadow of the jeep, sleeping, or at least pretending to sleep. Gojyo stepped out.
As soon as he crossed the threshold the castle disappeared. There was only the hill behind him. Goku looked up and saw him.
"Gojyo!" Goku came running, throwing himself at Gojyo, hugging him violently.
Gojyo couldn’t help but laugh. "Oi, you stupid monkey, what are you doing?"
Goku looked up at Gojyo’s scarlet eyes, still keeping his arms around the kappa’s body. "I thought she would kill you. I was suddenly out of the cave and then I thought you were going to be killed!"
"The cave?" Gojyo’s voice was full of concern, and he returned the hug gently. "Goku. What choice did she give you?"
Goku lowered his head. "She took me back to the cave where Sanzo found me, and said that if I wanted you to live I had to stay there, alone. Again." The last word was hardly more than a whisper.
Gojyo could hardly believe his ears. Goku had made such an offer for his sake?
"Goku." He almost choked. "Thank you."
Goku raised his head, and let go of Gojyo. He was all cheery and smiling again. "Hey, you perverted cockroach. You’re not crying, are you?"
"Of course not, stupid monkey. Why would I cry for someone with such a small brain as you?"
Hakkai had risen and stood beside them.
Gojyo reached out with his hand and gently stroke his friends cheek.
"What choice did she give you, Hakkai?"
Hakkai looked away. "I’ll tell you later." He sounded so sad that Gojyo became worried. But Hakkai’s eyes went back to meet Gojyo’s, and when he smiled Gojyo was relieved to see that it was a genuine smile and not one of his fake ones.
"Let’s wake Sanzo up and get away from here."
In the evening they made camp near some rocks in the desert. The sack Goku had been eating from had been found beside Hakuryuu when they all returned from the castle. It was filled with more than enough food to take them to the next village. The jeep had been standing next to a well, so they also had enough water.
Later that night, Gojyo and Hakkai talked. Hakkai told Gojyo all about the choices he had had to make.
"It must have been terrible to have to make such decisions. You guys must have had a much harder time than me."
"You were the one facing a painful death," Hakkai protested.
"Compared to what you and Goku was prepared to sacrifice for me, death is nothing." Gojyo looked thoughtful.
"What is it?" Hakkai asked.
"I was only wondering what choices Sanzo had."
"He’s never going to tell you or anyone else."
"I know. But that only means it was something that was very hard for him to do, and that makes me even more grateful to him. Not more grateful than to you and Goku I mean. Just…"
"I know what you mean. You don’t have to explain. Sanzo is Sanzo, that’s all there is to it. He will never admit why he chose like this, but we all know, and he knows that we know."
"The question is, does he know?"
There hadn’t been any fighting this evening. Nothing serious anyway. Sanzo lay beside the fire looking up at the stars. He wondered why he had chosen the way he had done. It felt like the right thing, though. He found that he wouldn’t have it another way, so he was glad he had been unable to open the door. There were no regrets, especially not since the Goddess of Fate had assured him that Kougaiji wouldn’t remember what had happened in that room.
"What if they don’t like half-breeds in the next village, Sanzo?" Gojyo kneeled beside him, offering him one of his last two cigarettes. "Are you going to shoot me and dump me in the desert then?"
Sanzo took the cigarette and let Gojyo light it. He inhaled the smoke with satisfaction. It wasn’t his favorite brand, but still, it was nicotine.
"No," he answered Gojyo’s question.
There was a moment of silence.
"What?" Sanzo said grumpily.
"Shut up, you bloody kappa."
Gojyo smiled and left for his blankets.