There was a storm gathering behind them. It was weird, how when they’d left the skies over the village had been relatively clear and now that they were a few miles out, the clouds had rolled in like someone had put out the welcome mat, and had cast their gloom over the landscape to their rear.
“What do you make of that, Sanzo, huh?” Goku was leaning over the back seat, staring at the foul weather. Gojyo had one arm over the seat and one foot on the lid of the basket that contained the prepared food they’d taken from the village to keep Goku from breaking into it before any of the rest of them had a chance to sample it. They’d already had one fight about it not ten minutes out from Ho’gah.
But that was before the weather had started to turn and the sudden change had drawn most of the kid’s attention.
“Its very strange.” Hakkai said, frowning into the side mirror.
“I don’t care.” Sanzo said, refusing to look back.
“Aw, don’t be so concerned, people will start to get the wrong impression about you.” Gojyo said. He didn’t get a reply. He did catch, from the corner of his eye, movement at the fringe of the wood.
“What the hell?”
Sanzo must have seen it too, for he did turn his attention that way, squinting his eyes to discern the flash of movement. Men on horseback. Three of them, heading along the border of the forest back towards the direction of Ho’gah, more or less.
No – – not men. Youkai. Gojyo made out that singular detail a moment before Sanzo cursed and made a grab for the wheel, making the jeep swerve sharply off the road and into the grassy field between it and the trees. Gojyo and Goku went tumbling to one side, the lunch basket went flying.
“Sanzo – – -?” Hakkai gasped, regaining control.
“After them. Now!!”
Hakkai didn’t argue with that tone or that murderous look. Sanzo had his gun out, which provided further reason not to condemn him for the impulsive hijacking of the jeep. At least not to his face – – at least not till lunch time came round and the contents of the basket were scattered on the side of the road, largely inedible. Well, at least for anyone other than Goku – – but even the kid had some standards.
The youkai had disappeared into the wood and the jeep had come as far as it could, into the trees. Sanzo didn’t wait for excuses, opting instead for jumping out of the jeep and taking off into the trees. The three of them had very little choice save following him.
It wasn’t a difficult trail to follow, the hoof prints of the horses were embedded deeply into soft forest ground. The path headed not straight back towards the village, but rather veered a little north of it. In the forest, under the canopy of branches and leaves, it was hard to tell when the sky started to get overcast. The light was very gradual in its dissipation and for all a body knew, rushing through the woods after a mad monk on the trail of three youkai on horses that could easily outdistance men on foot, it was simply a thickening of the foliage. It was the rain that gave the first clue that the storm front that had appeared over Ho’gah village had expanded. Big, fat droplets of water made their way past the leaves and began to soak the forest floor.
“Sanzo – – wait.” Goku’s sharp ears picked up something the rest of them were oblivious to. Even the monk paused, trusting Goku’s senses over his own. The kid pointed off to the left of the route they were following. The kid disappeared into the woods, faster than the rest of them, his eyes gone narrow and intent, now that he was on a serious trail. Only thing to do was follow and hope they could keep up.
There was a cry from up ahead, a crashing of what might have been a body into young foliage. The sounds of ruckus were easy enough to track down and they darted into the melee even as a frightened horse was trying to dart out. Gojyo came close to being trampled. He hit a tree with his back hard enough to loose some breath in his efforts to avoid a horse that outweighed him by enough to do serious damage. The horse rump hit him regardless and he went back up against the tree and lost the remaining breath. His vision went sort of wavery and dark for a moment, and he had to bend down, grasping his knees to urge it and normal breathing back.
There were two pitiful, wet youkai cornered against a wall of thorny foliage when sight returned. One more on the ground, bleeding from the head. The other two looked likely to join the first, if the white grip of Sanzo’s fingers on the gun was any indication.
Hakkai and Sanzo seemed intent on getting different information from the captives.
“Where is he at – – a fucking bastard with braids called Norio? You know him?”
“What do you have to do with what’s happening at Ho’gah village? With the runestones?”
Hakkai and Sanzo paused long enough to exchange looks, Sanzo’s patently pissed off, Hakkai’s trembling just on the verge of frustration.
“Fuck you, stinkin’ human.” One of them snarled, and got as far as drawing breath for what might have possibly been another renunciation before the bullet took him square between the eyes.
“Shit!” Gojyo started, not prepared for the reverberating bang of the gun.
“Sanzo, how are we supposed to get any information out of them if you shoot them?” Hakkai asked reasonably, but he was frowning, absently wiping a spatter of blood from the back of his hand. Yes, Sanzo had killed more than his fair share of Youkai, but he generally waited for them to make an aggressive move before he put a bullet in them.
The heated muzzle of the gun pressed into the cheek of the remaining youkai.
“Answer my question.” Sanzo said.
“I know him. I know him.” The youkai stammered, eyes white around the rims, face glistening with a sudden outbreak of sweat.
The youkai lifted an arm, gesturing southwest of them. “That way. We found the last runestone.”
“The last one – – ?” Hakkai asked. “Why are you looking for them?”
“We was paid to.”
“By the mayor? — but he’s dead, you know?”
“Moneys still coming.” The youkai said. “Don’t know from who – – or why – – money’s money.”
“So you have no idea what it is that’s plaguing this village?”
The youkai’s eyes grew wary, flickering between Sanzo and Hakkai. “Whatever it is – – it don’t want no monks about. Wanted you gone right bad, it did. One way or another – -”
“What does that mean?” Hakkai asked, and even mostly got the sentence completed before a sudden gale of dark wind wailed through the trees, lashing water and sodden debris and branches into their faces.
It was very much like a small hurricane had sprang up and rushed down upon them. Gojyo threw up his arms, shielding his face from the driving wind, staggering for the support of the closest tree, blinded and deafened by the tumult. There was a shot, barely recognized above the sudden tempest, and he flinched, damned nervous of gunshots nearby in blinding storms. But nothing tore into his flesh this time, save for the stinging tips of the lowest branches of the tree he clutched.
And then, it stopped. The wind died down and the trees stopped swaying. There was Goku, sprawled at the base of a tree a few yards away, one arm covering his face, the other clutching the rough bark, but there was no Sanzo and no Hakkai and no youkai.
“Shit.” Gojyo pushed wet hair from his face and stalked towards Goku.
“Where’d they go?”
The kid looked up, surprised, hair plastered to his head, blinking water from his eyes. “They’re gone? They’re gone! Sanzo?”
Gojyo cursed again and tried to recall which direction the youkai had indicated the last rune was.
“Can you track them?” He whirled on the kid.
Goku frowned, turning about in a slow circle, scenting the air. “I don’t know. Everything smells like – – like storm.”
“Great. Let’s go this way, then and hope we get lucky.”
It was almost like something drew him to the rune. Either that or blind luck, for in the storm he’d lost all sense of direction. He’d just followed what he’d thought was the trail of the youkai and to hell with everything else. And then the storm had stopped, but the darkness had remained and he’d tromped through the woods in robes that felt three times their normal weight soaked through with water, and sandals sinking into the water softened earth. There was mud between his toes and he hated the feel of it. He hated the feel of the cold water running down his neck and trickling down his back.
It put him in a fouler mood than he’d started out in, and a less diplomatic one. When he came upon the youkai waist deep in a muddy hole in the middle of the forest, his first inclination was not to negotiate. The only thing that saved him from outright bloody murder was the youkai he’d chased into the woods leaping out at him, screaming a warning at the others.
It turned into self-defense then, as he whirled and shot up into the face of the body about to fall onto his. He leapt back and managed to avoid most of the impact as it fell, staggering just a bit as the now, very still youkai hit his hip and knocked him a little off his balance. It didn’t deter the motion of his arm though, as he pivoted to target the other three. They were scrambling out of the pit, snarling and red eyed and coming for him, their sharp clawed hands weapons enough to have taken him out if he hadn’t had a bit of his own.
Bang. And one went down. Bang. Bang. He had to waste two bullets on the second which left him – – he did a little hasty mental calculation – – one shot left before he had to reload. And there was the bastard with the swinging braids and the crafty, intelligent eyes staring at him from across the pit, crouched in preparation for a leap that would very likely cover the distance from him to Sanzo without breaking a sweat.
“If its not the little human priest.” The youkai sneered. “Come back to let me finish what I started?”
“You’re by yourself and I’m not tied up.” Sanzo said. “You wouldn’t get very far.”
The youkai hissed, angry. “Think you can kill me before I get to you?’
One bullet left. Sanzo shrugged. “What say, we give it a try?” He pulled the trigger as the youkai tensed to leap – –
– – and the body toppled forwards, into the pit he and his fellows had dug. The wind howled, picking up again and the darkness began to seep in around the edges. Sanzo stepped forward, and his sandal kicked a chunk of shattered stone. There were other bits of it, but the main portion of the rune itself lay half buried in the pile of earth at the head of the pit. They’d dug it up, and still they’d been rooting around for something else. He moved to the edge of the pit, staring down at the body of the youkai. He had to push wet hair out of his eyes to see clearly – – but there, sticking out from beneath the fresh body were the bones of a not so fresh one.
Hakkai had said they’d found bones by another of the runestones. This was more than coincidence.
“What the fuck is going on here?” he muttered.
“None of the monks I ever knew, talked the way you do, boy.”
Sanzo spun, empty gun pointed towards the voice out of the woods. An old man hobbled forward, followed by another and another. The three old coots from the village, all the way out here in the middle of a storm, at the site of a long buried rune.
“And how many have you known?” Sanzo let the gun fall to his side, casually digging in his robes for spare bullets to reload.
“Quite a few, actually.” Another of them said. “A lifetime ago.”
The oppressive feeling of the storm was beginning to feel unnatural. The darkness in the air was trying to seep into Sanzo’s head. He ground his teeth and pulled out a handful of bullets, shoving them into their chambers, one by one.
“The weather around here is damned miserable.” He muttered. “Why don’t the three of you go back home where its dry and safe.”
“That was the only thing making it safe.” One of them gestured with his walking stick to the muddy hole. “Those runes were the only things keeping the darkness at bay. But they grew weak over time. Even the power of the most altruistic sacrifice can fade with the years and if there’s a crack, then the darkness can seep through and the crack grows wider and wider until the dam breaks.”
They were standing around the pit, staring down sadly.
“Who’s bones are down there?” Sanzo asked.
“There used to be a great monastery here. Pious men sought enlightenment there – – and that gathering ought to have been enough to keep the darkness away – – but it was already stained into this land. And when it reared up and the bloodshed began, they no weapon to fight it – – save their altruism.”
Sanzo stepped forward, warily, beginning to understand. At least a little. There was something evil that resided in this land – – some entity that had gained a foothold on this particular portion of mortal earth – – he’d felt the insidious lash of its mentality himself – – the aura of its wickedness drove people mad – – and one could only imagine what damage the beast in its corporeal form could wreak.
“Seventy some years ago – – that’s when it first cropped up, isn’t it?” he asked, remembering all those ancient grave markers in Ho’gah cemetery.
“It is.” One of the old men said.
“And you didn’t have any weapon to fight it – -” Nothing save their faith and their determination and their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. “The bones by the runestones – – they belong to the monks who studied in that monastery by the graveyard, don’t they? They used some sort of old ritual and empowered the runes stones as seals to ward off the evil and fueled the whole thing by sacrificing their own lives.”
“There is nothing so powerful as the altruism of a pious man.”
Sanzo sniffed softly, not believing that. His faith didn’t quite run along those lines. Passive resistance and self-sacrifice had never sat well with him.
“And you were there, weren’t you?”
“Yes. We were acolytes to the monks – – not enlightened enough to offer our own lives – – so we helped them in the offering of theirs.”
“You buried their bodies and the runes stones afterwards, didn’t you? And all this time – – you’ve stayed here knowing what happened and what lay dormant in this land.”
“Someone had to. In case the seals failed.”
“Well, they have. And you’re up shit creek, because you don’t have a gaggle of monks ready to slit their own wrists to try and reseal it.”
“We have one.”
He almost laughed – – would have if the air hadn’t been so heavy with the stench of evil gathering around them – – and said instead. “Even if I were so inclined – – and I’m not – – I’ve got more important – – -” And got exactly that far before the sharp pain of a knife sliding into his back stole his breath. He stood there for a split second, fingers going numb around the grip of the gun, cursing himself for being fool enough to let a doddering old man sneak up behind him and get close enough to plunge a blade into him. Then his legs were giving out, and his head was rushing with the sound of his own blood and he was toppling forward. Down. Down. Into the pit where the body of the dead youkai already lay atop ancient, dry bones. He tried to twist, not wanting to fall on his face in the mud and the blood and made it as far as landing on his shoulder, which sent fingers of pain up from the stab wound on his lower back.
He saw, through vision going alternately dark and then sparkly around the edges, the silhouettes of three bent old shapes gather at the top of the pit. They were trying to wrestle the stone back to the edge to pitch in on top of the bodies.
“You – – senile – – old bastards – -” Sanzo found the breath to gasp. “How the – – fuck – – is it an act of self-sacrifice – – it you stab me in the back?”
“The spells are already here – – still lingering – -” One of them grunted, the others too out of breath trying to roll the heavy stone over to speak. “Maybe all it will take is the blood and the spirit of another holy man – -”
” – – miserable mother – – fucker – -” Sanzo made an effort to lift the gun. It didn’t work that way. He knew goddamned well that it didn’t work that way and maybe the years had stolen their reason or the evil seeping out of this land had tainted it – – just like it had tainted his. The only thing they’d succeeded in doing was taking out something the dark presence seemed not to want here in its domain.
Water began to hit his face in earnest, the storm picking back up and bringing a downpour with it. Water in the pit began to gather and he thought that he might actually drown before he bled out. There was a deeper thump as the old men rolled the stone to the edge of the pit, and Sanzo had a brief moment to gather the strength to move his legs as they pushed it in. It landed with a heady thud between his legs, weighing down the robes and effectively immobilizing him. He started cursing under his breath, from anger, pain and a welling spring of fear.
A shovel full of soggy earth sailed in and spattered across his stomach. Another he lifted the gun in abject panic over being buried while he was still alive and fired a shot up blindly into the darkness above. The wind was so loud that it ate up the sound of the shot – – but it did not swallow the scream of an old voice raised in sudden terror.
It wasn’t the bullet that had caused it. The scream came too long after the trigger had been squeezed. Something huge and dark leapt across the pit. Sanzo only caught a flash of it. Of darkness clinging to a long limbed form that seemed to eat up the light. The trailing aura of its stench made Sanzo gag. Another aborted scream and one of the old men fell heavily, head and arm hanging over the side of the pit, eyes wide, staring pits. No – – not his eyes – – they were gone and only the deep, dark holes where they had been were left. The rest of his face was a gory mess, the lower half of his jaw hanging loose, almost ripped from his skull. His blood joined the rain in dripping down.
Sanzo could hear the sounds of struggle through the storm. But it was brief and after a few moments, the body draped over the edge of the pit moved, dragged backwards, only to be replaced by something else.
The darkness crowded over him, straddling the pit with long, strangely jointed legs, bending down to loom over him. He remembered the characterture of humanity that mayor’s aide had become, stretched inhuman features – – it had all been a mimicry of this thing – – only this thing was coated in darkness. This thing was the corporeal form of the incorporeal evil that had plagued this area. Released now that the last rune had been broken and hungry for blood it could shed with its own claws and taste with its own tongue.
They’ve killed you, priest. Sanzo wasn’t sure whether it was in his head this time or if he heard it over the storm. Even they were my puppets. Just like you were, in the end.
It was all true. Everything I showed you.
Sanzo found the strength to lift the gun and fire again, emptying the chamber into the darkness reaching for him. And all to no avail. The bullets hit flesh, but the body didn’t react. Didn’t even flinch from the impact. The dark maw opened in a grin, revealing glistening black teeth.
A flash of energy lit the darkness, and the darkness howled in surprise more than pain as it was thrown to the side, out of Sanzo’s line of vision. What he did see was a smaller body hurtling over the pit in pursuit of the larger, darker one and he figured his own personal calvery had gotten here ten goddamn minutes too late.
The gun was empty, so he let go of it and heard it plop into the water and mud between the bodies. He tried to shift his legs, but the runestone was too heavy on his robes and he was too weak from blood loss and shock. He couldn’t even make his body sit up to try and move it. So he shut his eyes and began murmuring; chanting the words of a mantra. The strongest one he knew against evil. He may not have shared the same beliefs as the bones of the man at the bottom of this grave – – hell, his faith in the gods themselves had been shaken enough to make him doubt a good many things that he’d once taken for granted – – but he believed in the power of the sutra and he believed in his own abilities and his own strengths and he had a very great desire to banish this particular evil once and for all.
Seventy years ago, when those determined monks had set out to seal this evil away – – all they’d had to give were their lives backed by their faith. They hadn’t had a Sanzo with one of the great sutra’s who’d become rather an old hand at destroying evil.
They’d found Hakkai first, trudging through the rain and the darkness, with a wet, miserable looking white dragon curled around his neck. It had taken the gunshot to point them in Sanzo’s direction. And then when Goku’s nose picked up on scents too strong for the storm to wash away – – a series of gunshots to concrete the location and the fact that the monk was in trouble.
Only they didn’t see the monk. They saw something else entirely. Something that Gojyo thought he’d likely have nightmares about for some time to come, straddled over what looked like a hole in the ground, surrounded by several bodies in varying degrees of brutal demise. Sanzo’s wasn’t among them.
The lack thereof, didn’t stop Hakkai from gathering concentration and sending a powerful wash of chi energy straight into the twisted dark figure over the pit. The thing was caught off guard. It hissed, casting one surprised glance their way – – giving them a glimpse of the malignancy of its maw before it was thrown into the trees on the other side of the newly dug pit. Goku followed it, extending his bo as he did, landing and swinging the weapon full circle against the skull of the beast. The beast hardly seemed phased, rebounding and swiping a clawed hand at the boy. Goku was quick enough to dodge it, and came back like a terrier after a rat, to strike another blow himself.
Goku got in a series of blows, the last of which snapped the beasts head to the side – – but didn’t make it fall. One black arm shot out and caught the end of the bo as it swung around for another shot. With a mighty yank, it pulled Goku close. Which closeness kept Hakkai from delivering another of his chi blasts. It didn’t keep Gojyo from slinging out the blade on the end of his own staff, the curved hook catching the beast’s arm below the elbow where the thing had extended it and was holding on to Goku’s bo and slicing through bone and flesh and muscle. The kid jumped back, shaking the clinging limb from the bo. The hand dropped off, hit the ground with a dull thud and almost immediately seemed to dissolve, darkness melting away into the thick air around them.
Gojyo felt it in his head then, the prying fingers of corruption that were trying to dig their way past the bone of his skull and nest in his head. He gasped and staggered, clutching the metal of his staff, seeing Hakkai put a hand to his head as if the same thing were trying to get into his brain. There was hissing laughter and the black beast held out its stump of an arm and the darkness gathered around it, reforming into a long fingered hand.
Oh, not good. Not good at all. The creature’s head cocked, as if listening.
There was the soft sound of chanting, breathy and hoarse coming up out of the pit of all places. Gojyo really didn’t have time to go and see – – not with the kid sailing past him, knocked aside by the dark beast and the thing charging at him, claws swiping, prickly toothed maw gaping wide. He avoided that – – barely – – escaping with a set a shallow scratches along his arm that immediately began to sting like hell. He rolled and brought up the metal haft of his staff to ward off another swipe, then dove to the side and scrambled for safety when Hakkai screamed for him to ‘get down’.
A chi blast followed that and Gojyo was close enough that every hair on his body went staticy with reaction. The thing was tossed back a half dozen strides and stood there, shaking its huge head – – focusing on Hakkai after that, as the one out of the three of them to take most seriously.
Goku was up, but bleeding. He’d lost hold of his bo somewhere and was stupid enough to leap back into the fray without it. He overjudged, aiming his lunge towards where the beast ought to have been if it had continued its course towards Hakkai. But it had stopped short, swinging its head back towards the pit, a wailing cry issuing from its black maw.
The chanting hadn’t gotten much louder, but there was something in the air that made Gojyo’s teeth tingle – – something different from the malignancy of this black beast. It had a familiar flavor.
He figured it out even as the beast made a lunge for the pit, that it was Sanzo’s sutra chant kicking it – – and that the dark beast damned sure had a problem with it. Its leap took it directly over the pit, but before downward momentum could take effect, there was an explosion of rune encrusted cloth that burst up out of the pit. Dozens and dozens of tentacles impaling the body of the beast, wrapping around it, smothering it – – abolishing its blackness within the casing of their brilliant white light. The beast howled and the darkness tried to break through. You could see it, beams of shadow prying their way out from between the creases in the cloth bands surrounding it. And then, with a constrictive snap – – the bonds tightened and the howling ceased and the blackness broke into a thousand tiny spots that faded into the grayness of evening. The various fingers of the sutra melted away, coiled back down into the pit from whence they’d come.
They all stood there, somewhat dumbfounded, somewhat wary that the malformed monster would return – – then Goku broke out of the shock and scrambled to the edge of the pit, calling Sanzo’s name.
“Shit.” Gojyo said. Before trotting that way himself.
Goku was already down in it by the time Gojyo and Hakkai reached the edge. It wasn’t very pretty down there. There was a muddy, blood covered monk, a fresh corpse and a few jutting bones of an old one all surrounded by dirty water and mud. The monk was not in a happy state of mind. He was bitching and cursing softly for Goku to get the hell off him and get him out of there, which the kid was trying to do. But getting the leverage to shift the stone that was lying atop the monk’s lower robes proved difficult in the narrow confines and Goku ended up stepping on Sanzo’s hand and evicting more curses from the monk. But the curses were getting weaker and the monk’s complaints fewer and by the time Goku had the stone moved and had managed to get Sanzo upright against the side of the pit where Gojyo and Hakkai could get ahold of him to drag him up, they’d ceased completely. There was too much blood and Sanzo’s head lolled limply on Gojyo’s shoulder when Hakkai pressed him forward so that he could see the wound at his back. A stab wound in the lower left side of his back that was still bleeding copiously.
“You can fix him, right? He’s gonna be okay, isn’t he, Hakkai? Who did that to him? The monster? Hakkai? Hakkai?” Goku had crawled up from the pit, as muddy as Sanzo now.
“Shush.” Hakkai told Goku softly, finger tips hovering over the monk’s wound. Goku’s eyes were wide and frightened. Gojyo felt much the same, but the unease was accompanied by a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. The monk was cold and too damn still against him. He wasn’t sure he could feel the movement of breath at all in Sanzo’s body, but perhaps that was because his own came so harshly it drowned out everything else.
After a moment, when Goku had stopped asking in fear of distracting Hakkai from his concentration of healing chi, Gojyo had to whisper.
Hakkai didn’t answer, brow furrowed in concentration. But Gojyo had answer enough when Sanzo’s fingers tightened in his shirt and Sanzo whispered very softly against his shoulder. “Gun. Get my gun. In the pit.”
“What? What did he say?” Goku gave Gojyo a look, suspicious and jealous that Gojyo had the monk in his arms and that the monk was whispering secrets in his ears. Gojyo grinned a little bit of evil humor returning with the relief.
“He’s got a job for you, ape. Wants you to jump down into the grave and muck around in the corpses and the mud and the blood and whatnot and find his gun.”
“Said you specifically.”
Goku squatted there a moment, mulling that over, brows drawn and lips turned down in a frown. Then he shrugged, got and jumped down into the muddy pit to find Sanzo’s gun.
It was dry and warm and blessedly quiet when Sanzo woke up. He lay there for a bit, with his lids shut, questing about for that sibilant stench that had infested the air of late and found it gone. There was nothing but the faint aroma of baking and that fresh smell the air seemed to hold after a storm had passed through. They were acceptable things to wake up to.
So he opened his eyes and looked up at a plain wood ceiling, very similar to the ceiling of the room he’d stayed in for the past few nights in the village of Ho’gah. A brief look around the small room confirmed the suspicion. If not the same room, it was a fair imitation. His robes were neatly folded on a table against the wall. His gun, looking newly cleaned and polished lay atop them. There was a package of unopened cigarettes on the bedstand as well as a new book of matches.
Someone had been particularly thoughtful. Hakkai probably. Gojyo and Goku tended to forget the little details unless they were pressed face first into them. He reached for the pack and hesitated. His back hurt when he twisted and was echoed by some duller deeper pain not quite healed. He remembered the feel of the knife sliding in and blanched, pulling his arm back, suddenly not in the mood for the taste of tobacco in his mouth. He forced himself up instead, putting a hand gingerly to his side. The wound was healed, wished away by the power of Hakkai’s healing chi, of course – – but it was still tender, the ghost of the wound still lingering. They always did.
He’d almost finished himself off with the effort of that last mantra – – with the strain of sustaining the sutra and the power that issued forth from it. He’d felt the backwash of that thing – – that evil – – an old ancient evil that had grown from something not so grand and not so powerful centuries ago. He didn’t know how it had begun or what had fed it so – – he didn’t particularly care now it was gone. But – – it had been an unnerving experience. There weren’t many things that were so adept at getting into Genjo Sanzo’s head. He shuddered and sat back against the wall, then started, caught off his guard as the door opened without the benefit of a knock.
“Ever heard of knocking, asshole.” Sanzo scowled, hastily getting his defenses back in place.
“Oohhh, its awake.” Gojyo grinned at him. “You’ve been unconscious a lot lately. Is this going to be a habit? I could get used to it, you being nicer when you’re asleep and all.”
“Fuck off. I’m not in the mood.”
“When are you ever?” Gojyo sighed and leaned against the door.
“We’re back in that town?”
“Yep. Back in Ho’gah. Goku’s happy. More decent food.”
Gojyo continued to stand there, an idiotically pleased look on his face.
“What?” Sanzo had to ask.
“Nothing. Just a nice day is all. So, now you’re up, we’ll probably be leaving again, soon, right?”
“Okay. Just checking.” Gojyo turned to leave.
“Its not going to be a habit, you know.” Sanzo had to say it. Had to set matters straight and get things back into their proper perspective. He couldn’t very well have Gojyo thinking – – –
“What habit?” Gojyo’s act of innocence made Sanzo grind his teeth.
“That thing was trying to get in my head – – it wasn’t want of you that I came to you room that night. I want you to know that.”
Gojyo slowly tilted his head, red hair sliding down strand by strand to fall over his face. Absent of bandanna today, he pushed it absently back behind his ear. “Sooooo – – what you’re saying is – – that the big bad was making you horny? Is that it?”
“No, no, I want to get this straight. The evil demon was in your head telling you to go and jump my bones? Are we sure he was an evil demon?”
“Get out of my room.”
“You know, if only that was the objective of all the evil demons out there – – this trip could be so much more enjoyable – -”
“I’m going to get lunch. You want some?”
“I’ll have the ape bring some up, maybe he’ll be safe from the demons in your head.”
“Fuck you, Gojyo.”
But the door shut on that last renunciation and the sound of Gojyo’s whistling trailed after him down the hall. Sanzo sat back and scowled a bit more, but it dissolved in short order, replaced by a self-suffering sigh and finally a wry twitching of his lips.
So maybe, just maybe at the far reaches of possibility, Gojyo had a point. Maybe a body did feel better, after the stress of the road, after a decent tumble between the sheets. Maybe once and while – – not frequently by any means or some people would get swollen heads – – it might not be a bad thing to relieve a little tension. Of course that would involve letting Gojyo think he was right – – and Gojyo was hard enough to deal with as it was.
As he was debating that dilemma, the door burst open yet again and Goku surged in, precariously balancing a tray laden with more food than Sanzo usually consumed in two sittings and mug of steaming black coffee which sloshed over the edges of the ceramic mug and onto the tray and its contents.
“You’re awake. You were asleep all night. But you banished that thing, which was really, really good, because it was a tough one. All the people in town are really happy – – they’ve been bringing food all morning – – its great.”
Sanzo hissed and drew his leg up, saving it from being splashed yet again with hot coffee. He reached out to snatch the mug before Goku could thrust it at him and scold more sensitive parts of his anatomy.
“I told him I didn’t want anything.” Sanzo muttered, on the verge of telling Goku to either get his ass off the edge of the bed or stop bouncing about. It hurt.
“Gojyo said you were hungry.”
“Why would Gojyo lie? You haven’t eaten since yesterday.’
Getting a knife in the back kills the appetite. He didn’t say it, knowing Goku wasn’t capable of appreciating the sentiment, Goku could have eaten at any time, in any place in any condition.
“Its not raining anymore. The weather’s really nice for a change. It should make traveling a lot easier. Hakkai said, if you feel like it, we can get back on the road tomorrow.”
“Is it morning now – – or afternoon?”
“Then we go this evening.”
“Umm, maybe you ought to rest a little longer. The road’s bumpy – -”
“And we’ve wasted enough time. Go tell Hakkai and take this tray.”
Goku got up and took the tray with him. Sanzo had a thought. Maybe, just maybe he could avoid demeaning himself and get Goku to do a little of his dirty work.
“And tell Gojyo – – tell him I said maybe – – it wasn’t entirely, 100% the demon’s fault.”