The River Sanzu
Chapter 12
a Ronin Warriors / Dark is Rising fusion
by Liondragon
1652 wc ~ PG ~ W+B, K/T


"Nine, if you want to be technical," said Bran. They were back in the hotel. He’d just called home to the Evans household, and also Jane. That last call, Will had taken the phone and explained cheerfully that they were eating hamburgers and fries in northern Japan and they would send postcards.

Bran wondered how he got through without mentioning they were fine. Jane was level-headed but she could fret, he knew well enough.

"Yes, nine. It’s a good number, wherever you go. Multiples of three. Thanks for talking to Touma."

"Not a problem. His fellow’s settling in despite the glaring. Seems more scared of Nasuti than she of him, that helps." Bran grinned.

Will smiled stiffly. It had only occurred to him in the last hour that Nasuti reminded him of Jane. The resemblance fueled his discomfort about Bran’s interest in ways he didn’t care to explain. "That’s deference, surely. She does hold that staff, the shakujo. What do you think of Sasaki-san?"

Bran shrugged. "Rough around the edges. He’s," the glasses glinted, "a Northman, like any other."

"Fair enough," Will laughed. "He seems wolfish to me."

"He and Touma are covering up," Bran said, pacing. "I’m not sure what they’ll do if their feelings come out. But Nasuti is all right with him, and Shin of course."

"Would be, if their armors are linked differently. The others might not be able to sense that link. And then there is the river of blood. It might be Shin himself."

"How do you figure that?" Bran said, a tad sharply.

"The tengu drew blood, remember?"

"Yes I remember," said Bran. "He still seems all right. His virtue is Trust, is it not?"

Will said patiently, "Their armors are Old Magic. If there is something wrong with them, possessing them from the inside, I would not be able to tell, and neither would you."

"Always the tricks!" Bran’s hands clenched at his sides. "Can’t you see with your own two eyes, dewin? Our only allies, them and this stone the only thing between you and...!" He shook his head vigorously.

Will gaped at him. "Bran, look... I... Cafall..." He regretted those words the moment he said them.

"Cafall. What about Cafall."

"It’s the poem," Will said reluctantly. "Before... before what happened... someone told you none of the Lords of the Light or the Dark or indeed any magic would take your dog away from you. That you only had to fear your own race. So... applied to me... flesh and blood..."

Bran was not to be deterred. His frustrations were rising to the surface, Will saw. "You’ll be suspecting everyone then? All the people around you? That where you got license to do what you did to all those people on the train?"

Will was suddenly cold. He was not fond of that spell, the taking of knowledge to ease the soul. Yet it was the most necessary of all. You could not bring in such naked terrors and expect a human being to remain intact. "Ryo asked."

"Those other people do not count, then," said Bran.

It wasn’t that simple. "They are guardians, and it is their own people. I cannot go against that, who worked so hard to give Men dominion over their own world." He paused. "If you had told me not to, I wouldn’t have."

Bran stared at him through dark lenses. His shoulders were set with tension, teeth grinding. "You look at me sometimes and I don’t know what you’re looking at. What am I to you?"

Will felt his heart swoop down and fall. The defiance and hurt in his voice were not so different from when they had been boys. For a long moment he groped for an answer, one written nowhere, one upon which all depended. "There is a part of me that is compelled to serve you. To go where you lead."

"So that is why you are friends with me? Because your Old Ones bid it?"

"No!" Will cried, even as a storm of doubt assailed him. The narrow road of their destiny was long behind them; there was no road now. "I was born to be at your side, and... and our friendship began upon many things which you no longer remember. For a long time, when I was a boy, I thought it was the end. That you would forget me and everything–" that you wouldn’t love me anymore "–but you answered my letters and rang me up and you even visited us in the village. And after a while I came to understand. We lost a year but that was not all. After that were years and years of friendship."

As Will rambled frantically, Bran’s shoulders began to droop, though his teeth were still bared in a strange half-smile. Will went on. "As I said before, it is not what I do but what I am. I cannot help it. But that is not all. It is not all. If I were not what I am, if I had a choice, I would do it the same. I am still your friend, Bran."

They stood in silence for a long minute. Bran rubbed his face. "Sorry."

"No... it was your right to ask." Will paused. "You should."

"I said I wouldn’t ask again." Bran shook his head again, more angry with himself now.

"You may have to," said Will softly. There was a knock on the door. He glanced at Bran, then called, "Come in!"

It was Shin. "We’re all ready and waiting in the other room. Is everything all right?"

"Fine, fine," said Bran quickly. "Tell me, Shin: I notice a nuance in the language, and the guidebooks don’t catch it."

Will half-listened to them discussing the difference between the archaic, noble "-sama", the modern, formal "-san", the diminutive, fond "-chan", and the familiar "-kun" suffixes. He stuffed a particular sock in his pocket and got into his slippers.

The others were at least as wound up as he and Bran. Kujuurou leaned against the far wall, arms crossed. Everyone else’s stance and position was in relation to him. Touma was conspicuously on the other side of the room, with Shin and Ryo close by. Seiji and Shuu stubbornly flanked Kujuurou, though at a safe distance. Nasuti sat comfortably in an armchair in the halfway point. She had the shakujo in hand.

"There doesn’t seem to be a problem with the Sanzu-no-kawa connection," she was saying.

Will took a seat on the far bed. Bran chose to stand. "What did Lady Kayura herself say?"

"She said she was only delivering the prophecy. The only thing we saw while we were there was the moat of the spirits stirring up. Whatever they’re doing, she can’t contain it from their side." Nasuti glanced up at the staff. "She sent this over to give us an edge."

"I don’t see why you have to go, Nasuti," said Shuu plaintively.

"Yes, the poems don’t mention you," said Seiji, but he was less certain.

Nasuti was put out. "And lose the advantage of the shakujo?"

Will did his best to keep up with the rapid Japanese. He was pondering how to translate for Bran discreetly, since he wasn’t sitting next to him. Then with eerie prescience, Bran murmured in Welsh: "Pop it into my head, then."

Will raised his brows. He reached forth with his power. /Are you sure?/

Bran’s expression didn’t change. But his thought was clear on the surface of his mind. /Might as well get used to it. And we’re not the only ones in the room doing it./ Sure enough, though they were not meeting each other’s eyes, Touma and Kujuurou’s expressions were strangely congruent.

"What about Will-san?" said Shin, pointedly using English. "Might he hold the shakujo?"

"It is a Thing of Power," said Will doubtfully. "But something tells me I shouldn’t."

"We still don’t know what our enemy is. Or what we’re supposed to do," Ryo said.

Touma snorted. "Did we ever, before?"

"You do not have to know your enemy to fight them." Kujuurou had spoken at last. No matter that his voice was soft and deep, Seiji flinched. "These are unnatural things trying to prevent you from coming into this country."

/What’s wrong with Seiji?/ Bran asked.

Will dug his nails into his palms. /Nightmares. I should have known. The warrior of light, the warrior of darkness. They have fought each other before, battles nearly to the death. He’s itching to draw his sword./

/Perhaps it is Seiji we should be watching./

Nasuti spoke into the silence. "The more I look at the first poem, the more I agree with Touma. We are in the right place. Old Mutsu province covers four modern prefectures, but the forests do point to Aomori. Where in Aomori is the question."

"The yuurei by fire, the tengu by swords," began Shin.

Touma nodded. "The tengu by light, defeated by light."

There was the brand of the sign of Iron, thought Will. Would that count as fire? It seemed a flimsy lead at best, so he made no move to show any of them. Besides, it could not be seen by mortal eyes. He had hidden it with enchantments years ago.

Shuu scratched his head. "So that leaves this river of blood... and mountains."

"Osore-zan," Kujuurou said suddenly.

"Of course!" said Touma. "The Mountain of Dread. One of the three sacred mountains of Japan. It is where parents gather to honor their dead children."

"To help them cross the Sanzu River." Kujuurou and Touma were talking directly to each other now. Bran was beginning to worry about their obviousness, and let Will know it.

"Then it’s settled!" Nasuti said. "Let’s get dressed and go."

"Hey, wait a minute, Nasuti!" said Ryo, half irked that his authority was being overriden. Kujuurou looked like he wanted to say something, but stopped, amused.

"It will be sunset soon, do you want to wait till after dark?" she said.

Bran took off his shades. His gaze swept over everyone in the room, his voice ringing with a tone of finality. "We will go. And there is no time to waste."

No one disagreed with him.

~Back~ ~Next~

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