Title: Zang Fu Theory, Part 24
Author: Lotus
Email: ladylotusmoon (a) hotmail (o) com
Pairing(s): Sanzo/Hakkai/Gojyo
Rating: R
Warnings: Language, sexual innuendo
Summary: While the ikkou are staying in a town, Sanzo and Hakkai are called away in the middle of the night to help a severely injured farmer. Gojyo is left babysitting a dragon, who behaves very strangely. At the farmhouse, Hakkai is possessed by a fire oni, & the oni's attempt to draw heat results in a sexual situation with Sanzo. Upon Hakkai & Sanzo's return to the inn, Gojyo & Goku realized what happened & Gojyo attacks Sanzo. Hakkai attempts to be peacemaker, sending Sanzo & Goku to the bathhouse, leaving him with Gojyo. Sanzo & Goku have a chat in the bath, and Sanzo is attacked by the fire oni. Back at the inn, afraid he is losing his friend to Sanzo, Gojyo uses his special brand of persuasion with Hakkai. Hakuryu flies back to the inn for help, leading Hakkai & Gojyo to the bathhouse. They battle the fire oni, and just when all seems lost, Gojyo remembers Jien's magic beans. Hakkai & Gojyo wash the ash off each other. Returning to the inn, Gojyo & Goku are kicked out of the room & Hakkai tends Sanzo's wounds. Goku gets embarrassed in the bathroom in front of Gojyo, who ends up lending him a helping hand. The healing session becomes intimate between Hakkai & Sanzo. Hakkai remembers the past when he was at the temple with Sanzo and Gojyo seeks solace after accidentally eavesdropping on Hakkai & Sanzo. Goku follows the upset Gojyo & gets free dumplings from a vendor because he's a companion of the Chosen One. During a passionate moment, Sanzo loses control & Hakkai leaves to look for Gojyo. Goku leads Hakkai to the bar he had followed Gojyo to the night before. At the Red Kimono, Gojyo is attacked & mysteriously declared to be the Chosen One. The purpose of the Chosen One is revealed to be a companion for the fire oni. And the villagers chose Gojyo! Trapped by a talisman next to his heart, Gojyo decides to say goodbye to Hakkai. Hakkai's passion is released. Sanzo meets up with the rest of the ikkou at the Red Kimono. He and Gojyo had a confrontation over Hakkai sleeping with both of them, and Sanzo realizes something is wrong. Hakkai realizes Gojyo is being coerced by the owner of the Red Kimono. He says good-bye to Gojyo so he can discuss strategy with Sanzo. Sanzo and Hakkai discuss Gojyo's predicament, but Sanzo makes it clear he's not going to talk about anything else. Goku reviews his feelings for Gojyo. Hakkai, Goku and Sanzo enlist Wan Tu's help. Gojyo prepares for the ceremony.

Chapter 24: Goku, Wan Tu & Hakkai go to the Red Kimono and Sanzo goes to the temple.

 

EDIT: Ack! I forgot to credit my beta, sharpeslass. I must now go whip myself with a wet noodle repeatedly.


The sounds of the festival floated out on the air as Goku and Wan Tu approached the town. Goku squashed the anticipation that automatically came at the sound of laughter and music. They were going to be spoiling this particular festival, after all. Carrying a small bag over his shoulder, Goku followed Wan Tu as the farm boy wove through the crowd of people, some holding flags and colorful lanterns on sticks. The smell of fresh meat buns wafted under Goku's nose, and he automatically started to turn towards a food stall, then he shook his head at himself. Stay focused. Hakkai was trusting him with an important mission. Goku felt a flash of pride.

"Please remember these are human guards you'll be fighting, not youkai, and restrain yourself accordingly," Hakkai had told him.

"Geez, Hakkai," Goku had sighed. "I'm not stupid."

"Goku." Hakkai had gripped his chin, forcing Goku to stop bouncing on the balls of his feet. He had looked up into Hakkai's serious face. "I know you can do this. I just want you to be careful."

Goku had grinned. Hakkai was always such a worrywart. Impulsively, Goku had thrown his arms around Hakkai, hugging him and knocking off his wide straw hat in the process. Laughing, Goku released Hakkai and retrieved his hat, shoving it back onto his head. Then he had jogged backwards up the road and waved back at Hakkai.

"See ya!"


Goku ducked under a pole hung with jugs of sake and balanced across the shoulders of a man walking in the opposite direction. Goku had wanted to say good-bye to Sanzo, but Hakkai had told him to let Sanzo rest, saying he had a headache. Goku didn't know how Hakkai could tell Sanzo had a headache when he was sleeping, but Hakkai was never wrong about that stuff. The crowd opened up enough for Goku to walk alongside Wan Tu.

"Have you ever been in a fight?" Goku asked.

Wan Tu shook his head no. Goku pushed out his chest a little.

"I've been in hun- er, thousands of battles, and I've never, ever lost. Well, except to God. And Kougaiji, he's a demon prince, this one time when he was totally jacked up..." Goku trailed off as he realized Wan Tu had stopped walking and was standing several paces behind him.

"What's wrong?" Goku asked, looking around.

"Y-you've fought a god and a prince?" Wan Tu's eyes were wide.

"Yeah." Goku frowned, puzzled. Why was the guy acting all weirded out? "I'm just telling you so you won't be worried, you know? About the guards. 'Cause I can totally handle those guys."

Wan Tu nodded and started walking again, but Goku caught him staring at him out of the corner of his eye. He sighed. Maybe he shouldn't have bragged so much. To his right, Goku saw a string of red lanterns, then the bright noren of the Red Kimono. Feeling a rush of adrenaline, Goku grabbed Wan Tu's sleeve and pushed his way through the crowd. He was a little short, but he was strong, and the two of them were at the entrance in moments. Goku stopped when a man in a black kimono glanced his way, arms crossed over his chest. Goku remembered earlier when Sanzo and Gojyo had been fighting, men dressed like this one had swarmed into the room and followed orders from the Red Kimono's owner. He was probably a guard.

What had Hakkai said? Head down. Don't meet anyone's eyes. Goku dropped his chin and walked past the guard, Wan Tu on his heels. The gambling parlor was packed. Men crowded around the tables and the bar, the walls reverberating with conversation and the occasional victory shout. Girls in red kimono, carrying serving trays, flitted from table to table like bright butterflies. A cloud of smoke hung under the low ceiling, making Goku cough and burning his sensitive nose.

Squeezing his shoulder, Wan Tu slid past Goku and headed towards an older woman in a black kimono with red poppy flowers, who was standing at the edge of the bar. Wan Tu bowed.

"Good evening, madam," Wan Tu said.

"Good evening, gentlemen, and welcome to our humble establishment," she replied, returning the bow.

"We would appreciate some... company," Wan Tu said.

Even though he was trying to keep his head down, a peek at Wan Tu revealed the farm boy was as red as a pomegranate.

"I regret, sirs, that due to the festival, all of our escorts are engaged this evening," the woman said politely.

Goku bit his lip. Crap. What were they supposed to do now?

 

---


Hakkai watched Sanzo walk away towards the temple, a single white willow on a blackened field, against a sullen sun hanging low in the sky. For a moment after healing Sanzo's headache, Hakkai had thought Sanzo was going to kiss him. Conflicting emotions warred within him as Hakkai climbed out of Jeepu. He was grateful Sanzo hadn't kissed him because Hakkai did not want to have The Discussion right before a potential battle. He felt relief that Sanzo had perhaps forgiven him enough to contemplate initiating physical contact. And still, despite everything, there was the desire smoldering like a banked fire beneath Hakkai's skin.

A wave of chi rolled through the cooling evening air and broke over him gently as Hakuryu transformed. Hakkai's hair stirred from winging backdraft as the little white dragon flew up onto his shoulder.

"Chrrr?" Hakuryu nosed behind his ear.

"I'm fine." Hakkai patted the scaly talons.

This was not the time for introspection. He must not lag behind the others; timing was vital for the plan to work. Straightening his shoulders, Hakkai turned to the small pile of luggage left on the ground by Hakuryu's transformation. Before setting out to Wan Tu's farm, the ikkou had returned to the inn and packed their belongings. One always had to be prepared for a hasty departure. Hakkai quickly moved the luggage into the bamboo, making certain it could not be seen from the road. While pushing one of the suitcases deeper inside the bamboo, something brushed by his hand, and he felt a sharp pain. Snatching back his hand, Hakkai stood up and saw a greenish-yellow snake with broken bars across its body slither out of the bamboo between his feet and disappear in the high grass. It had looked like a habu, which unfortunately was a poisonous viper.

Examining his hand, Hakkai found two distinct fang punctures on the webbing above his thumb, although they weren't deep. He wasn't particularly worried, since he generally could metabolize mild poisons and intoxicants. But he couldn't afford to be at less than his best when Gojyo's life hung in the balance. Taking a deep breath to center himself, Hakkai concentrated on pushing his chi through the poison and breaking it up like popping large bubbles into smaller and smaller bubbles until they disappeared. A swipe of his fingers from his other hand brushing a light film of chi over the wound provided a thin seal of fresh, pink skin.

Satisfied, Hakkai finished hiding the ikkou's belongings and struck out at an angle towards the town. He needed to approach from a different direction than Goku and Wan Tu had taken. Whereas they were to enter town openly, Hakkai was making his return clandestinely.

Hakkai had been sorely tempted to send Hakuryu with the pair so that he could let Hakkai know if something went awry, but he needed the dragon himself. Hopefully, Goku would follow his directives. Since Goku's most distinguishing features were the diadem and his golden eyes, Hakkai had instructed him to keep his head down, not meet anyone's eyes, and let Wan Tu do the talking. If the disguised Goku kept the hat on and remained focused, he should be able to get into the Red Kimono through the front door with Wan Tu.

The pair's objective was to retrieve the hostage and remove her from danger with a minimal amount of fighting. Hakkai was anticipating that the woman would be lightly guarded, with most of the security diverted to Gojyo. Hakkai stumbled over a rock, and realized shadows were gathering over the path before him. He glanced over his right shoulder and his chest pinched as he realized the sky had darkened to blood red. Wan Tu said they came to fetch the Chosen One around sunset.

"Damn," Hakkai cursed.

Between healing Sanzo's migraine and the snake bite, he had lingered too long. Turning back around, Hakkai started running. As he raced the setting sun, bushes and bracken whipped against his legs, and the air began to burn in his lungs. But he did not slow down.

 

---


After a short trek, Sanzo found the trail leading to the temple. As he walked, he pulled the coronet out of his sleeve and put it on. The half-veil brushed the back of his neck. He was visiting the temple as an official emissary. Depending on the current climate at the temple, he should be able to use his standing as Sanzo to cow the monks into submission. Although he doubted the head priest would succumb so easily, especially since he had apparently gone unchallenged for so long.

The path forked, and Sanzo stopped. A little forest shrine was nestled in front of a large rock at the center. It was overflowing with burnt incense sticks, dried up orange peels and leaves. Sanzo frowned. This did not bode well. Forest shrines were usually cared for by the locals who left the offerings. The fact that it had been left in such a neglected state was a sign that these people had lost their faith.

A stone marker indicated that the left path led to the hot spring and the right to the temple. Sanzo took the right path. Almost immediately the temple gate came into view. As he passed beneath the arch, Sanzo noticed one of the koma-inu, the guardian dogs, had been knocked over onto its side. Squatting, Sanzo levered the stone dog upright, fingers tracing deep gouges across its back, like claw marks. As a boy, Sanzo had always liked the koma-inu vigilantly guarding the bowed torii gates at the temple. Seeing one defaced bothered him.

As he rose, Sanzo absently patted the stone dog on the head. Turning, he entered a courtyard choked with piles of leaves, weeds, and broken tree branches. The reflecting pool, which featured a stone lotus in the center, was mostly evaporated, the bottom covered with a fetid, slimy layer of dead lilies and scum. Feeling his anger rising, Sanzo approached the main meditation hall, taking in the the temple's disgraceful level of neglect.

When he passed through the pillars bracketing the entrance to the meditation hall, Sanzo caught movement out of the corner of his eye. He spun around. A monk squatted at the end of the walkway with his back to Sanzo. His orange robe was torn and dirty, and the top of the bald head visible over the bent back was dotted with dark patches of stubble. He was weeding with a pair of chopsticks.

"Where is the head priest?" Sanzo demanded.

His voice carried clearly in the oppressive silence, but the monk didn't respond. Scowling, Sanzo stomped over to the monk and clamped a hand on his shoulder.

"Where is he?" Sanzo asked more forcefully.

The monk jumped violently, jerking around as the chopsticks clattered to the stone walkway. Sanzo's scowl vanished, eyes widening in shocked surprise. It looked like someone had seized the monk by the ears and tried to peel his face off. Both of his ears were gone, along with one eye, and his face was ravaged beyond human expression.

"He slaughtered most of the monks at the temple before disappearing."

Perhaps the dead were the more fortunate. As Sanzo knew from personal experience, often to survive was to suffer.

Discerning no sanity in the eye that stared wildly at him, Sanzo retrieved the chopsticks and pressed them into the monk's hands. Standing, he patted the monk's shoulder as he had the koma-inu. Walking back to the hall entrance, Sanzo automatically bent to remove his sandals. He glanced over at the getabako, and noted that several rats had made their homes inside the shoe cubbies. Straightening, shoes still on his feet, he stepped inside the meditation hall proper.

 

---


Goku's eyes flicked between Wan Tu's stiff face and the old woman's polite one. He could force his way into the back and fight his way out with the girl and Wan Tu, but that wasn't the plan. Hakkai had said to keep the fighting to a minimum so innocent people wouldn't get hurt.

"It's just that my cousin is visiting me from out of town," Wan Tu said, giving the cover story Hakkai had concocted. "To help rebuild the farm, and to pay his respects to my father."

The woman tilted her head and squinted at Wan Tu.

"I beg your pardon, are you Wan Huo's son?" she asked.

"Yes, madam." Wan Tu bowed.

Her face changed from polite regret to sympathy. Reaching into her sleeve, she pulled out a fan. Goku winced in reflex, but she raised it in the air and gestured at the room behind them. Out of the corner of his eye, Goku saw a red kimono weave through the crowd. A pretty young girl stepped up and bowed to the woman. When she rose from the bow and glanced at them, her eyes widened in recognition.

"Wan Tu?" she asked, sounding surprised.

"Yanmei-san." Wan Tu bowed.

The older woman gestured Yanmei to her and snapped the fan open with a flick of her bony wrist. She whispered to Yanmei behind the fan, and the girl nodded. Goku half-expected the woman to signal one of the guards stationed around the room, but instead she lowered the fan and smiled at them.

"I can spare Yanmei here and one other escort to accompany you gentlemen. Unfortunately, tonight they will be unable to provide... full service."

"I understand," Wan Tu said. "We are grateful for your accommodation."

Confused, Goku watched Wan Tu count out yen from the roll of money Hakkai had given him and place it on the woman's outstretched fan. What did the old woman mean by "full service"? Shrugging, Goku followed Yanmei and Wan Tu across the crowded room to the doorway he and Sanzo had gone through earlier that day in search of Hakkai and Gojyo. Another guard in black stood next to the entrance, but other than holding open the noren for Yanmei, he barely gave Goku or Wan-Tu a second glance.

Goku let out his breath as the noren swung closed behind him. Another red-kimono girl rose from a kneeling position in front of the open door at the first room on the right. She bowed.

"This is Ruolan," Yanmei said, gesturing gracefully. "She will take care of you this evening, sir." Nodding to Goku, Yanmei turned to continue down the hall, fingertips resting on Wan Tu's arm.

"Wait! Um - we're supposed to stay together," Goku protested.

"It's his first time," Wan Tu again fell back on Hakkai's cover story. "I am here to chaperone."

"That will hardly be necessary," Ruolan said.

Before Goku could protest, Ruolan grabbed his arm and pulled him into the room, shutting the shoji screen behind him.

"Look, uh," Goku turned and found himself inches away from Ruolan's smiling face. She kissed him lightly on the lips as her hands moved down the front of his chest to the waistband of his pants.

"Mother explained it's not full service?" she asked.

"Yeah, but I don't under- ah!" Goku gasped as she squeezed his dick through his pants.

"This time it's only a blow- job," she explained.

Goku felt like his eyes were going to pop out of his head. All those nights listening to Gojyo in the dark, the pervy kappa had especially enjoyed blow-jobs and was always very vocal when he got one.

Ruolan started to kneel, and Goku desperately grabbed her arms.

"Wait!" In his panic, his voice cracked. "I- I gotta pee."

"You're just nervous because it's your first time." Ruolan pressed forward, mashing her soft breasts against his chest. It felt good. Really, really good.

"I-I..." Goku's brain couldn't seem to fit any words together.

The door behind Goku slid open and he stumbled backward into the hallway. Wan Tu stood there with Yanmei. She stepped into the room and took Ruolan's arm.

"They're here to help Kaori," she said.

Ruolan's eyes widened, and she darted forward to kiss Goku on the mouth.

"If you live, come back and see me," she whispered.

The door slid shut and Goku blinked at Wan Tu, trying to focus past the fierce throbbing in his groin. Man, he was so hard.

"Hakkai-san said the third door on the left, correct, Goku-san?" Wan Tu whispered.

"Er - yeah," Goku agreed.

Shaking his head, Goku shifted into battle mode. They didn't know how many men were guarding the girl.

"Just stay back, okay?" Goku tried to sound authoritative.

"Yes." Wan Tu stepped to the side.

Taking a deep breath, Goku walked down to the third door and slid it open. A woman in a red kimono looked up from where she was sitting on a futon, playing solitaire. Goku frowned. Something was weird...

"Look out!" she shouted.

Goku was already on the move before the warning left her lips. He spun to the right, ducking the punch the guard threw at him. While the guard was over-extended from the missed swing, Goku jabbed him in the ribs. Even though it was a relatively light punch, Goku heard ribs crack.

"Crap," he muttered. And after Hakkai had cautioned him to go easy.

Holding his ribcage with one arm, the guard turned and cocked back his fist for another swing. Pulling his punch as much as he could, Goku hit him in the jaw. The man's eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped like a sack of wet rice. The woman ran over, something in the way she moved itching at Goku's brain. Pulling up the hem of her kimono, she kicked the guard in the side. Goku winced at the sound of another crack.

"Bastard!" she growled, and raised her foot again. This time, it looked like she was aiming for his head.

"Hey." Goku grabbed her arm and pulled her away. "Hakkai'd kill me if this guy died."

"Hakkai?" She froze and looked down into his eyes. She was really tall for a girl. "Gojyo-san's Hakkai?" she asked.

Goku felt a small pang in his chest. The tone she had used implied Hakkai belonged to Gojyo, like they were a couple. The only way she could know about them would be if Gojyo had told her.

Stomping down on the flare of jealousy, Goku squatted and slid the bag off his shoulder. Rummaging inside, he pulled out a short piece of twine and tied the guard's hands behind his back. The girl helped him bring the guard's feet up and bind his ankles and wrists together. Rolling the guard onto his side, Goku untied the guy's sash and pulled it across his mouth, tying it behind his head.

"That should do it," he said, proud of his work.

He wasn't usually the one who got to tie people up. Hakkai always let Gojyo do it, insisting the kappa had a "talent" for it. For some reason, that comment always made Gojyo laugh and wink. Another one of their inside jokes.

"We're supposed to change now," Goku told the girl.

"Excuse me?" she asked.

Taking off his hat and tunic, Goku handed them to her.

"Wan Tu is waiting in the hall. You're gonna walk out the front with him dressed as me," Goku explained.

He pulled his regular tunic out of the bag and slipped it over his head. Rising, the girl unwound the sash wrapped around the red kimono.

"Wait!" Goku held out a hand. "Lemme turn around so-" He stopped as the kimono parted and slid to the ground with a whisper of silk.

"You're a guy!" Goku blurted out.

The young man in front of him raised an eyebrow as he started putting on Goku's discarded clothes.

"All my life," she - he - said with a smile.

That was it, Goku thought: The thing that had been bugging him since her first saw her, or him. Fascinated, Goku watched the young man deftly twist up his long, black hair and tuck it under the conical hat.

"Will I pass?" he asked, looking at Goku for confirmation.

"Uh - yeah," Goku said.

Standing in front of him now was a young, slender man with a very pretty face. How could he have thought he was a girl? The young man smiled and gave Goku a kiss on the cheek. His lips were soft and a cloud of jasmine wafted over him.

"Thank you," he said. "Please tell Gojyo-san I'm sorry."

Sliding the door open, the freed hostage stepped into the hallway. Wan Tu nodded at Goku and started walking ahead of the young man towards the entrance to the gambling parlor. When they disappeared through the noren, Goku started counting slowly.

"One... two..."

"Count to sixty twice," Hakkai had told him. "If you don't hear anything from the front of the parlor, then go out through the back. I'll be there with Gojyo and all three of us will join Sanzo at the temple."

"Eleven... twelve..."

Everything was quiet from the front. It looked like the disguise was gonna work. The door to the room next to Goku slid open so hard Goku felt the vibration through the wall. He poked his head through the doorway in time to see a woman in a red kimono run out of Gojyo's room.

"Seventeen... eighteen..."

She walked briskly down the hall to the back, the soles of her bare feet flashing beneath the hem of her kimono. Pausing, she hiked up the kimono and broke into a run.

"Twenty-five, twenty-six..."

Before he even realized he was going to do it, Goku followed her, counting faster and faster as he ran.

 

---


The silhouette of the town appeared, cutting across stars beginning to show in the darkening sky. Hakkai knew he should ease up and move with more stealth, but if he arrived too late, it would be a moot point. So, he sprinted through the back alleys, ducking through shadows and stacks of wares until he reached the sturdy bamboo gate leading into the Red Kimono's rear courtyard.

Pressing his back against the fence, he peered around through the locked gate. The courtyard was empty, the only sound the repetitive hollow thonk of the bamboo shishi-odoshi as it tipped over and hit the edge of the fountain basin to pour out water, then rose up again. The fence wasn't terribly high, and with a small jump, Hakkai was able to grip the edge with his fingers and pull himself up. Swinging his legs over, he dropped into a crouch on the other side and waited a moment. Nothing. Bent over, he ran across the courtyard to the back wall of the main building.

Using a shuttered window ledge for a foothold, Hakkai reached up and out to grab the roof's overhang. He swung free for a moment by his fingertips before flipping himself up onto the roof. Duck-walking on the slick clay tiles and using his hands for balance, he made his way around to the back door. A small stone onigawara of a dragon coiled above the entrance, giving him a more stable place on the slanted roof to squat. From there, he had an unobstructed view of the only points of entry into the courtyard, and once Gojyo and his guards passed through the door underneath, Hakkai could drop down and block re-entry into the building. Normally, he wouldn't choose to fight with his back to a door, but it was more important to keep anyone from escaping.

A soft flap of wings, and Hakuryu landed on the roof next to him like an onigawara come to life. Reaching out, Hakkai stroked the little dragon's angular head and Hakuryu leaned into the touch, his second lid half-closing in pleasure. Closing his eyes, Hakkai took a deep breath and let it out slowly, clearing his mind. He reached out for the unique connection between himself and Hakuryu, and the strange, slightly ticklish sensation not unlike the mental equivalent of walking into an invisible spiderweb. The usual jumble of alien impressions flooded his mind, and Hakkai struggled to keep his thoughts empty, his own anxiety making it more difficult than usual. When the impressions ceased moving around him like a mad kaleidoscope, and muted to a shifting background of color/sound, Hakkai pictured the courtyard below them. As clearly as possible, he envisioned one of the black kimono guards running out of the courtyard, and Hakuryu crying out a warning. He repeated the image several times.

Hakkai opened his eyes and found Hakuryu's snout was nearly touching his nose, red eyes staring unblinking at him.

"Cheep."

Hakkai smiled. He believed Hakuryu understood, and would warn him if anyone tried to escape. This was why he needed Hakuryu with him. If even one guard escaped and the priest was alerted before Sanzo could deal with him, Gojyo was dead. This was also the reason he had sent Goku in after the hostage and taken this task for himself. Out of the entire ikkou, only Hakkai and Sanzo had actually taken human life. Although Hakkai would do his best to use only enough force to disable the guards, if it was necessary to save Gojyo's life, he was prepared to kill.

Hakkai's attention snapped into sharp focus as the doorway below him slid open. It was time.

 

---


Leaves had been permitted to blow inside, and they crunched beneath Sanzo's sandals as he walked up the center of the room. Hundreds of golden Buddhas lined the walls, and at the front was an altar with a large praying Buddha. Unlike those at the forest shrine, these oranges weren't rotten, but they definitely weren't fresh, and the ash- pots had not been cleaned recently.

A single orange-robed monk knelt in front of the altar, bowing his head to the floor and muttering prayers. Half a dozen sharp strides and Sanzo loomed over the prostrated monk.

"Take me to the head priest immediately," Sanzo ordered.

Like the monk outside, there was no response. Dropping onto one knee, Sanzo gripped the neck of the monk's robe and hauled him back into a sitting position. Blood dripped from a welling bruise on the man's forehead and ran like bloody tears down the sides of his nose. A quick glance down revealed a pool of blood from where the fool had beaten himself bloody on the hardwood floor.

"...mercy on us. Buddha have mercy on us..." the monk continued uttering his litany as if Sanzo wasn't there.

"Be quiet!" Sanzo shook him.

"...on us. Buddha have mercy on us. Buddha..."

Sanzo recognized the glassy look and yellowed sclera of the monk's eyes. It wasn't madness, but shock. He had seen it over and over again as the ikkou passed through decimated villages, on the faces of men, women, and children. If Hakkai were here, he would use soft words and gentle, reassuring touches enhanced with healing chi to bring the monk back. Sanzo didn't have the time or the patience for that method.

Gripping the monk's collar, Sanzo slapped him hard across the cheek. The sound echoed in the room.

"Ah!" The monk turned his head and blinked at Sanzo. He saw the monk trying to focus on his face.

"Take me to the head priest," Sanzo said.

The monk frowned as he became aware of his surroundings, gaze traveling over Sanzo's coronet and sutra.

"The head priest," Sanzo repeated.

"He-" The monk's voice cracked, and he cleared his throat. "He is not here. He's at the sacred spring."

"Damn," Sanzo cursed, standing up.

In a snapping swirl of robes, he left the meditation room, pausing in the entranceway with the mad, weeding monk. He frowned up at the darkening sky.

"Shit," he cursed again.

He was supposed to take care of that crazy priest by sunset, before the appointed time the "Chosen One" was to arrive. If Hakkai did his part, Gojyo wasn't coming, and the priest might activate the heart talisman before Sanzo could stop him.

Taking off his coronet, Sanzo started to run.

_____________
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