Remnants : Part Six

by Tenshi

The Warlord of Illusion hardly stirred as White Blaze gently pulled his futon into the council room, drawing it close beside the center brazier for warmth. Yuli barred the doors after him as he had been told, but the chamber was deep within the castle and most of the decent fortifications were several layers out. He felt a little foolish barricading flimsy wooden doors, with nothing but paper-covered frames on all other sides.

Mia paced nervously near Kayura, and Yuli knelt down beside Rajura's futon with his sword across his knees.

The sound of battle had become almost commonplace in the distance, the cries and the clamor hushed enough that Yuli could hear the snow sliding from the tree branches outside. Rajura shuddered with pain in his sleep, and Yuli reached out with hesitant fingers to touch his hair. As though that cautious touch was a mother's caress, Rajura went still, falling back into deeper sleep.

"I always was afraid of you the most," Yuli admitted, in a whisper that Mia would not hear and Rajura, unconscious, was unlikely to. "Ever since that day at the mountain temple, right after we found Sai. Even when you turned to fight on our side, I was still afraid of you." He smoothed a tangle out of Rajura's hair, frowning. The man lying before him was sick and wounded, covered in more bandages than clothing. Where his skin did show it was deathly pale, and the deep purple smudge of exhaustion under his good eye made him look haggard even in his sleep. The scar looked like the remains of some tragic accident, not the haughty trophy of an ancient battle. "You're younger than me, now," Yuli said, in a kind of helpless wonder. "Sh'ten told me you were twenty-four when the Netherworld took you. All those years I spent terrified of you, and now..." Yuli shook his head. "I never even knew you."

Mia tapped him on the shoulder, and Yuli jumped. "Wha--Lady Kayura--?"

"No," Mia said, apologetically. She held out a cup for Yuli to take. The tea had grown cold, but she had warmed it again on the brazier. "Still nothing. I can only barely tell she's breathing."

The reverberations of someone's sure-kill thudded dully through the castle, and Yuli clutched his tea in a white-knuckled grip. The sounds of battle were growing louder. From all over, now, came the tramp of armored feet, the urgent cries of indistinct orders. "You don't really think this is all going to end here, do you, Mia?"

"Maybe," Mia said. "It's where it began. I don't know what to think."

Yuli looked down at Rajura's scarred, too-young face. "...Me, either."

Half of the western castle fortifications had been destroyed. By the time Ryou caught up with the others there, the battle was fully joined, and a black wave of armored shells, like ant carapaces filled with malevolent intent, had begun to beat themselves against the castle's inner defense.

"It's not good," Rowen admitted, drawing up alongside Ryou and sending a golden volley of arrows into the horde.

"Any sign of their commander?"

"Not that I've seen," Rowen said, leveling his bow again. "Just the cannon-fodder here--" the archer made a choking noise in his throat, lowering his bow in awe. "Although I suppose," he concluded, in a strangled voice, "that could be it."

A massive, sinewy claw had emerged from the lake behind the castle, towering over the figures below. It was coated in glittering white scales, each one the size of a knight's shield, razor-edged and flashing with rainbow shades of iridescence. It came down on the shore and the force of the impact sent warriors from both sides flying, the damaged walls sliding into heaps of rubble. Another claw, a sinuous curve of back, and then a great, fanged head with blazing eyes that looked right into Ryou's soul, and knew him.

"Kikoutei," Ryou breathed, as the dragon shook its tail free of the water, and swept a row of docks out of existence. With a trumpeting cry the combined spirit of their armors plunged upward into the sky, swirled around itself, and lunged down to devour those who once contained it. Ryou felt the others gather to his side, heard the clink of their armor as they readied their defense, and knew, as they did, that they would not survive this battle.

Kayura stood in an empty village. The houses were neat and tidy, the streets clear of stones and rubbish. And yet there was not so much as the hum of a dragonfly's wing to be heard. The pines along the ridge were as still as though they had been painted on the sky, the clouds seemed fixed in their places.

"Hello?" Kayura's voice echoed briefly and then stopped, muted. She was an intruder there, and yet she thought she knew the place, somewhere down the centuries to her earliest memories. Her feet led her down the paths unerringly, past gardens with the harvest hanging patiently on the vine, through vacant market stalls with no sellers or buyers for the wares heaped up on display. She left the village behind her as she traveled on a white gravel path through the pines, up mossy steps beneath bright crimson Torii gates, until she came to the temple.

Kaos was waiting for her.

Kayura hesitated on the last step, sandal half-hanging from her foot. Would he be angry with her? Had she fulfilled her destiny as her clan wished? There was so much she did not understand, did not know. What if she had done everything wrong?

The monk tilted back the hat shading his eyes, and held out his hands in welcome, smiling. Kayura, who for years uncounted had known nothing of her family, ran laughing and weeping into the arms of her ancestor.

Yuli's teacup clattered to the tatami mat, his katana flashing from its sheath as armored bodies thudded against the door. Mia was on her feet beside him before the cup had finished rocking on the floor. The red tassel of her naginata swished through the air as she brought the spear down into a defensive position. White Blaze, curled in a protective crescent around Kayura, bared his teeth in a snarl, his hackles rising.

"They've made it this far inside?" Mia exclaimed, but Yuli knew what it was she was really asking.

"Ryou and the others must not have been able to hold them back," Yuli said, sword hilt creaking under his grip. His eyes stung with unshed tears.

"I won't believe it," Mia answered, but her mouth was a thin line, her eyes too bright. "And neither will you. We can't lose faith in them now."

The doors shuddered; they were ramming them. Black fog began to creep through the straining doors, fog with the stale, cloying scent of evil.

"C'mon, Kayura," Yuli muttered, though gritted teeth. "Any time now."

But Kayura did not stir, and the jewel did not shine. Yuli wiped beads of perspiration from his burning forehead. "The two of us won't last long against them, you know."

"I know," Mia said.

Yuli nodded. Mia understood. "It's been fun, Mia. The adventure of a lifetime."

Another impact jolted the doors. The beam Yuli had used for a barricade was bowing out towards them. In the rising smoke, they could see flickering shadows from the corners of their eyes, projected on the white paper doors to the garden. The enemy was encircling them.

"For me too, Yuli." Mia took a step closer to him, pivoting backwards to face the advancing soldiers from behind, putting her back to his. "Let's do this."

The black fog was roiling towards them, and there were shapes moving inside of it, flickers of metal helms and face-guards, licking streamers of blades. It had almost reached them when Yuli was startled to find himself surrounded by grim-faced samurai in full kit, mounted for battle with pikemen and archers at the ready. He staggered back in awe and confusion.

"Wha--what the--"

"Hurry," someone rasped behind him. "I cannot control it for long."

The army faded in and out briefly, like a television image with poor reception. In the flashes of transparency Yuli could see that the situation had not changed. The doors were giving way, Kayura was unconscious with Mia and White Blaze standing over her. But the Warlord of Illusion was sitting up on his knees, one hand clutched to his belly, the other outstretched to maintain his illusion.


"Take the women," Rajura gasped, his pallid face twisting with pain. "Take them and flee... down the canals to the wilds. The castle is fallen, and we are done. I can only hold them back so long."

The scouts had torn through the paper doors at the rear of the council chamber. Mia swung her spear in a wide arc to keep them back from Kayura, from the staff of the ancients. They fell quickly under her blows, but more were coming to replace them. The barred doors in front of Yuli shuddered with a heavy blow. They would not withstand another.

"Go, boy!" Rajura shouted, swaying on his knees. His illusory army flickered, solidified, and Rajura spat blood onto the futon. "That is an order!"

Yuli's heart twisted inside him.

I'm counting on you.

"...No," Yuli said.

The Warlord stared at him. "What?"

"I already have my orders. Ryou told me to stay here and protect you--all of you--and that's what I'm gonna do!"

"You fool!" Rajura snarled. His rage made him choke, and as he curled on the floor, coughing, his illusions dissipated completely. He struck a fist in anger against the floor. "Such pointless loyalty will only result in all our deaths!"

With a resounding crunch the doors splintered apart, and from the jagged ruin there vomited forth a seemingly-endless horde of black-armored enemies. They thundered forward to Yuli, death in their empty eye-slits, and Yuli stood his ground.

"Better that than betrayal!"

Yuli lunged forward to meet them, nothing in him but the longing to hold true to the faith Ryou placed in him. As his sword arched down through the first suit of armor, a golden light bust forth from his brow, blinding his foes. They fell back in awe and fear as Yuli's world exploded in silk, and chains, and cherry petals.

.to chapter seven.


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