The River Sanzu
Chapter 19
a Ronin Warriors / Dark is Rising fusion
by Liondragon
1016 wc ~ PG ~ W/B

Fare thee well.

There was a chuckle behind him. "Charming the local population, I see," said Bran.

Will turned, his clothes still rumpled from Kayura's embrace. "Er... did you hear any of that?"

"No. Did you say anything that needed hearing?" The dark glasses glinted. He thumbed Willís cheek where sheíd kissed him.

Will shifted his feet. "Kayuraís a pleasant girl, under the spines."

"I bet. She should just stay here, if you ask me. Be a normal girl in the human world. Far too young, and a sharp mind at that."

"She has a duty," said Will.

"And you have a duty as well," said Bran seriously. "Youíre supposed to be in tucked in a corner, drinking hot soup and this marvelous black tea they found for us." He herded Will down the porch, through a sliding door, and past a series of bamboo screens. And there was the sitting room.

"Will!" cried Shin. He set down the curving twig he was placing in a vase, and clasped his hand warmly. "Weíre so glad youíre okay."

"Ėwhat, are you going to teleport the luggage?" Nasuti was saying to Shuu.

"Look, itís Will-san!" said Shuu. When she turned, he picked her up and dropped her in a pile of pillows.

Will laughed. "Thanks, everyone. Thank you very much for the hospitality."

"And whatís this about?" Bran said.

"Sheís doing work today!" Shuu accused.

"Booking our tickets home," said Shin.

"You are certainly welcome to stay longer," said Mrs. Date. She glanced at her father, who nodded.

"We wouldnít want to impose," insisted Nasuti, trying to bow and smooth her kimono at the same time. She shot a glare at Shuu, who beamed innocently.

Ryo had emerged from a stairway; in his arms were two long bundles wrapped in silk. He locked eyes with Will. "Yes, we must go very soon. Just in case." The roninís gaze was sharp, measuring. Right. I was the threat. They too had to rush back, in case anything else appeared on their own grounds. The sooner Kayura and the great power of the staff returned to the youjakai, the sooner she could hold the spirits at bay.

"Whatís this, then?" Bran stepped in front of Will.

"Armor," said Ryo. He held up the bundles. "Since we are here, Date-sama allowed us to display gear from the clan, for Boysí Day. We set up at the dojo."

"Can I lend a hand?"

"Maybe," said Ryo doubtfully. Will realized he was not addressing Seijiís grandfather, nor talking about the leather-and-mail samurai armor. In his mindís eye he saw a bright bon, brighter than the sun, and one soul at the center of it. "The five of us can handle it."

"That wasnít my impression," said Bran coolly.

Ryo ducked his head politely. With a glance at Nasuti and a permissive nod from Grandfather Date, he offered a sword to Bran. "Iíll tell you," he said. "I can show you how we put the armor together." Shin and Shuu exchanged a look at the otherwise innocuous remark.

Bran received the heirloom carefully. "All right."

Will cleared his throat. "Are you really leaving soon?"

Nasuti nodded. "Sad, isnít it? We only seem to get together for crises. Then off we go again." She smiled at Willís concerned expression. "Oh, itís all right. Partings always make me sad. Now donít you fall out of touch! I have everyoneís address, now. Weíll need yours too."

"All?" said Will, scribbling their numbers.

Nasuti nodded, a hint of steel in her gaze. "Weíre not going to lose touch with anyone, this time." Not even Kujuurou.

Bran stopped at the doorway. "Quite a gesture," he said in Welsh, "since I gather she was threatened by him before."

With new eyes Will regarded the professor. She had just been a girl then, at a carefree age, and most likely Kujuurou had been a fully armed and unmerciful Anubis. So that was why Ryo hated to downplay her role. There were no small parts for anyone. For every evil in the world, there were people like Nasuti, Satsuki.

There are people like Bran.

Will was huddled in a blanket on the front porch when Bran returned from the familyís dojo. Whatever Ryo had told him seemed to allay his concerns. He shooed the grumpy tabby cat from Willís side, and took its place. Below and beyond, Sendai massed towards the sea. Bran pointed out the shinkansen line snaking through downtown.

From the front, the age of the compound was more apparent. The property was twice the size of the neighborsí, while the buildings were half the height of the modern homes. Its trees looked as though their roots were holding the hill together. Into every cornerstone was carved the clan crest; the flag on top of the familyís pole had the same bamboo-and-birds design. Now and again, parents and children in elaborate kimono would pass by on the road below. They waved at the group gathered at the Datesí front gate, who were attempting to install a second set of kites.

Satsuki made sure the road was clear before Shuu tried to blast a post-hole. Ryo was telling him to be careful, but after a muffled boom they were both splattered with mud. The girls all giggled. Shin, chuckling, splashed them with water.

They started raising the pole. This one was topped by a red carp and followed by kites in each armorís color. Branís kite was bright white with silver scales, while Willís was purple and gold. "That ought to be switched," Will muttered.

"Another riddle, Sais?"

Will turned his head into Branís whisper. Quietly he slipped his hand over Branís. "It seems unfair to know so much about you. Things you donít know."

Bran squeezed his hand. Sunlight glinted off his shades. At the roadside, Satsuki was teasing Ryo about something, and getting tickled for it. Kayura was standing close to Kujuurou, talking to him. " itís that. Where I came from."

"There was a time when you knew."

"Bachgen. Just tell me one thing. Did they... did my parents...?"

"They loved you. They were proud of you."

Bran closed his eyes behind the glasses. For a moment he looked just like the young boy heíd known, with the curve of his back and the set of his lip. "There was a time when I wanted nothing more than to know. Couldnít leave it behind ó being the foundling child. Then I went to university, and there no one cared who I was. They only cared about what I could do." His mouth opened to laugh, but he didnít. "It was a relief, and a disappointment. I realized then: I know where I come from. Itís scarier to think about where Iím going."

Will pushed the blanket off. The smooth patch of the Sign brushed Branís skin. "I didnít understand till now. What you did, when we were boys, was the bravest thing Iíve ever seen. I couldnít have done it."

"What did I do?" Bran asked quizzically.

"You stayed."

Bran had nothing to say to that, hidden behind his glasses. They watched Touma come up to Kayura. He must have said something snide, because she started thumping him; he ran around Kujuurou to hide. Seiji crossed his arms and said something to Touma Ė that rated an affronted glare from Touma and a smirk from Kujuurou.

"Strange, isnít it?" said Bran. "He fought Seiji, almost killed Nasuti, and heís been an enemy of this family since he could handle a knife. And Touma gave him a chance."

It is within the power of men to change their nature. Remember this, Old One. "I think it was for Shuten. The one who switched sides first. One goes alone..."

Bran nudged him. "Hey. Youíre not the one whoís alone."

Will felt a warmth building inside him, stealing the lightness from his limbs and the weight from his heart. It was like waking from a deep sleep. "I wonít forget it. Itís another choice, isnít it, to be alone or not? I suppose I never noticed it with family always underfoot. And yet... Bran, would you do something for me?"

Bran took off his glasses. "What is it?"

"I want to teach you the Old Speech. It can only be used in the presence of an Old One, but with the Lightís magic gone and me the only one left..." He met his eyes. "When I am summoned at last, it will pass away from the world of men."

"Of course." Bran regarded him with a sober air. "If you learn Welsh. Properly, like a valley boy. With a good L sound, and reading the signs right, and none of your dewin cheating."

Will laughed, which startled the poor cat. "Itís a deal!"

Bran smiled, then turned his head: Kayura was waving. "Theyíre leaving." Will bit his lip, and waved back. Good luck, milady.

She raised the staffĖ and stopped. A group of children, all dressed for the shrine, were knocking at the gate. They turned out to be some of Seijiís students. They took no notice of the staff as they solemnly presented their teacher with some handmade gifts. Shuu was spoiling the ceremony with a game of rock-paper-scissors, and Touma was trying to hop on Kujuurouís back.

Soon the childrenís parents showed up to collect them. The smallest ones waved at the two funny gaijin on the front porch.

They waved back. "Iíll miss this place," said Bran. "Itís high time to go home, though. I want to be where I can hear the hills singing."

Pine trees rustled gently overhead. Will put his arm around Bran. "When we go back..."

"Weíll cross that bridge when we get to it." Bran touched his brow to soothe away lines of anxiety, and kissed him.

At last. My heart is filled with something other than longing. This moment is all I need.

They looked up at Toumaís laugh. The ronin raised his hand, his brow tipped with a blue light. A wind kicked up. Down it came from the mountains, plucking cherry blossoms and lifting hair. Paper fish leaped through the invisible stream, and every eye followed its course to the great gates in the sky.


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