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Kyouki no Kyanpasu
(Crazy Campus)

An original story
by Aaron Bergman

© Copyright 2002-2005 by Aaron Berman.

Extra 1: Above and Below the Stars

It was the time when I was happiest... why didn't I know it? How could I never have seen it? Why did I let it end all too quickly?

I'll never have that pure, simple feeling again — no matter how long I live, nor how many other loves I have, it will never compare to the one that I had in my hands... and lost.

Xiao... I miss you so much. Goodbye...

It was not a happy day to be a sorcerer, especially if you happened to be one named Ruben Stryfe.

He surfaced from the deep lake, sputtering in purely incoherent rage as he strove to keep afloat, his waist-length hair torn out of its usual ponytail and strewn across his face. It was bad enough that his wife had chosen to throw him in the lake, muttering something about 'stinky needs off cleaning' as though she were any less dirty than he, but did she have to do it just after he'd donned his full wizard's robes?

And his pride was not helped any by the way she'd just fallen to her rear, unable to keep her feet as hilarity convulsed her. Trying to keep his anger in check — somewhat unsuccessfully — Ruben stated grimly, "We don't have time for this, Shaoyu. That lord guy's feast is only in three hours, and—"

Her laughter vanishing just as quickly as it had appeared, she leapt to her feet, with both hands on her hips. "Why can you not my name pronounce right? And you think I letting husband to be smelly when he guest of honor is at feast?"

"We could clean up once we get there—"

The protest died halfway as she shucked her both her tunic and pants in one smooth motion, even after nearly a year of marriage the merest sight of her body taking his breath away. She leapt into the air and dove in smoothly, the water accepting her as though she were a part of it. Ruben tried futilely to keep a watch on all sides, still flailing to keep himself above the lake's surface, all the while probing for a spell that might help him...

But it was all in vain.

His wife's arms closed about him from behind, and she whispered in his ear, "You sure we no have time?"

His voice a lot higher-pitched than his pride liked, he nearly squealed, "N-n-no, we don't!"

For just a moment, her hand wandered into his robes... then she shoved him away violently towards the lake's shore, a teasing note in her voice as she shouted, "Is too bad for you then!"

Ruben barely had time for a breath before he went under the water again; but this time, he was ready. In a move that he'd thought of just a moment before, he shed his robes, swimming almost backwards out of them. His left hand waved through a short enchantment that brought life to his robes, sending them wriggling out of the lake to dry on the shore, while he spoke the bubbled words to a charm that would let him breath the lake like air.

The wizard didn't waste a moment of guilt over using magic — after all, even after a year and a half of adventuring through post-apocalyptic China, he still wasn't nearly strong enough physically to match her. Instead, he spun around, seeking his wife. Not seeing her in the deeper portion of the lake and not having enough momentum to keep underwater, he broke the surface and was greeted with a splash of water and…

"You say we not had time to play and you go for swimming?" She waved irritably with the brush in her hand, much closer to the lake's shore than she'd been a few moments ago. "Come over here, is time to scrub backs!"

Defeated, outmaneuvered on all sides, utterly vanquished, Ruben swum slowly over to Shaoyu. He stood up as soon as his feet could touch, trying to cover some of his defeat with a muttered, "Why don't you just let me use the translation spell all the time? You sound kind of silly talking English like that—"

She cut him off, poking him in the chest with her finger. "Is lie! You think is very cute! Besides," she added casually, handing him the brush and turning her back to him, "if I is to living and loving with you forever, I must speaking your language good, mmm?"

A blush crept over his face, and Ruben was quietly glad that she had her back turned—

Never suspecting that a matching redness was in her cheeks, safely hidden from her beloved husband.

Did she love me too?

She must have. She had to feel the same way I do, I know it... but... at times like these... in dark moments when I'm alone...

At any time, I could have asked her. At any time, I could have told her. If I had known what it was, if I had been anything but a fool — but I was, and always have been, a fool.

Did she love me? Or did she only tolerate me?

"Your hair is too long to dry properly, Ruben. You should get it cut while we're in a town!"

Ruben looked down at Xiaoyu, ruffled her fashionably-short warrior's bob, and said, "Like yours, perhaps? Never! A man's hair is his strength!" He posed goofily, a wide grin on his face, drawing the eyes of all the peasants walking around them — not that he seemed to care, or even notice. After all, being a tall foreigner wearing odd clothes, maybe he didn't know what it was like to not be stared at!

Xiaoyu never knew whether to love or hate those times that Ruben wove the spell allowing him to speak her language, in fact all languages, perfectly. On the one hand, her frustration at having to hobble by and struggle to understand the clever things he said vanished; and oh how she loved to listen to him speak! On the other hand...

It was fake. Cheating. She knew, intellectually, how much of a struggle it was for a magician to master enough of the Gift to weave such a spell; her grandmother had explained it at length a long time ago, when Xiaoyu had first complained of the bitter feelings, but knowing and feeling were two separate things altogether.

Still and all, it was too much to expect perfection. Perfection was earned, not given, as the proverb went. She'd have to train him some; first step was learning to speak his language, and then he'd have no excuse not to learn hers!

Of course, in certain ways, he was already beyond perfection... A slight flush heated her cheeks as she remembered last night...

A commotion from down the street drew her from the somewhat embarrassing reverie, and Xiaoyu watched with some interest as a small group of men riding mecha-horses scattered the peasants from their path. They drew up in front of Ruben and Xiaoyu, and their lieutenant put one fist to his chest, declaring, "We are your escort of honor to Lord Gu-Lai's feast!"

Xiaoyu watched Ruben's face darken a bit in anger, and a surprisingly tender emotion suffused her as she thought to herself, Of course, he thinks of it as an insult for some reason; how strange! She tugged on his sleeve to draw his attention, and once he'd bent down far enough she whispered, "They're here because if you came up to his castle like a beggar asking for scraps would humiliate both himself and you — not that you'd know it, foolish foreigner! An escort, even a borrowed one such as this, grants you a measure of equality with him — not everyone is allowed to bring armed soldiers into another Lord's land!"

She stepped away from him and bowed. "We graciously accept your offer of escort to the castle."

The soldiers fell into place surrounding them neatly, as though the paved road were a parade ground, and the entire group started moving. Xiaoyu glanced at Ruben, who still looked grumpy, and elbowed him subtly. He acted so weird sometimes, even stranger than the magicians back in her home village. At first he glared, then something seemed to occur to him and he shrugged, chuckling a bit.

The small parade wended its way through the small city that had sprung up around the Lord's castle. Xiaoyu looked around in interest — though she'd seen a lot of large towns while wandering China with her husband, but most of them had simply nestled in the ruins of much larger cities.

This one, however, looked clean and fresh, as though it had just been built a few years ago. All of the houses were big and sturdy, even the huts of the peasants and workers! Every two or three blocks, there was a bookstore next to a coffee house, with an advertisement hanging outside the bookstore stating that the owner also operated a free school from inside for anyone wishing to attend!

Ruben said quietly, "It looks like home."

At his words, a pang went through Xiaoyu. There was a place in his heart that she'd never seen, no matter how much they had done together, and that place was his home. To be sure, they'd seen some of the grandest sights that the ruins of China had to offer, but... what was his home like? What was his family like? He'd mentioned a grandfather from time to time, but what about his parents? Did he have brothers or sisters?

There was so much she wanted to know about him...

She felt a hand on her arm, and she looked up to see that Ruben had dragged her to a halt. "We're here," he said. "Don't tell me you were planning on walking through the gates?"

Xiaoyu covered her lapse with a flippant, "Only if they didn't open the gates!" She was gratified (slightly) to see the guards escorting them pull away a bit in barely concealed fear; it showed how much their reputation had risen since their adventures had first began.

Out of the corner of her eye, as the gates swung wide to admit them, Xiaoyu looked at Ruben. Despite all I don't know about him, despite all the little ways he irritates me, I still love him. Funny, I never thought love would be like this.

I was so selfish.

All of the time that I knew her, I never truly paid her any heed; it was all about my quest, my search, my needs — I think I regret that most of all.

You know, I never even knew her birthday?

I didn't deserve her. I knew so little of her, how could I claim to love her truthfully?

But whether I deserved her or not, I had her — and I lost her. It still hurts. This is the punishment for my selfishness, and I accept it.

"Welcome, welcome, welcome, to my Feast of the Falling Stars!" Lord Gu-Lai shouted from his position at the head of the table, gesturing expansively. "Today is a wonderful evening, indeed! The portents point to an amazing show this evening, as—"

Ruben tuned him out. The only reason he'd come here this evening, the only reason he'd rid Lord Gu-Lai of the bandit king that had threatened to topple him, was the view from his upper balcony, the very same balcony that the feast was held on — and, of course, the feast itself.

The object of his quest was within reach.

Tonight, according to the portents he'd cast and the legends he'd researched painstakingly over the past twelve months, was an important night. One of the stars would collide with a mountain clearly visible only from this location, sky, heaven, rock, ice, and flame meeting to show the way to the legendary Dragon's lair.

And once he'd found his way to the Dragon's lair, won through the elaborate dungeons, and bested the Dragon in an ancient contest of skill, wit, and nerve—

The wish. One wish, granted on sight, to be used for whatever the wisher desired. Ruben grinned as excitement filled his body, barely managing to keep still enough for decorum at the feast. Once I have the wish — freedom from my curse! At last, I'll never have to worry about... that... again!

A chopstick poked his arm, and he realized that the Lord had stopped speaking. Ruben looked up to see the Lord Gu-Lai was staring at him expectantly. Lord Gu-Lai said wryly, "I see that our hero of the day is too shy to speak a few words on his own behalf—"

"Never!" Ruben declared, standing up. "Why, my favorite subject is myself!" He saw his wife give the small hand signal which meant, 'Don't overdo it', but he chose to ignore it, buoyed as he was by the happy and excited emotions that filled him. "A few words! Snip! Timothy! Yahoo! Email! Just kidding. When I first came to this land, I never thought that I would be declared across its width and breadth as a mighty hero. But today, I know that the hearts of your people are great enough to accept someone like me, and I am grateful to be here tonight amongst you!"

He bowed and sat back down, grinning widely. Lord Gu-Lai gestured again, this time at the attendants, who turned down the lights that had lit the broad balcony. All of the guests waited for several moments, and then the sky began to fall to the earth, each piece tracing its path with a tail of fire.

Ruben leaned forward eagerly, working a brief spell that sharpened his perceptions, counting the seconds, and suddenly—

A mountainside in the distance exploded in a fiery gout. Immediately, Ruben marked the mountain with a spell and frowned a bit when the spell didn't work. Hmm, the Dragon must be protecting his lair-mountain somehow... I'll simply have to remember the mountain and walk there.

After half an hour or so, the dance of flame across the night sky began to fade and die; meanwhile, the feasters continued to eat of the bounty presented them by Lord Gu-Lai. Long before then, however, Ruben caught his wife's eye and wove a double spell that let them creep invisibly from the table while completely believable illusionary doubles remained behind to converse with the other guests.

What good is being a powerful wizard, he thought to himself as he put one arm around his wife's shoulder, if you can't use it to get out of the boring stuff?

Like so many foolish children, I mistook lust for love — only I did it the wrong way 'round.

I desired her, every moment that we stood together I was aware of her body, and when we were alone together—

But I thought that was all it was. I mistook my desire for her as solely lust for her youthful beauty; forced into it as I was by circumstance, how could I have believed that I would grow to love her?

Love grows as it wills, not as you will. You cannot create love where there is none; conversely, when it chooses to sprout, you may never be aware of it until too late...

Xiaoyu felt her heart quicken as Ruben spelled open the door to Lord Gu-Lai's secret sanctuary garden. He whispered to her, "I heard from one of the guards that this place is very beautiful at night, shall we go and see?"

In answer, she pulled away from his embrace playfully and danced through the door. What she saw on the other side, however, made her stop short in sheer amazement.

The trees, the grasses, the meandering stream, the luminous mushrooms beneath the trees; it was a fairybook picture of delight. The slight glow given by the mushrooms contrasted perfectly with the half-full moon and the starlight to give everything a miraculous, almost... almost...

Spiritual appearance, as though it did not belong to this world but to another; another where all the pains and sorrows of this faded to nothing beneath the joy granted by simply dwelling within for a few moments.

"Wow," Ruben said from behind her, "Nice place."

Not about to let her sudden mood be dampened by his pretended insensitivity, Xiaoyu grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the small bridge that crossed the meandering stream. "Let's look around more!" Laughing slightly, he followed her tugs to the bridge—

And once they stepped on the bridge, they found another small magic to add to the splendor of the hidden garden.

It was as though they'd shrunken, or the stream had grown; either way, once they were on the small bridge, the stream stretched out underneath them as though it had become a lake. Slowly, very slowly, the bridge faded beneath them, becoming clear as glass; but looking down at it, Xiaoyu could have sworn that there were feathers dancing inside of it, far away...

Halfway across the bridge, Xiaoyu turned to her husband, and it seemed as though the water beneath them had become a second ocean of stars like the one that stretched over their heads. She didn't know which way was up and which down, but then... that was the way Ruben made her feel most of the time.

She put her arms around him and almost whispered the one thought that ruled her constantly, the one thought that overpowered everything else when he was near: "I love you."

She couldn't. The mood faded suddenly. Xiaoyu had forced him into this; no matter how much he lusted for her body and enjoyed her companionship, how could he possibly return the pureness of feeling that she had had for him since the moment she'd first seen him?

His hand stroked her hair. "Shhh... Why are you crying?"

Xiaoyu looked up at him, and was unable to speak past the lump in her throat. She shook her head, trying not to cry any more than a little bit—

Suddenly, he crushed her to him, bending down to press his lips to hers. At first, her eyes widened in surprise; then she relaxed and opened her mouth to his in a kiss that seemed to last forever beneath and above the twin oceans of watching stars.

As their kiss broke, she murmured in his ear, "The grass over there, on the far side of the bridge — it looks very soft and inviting right now, doesn't it?"

He murmured back, breath warm against her ear, "Are you kidding me? It looks dry and itchy and painful." Just as she was rearing her fist back, ready to hit him for spoiling the mood, he added, "But with you, anyplace is perfection."

Moments later, they were in the grass, and as Ruben worked his entirely mundane magic over her wondrously responsive body, she was staring up at the stars, tears of happiness rather than regret in her eyes, thinking,

I hope this moment... this perfect evening... never ends...


Author's notes: As some of you may know, this is a sidestory to my long-term anime college campus adventure story, featuring Ruben Stryfe from Kyouki no Kyanpasu.

This takes place years before he attends the campus, and his personality is somewhat different here — I attribute that to his wife, Xiaoyu. (No, not the Xiaoyu from Tekken, silly!) It's strange — I've had this image in my mind of how Xiaoyu is for the longest time, and yet this is the first time that I've really set down anything that has her in it.

If you're wondering what happened to her — well, you'll have to keep reading KnK to find that out.

This story is dedicated to Robin Buskirk, my biggest and lustiest fan. Thanks for giving me words of encouragement instead of kicking me when I was at my lowest.

Aaron Mikhail Bergman

"The bitterest tears shed over graves are for
words left unsaid and deeds left undone."

—Harriet Beecher Stowe

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