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Anime/Manga Fan Fiction >> Saiyuki

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Sacrificial Sacrilege
By Hakkyou Kaosu

 


Authoress: I'm not dead!!!! (Happy tears)

Zen: no, just catatonic.

Authoress: sorry…T-T I still have that Kougaiji-shot waiting to be finished…

Zen: at least it's not as morbid as this one…

Authoress: what can I say, it just kinda hit me. ^-^

Zen: -.- (eyes Mouretsu warily from a distance) yeah, I know the feeling…

SUMMARY: ONE-SHOT To give one's life for a purpose, for a cause. Most would call it an honorable end. However, one must be wary of the sweet lies, the siren's whisper. Death for virtue may be honorable, but death for illusion is foolish. Beware the false prophet. Homura -X- Reader

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Saiyuki or its characters.

Sacrificial Sacrilege

Dark gloom reflected off grey-blue walls, a stone prison. The rhythmic drip of some far-off water source give a melancholy beat to the eerily calm cadence of shuffling footsteps.

Shuffle…shuffle…shuffle…

Figures clad in dark cloaks, hoods up, bodies and faces obscured in thick folds of shady cloth. Moving, shuffling, rotating in patterns, a slow, morbid dance of death and doom. Slight singing resounds and echoes off the walls, low and quiet, echo bounding off of echo, building upon itself until a steady, melodic murmur fills the macabre chamber.

Shuffle…shuffle…shuffle…

Circles and circles, rotations and rotations, soft murmurs rising and falling in a heathen melody long-forgotten. The heretical words an ancient language, gone from this world but not wholly loosened, grasped desperately within the lilting tempo of a pagan chant.

Shuffle…shuffle…shuffle…

Around and around the raised altar. Chanting and singing, the sounds filling, consuming, overwhelming until not exists but the forgotten syllables, the mesmerizing steps of the heathen dance. Heartbeats blending into a singe beat, an undertone of grim inevitability. The steps do not hasten, they do not slow. They remain steady and even, as every breath is taken and every heretical chant sung in the same melodic murmur, whispers of a pagan ritual floating in the chamber like a presence.

Shuffle…shuffle…shuffle…

A figure dispatches from the others, but never loses step, never misses a scathing syllable of the heathen song. A dim gleam, barely brighter than the dull reflection of shaded light off the cavern walls, as he pulls a sharp, ornate dagger from his rustling, majestic robes.

Shuffle…shuffle…shuffle…

The knife is raised, poised on the brink of a fatal downward stroke.

Shuffle…shuffle…shuffle…

She's lays there…waiting…for the sacrifice…

`````One Day Previous`````

“The gods have returned?!”

“Hey, wait a minute—isn't that a good thing?”

“But what about all the hell we've been through?”

“Yeah! Ain't nothin' good about that!”

“It's cause o' those damn demons!”

“But if the gods are back, they'll help, right?”

“Fat chance o' that!”

“Yeah, what've they done for us `til now?”

“Nothin', that's what!”

A chorus of agreement erupted around the bar. You wisely chose to keep your mouth shut. It wasn't the first time the town had gathered here, for yet another unofficial city meeting. It was mostly men, though a few women were strewn about as well. They came in all shapes and sizes, from all trades and professions. But they all had one thing in common: they hated demons with a furious passion.

You had never cared. You had had several demonic friends growing up. But all were gone now. They had left, disappeared a bare day and a half after the first scattered reports of insanity had begun trickling into town. The fact that the town populace had become quite hostile in that short amount of time had had plenty to do with it.

But you said nothing, as you always did. This town was tense, balanced on a razor's edge. You did not want to be the one to tip it into the depths of chaos. In fact, you were quite ready to leave. However, a lack of funds and fear of the danger lurking outside the protective town limits did plenty to quell that urge.

You didn't dare go, no matter how disgusted you became.

“Those damned demons will kill us all!” The voice was one of a prominent land owner, one who wished to be mayor come next election. “We need a solution!”

More agreement arose. But no one seemed willing to offer any ideas. You bit back a snort of contempt. Of course not. One of these townspeople—coming up with a solution? Not likely. It was almost comical, except you never found their slander of demons very amusing.

“The gods can help us!” The wanna-be-mayor piped up again. He'd make a good yell—er, speaker, you'd give him that. His voice certainly carried quite well, the annoying thing.

“But Hamlin is right!” A young woman spoke up. “The gods haven't done anything to help us!”

More agreement and a new argument broke out, one side supporting their prospective mayor, the other side insisting the gods were as useless now as they always had been.

“Perhaps what you need is an appeasement.”

The room became silent, all eyes turning to the new speaker. A man stood in the doorway, garbed in flowing, pale robes. A slightly coned hat rested at an angle on his head, his hand in the process of removing it. He wore prayer beads all about him, draped in long chains across his body. Sutras and scrolls were evident, tucked away in little holders along his chest. No water dripped from him, every surface of his clothes and body perfectly dry.

Funny, when had it stopped raining? You paused, cocking your head to listen. You frowned, ears catching the distinctive pitter-patter of heavy drops on the roof. Then…why wasn't he wet?

You didn't like this man, this sorcerer. He'd been staying here a few weeks—a traveling priest, he claimed. And though his robes attested to his claim as Sanzo, you didn't trust the man. Oh, you had at first, a part of you still did even now. You had hoped his presence would calm down the feverish prejudice of the town. But he had done the opposite.

Ever since he had come, there had been more and more unrest. The villagers had seemed to grow more bloodthirsty, almost wishing for demon attacks. And the torture they promised to a captive demon…

You had to suppress the shudder at the thought, despite how outlandish it was. They couldn't even agree on where to have official meetings, much less cooperate long enough to capture a demon. But with a priest on their side, the villagers were becoming emboldened. And you had little doubt of his power. Another slight shiver raced down your spine. No, you had very little doubt of that…

As usual, the priest—Sanzo, he insisted upon being called—walked into the bar as if it were his own establishment. And no one so much as gave a disapproving frown. Cowards, you thought. But did nothing yourself about the arrogant behavior. You weren't stupid, but you were very human.

“Great Sanzo!” The hopeful mayor-to-be bowed deeply, scuttling aside to let the priest take the fore. “An appeasement? Please—explain!”

“Of course,” Sanzo said, graciously nodding his head in acknowledgement. The man was good at playing the game. And you knew that's what it was—a game. Still, you didn't try to meet the eerie indigo, almost violet hue of his gaze. The lights made his longish, golden hair gleam, but again, it was obvious he was dry as a bone, despite the heavy pounding of the rain. Why did no one else notice this odd anomaly?

“The gods have returned,” Sanzo said, his voice a soft, saccharine accent. It was like syrup, slow and sweet, calm and unhurried. It gave you chills. “One must only pray for their assistance.”

“But we have prayed!” A young man protested, but he blushed deeply in embarrassment when that dark gaze fell upon him. “W-well, we have,” he continued in a softer, appropriately shamed mutter. It was pathetic how guilty he sounded. “But no matter how much we pray, they don't do anything.”

“Ah, yes,” Sanzo said smoothly, his deceptively silky voice wrapping around the crowd. But you stubbornly held yourself apart, refusing to be lured into the net he cast. “It would seem so, yes?” He smiled serenely. “But perhaps they are in the process of `doing something.' They are here, are they not?”

The crowd murmured hopefully, a ripple of excited agreement spreading through it. “He's right,” and “Of course!” was followed by “Why didn't we see it before?” and “He's so wise! Trust a Sanzo to see the solution!”

Pathetic, really…

You scanned the crowd, keeping yourself small and invisible in your corner. As a servant, you had cultivated the talent of being present but not noticed. You could easily make yourself invisible in a crowd. No one cared about the hired help until they needed something.

But for all your skills, you couldn't make the priest overlook you. Dark, uncanny indigo met your flickering gaze and held it prisoner. Energy rippled in the air. Your nose caught a light, bitter stench and you barely had a moment of panic before his spell hit you.

You were abruptly frozen, shackled in place. You couldn't breathe, your thoughts raced as your body seemed to chill and your heart had a suddenly difficult time beating. Then Sanzo smiled again, that sweet, chilling smile. It reminded you of the smile of a snake, mocking the mouse with which it toyed. You suddenly wanted to be anywhere but here.

The man was a spell caster, no doubt about it. You should know, you were one yourself, though mediocre in ability. And his skills were inhuman. But then, those were necessary for a Sanzo priest. You squashed the doubt, not allowing it to worm into your intuition. This man wasn't a Sanzo; he wasn't a priest of any kind. And he was not here for good.

The smile widened briefly, his eyes flashing a cold amusement. He was playing with you, you knew it. You gritted your teeth, but still couldn't bring yourself to move, couldn't even tear your gaze from his. Damn him! He knew you were resisting! Yet he did nothing to increase the spell's power, merely maintained it, keeping you locked in place.

Finally, his eyes released yours. But for several heart-stopping moments, you still couldn't breathe. You desperately tried to move, even if it was just a twitch. Only after an eternity disguised as a few breathless seconds were you able to clench your fists, able to shift away. Your heart pounded, rivaling the furious beat of the rainfall outside. You forced your breathing to remain calm, though every instinct screamed at you to gulp in deep breaths of air.

“And now that the gods have returned,” Sanzo said. He raised his arms until they spread out from his body, a welcome to the skies. “We must show them how devoted we are. We must pray and ask for their assistance. But we must offer them something in return, for it would be arrogant and selfish to ask for such things, and yet expect to receive it without payment.” His voice sounded enthralling and enchanting; sounded just so logical.

It was a spell, you recognized. A weak one, but spell nonetheless. Your nose twitched, the acrid scent of magic making you tense. It flickered against your aura, trying to lure you in. Again, it was weak; far too weak to even begin to influence you. But the villagers were already bloodthirsty, they needed little incentive.

“What we need is something that will please them—something pure and profound,” Sanzo paused, his gaze becoming contrite and regretful, as if it pained him greatly to admit it. “What we need is a sacrifice…a maiden sacrifice…” He shook his head remorsefully. “But it is such a harsh thing to offer, such an immense favor to ask.” A hand rose to cover his heart, his head bowed as if he truly felt guilt-ridden over the very suggestion. “How could we ask a young woman to give her life for us? It is so horribly unfair…”

“No, Sanzo,” the mayor-wanna-be piped up. “It would be an honor!” Apparently, the fact that priests were sworn not to kill or harm was lost on him. “Any girl would gladly step forward!”

“Are you certain?” Sanzo asked, his voice an artistic mixture of hope and uncertainty.

“Of course!” The man boomed.

Sanzo smiled sweetly. “I am gladdened to hear that.”

“And we would be honored, Great Sanzo,” the man continued, blushing modestly at the praising smile he had received. “If you would conduct the ceremony!”

Sanzo looked adequately surprised, but humbled. “No, it would be my honor, good sir,” he said, bowing his head low. The prospective mayor blushed once more, hastily assuring the `priest' that it was their honor, and he had no reason to bow to mere townsfolk.

You frowned, not liking this. A sacrifice? That had been forbidden for centuries. The regular killing of humans was the reason for Gyumaoh being sealed… Of course he was eating the humans. Still, there wasn't much difference in needlessly killing for an unnecessary food source as opposed to needlessly killing for an unnecessary ritual.

And there was still the question: who was the unlucky maiden?

You had a suspicion, but had no wish to delve into your usually accurate intuition. However, the foreboding chill in your heart told you all you needed to know.

`````Few Hours Later`````

The bar was finally empty, blessedly silent for the first time in what felt like a century. The owner had already turned in, knowing you would finish the clean up before retiring to your little room for the night. He thought so, anyway.

Oh, you would clean up all right, you always did. But you almost never went to sleep right after. You were a moon owl, and slumber eluded you during the dark hours of night. You usually went to bed a few hours ahead of dawn, just before the first fingers of light could stretch from the eastern horizon, but never did you sleep at dusk.

Besides, night was the best time to hone your skills. There was little to distract you, but a plethora of training potential. The nocturnal world was vastly different from the waking one, and it fascinated you. Your abilities improved with each passing week, each month a milestone.

This night, however, you didn't dare practice the `arcane' arts. The townspeople were jittery enough as it was; you had no desire to compromise the situation any further. And it was all because of Sanzo. You had sensed him his first night here, when you had dared to wander off for a quick training session. But he had very nearly interrupted you in the middle of a very difficult spell. And he was the last human on earth you wanted to know of your talents.

That was what your Mama had told you, your last memory of her. Keep it a secret. Considering she had been executed for being a `demon witch'—despite how obviously human she was—you knew her words were nothing to sniff at. You kept the secret of your gifts fiercely guarded, not even your old demon friends had known of it.

You sighed as you wiped down the last inch of countertop. All the glasses were put away, shiny and squeaky-clean. The floor was swept, the chairs pulled up on the tables. All was silent. Everything was as it should be, as it always was at this time of night.

So why did you feel so uneasy?

The villagers had agreed that they would search for a proper `sacrifice.' Sanzo had assured them they had plenty of time, but his assurance had come with a sense of underlying urgency. He wanted the sacrifice sooner than the week agreed upon.

Also agreed was that the girl would come from a farm somewhere in the village's area—close enough to still be considered a member of the town, but far enough away that no one in town would be too sympathetic.

You had to give them credit, the townspeople were experts at this type of underhanded cruelty. And with the Sanzo to guide them…

You found yourself suppressing another shudder, one of many you had experienced this night.

Thunder boomed, resounding off the walls as the rainstorm continued its escalated pace. The skies had decided to open not only a torrent, but to roar its rage and light the dismal clouds in flashes of brilliant, ghostly illumination. Oh yes, the skies were well and truly pissed about something. If you didn't know any better, you'd think it was the gods protesting this sudden bloodlust. But you knew better.

You dropped the rag into a hamper in back of the storage/loading area, where the breweries and suppliers often dropped the bar's purchases. The storage area also happened to be adjacent to the laundry baths next door. Every week you would take the hamper across the alley and give the nice lady there a gold coin, leaving the hamper in her expert care. That evening, you would pick it up again.

Everything had a routine around here, even the angry mob of a meeting had been normal. Mostly, you found yourself despising the expectedness of it all, the boring predictability. Other times, you found yourself grateful. If not for that routine, you were more likely to be noticed committing `crimes' of magic. And with everyone so wrapped up in the day-to-day schedule, you found it easier to `disappear' without going anywhere.

Apparently it was all fine and dandy for priests to do it, but a commoner—common girl—was obviously forbidden from it. At least in this small hellhole of a town it was.

You checked the locked doors for the second time that night, tugging lightly against the knob to make sure each was fully latched. If the windows were able to open and close, you'd have checked those locks too. Instead you flipped off the last light switch. The room was immediately plunged into inky darkness.

You slowly made your way around the familiar room, being cautious even though you could probably walk the room in your sleep. Tonight, you would bed down early. It wouldn't be easy to fall asleep; your sleep cycle wasn't accustomed to it. But you'd try. You'd cast a frickin' sleep spell if you had to!

A soft sound made you freeze, a fissure of unease rippling across you. You turned silently, making no sound. Your seeking eyes were useless, however. The pitch black of the room was impenetrable to human eyes.

A flash of brilliant light cast the room in a split-second frame of stark black and white. The image was burned on your retinas for a few moments after the lightning strike had sparked out. A world of shadow and almost unbearable clarity slowly faded from your aching vision, obscured by too-dark gloom and too-bright light.

You blinked rapidly to dispel the after-image sooner. You kept the mental picture in place, however, searching and scanning for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing.

You shivered, feeling suddenly very cold. Your hands shook lightly as you made your way to the door to the back area. You hesitated, then, with a chagrined sigh, turned and checked the doors again. All were locked tight.

Muttering quietly to yourself about your own paranoia, you slipped into the back room—locking that door, too—and crept to the small door off to the side. It was little more than a pantry, dark and dry, but warm and surprisingly cozy. You latched the door after you closed it, laying down and snuggling deep into the sparse covers.

You paused again, hesitating. Another aggravated sigh escaped, but again you gave in to the fearful unease inside you. With a quick mutter and a gesture of the hand, you placed a small warding on the door.

`````Night`````

You woke with a start, groggy sleep still tugging relentless at your mind. You tried to blink away the thick fog, your mind slowly processing what had disturbed it.

You couldn't figure out what had awoken you. Then your nose processed a thick, acrid stench as a second ripple of power crackled across your skin, a fissure of static setting the door to a light glow. You were suddenly very wide awake.

For one panicked moment, you froze. Someone was ripping apart the loose ward. Given, you hadn't made it very strong—you had clung to the hope that when you woke up you would dismantle it yourself, feeling foolish for the lapse in common sense. But the townspeople barely knew what a spell was, none of them could possibly—

The priest.

Shit!

You swiftly raised your hands, clumsy with panic and a shaky surge of adrenaline, trying to craft another, much stronger warding. The words flooded your mind, but your lips stumbled over the syllables. Finally, you correctly pronounced the first word and the initial gesture was successfully completed.

Too late.

The door burst open. You were already on your feet, ready to fight or flee, if given the chance. You caught sight of a ghostly figure, light gleaming off pale clothing and soft, glimmering hair.

Your hands automatically moved into the beginnings of the generic sketch of a defensive maneuver, but your mind became blank. The words that had been so bountiful before now deserted you. Panic chocked you, made breathing impossible. You couldn't remember the proper sounds for a barrier, could no longer recall the scant syllables for a block or counterattack. Dread froze your limbs mid-motion, made the signs impossible to generate.

So you did the next best thing, you tried to rush him. Your body seemed lethargic, unwilling to obey your frantic commands. But you managed to gather enough momentum to push him away from the doorway, if not knock him down completely.

You shoved hard against him, but your failing strength was barely enough to make him budge, instead making you teeter on the edge of your balance. Rough hands grabbed your wrists tightly, shoving you against the wall with enough force to make your back arch off again from the impact.

You struggled, but your arms felt weak, useless. A slender body pressed closer, looming above you. A mouth hovered near your ear as a soft laugh escaped.

“Now, now, no need for that,” the silky voice dripped in sugary sweetness. He chuckled again, the soft noise resonating in your mind. He pressed closer, suffocating your personal space. “You'll be put to good use, I promise.”

You struggled harder, but all you got was another laugh. He separated from you, his painful grip on your wrists releasing, but you couldn't get yourself to move. Your body was rebelling, remaining frozen against the wall where he had left you.

You saw the spell before you sensed it, unusual. He must be hiding his aura, masking the energy of the spell. You noted all this with a strange detachment, unable to bring your leaden body to movement. It didn't matter anyway, you could feel the subtle flow of another spell—one that had been cast a while ago.

Sanzo had slowed you down, stopped your hands and mouth even as he ripped apart the ward. It was no wonder you had been unable to defend. Though you didn't doubt he could have torn those spells asunder with ease as well.

The spell formed leisurely in his hand, his teeth gleaming eerily in the ghost-light as he smiled sweetly at you. He was playing with you. Again.

Bastard!

The vaporous orb reflected off the longish golden hair, indigo eyes gleaming almost as if from their own light. The light source—an advanced magic, light was pure energy and maintaining it was exhausting—floated serenely to the side, casting the figure of the so-called Sanzo into shadow.

Light cracked and arced, tiny splinters of lightning racing around the shapeless glob of energy in his palms. Odd, that was. Most advanced magic had definite forms, the magic yielding to its master's mind. A spell without definite shape was the mark of an amateur.

Yet, though the light-orb was perfectly maintained, his spell was not as controlled. Was he trying to throw you off, purposely allowing the magic free reign? Was that why he was taking his time—giving you time to think and analyze? Surely he knew the risk of allowing a prisoner or a kill—though, if he had wanted you dead, you should be long gone from this world by now—time to gather information.

It didn't make sense, none of it did. And maybe that was it. You were confused right now, your mind too consumed with questions and possible answers to pay close enough attention to what kind of spell, exactly, he was so lazily preparing to cast.

You snapped to attention a fraction of a second too late, too late to determine the spell's type, but just in time to see the sweet smile turn into a toothy, victorious grin.

Then the magic hit you, burning across your flesh and stinging in sharp pinpricks of knife-like pain. Then the world clouded over, everything fading black. The last sight before oblivion was the gleam of his teeth shining in the light of the eerie orb.

`````Tower of Konran, Mid-Day````

“Didn't you hear?” Zenon asked, his cigarette moving in time with his words. His tone sounded bored, but there was a light curiosity as well.

“What?” Shien's voice, however, was fully blank. He sounded as if he were merely indulging in his friend's odd sense of conversational topics.

“There's going to be a sacrifice,” Zenon answered, a mocking smirk on his lips.

“A what?” Shien's tone now held a sliver of disbelief—and an even tinier sliver of interest.

“You heard me right,” Zenon said, his smirk widening at his comrade's reaction. It wasn't often he could lure the stoic deity into any form of involved conversation. And it was damned boring around here, all quiet and dark—especially with Homura off at odd times, doing the gods only knew what. Shien did it too, though not as often as their leader. And personally, Zenon was getting a touch of cabin fever. He didn't like leaving the base undefended—it wasn't strategically sound.

“I was under the impression that sacrifices were forbidden,” Shien stated, his voice once more neutral.

“It is,” Zenon shrugged noncommittally. “But apparently this town thinks it's exempt.”

“Really?”

Zenon and Shien glanced over, neither of them abandoning their casual stances. That was one of the nice things Zenon like about Homura; he didn't demand all that `respect your superiors' crap.

“Yep,” Zenon answered, taking a drag on his smoke. “Got the little `sacrificial lamb' all trussed up in a cell, waiting for the full moon tonight. Then…” he made a short choking sound, his fingers dragging a sharp line across his neck.

Shien frowned, an almost imperceptible shake of his head showing his disgust. “Why kill an innocent animal? Don't they know the gods decreed such acts inhumane?”

Which was a laugh, in Zenon's mind. The gods were the most `inhumane' of all creatures. The irony was not lost on Homura, apparently, if the slight twitch of lips was any indication. But the War Prince held the bitter smile inside, as he often did.

“Actually,” Zenon added, catching on one word in Shien's utterance of pity. “From what I heard, it's not an actual `lamb.'”

Shien turned to him, frown deepening. Homura also looked to him, a sharp frown marring his own features.

Zenon grimaced, feeling quite disgusted even having to say it. “Well, apparently they snagged a maiden.”

No other explanation was necessary. Shien's curl of lip was obvious, one of the few times he let his emotions take a physical manifestation. Homura's eyes closed themselves off, becoming blank. Zenon knew that for a sign of grim acceptance. The guy knew what it was like to be treated like a disposable commodity. But Zenon knew better than to pity him. That would get him nothing but a fire-sword at his neck and a dark warning glare.

“For what reason,” Homura asked quietly. “Was this particular…maiden, chosen?”

Zenon blinked at him. Homura had surprised him by speaking up. Then again, the man had a morbid, almost masochistic, curiosity. Why else would he have sought signs of his old love, knowing that her mortal life would have ended by now?

“The rumors say she was hand-picked by some high-rank priest,” Zenon shrugged. “It's supposed to be her `honor and privilege,' or some shit like that.”

Homura's eyes narrowed. “What rank of priest, exactly?”

Zenon blinked at him before his eye narrowed as well. He hadn't thought of that. “Not sure, actually.” The implication was obvious. “But I can find out real easy.”

Homura gave a sharp nod. “Do that.”

`````You`````

Your head was pounding unbearably. Drums were thrumming an obnoxious beat, hammering in time your lazy pulse. You mentally reached inside yourself and sped it up to a less risky pace. Your lungs burned as you breathed, as if they hadn't been doing so for a while.

The bastard had put a stop spell on you. He could have killed you!

You remembered the ill-shaped orb of the spell's physical manifestation. You still couldn't be sure of his abilities, but you were beginning to lean toward amateur. Though it was possible that he just didn't care if you lived…

“Ah, my little sacrifice is awake,” a soft, sweet voice murmured. “How lovely.”

There went that theory—if he wanted to sacrifice you, he needed you alive. The guy had to a hack; he was just pretending to know what the hell he was doing. Either that or he was very reckless. You were still leaning toward amateur.

“What?” the Sanzo's saccharine voice oozed. “No hello? How rude.”

“Shut up, ass-hat,” you fairly croaked. You rubbed your aching throat, wincing at the crack in your voice.

“Hmph,” was the petulant response. “Yes, very rude.”

You felt the sudden heaviness in the air, like that which preceded a thunderstorm. But you knew this storm was very different. It was magical charge, preparation for a very strong spell. Your wrists burned, and you became aware of the heavy shackles that encased them.

Panic seeped into you, and you began to tug and yank on the unyielding metal. The stinging sense of static sizzled between flesh and cold iron. The biting smell of magic tinged the air.

“I'll have to fix that,” the Sanzo said, voice still sweet, as if he were talking about a sunny day. “Yes, I will.”

The spell came from the shackles, not the priest. It felt as if the skin, and then the muscle were being flayed from your bones. The sensation spread from wrists to engulf your entire body, until you couldn't even cry out with the pain of it; until you collapsed, shaking and writhing on the damp, hard floor.

You saw the gleam of too-white teeth on the other side of a barred wall, the ghostly orb flickering into existence. Spun gold gleamed; two indigo lights sparkled in reflected light. Sanzo chuckled, the sound as soft and innocent as all his speech.

Then finally, blessedly, the pain receded. Not all at once, of course. That would be too easy, too merciful. Instead, it slowly spread back down your body, feeling like the muscles and skin were being painfully pressed back to bone. Finally, exhausted and sore, your body aching all over, the pain seeped back into the manacles. You felt the sweat trickling down your face and neck, but couldn't muster the strength to wipe it away.

“That's much better, don't you think?” Sanzo said, his sweet tone almost praising.

“Fuck…off…” you ground out.

“Hmm, I guess not.” His smile was gone, replaced by a light frown.

You barely had enough time to smirk at the tiny victory before the pain started again.

`````Tower of Konran, Evening`````

“What did you find?”

Homura had posed the question lightly, making it sound as if it were merely an appeasement of curiosity and not a report from an order. Another thing Zenon liked about him; none of that stiff, chafing protocol.

Zenon flashed a smile. “My…informant was very helpful, wanted to give me…inside information.”

Homura's lips twitched. “You kept your mind on business, I hope?”

Zenon feigned wounded pride. “Of course. Though after business hours…”

Another twitch of lips from his leader. The man just didn't enjoy life enough. They had a mission, that was true, but Zenon saw little use in being morose and somber for the whole thing. If he was gonna go down—or not, either way, he was going to have some fun along the way.

Zenon cleared his throat, straightening a bit to show he was serious now. And he was, the knowledge he had to depart to his leader had quickly doused his sense of humor. “The priest is a Sanzo.”

Homura's teeth clenched, his eyes narrowing. Zenon watched as the War Prince slowly unclenched his teeth, but his hands gripped the throne a bit tighter. Zenon knew his leader wasn't aware of it yet.

“Anything else?” he asked, still forcing an easy tone. Homura never used a superior tone when speaking with them. When he issued orders, it always sounded like a favor or suggested course of action. It was never a direct command. Zenon understood.

“The priest is tall, slender,” Zenon met Homura's gaze, both recognizing the description. “Gold-blonde hair and violet eyes.”

Homura was frowning deeply. “It sounds quite like him, doesn't it?”

“Yeah, it does,” Zenon said. “If you only count appearance. I don't think `our' Sanzo would pick a girl for sacrifice, even if he was pissed off…which is pretty much 24/7.”

Homura's lips curved in a sardonic smile, despite the frown that warred for dominance of his features. “You're right.”

Zenon nodded, wiping the smile from his face. “Another thing I heard, the priest himself is going to do the ceremony.”

“Then that is truly odd,” Shien spoke up for the first time. “I am aware that Genjo Sanzo has no qualms over breaking the `forbidden from killing' rule, but what is the likelihood of there being two priests of the same disposition?”

“Good point,” Zenon agreed. “So it's either `our' Sanzo on the rag,”—another twitch of the lips from Homura—“or we got a faker on our hands.”

Our hands?” Shien asked, raising a brow.

Zenon paused, glancing at Homura. “Good question,” he murmured. “So…is it our problem?”

Homura closed his eyes briefly, considering. Finally, he opened eyes, a shadow hovering in his gaze before he banished it. He answered, tone confident and sure. “Not in the slightest.”

`````You, Nightfall`````

You were being moved.

The jostling of movement made you wince, and with a cringe you opened your eyes. You were sweaty and aching, neither of which you liked. Your gaze met a hazy, almost starless sky, the light of sunset still tingeing the western horizon in pale blues and violets.

You tried to move, but your arms felt like lead. Your entire body was dead weight. And it was very, very chilly. You shivered, suddenly realizing your clothes were no longer what you remembered. Instead you were garbed in a long, flowing chemise-like gown, more like a slip than an actual dress. It was silky, but terribly thin. And when you found whoever had changed you while you were unconscious, they were dead. Very, very dead. Deep-fried dead. Extra-crispy dead. No original recipe here, damn it!

While you planned the retribution on your modesty, the light in the west faded and the stars grew bright and numerous. The moon had risen, full and wide. With another chilled shiver, you noticed the trees closing in tightly one each side. Still, you couldn't move. You could barely breathe, in fact.

Son of a

Another jostle sent sharp pain through your arms, the sore limbs protesting the maltreatment of the past day. The bastard priest must have put another spell on you after you lost consciousness. Or, rather, after he let you loose consciousness. Bastard.

Darkness swamped you, and you suddenly missed the absent stars and luminous moon. There was a pause in the jostling movement, then with a hiss and flare torches were lit.

The torches provided just enough golden light to see the cave walls, but the cloaked figures were lost. They were not but shadows, wraiths carrying you further and further from the light of the living world. They were taking you to hell, personally.

All you needed now was the hand-basket.

After several minutes, during which you tried to gather enough energy to break the spell. The shackles—which the sadistic bastard had left on your wrists—you would worry about later.

You had managed to chisel away a good portion of the spell before the procession stopped again. This time, they doused the torches. You blinked heavily, waiting for your eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness.

You started moving again shortly after your gaze had accommodated for the light change. There was light, a silvery blue gleam on the walls and reflecting off the damp surfaces of stone. It provided a ghostly cast for everything, turning the chilled cave into an ethereal, almost glowing sanctuary.

But this was no sanctuary for you. No, this was to be the site of your murder.

You shivered again, renewing the effort against the spell. You let your eyes drift shut when the steady jostling shifted, the carriers positioning you for a transfer. Carefully—though not very gently—you were lifted and positioned on a cold, damp surface; a natural altar in the chamber.

You heard the rustling of cloth and the shuffling of steps as they moved away from the altar in a loose circle. The steady shuffling continued, a cadence of patterns and circles. When the first murmured syllable filled the air, the others joining until the sounds rebounded off one another, building and growing into a chanted song, your eyes flashed open.

Directly above you, you saw the moon. Had it really taken that long to get here? There was a hollow above the chamber, a ragged hole that outlined the great, round moon perfectly. The light filtered down to encircle the altar, a glowing circle that illuminated the pale gown and the person within.

You renewed your efforts to escape. The bitter scent of magic trickled into your nostrils, growing steadily as the chant swelled, as the song rose and fell and the shuffling feet maintained the steady thrum. Dripping water, no doubt leftover from the previous night's rains, added a steady beat to the murmured song and slow, rotating dance.

You vaguely recognized the ritual. It was for dark magic, death magic. Upon the sacrifice, the essence and power of the life taken would go directly into the master sorcerer, the one who wielded the killing knife. Oh yeah, he had a use for you alright.

Had this been what he wanted from the beginning? To steal what precious little powers you had? Granted, your powers were growing, and their potential was nothing to scoff at, but you were still not but an intermediate. And without a tutor or master, your progress as painfully slow, despite how much you'd been improving.

Was it really worth all this trouble? Apparently it was, for your eyes caught on one figure as it shuffled, still in rhythm, out of the twirling, circling dance and toward the altar. The figure stopped just beside you, a gleam of light flashing off the dagger as it was drawn.

Deep indigo met yours from within the traditional robes. A dark cloak covered the Sanzo, but only enough so that his pale clothing would not stand out. Light would have broken the mood of the ritual and endangered the dark spell.

You slammed power against the paralysis spell, your body aching a protest at the taxing of precious energy. The spell was hanging on by a thread, and the knife was raised, poised above your heart.

You dragged up the last of your energy reserves and hurled it against the spell as the knife plunged downward. The energy hit the spell in a small clash of light, miniature lightning strikes arching around the altar. The knife was still plummeting…

The spell broke with a snap, the knife already tearing into cloth. You rolled swiftly, gritting your teeth as the sharp edge of the blade sliced across your shoulder and grated against your collarbone in a deep gash. But it wasn't your heart.

The robed figures still danced, as if in a trance—probably bound by a spell. But the `Sanzo' snarled, not daring to curse for fear of breaking the ritual. He moved swiftly but still in tempo, pouring power into the wavering spell.

Blood was rushing thick and wet down your front, soaking the thin cloth of your ceremonial gown. It dripped heavily onto the ground, a counter-beat to the drops of water still maintaining the steady cadence of the spell's rhythm. A dark pool was already forming at your feet.

You swallowed hard, staggering back from the enraged sorcerer. Your shoulder burned, the pain throbbing in your body and snatching your focus. You had no energy left anyway. Your body hit a cold, damp wall. The irregular surface pressed painfully into your back, but it still wasn't enough to distract from the sharp throb in your shoulder.

The priest smiled, teeth gleaming in a snarl-like grin. He raised the knife, willing to take whatever the now wobbling spell would allow him. You tensed, closing your eyes tight. If this was it, you didn't want to have to watch.

You waited, waited for the sharp burn of the blade in your flesh, waited for the laugh of victory, the drain of your gifts as it was sucked from your body. You waited for the last painful breath as your lungs shut down, waited for the heavy silence after your heart's last beat. You waited.

You heard the sick sound of hard metal sliding into yielding flesh. Then a wet, gurgling sound met your ears. At first you thought it was your own, thought that the knife had already penetrated and the sound you heard was that of your lungs struggling for air.

But your breathing, though quick and erratic, was clear and easy. You cautiously opened your eyes. You flinched back when your eyes caught the gleam of the dagger's blade, hovering in a shaky grip not inches from your face, the tip already catching on the torn cloth of the blood-stained gown.

You let your eyes follow the length of the dagger, across the hilt and the trembling hands that held it, over quaking arms to a wide-eyed visage. Sanzo stood there, blood dripping from his mouth, the figures collapsed behind him mid-step, the thick smell and the heavy sense of magic waning as the ritual ceased. His indigo eyes were dilated, and the choking sound was coming from his throat, not yours.

More blood poured from his mouth as he opened it, trying to utter some spell, his hands shaking as they tried to form the gestures around the hilt. But his fingers were locked in place, gripping the metal in a tight grasp. He couldn't form the signs, couldn't form the words.

You heard the wet slide of steel slipping from muscle, heard a grating sound as the blade brushed bone. The priest jerked as the sound ended, staggering back. He reached for his middle, but still held the dagger. The edge buried itself inside him, and his eyes widened further, the choking sound increasing as his grip finally released and his hands scrabbled about.

He fell to one knee, hands still clutching uselessly at the dagger in his gut. Your eyes wide, shock and blood-loss taking a severe toll on your senses, you watched as he slowly fell forward. There was a resounding grating of metal on stone, the dagger diving deeper into his flesh as the hilt struck the ground.

Shaking, you leaned heavily on the wall. Your vision was blurring, and you couldn't tell which pool of blood belonged to you and which to the priest, each was quite large and spreading outward toward the other.

Breath shuddering in an out of your lungs, you wavered on your feet. It seemed to take an immense effort to raise your head again, to see what had killed the imposter Sanzo. A red sword, flames seeming to dance and leap within its smooth surface, glowed lightly, gleaming in the moonlight.

Your vision skewed further, until it was only an indistinct figure standing before you. You caught the impression of sharp, knowing eyes, the color lost to you as everything faded to grey. Dark hair, and tall…

And warm and strong as he caught you against him when your knees buckled. You vaguely made out the movement of his lips, moved your own to try and answer.

I can't hear you…

Blackness.

`````Tower of Konran, Morning`````

Zenon was chuckling, Shien frowning, and Homura ignoring them both.

“I believe you stated quite clearly that this was not our problem,” Shien reminded the War Prince.

“I did,” Homura answered, clear and concise.

Zenon held in another snicker as Shien waited for their leader to continue. Homura had indeed made the girl at home, though she had yet to regain consciousness. How he'd gotten hold of all those clothes was beyond him, but Zenon knew better than to question sources. Several of his own were quite…shady.

Shien frowned when Homura deigned not to answer, sitting in a relaxed posture in his `throne' and almost completely ignoring them. “Then why,” he said, voice as calm and neutral as ever. “Did you interfere?”

Homura cocked his head at him, looking for all the world like a curious puppy. His expression asked `you don't know?' This time Zenon couldn't help it. He let out a bark of laughter, ignoring Shien's dark frown.

“Alright, alright,” Zenon gasped between breaths. “Why did you rescue the girl? You did say it wasn't our problem.”

Homura shrugged. “It wasn't our problem,” he reiterated. “Therefore, I took care of it alone.”

Zenon smiled again, patting Shien on the back. “There ya go! Problem solved.”

“Was it him?” Shien suddenly asked.

Zenon blinked, then his eye widened and he glanced at Homura in curiosity. “Almost forgot `bout him,” he muttered.

Homura's serene expression was disturbed by a frown. “No,” he answered. “It was an imposter.”

Shien and Zenon gave curt nods.

“I suspected as much,” Shien murmured.

“Yeah,” Zenon agreed. “Just didn't sound like `our' pissy priest.”

Homura's lips twitched, and even Shien's dark frown lightened a fraction. It darkened again a second later. “What will you say to her to explain, Homura?” he asked. “It is quite obvious you plan on allowing her to remain, or you would not have gone to the trouble of ensuring her needs cared for.”

“Yeah,” Zenon said quietly, his features taking on a light frown. “Ya gotta tell her somethin'.”

Homura didn't answer, his expression turning blank and his eyes closing, seemingly completely relaxed once more.

“And I think that's all we're gonna get.” Zenon sent a questioning look at his leader. “Just hope you didn't do somethin' you're gonna regret…”

Homura returned his look with a steady one of his own. Whatever the War Prince was thinking, he was confident in his decision.

“Homura,” Shien continued, though he seemed to have allowed his leader to escape further interrogation. “There is a small matter with Kiretsu. He may become cause for concern…”

“Hmm,” Homura answered, very obviously not paying attention.

Zenon shock his head and turned Shien with him. “C'mon, old buddy,” he said. “Let's hit a bar. I don't think he's in the mood for logistics.”

They hadn't even made it out of the tower before Shien spoke. And he was still frowning. “I cannot see how her presence will benefit us.”

Zenon shook his head. “Just leave it alone, Shien.”

Shien frowned, making a noncommittal sound. But he let the subject drop.

`````You`````

Your mouth felt like it was filled with cotton, while your head roared and your ears rang. It was a cacophony of pain. You tried to move, barely managing to shift a hand. Another attempt was rewarded with movement, your arm sliding a bit—which brought the material beneath to attention.

You were laying on something very soft, very smooth. It almost felt like you were lying on clouds. You smiled gently; it was very comfortable. Your head still hurt, but the pain was fading. You shifted again, ignoring a twinge in your shoulder, snuggling into the silken blankets. You let out a contented sigh, feeling warm and cozy.

A soft chuckle made your eyes snap open. You bolted upright, the twinge turning to a sharp pain in your shoulder, making you flinch. You glanced swiftly around, keeping your arms loose but ready at your sides, in case of emergency spell-casting.

Your gaze met a soft gold eye, the other hidden in a small cascade of dark hair. Your breath stalled.

Oh...gods… He was gorgeous.

Tall and lean, his hair tousled and deliciously rumpled, as if fingers had just recently been combing through it. You had the sudden urge to run your own hands through those locks, and your fingers twitched with the desire. His chest was clad in skin-tight leather, leaving very little to your overactive imagination. You actually felt your mouth begin to water at the sight, and quickly jerked your gaze back up to his.

Amusement danced in that golden eye, matching the smirk that tugged at his tempting lips. He took a few steps forward, stride long and sure.

For the first second, you could do nothing but marvel at the toned muscle approaching. Then you snapped back to attention—you were in a strange place, being approached by a strong, hot man. Not good. Well, the strange part anyway, from what you could see, the `strong' and `hot' part was no problem at all.

Your hands moved swiftly, forming signs as the words leapt from your lips. The man reacted immediately. He moved so fast that for a split second you faltered, startled. Humans couldn't move that fast!

Your hands flew to the final gesture, the last syllable forming at your lips. But he had reached you. Strong hands caught yours, forbidding movement. But the last sign had been nearly complete—close enough to work. You just had to adjust the words. Quickly, you let the syllables rush past your lips, only to have that outlet blocked as well—by his mouth.

You stared wide-eyed at him, for the first time seeing clearly the second eye. It was blue. A beautiful, deep-ocean blue that perfectly offset the vibrant gold of the other. Not only that, but his lips were every bit as tasty as they had looked. The perfect mix of firm and soft, they pressed against yours with just enough pressure to prevent speech. His body was very near yours, hovering bare inches above, but not touching. Damn.

Slowly, he released your mouth, leaning back on his knees. His hands still clamped around yours, he gently pulled you up to a sitting position. You were still too shocked to say or do anything.

His eyes held your own widened ones, and he smirked softly. He cocked his head lightly, and you were starkly reminded of a puppy. You blinked at him, noting how adorable he looked like that.

“No spells now,” he said, voice gently washing over you. “Alright?”

You shivered; you loved his voice. It was velvet, dark and sultry, moving across your skin in a caress. You nodded dumbly, unable to think properly.

He nodded softly to your shoulder. “Better?”

You swallowed, glancing at said shoulder. It was wrapped securely, underneath a pale gown that was caked in dried blood. You blinked, looking up at him with a confused frown on your face. “Wh—”

“It would not be becoming to your modesty to strip you down naked,” he said softly. “Especially if it were unnecessary.” His smirk deepened, his eyes dancing in hot amusement. He looked sexy as hell. “Tempting, perhaps, but unnecessary.”

You blushed. You blushed! You hadn't blushed since you were a girl—waiting at a bar for a few years tended to do that. You had heard lewd story after crude narration, had become immune to all the pick-up lines and sugary compliments. Yet with a few words, this man had you blushing like a schoolgirl. A schoolgirl with a very large crush…

You cleared your throat, unable to meet the laughter in his eyes. “Um…” Oh, now that was intelligent.

He stood abruptly, hand still imprisoning yours, though it was a looser, friendlier grip now. “Come,” he gave a gentle tug on your hands as he gave the order. “You can change now.”

He took you to a small bureau, opening a drawer and rifling through it without thought or hesitation despite the contents—undergarments. You blushed deeply. He was picking out your underwear. It was an embarrassing thought, yet oddly sexy. You would be wearing something he liked…

You mentally chastised yourself. You could just pick out something else! But when he handed you two skimpy, silky garments, you mutely accepted without so much as meeting his gaze. You didn't have to look to know his eyes were dancing again. He was laughing at you, though he had the decency to not do so outright.

You gritted your teeth and jerked your head up, holding it at a proud angle. Chin stubbornly set, you accepted the next clothing with a hard stare, challenging him to laugh again at your expense. He smiled, seemingly satisfied about something.

Apparently it didn't matter. He stood patiently, watching you expectantly. You blinked at him. “What?”

His lips twitched, but he didn't smile.

“I thought you would like to change,” he stated. “Into something less…bloody.”

You glanced again at the thin slip of a gown and blushed. It was really quite skimpy, and a bit on the lacy side. Almost…provocative. Dirty, perverted, faker of a priest! Too bad he was dead, or you'd really ream him for—but…he was dead. And this man had…

“You're the one who saved me,” you said, staring at him. “But…”

“But?” he asked, eyes not wandering. Points for him, since the gown was a bit revealing—especially torn as it was. But he didn't let his eyes drift down, he kept them focused on yours, waiting with seemingly infinite patience for your answer.

“Why?” It was all you could think of to ask, despite a hundred other questions zipping around your bewildered mind.

His eyes darkened, a mask sliding into place. The shadow of a memory, perhaps?

“Because,” he said slowly, choosing his words carefully. “I know what it's like to be treated like chattel.”

You opened your mouth to ask, but thought better of it. You doubted you would have gotten an answer anyway.

`````Later`````

Big. Dark. Empty.

Those were the first three things you noticed about the tower. Homura had departed soon after offering you the change in clothes, though he had seemed perfectly content to stay and watch had you permitted. But, blushing deeply, you had hinted and asked with all subtlety for him to let you change—without an audience. When that failed, with a deeper blush you had kindly asked him to leave. He had, though his smirk still taunted you.

And now, you were standing in a big, dark, empty hall, wandering around a big, dark, empty tower. Whoever decorated was very fond of gloom. Aside from the rather predictable d?cor, the tower was fairly pleasant, if a bit on the creepy side.

The ceilings were too high to see, the walls fading into blackness before any discernable end. The halls were likewise seemingly endless. The ends disappeared into heavy shadows, though you never found yourself in any type of complete darkness. You had no idea where the light came from, but it kept your immediate surroundings at constant gloom. You weren't about to complain, though. It was better than pitch black.

Your footsteps were muffled by the soft slippers you had found and donned. Still, the muted shuffle echoed faintly off the walls, making you shiver with the icy touch of a dark memory. You weren't wearing a dress anymore—kudos to Homura for taking that into consideration. He was actually quite thoughtful, when he thought no one would notice. Instead of any sort of gown, you were wearing quite normal human clothing, comfortable and sturdy.

You blinked, not sure at first if the break in the monotonous d?cor was imagined or real. It didn't fade or blink out after another blink, so you decided it wasn't a hallucination. You reached out, gently brushing you fingers over the dark, molded wood.

Yep, it was a door alright. Ooh, goody.

Feeling adventurous—or was it bored?—you carefully opened the door and slipped through. You expected another long, gloomy hall. You weren't disappointed.

You sighed, thinking back quickly. Two left turns and a right had led you here. You committed the fact to memory before advancing—no way in hell were you going to let yourself get lost in this little haunted house.

Another left turn, another right, straight, straight—ooh another door! You paused, considering. Then you shrugged, muttering a flippant “eh, what the heck,” and slipping through that door as well. This time, the background changed.

You found yourself in a large, carpeted hall. On each end, there was a large, engraved door. picking randomly, you turned and slipped through one of them. You were met with a wide, long set of stairs. Another door at the top and you found yourself in another large room.

You were in a massive hall, wider than the other and filled with columns. There was a carpet in the center that would probably be red in brighter light. As it was, it looked rather violet. You gave an absentminded “hmm” and kept onward, this time following the carpet path.

You had gone a good twelve feet before you stopped dead. Blinking, you frowned at the unexpected dead end before you. Well, technically you supposed it wasn't a dead end. There was a throne there, which meant this was probably the destination.

Were you in a palace? If so, where was the king? The throne was shadowed and empty, matching the trend of the tower around it. Still frowning curiously, you wandered off the carpet to the right, slipping between the pillars and exploring.

You found a little alcove, out of sight. There was no door, just a winding hallway. About the fifth turn, you realized why it twisted about so much—to prevent light from penetrating to the throne-room. At the sixth turn, you were surrounded by a faint glow. At the seventh, light fully enveloped you, and you found yourself staring at bright sky.

You squinted at first, then watched as, beneath a sky of deepest azure, clouds scuttled like a sea of white, drifting lazily. It was pretty…

You tore your gaze from the scenery, taking stock of your surroundings. You were on a tower—high up on the tower. A quick look up afforded you with nothing but the balcony's proactive ceiling. But from the thick clouds that blocked the ground—and the throne room behind you one the same floor—this was probably the top.

The surrounding area was barren desert, with mountains cropping up to form a protective barrier all around this side. The sky was pretty though. And, if you looked hard between the peaks, you could catch fields and smudges just beyond the cliffs. That was pretty, too.

You wandered back through the halls slowly, letting your eyes adjust as you went. Back in the throne room, you ignored the entire chamber as a whole and continued along behind the pillars.

You met with smooth, flat stone all the way. Then, behind and to the side of the throne, deep within the shadows of the columns, you found another set of stairs. Apparently, this wasn't the top floor…

It led upwards, twisting around to open to a wide, expansive chamber. There was no throne, but the columns were more interspersed, a large design in the center of the otherwise bare floor. It looked like a good spell-casting or ritual room…

Passing the familiar and recognizable marks of magic runes, you made your way to the back of the room, exploring the shadows and niches of the cavernous chamber. It seemed fairly straightforward.

It was at the very back that you discovered another shadowed hall. It winded even more than the last, as if trying to dissuade passersby from continuing. You stubbornly continued.

You lost count of turns and twists, but eventually noticed that the dark gloom had alleviated to a glowing gray. The hall straightened a bit, with only a few corners and the occasional winding bend before you were again swathed in light. Your eyes were quicker in adjusting this time, due to the more gradual brightening.

The clouds were thinner here, offering a view of the landscape below. The mountains were sparse, the cliffs lower, framing the scenery beyond but still offering protection to the tower. They showcased a vast land of patchwork greens, accented with shadows in dusky violets and blurred indigos. White clouds lay scattered across the vivid sapphire of the otherwise clear heavens. Now this was a view, you decided.

But best of all, the balcony's overhang didn't fully cover the terrace itself. Instead, it covered the quarter closest the winding hall. The rest was bare to the sky. To compensate for the lack of rain protection, the ground was tilted slightly, rivulets carved in intricate designs into the floor creating miniature rivers for rain water, guiding it to the regular, but oddly decorative, breaks in the stone wall that served as a railing. In short, it was built perfectly for stargazing…

You lost track of how long you stayed there, watching the rolling landscape beyond the cliffs. But a sudden, chill wind alerted you. Looking up and quickly scanning the skies, you noticed for the first time the dark, heavy clouds that hovered nearby to the left. The long, wispy smudges of blue and gray that hung hazily beneath those clouds alerted you to their already obvious purpose. A dim flash told you the other and, after a few seconds, the ensuing low rumble told you the other.

You glanced around your balcony; definitely not the wisest place to wait for what looked to be one doozy of a thunder storm.

You turned and began navigating the long, winding hall back to the throne room. You'd barely managed to take the first tame turns when a loud roar made you jump. You paused, and sure enough, the thick pitter-patter of heavy raindrops had begun.

You frowned, a shiver that had little to do with the chilled air skittering up your spine. You swallowed thickly and turned, determined to traverse the twisting hall. The gloom had deepened to near-black, though you could still see enough to walk without hitting anything.

You froze, a new sound reaching your ears. A steady, rhythmic drip of water draining somewhere echoed through the winding hall. Your heart stopped a beat before kicking into overdrive, a surge of adrenaline flooding your bloodstream. Your breathing became hard and shallow until you began to feel light-headed. You were aware of your body trembling lightly and the airy feel of dizziness taking hold.

You watched your hands as they began to shake lightly, both from the sudden panic attack and the excess of adrenaline in your system. Fighting back another wave of fear, you swallowed hard and forced your breathing to deepen before you passed out.

The steady drops seemed to echo in your mind as you forced your feet to move. A few steps later, you almost wished you hadn't moved at all. The shuffle of your slippers wasn't as muffled here, where the twisting halls caught and threw back even the faintest sound. The light murmur of distant voices taunted your ears, just out of audible range.

Panic surged anew as the sight and sounds of the cave ritual superimposed itself over the present. The dark walls took on a dark, damp sheen; the distant voices turned melodic and chanting; the frantic shuffle of your own footsteps seemed to dance in rhythm with some archaic ritual.

You dashed across the massive, empty chamber, the dark windows shedding little light into the room. A sudden flash turned the darkness a bright white, reminding you of the flash and gleam of the dagger…

Gasping, you barely stopped yourself before you burst past the sharp turn of the staircase and into the throne room. Forcing control over your body, you made yourself stand still until the shaking subsided to light tremors, until the illusory deception of your memories faded, giving way to stark reality.

The drips were no longer there, left at the balcony and out of hearing range. The shuffle and echo of your feet had stopped, no longer evoking a fey sense of the haunting past. Your breathing was slower, and the lighting's flash was dulled by the high walls of the staircase. You nearly collapsed against the wall, gulping down deep, fortifying breaths of air.

It was then you realized the murmurs hadn't stopped. Your eyes snapped open, and for a moment you felt panic rising again. But the sound wasn't chanted or in any discernable rhythm. It was just…talking.

You calmed your breathing again, letting your senses stretch to catch the voices echoing lightly in the cavernous throne room. One you recognized right away—the thick, melodic sound of black velvet. Homura. The others were unfamiliar to you.

You didn't know what your savior was, but you didn't dare cast a spell to enhance your senses. He had sensed easily when you gathered the energy before. Still, maybe you could cast a simple spell without notice—just a small one. It would mask your presence; make you hard to see unless someone—someone strong enough to penetrate the spell's barrier—was looking specifically for you or knew exactly where to look. It would barely take any energy at all, what with all the shadows about to aide it.

Quickly, you made the signs and breathed the syllables under your breath. The acrid smell of magic teased your nose even as the familiar sensation brushed your senses. You felt the shadows cling to you, cloaking you in darkness as the spell fell over you like a heavy mantle. Hesitantly, you crept around the corner. Careful to stay in the shadows, you watched. A light blush tainted your cheeks before you could suppress it. Dear Lord… And you had thought him sexy before.

Homura was lounging—not slumping, not regally seated, but lounging—in the throne. He was in a lazy almost-slouch, his chin resting at an impudent angle on his fist as his eyes danced with impish defiance. He had a sword, the fiery blade you vaguely remembered, slanted at a rakish angle, his hand resting indolently on the hilt. He was the epitome of a rebel king; a bad-boy prince, and sexy as all hell to boot.

There were two men standing on either side of the throne. Their postures matched the lazy arrogance of their leader, neither fully facing the visitor but rather standing at an impudent angle to him, twin expressions of uncaring making their faces blank masks of disinterest. One stood straight, his arms crossed and legs apart in a relaxed but ready stance, bindings wrapped tight up his arms. The other was leaning apathetically against a pillar, seeming more interested in his smoke than the guest.

The visitor was kneeled before Homura, keeping his eyes trained on the floor. The man had been in a servant position for quite a while, for that habit to be so ingrained. And you seriously doubted he was Homura's servant—the man didn't look like he was facing one of his underlings. No, he looked like he was facing an outsider, one that was amusing him without intent.

“So…you left,” Homura said, lips curved in the barest hint of a mocking smile.

“Yes, my lord,” the man said. He had an intricate chakra on his forehead, a dot centered in an odd, wing-like design. “Your departure has opened many eyes, and your cause has roused many a floundering heart to your banner.”

“Such pretty words,” the bound man to Homura's left murmured softly. “But words mean little…”

“Yes, I am aware of that,” the man said, voice respectful. “And so I and those who have followed me are prepared to prove our loyalty.”

The smoking man to Homura's right gave snort. “Really? What makes you think we haven't already heard that line?”

The man shook his head, still fully respectful and not meeting any of their gazes, eyes fixed instead to the ground at their feet. He must have been a servant for a very, very long time…

“My lords,” he said, tone almost reverent. “Forgive my impertinence, but neither the men nor I care for what others have promised. We are willing to serve. We will offer ourselves to you and any task you ask of us. Even if we cannot prove our loyalty, at least we will have aided your cause.”

Homura's lip tilted upwards in a crooked, sardonic half-smile. “Very well,” he said, tone uncaring and rather insolent. “Do what you want.”

“Yes, my lord!” the man said, though he still did not raise his head or gaze. “What do you will?”

Homura took a moment, considering. “I require the Maten Sutra.”

“It shall be retrieved right away, my lord!” the man bowed his head lower, then disappeared.

“My, how eager they've become,” the bound man murmured softly.

“Yeah, he didn't even wait to hear who's got it or where they are,” the smoking one muttered, shaking his head in scorn. “Jeez, one born every minute, I swear. All of `em willing to blindly follow the first shmuck with half a brain. Useless, the whole lot of `em.”

“My cause…” Homura murmured quietly, thoughtfully. His arrogant expression had turned self-mocking. “Yes, what a following I have gained to my `cause.' It's a pity they don't bother to find out what that cause entails.”

“Yes,” the bandaged one nodded sagely. “They merely mouth the words, but their hearts are empty.”

“Jeez, do they really want out that bad?” the smoker muttered. “To just latch on to the first decent excuse that comes along?”

“Hmm,” Homura's noncommittal answer was met with silence.

“D'ya think they'll get it?” the smoker asked lips quirked in a little smile. His statement was met with an incredulous look from the bound man and a twitch of lips from Homura. He snickered. “Nah, didn't think so either.”

“I do not understand why they leave,” the bandaged one murmured, frowning darkly. “If all they are going to do is throw themselves at our feet. They claim to wish to escape the heavy laws and unjust ruling, yet what they offer us is nothing short of slavery.”

“Good point,” the smoker muttered, dropping and stepping on his finished cigarette. “I guess once you get used to bein' in a certain station, you can't break out of it.”

“It is foolishness,” the bandaged man muttered. “You were correct in your previous judgment, Zenon. They are quite useless.”

“Ah, thanks, Shien,” Zenon grinned. When the bound man frowned at him, his grin widened. “I like hearin' I'm right.”

Shien snorted lightly, but otherwise ignored his more laid-back companion. “Speaking of useless…”

Homura's little half-smile disappeared. Zenon sent his friend a look, but Shien either didn't notice it or purposely ignored it.

Shien shifted position, facing the throne from the side on which he stood. “You neglected to inform us earlier, Homura, and we allowed you to avoid the question. However…I find myself unwilling to be patient any longer.”

“Ah, c'mon,” Zenon muttered. “I told ya to just drop it.” He was more blatantly overlooked this time.

“I see no use for her, Homura,” Shien said quietly.

You gulped silently, the topic of their discussion suddenly dawning on you.

Homura let his eyes drift closed lazily, seeming to fully ignore his subordinate. “She is not useless,” he murmured quietly.

A small part of you rejoiced in his defense, while another became wary at his words. Did that mean he had a use for you? But what could you possibly do for him…?

You suddenly remembered the heated looks and teasing glances from before; the feel of his lips pressed against yours as he successfully stopped your spell-casting washed over your memory in a warm wave.

Oh. Blushing, you admitted he certainly seemed interested. But if he had wanted …that, why didn't he just try then?

Then again, it seemed they were more militarily inclined. The talk of men and joining the `cause' made it seem more like a revolution. Maybe he wanted your power? It certainly made more sense that way.

“You went out of your way to rescue her, Homura,” Shien murmured. “Even after verifying the Sanzo Priest's true identity, you could have left her in the village. Why bring her here? …Why the sudden need for humanitarianism?”

You eyed the one called Shien warily. Apparently, he didn't much like you. The Zenon guy didn't seem to mind you, though.

“She will be useful to us,” Homura reiterated.

“But…” Zenon paused, mulling over his words. “Why did you bring her back? It's not really like you to just pick up some chick—much less bring her home with you.”

Homura said nothing. When he opened his mouth to speak, Zenon just rolled his eye and interrupted. “Yeah, yeah, she'll be useful. We get it.”

Shien's frown deepened. “I have yet to see proof of that.”

Homura smirked, the first real reaction to his subordinates' questions thus far. “You will,” he murmured. “But I think I will let her decide on the matter of `proof.' Is that satisfactory?”

Shien scowled. “You do not answer to me, Homura. I chose to follow you.”

Homura leveled him with a somewhat icy look. “How odd, then, that I find you questioning me so thoroughly.” Zenon shifted his weight, a sheepish expression crossing his face. Shien also looked a bit uncomfortable, thought it was well hidden behind a stony mask. “But that aside,” Homura continued, closing his eyes again into that deceptively relaxed pose. “I was not asking you.”

He cocked his head to the side, glancing behind and to the side of the throne, his eyes flashing devilish amusement as they locked onto yours through the darkness. “Isn't that right, my lady?”

You blushed, gulping thickly. Crap. He knew you were here, and from the looks of the other two, he had been the only one. Double crap. How had he seen through the spell and the others not? You had barely felt the energy yourself—and it was your spell!

Zenon was blinking into the darkness, a confused, suspicious look crossing his face. The spell was still blocking his sight. Shien seemed more than slightly wary, but even more annoyed. He knew you were there and was pissed he couldn't see you. Triple crap. The man already didn't like you, did Homura have to go and make him hate you right out?

Speak of the devil, he was smirking. An arrogant amusement dancing in his eyes, he just watched you, waiting with that sexy little smirk to see what you would do. The smug, gorgeous bastard!

You sighed. With a quick gesture and muttered word, the spell dropped. Shien's scowl deepened with surprise and outrage. Zenon's expression bespoke incredulous disbelief—until he started laughing.

Shien was not so cheery about it. His scowl was dark with indignant, wounded pride. He had been unable to see or sense you at all. That, apparently, did not sit well with him.

Homura's smirk widened, his eyes filled with impish mirth. He was also finding this highly amusing. You leveled a dark frown at him, just this side of a glare. All you received in reaction was suppressed twitch of the lips. And what delicious lips they were…

You tore your gaze from them, clenching your teeth and meeting Homura's knowing gaze head on. The amusement that had occupied his two-toned eyes had taken on a hint of smug masculine satisfaction. Damn it, did nothing get past this guy?

Zenon was finally recovering from his own mirth, chuckling a bit but otherwise done laughing. He seemed to take things in stride. You smiled a bit. Well, if Shien didn't like you, at least there was a chance of being friends with Zenon. You wouldn't be completely shut out…

Shien made scornful sound, scowling at his friend. “I fail to see what is amusing.”

Zenon snickered, shaking his head lightly. “Ah, forget it.” He grinned, mischief twinkling in his eye as he gave Homura a sidelong look. “Seems ya bagged yourself a clever little minx there, buddy.”

You missed Homura's reaction, too busy watching Shien watch you. He frowned, giving you a measuring look that told you he was taking stock. It was confirmed when he asked soberly. “What level of abilities do you possess?”

You kept your face blank, but didn't bother to sweeten the truth. “Mediocre. I'm improving rapidly, but am still only an intermediate.”

Shien made a noncommittal sound, as if your answer both confirmed and denied your usefulness.

Zenon gave you an appraising look. “Still,” he said. “You're good, `intermediate' or not.”

Shien made another noncommittal sound before conceding. “Perhaps not as useless as I had thought.”

Homura smiled, a smug, knowing curve of the lips. Whatever he had set out to do, he'd obviously just succeeded.

`````Two Weeks Later`````

The storm had passed, but a new one had come soon after to take its place. No word had come from the hopeful recruits, and Shien had said they were probably dead. Zenon agreed, though Homura reserved judgment.

You would have gone mad from boredom, probably, if you hadn't found the secret passageways. Every morning, you awoke and went to the throne room. There, since you were still unfamiliar with the layout—and even after you assured him you knew the way, Homura (and sometimes Zenon, too) would take you to one of the lower level's main hall. There, there was usually a table with food.

You never saw the servants, though there must have been some as the food was always fresh and changed with each meal. But it was in the afternoon of your second day that you had stumbled—literally—into the secret hall. You had explored the tower for hours, liking the sense of adventure and discovery it gave you. Even though the atmosphere was fairly much the same most floors, occasionally there was a room or so that varied.

One such room, for example, took up the entire floor. It had wide, open windows that allowed sunlight to stream through, lighting up the room. There were statues and altars, which led you to believe this was a room for prayer. This, in turn, clued you in that this used to be a temple for the gods.

But the real discovery was the secret passage. It led all the way up and down the tower, to various, nondescript rooms on each floor. One, however, led straight to the central chamber on the top floor. It was to the side, out of the way and entrenched deeply in shadows. If you didn't know where the discreet little switch was—a little brick that protruded the barest inch from its brothers in the wall—you would never be able to find it.

You had spent every possible moment exploring those tunnels. You knew them almost by heart.

You practiced your spells when you weren't exploring the tunnels—or even while, actually. You had discovered a lovely little chamber that was perfect for training. It let in a wonderful amount of moonlight at night, and just enough sunlight during the day. It was private, and near your designated room.

If Homura knew of the tunnels or your use of them, he didn't mention it. Nor did he mention your continued progress in magic—though you knew he was fully aware of it. You were waiting for him to say something, to give you a task or ask you to do something. He never did. Neither did he try anything untoward. In fact, he was quite the gentleman. And you found it frustrating as hell.

Zenon had become a friendly acquaintance, and Shien seemed to be used to you now—though he was still stiff and almost unbearably formal around you. You supposed it was the most you would ever get from him. He seemed determined to not like you.

But right now, that wasn't your problem.

“Sorry I'm late!” you panted. You had run all the way from your room. The sunlight had been unable to penetrate the thick storm raging outside, and you had overslept.

There was no response. You blinked, confused. Looking around, you realized the throne room was quite empty. Walking hesitantly, you opened your mouth to call out again when you stopped yourself short.

The room was not, in fact, empty. No, it was definitely not empty…

You smiled softly, heart giving a pathetic little thump at the sight.

Homura was asleep in his throne. His head lolled to one side as it rested against the tall back, he was practically sprawled across the massive stone chair. There was no way he could possibly be comfortable, but he slept onward, peaceful. His chest rose and fell softly with each breath, the leather hugging his muscled torso like a second skin. His robe was still hanging loosely from his shoulders, the chains that were customary still shackled to his wrists.

You had wondered about those. You had a deep aversion to shackles—ever since the whole sacrifice thing, actually. Homura was the leader here, but he wore shackles. You didn't doubt he could take them off if he chose, yet he did not. They remained in place, cold and heavy. But it was not your place to ask.

Your eyes softened, and a smile tugged at your lips as you approached the throne and sleeping god resting there. Zenon had been kind enough to let you know what they were—and what they were doing. You were grateful, for you were too distracted around Homura to think of the question and there was no way you would have asked Shien. And besides, from your experience, a new world wasn't a bad idea.

You stopped when you were barely a foot from him, afraid of waking him if you accidentally touched him. You leaned closer, smiling at the relaxed innocence held in his expression. He really was too cute…

The faint rattle of the shackles was your only warning. You reacted, jumping back, but a second too late. Strong arms yanked you forward. You fell against a hard chest, legs sprawling on either side of his.

With a thick gulp, you looked up. Homura was indeed wide awake. And the bastard was smirking again. He always seemed to be laughing at you, that sexy little smirk tilting his lips and some devilish look in his eyes. Yet he never acted, had never tried to be anything but a perfect gentleman—until now.

You swallowed again, acutely aware of his body pressed intimately against your own. His chest was firm and toned beneath your hands, his legs firm and muscled between yours, his arms tight and powerful around you. His powerful aura flared and mingled with yours, the sensation intense, breathtaking.

“H-Homura?” Was that your voice? That husky, seductive whisper?

His smirk turned wicked, something dark and exhilarating flashing in his eyes. “Yes?” he breathed, nuzzling his nose lightly against yours.

You shivered, the husky tone of his velvet voice washing over you like a caress. You licked your suddenly dry lips, and watched in breathless fascination as his gaze darkened and fastened there.

“Don't tempt me, little witch,” he murmured, voice deliciously rough.

You resisted the urge to lick your lips again, just to tease him. But you didn't dare. It wasn't wise to play with fire…

“W-why—” you cleared your throat, but when you spoke again, your voice was still a throaty whisper. “Why did you…” You had been about to ask why he grabbed you, but now it seemed rather redundant. He had been gentlemanly all through your stay—and it had left you frustrated and wishing he'd just do something. Now he'd done something. You weren't about to correct him—not when he was right. So you opted for another question. “Why did you take me here?”

He smiled impishly, eyes flashing with heat. He leaned forward, lips brushing your ears and he whispered softly. “There are many, many places I wish to `take' you.” He nipped your ear, shifting his hips for emphasis.

You bit back a gasp, shifting position to try and put more distance between your bodies. It was too hot, too difficult to think rationally with him so close. But the shift in your weight caused him to growl softly, and brought to your attention something he seemed utterly unashamed of.

You met his gaze with wide eyes, too uncertain to shift again. He seemed perfectly content to let you feel the hard evidence of his desire—he certainly made no move to hide it. A dark humor danced in his gaze, a decidedly naughty smile tugging at his lips.

“What's wrong, my little temptress?” he whispered, voice as thick and smooth as soft velvet. He leaned forward to nip your jaw, his arms loosening just enough to allow his hands to caress and touch. He shifted his hips again, drawing a faint, strangled moan from you. You didn't even try to protest—didn't want to. It felt so good…

His lips brushed your throat, hands shifting. One arm was still wrapped tightly around you, keeping your body to his as close as possible. The other slid down to your hip, squeezing softly as he shifted against you again, tearing a gasp from your throat. He nipped your neck, wanting, craving, demanding another sound.

His hand drifted up, dragging roughly across your ribcage to barely brush the underside of one breast. But he didn't go any farther.

You mewled a protest at his ceased progress, delving your fingers into his hair and tilting his head up for a voracious kiss. Your blood seemed to be afire, coursing, pulsing through your veins with unbearable heat. You rolled your hips against him, craving the sharp, delectable sensations the action engendered. He groaned softly, hands slipping down to firmly grasp your hips again.

His tongue teased apart your lips, diving deeply into your mouth even as his hands pulled your hips hard against him. You tightened your grasp on his hair, tilting his head farther back to gain better access to that hot mouth. You ruthlessly took control, thrusting your tongue into his mouth and pressing your body closer. Your actions were rewarded with a deep growl of approval.

One shackled hand slipped beneath the hem of your shirt, skimming flesh and making you shiver. Just as it was about to slide up your side, a noise distracted its owner.

You missed the sound of a throat being cleared, but Homura did not. He broke the kiss, breathing fast and eyes glazed with blatant lust. Panting, you gave a questioning frown, mind still locked in a haze of passion and want.

Blue and gold eyes blinked rapidly, attempting and failing to clear the desire that clouded them. You watched his throat longingly as it worked in a thick swallow. One little nibble, just a taste…

But Homura stood, letting your body slide down his own. He kept hold of you until he was sure you could stand unassisted, then turned to his visitor. You blinked dazedly, swaying a little on your feet but otherwise stable. Body still wound tight and blood still singing with unsatisfied yearning, you tried to comprehend what was going on through the thick fog that clouded your mind.

Zenon was smirking at you, though he was probably supposed to be reporting to Homura. Shien was mercifully absent, and you sighed in relief even as your cheeks flamed with embarrassment. You met the red-head's gaze, only to receive a grin and quick wink. Suddenly, the carpet became utterly fascinating.

Zenon chuckled. A look from Homura quieted him and reminded him of his current duty, though it did nothing to his mischievous grin. You weren't paying attention to what was said, but soon wished you had.

Zenon gently tugged your arm, turning toward the stairs while Homura went on ahead.

“What is it?” you asked, still fighting—and failing—to suppress your blush.

Zenon glanced at you with a grin, though he was just gentlemanly enough to not smirk at you again. Still, his eye danced with wicked mirth as he explained. “Well, it seems those new recruits aren't happy any more.” He gave a careless shrug. “Guess they didn't read the fine print or something. Anyway, Homura's going down to…uh, negotiate.”

You didn't have to ask what he meant by that. You knew. So you just nodded and asked another question. “Where are you taking me?”

“Homura's orders,” Zenon said. “I'm to escort you to your room and then join him.”

“Wha—why?!” you stopped dead in your tracks, outraged.

Zenon smiled. “For your own protection, of course.” He grabbed your arm and tugged, not roughly but firmly enough that you had no choice but to follow or lose your balance.

You snorted. “Like they could even get into the castle.”

Zenon smiled and nodded, a sort of `yeah, that's true' expression on his face. But still, he continued to `escort' you to your rooms.

“Besides, I can take care of myself,” you added. “Remember?”

Zenon chuckled. “Yeah, I remember. So does Shien, actually.” He sent a half-smile over his shoulder at you.

You rolled your eyes, groaning softly at the reminder. Stubbornly, you dug in your heels, forcing Zenon to stop. “No,” you said, scowling darkly at him.

He sighed. “C'mon, you're just makin' my job harder.”

You glared. “I can help.”

“Ah, but you don't need to,” Zenon reasoned. “That's the thing.”

You gritted your teeth. “How the hell am I supposed to prove I'm not useless if you never let me try?”

That made Zenon pause. “Hmm,” he turned and looked at you. Hope flared inside you. “Nope.” And died just as swiftly.

You scowled and tried to reason the entire way to your room, occasionally going stiff and refusing to move until he practically dragged you down the hall. To his credit, he didn't get too annoyed. He grumbled and coerced and tugged and rolled his eye until he was finally able to push you into your room and securely lock the door behind you.

The `negotiations' were probably finished by now, but you weren't going to just sit there and wait. Nor could you just leave—the nearest tunnel entrance was two feet outside your door. But that didn't mean you were helpless—oh no. Far from it.

Gathering the energy, you gestured as your lips formed the appropriate syllables, archaic words slipping off your tongue and your hands gliding from sign to sign, concentrating your energy, binding it to your will and the task you wanted completed.

The spell was a bit complicated, so it took a while to formulate the proper casting, but within a minute, it had been launched. You ignored the familiar smell that caught at your senses, pushed away the brush of raw energy against your senses. To acknowledge such things would only hinder the spell.

You let your mind soar, your senses detaching from your body as your aura quickly wound down through the tower. You latched onto the familiar aura of the half-god, a golden-shot blue that wavered between human and divine. It was…beautiful.

You really should have scanned it before, you realized. You could sense an aura easily enough, but actually seeing an aura took concentration. You regretted not doing a scan of Homura before. His aura was magnificent.

You let your aura mingle with his, reveling in the intense feeling of the merger. His aura shivered and flared, and you knew he felt the thrill as well. His double-colored eyes scanned his surroundings, though you knew he couldn't see you, wouldn't find you. But he could feel you.

Your body, still locked in your room in the tower, smiled. You pushed your aura against his, letting it drift and mingle in the glorious gold and blue. Finally, you detached enough to take in the situation.

There was a new man, with a less intricate chakra, standing before Homura, red-faced, throwing a tantrum. Homura looked… preoccupied.

Your body smirked, your stomach fluttering with feminine pleasure, but you resisted the urge to mingle auras again. It was too much of a distraction, one neither you nor Homura could afford. You were having a difficult enough time as it was just maintaining this new spell, while Homura was surrounded by a small regiment of very pissed off gods.

The new spokesman snarled something, but Homura ignored him. Zenon appeared nearby, Shien soon after.

“We guaranteed nothing,” Shien stated it clearly, drowning out the ranting god. “If I recall correctly, your representative agreed to retrieve the Maten Scripture. There was nothing else agreed upon.”

Before another outburst could begin, Shien continued.

“If there is contention of this,” he said, calm and arrogant. “Take it up with your previous spokesman.”

There was silence, and then the new delegate stepped forward. “We can't,” he growled. “He's dead. Took a bullet straight to the head from that blasted priest!”

Zenon snorted. “The priest's Banishing Gun can't hurt a god—unless he's dumbass enough to let it.”

“He must have dropped his guard,” Shien murmured. “That is no fault of ours.”

“You know why his guard dropped?!” the god demanded. “Because he was so damned determined to get the sutra for you! He was so sure he could prove himself!”

“It is no fault of ours,” Shien repeated. “If he underestimated the enemy, the blame lies solely with him.”

The god gritted his teeth, fairly snarling at the silent Homura and his two subordinates. He was about to open his mouth and say something, or yell some more, when Homura finally spoke.

“You chose to join us,” Homura said, voice calm and cold. “You chose to obey orders. You chose to leave the Heavens. No one forced you to make the decision, and no one forced you to remain under my command. You may leave at any time. You may return to the Heavens you abandoned. Or you may wage your own war against the gods. It is your choice, as it always has been.”

Homura turned to go, having said all he intended to on the subject. The enraged god attacked him.

A sudden fear engulfed you, a protective instinct clamoring in your mind. You heeded it without thought. Your body made the signs and spoke the words, your aura directing the energy for the spell. You channeled it to Homura, erecting a thick barrier about him before the attacking god came within five feet.

There was flash of electricity, the sparks matching the still restless skies. Then the attacking god was thrown, flying heavily into his compatriots. Before he could recover, his comrades attacked.

You felt the surprise of everyone gathered—including Homura's. He could have blocked the attack, could have killed the god easily. But you had acted first. Your body began to ache, the muscles began to tremble and your skin grew damp with sweat. The effort of maintaining two powerful spells was taking a heavy toll.

Your aura flickered, weakening. But you refused to abandon the three gods as they fought. Your extended vision wavered, the room in which you stood beginning to waver just beyond the sight of the battle.

The entire battalion was facing off against the three—and losing, thus far. Shien's whips brutally beat down several, while Zenon mowed down another patch of gods with his gun. Homura didn't seem to be moving, but you could still see his aura with your failing far-sight. It flickered erratically, surging in power, mounting in streaks of gold and radiant sapphire. He was performing a summon…

Just as his aura flared brilliantly, just as the summon was completed and you glimpsed a fiery dragon erupting upon the battalion, your aura snapped back. It flew through the tower before slamming back into your shaking body. You gasped, your mind struggling to adjust to the sudden sensations, to the pain that was wracking your exhausted form.

Your body collapsed, gasping for breath. You tried to move, but your muscles cramped, helpless against the spasms. With a strangled cry, you passed out.

`````Outside`````

Your aura was gone. Homura felt its loss acutely, a sense of deprivation engulfing him. He barely suppressed it before the deficit in his focus could undo the summon.

The dragon devoured the entire battalion, incinerating every god with a voracious hunger. Homura found a distant part of him relating to it. He knew well the deep, unquenchable fire, the ravenous, insatiable hunger. It had nearly consumed him not minutes before, in the throne chamber.

When he finally let the dragon subside, there was nothing but scorched desert left behind. He took deep breaths, letting his body adjust to the drain of his energies. Then he turned and strode away, ignoring Zenon and Shien as he swiftly disappeared into the tower.

Zenon gave a low, impressed whistle. “Don't see that everyday.”

Shien gave a noncommittal “hmm.”

“Well,” Zenon said, stretching with a long arch of his back. “I guess that's proof enough.”

“Hmm,” Shien repeated.

“Ah, c'mon, man,” Zenon said, lips quirking in an exasperated smile. “Did you see how far she threw that bastard? It had to be fifteen feet at least!”

“She is…proving her usefulness,” Shien murmured.

Zenon sighed, shaking his head. “Alright, fine,” he muttered. “Have it your way.”

`````You, Later`````

You stirred. Your head was pounding, and there was a terrible taste in your mouth. Your body had that dry-sticky sensation of being unclean, and it ached horribly. Your throat was parched, and your stomach rumbled plaintively. You gave a little moan, struggling to sit up.

Two arms were around you in seconds, and a familiar aura merged with yours. You realized you were lying in bed. When had you been moved? You shivered, feeling suddenly wet.

It was Homura, still soaked from his battle in the rainstorm. He was staring hard at you, an almost accusatory look in his eyes.

“I told Zenon to lock you in here for a reason,” he murmured, voice strained.

You smiled faintly. When you tried to answer, all that came out was a hoarse, indiscernible whisper. Homura's eyes widened, and then narrowed. You felt his aura flicker, concern and chastisement warring. He stood, gently letting you lay back against the pillows.

You watched him. He was soaked to the bone, clothes dripping. But he had water and a bit of food waiting on the bureau. He grabbed the water first. You thanked him, but he shook his head at your whispered attempt at speech.

“Drink,” he ordered softly.

You obeyed. He had you propped up on his arm, and was carefully tilting the glass to your lips. You had to stop and rest after a few sips, but eventually the entire glass was emptied. You declined more, too exhausted to continue drinking, much less try eating. You wanted sleep. But Homura insisted, fetching the plate and ignoring your somewhat stronger protests.

You blushed, surprised you had the energy for it, when he carefully fed you. Finally, he heeded your objections and placed the food aside, though his stern look promised a fight if you protested again later.

“You're wet,” you stated, though now he'd dried a bit.

Homura grunted, but didn't comment.

“You'll get sick,” you said, frowning at him.

A flicker of a smirk fluttered across his face, and the barest hint of mischief danced in his eyes. “Would you like me to change, then?”

You frowned at him, knowing he was up to something but too tired to figure it out. “I don't want you to get sick,” you said, wondering if a half-god was even capable of catching a cold.

“Is that a yes?” he asked, the impish gleam in his eyes increasing.

You found yourself wary, but still too fatigued to work it out in your head. “Yes.”

He grinned devilishly, then stood and shrugged out of his robe. You sputtered faintly, blushing deeply as he tugged off his leather undershirt. You were too stunned by the expanse of sleek, bare muscle to notice how he managed to free his shackles of the leather, but you didn't much care. Who could, when the result was this eye-catching?

He had already unbuttoned his jeans when you snapped back to reality, you swallowed thickly and managed to stutter out a coherent protest. Tearing your gaze off the half-hanging-there jeans and the broad, smooth muscles of his torso, you met his eyes. He raised a brow in question, a smirk tugging insistently at his lips.

Oh, how you wanted to just nod your head, to let him go ahead and strip down completely. So close, just a little nudge of his hands and the denim hiding the rest of him from view would just slip away…

You took a deep breath, unable to look at him. If you did, you'd see all that glorious, toned flesh and give in. You were in no condition to entertain such fantasies. Homura took pity on you, it seemed, and buttoned his jeans again. But he did not, however, don his shirt or robe.

Instead he sat down, that hard edge back in his eyes. “Zenon took you here for your own protection.”

“I know,” you answered.

He gritted his teeth, his eyes glinting with angry steel. “Then why did you interfere?”

A smile tugged at your lips again. You pushed your aura outwards, engulfing his and letting them blend. The intense, thrilling rush made you catch your breath. His eyes darkened, and he shivered lightly.

“Don't distract me, little witch,” he ordered, but his voice was low and husky, betraying his lust as clearly as the passion swimming in his predatory gaze.

“I couldn't just sit here,” you answered, refusing to pull back your aura. A hard shiver raced through you, and your body seemed uncomfortably warm.

He gritted his teeth, eyes showing the battle he waged against the desire roaring like a beast in his mind. “You could have killed yourself.”

You shook your head faintly. “The spell deactivated—”

But he was shaking his head now, too. “You could have killed yourself,” he repeated. “And for what? To prove your abilities? You did that when you eluded Zenon and Shien.”

“I couldn't help it,” you said, a wry smile tilting your lips. You had meant to stop there, but the words poured from your mouth, and really, you were just too tired to care anymore. “He attacked you. I had to…I had to do something.”

He was silent for a long moment. Then he was kissing you, hard. There was no tenderness this time, no gentle nibbling, no soft persuasion or playful nips; just raw hunger, a rough, demanding lust that would not be easily sated.

When you were trembling and helpless with desire, he pulled back. You reached for him, but he gently caught your hands and tucked them into the blankets.

“Rest now, my impudent sorceress,” he murmured, lips brushing softly against your ear. “Rest…”

“Stay…?” you hated how vulnerable you sounded, how needy. But you wanted him nearby.

His eyes flickered with an indiscernible emotion, but he seemed to understand, for he nodded and carefully shifted you over. Lying down, he pulled you close, spooning your body against his. His hard chest rose and fell against your back in a steady rhythm, lulling you into a deep, peaceful sleep.

`````One Month Later`````

It had taken a full three days before you recovered. But you had learned the lesson. Don't do two major spells at once. And, due to Homura's almost adorably chiding reminders, don't overtax your energies.

But Homura had also promised to let you participate more with them. Though his grumbled excuse had been that if he didn't, you'd end up hurting yourself while `trying to help.'

You didn't mind. You would finally be able to help! Though, Homura had ordered you to be strictly back-up… Still! You could prove you weren't useless. And not to mention, with real battle experience your skills would improve faster. You wanted to be strong; you wanted to be able to protect Homura, to be there if he needed you. Though, you had to admit, such a thing was not very likely.

In fact, tonight Homura had decided to pay a visit to the bearers of the Maten Sutra. Zenon had informed you that, though they bore the Sutra, Homura was yet to be serious about taking it. The visits were all about checking on the `kid,' named Goku, and his progress. Homura needed him for something bigger.

This visit would be different, though. Shien had come in contact with the group, and he had returned with some sort of evidence. This Goku was ready. It was time to take the Sutra. Now, all that they were waiting on was Homura.

Still, you knew that actually going for the throat was not the objective. Killing them was not necessary, to your relief. You had never killed anyone before, and you didn't really want to start now.

Still, you felt jittery and giddy, a mix of nervousness and excitement mixing in your blood. Your first battle… You took a deep, steadying breath. Striding confidently, you walked into the throne room. Homura was relaxing in the stone chair Zenon and Shien on either side.

You paused near Zenon, not sure what to do now that all were gathered. The red-head tossed you a smile and a thumbs-up, which you returned with an anxious grin.

For a moment, no one moved. Then you watched silently as Homura stood and walked to the door.

“You're finally ready, aren't you?” Zenon asked.

“Yeah,” Homura answered quietly.

“So, the time has come,” Shien added.

“No explanations,” Zenon said, voice firm and resolute. “No motivational speeches. Just say the word, man.”

“If you're ready,” Shien stated, tone determined. “There's only one thing we need to hear from you.”

“Zenon,” Homura called.

“Yo,” the red-head answered.

“Shien,” Homura continued.

“Yes?” was the immediate answer.

Homura didn't hesitate. “Let's go. It's time.”

`````Battle `````

You had to watch. When Homura had said `back-up,' you had thought you would at least be in there with the action. But nope, he'd forbidden it. You knew why, now that you had glimpsed the group.

There was a Sanzo.

The first sight of the robes had made you frozen in place, an old fear tingling at the edges of your consciousness. Homura's aura had flickered, trying to brush yours. You had answered, reaching your aura into his. He'd ordered you to stay out of sight then. Shien had scoffed, but Zenon had patted your shoulder and agreed with Homura. If you were needed, you could step in, but until then…you'd be fine at a distance.

The robes wouldn't have been too much of problem—it was more the shock of seeing a Sanzo again that had forced the icy memories to rear. But what really made you tremble was the shine of golden hair, the glint of violet eyes. Indigo had been the color of the sorcerer's gaze, but the deep amethyst was far too close for comfort, especially when combined with other matching features.

His aura was strong, his magic potential great. There was another, clad in green, who had an immense aura—which was explained by his skillful chi manipulation. There was a red-head; his aura was strong but lascivious, alluringly masculine, and distinctly that of a half-breed.

The youngest—Goku, you knew—had a powerful, bright aura. It was almost visible to you, and it took little concentration to bring it into your visual range. It was a vivid gold, shining like a brilliant halo around him.

You watched as they spoke, Homura delivering the ultimatum with all the ease and arrogance of ordering tea. They traded threats and scoffing words. Then Homura and his subordinates departed.

They met up with you, waiting a few booths away in the market, and then found a quiet place overlooking the town to wait. You trained for a bit, nothing big, just some mediation. Halfway through the night, Zenon and Shien left, murmuring something about oolong tea and a shot of strong booze. You thought little of their departure, knowing Zenon had a fondness for bars and Shien usually accompanied him on these excursions.

You lay down to try and sleep, watching Homura for a time. He did not rest, nor did he show any intention of doing so. He merely stood near the edge of the rise, watching the sleeping town silently. You frowned, but supposed it wasn't too odd—all his plans relied on this coming battle. If he could not lure them to the tower with the Maten Sutra, then all would be for nothing.

`````Homura`````

You were finally asleep. He didn't move, but continued to watch the quiet town as he listened to your deep, even breathing. He had grown far too attached. It had not been wise to allow you so near.

Now, however, it was too late. You were too deeply under his skin, wedged too securely inside his failing heart.

His heart…so much hinged on that frail organ. He could feel the ache, deep and pulsing. His heart was failing. The mixed blood in his veins was showing its true colors, the Jade Emperor's mocking words coming to fruition. Just how much longer did he have?

Long enough, he would see to that. He would create that world, a new Heaven and Earth. His dream of an ideal, peaceful world was too close to completion for fate to kill him yet. He would not allow it. He had promised himself this, had promised Rinrei. She was gone now, but it was the least he could do for her.

Homura frowned. He owed it to her, that was true. If not for him, she would not have been banished. She would not have been harmed in any way. Yet after her sacrifices, he betrayed her.

He listened as you shifted a bit in your sleep, settling into a more comfortable position. No, this was not betrayal—at least, not to Rinrei. She would have been gladdened to know of you. But he was practicing the dark art of treachery, as distasteful as he found it.

However…no. No, not now. He would tell you, he would. He would tell you everything…just, not now. But soon…soon.

`````Morning`````

Dawn rose, bright and blinding. Homura sent you farther along the cliffs when you sensed the four's approach. There, you had to watch. And you hated every frickin' second of it. But you refused to be utterly useless.

So, in an act of defiance, you cast a warding spell around Homura. He would still be hit, but the blows would be less damaging, less fazing. You were forbidden from revealing your presence, after all.

There were more threats traded, more mocking words spoken. Homura seemed relaxed, sitting on a rock and leaning against his fiery blade with a deceptively lazy posture. Zenon also seemed impudently relaxed, his gun slung carelessly across his back. Shien seemed to be the only one taking it even remotely seriously.

Finally, you heard Homura. “Let the battle begin.”

Goku attacked first, though Homura reacted swiftly enough to make it difficult to determine who really began the fight. Zenon and Shien attacked the priest, but the chi manipulator erected a barrier. Then the half-demon launched into battle, aiding his two comrades.

Goku and Homura exchanged blow after blow. Dodge, block, strike again. Dodge, block, strike again. They settled into a rhythm, a beat that seemed unique to them alone. It was obvious they had fought several times before, their moves almost automatically falling into sync with one another. Then the strikes grew stronger, each fighter raising the stakes.

Homura's fiery sword swung the pole away from Goku, but the young boy managed to catch the half-god off guard. The kick nearly struck, but Zenon intercepted. The god must have made a sarcastic comment, for Goku's strength spiked, sending the gun-toting god flying. You tensed, wanting to interfere but knowing you shouldn't, at least not overtly. You put a quick ward over Zenon before he landed, lessening the impact; you warded Shien too, to be fair.

Your spell-casting distracted you. You felt the drain of energy as your thick warding on Homura absorbed a powerful strike from Goku, the young man's fist landing heavily against the half-god's jaw. There was a pause, and then Homura struck back.

You cringed, feeling Goku's powerful golden aura flicker violently in pain, like a candle in a fierce wind, before it dimmed in unconsciousness. One strike, that was all it had taken. You looked down, feeling foolish. They…really didn't need your help at all…

Homura trained his attention on the priest next, aiming for the sutra. The other two of the group moved, trying to reach the Sanzo before Homura did. Zenon intercepted the half-breed before he could adequately react; Shien swiftly neutralizing the chi manipulator with a quick, powerful blow to the back of the neck.

The priest blocked the initial blow of Homura's broad sword with nothing but his tiny pistol, and, though you were inherently wary of the Sanzo, you had to admit you were a little impressed. They parted again swiftly. A formless fire summon from Homura was blocked by the Sanzo's own wards. But that distraction was all the opening Homura needed. His sword swiped upward in a fiery stroke, slicing through the priest's robes and chest plate easily

But it wasn't enough; the priest's aura was wrapped firmly about the sutra, guarding it. Homura thrust his sword at the priest's head, and the scripture reacted, despite its master's will. It sprung from around his shoulders, encasing the two men in a loose, barred shell as it protected its bearer. Too little, too late.

When the sutra receded, the priest was on the ground and the scripture rolled up neatly in Homura's hand.

A few more enticing words from Homura, baiting the trap, and it was time to leave. The priest, however, wasn't done yet. How he managed to stand, you didn't know. He was either stronger than he seemed, or incredibly stubborn.

Somehow, he had managed to stand, pistol aimed for Homura's head. For a moment, you were afraid he'd shoot the half-god. Then you remembered what Homura had said, a Banishing Gun could not harm a god unless allowed.

The bullet never struck. It impacted with your wards and Homura's own godly barriers until it was completely absorbed. Finally, the Sanzo collapsed, fully unconscious.

Then Homura, Shien and Zenon disappeared. Zenon appeared again beside you, smiling. He grabbed your arm and disappeared, taking you along with him.

Mission completed.

`````Tower of Konran`````

The sutras were in place. The design was fully formed and ready for them to take their place. Now all they had to do was wait for the priest to recover. Homura had no doubts that Konzen would fight to his last breath to retrieve the scripture.

But for now, he'd rather find you. He couldn't fetch you himself, not with the scripture in hand. It was an unnecessary and somewhat foolish risk. And Zenon had been happy enough to do it himself. Though, now that all was ready, Homura had no other excuses for avoiding you.

He had to tell the truth. It was past time for a full explanation. Homura knew Zenon would have left out…that detail of their plan. And honestly, the half-god didn't know how you would react to the news.

Homura was dying. And there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

You were grinning when Homura finally saw you again. He felt his lips twitch, the joyous smile infectious enough to make him want to mirror it. You practically through yourself at him, laughing as you hugged him. He caught you, though he was quite surprised at the sudden action.

His hands rested on your upper thighs, dangerously close to brushing your bottom as he supported you. He was slightly leaned back, balancing his slight burden with his own weight. For a moment, he let himself just revel in the feel of your body pressed against his own, in the delicious sensation of your legs wrapped firmly around his waist.

You pulled back enough to smile broadly at him. “You did it!” you cheered, and kissed him.

The surprise didn't last long then. He quickly returned it, thrusting his tongue eagerly into your mouth without preamble. Gods, how he had missed this. He delved deeper, shifting his grip to bring your body more snugly against his. Your hands were tangled in his hair, fervently urging him on even as you tilted your head to offer him better access.

He moaned softly, deep in his throat. Emotions tore at him, warring for dominance. He would miss this; he would miss it most of all. The sobering thought brought a stab of pain to his heart, one far different from the racking pains he had started enduring recently. That was physical; this was not.

He didn't want to die. Deepening the kiss with an edge of desperation, he clutched you tighter to him. He didn't want to die…

Homura hadn't cared before; so long as he could build his perfect world, the peaceful, accepting world, he hadn't cared about a continued existence. But now… Now he would give it all up. He would turn his back on his dream, let it die imprisoned in the dark, as he had thought he was to while trapped in heaven's dark dungeons.

It didn't matter anymore… That thought brought another painful ache to his chest, the memory of Rinrei, his promise, echoing in his mind. He had to go through with this. He'd promised…

He didn't want to die. But he would, and soon. There was no escape from it. He had accepted his fate once, why was it so hard to do so now? He knew the answer: because now he had something to lose…

The knowledge only made him hold tighter to you, the kiss becoming more demanding and heated. You moaned, a throaty, feminine sound that shot straight to his loins. He growled in lust, but pulled back.

Homura forced himself to relax his hold, everything in him screaming in protest. He wanted you, damn how he did. He lusted for you. And a part of him feared that was not all he felt. His body raged with heat at the slightest provocation on your part. He ached almost constantly from the want. But he couldn't have you, not ever. It wouldn't be fair to you…

Breathing ragged and mind hazy, Homura groaned softly as he felt your body slide down his in slow, delicious friction. Unable to resist, he lowered his head for another long, blood-boiling kiss.

“I have to go,” he whispered against your lips, voice rough and thick. “There is still much to attend to…”

You nodded half-heartedly, but still did not release him. With how you held him, he doubted you wanted to. He felt the same, arms aching at the mere thought of you leaving their embrace.

Another kiss, this one soft and achingly tender, and then Homura left, consciously forcing his unwilling legs into movement. It was the hardest damn thing he'd ever made himself do.

`````Later`````

You couldn't stop smiling. You knew you were sitting there with a big, stupid grin on your face, but for the life of you, you couldn't stop. It was all you could do not to giggle like a schoolgirl.

Homura's plans were almost complete. A new world, one without pain or rejection, where people were truly free… It sounded almost too good to be true. But it would be; Homura would make sure of it, of that you were confidant. He was so very close to attaining it…and you were unbelievably proud of him.

You nibbled at the dinner in front of you, the table yawning large before you even in the massive hall. You weren't too hungry, too much excitement coursed in your veins to have a proper appetite. Still, you knew you had to eat. The real final battle was coming, and you needed all your strength to help Homura. So you continued to snack lightly at the food, slowly taking in the nourishment.

A noise off to the side drew your attention, snapping you from your thoughts. You frowned, quietly setting down the morsel you had been sampling and standing. You automatically expanded your senses, searching with both your mystical and physical vision. A flicker of aura confirmed the presence of another.

The aura was dulled, as if the true person were suppressed. It almost wasn't there at all, like some sort of shiki-gami. It was tainted human, but held a divine spark that marked it as that of some sort of low-level god. One of the mysterious servants of the Tower of Konran?

“Hello?” you called, deciding that, servant or not, you didn't want this newcomer to know you were fully aware of his presence.

However, he seemed to mean no ill will, for he came forward without hesitancy. Strange, since before when you'd called, they'd slipped away as swiftly and silently as possible. You'd always figured Homura had ordered them into anonymity—or they were just really shy. Either this one was disobeying orders, or orders had changed.

Still, why the sudden bravery? Why hadn't he just approached you before? You had to have run into him before during your stay.

You offered a hesitant smile. He didn't return it. He was lanky, young, probably just out of puberty. He had a chakra on his forehead and a somber look on his face at odds with his youthful appearance.

There was a long moment of silence, during which you felt awkwardness build. The youth, however, seemed to not notice. He merely stared at you in somber disapproval. What should you say?

“Uh…” Okay, that was not very original. “What's your name?” Better.

“You really don't know, do you?” the youth said, scorn entering his voice.

You frowned; that was not the answer you had expected. Confusion rose in you. What was he talking about? Before you could stop yourself, you heard yourself say, “What?”

He laughed. It was a bitter, mocking sound that settled a cold lump in your gut. Suddenly, this youth seemed very threatening…

You swallowed, discreetly backing up a pace as your mind automatically began gathering energy for a defensive spell. “What?” you repeated, pushing an edge of power into your voice. It irked you that such a young man—barely out of childhood!—could intimidate you.

He finally sobered, but his grin was vicious. “You're so foolish.” He raised his chin, sneering down his nose at you. “I can't believe you never realized it.”

You gritted your teeth, anger shoving away your wariness. “You better start talkin', boy,” you growled.

He just leered at you, scanning his eyes rudely up and down your figure. You bared your teeth in a silent snarl, reaching for a bit of energy. If he didn't stop looking at you like that, you'd give him something to leer at!

“Your father was probably very powerful…too bad he sullied himself with a human wench.”

That got your attention. The energy vanished as your concentration shattered. You blinked incredulously at him. “W-what?”

He gave you another contemptuous sneer. “You heard me, half-breed.”

Your mind had stalled, trying to piece together just what the hell this kid was talking about. A half-breed? But you didn't have the red markers of a half-demon. And you knew your blood well enough to know it held no demonic content—your old friends had verified that as well.

But at the same time, you didn't think he was lying. He was too confident in his scorn, and he had no reason to toy with you. The cold lump in your gut rose to your throat, a sinking feeling entering your stomach.

He rolled his eyes, uttering a scoffing sound of disgust when your expression remained unchanged confusion. “Do I have to spell it for you?” he snapped. “H-A-L-F B-R-E-E-D. You're a fucking half-breed! Your father was executed for his sickening relations with that human bitch! You—”

You didn't hear the rest. Half-god…? Your father had been a god? Your mind was reeling, unable to latch on to the truth. But…you'd have known! You would have sensed… No, no you wouldn't have. You couldn't see your own aura…

“Unfortunately,” the kid sniffed derisively, his ranting finally calmed. “Your heretical witch of a mother saved you. Her blood was stronger than a normal human's, pathetic as they are. Still, it was enough to make you mortal by humanity's standards.” He curled his lip at you, condescension dripping from every line of his expression and stance. “Pity you won't die like most filthy half-gods do. But then, you won't live nearly as long either. I guess it's a mixed `blessing.'” He spat the word blessing as if it were a foul curse.

You just stared at him, mind refusing to acknowledge his words. For a few beloved seconds, your brain didn't—couldn't—believe the words. Then it came down all at once, crashing in like a massive tidal wave and washing away everything in its path.

Your surroundings took on a surreal quality, as if none of it were real. The boy seemed nothing more than a cruel nightmare, a figment. He curled his lip once more, another sound of pure disgust dropping from his lips before he whirled and left.

For a long while, you didn't move. You had no willpower, shock robbing you of any autonomy. There was nothing. Everything was blank, beyond notice. The table, the room, the tower; it was all insignificant, too small to notice and yet far too large to comprehend. You felt like you had gone mad.

You suppressed a manic laugh, mind slowly dredging up thought once more. Reality began to sink in and with it came a terrible realization. The truth struck like a fiery arrow to your heart.

Homura was a half-god…

`````Homura`````

The star was complete, the sutras in place. All that was needed was to conduct the ritual and then await the final piece: Son Goku.

Zenon and Shien were nearby, studying their work. They knew what they were to do when the time came, though obviously a tad doubtful that it would be as easy as Homura had claimed.

Now all that was left was to wait.

“Kiretsu concerns me,” Shien suddenly spoke up.

They'd had this conversation before, but Homura had had other things on his mind—namely you. “Hmm,” was his noncommittal answer.

“He was very young to be turned,” Shien continued.

Zenon nodded, a somber look upon his face. “That's true. The kid was barely old enough to shave when he was changed.”

“I am concerned,” Shien continued. “That the transformation has made him unstable. He was, perhaps, too young to endure it. I fear it may have broken his mind.”

“What has caused this concern?” Homura asked, trying to give the matter his full attention. It was still you who distracted him, but it was no longer a heated, lustful distraction. It had become a bitter, pained one. His own mind was tormenting him as much as his failing body. His own being was conspired against him…

“I have had reports that he has become manic,” Shien continued, tone matter-of-fact. “He has become… frenetic in certain ideals.”

“Such as?” Homura prodded when Shien hesitated, meeting the soft-spoken god's eyes. It was not like Shien to hesitate.

“Purity,” Shien murmured, obviously choosing his words carefully. “Or, more specifically, the purity of divine blood.”

Homura's body tensed. Zenon winced. Shien bit back a sigh; he knew the pasts of his comrades, knew how sensitive this subject was for both of them. Still, he forced himself to go on. It was too important to brush under the rug a second time.

“I fear he is becoming…fanatical on the topic,” Shien went on. “The others warn he may begin to take action on his warped beliefs. They suspect bloodshed…”

“Watch him,” Homura said, voice cold and emotionless. “If he crosses his boundaries, eliminate him.”

Shien nodded curtly, understanding. One weak link threatened the entire chain. One rabid dog threatened the entire pack with fatal illness. They were far too close to their goals to risk it.

“Does he know…?” Zenon didn't finish.

“No,” Shien answered, knowing what his friend meant. “None of them do; nor shall they ever in the future.”

If Kiretsu poisoned the others, still arrogant in their newfound powers, with his twisted ideals, their group of subordinates could easily become an uncontrolled cult. And if they discovered Homura's heritage and Zenon's past…the two would swiftly become primary targets.

Homura suddenly stiffened, his head cocking as if listening to something. He turned to Zenon and Shien. “You are dismissed,” he said softly, making the intended order sound more like a request.

Zenon blinked, but nodded and departed. Shien moved to follow, but hesitated. “I will have Yotogi maintain surveillance on Kiretsu.” Homura nodded stiffly, and Shien left.

`````You, One Minute Earlier`````

Where was he? Why couldn't you find him?

You threw your senses out once more, searching desperately. You had to ask… You had to know for sure. Homura wouldn't lie to you; you knew he wouldn't. You loved him, you trusted him, and you knew he cared for you in return. He had to…

With a cry of relief, you located his magnificent aura. With a soft, mental call, you warned him of your coming. Without hesitation, you felt the answering flicker of an answer. Then the other two auras around him, which you vaguely recognized as Zenon and Shien, departed to offer privacy.

You didn't hesitate to throw yourself into his arms, body shaking with barely withheld sobs. His arms enclosed you automatically, enveloping you in a warm safety. His lips brushed your ear, gently murmuring soft assurances and quiet questions.

You pulled away, meeting the confusion and concern in his eyes. “Is it true?”

He blinked at you, frowning lightly as struggled to follow and understand.

You shook your head, trying to clear it. “Is…is it true?”

“I'm afraid I don't—”

“You're going to die…aren't you?” your voice was a quavering whisper, hoping against hope, wishing against the very fiber of reality and truth.

His eyes darkened, and his body tensed. He clenched his teeth, as if biting back the answer he didn't want to give. But he didn't have to say it.

Tears welled in your eyes. “How much longer?”

Homura looked away, not answering.

“How much longer?” your voice held a hard edge, your hands reaching up to cradle his face and force him to look at you.

“Not much,” he answered, voice almost inaudibly soft, unbearably resigned. His hands reached up to hold yours against his face, eyes closing as if to savor the sensation. And why wouldn't he? He wouldn't be alive to feel it much longer…

Tears slipped past your lashes. You clenched your eyes shut to prevent more from falling. “Is there any way to—”

“No,” he answered immediately. “No, there isn't. I'm afraid…this is my fate.”

You clenched your teeth, forcing your mind away from the undeniable facts. You couldn't deal with it, not right now. Unfortunately, it only brought another truth to your attention. Your hands dropped to hang limply at your sides.

Your voice was soft now. “I'm not human…am I?”

Something flashed in his eyes, and then they darkened. There was a pause, as if he were trying to find a way to deny it. Finally, he spoke, regret ringing in his tone. “No…No, you're not.”

You felt your lower lip quivering and quickly clenched your teeth against the tears that threatened. Your whole life was…a lie. You'd thought yourself human. Your entire existence had been built upon that assumption—a falsehood.

Your name whispered in soft velvet forced your attention back to a pair of gold/blue eyes. This time, it was his hands that rose to cradle your face. “This doesn't change who you are,” Homura said, voice soft and comforting. “Your blood is not something to be ashamed of or shunned.” You leaned into his hand as it gently caressed your cheek. “Look at what it has given you. Look at your strength. No one can harm you.”

Some part of you knew you were probably overreacting, but it was too unexpected, too much of a shock. You just didn't know how to react. Your mother had always praised your father's strengths, mournful love glowing brightly in her eyes.

And then you realized it. Your gaze flew back to his.

He'd known. All along, he'd…

Tears blurred your vision as you stared wide-eyed at him, the truth sinking in hard and fast. You watched as his eyes darkened, his features tightening as he realized you knew. Betrayal, sharp and thick, rose in you like a bitter tide, choking off all else.

He'd known.

That was your purpose here. That was your `use.' …He didn't care, after all.

He'd known!

And now, the pieces falling rapidly into place in your mind, you felt your heart shattering. He was going off to die. That was the whole plan. He'd create his perfect world…and then die.

Pain ripped through you. Why hadn't he trusted you with that knowledge? …Because he didn't care. That's why he hadn't told you of his fate. That's why he hadn't told you the truth of what you were or why he'd brought you here. Because he didn't care.

He spoke your name, a rough entreaty for understanding. But you couldn't bear it. It was too much, far too much at one time.

When you turned and ran, he didn't follow. He didn't call out. He just stood there and watched you fade into the darkness of the hall, hating himself with an acidic regret.

`````Later`````

You had fled. You had disappeared back to the tower, running from Homura. You ran from Homura's plans and his words, ran from the truth you knew you couldn't deny.

You hadn't known where you were going. You'd run blindly through halls, taking side passages through the Tower. But you found yourself on the stargazing balcony, behind the ritual room where you had first begun your escape.

He was going to die. You weren't human. He was going to just let go, give up. You had been living a lie.

Your father…how could he have been a god? Who—no, you didn't want to know. Your mother had been all you had. She had taught you everything. Your father…all he had given you was this tainted blood.

You gripped the railing, not heeding the chilled wind or the white of your knuckles as you clenched the stone between your fingers. You weren't human. And Homura…Homura was dying. And…he'd known. He'd known all along. He'd known everything!

You felt the caress of a familiar aura, but you pushed it away, unwilling to bear the company of anyone right now. The aura pressed in again, insistent, caring. It wasn't going away. You felt more than heard when he stepped closer, behind you.

Finally, you turned to face him. He stood close enough to touch, but the barest of space remained between you. You wanted to reach for him, but shoved the desire aside. He didn't love you, not as you did him.

“You knew,” you said, a resigned statement of fact. You felt frantic disbelief even as a wild sense of treachery pierced your heart.

Homura nodded, confirming your statement.

You frowned, fighting the bitter taste of betrayal as you struggled to keep your voice from quavering. “Is that why you saved me? Why you brought me here?”

Homura sighed and shook his head. You thought he would avoid the question, as he usually did when this subject came up. But he surprised you by smiling and saying: “It is one reason. But mostly, that is why they are letting me keep you.” His lips grazed yours, and his tone turned distinctly possessive at the word `keep.'

“But you knew,” you said, voice trembling despite your efforts. “And you didn't tell me. You knew, Homura…”

“How was I to tell you?” he asked. “How was I to bring such a subject to the fore? I couldn't very well just blurt it out.”

As much as you didn't want to, you had to give him that. There had never, ever been a conversation or situation during which he could just drop that little bombshell.

You looked again into Homura's two-toned gaze, and closing your eyes, you accepted it. You worried your lower lip between your teeth, your spinning mind struggling to calm. You were a half-breed.

Taking deep breaths, you forced yourself to see the situation in a more rational light. Homura had been correct; your blood was something to bring pride, not shame. But you were angry, confused, scared, and feeling a little betrayed. You didn't want to be calmed.

You swallowed thickly, gathering all your anger and drawing on the strength found there. “So that's it? I find this out …and now what?” Your voice cracked, but you plunged onward. “You tell me this, and then go off to die? Don't!” you interrupted when he opened his mouth to deny the claim. “You're planning to die, I know you are, damn it.” You felt the tears rising again, but fought against them. “You're going off to die. You're gonna give up, just like that.” You lost the battle, a first then second tear sliding from your eyes.

Homura opened his mouth to speak again, and you waved him off, shaking your head, unwilling to listen. You caught the sound of your name, a whispered plea in black, sinful velvet. But you fought the pull, trying to shove past him to leave. He didn't let you go.

He grabbed your wrists in a punishing grip, lightly slamming you against the wall and pinning you there with his body. You gasped, surprised. His lips brushed your ear, his breath teasing the flesh there.

You felt a moment of fear, a memory rising from the depths of your mind to terrorize you. You recalled the Sanzo, holding you in a bruising grip as he taunted and laughed in your ear. The horror, the terror and panic of that moment swelled to engulf you in the present.

Homura enveloped your aura in his, able to mimic the ability from experiencing it so often. He pressed his body closer, letting you feel his form against yours. His grip loosened, his thumbs caressing in soft, soothing circles against the tender flesh of your inner wrist. His lips brushed your ear softly, murmuring soft words.

Finally, your panic eased, your breathing leveling out as you rested your head against his shoulder. He didn't stop whispering, murmuring tender words and rubbing those gentle, almost erotic circles against your wrists. Your blood took on the familiar warmth, fire racing through your veins as the flames licked deliciously at your flesh. You couldn't deny your feelings anymore.

You murmured his name, a soft, pleading sound. He answered with a sharp nip to your earlobe, shifting his body to match yours, thighs against thighs, hips against hips, chest against chest. You moaned lightly, pressing closer, wrapping a leg around his and angling your hips into his own.

He groaned. Then his mouth covered yours and you were lost to coherent thought. Your bodies rubbed and arched into each other, mindlessly seeking the release that lingered tauntingly out of grasp.

It was again Homura who pulled away, gasping for breath, eyes clouded with blatant want. He neared again, but only to drop a chaste kiss against your lips before swiftly departing. You lightly touched your fingers to your lips as your eyes closed in painful grief, savoring the feel of his kiss, fearing it would be the last…

`````One Day Later`````

You hadn't spoken to him. What would you have said?

You had gone to your room. Zenon and Shien were restless, waiting impatiently for the Sanzo group's arrival. Homura seemed more relaxed, as if detached from it all. Knowing what you did now, it was easier to understand. His heart was weak; he couldn't afford to strain it with even the smallest unnecessary task.

You gazed at the books stacked on your shelf, spell-books that had `mysteriously' appeared one morning after a particularly rigorous night of training. You knew who was behind it, but chose to not mention it. If the half-god wished to stay anonymous, so be it.

Though honestly, you couldn't figure out how he could possibly think it wasn't obvious. Zenon knew next to nothing of magic besides the basics of his godly abilities, and Shien had never been nearly fond enough of you to bother with such a thing. But Homura knew spells, and you didn't doubt for a second he could have acquired the books—he had gotten you clothes, hadn't he?

The almost adorable gesture, and cute attempt at hiding it, had you smiling, though you didn't want to. Anger had far more motivation than tenderness. But you were smiling anyway, unable to stop. That's when it occurred to you.

You had yet to go through each book. That left many spells undiscovered. If you truly had the blood of a god in you, if that was the true source of your power, couldn't you do something?

You hated being useless, despised sitting back and watching as something terrible happened to someone you loved. Your gaze hardened on the shelf of books. If you had god blood in you, then damn it you were going to put it to some good use.

`````Two Days Later`````

It was damn risky. If Homura found out what you were going to try… Well, he wouldn't. At least not until it was already done.

You firmed your resolve. “No guts, no glory,” you whispered to yourself.

If the spell succeeded, Homura would live. He'd be as mortal as any human, but he'd be alive.

If the spell failed…Well, that didn't matter. You'd die without him anyway.

Another explosion racked the tower, and you had to pause before you slipped and fell, tightening your grip on the spell book you carried. A quick check verified that you still had the dagger Homura had given you. The Sanzo and his group had arrived to retrieve the sutra, just as Homura had said they would. But another group had shown up as well, a band of four demons.

The servants had been rapidly disposed of, each aura sputtering out until there were none left but Zenon, Shien, and Homura. But now, only Homura remained. You closed your eyes for a moment, then pushed aside the grief for your fallen friends and continued down the dark tunnel.

Homura, in a fit of protective brilliance, had Zenon lock you in your room again. But Zenon had rigged the door for you. He'd said it was in case the tower came down under the force of the ritual. But considering he'd said it with a tiny smirk and one-eyed wink, you knew that wasn't the only reason. When he'd caught your broad smile, he'd sobered and made you swear not to interfere with the battles.

You could easily hold that vow. The spell could wait until after the fight. It didn't occur to you that Homura could lose. He may have given up on living, but he had too much pride in his fighting abilities to just lie over and let someone kill him. He would fight with his all. And that gave you both pride and confidence in him.

You'd slipped through the door after the first few explosions had knocked the locking mechanism loose. Zenon certainly knew his work. The tunnels had been your first destination. From there, you had been able to navigate through several floors and corridors to the ritual room.

It had been slow moving, explosions sometimes making you pause while the aged tunnels shook and chips of stone fell from the ceiling. You'd tried to leave the tunnels, trying to sneak up to the ritual room from a more discreet position than the tunnel entrance. That plan had been shot when you found that one explosion had caved in the side passage. So you had been forced to go back to the tunnels and navigate another way.

The only problem was that now the only way to the ritual room from the tunnels would be to go straight there. That wouldn't have been so bad, if not for the fact that the tunnels opened up into the ritual room from one of the massive pillars, in plain sight. Whoever had built that section had not been very intelligent.

The only real bright side was the second tunnel you could use to get out. If the tower truly did fall, the second tunnel would get you out fast. And well it should, considering it was just one huge, spiraling slide to the ground floor. You'd truly loved descending that mother of all slides before training each night.

You sighed in relief as you finally came upon the narrow staircase that led up to the pillar. It was a steep spiral, and you had never really trusted the crumbling steps.

When you finally reached the door, you were very grateful the weakening stone hadn't given out completely under the force of the explosions. The new world must be close to completion—or destruction, depending on how lucky the Sanzo party had gotten.

Carefully, cautiously, you eased open the thick stone door hidden in the pattern of the pillar's stone, the book clasped tightly to your chest by your other hand. There was a set of great doors, on the other side of which you could glimpse a land filled with lightning and hear the sounds of fighting.

But the ritual room was empty.

You barely suppressed the heaving sigh of relief that threatened to escape. The room looked empty, but it was a very large room, with many shadows—especially with the great doors pouring flashes of lightning from the storm and energy from the fight within. You glanced quickly around before slipping from and shutting the door as swiftly as possible. You didn't dare waste any energy with a cloaking spell. You'd need everything you had when the time came.

Considering no weapons came flying or battle cries sounded, you bet it was safe to say no one saw you. Trying to be covert, something wholly difficult considering the open space of the massive chamber, you made your way to the door.

Homura's eyes were glowing. That was the first thing you noticed. The second was that his shackles had been removed. Opening your mystical eyes, you gasped and reeled back.

His aura was intense! It was so much brighter without the cuffs, which explained why he wore them. They restrained the bulk of his powers. Blue flared, golden streaks flashing radiantly as his energy soared again, his aura matching the flow of power. He truly was magnificent…

You were lost for a few moments, unable to tear your gaze away from Homura's liquid movements as he fought. A sound and flash of movement caught your attention and you swiftly ducked from the door. The rest of the Sanzo party was in there, you couldn't go in yet.

Damn it. You didn't want to wait. But you would have to. Homura had gone to much trouble before to keep this group—and the other—from discovering your presence, you wouldn't let it be for naught. Besides, they would interfere. You couldn't let that happen. The spell was risky enough without distraction.

So, you did the hardest thing you could—you waited.

You tried to ignore the sounds from the doors, the occasional cry of pain, the hard slam of a fist or kick impacting another body. But the part you hated most was the sudden stretch of silence. Nothing could be heard but the deep thunder of the clashing lightning. During that time, there was no way to know what was happening. Not knowing, you discovered, made the waiting all the worse.

Finally, you could take it no more. You leapt to your feet, intent on running through the door to Homura and casting the spell, Sanzo party or no. But then you caught a flash of ivory. Quickly ducking behind the pillar, you watched as the Sanzo emerged, robes fluttering in his haste. His comrades followed, the white dragon flying close at hand.

For a moment, you felt frozen with dread, the room fading from your vision. The Sanzo party had survived? Did that meant…did that mean Homura was defeated? How? Oh God…what if he was dead? What if you were too late?

Panic slammed into you, forcing your frozen body into action. The room cleared around you, adrenaline making your vision sharp and clear. You were shaking, badly. But the spell book remained clasped tightly in your hands.

The priest and his companions were gone. You ran from your place of cover, no longer caring about being caught or seen. Your heart was in your throat, worry making your pulse pound in your veins. You prayed Homura was still all right…

You ran through the doors, head whipping around, trying frantically to catch sight of a familiar figure. Nothing. A cry of pained despair escaped you, and you turned full circle, hoping that maybe you had missed something. With a sob of relief and anguish, your eyes landed on his form, crumpled against the edge of the massive door.

You ran to him, nearly dropping the book in your haste. “H-Homura?” you whispered, voice a quavering sound of helpless grief. The book slipped from your numb fingers.

“Homura?” Your hands ran down his cheeks, cupping his faintly smiling face. Tears spilled unchecked, and a sob tore from your throat.

“Homura!” your voice cracked, and you couldn't take it anymore. You buried your face in the crook of his neck, shoulders shaking from the force of your sorrow. He still felt warm…

Taking a gasping breath, you leaned up. Chastely, you pressed your lips to his in an innocent kiss. He was still so warm. Your gaze dropped to his throat, and an irrational, illogical seed of hope formed. It was impossible really…

But whether out of denial or sheer morbid, masochistic curiosity, you gently pressed your fingers to his throat. You didn't expect a pulse. At first, you weren't disappointed.

Then you felt a faint flutter, the barest, almost imperceptible tremble of a heartbeat. You cried out, a sob of relief and happiness. Swiftly, you scrambled with the book, nearly tearing the pages as you rapidly flipped to the page you had marked earlier.

“Hold on,” you begged him brokenly. “Please, just hang on a little longer…”

Swiftly, you began chanting the correct words. You made the hand gestures, relying mostly on memory from your attempts to memorize the complex gesticulations and strange, foreign syllables. Your vision was too blurred with tears to be of much use.

The words burned, searing your tongue as the energies gathered; the power you were calling intense and half-forbidden. Your hands shook from fear and effort as the energy flowed frozen yet blistering through your body. You swallowed thickly during a brief rest in the chant, and then swiftly took up the cadence once more. This had to work…

Reaching the crescendo of the arcane ritual, you finished the final hand signs, and then grasped the dagger at your belt. Without hesitation, your mouth still forming syllables through almost unbearable, acidic heat, you drew the sharp blade down across your wrist. Ignoring the pain as best you could, you forced your voice to continue the rhythm as you lightly slit Homura's own arm, wincing as blood immediately flowed from the shallow gash across his wrist. The spell needed far more of your blood than his.

Dropping the knife, you dug your fingers into the wound at your wrist, deepening it and soaking your hand in the blood. Then, you smeared the blood across his forehead, drawing symbols and runes on his cheeks and throat and around his chakra.

The symbols flared as you chanted louder, the strength of your blood intensifying the power of behind runes. You felt the pull, the drain on your energies as your own blood fought to complete the spell. You took your torn, ragged wrist and held it to Homura's mouth, mentally urging him to drink without breaking the chant.

You quickly massaged his throat, ensuring he took the blood into his body. It was necessary. You gently grasped his own cut wrist, the blood having spilt into tiny rivulets down his hand. You brought it to your mouth and lightly suckled, being careful not to take too much. You didn't want to compromise his precarious state.

Not wanting to waste any more precious blood, you held your wrist to his, willing the blood to mingle and mix. The chant reached a climax, clear and intricate. The elaborate syllables ended abruptly. Tears still streaked your face, still blurred your vision as you closed your eyes and pushed your will into the last of the spell.

Work… Please, please work

Your energy wavered, but the first flare from Homura compensated for it. You suppressed the cry of relieved joy, knowing the break in the intense silence would shatter the spell. And you were already far to drained to attempt even the most amateur of spell casting.

The second flare made you shiver, his aura pulsing as his heartbeat sped up dramatically. You felt the drawing sensation as your blood and his transferred. You could feel the warmth of the mixture flowing from your arm, through your body, back to Homura. After this, his powers would be cut drastically; he would be more human than god. But that was exactly what would save him.

The third flare was accompanied by a cry of pain, Homura's entire body stiffening and arching as his heart rebelled against the magic-tainted blood and the energies of the ritual that flooded it. His aura flickered, flaring and then sputtering dangerously.

He arched again with a fourth flare, teeth clenched against the agony of his heart trying to reject the power that was changing it. You felt more tears flood down your cheeks. God, you hated hurting him. You began chanting softly, trying to strengthen the spell, but it did very little. You were just too drained. So you settled for an internal mantra of half-praying, half-willing him to survive.

One more, just one more. Come on, Homura, you can do this! Don't give up!

You waited, tears falling freely, heart stalled in mid-beat, breath held frozen in your lungs. Waiting…waiting…just waiting for that fifth and final spike…

Where was it? Panic welled, and you thought you were about to go insane…

Finally, the fifth flare flashed through Homura's aura, the blue blazing brightly while the gold dimmed. The divine taint diminished, the human glimmer increased. His entire body arched up, his eyes closed tightly as he shouted in pain. Then the blue began to fade as well, his body went lax, and his heart began to sputter uselessly. You were losing him…

Without thought, you pressed your lips tightly to his, forcing your will through your blood and into his body through your joined wrists. You couldn't lose him…you couldn't…

The drain on your energy increased. If you couldn't get him back soon, the spell would sap away all your strength. There would be no more energy to make your heart beat, no more strength to draw breath into your lungs. But you would die with him. It was far better than living without him.

Your energy was almost out. You closed your eyes tightly, pouring your very heart and soul into the spell. You had almost given up, had begun to relinquish your death grip on hope, almost allowed the last dredges of your energy to dissipate uselessly…when Homura's aura burst into bright radiance.

You gasped against his mouth as his heart strengthened, his breathing came loud and ragged, and the symbols drawn in blood, your blood, flared and faded. You pulled away, swiftly wiping the tears that still filled your eyes.

Almost daring not to hope, you watched as Homura's breathing strengthened. Then finally, finally, he opened his eyes and you found yourself staring into perfect, gold-flecked blue. You offered a watery, quivering smile. “H-Homura…?”

“What…?” he croaked, wincing and pressing a hand to his heart.

“I'm sorry…,” you murmured, ripping the edge of your sleeve. Your hand shaking, you bandaged the cut on Homura's wrist. “I had to… I…” You swallowed, unable to meet his eyes as you haphazardly tied another scrap of cloth around the ragged wound on your own wrist. It would scar…

A warm hand covered yours, gently sliding it out of the way as he straightened the makeshift tourniquet to a more efficient position. Then he hooked his finger and thumb under your chin, and raised your eyes to his.

But whatever he was going to say or do was rudely interrupted by an earth-shattering explosion. The new world was nearly gone, a void of thick, unyielding black surrounding a tiny section of land around the massive set of doors.

How much time had passed since you began the spell? How much time was left before the world and the Tower of Konran collapsed?

“I'll explain later!” you said, voice as weak as you felt.

With a terrible slowness, Homura levered himself to his feet, wincing as his hand automatically rose to clutch his chest. You got to your feet as well, also unbearably slow as fatigue weighted your limbs. There was no time left…

Unsteady on your feet, both you and Homura stumbled from the doorway, just as they began to implode. Homura had begun to walk to the stairs, the quaking of the tower further impeding his shaky stride. You clutched his arm, insistently dragging him to the pillar with the door.

“Tunnels!” you gasped. He threw you a confused look, but didn't protest or waste time with questions. He followed, trusting you completely. Your heart warmed at the gesture, and you couldn't help sending him a radiant, but exhausted smile.

You shoved weakly at the door. For one heart stopping moment, it didn't move. Then Homura was there as well, pushing with you. The door grated, then clicked inward before swinging outward. Homura blinked for a moment at the steep, hidden stairwell, and then was swiftly following you.

The Tower of Konran shuddered violently, and you knew it would come down any moment now. Only a few more feet…

There!

With a yelp, you felt your feet slide out from under you. You landed with an “oomph!” and felt the exhilarating rush of air flying swiftly past. A soft, surprised grunt from behind you told you Homura had also successfully found the slide.

You would have giggled with glee if not for the shaky state of the tower. You really had loved this thing…

It took an eternity of seconds to fall down the winding slide, but at last you tumbled to the bottom. You didn't have the strength to leap at the final section, as was your custom. So when you landed in a heap at the base, you slowly, tiredly began to rise. At least until Homura landed atop you.

You groaned, both at the delicious feel of him against you once more and at the exhausted ache that had begun to settle into your muscles. There couldn't be much more time left! There were still a few more passages to traverse before you could clear the tower—and even then, you had to get farther away than just outside if you wanted to avoid dangerous debris.

Struggling to untangle yourself from the more human half-god, though really not wanting to, you felt your tired body begin to heat. God, how could you want him now, of all times! But the fire was slowly seeping through your veins, appropriate timing or not.

Just as you were almost untangled, you heard a loud, booming crack from far above your heads. Without warning, Homura threw himself down, covering your body completely and sheltering it with his own. Chunks of rock fell from the ceiling.

Crap! The tower was collapsing! You hadn't made it!

“Homura,” you whispered against his hair. “I…”

He raised his head just enough to meet your gaze. Your lips quivered, sorrow and anger at the unfairness of the situation warring with your own uncertainty. You had just saved him! And for what? To die here with him anyway? It was just so unfair!

You grabbed his head and pulled it down as you raised your own face to his. Your lips met in a searing clash of heat and fire, meshing perfectly together. “I love you,” you whispered against his lips, entire body shaking with pent up emotion. You kissed him again, too scared to let him answer. The fear was unfounded.

“I love you, too,” he answered, then fused his lips to yours in a hot, passionate battle of tongues.

Joy filled your heart, and you realized that even if you had to die now, this wasn't really all that bad a way to go.

After what seemed like forever, yet felt like only a fleeting second, the echoing boom of collapsing stone faded. Slowly, you separated, instantly missing the hot friction of Homura's mouth on yours. You swallowed thickly, desire clouding your mind for a few moments. It took you a while to realize you weren't dead.

You looked around, eyes wide. The tunnels hadn't collapsed. You let out a laugh of incredulity, eyes closing as disbelief welled. Homura's own shocked chuckles joined yours, and the tunnels echoed for a few moments with light mirth.

`````Two Days Later`````

“Mmm,” you moaned, stretching in the hot, steaming water of the tub. It felt unbelievably good.

After resting for the better part of an entire day, the two of you had gathered enough energy to drag yourselves from the half-collapsed tunnels. Another good, long rest, snuggled together under the cliffs, and you had managed to hike into the forests beyond, eventually reaching a small, quaint village—a small, quaint village with an inn.

You weren't sure what you would do now. You didn't want to go back to waiting at a bar—and Homura had fervently protested that option as well. Maybe you could be some sort of teacher or medicine woman, passing on your knowledge and using your skills to help whatever village you chose as place of residence.

You doubted your skills would go unneeded—not with the Minus Wave still wreaking havoc on Shangri-La. A healer would be welcome, as would a spell caster able to create barriers and wards. And with Homura's impressive fighting skill… Well, you didn't think it'd be too difficult to establish some sort of useful occupation that allowed you to retain and use your magical abilities.

You groaned when you realized the water had cooled. Cursing lightly, you reluctantly pulled yourself out of the water and slipped the towel around you. Just in time, too, it seemed.

Without knocking, Homura entered the only bathroom of the only room he had bothered to obtain. You gasped, clutching the towel tighter out of reflex. You gulped and met his eyes, finding mischief dancing there in their depths. The man had known damn well you were taking a bath!

You sent him a look of mock scolding, stepping fully from the tub and bending to let the water drain. You jumped, yelping, when you felt a hand possessively grasp your rear. Homura snaked an arm around your waist, dragging you fully against him as he began nuzzling your neck.

He nipped at your neck and ear, hands roaming your torso with passionate ardor. You moaned lightly, letting him turn you toward him. His hands dipped to your hips, holding you snugly against him and his burgeoning arousal. With a growl of insatiable want, he crushed his lips to yours. Apparently, he was very tired of waiting.

He kissed you deep and long, as if savoring a drink after a long drought. He nibbled down your jaw to nip and suckle at the pulse in your throat, holding you as close as he could, thrusting his aura into yours possessively. His lips returned to yours, his tongue thrusting deep and plundering.

There was an almost desperate edge to the need that boiled in your veins, matching the frantic hunger, the deeper sense of unbearable lust that roiled between your mingling auras. It was a kiss of yearning and hunger, one that promised a wild, passionate ride.

You tangled your fingers into his disheveled hair and brought him closer, preparing to hold on tight.

=====End Sacrificial Sacrilege=====

Authoress: translations! ^-^

Kiretsu - crack, crevice, fissure, chap

Yotogi - watching, vigil, watcher

Zen: now, aren't you supposed to be doing another one-shot?

Authoress: I know, T-T but this one had been waiting for so long, just sitting there on the computer, in the incomplete file…it was so sad…

Zen: *rolls eyes* so is the other one.

Authoress: I know. I gotta get that one done too…

Zen: -.-U get the older ones first, those requests have been waiting a long time

Authoress: *sigh* yes, sir.

Zen: that's what I thought. ^-^ honestly, what you do without me to keep you in line?

Authoress: I dunno.

Zen: *preens* uh-huh, that's right. ^-^

Mouretsu: *heavy sigh* you just had to feed his ego, didn't you? -.-U

Authoress: ^-^U sorry….

 

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