The River Sanzu
Chapter 9
a Ronin Warriors / Dark is Rising fusion
by Liondragon
2456 wc ~ PG ~ W+B

And here's the angst.

Only great self-control had kept Bran from gasping aloud when a metal hand swept down and whisked Will out into the darkness. He clutched the seat back, looking around. Most everyone was standing. A couple of students were crying quietly. If theyíd noticed that Willís spell (what else could he call it?) had moved them over, they made no sign. At least all the aisles were clear, even if they were all packed like sardines in the seats.

He patted his pocket. The stone was still there. How that would save Will, he didnít know. But he was determined to keep it safe till it was needed.

A great thud rattled the cabin. Several women uttered little screams. After another few seconds of silence, the passengers let out a collective sigh.

Bran realized he was muttering under his breath, and that it was a prayer. If you are indeed a wizard, Will, then remember to save yourself.

The second thud was right over Branís head. It might as well have been a physical blow. He cursed, touching the ceiling. It was dented.

Somehow he didnít think this train was going to stop.

"Right, thatís enough." Bran charged into the aisle and waved his hands to the front of the train. "Everyone! Get out of here. Go!"

They stared at him. Then a young man with a half-dozen piercings stood up and started gesturing in the same way, repeating the words in Japanese. From the front, the conductor roused himself. He yelled something which finally galvanized the crowd. In English he said to let the aged and injured up first. Bran took up the call. Someone opened the sliding doors to the car behind, and a sea of people rose to the sight of a white haired man summoning them up...

Bran jumped the seats, getting people moving. He made it to an elderly couple and motioned for a bunch of college students to take them. When he looked back, they were carrying them on their backs. "Go! Go!"

Midway through the car, he stopped to carry a young toddler while his mother scooped up the infant on her lap. It was the same boy who had been so enthralled by his hair. Now the little boy ignored him, and pointed out the window. The darkness had cleared. Maybe there was hope.

Even then the terrible unease drove Bran to go faster. He spotted an aging business man trying to pack up his briefcase. "No!" Bran said. "Leave it, just go!"

The man didnít meet his eyes. "Sorry, sorry."

"Thereís no time!" cried Bran. There must have been a difference in his voice because the man stood straight up, stared at him wide-eyed, then bowed profusely, still apologizing. This time he left the briefcase. He joined the passengers filing past quickly and orderly.

The cabin was rattled by another blast.

Bran kept his voice calm. "Donít dawdle. Keep moving." He began to notice that many were bowing to him as they passed, their faces sincere and grateful. A group of woman missionaries hailed him with a chorus of "Bless you, bless you," before moving on. It made his stomach stir oddly.

The conductorís steady directions were suddenly cut off by a terrible screech. Bran whirled around as the stench of rotten peaches hit him. The conductor was lying on the floor, under the foot of a monstrous bird-man. Everyone was stunned into silence. Even the youngest children stood stock-still; the stream of people was halted, horrified.

/Bran-san! The tengu is inside!/ Bran recognized the voice in his head as Ryo. He was too occupied to wonder about it. What else could he do other than think out /yes, itís here/. The conductor groaned as the tengu shook out its head like a crow in the rain.

Its beady glance took in the cabin, then fell on Bran. It screeched again, and to his surprise the passengers around him backed up. The aisle between him and the monster cleared out. An American girl called out from the back of the car: "Sir? Itís you. It says youíre the one itís looking for." Her voice quavered.

Bran had to stifle a hysterical laugh. Even the beasts spoke Japanese. How was he supposed to take this thing down if it didnít understand him?

With a crash and a clatter, Will and the five ronin reappeared. Will met his eyes over the thingís slowly unfolding wings. For a bare moment his friendís round face filled with a terror which, curiously, Bran could not feel. Shuu took one look at the downed conductor and raised his weapon angrily. Ryo stayed him with a hard tap of the katana. It occurred to Bran that some of the crashes had been from their weapons. If any of that were shot off inside the car, it would be like a bomb going off.

The train flew on.

Another high screech. "I see pride in your eyes," the girl went on translating. "I... I..."

Shinís gentle voice overrode hers, flattened by anger. "ĎI will destroy you. You will not be so proud with your entrails in my hand.í Donít listen to it, Branó"

There was a black blur, and a gasp. Shin had raised his spear, too late. "Chí," he bit out, wiping a line of blood from his cheek. The other ronin tensed, trying to hide their shock.

The tengu was barely ruffled as it turned its mad, beady eyes to Bran. It pointed its staff at him. Will took a step forward, and stopped.

"Everyone," Bran said, waving behind him. "Clear out." His gaze didnít waver, but he heard the last of the passengers rushing to obey. No other hostages, then. Just him. He wished heíd taken his clasp knife from his knapsack.

Another inhuman shriek, but this time Bran knew what it meant. The stone. Give me the stone. I will have it.

Bran fixed it with a haughty stare. "It is not yours. My friend Will needs it."

Will at first shook his head frantically, then went very still, slack-jawed. Bran cast a silent apology to him. There were just some things he had to do by himself.

Not that he had a high chance of getting away from this monster. Sweat trickled down his face. His hand was over the stone and squeezing hard, his legs braced against the sway of the train. It couldnít take the stone while he held it, he reasoned. Of course, it could always loot it off his body.

The bird-man screeched in anger, hop-walking toward him. Bran stood his ground, numbly thinking how the trainís direction was against him, and the next hop would easily translate into a flying leap. At the same time something flowed into his mind...

"Bran!" Will burst out.

At that moment, Bran grabbed the nearest thing: the snack packet on Willís tray. He flung it at the tengu. "Get away! You have no right to be here! Get out!"

The green morsels bounced harmlessly off its chest. Yet it staggered back as though mortally wounded. It let out an ear-splitting cry.

Bran didnít have time to be surprised. "You dare! Leave us and never return!"

The tengu disappeared.

Even the stench had gone. Now that there was nothing between him and Will, Bran could meet his friendís astonished eyes. The trainís quiet hum was surreal.

Shin started to laugh. "...I didnít think it would work!"

"I donít think any of us thought it would work," Bran said lightly. He was grinning wildly. "Shin told me to try it."

"Dried peas! Of all things!" Will covered a nervous guffaw. "You were speaking Welsh, there."

Seiji was kneeling by the conductor, who now looked fine, if confused. "What happened?" He stood, and turned Shinís face, healing his cut with a touch.

Shuu joined in the laughter. "Aha I get it! Itís like setsubun, the New Year. You throw soybeans at the demons and boom! They go away!"

Touma scratched his head. "I thought you needed soybeans for that."

"Itís to bring good luck for the rest of the year. Tradition, you know? Not real." Ryo banished his armor and clapped Bran on the shoulder. "I guess you donít have to be young to believe."

Bran took in the shine in his eyes and nodded back. "I guess not."

Will crushed him in a hard embrace. "Donít ever do that again!"

"What are you talking about, madman? You jumped out a moving train!" Bran wiped his brow. "Told you Iíd keep it safe." He took Will aside. "You all right?" His friend was not winded but to his seasoned eye, he looked spent.

"Iím okay, really." He sat heavily.

People were filing in again, and some started clapping. The ronin claimed nearby seats amid the excited murmurs.

Bran felt the train slow down. The conductor stared out the window bemusedly. "Next stop, Sendai," he finally announced.

There was a general nervous titter, then people began gathering their belongings. "Did we jump backwards?" Bran whispered.

"I think so." Will pushed his hair off his brow. Down the aisle, the blasted door was back in place. The view out the window was the same plateau overlooking the river. The only difference was the burnt out beacon beside Aoba Castle.

"Shinkansen schedules are accurate to the second. And weíre on time. People still remember, though," Touma said. Indeed there was many a peculiar glance in their direction.

Will nodded. He stood up again, and raised his hand. The ronin froze. As though slowed to half-speed, Bran watched the tips of his fingers stiffen...

When time caught up again, every passenger averted their eyes, going about their business. Some of them shook their heads at the snack bits scattered on the floor, or glanced sidewise at the five men blocking the aisle. Bran sank back in his seat.

"Thank you, Will-san," said Ryo.

Bran put his shades on, expressionless.

Seiji was a few seats down, talking on his phone. The train was accelerating when he ended his call and worked his way back to the others. Unusually, he had a grin on his face.

Ryo nudged him. "Aa, whatís up, Seiji?"

"The tengu was waiting for us. Not many people in town knew what was happening. I guessed right about my sister Satsuki. She was in university, which is on the same hill as the castle. She figured the train was on its way, and she lit old General Date's beacon to warn us."

"And...?" Touma began to smile.

"Sheís safe. She was arrested for trespassing."

"Thatís terrible!" Shin gasped.

Shuu doubled over, laughing. "Thatís priceless! The little princess herself? Did she resist arrest?"

"It gets better." Seiji smirked. "Father booked her himself."

"No way!" Ryo laughed.

Touma was beside himself with glee. "Way to go Satsuki-chan! It will be a badge of honor before long."

"Father says theyíll pay a fine, then bring her home. Privately theyíre very proud. But honored Grandfatherís going to make her clean the dojo floor for a month!"

Will translated all this, but Bran didnít seem to be listening. His even voice cut through the laughter: "Where is Nasuti?"

The ronin stopped, shocked. Shuu stood up on his seat, looking down the aisle.

Will turned his head with a distant gaze now familiar to Bran. His eyes widened. "Oh no. Sheís not on the train."

Shin was the first to regain his voice. "Was it all a diversion? Was there another one, besides what we fought?"

Will shook his head. "No. I know what they feel like, now. There was only one."

"Could she have gotten off at Sendai?" Ryo said, glancing at Seiji.

"Why would she do that!" Shuu burst out. "She was with Touma and Shin! What happened to you?"

Shin frowned. "I was the first one outside. I teleported directly. Touma followed me."

"After he blew up the door," Seiji said coolly. Bran turned his head toward Will, though both their eyes were already on Touma.

"Her cell phone!" Shin exclaimed.

"Hai, Iíll call it," Seiji began.

Touma caught his hand. "No need. You canít reach her with that."

Ryo grabbed his arm. "What do you mean?"

"You knew where she was all along?!" Shuu hissed angrily. Shin had him by the shoulders. Touma had shrunk back, but was remaining calm. The other passengers were starting to notice the commotion.

Seijiís voice was cold as an ice floe. "Where is she, Touma?"

Touma met his gaze, his jaw stiffening. "The youjakai."

Only Shin looked relieved. "Why didnít you say earlier?"

"There was no time."

"What is she doing? Is she safe there?" Shuuís fists clenched and unclenched.

"How is that even possible," Will asked quietly. "You said there was no way in or out of that realm."

Touma turned to Bran and Will. His face was stony without the good humor to animate it. "A small gate can be opened by an armor-bearer, or the holder of the shakujo. The golden staff. Only one person at a time can cross."

Branís dark glasses surveyed Touma. "So your Lady summoned her? Is that what youíre saying?"

"Yes. She didnít say why. There was no time to explain. Then the fight. Iím sorry," Touma said to Ryo.

It occurred to Bran that it wasnít clear what Touma was sorry about. He tilted his head slightly as Will leaned on his shoulder, continuing to translate.

Seiji had gone deathly silent. Shin, having assuaged Shuu, glanced at the blond. "Iím sure they are trying to help. They are our allies."

"Yes, thatís right," Ryo said, brightening. He patted Toumaís shoulder. "Maybe weíll find out more when she returns."

"When will that be! Do we know how to open the gates when she returns?" said Shuu unhappily.

"Ah, no. I donít know how Kayura does it," admitted Touma.

There was a tense silence. Then Seiji asked, "Are we sure the tengu didnít come from the youjakai?"

"An armor-bearer would have to summon it," said Touma.

There was a fierce mind-to-mind exchange after that. Bran nearly asked Will if he was eavesdropping, but he could translate the glares easily enough. Plus, Will was knackered. Whatever had been happening was slowly sliding out of control. Willís resources were being tapped out and fast. Bran hated it.

Quite softly, in that strangely tinged Welsh, Will whispered: "We donít know if the armors themselves can be possessed."

That raised the small hairs on Branís nape. He touched Willís cool cheek, and bunched up his coat to lay his head upon.

Shin seemed to notice. With that, the ronin turned as one, all arguments halted. "We should decide in Hachinohe," Shin said.

"Yes," said Ryo. "We meet here before leaving. It will be dark when we arrive. We should stick together. Will-san, Bran-san ĖĖ thank you very much for everything."

Will had burrowed into Branís coat. He managed a drowsy smile. "Itís you we should thank."

After theyíd gone, Bran opened one of the bento boxes. He sniffed it, snapped apart the chopsticks, and dined in pensive silence. Beside him, Will soon dropped into an exhausted sleep.

Bran retrieved a stray pea and ate it. Touma was still lying. He meant to find out why.

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