The River Sanzu
Chapter 10
a Ronin Warriors / Dark is Rising fusion
by Liondragon
2193 wc ~ PG ~ W+B,

Coming clean.
A view of the forest can be found here:

The sun was not yet up when Bran woke in their hotel room. Will was snoring softly in the bed opposite. He was in the same position when Bran came out of the bathroom a while later, showered and dressed.

"Do you dream at all?" Bran said softly, then shook his head at himself. At least Will was sleeping. The past two days had been a hazy nightmare in themselves. Bran made his bed, then sat and stared at the ceiling moodily. A few minutes ticked past; he grabbed his glasses and slipped outside.

He wasnít the only one awake. From down the hall the messily short blue hair was distinctly recognizable. The fluorescent lights made Touma seem washed out and gray. Bran supposed he himself looked the same.

He walked past the perfectly spaced, perfectly identical doors. They had the wing to themselves: three doubles, occupied, and one empty single. Touma sat at the large picture window beside the exit, staring into the darkness so intently that he didnít hear Bran approach.

"Good morning," said Bran.

"Oh. Hello, Bran-san. Good morning." Touma looked like he hadnít slept.

"What are you doing up? Enjoying the view?" There wasnít much to see. The first hint of dawn was spread thin over the blocky expanse of the port town. At the docks, the towering cranes were already creaking to life, their red lights blinking like errant planets.

"Yes, actually. Theyíve added a few things since I was last here."

The dark glasses stared at him; Touma had never given the impression that heíd been here before. Bran knew a northern outpost when he saw one. Touma struck him as a city boy from the prosperous south, not inclined to venture far.

Bran checked his curiosity. "Want to grab breakfast?"

At that, Toumaís stomach grumbled. He grinned sheepishly. "Sure. But Bran-san, nothing good is open..."

"Nonsense. This is a fishing town, right? Someoneís got to feed the fishermen."

Touma started to say something, then stopped. "I donít want to wake the others."

But if you donít, theyíll think youíve spirited me away as well, thought Bran. "Tell you what, boyo. Leave a note for your lot, and Iíll tell Will where weíre off to. Iíll meet you in the lobby in ten minutes." Bran took off to do just that before Touma could get a chance to refuse.

There was one thing to do and he had to be quick. Will was as Bran had left him. He grabbed his knapsack and threw the covers off Willís feet.

"Bran..." Will mumbled. "Whatíre you doing?" He lifted his head and squinted through messy hair.

Bran had taken out his clasp knife and was cutting a square of cloth from one of his own t-shirts. "Going to breakfast with Touma," he answered.

"Oh," said Will, bewildered. Bran took advantage of his confusion to roll down Willís sock. Without taking it off Willís foot, he got a threaded needle and began to sew the patch on.

"Bra-aan," Will complained. Then he laughed. Bran had taken the stone and was stitching it to his sock.

"And donít lose it!" said Bran peevishly. He smiled when Will lay back trustingly, and wiggled his toes.

"Be careful," Will murmured.

"Iíll be all right. Thereís Touma ĖĖ he can do that teleporting thing." Bran frowned. "Heís okay, isnít he?"

Will closed his eyes. "Yes. Confused. Boxed in. He doesnít," he said wearily, "like to keep things from his friends."

"I expect not. Nor ex-boyfriends."

"What?" Will nearly started.

Bran glared at him for moving. "You didnít see it? Him and Seiji." He cut the thread with his teeth. "Touma, I think, doesnít like to let his friends down."

"Especially not disappointing Seiji," Will said with an enlightened tone. Bran tugged his work, then threw the covers back on.

"Iíll un-box him," he promised. "You donít want anything?"

"Huh? No, Iím okay." Will watched him slip his glasses on. Stuffing his coat pockets with essentials, Bran in turn watched him. All curled up, round-faced, forearm bare over his eyes. Sometimes Will still looked twelve.

He left quickly before he could dwell on it. Since Kyoto heíd been chiding himself for not making more of the thread of sadness running through his friend. It was like leaving his dark glasses off too long, with the sun catching him over the hills, stinging, with no one to blame but himself.

Touma was waiting for him in the lobby. Bran saw that he had someoneís cell phone. Without a word they set out, both blinking at the difference from the climate-controlled interior. Despite his thin jacket, Touma didnít seem bothered by the cold.

"Bleak, isnít it," said Bran. They were almost to the docks. An island broke the view of the sea-born sunrise. It was also heavily built up.

"The city was chosen as an industrial model, in the sixties. To show that Japan could compete after the war. Itís sprawled out to the nearby villages, all supporting the factories and firms. So your fishing town is here, Bran-san, but most of the men who are up early will be loading refrigerators, not hauling catch. Some smaller fishing boats survive, of course." Touma was quite happy to spout facts, at least.

They found a cozy little eatery, its lights blazing happily into the blue-grey morning. The wizened old lady who ran it looked startled at Bran, then rushed behind the counter to find a fork. Bran won her over by demonstrating that he could use chopsticks.

"From ship, sir? Or for onsen?" she said haltingly.

"Hot springs," explained Touma. "Sheíll ask about skiing next."

Ah. Tourist or worker. "No, neither, maíam."

"Coming from?"

"Britain. United Kingdom. Ah, you know, England?" Bran smirked to himself, thinking of Willís face if heíd heard him say that.

Touma said something to her in Japanese, which earned him an amused look and a cup of steaming, pungent tea. "Osaka-jin!" tittered the old woman. Touma looked embarrassed. Bran saved him by pointing randomly at the menu.

When sheíd gone, Bran turned to Touma. "What did she say just then?"

"Iím not sure. Sheís speaking in Tsugaru-ben, the local dialect. Iím no good at it yet. But she has me as someone from Osaka. I slipped into my own dialect." Touma sniffed his tea a mite suspiciously. "Osaka-jin have a reputation for being... rude. Brash. We are very busy merchant types, you see. No time for formalities."

Bran took a sip from his cup. It was scalding, and went down hot and lingered long. Earthy where English tea was smooth. "Are you? Brash, I mean?"

"Mouthy, perhaps. Under-socialized?" Touma offered with a grin. "Itís the Ďmad scientistí genes."

"Your familyís in research?"

"My father is an astrophysicist. When heís not doing other things. Optics, lasers, that kind of stuff. I donít think he really knew what to do with me, since I was more interested in history. I tested off the scales for I.Q.," he said, without a hint of smugness. "I didnít need much raising. My motherís flighty. Sheís a journalist, goes off to many parts of the world. They divorced when I was young."

Bran made himself swallow more tea. "So she wasnít around."

"Oh she was," Touma said cheerfully. "She drops by a lot to check on us old men. It was better for them, the divorce. Theyíre both happier."

Bran wondered how happy Touma had been. He had counted on his being a stranger to give Touma an outlet to talk, but this was his bleeding life story! It made an uncomfortable lot of sense to him, though. "So you were left to your own devices?"

Touma smiled, half reassuring, half apologetic. "Iím like my parents. We have our own pursuits."

"Iíll say," Bran said. They likely didnít mess with mystical armors too often.

A hot bowl of soup appeared before him, with lots of warm rice. There was a round of bowing and smiling before they were left to stare at the concoctions. They glanced at each other, and burst out laughing. They had no idea what theyíd ordered.

"Iíll try mine if you try yours."

"Yours looks rather tentacled. Octopus? Squid?"

"You might have sea urchin."

"Mmm, this is rather good. I am going to pretend you didnít say that." Bran took a chunk of rice to modulate the taste.

As before, once Touma dug in, he didnít stop. "Wow, this is fresh."

"So do your parents know? About..."

"The armors?" Touma looked out the window. The morning mist was beginning to burn off. "My mother helped me find mine. She tipped me to the right place. Itís like she knows, yet doesnít know. Dad... I was more interested in history and legends than science."

Bran nodded. "Itís hard for fathers. When their sons become something they donít understand." The sadness in his own voice surprised him. Guiltily he realized he had not called home since taking off from London, a bad habit from his university days.

A rumbling caught his attention, a motor purring amidst the growls and grindings of the dockside traffic. Toumaís gaze fixed on it, and Bran nearly thought they were again beset when he spotted the motorcycle making the racket. Touma slumped back, disappointed.

Bran cleared his throat. "Something on your mind?"

Briefly he saw what Will had meant: the look in Toumaís eyes was that of a frightened bird. Then it shifted away into abstraction. Bran waited while he paid their bill, too wary to argue it, nor push for an answer. Touma was one of those who needed time to consider things.

Hard job to bite your tongue when time was short. "Touma," he said when they got outside. "About whatís bothering you. Maybe you donít want to tell your friends. But what about us? Itís our lives on the line."

Touma stopped walking. Bran watched his profile lined against the now visible mountains to the west. Smelling the sea air, he was suddenly nostalgic for Aberdyfi and the cold Atlantic, which for all its touristy additions was still the same place from his childhood. With all the buildings, it was too close, here.

"Letís go someplace else," said Touma abruptly. "You donít mind? I can reach the others easily."

Bran nodded. Without a word they quickened their step, looking for a place where they might disappear, literally, without a fuss. It took some doing. Twice Touma pointed out security cameras. "Unusual. I think itís because there are lots of gaijin at this port." Bran raised a brow but said nothing.

Finally they found an alley next to an empty parking lot. Touma held out his hands and Bran took them, holding tight against the weird tug of teleportation. "Duw, your hands are cold."

"Suman." Touma seemed to shake something off, then with a haloed flash they disappeared. Bran had the briefest impression of bolts of dark blue fabric, and an immense darkness below with an encompassing night sky above. Stars winked at him and were gone...

"As though they were singing," Bran said aloud. He blinked at their surroundings. They were on a dirt road, and higher up, as he had to swallow to pop his ears. The mountains rose jaggedly in the distance. The hills were thick with cedar, along with stands of beech, maple, and an unusual sweep of blue cypress. They were a long way away from Hachinohe.

"You all right?" said Touma worriedly.

Something was nagging at Bran about those stars, as though he had dreamed them before, except not singing. Something else. "Yeah, yeah. I got a taste of this with Shuu." He grinned reassuringly. It was weird sliding around the usually exuberant Touma. Eager as a working hound when the crook was off the wall, before. Now he had his head in his feathers. Will would be better at this, he thought.

Down the road they found Toumaís spot. It was an apple farm. The middle aged couple greeted Touma, and let them into the barn and through the back. Touma muddled through a few phrases in the dialect, then led Bran into the orchard. "They are friends of ours," he explained.

"Whyís it fenced?" Bran tramped down the rows of trees. The air smelled of cut grass and fertilizer and flowers. For some reason he hadnít expected apple trees in Japan. The branches wore their sprays of blossoms like softly floating dresses. Bran blinked as he had that feeling again Ė dťjŗ vu.

"Everythingís fenced," answered Touma, bewildered.

"I mean, no animals coming out of the hills?" No way for the local kids to nick apples, he thought, remembering one short holiday with Will and his brother James. Maybe that was what tickled his memory.

Touma shrugged. "Bears, maybe. There are no more wolves." They came upon a large rock, half-sunken into the ground. Its flat places were wide enough for two to sit. "Their lucky stone. Probably houses a kami, a small god." Touma perched on it, looking around at the maze of branches.

Bran put his hands in his pockets, gazing down the rows. "You said Ďoursí. Whoís that?"

In the corner of his eye he saw Touma ducking his head. "Tsure. A friend like no other. A, uh, chancy thing to say when you have four friends that you love more than life." After a moment, Touma smiled. "My lover, Sasaki Kujuurou. But you see my friends donít know about him. They only know him as Anubis. Warlord of Darkness."

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