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Ten years...

Looking back, it was strange to think that it'd been ten years since that day. She didn't just feel older, she felt like a completely different person after summoning Suzaku than she'd been before she'd found the book in the reserved section of that library. Maybe she was, though. The summoning had combined her body with Suzaku in the same way that Seiryu had when Yui was swallowed up by the dragon god. Just because hers hadn't gotten as far didn't mean it wasn't still something...

Ah, and even if it wasn't literal, after ten years, if she were still the same, then she'd be the only one who was the same. The only thing. All of her old friends back in that world, the last she'd seen of them they'd moved on, most of them reincarnated and started new, happier lives than the ones they had before. Yui, too, she'd married Keisuke (which was way out of left field. She'd really been sure her best friend was going to stick it with Tetsuya, given they were so cute together). Taka had even changed, he'd been reborn into a completely different world.

They were all the same people, but they'd all changed, hadn't they? The world had changed, too. That old library she'd found the Universe of the Four Gods in was gone now, they'd torn it down five years ago after a sudden fire. The cram school she'd gone to was gone, too, and Yotsubadai High had moved after they'd gotten a donation that allowed them to move to a bigger and better updated building.

Maybe she had changed, too. It wasn't so strange to think that...even if there was a part of her left that felt sad, almost as if she were giving up on her old friends, letting go of the memories of the ones who were gone, abandoning the friendships of the ones who were still alive in that other world but forever sealed away from her. That was silly, though. All of her friends who'd died, they were already back, living lives and not needing her memories or younger self to keep them there. The ones who hadn't...

The ones who were alive...they'd probably changed, too. Just like everyone else.

Maybe Tasuki got married...!

Anyway. It was okay to reflect on it and dwell on a past that felt both only moments and lifetimes before. Today, at least, it was okay. Today was the anniversary of when she'd first opened the book, and that meant that reflecting was okay.

"If you're going to catch a cold, I like it better when you just try to fit your old uniform."

She startled out of her thoughts at the sound of her husband's voice, and turned toward him, flushing slightly despite herself. "You're not being helpful."

He shrugged where he was leaning against the doorway to the house, arms crossed. "I would have gotten a blanket, but they were all too tangled to pull away from the bed."

"...A coat would have done well, too, you know." She huffed softly, glancing out over the city from where they stood on the hill. It had a nice vantage point, this house. Taka had never completely gotten over his frugal nature, but in some cases it was really a nice thing: he always found the best deals for their money, and he'd found such a nice little house in such a nice place for the same price they'd been paying while they lived next to Keisuke and Yui.

His hands settled over her shoulders as he stood behind her, looking over her shoulder at the lights of the city below. "Maybe I was distracted."

She sighed, and leaned her cheek against his hand. "It's nice to remember sometimes..."

"Mm..." He huffed softly. "Maybe not that time we all had to dress up like women."

She blinked, caught briefly off-guard having almost forgotten that, and then gave a snort of laughter and elbowed him in the gut. "You're the one who keeps reminding me of it!"

"Ow! You're making the memories hurt more!"

"Well, you deserve it!" She laughed despite her somber mood, regardless of her husbands feigned sounds of pain, and soon she found her reflections fading from her mind once more.

#-#-#-#

"I only want one thing..."

"Tamahome!"

"No, what are you doing?!"

Don't...

be so nice to me...

"STOP!"

"I can't! Don't you understand, I can't!"

"No matter what..."

"Please...just..."

"I...love you!"

"You idiot..."

"Stop it!"

"I said-

"Stop!" She startled awake with a shout, hair a terrible mess, falling across her shoulders and back, lungs burning, eyes bleary and head spinning. Had she fallen out of bed? She felt...disoriented. Dizzy. She smelled...

Straw?

Indistinct sounds she'd registered as a loud radio slowly filtered through her panicked and groggy mind as words. Speaking. There were far more people speaking at once, sometimes shouting, some of them laughing, to be the radio. And her bedroom...it was usually dark, not bright, not this colorful.

This was...

She blinked slowly, and turned her head to stare at the movement and activity around her.

Outside...

This...isn't right...

"This..is..." A chicken ran by in front of her, passed by the cart she was riding on. A little child in familiar, out of place clothes chased after it shouting. The smell of straw came from the strands caught and tangled in her hair, and piled underneath where she sat.

The father of the child zoomed past with an alarmed cry.

"Hong...nan...?" Yet...how? The way back was sealed forever. They'd closed all the doors, prevented anyone from endangering themselves or others in this world again. This was...

She slowly, cautiously. slid out of the cart to the ground. No one should have had the magical ability to create an illusion like this in her world. Could be a dream? But...it didn't feel like one. And she...she looked down at herself after a moment, and startled herself.

The old uniform...her torn, faded, stained old uniform that barely held together and she barely squeezed herself into. It was pristine and perfect. Undamaged. Like new.

She ran. It couldn't be an illusion, not from her side. It wasn't a trick. This didn't feel like a dream. Whatever happened, magic must have been the source of this, and it had to be from this side of the door. From the book...

Chichiri would have an answer. If it was magic, especially magic like this, he'd know what was happening, he'd probably have an idea who was doing it, and he'd be the only one who could figure out how to fix it. If someone went through this much trouble to drag her back and put her in the old uniform...nothing could be good about them. The uniform was too dangerous in this state, in this place. It was a window, maybe a door, between the two worlds, and if that was what they wanted...then only Chichiri could do something in time.

She didn't know for sure where he was, but Boushin would. She was sure that he'd know. Chichiri would want him to know, just in case he was needed to help people.

Spotting the emperor's palisade so close was such a relief (because she didn't know for sure how to get to the palace from where she was, just a general idea that would probably stop her from being lost for too long), that she didn't hesitate to charge up to it. Even ten years after the fact, or however many years it had been in the world of the book, she expected the Priestess of Suzaku to be at least somewhat recognizable, especially in the uniform she'd been forced back into.

She didn't think about any other specifics. She didn't allow herself to wonder if Boushin's heir had already taken his place, because that would mean that Chichiri might be even harder to find than she worried he might be should he be on some mission away from Hong Nan. Her speed, agility...and surprise, allowed her to duck past the mounted guards (they never were much of an obstacle for her) to reach the carriage without being delayed by time wasting questions. It was a bit of a jump from there, but she was able to get a foot up onto the carriage then, and reach in to grab Boushin's arm. She had to, after all. Just violating the space of the carriage carried a death sentence, so making her identity clear before overzealous guards got in the way was important.

Besides, there was no telling what sort of imminent danger they were all in, and she was...maybe a little frightened of that.

"Quick, we have to find Chich..i...r...i..." She trailed off absently, not fully aware of whether she finished that word or not. It had taken a moment-father and son bore striking resemblance-but as she leaned in close to the openly shocked face of the current emperor, she realized it...wasn't Boushin.

It...was...

"Ho-to...hori?"