Spellbound * (4/6) By Sakata Ri Houjun

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Later, that same breezy night, Genrou followed Houjun towards the temple once more. The older man eased through the fallen columns as a chill wind blew through the ruins. When Genrou caught up to him, he noticed the shivering. "Are you cold?"

"I was for a moment, no da." He leaned his head against the younger man's shoulder. "I have something to show you, Genrou." He glanced toward the crumbling hallways ahead and shivered again. "She's close," he whispered. "And watching."

"Isn't it better to face her now and be done with it?"

"We can't choose the time. It's already set." Houjun gripped Genrou's hand and tugged him towards an archway.

Once inside Houjun lifted both hands before his face. As he chanted, he twisted one wrist and a red glow surrounded them. Genrou watched as the older man shimmered with a power he couldn't understand.

"Come, Genrou," he said. As he started towards a set of stairs leading downward, he chose his words carefully. "We have little time. She'll work hard to break the spell. She wants everything. And wants the most precious treasure of this temple."

Houjun stopped in front of a door thick with carving that resembled ancient writing. "This room is barred to her by power greater than mine, the same source that mine is derived from, na no da." He passed a hand over the wood, and slowly the door crept open.

Houjun stepped inside, and Genrou followed. Instantly the room filled with the light of a hundred candles. In the center he saw a pedestal in a white circle, and atop it was a globe, clear as glass.

"A crystal ball?"

Houjun crossed the room, putting the globe between them. "Come closer. Mikuni lusts for me, envies you, covets this. For all her power and trickery, she had never gained what she craves most. This has always been protected by a Suzaku shichiseishi and so it remains hidden from Mikuni."

Gently, he lifted the globe from its perch. "Look, koi. Do you know what this is?"

Colors shifted, image after image passed in a blur of life, of past lives, and it pulsed with the power of fire and pure love. "It's the shinzaho created when Suzaku was summoned. Formed from the love that the miko had for one of her protectors and given physical form by the controller of this world, it not only holds the power to summon gods and grant wishes, but also carries the memories of our dear friends and the life we lived together.

It gave Chichiri the power back then to have his wish granted, enabled the two of us to communicate all this time. If used incorrectly, it will bring misfortune and disaster.

"And I place it in your hands now." Houjun placed the small sphere in the redhead's grasp and it began to pulse with a warm red light, like a living heart.

"But why my hands, Houjun?"

"We were once the guardians of this temple. We once pledged our hearts to one another in this sacred place. My heart and love for you is in that magical sphere as well. Therefore, I am in your hands, Genrou."

"And if Mikuni claims this, she'll claim you as well?"

"Hai, I will be bound to her, a thousand years. A spell that cannot be broken." Only with death, he thought. "But she is not without weaknesses. She will not have this, Genrou. Nor will she bring harm to you. That is my oath."

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That night Genrou's dreams were restful. There was a globe of crystal, clear as water, where the past swam from decade to decade, and century past century. There was a love sweet as sake and a need sharp as the edge of a tessen made of diamond.

On this last night before he would face his fate, Houjun, seeking comfort, lay sleepless in his lover's arms.

He will be safe, he thought, laying a hand over his heart. And his own safety depended on that heart. If Genrou did not choose to stand with him linked by love, he was lost.

For years we slept like this and I never before have I appreciated it like I do now. My heart stayed true and strong even when we were parted, only to be reborn a thousand years later. And now my love will be a shield that will protect him from reliving his death again. His gift to me back then was his heart, but now.? If he brings me his love out of free will, we will bring Mikuni to her doom. When the dawn breaks I hope that our love will find a way and that our lives can be free of this evil.

Those were the words that echoed in Houjun's mind as he realized that when the moon rose again, it would be settled, one way or another.

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