The River Sanzu
Chapter 11
a Ronin Warriors / Dark is Rising fusion
by Liondragon
1883 wc ~ PG ~

The most researched chapter ever.

Bran’s white hair lifted in the breeze, but he didn’t move. "How long have you kept it from them? Not to be nosy."

"Doesn’t matter," said Touma. "The relationship? A year."

"Oh." Bran scuffed his boots on the grass. "He lives in the youjakai, right?" He grimaced at the sound of the word on his tongue, lacking syllables if he was any judge. A foreign land this is, all of it, he thought. He sat down on the grass in front of the rock.

"Not anymore," said Touma. "I helped him cross a few times... three years back. He learned the language, even English. Took to motorcycles. Now he can take one apart and put it back together." There was a touch of pride in his voice. "It’s dangerous to cross, though. Something might get in or out. We couldn’t see each other often. A year back he decided to stay, so the gates of the youjakai were shut after him. Until yesterday."

Well, there was no questioning the fellow’s commitment. Five hundred years forward, and no going back. Small wonder Touma had been defending him so stubbornly. His mind flickered to a pair of muddy boots. The leather jacket had seemed too warm for the weather, as Bran had been sweltering in his own coat. But not on a motorcycle. "He shadowed us in Kyoto."

"Yes. He was the first to sense something, at the shrine. Told me to get Will-san out. It was the two of us fighting the ghost. I would have had no chance alone."

Bran went over the memory of the craggy face, the thick tangle of dark hair and that scar. This Sasaki fellow should have been blinded by such a deep cut, or even had a tendon severed in the cheek. Yet his eyes were both sighted, a dark suspicious blue-green. He found he could not imagine young, bright Touma with this... thug.

Perhaps that was the point. "So he was the one who took Nasuti?"

"There really was no time to explain." Touma pulled his knees up. "He rode along with us, in a mask of illusion. It helped that there was a negative aura at the train station. A suicide." Bran nodded, remembering the odd feeling from the tracks.

Touma went on. "So he was able to use his armor. Kayura contacted him through it. He explained fast to Nasuti that she had to come quickly or the gates would close. Then they were gone. Kayura and the others took them across."

"And the tengu?" Bran tried to keep his voice calm. The gates between the worlds had been open, then...

"Was waiting for us. I confirmed with Seiji. His sister started to notice before Kujuurou and Nasuti crossed." Touma looked unhappy. "You believe me?"

Dark glasses glinted at Touma for long seconds. Then Bran smiled, briefly. "Yes. Yes, I do. Do you know why Nasuti was needed?"

"No idea." This with a grumble.

Bran leaned back on his hands. Somewhere a skylark twittered happily. "Any clue in the poem?"

Touma stood abruptly. "Maybe we should get back." He fidgeted. "Just in case. This was stupid. If the poem is right, there is one more attack to come."

"You figured it out?" Bran stayed where he was. He looked at Touma till he sat down again. There was something about this orchard, the very feel of the air, which put Bran at ease. It was not a false peace, for his guard was up and his ears open. It was almost an expectance of something. Waiting.

"It’s the river Sanzu of the afterlife. Sanzu-no-kawa, the River of Three Streams. The innocent are allowed to cross its bridge, while the guilty must ford it." Touma’s voice was hollow.

"How do you figure that?"

"It’s simple," Touma said, then grinned. "If you know Japanese. The first verse, Shin’s. That’s the easiest. Winding water can be a river. And there are some schools of thought that say life is a dream."

"Life is but a dream," said Bran. How he could stay here under the shade of the apple trees and pretend Will’s life wasn’t in danger. He suddenly missed Will terribly, though they’d only been gone an hour or so. But first to get the whole tale out of Touma. "We’ve been fighting things from the other side. Okay."

"The next parts were hidden in our own attributes. Fire is Ryo. But fire is also the first stream of the river. Swords of light, more than one, tipped me off – Seiji only has one sword. The second stream is a river of swords. Then we were attacked, from above..."

"From heaven bloom."

Touma was excited now. "Yes. There are other Buddhist symbols that fit there. The temple... Tengu are thought to harass Buddhist priests who are too prideful. Great snow mountain also threw everyone. I realized your friend Jane had heard it wrong. Kayura was speaking Japanese, ne? Well, one word for earth can be a pun for blood. That is the third stream, the river of blood."

It wasn’t much warning, Bran reflected. The prophesies were poetic to a fault; it seemed certain that there was no actual river of blood coming at them like a bad horror movie. He wished he knew the songs and tales of this country; they seemed the key to everything. "Wouldn’t have guessed that."

"No. Nor the others. It stood out for me because it’s a pun for ‘wisdom,’ also." His brow began to glow with a blue fire. Bran watched, fascinated, as kanji burned there like a third eye. "Chi is my virtue. After the first time, I looked up all its puns." He blinked and the light was gone. "That first day, I should have stayed and met you and Will-san. The second poem spoke to him. The first was for me."

"The last verse."

"Yes. The sixth verse, when the word for ‘six’ sounds like the original name of this province: Mutsu. The name Kujuurou knew."

Bran’s voice rolled over the words. "The heart longs for the currents of sky. The green forest which never dies."

"That is a cheat in the meaning. I’m surprised no one corrected me. It’s blue forests. The word for blue is also a word for green. Blue for those cypress trees that they named the land for. The forest that never dies... It is my heart keeping him alive, Bran."

It was very still.

"You mean that literally," said Bran at last.

"This is why I keep it a secret," Touma said miserably. "All the armors are hard to resist over time. For the warlords it is not easy. Arago covered over their virtues and corrupted them. Kayura has been able to cleanse some of the taint, but not all. The other two are helped by their virtues. But Kujuurou," he said, voice young and sad, "has the virtue of filial piety. And the armor of darkness and corruption and winter. He must serve his lord even in death. Almost impossible to hold out by himself."

Bran sat up, and took his glasses off. "What did you do?"

Touma gazed into the tawny eyes, and for the first time Bran saw the hardness beneath the mirth, the warrior beneath the boy. "I took on some of his burden. A part of me is Yami, the shadows, the darkness between stars. And he took a part of Tenku."

Suddenly Bran remembered their meal back in Yokohama. Touma had asked Seiji to demonstrate his armor in his stead... so the others wouldn’t see Tenku. "None of the others caught on?"

"It’s not the armor of illusions... but the darkness can hide things. And he has power over dreams and nightmares too."

"Oh," said Bran again. He was surprised to find his own voice so small. For some reason he felt envious.

Touma leaned back, looking straight up at the blossoms. "This is his country. We couldn’t find the village where he’d grown up. So we visited towns nearby, forgotten by Tokyo. We divide our time: summers here, winters in Osaka. The people need help. These towns... the kids move away, public works are not good."

Bran nodded. "And you either starve or give in to the tourists."

"Yes, yes! Kujuurou remembers what was here before, in his time. This should be..." Touma waved his hand, nose still to the sky.

"A living, breathing land. With people to care for it." Bran smiled. "It’s the same where I live. A bit better in some ways. But you still have to live the days through. Tend things. That’s good of you, Touma."

Touma smiled. "It’s not just for Kujuurou. For all of us. Shin stays with his family’s pottery business though he could earn more in Tokyo. Ryo is splitting his time too, summering in Yamanashi, near Mount Fuji. Shuu is already head of his clan. And Seiji will never leave Sendai." He laughed shortly. "Osaka doesn’t need my help. We are too pushy, always moving."

"Will called you guardians," said Bran, understanding. "Better than warriors without a war."

Touma nodded, then straightened, his eyes abstracted. "Shin says hi. They’re going to breakfast in the hotel."

Bran said, "Tell Will hello."

Touma concentrated for a bit. Then they grinned at each other, two lads sharing a secret under the trees.

"You should tell them," said Bran, more seriously.

"I know," Touma said ruefully.

"He’s a good man, from what you’ve told me. He probably saved our lives back at the shrine."

"Yes, but Seiji..." Touma stopped. Bran scrambled to his feet. "What is it? It’s calling," he found himself saying.

Without warning there were flashes of light to his right and left. Touma had summoned the other ronin. Will was with them, and started on Bran at the same time as Ryo got on Touma, in Japanese. "What happened?"

"Not yet," answered Bran. "Do you have it?"

"Of course." Indeed there was an awkward bulge around Will’s ankle where the stone was secured.

Bran shook his head, trying to get a handle on what was different. He reached out his hand down the row. Will stilled, watching him. A breeze stirred the apple blossoms -- and suddenly Bran felt something solid at his finger tips, smooth like the surface of a well-loved harp.

"Follow your instincts," Will said in Welsh.

Bran tried not to look at his hand, hovering in the empty air. He dug in his heels and pushed.

For a moment there was a faint image of giant red doors, marked elaborate crosses over their ten-story height. Empty air met his fingertips, then the warm shock of someone taking his hand. Quickly he reached out with his other hand, and tugged...

...and there was Nasuti, nose to nose with him as though she’d stumbled against him in a crowded street. As she stepped back, Bran saw that she was holding a golden rod, taller than her, adorned with small wings at its knob end, and strange horns from which hung several gold rings. The rings were spinning, clinking musically; they seemed to be stuck in the air, like slow-motion mirages. Afterwards Bran would not be able to decide if they had been ringing at all.

Shuu’s joyful shout was interrupted by Seiji’s cry of outrage.

Beside him, Touma had caught his own returning guest. Bran caught the barest flash of crimson, and in its wake was a stocky figure in a black kimono with wild, dark hair.

"Anubis," said Ryo, in flat greeting.

Will said, in an odd voice: "And then there were six."

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