Vindication: 1

There was a fork in the road. If one could call the rocky, twisting rut they were following a road. They might as well have been traveling over the roughest, untamed terrain in the territory for all the bouncing and jolting and sharp swerving turns Hakkai had to make to avoid jutting rocks and tree roots and other annoying things that reared up before Jeep. It was enough to make a body car-sick. It was enough to make a body want a cigarette badly, but the cigarettes had run out two days ago. The most tobacco available was a half smoked cigar of dubious content that Gojyo had been sucking on for the last day, and even Sanzo found the smell of the thing repulsive. He was starting to go into nicotine withdrawal. It was starting to grate on his nerves.

The ride was. Goku complaining in the back seat about the lack of proper rations and his growling, empty stomach, just made Sanzo want to turn around and rip his tonsils out.

“Where the fuck are we?” Gojyo leaned across the back of Hakkai’s seat, all gangly arms and elbows. His long red hair was up in a tail at the back of his neck, but strands of it had come free and clung to the moist skin of his face and neck. It made an odd criss-cross pattern along the two diagonal scars on his left cheek.

“I really don’t have a clue.” Hakkai tried a cheerful smile, but the heat and the frustration of driving about, completely lost all day, made him falter. He was too generous to point out that it was Gojyo’s fault.

Sanzo wasn’t. Sanzo twisted in his seat and gave Gojyo an icy glare.

“If you hadn’t lost the map we wouldn’t be in this position.”

Gojyo gave him an indignant, sidelong look. “I didn’t loose the map, monk.”

“You had it. You got drunk, lost your money, lost your boots and lost the fucking map.”

“It was stolen.” Gojyo grumbled.

“You got rolled, you drunken bum.” Goku cackled and Gojyo swung around with violence on his mind. A bickering began in the back seat that made Sanzo sink deeper into his seat. He had to fight the impulse to cover his ears.

“This is a road.” Hakkai tried to find a bright side of the situation. Hakkai always tried to find that elusive bright side, whether it existed or not. “It has to lead somewhere eventually. We’ll find another map when we get there, yes?”

Sanzo was just not in the frame of mind to agree to that optimism. He frowned and propped a foot up on the dash to better brace himself against the bouncing of the jeep.

“I want a cigarette.” He muttered.

Nobody paid him any heed. Nobody heard him over Goku and Gojyo. It promised to be a long day.

The river came out of nowhere. The little village at the end of the road was hardly more than a collection of three or four shanty huts and a toll booth at the foot of a vastly suspicious, vastly ancient looking bridge spanning the not unimpressive width of the river.

There was a pig nosing about in the yard in front of one of the huts and a few chickens pecking at hard earth. Other than that, there was silence. Dead, stifling silence. Goku wrinkled his nose the moment Hakkai stopped jeep and cut the engine.

“Death.” He said softly. “There’s death here.”

The rest of them tensed into wariness at that ominous warning.

“Where?” Gojyo asked softly, drawing the shaku jou, the long metal monk’s staff, with its razor sharp head and its trailing chain out of the jeep.

The boy that wasn’t a boy waved an arm. “Around. From the huts, I think.”

He had a sense of smell that would shame the most adept of four legged hunters. Sanzo trusted that if Goku smelled the decay of death, then death was most certainly about.

“In here.” Hakkai had tentatively pushed open a gaping door. Inside the meager hut lay the remains of two, perhaps three people. It was hard to tell from the scattered body parts. Certain integral pieces were missing. The shaft of sunlight streaming into the darkened interior of the hut disturbed the flies. The maggots were content to continue in their work. Gojyo made a gagging sound and backed away from the door. Hakkai stood there sadly, taking in the horror.

“Animals did this?” Sanzo ventured. The manner in which these people had died had been — beastly.

“No.” Hakkai shook his head, moving a little further into the hut. “Men did this.”

“Not men.” Sanzo disagreed, not following Hakkai in. Lingering at the doorway where the fresh air battled with the stench that had been bottled up in the hut.

“No.” Hakkai conceded. “Youkai’s.”

“There’s more in the other houses.” Goku reported. “Maybe nine or ten people in all. Looks like it was done two or three days ago.”

“Yes.” Hakkai agreed.

“Lets just get out of here.” Gojyo suggested. He was spooked. He usually had a much cooler demeanor in the face of such things.

“What’s wrong?” Hakkai sensed the difference too.

“I dunno.” The redhead shrugged, knuckles white on the shaft of his weapon. “Just — a bad feeling.”

“We should bury these folk.” Hakkai said solemnly. “It would be wrong to leave them like this.”

“Shit.” Gojyo hissed, but didn’t argue. Knew better than to fight against Hakkai’s sense of morality. Hakkai’s morality reminded Sanzo of his own responsibilities, which were so often ignored or banished or just plain trampled over when they did come to mind. He sighed and nodded, and wondered if these people were even Buddhists to begin with. There were certainly no religious icons to suggest what god they worshipped if they worshipped one at all. It was hard to tell this far west. So many of the people out here followed their own path and owed no allegiance to any god.

It was a nasty job, the burial. The remains were not pleasant. The flies were aghast at their interference. Sanzo finished the chants of passage as the sun was dipping below the horizon and padded down to the river to find a shallow enough shore to wash some of the dirt and gore and stench of decay away. A steep riverbank mostly, overlooking brown, swift moving water. With dusk, he could hardly see the opposite shore. He found a narrow path leading down and carefully made his way to the edge of the water. There was a small dock of sorts at the bottom. A fishing pier, perhaps.

He sat down, carefully, distrustful of the dark water. The pier was low enough, or the tide high enough, that the water lapped the underside of the planking. It was solid though, so he felt secure in leaning over and dipping his hands into the cool water. His sleeves got wet, so he pushed the upper part of his robe down about his waist and stripped off his gloves, tucking them in his belt so as not to lose them in the evening shadows.

He splashed his face and neck and let the water dribble down his collar. That was acceptable. That felt good against the stickiness left by a hot day and an afternoon of detestable labor. The notion of a hot bath was almost too marvelous to bear. He had to settle for dabbing at himself with questionable river water. The rush of it made him wary. The undulating greatness of it did. He had nightmares sometimes about unending, overwhelming currents of dark water. He pulled his hand back and shivered. Shut his eyes for a moment and beat back the moment of weakness. The moment of unreasonable paranoia.

“Sanzo, you down there?” That was Goku’s high voice from above.

“Yes.” He said softly, not lowering himself to holler up the incline. Goku had sharp enough ears to hear him. With a few harrowing leaps and bounds, the boy was down the steep path and had landed on the small pier with enough impact to shake the pilings. Sanzo drew breath and clutched at the wood in a moment of unavoidable panic.

To complain would have indicated his discomfort, so he merely narrowed his eyes and glared.

“Gojyo’s having a fit not to stay here tonight, so we were thinking about crossing the bridge and spending the night on the other side.”

“Fine. Whatever.” He wasn’t comfortable of the notion of sleeping in this massacred village himself.

“Hakkai wants to leave now, while there’s still a little light to see by.”

“I’m not stopping him. I’ll be along. Go on.”

Goku shrugged and launched himself back up the path. Sanzo rearranged himself to his liking and climbed up the path.

Hakkai didn’t trust the bridge to hold the weight of Jeep in its vehicular form, so they walked. The small white dragon that was Jeep in its other incarnation perched comfortably on Hakkai’s shoulder, its wings furled and its small white head on its long sinuous neck curled about Hakkai’s throat. One could almost hear its purrs of happiness to be so close to its chosen master.

Goku was already bounding across the bridge, taking the time to lean over the side rails and peer into the pitch darkness below. It was a narrow bridge. Two vehicles could not have fit side by side, if anyone had been stupid enough to take two at a time across this wooden bridge and trusted it to hold the weight.

“Hey, there’s fish out there.” Goku was yelling, far ahead, already more than half way across the bridge. “Hear them splashing? Wouldn’t fish be good for dinner tonight?” That he could think about dinner after the gruesome task they’d recently accomplished made Sanzo a little ill. All the tumbling water under his sandals did. He hesitated, standing in the exact center of the bridge, reeling just a little, as a vague feeling similar to intoxication overcame him. It was the darkness and the sound of the water and being suspended over it, combined with a long afternoon with no food and damned little water. Distasteful as it might be, Goku was right in contemplating a break to a daylong fast. He took a breath to clear his head.

“You coming, monk?” Gojyo was a dark shadow just ahead of him, pausing to turn his way to pose the question.

“Mind your business.” Sanzo snapped, defensive and aggravated.

Gojyo shrugged, then paused, staring past Sanzo towards the shore they had just left. He took a step that way, head cocked curiously.

“There’s something —”

A faint, high pitched scream rent the air. A child’s cry of terror. Sanzo whirled, peering into the night, mere human vision blind to something that Gojyo, a dozen steps behind him could obviously see.

“Fuck.” Gojyo swore. “Its a kid with somebody after her.”

Sanzo didn’t wait to spot the crime, just started running back that way, reaching into his robes for the cool grip of the pistol he had hidden there. If a child had escaped the massacre of her village, it was a good bet that it was no human after her.

He could see her now, a vague, small form running along the steep river bank towards the bridge. There was a larger figure running after her. Sanzo was a half dozen steps from the end of the bridge when the world exploded behind him. A deafening roar that slammed him forward bodily, that hailed sharp debris at his back and hurled him the remaining distance and then some. He impacted hard ground, all the breath gone from his lungs. All the feeling gone from his body.

Numb and dazed and confused.

Thoughts spilled like blood from a wound. He felt a wetness trickling down his neck from the back of his head. He couldn’t feel the injury. Vision grayed out for a moment and came back with a hazy irregularity. There were bare feet in the grass before him. Skinny bare legs attached to a small, skinny body. The child crouched before him, and he twisted his head to look up at her. She grinned. Her teeth were sharp and brown. Her ears long and pointed. A demon child. A ruse. She lifted hands armed with sharp, curved nails and drew back an arm to slash at him. He squeezed his finger on the gun that he still clutched and put a hole in her head.

He couldn’t even hear the sound of the gun going off. All he could hear was a constant ringing in his ears. The explosion had deafened him.

He rolled to his side, putting his free hand out to support himself. Dizziness assaulted him. Just reared up and smashed him across the face. His arm crumpled and his body followed and he lay there on his back trying to reason out what had happened. Trying to understand why the others hadn’t come to back him up.

The bridge. The bridge had been rigged to explode. It had been a trap waiting to be sprung on the first unsuspecting travelers to pass this way. He’d been close to the edge when it had happened. The other’s had not.

A shadow fell over him and he rolled his eyes up to see the adult youkai that had been following the child one. There was an ax clutched in clawed hands. There was death in small, red eyes. Sanzo’s hand with the gun was a limp, unresponsive thing at his side. Fuck.

He stared up passively, refusing to let his executor see fear on his face. Refusing to give it that smaller victory along with the greater one of his life.

The ax came down and there was a dull impact which he hadn’t quite expected from a sharp ax blade– the world went black regardless.


Gojyo came up for air sputtering and gagging on brown river water. The shaku jou was a hindrance that he refused to let go of. He felt the sting of a dozen abrasions and slices along his back where splinters of wood from the explosion had cut into him. He probably had slivers of it in his flesh now. It was hard to tell amongst all the other unpleasant sensations assaulting his body. He felt himself going down again and struggled for air. His feet grazed something solid. He pushed off with long legs and reached the surface again. He was close to the shore then and just hadn’t noticed in his panic. He dog-paddled in; felt the murky bottom under the soles of his boots and let out a breath of gratitude. He was pulling himself onto the shore when he heard the gunshot from above.

Sanzo. Sanzo who’d been closer to the edge than he had and had probably made it across when the bridge had exploded behind them. Where Hakkai and Goku were he didn’t want to think about. Not yet at any rate. Just get up top quick and find out what the monk was shooting at.

He tore nails in the process, clawing at rock and crumbling dirt. This was no easy path up. He almost tumbled back into the river more than once. When he clutched at the grass at the top and pulled himself up, he was too late. All he saw was a crumpled heap of pale cloth and a lumbering, snarling youkai towering over it, in the midst of bringing an ax down. There was nothing to do, only half-way up the cliff, but fling himself bodily forward, lashing out with the end of the shaku jou and sending the attached chain flying. It hit the ax head but didn’t manage to knock it out of the wielder’s hands. It came down anyway with a solid thunk and Sanzo, who hadn’t been moving anyway, continued not to move.

With a roar of pure rage, Gojyo surged to his feet and sprang forward, jerking the chain back and slashing out with the sharp end of the staff. The youkai raised the ax to fend it off and the shaku jou sheared through the wooden haft like it was soft flesh. On the return arc he took the youkai’s head off with as much ease. The head hit the ground with a sickening thump and the body slowly crumpled after. Gojyo stood there shivering, dripping wet — bloody — alert for more enemies to come out at the dark at him. Nothing. Silence, except for the permeating rush of the river. Not even the sound of frogs and crickets making night music. He knew he’d hated this place from the moment they’d driven into it. He’d known they shouldn’t have stayed to bury the corpses. But did anyone ever listen to his intuition? Hardly ever. He sank down to his knees next to Sanzo, not knowing what he’d find there. Surprisingly enough, there was no gaping ax wound in the center of his head. Just a small gash and a discolored, developing lump at the outer edge of one golden brow. He wasn’t wet, which meant that he hadn’t gone into the river. Gojyo felt for a pulse and found one.

“Sanzo?” he shook at a shoulder. Nothing. Not a flicker of awareness. “Fuck.”

Casting a wary glance at the two dead youkai, he rose, stepping gingerly over the scattered debris on his way to the ragged remains of the bridge. It was hard to see even with his good night vision. It appeared as if the whole middle of the bridge had been blown away. He saw no movement out there.

“Hakkai!!” He yelled out, breaking the silence. “Goku!!!?? Where are you?”

Not at the bottom of the river, he hoped. Please not at the bottom of the river. He paced the edge of the water for a bit, at a loss. Ventured out onto the part of the bridge that was still intact, but the wood creaked under his weight and the whole thing seemed to sway precariously. He backed off quickly and stood there swearing under his breath.

There were dark woods at the edge of the clearing beyond the village. The shadows could have hidden a great many things. There were fresh graves dug not far away and he knew what they hid. Goku had almost been to the other side. Hakkai he thought, had not been that far behind him. Unless they’d rushed right into the center of the explosion when the child had started her screaming, they might have made it to the other side, or at least went into the river and swum there. There was nothing he could do at the moment to find out. Nothing he could do for them if they were hurt somewhere. And if they were dead — well — they were past his help anyway. He shivered at the notion, not liking it one bit. Forced back grief/pain/loss that might be unjustified and tried to focus on the things he could do something about. He wanted away from here. He wanted something solid at his back, someplace easy to defend if he had to, until morning came with her beneficial light and helped him figure out what to do.

Back to Sanzo then. Another attempt to rouse him. Another failure. Gojyo swore again and dragged him up. The gun fell from his limp hand. Gojyo grabbed it up, checked the safety and jammed it in his belt, then with a grunt of effort put his shoulder to Sanzo’s stomach and surged to his feet with the monk slung over his shoulder. He wasn’t that much of burden, once Gojyo got his balance. He looked more imposing that he really was, with all the priestly robes, the blustery attitude and the overwhelming ego. There wasn’t a hell of a lot of him when you got past all that.

He went north along the bank of the river, away from the woods, onto higher ground. Maybe twenty minutes walk he found a rocky little crevice with a natural niche cut into the earth. It was enough. He was tired. He hurt. He needed to sit down even if he dared not sleep. He swung Sanzo down into his arms and worked him back into the shallow depths of the little cave. He slid down the wall afterwards, gingerly taking stock of himself. Feeling at wounds, picking at pieces of wood lodged in his flesh. Most of them hurt more coming out than they had going in. He bled even more. He balanced the shaku jou across his knees and waited out the night.


Sanzo came awake with a hiss and a curse, fumbling in his robes for the gun, which wasn’t there. He rolled, disheveled and crusty with blood and came up against stone. Gojyo stared at him dispassionately, weary and pale faced, hair a tangled mass that hung limply about his face.

“Didn’t think you were gonna wake up.” He commented. His voice was strained. His eyes were.

“Wha –” Sanzo’s voice sounded strange in his own ears. His head was filled to overflowing with cloying fuzz that got in-between thought and action and speech. He brought up a hand and carefully brushed the throbbing, boulder sized lump on the back of his head. It was tender enough to make his eyes water at the gentle probing.

“Oh, fuck —” he murmured, all balance — all stability fled. The stone wall of the shadowed little cave was precarious support at best. The world careened maliciously. He leaned against the wall and stared across at Gojyo from under the shield of his lashes. “What — happened?”

Gojyo laughed. There were dried streaks of blood on his hands, a shallow gash running from his jaw to his collar bone, the evidence of more from the tears in his clothes. “It was a set-up. They had the bridge rigged. Don’t you remember the big boom?”

“Goku? Hakkai?”

Gojyo shrugged and winced at the action as if it pained him. When he spoke his voice was flat and emotionless. “I dunno. On the other side of the river, if they’re lucky. If not — fish food.”

Sanzo blinked at him. Stared past him to the pale strip of dawn that seeped into the narrow cave.

“Where’s my gun?”

Gojyo sighed and reached beside him, picking up the revolver and handing it butt first to Sanzo. “You got one of them. The kid.”

“Did I?” He posed the question with a certain air of disinterest. But honestly, truthfully, he couldn’t recall any such action on his part. He could barely recall the bridge erupting on his heels. “Were there more?”

“Just one. That I saw. Maybe there are more out there.”

“Good.” He murmured. A little vengeance might soothe the indignity — the pang of uncertainty over whether Goku and Hakkai were alive or dead.

“Probably not a good idea, just yet.” Gojyo murmured.

“Who asked you? And why not?”

“Can you walk?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

A slight smile twitched at the other’s lips. “I don’t think I can — just now.”

“Why?” Sanzo narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

“I need your help to pull something out.”

“Pull what out?”

The half-youkai grinned, and his eyes held a sort of tired, dry humor. He leaned forward, almost toppled but caught himself and leaned on his elbows, hair hanging down to cover his face. There was a great dark stain of blood on his shirt, just right of his spine, above his hip. It was still wet and seeping. There was something jagged and glistening protruding.

“I couldn’t seem to — get a grip on the thing –”

Sanzo thinned his lips and wondered how he was supposed to pull the shard of wood out when he could barely see straight.

It was a messy, painful job. The former for Sanzo, the latter most definitely for Gojyo. He didn’t make a sound, though. Just clenched his teeth and braced himself while Sanzo dug his nails into torn flesh to get a grip on the sliver of wood. One last parting gift from the bridge and the youkai’s who’d destroyed it.

Sanzo tossed the blood soaked piece of wood away, repulsed by the thing. The blood was flowing freely enough now the plug that had been damming it was gone. It wasn’t a gaping hole. It hadn’t been that thick a piece of wood. He tore Gojyo’s shirt and wadded it to press over the wound, but couldn’t get a decent strip long enough to wrap around the half-youkai’s waist to keep it in place. He wasn’t happy about mutilating his robe. Gojyo didn’t ask him too. Gojyo just sat there, sort of slumped forward, his left hand wrapped about his middle to keep the wad of cloth in place. The stoic silence in the face of obvious pain made Sanzo grind his teeth and mutter obscenities under his breath while he used Gojyo’s shaku jou to rip a strip off the hem of his robe.

“We need to get out of here. We need to see what happened to Hakkai and Goku.” He pressed his hands between his knees to hide the tremor. Gojyo didn’t see. Gojyo sighed and leaned against his side of the cave, staring listlessly out into the light.

“Okay. Can we wait a bit? I just need a little time to rest. Just need to shut my eyes. I didn’t sleep last night. Thought maybe a few more youkai might come looking for us.”

“Did they?”


“How far are we from the bridge?”

“Not far. Half hour’s walk, maybe.”

“Did I walk here last night?”


Oh. Gojyo had carried him here last night with that chunk of wood in his back. Had sat up all night on watch to boot. He pressed his knees tighter together, twining his fingers between them. Truth be told, there was nothing he’d like better than to curl up and slip back into sleep and hope it might chase the insistent pounding in his head away. But his throat was dry and his stomach rumbling. The both of them could use a bit of water. Food was another obstacle all together.

The plus side to having a half youkai lineage was that a body healed at a rate that made mere human’s seem fragile and outdated. Everything worked better. Senses, circulation, the mending of flesh, the replenishing of blood. Sanzo was still complaining — albeit not in so many direct words — of his aches and pains. Sanzo was still reeling from what was clearly not a minor concussion, while Gojyo was rapidly traveling the road to recovery. His back ached, but not overwhelmingly so. His minor cuts had closed. He didn’t feel lightheaded from loss of blood anymore. And all this in the span of an afternoon.

Sanzo had tottered out and found a small spring close by and with water and a few strips of tough, chewy jerky that Gojyo had secreted about his person to hide from Goku’s ravenous appetite, they’d settled in and dozed away the morning. By afternoon they were ready to attempt travel.

Sanzo was unsteady, but refused assistance. After a bit, his tread evened out. As if out of sheer stubbornness he’d forced the dizziness back. That or some priestly exercise in self-control. Gojyo rather thought it was the former. Gojyo rather thought Genjo Sanzo’s tranquil meditations, which were growing fewer and few these days, were filled with things other than priestly thoughts of peace and the higher evolution of the soul. He didn’t think Sanzo thought much about peace at all. It never, ever ceased to fascinate him the notion that someone, somewhere had looked at Sanzo and ever thought — hey, here’s the makings of a fine monk.

Hakkai always looked at him, when he said things like that, and shook his head, with that placid expression of his that said, don’t judge the manuscript by the cover that binds it. Gojyo thought that was bullshit. Gojyo thought Genjo Sanzo was about as holy as the pigs in the sty, but he only said it when he was on his way to drunk, or Sanzo had particularly pissed him off. He tried not to mention it around the kid, because Goku thought Sanzo was right up there with Buddha and iced drinks and particularly large and assorted all you could eat buffets. Gojyo thought, as a general rule, that he was an ass. A sometimes deranged, generally dangerous one who wore the trappings of religion that he all to often professed scorn for. He had a pretty face though, which threw people off. And miraculously sun-gold hair which was a rarity any way you looked at it.

Being nice to look at only made him slightly less annoying when he was in one of his moods. Cranky and bossy and self-righteous, which just about described to a tee his emotional state at the moment. Of course that could have been the end results of a major nicotine fit. Gojyo could not easily recall not seeing him with a cigarette in his hand at least once an hour since the first day he’d met him.

“This is probably the Great Fall’s River. I can’t remember any other major rivers on the map.”

Sanzo shrugged.

“If it is — were there any towns with more than four houses on the map?”

“If you hadn’t lost it, we’d know.”

“I didn’t lose it.”

“Fine! I don’t know. Hakkai is in charge of map-reading.” Exasperation lined the frustration in Sanzo’s tone. Exhaustion was clearly there. He was beginning to stagger a little in his steps. Gojyo mulled over the idea of suggesting a rest stop, but thought Sanzo would take offense at the insinuation of his weakness. After that last exchange he was rather looking forward to Sanzo falling flat on his ass. He’d walk all day, no matter the pain he was in, just to have Sanzo be the one who begged for a rest.

The river was on their left. The sound of it was ever present. The smell of it seasoned the air. There had to be more settlements along it eventually. For time untold civilization had always sprung up about water.

They found it eventually, when the evening was starting to turn purple with dusk and Gojyo thought Sanzo had taken about the last solid step he was capable of. The dirt road leading to it was more a game trail than a man-made avenue cut through the sparse trees. It was a surprise to come upon the town so quickly in the evening shadows. A surprise that there weren’t torches or lantern’s burning — god knew there wasn’t electricity out here. A surprise not to hear at least the indication of people going about the things people went about at the close of a long day.

Gojyo felt the small hairs on the back of his arm stand upright. His footsteps faltered and on impulse he reached out to snagged the back of Sanzo’s robes. Sanzo glared, primed and ready for some indignant comment about Gojyo and his hands and where they belonged and where they most certainly did not.

Gojyo stilled it with a finger to his lips and a jerk of his head towards the darkened little town. Sanzo’s head tilted. His fine gold-brown brows drew down. He might be quick to take offense, but he was sharp as hell even when he was reeling from concussion and fast to pick up on Gojyo’s sudden apprehension.

“No lights.” Sanzo said it before Gojyo could point it out.

“No nothing.” Gojyo murmured. “I’ve got another bad feeling.”

Sanzo’s lips tightened. He knew who had the better senses of the two of them. He leaned with his back to a tree, and tossed Gojyo a questioning stare. “Anything else?”

“I’m not the kid. I can’t smell a crumb of cheese from fifty yards out.”

Sanzo took that bit of complaint silently, continuing to stare with night dark, blue eyes.

“I dunno.” Gojyo finally conceded, shoulder against the same tree Sanzo was supporting. “Guess the only way to find out is to go and see, huh?”

“Guess so.”

What had been done in that small woodland settlement had happened a lot longer ago than a few days. The smell was almost gone, the bodies almost scoured of flesh by the various scavengers that had made their way into the houses where they lay. There had been a fight here. That was clear from the way the blood sprayed some of the walls and from the signs of destruction.

There were the remains of maybe thirty people. Thirty adult human beings who had tried to fight back and been overwhelmed. A pair of scraggly, lower level youkai had not perpetrated this.

“Where are the children?” Gojyo whispered, afraid of the sacrilege of breaking the silence of this dead place. Sanzo looked back at him once, shook his head, and turned back to the gruesome examination.

There were no kids under fifteen or sixteen here. There were enough women, young and old that he’d expect to see at least a few rugrats tossed into the mix. Youkai usually didn’t discriminate in their killings. Infants, the infirm, women, pre-schoolers — they all got equal treatment. They usually didn’t drag them off though. Not unless they wanted a quick meal. He shivered at that notion and tossed it aside. Even youkai had standards. At least the sane one’s did.

“Let’s go.” Sanzo said quietly and Gojyo was monumentally grateful that no mention of burying these people came up. Sanzo had murmured a few mantras, he thought, over this body or that. It would have to be enough.