Author’s Notes: Had this idea for a while, decided to write it in order to cheer up my mother. She was a rabid fan of the Saiyuuki dub, and the release of Reload with different (and terrible) voices has rather depressed her. Read and enjoy, mother!
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Chapter One: These Times
The border was nine hundred kilometers long and marked with youkai nailed to trees. Most of the bodies were old, some were new; somehow, even the older corpses still had dried blood on them. Wherever it came from, the blood had dyed the bark black, and twisted the branches into knots that blocked out the sun. Tacky. Horrifying, too, if you’d never seen it before.
The look on Goku’s face said he certainly hadn’t seen it before.
Gojyo forced a smirk and jabbed Goku lightly on the shoulder. “Hey, monkey. Don’t tell me you’re hungry already.”
Goku blinked. “I’m...huh?”
Gojyo snorted. “Yeah, I know what that look means.” No, not shock and fear and empathetic pain. “’Hungry, hungry, where’s the food? I better hurry before the wonderful and handsome Gojyo-san can get his mouth around a single bite.’”
“Yeah, sure.” He rolled his eyes and almost smiled. “Handsome enough for a roach, I guess. Only ‘cause you’re missing a set of legs.”
“This from the tailless monkey.”
“Hey, I’m not-”
A sharp jab to Goku’s ribs interrupted his righteous indignation. “Shh,” Lirin hissed. “Someone will hear us!”
Unlikely. The scenery Goku found so distasteful was enough to drive the nearest human town twenty-three kilometers away-Lian Xin. This happened to be their destination, which they had to reach on foot, unseen, in a bit under two days. Jien hadn’t bothered with the how or why when he’d given them these super-important ultra-secret orders.
Hell, the prick hadn’t even given Gojyo an idea how to get Lirin to pass as human.
Goku rubbed his side, an injury he probably had barely felt. “Oww.”
“Shh,” Lirin repeated. And then she stuck her tongue out.
“You’re being to loud!” Lirin shouted. “We’re gonna get caught and then Onii-chan’s whole plan will be-”
“You’re just as loud as-”
Gojyo considered intervening, then thought better of it. Damnit, stupid or not, this babysitting duty was his responsibility and he had to think it through.
Lirin’s keen interest in living up to her first real responsibility and Goku’s keen interest in getting out of the borderlands-not to mention Gojyo’s keen interest in being not captured, not tortured, and not killed-would probably provide motivation to keep them from being nailed to trees. It would not, however, get them anywhere near Lian Xin.
Damnit. Forward thinking was so not his thing.
“-I can’t keep quiet if you keep pulling on my-”
“-you’re going to ruin absolutely everything and-”
“-Gojyo, make her-”
“-nii-chan said it was up to us to-”
They were just about to run out of food, too. No time to grab more than a few meat buns and some apples when they left. As if this wasn’t going to be hellish enough as it was, now he had do it hungry. While listening to them whine.
They’d have to leave Lirin outside of town. Without any sort of limiter, they couldn’t risk her being seen. But that wasn’t something to worry about now-they would never reach the town before dark. Gojyo didn’t know when the demon patrols ran, at night or during the day. Or both. He knew that they did run, and while a patrol or two or seventeen wouldn’t pose much of a threat to them, they could not be seen. Jien had said that several times. They absolutely could not be seen.
And here he was, partnered with two of the most conspicuous youkai on the entire planet. Just his luck.
Whatever. This forrest creeped him out, and they needed to get moving. “Hey,” he called. “Teacher says quiet now.”
“-I’m not even doing anything.”
“I don’t care! Let me-”
“-nothing. So would you stop-”
Gojyo scowled. “Hey, hey, hey. Teacher’s calling for a freaking time out-”
“-I didn’t even start it-”
“-You did so! Now let go of my-”
“Hey! Bad children don’t get any freaking cookies! Or any food!’
Goku stopped mid-swing. “Who says you’re in charge of the food?”
“I think I should be-” Lirin started.
“You’d just take all of it for yourse-”
“Who says you wouldn’t?”
“Who says Gojyo wouldn’t?”
Gojyo shifted the pack on his back. “I say so. And since I’m carrying the food I decide who gets what.”
Goku seemed to have forgotten about the bodies entirely. He eyed Gojyo’s knapsack. “I could carry it.”
Lirin nodded. “It doesn’t even look heavy.”
“Hey, I don’t see either of you carrying anything.”
“Well, then let me-”
“Hey, I want to-”
“Let go! Watch the paws, stupid monkey!”
Gojyo and Goku had their weapons in hand before their ears had stopped ringing, Lirin shifted into a defensive posture with a look that was suspicious and calculating. They stood in silence, until the echoes faded.
“What was that?” Goku asked, peering into the line of black trees.
“Hell if I know.” Except he did, Gojyo was sure he knew something about something like this. If he could only think of it...
“It’s a spell,” Lirin said flatly. Gojyo believed her. There were advantages to being Gyumaoh’s daughter.
The wind started picking up. Almost unnoticeable, at first. A few seconds later and it couldn’t be dismissed as just a creepy coincidence.
And then he remembered.
Gojyo grabbed Lirin and Goku both by the shoulders, and shoved them towards the trees. “Trap! It’s a trap! Hurry!”
They didn’t need to be told twice, not with the sounds that wind was making now. Howls and shrieks filled the air, and as they plunged into the forrest, Gojyo saw the branches start to move.
* * *
Sanzo knew that clapping Cho Gonou in irons wouldn’t make the slightest difference. It wasn’t comforting, either, watching them fasten the heavy cuffs around Gonou’s wrists. Not when it was so painfully obvious Gonou could rip apart several monks before Sanzo could even reach for his gun.
When they finished, Gonou turned towards him and smiled faintly. “Genjyo Sanzo-san, right?”
“Hn,” Sanzo muttered. He wanted-needed-a cigarette right about now, but he was at his limit for suspicious glances and muttered disapproval. He could wait two more minutes.
He stepped into the cell. Chains on the walls, blood on the floor. Gonou had had a hell of a time. “You can go now,” he said. Didn’t bother looking at the monk he was addressing.
“Now,” Sanzo snapped. “All of you.”
The door slowly rolled shut, and the patter-patter of sandaled feet faded away.
Sanzo fished his lighter out of his robes. “Now, what the hell do you want?” he asked. He saw no reason to mask his impatience or his irritation.
“I was that obvious?”
“No.” Sanzo tapped a cigarette out of the pack and lit up for the first time in two hours. “You’re Hakkai, right? Nice jewelry.”
Hakkai touched the cuffs on his left ear with his hand and chuckled. “Well, I suppose those were that obvious.”
“Cut the crap. I’ve never had anyone this desperate to see me.”
The man--demon, more than monster--frowned as vacantly as he smiled. “I never requested to see you. I merely suggested-”
“You merely suggested that you were more than half youkai and just hinted that the lives of every living creature in the vicinity were in terrible jeopardy. After getting captured on purpose.”
“Yes,” Hakkai said, and Sanzo suspected he was hearing real emotion in his voice. “I am wanted for very many crimes.”
“Yeah, Cho Gonou is. And now you’re Hakkai.”
“I don’t know how you know that. Though I guess a man in your position would have his-”
Sanzo took a deep drag, imagined at all of his convictions that life was nothing but frustration and petty fury were leaving his body. “Well, you scared them, got me summoned, and wasted my time. What the fuck do you want?”
“Please don’t get angry, Sanzo-san. I’m only here to make a request. More of a suggestion, really.”
He tried not to seethe. “Yes. That’s the point I’m trying to get to.”
“It’s just... You are kindly invited to the town of Lian Xin.”
“Hn. By who?”
“Does it matter?” Every sarcastic smile reminded Sanzo of the teacher he knew Gonou had been, long before he’d become an outlaw and a fugitive in his own country. His exploits were well known, but not even Sanzo had known Gonou had become a youkai, not until three days ago. He wondered how many bodies Gonou had had to step over for that kind of power. He wondered who this Hakkai was working for now.
He dropped his cigarette and ground it out with his foot. Just something to do, he’d only smoked through about half of it. He reached for another. “Why wouldn’t it matter?”
“Because you’re going there anyway, aren’t you?”
Sanzo paused for half a second. “If I was? That would kind of make all of your noble suffering pointless, now, wouldn’t it?”
“No. I mean you’ll be going wherever I suggest you go, regardless of who the invitation came from. You’ll also be taking me with you.”
“Like hell I will.”
“They’ll release me into your custody if you ask.”
“I don’t want you.”
Hakkai stood up, and Sanzo noted with irritation that the man was slightly taller. “They want you to stop the war, before anybody dies. All the people in Lian Xin, all the people in this temple, everyone in Shangri-La. They’re all going to die.”
“A young man of my acquaintance is also going to die, simply because Gyumaoh fears the boy enough to have him killed. Thousands of youkai will fall in a battle they have no choice about fighting in. I take my orders from Prince Kougaiji and he believes you can help stop all of this. Will you meet him in Lian Xin?”
Sanzo took a drag on his new cigarette, ground that one out too, and turned towards the door. He was done here.
“Sanzo-san?” Hakkai said from behind him.
“I’ll think about it.”
That irritating chuckle again. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Sanzo-san...”
* * *