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Lost Faith

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Four

 

With Homura's hands off him there was a chance at escape, men's strength not being that of a supposed god's. But Sanzo's own betrayed him and he bucked and jerked in their grip to no avail. They had a very decent hold on him after that, one at each arm and another taking firm hold of the rope about his neck. He craned his head to see where Homura was, but their entry onto the main avenue beyond the docks and the crowds traversing it swallowed Sanzo's sight of him.

The faces that swirled around him were less than wholly human. The glint of red eyes was predominant, the tapered length of overlong ears. Oh, there were humans among the youkai, certainly, rough and tumble men who did not fear walking among so many youkai.

Sanzo ceased his desperate attempts to shake off the men holding him, wary and rightfully so of a sudden. Dare he attribute luck to the circumstance that had left his priestly attire well behind him in this den of youkai? Even though none of the ones he passed close enough to have a good look at displayed the signs of madness that was overtaking so many of their ilk, word was still widespread in the youkai community about the Sanzo and his companions and their mission Westward. There were rewards aplenty to be gained from the presentation of his head to certain parties.

It didn't mean they didn't stare at him in disdain, or scoff at his predicament with laughter and crude remarks about the human fallen so low as to be dragged through the streets of their city on his way to a youkai market. It was enough to make Sanzo see red. It clouded his vision and colored his cheeks. Indignity upon indignity.

The market in question wasn't far from the docks. There were all manner of goods for sale there, though upon passing, Sanzo noted that the fruits and vegetables were inferior to those sold at the human market upriver. The youkai got the bottom of the barrel then and from the faces of the buyers and the raucous complaints it was a commonplace neglect. The youkai craftsmen were no less competent than their human counterparts though, and the wares of the smithy, the potter, the woodmaker and the weaver were all of acceptable quality.

The slavers strode directly through the market, on the tail of their line of captives. The slave market was as busy as the other, youkai and human browsers both passing through ranks of crude pens where miserable soon to be sold humans and youkai huddled. The men and the women were separate, though the males outnumbered the females by a good number. Predictable since the main source of work for indentured labor were the mines and men inherently had stronger backs and longer lives working them. The women no doubt had shorter lives, if the work of the brothels had any impact upon them.

There was some sort of deal that took place between the riverboat captain and the dirty, barrel chested youkai that apparently ran the auction yard. Coin changed hands, but Sanzo couldn't hear what agreement was made. The line of captives ahead of him were released from their rope tethers and the few women herded to an empty pen, while the men were divvied up between two more. Sanzo was yanked forward and shoved ignominiously in one of them. They didn't bother to remove the rope about his neck or loosen the bonds about his wrists. The roof of the pen was low enough that even a man of moderate height had to crouch, and crouching with a noose hanging from one's neck and one's hands wrenched behind one's back was just damned uncomfortable. Like the rest of the men in the cage, Sanzo had little choice but to sink down, knees touching the wooden bars of the pen, tether trailing outside the bars to be tread upon by the passing free men and youkai.

Now that he was left to his own devices, Sanzo began to worry at the rope around his wrists, twisting his hands this way and that in efforts to either loosen the loops or reach the knots. It proved frustratingly futile. They were very good at securing their captives.

"Its no use. No use. We're done for. We'll die in the mines." The man beside him moaned, dirty face streaked with tears. "Might as well lay down and die now for all the mercy the youkai bastards will give us."

The man in his misery and fear rocked to and fro, jostling Sanzo.

"Get off." Sanzo hissed, more than a little flustered by the utter air of despair emanating from the men around him. From the men in all the pens. As if they'd all just ceased to even know how to fight against fate. If they had then they deserved what they got.

Someone stepped on the rope from his tether outside the cage, and with a jangle of chain stooped to pick it up. Sanzo glared up murderously at Homura. Homura pulled him forward against the bars and there wasn't a goddamned thing he could do about it, other than spit in frustration and glare hatefully up into Homura's mismatched eyes.

"I promise - - I swear on my life that I will see you dead."

"Your life's not worth much anymore, now is it? But then I suppose we'll find out exactly how much once they've put you on the block, umm, Konzen?"

Sanzo hissed and struggled until the noose tightened and he had to press his face against the bars to keep from strangling.

"Oh, now is this the one?" A hulking collection of fetid flesh in the form of a waddling youkai stopped beside Homura, eyes glued with speculation upon Sanzo. The captain of the riverboat stood behind him.

"That it is. As pretty a piece as I've come upon in my score of years moving flesh along the river. The hair alone will draw the customers like bees to honey."

"Bees make honey, you idiot." Sanzo snarled. "Its pollen they go to."

The river caption scowled. Homura chuckled, amused. He let go the rope and Sanzo drew back, glowering at the lot of them.

"Here's my prediction. The person who buys me will meet a short end."

"Get him on a regular regiment of the flower and he'll be a docile enough little whore."

"A waste." Homura said more to himself than any of the rest of them.

The youkai blinked and looked up at Homura, as if just noticing him for the first time. He blinked again, seeing something the riverboat captain couldn't, a youkai sixth sense to danger that humans just didn't have, and blanching just a little.

"Part of his charm is that spirit. What high entertainment to take it away, a little bit at a time. Those with the backbone for it would pay more for that, don't you think?"

The youkai bowed his head to Homura, willing to agree to anything he said, murmured a few words to the captain and waddled away. The captain eyed Homura warily, before giving Sanzo one last baleful glare and departing himself.

"So tell me, where did you say Goku was again?" Homura squatted, elbows on knees, chain pooling on the dirt between his feet. "And the sutra? Where is that?"

"Have you looked up your ass, moron? Check long and far."

"Oh, Konzen, what a mouth you've developed. You used to have so much more decorum."

Arguing the simple fact of his identity with a deranged god seemed a useless fight at the moment. Sanzo settled back onto his haunches and glared. Even through the creeping numbness his fingers were itching with pent up frustration. Or maybe it was nicotine addiction starting to well and truly kick in. For a cigarette he might have forgiven a great many things.

Homura rose as a troupe of youkai that obviously worked here came stomping down the aisle between cages. The humans inside them shrunk back, cowering. The ones in the pen with Sanzo did the same, whimpering and whispering prayers as the youkai stopped before their cage and unlocked the chain around the door.

"Out," Gruff voices demanded and reached in to yank the living contents out when they did not comply quickly enough with the order. Someone latched hold of the rope around Sanzo's neck and there was no graceful fighting the pull of heavy youkai muscle. He ducked through the low doorway and glared daggers at Homura in passing.

They were led to an open square where a great many gathered youkai and humans stood, watching the progression of human men and women across a low wooden platform. The auction block. A aging youkai and his two lumbering assistants showed the merchandise on the block to the crowd. There was a lot of dirty, terrified men there now. Maybe six of them, skinny and underfed, as if they'd been snatched from the very meanest of the slum streets to sold into a even more wretched state than they'd left. The bidding wasn't spirited, jumping between a mere two interested parties, until finally the men were sold to a human with what seemed a permanently dust stained face. A mine owner, someone near Sanzo said. As if it were any surprise that these men were headed to a life of work underground, given the choices.

After they were led off the block, the brute with his meaty paw around Sanzo's lead jerked him forward. Common sense said why fight it, he was at so drastic a disadvantage it was laughable to even try. But when anger and indignity were involved, Sanzo's common sense was often overshadowed. He dug his heels in and dug an elbow into the slaver behind him, getting a satisfying grunt in response to his efforts. The rope around his neck was jerked so hard it almost snapped his neck. He spun forward and onto his knees, choking from the suddenly suffocatingly, tight noose. He was still seeing stars and struggling for breath when they jerked him up, hauling him forward with two of them clutching his upper arms. Dragged up the three steps to the platform and shoved ingloriously into the waiting arms of the two auction attendants, he hardly heard the jeering cries of the spectators over the ringing in his ears.

Not nearly so complacent as the previous occupants of the block, the attendants had to work to keep Sanzo in place, though twisting his bound wrists up between his shoulders proved an adequate enough method for stopping his attempts to lunge out of their grasp. With his shoulders threatening to pop from their sockets he had very little choice save stand there and glower out at the faces of the crowd below the auction block. The faces were predominately youkai, perhaps a quarter of them human. He didn't see Homura in the mix, but he doubted the bastard had wondered far. He did spot the obese youkai that the riverboat captain had brought to the pens in the very front row, though.

""Aren't you the lucky ones today, to be here to bid on such a unique piece as this." The old auctioneer waddled towards Sanzo and his attendants tightened their grip. "You don't see hair like this very often." The old man's spidery fingers threaded through Sanzo's hair and he jerked his head away with a snarl and a hissed curse, which didn't deter the same fingers from catching his jaw and clamping hold with a grip surpassingly strong for such an old looking youkai. He tilted Sanzo's face this way and that, more for the onlookers benefit than his own.

"And a face to match. Very fine bones. Very good skin. Pale like a woman kept out of the sun. Let's see his teeth."

The old man, despite his strength, almost lost a finger in that venture, but he only laughed as he snatched his hand back and commented to the crowd. "Good teeth, too, it seems. Young, strong. No mine fodder this. Let's start the bidding at 10,000 yen."

Which amount got an immediate bid from someone in the back and was quickly enough raised from another bidder. Sanzo seethed and stood there, spay legged in the painful grip of his captors, breath coming harsh and unsteady from the almost red tinged anger that had long since bubbled to the surface. He doubted he could have gotten a coherent sentence out he was so incensed.

The fat youkai that had come to his pen raised the bid by enough that his competitors were momentarily silenced, intimidated by the amount of money on the line.

"If he survives a month, he'll make it back for you ten fold." The auctioneer said, trying to egg on more bids. "Come on now, you've never seen as pretty a piece as him on this block and aren't likely to again any time soon. Do you want all the customers to flock to master Vhan kai's brothel instead of your own?"

"Lets see if the rest of him looks as good as his face." Someone cried from the growing crowd. "For the price you want for him, we ought to see the whole of him."

Which suggestion seemed to sit fine with the auctioneer and grated on Sanzo's last shred of control like the edge of a serrated knife. The curses began to spew like he was trying to get a years worth in on one last breath, and he kicked and writhed despite the pressure on his arms, until one of the big youkai simply wrapped his meaty arm around Sanzo's neck and lifted him up off his feet, forcing his head back, cutting off air and sight of the all too interested crowd. With long enough lack of proper air, the strength seemed to drain from his limbs and he went frustratingly limp, cognizant enough to realize what the old auctioneer was doing, but not up to protesting it. The last attached buttons were torn from their threads and the shirt pushed as far back over his shoulders as his bound arms would allow, baring the front of his body. The old man pulled jeans that had never been properly refastened since the first enormously embarrassing time they'd been undone on the riverboat, down and Sanzo felt his genitals shrink a little as unhindered breeze touched them.

God, this was not happening. Was just fucking not being done to him. There was no way his luck could have gone so sour so quickly without someone putting in a helping hand. He threw in a few curses directed at the gods in general for good measure, though they came out weak and whispery from lack of proper air. He barely heard the bidding resume, though he damn sure felt the imprint of their eyes upon him, the feel of the very slight erection of the youkai behind him poking into the back of his thigh. And Homura, bastard that he was, was out there somewhere enjoying each and every minute of it. The only thing lacking, would have been Goku, Gojyo and Hakkai happening upon the debacle to make Sanzo's life complete.

Whatever the final bid was, Sanzo didn't really hear. All that really mattered was that it ended and the pressure was let off his windpipe and he was lowered back to the ground, despite the fact that his legs were unsteady things under him. He was pulled towards the other side of the auction block and he went docilely enough, more than happy to be leaving it with nothing but the open tails of his shirt covering his modesty. He was delivered into the hands of a set of stone faced youkai, who waited with hands on Sanzo's arms while the very fat youkai that had bought him settled with the auction accountant. Sanzo's auction price paid for, the fat youkai turned to survey his purchase, small, glittering eyes traveling with a proprietary gleam up and down the length of Sanzo's frame. There was no covering up, the damage had been done, so he stood there and endured it, meeting the youkai's eyes with a cold, deadly promise in his own.

"Get him dressed." The youkai brothel master turned his eyes away from Sanzo's glare. "Don't want to much of a spectacle on the way home. There will be enough of that later, eh?"

The best of Tinto town might be equated with the worst of her sister town upriver and the district that Sanzo found himself dragged into was a study of squalor. These youkai had not for the most part been inflicted with madness, but they lived like beasts nonetheless, the lowest of the low, reduced to pandering on the streets, begging for scraps from the humans and higher class youkai that drifted through the district looking for the sorts of entertainment that could not be so easily gotten in the better parts of town. There were games of chance advertised by boys crying the news on the side of the pitted street. Games that involved blood and battle between beasts or men or youkai. Drugs offered for sale on the street corners, or sold within the dubious comfort of dens where a person might go to find a sheltered corner to practice his oblivion within. The whores on the actual street varied in age and appearance, but all of them were scraggly and worn out, abused and hollow from the appetites of the clientele desperate enough to couple with any of them. What lay behind the walls of the brothels claimed to be of a higher quality, but one doubted the abuse was any less obvious and Sanzo began to seriously consider what sort of damage he could deal the thugs that were latched onto him that might effect his chances at escape. He was tired and sore and his hands had long since gone numb, but the thought of getting dragged into one of those dark brothels and locked into the stench of sex and blood and despair was beginning to egg on traces of panic that before now had been forced back by the simple fuel of rage.

"Master Vhan Kai," One of the street hawkers outside a gaming den called to the fat man waddling down the side of the street in front of Sanzo and his guardians. "You got a new one, huh? Right pretty for a man. Be right tempting for even those that prefer genuine pussy, eh? Might come round and take a ride myself."

"You couldn't afford him, Ping." Master Vhan Kai said over his shoulder and Ping shouted back good naturedly.

"Not now. In a month or two the price will go down. It always does." The motley collection of ruffians around Ping laughed.

Sanzo glared over his shoulder, fixing them all in his memory, and in the process missed the step leading up to the porch of the building Vhan Kai's muscle led him to. He stumped his toe on the step and cursed, then cursed more when the two youkai at his arms didn't allow him time to recover, half dragging, half lifting him up the steps instead. Across the porch was a door painted red with the legend, 'master Vhan Kai's house of pleasure" painted across the top of it.

Wonderful. Once inside the smell of cheap perfume and incense was like a slap in the face. The front room was probably like the front room of any one of a hundred similar brothels, a victim of poor taste and gaudy decoration. There were upholstered benches and overstuffed couches where patrons might wait while a room upstairs was readied, or could browse the wares of the whores that loitered in the front room. There were a half dozen painted floozies in attendance, ranging from a youkai boy that could not have been more than twelve or thirteen to a human woman of middle to late years. A handful of other painted women, some youkai, some human and an older boy made up the greeting committee. All of them gave Vhan Kai signs of respect before turning curious, and in some cases openly hostile eyes upon his new find.

Ah, competition among whores. How charming. Sanzo ignored them, instead scanning the room for windows and exits. There were stairs leading up and a curtained hall leading to the back of the building and probably a back door.

"Boy!" Vhan Kai snapped and the youngest boy flinched and scurried over, shoulders haunched, eyes downcast "Go upstairs and make sure the blue room is ready for a new occupant.

The boy scampered to do his master's bidding, and soon after the two youkai wrestled Sanzo up the stairs and down a creaky hall towards a room at the end. Sanzo gave up the fight halfway down the hall, some bit of craftiness managing to overcome the indignation, figuring that they'd hardly just thrust him in and leave him bound. They have to untie him eventually and do so less guarded if he behaved himself before hand. Once inside the room, the youkai unhanded him, wary for the retaliation he'd already proved himself capable of. When he didn't give it, they relaxed marginally. He could see it in their red eyes, the relief at his good behavior. That they might not have to damage something their master had paid such good money for. That chore would be left up to the paying customers.

The room was a box. A good sized bed of decent construction, a sturdy wardrobe bolted fast to the wall. A threadbare rug that would take some of the chill off the floor during winter, a small, cold stove. A washbasin on a shelve with a picture of water. A bucket on the floor beside it for sanitary purposes. A shuttered window that the boy had opened to reveal a latticework of bars. All the comforts of home. If he had to stay in it one second longer than it took to tear his way out, he'd loose his grip on reason.

Vhan Kai waddled into the doorway, huffing a little from the climb to the second story. He motioned to his men and they approached Sanzo, removing the rope around his neck, loosening the bonds securing his hands. He stood there, the center of attention for a few breaths, rubbing feeling back into his hands, half listening as the fat brothel master began to speak, outlining the rules of his house. As if Sanzo planned to stay there and be the good whore.

As soon as he felt the tingle of sensation return to his fingers he made his move. Just stepped to the wash table and the picture that was within easy reach and dashed it around to slam into the head of the closest youkai guard. They weren't expecting it of him, that was clear from the shock and momentary hesitation in the other one's eyes. Sanzo didn't give him a chance to recover his wits. He lunged forward with the shards of the handle still clutched in his fingers slashing at the youkai's face with murderous intent. He scored a strike and another, spattering blood. The fat brothel master squealed in fright, backpedaling out into the hall, screaming for aid. The skinny little youkai boy stared with wide eyed shock at the spectacle, mouth wide, hands clutching one of the open shutters by the window. Sanzo was out the door, contemplating taking the time to do damage to Vhan Kai before escaping down the hall. The sound of feet thumping up the stairs made his decision. Since pursuit was coming up the stairs, his escape down them seemed doubtful. All the rooms couldn't have barred windows, could they? He kicked in a door and a woman cried out in protest. The youkai male she was servicing pulled his member out of her mouth, hastily stuffing it into his trousers as Sanzo barreled by, tearing the shutters open and finding the same bars that graced the window of the Blue room. He cursed, staring about for a weapon. The youkai client had none on his person. The female whore certainly had nothing potentially dangerous. He made for the door just as the pursuit coming up the stairs reached it. Sanzo didn't hesitate. To hesitate with youkai was to surely die. He slammed into them pummeling. Smashing a nose here, catching a youkai in the throat there. A knee to a groin, an elbow to a sternum. He didn't usually brawl with youkai opponents without the benefit of his gun . . . or his companions. Their strength went beyond human strength. He hurt them, but he didn't cripple them. They took it and lunged back, tangling feet with his legs and slamming him backwards to the floor. The thin carpet wasn't enough to cushion the fall. His head hit hard and the impact of several heavy youkai bodies atop him seemed to drive him straight into the floorboards. A fist smashed into his side, again and he saw bright lights amidst the red wash of pain. A backhand slap to his face that might as well have been a clenched fist blow for the power behind it and even the spots ceased to be.

He came back to himself dragged between two of them, down the hall and back towards the room at the end. Vhan Kai was blathering almost incoherently, his fat face red and mottled with rage. Sanzo's vision grayed out and clarified as his back hit the bed with considerable force and they were dragging his arms over his head, looping manacles though the metal bars of the headboard and tightening them around his wrists. His body throbbed, his side a red hot center of hurt. A broken rib maybe. His head still spun from the youkai's slap. There were five of them crowding the room now, not including master Vhan Kai's considerable self or the boy who cowered still in the far corner. The one Sanzo had taken out first was being helped by his comrades, wobbling and dazed still. The second one was glaring balefully at Sanzo, his face a mask of blood. There was something in his small red eyes that promised payback.

"He's fucking feral." That one snarled, and master Vhan Kai waved a hand to shut him up.

"That can be remedied." He waddled forward and Sanzo saw the well worn, glass and metal tube of a syringe. It was half filled with some clear fluid. He thrashed despite the pain, desperate that it not be plunged into him, but one of the youkai leaned across his thighs, pinning his body and the brothel master forced his head back and drove the needle into the big vein of his neck.

Everything altered then and quickly. The pain dulled, the hands on his body became less obtrusive. The room less stifling, the situation by far less desperate. The mattress was an insubstantial thing under him, his body gone suddenly light and transparent. He hardly cared when they unfastened his hands and pulled him up to get the shirt off. Didn't mind when his wrists were resecured again, or when they took his shoes and stripped the jeans off him afterwards. The air was pleasant enough not to cause discomfort.

When the fat brothel master lowered himself to the side of the bed, it dipped under his weight and Sanzo rolled just a little towards him, but not much, held fast as he was by the manacles. Perhaps some small bit of distress ate through the cloud of oblivion he was presently floating in when the fat man laid hands to him, but it was distant and not nearly so pervasive as the nirvana he was presently in the thrall of. But soon enough the man hefted his bulk off the bed and shooed the remaining youkai out of the room, following himself and shutting the door with the distinct sound of a key turning in a lock.

Sanzo shut his eyes and drifted.


Gojyo was drunker than he had been for quite a long while. Staggeringly drunk. Gloriously, numbly, would wake up with the hangover to end all hangovers tomorrow drunk. He had worked his way through more sleazy taverns than he could easily recall and drank more watered down liquor than a sane man might consider consuming and all it seemed for nothing. He found not hide nor blonde hair of the damned traitorous monk. Not a trace of him. Oh, he'd come upon people here and there that recognized the description, the monk having the tendency to stand out in most crowds, but no one had seen him that night.

In his utter inebriation he began to imagine dread scenarios. Bodies floating bloated and fetid face down in the river. Bodies discarded in alleyways for the rats to feed upon. Bodies bloodless with throats slit, rotting away in shallow graves outside the city, robbed and discarded. He was supposed to be angry. Rightly and justly pissed off. He had to keep telling himself that. Oh, not that he wasn't, it was just that being drunk had his defenses down and concern began to worm its way in with the anger. Concern for a high and mighty monk who didn't welcome it and would only scoff and make some sarcastic remark if it were offered. Had in fact made many a hurtful observation upon past concerns offered. So why should a man go to the trouble of caring now? He was only looking for the damned monk to kick his skinny ass, anyway.

Gojyo came to the conclusion, leaning on the worn, splintery counter of the last of a long line of cheap taverns, that he regretted ever screwing Sanzo. It just wasn't worth it. No amount of momentary bliss could be worth the bullshit a body had to tolerate the other 99 percent of the time. If he hadn't ever lain with the monk then he wouldn't be feeling the concern now, he was almost certain. He'd be able to do the reasonable thing and turn his back on the whole thing, which was what Sanzo wanted in the first place and urge his other friends - - his real friends - - to do the same and turn around and head back down the long road to more familiar lands. But of course, once you'd fucked a person, things got complicated. When you slept with somebody, skin to skin, listened to the sound of their soft, even breathing, watched the tension and the stress of wakefulness diminish from their face as slumber took over . . . well, no matter what good sense said, you felt responsibility even if it wasn't justified. Well, at least he did. God knew what the monk felt.

Damn if he didn't regret sleeping with the monk, because maybe then he wouldn't be sporting the edge of a boner from dwelling too long on him. He took a breath and forcefully thought about maggot-ridden corpses again and predictably the rebellious party in his pants dissipated.

He hoped Hakkai had been able to reel Goku back in from his almost hysterical search efforts for the monk. The kid didn't hold grudges nearly as long as a reasonable person ought to. The kid was still limping from the bullet Sanzo had put in his leg. Hell, he'd probably have forgiven him while he was still bleeding in the street if Sanzo had changed his mind and stalking back and decided to pretend it hadn't happened. Damned if Gojyo would.

He pushed away from the bar, sullen and tired and wanting nothing so much as his bed. He was almost certain he could find his way back to the inn from the dockside, his present inebriated state not withstanding. It would terribly embarrassing if Hakkai had to come out looking for him.

Just outside the door in the humid, foul smelling air of the dockside, someone put a hand on his arm. His accoster must have followed him from the bar, for he'd hardly gotten a step beyond the stoop before he was detained. It was a stupid move. He wasn't in the best of moods and his frustration level had already passed into the red. He growled and spun, smacking the arm away as he did, clamping a hand around the neck of the fool who'd put hands on him and slamming the body back against the wall of the bar in one smooth move. Even drunk beyond good sense, Gojyo's reflexes never betrayed him. His assailant proved to be rather less than intimidating.

A woman. A scrawny, pregnant woman, with lank, brown hair and sharp, sunken eyes, which were widened in fear at the moment, what with him glowering in her face and pressing her back with no little force into the wall of the tavern.

Assaulting pregnant women was not a predilection of Gojyo's, in fact he rather frowned on the notion. He released her warily, stepping back to clear the protrusion of her belly.

"Sorry . . . you surprised me." He muttered, running a hand through his hair. The woman didn't seem entirely shocked at such rough treatment, and once his hand was not around her throat with stifling pressure, she shook herself off and stared up at him warily.

"You the one that's been askin' 'round after a yellow haired fellow?"

Gojyo blinked, the drink having far more effect on his train of logic than it did on his reflexes of self-preservation. After all night asking to no avail, it was disorienting to have someone broach the subject when he'd decided he didn't care anymore.

"Yeah, what of it?"

"I might know something about him . . . for a price."

Ah, figured. He was surprised someone hadn't tried to wrangle coin out of him sooner for fictional information. Gojyo snorted, holding out his arms for her to survey him in full. "Do I look like I have money to spare?"

She squinted her eyes at him, which did nothing for the appearance of her face. Not a pretty woman in the least, though from the looks of her she'd lead a tough life and that did little for a woman's femininity. Even close to full term pregnancy, she looked like she was lean and hard and merciless. She'd just a likely put a knife in his back as talk to him, he decided.

"You been askin' all 'round town, so I figure its worth something to you, knowin' what happened to that fella."

"It might have been. It isn't anymore." He took a step back, to distance himself a little from her before he turned his back on her to walk away.

"Pretty face like his, he won't last long where they took him."

Gojyo hesitated. "Who is they?"

She rubbed the bulge of her belly. "Got another mouth to feed on the way. Don't give out information for free that's likely to put me and mine in trouble if word gets out that it came from me."

Gojyo really didn't have much coin left. He'd spent what he'd had drinking the night away in his search for Sanzo. What little he did have left would have to go towards getting more, since the monk and his all important credit card were no longer an option. Get into a cash game somewhere and he could build his funds back up. Better yet, get Hakkai into a high stakes game and they would be set.

He had three lonely coins left. He fished them out of his pocket to show them to her. "Its all I've got. You can check my pockets if you like." He gave her a half hearted leer, not particularly thrilled at the notion, but feeling that a bit of flirting might go a long way, even in the face of this gaunt, pregnant street rat. She looked at the coins, looked up at him, then shrugged and swept them off his hand, secreting them on her person faster than his eye could follow. She scurried forward then, catching hold of his arm and urging him away from the tavern stoop.

"A little distance between what I have to say and pryin' ears." She whispered. Gojyo allowed himself to be lead down the street, wary of lurking predators in the alley ways. Since she'd cleaned him out and he was almost certain she believed him when he claimed to have no more, he doubted she was leading him into an ambush.

"The scum who put the seed in my belly, well he comes round once and a while for a woman's soft touch."

Gojyo shuddered a little, wondering what other woman lived with this one, since the nails biting into his arm evidenced very little of a soft anything.

"And?"

"He and his deadbeat friends - - well they earn their living through the generosity of strangers."

"They're cutpurses."

She snorted. "None of that lot are that nimble fingered. They go 'bout it a little more bluntly."

Which meant they were simple thugs who waylaid passerby and stole all their belongings.

"He came whining to me last night 'bout the mark they'd almost had, yellow haired fellow. Nice clothes. Clean."

That sounded entirely familiar. "I'm surprised your friend survived the meeting." Sanzo wasn't much for allowing himself to be robbed.

"They never got round to finishing up. The slavers come and chased them away and any with half a brain don't mess with that lot."

"Slavers?"

"Yep, they took him off, they did. Down river to Tinto town where all the beastmen live. Don't none ever come back that the slavers take there. Either the mines kill them or the beastmen do for entertainment."

"This happened last night?"

"It did."

"And how long does it take to get to Tinto?"

"Eight hours by riverboat. He's had a day there by this time. You might still have a bit of luck tracking him down. From the look of you, the beast men might be willing to spare a word or two,"

He narrowed his eyes, understanding that she'd picked up on what the color of his eyes and hair implied. Little surprise, living up river from a town full of youkai. He nodded at her.

"Thanks for the tip."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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