Remnants : Part Eight
Under the largest sakura in the castle gardens, there was a humble marker of black stone. Half-buried beneath a thick fall of pink blossoms, it bore only a few kanji of inscription, one name. Yuli swept the petals from the stone's base, placed a bowl of plain rice on it, pinned a single incense stick among the grains, and lit it. The coil of smoke unraveled before the engraved marks of Sh'ten Douji's name, and Yuli bowed.
"You were a friend to him in those days he was apart from us, were you not?"
Yuli had known Rajura was there. It was a new extra sense, an awareness, and that knowing was almost as unsettling as it would have been had Rajura taken him by surprise. Yuli turned back to Sh'ten's grave, and stared hard at the offering he had placed there. "I think I was more of a pest."
The Warlord of Illusion walked slowly. His wounds were not yet healed, in spite of all Naaza's efforts. Some things simply took time. Sakura petals rustled around his sandals as he moved closer to the grave of his former comrade. "Still, I expect your presence was a comfort. You represented all he wished to save, after all. We were by his side for centuries, and yet at his death, when a warrior most should have his comrades by his side, we abandoned him."
Yuli felt Rajura's guilt as much as he heard it in his voice. They had been close, those two. Sh'ten's defection had stung deep, and his death hurt far more. "It wasn't your fault. I don't think Sh'ten would blame you."
Rajura snorted. "Don't you? Perhaps you give him too much kindness in your memories."
Yuli remembered not the terrifying figure in armor, but the gentle smile, the protective hand, the savior in the last desperate hour. "He was kind," Yuli insisted. And then, with something of a challenge, he added, "Perhaps I knew him better."
Rajura flinched, lip curling in readiness to retort, and then he turned away. "...Perhaps you did, at that." Rajura raised his hand to touch his scar, his strength not yet such that it was worth the vanity of conjuring a patch of cobweb to cover it. "We were comrades, yet always we fought amongst ourselves. But Sh'ten would want us to make you welcome in our company, and so I shall." He looked up at the cherry tree, at the gilded sky. "You have spent so much time among them, it is a very different thing to them, and to you, what it means to be an armor bearer." He turned back to Yuli, and all unexpectedly, bowed at him in respectful greeting. "I wonder what change your spring will bring us, Oni. I fear it as I do the presence of a mighty adversary at my gates, yet I rush towards it gladly to prove myself worthy."
"Thank you," Yuli said, not sure how to swallow Rajura's deference. "And you can call me Yuli."
"Yuwri," Rajura drawled, with a note of distaste. "What manner of name is that?"
"It's short for Ulysses," Yuli said, dusting more sakura petals off of Sh'ten's monument. "My father wanted me to have a western name in case we had to move abroad. Ulysses was an ancient Greek hero he liked."
"I have never heard of this Yurasees," Rajura said, dismissively. "Or this Guriku shogunate. He must not have been much of a hero."
Yuli started to answer that, and then remembered he was talking to a man who had been born when the sun rose on Japan and set in barbaric places nobody there cared about, and there was a centuries-wide gap in their cultures. The past is a foreign country, Yuli thought, And the netherworld isn't even on Earth, really. "You would not have been likely to hear his stories when you lived in the human world," Yuli said at last. "My Japanese name is Jun."
"Jun." The warlord of illusion tasted the name in his mouth as though it was a strange new dish. "A plain name. But it will do." He nodded, satisfied at the conclusion of the interview. "Your friends are returning home, Jun. It is time to say farewell."
"It's not quite the old hood-ornament look," Rowen was saying to Sage, as Yuli and Rajura joined the others in the front courtyard. "Sort of a mishmash. I kinda like it."
"You liked looking like a big blue fork," Sage returned, unconvinced. "I'm not sure you're the best opinion to follow in mystical yoroi fashion for this season."
"It was a little different," Mia considered. "But that's to be expected. It was without you a long time, and it merged with the armor Suzunagi gave you. It couldn't help but evolve."
"And I hope you will not need its aid again anytime soon," Kayura said, taking both of Ryou's hands in hers, like a kindly queen. "But when you do, may you find it strong and certain."
The warlords had gathered silently behind Kayura, and Yuli hesitated at the edge of their line, hovering somewhere between them and the warriors, uncertain.
"And when you need us again," Ryou answered Kayura, "we'll hear you."
Kayura bowed her snowy head, her face serene and untroubled. "I don't doubt you will. But this must be farewell, for now." She brought the butt of her staff down onto the gravel path, and with a low note of power a Netherworld gate appeared over them, dwarfing the castle wall.
Yuli took a breath, but said nothing as the others said their goodbyes and well-wishes. Only when the doors had opened, and Ryou and the others had turned towards the light of the mortal world, did Yuli find his voice.
They all stopped and looked at him, all of them except White Blaze, who was waiting patiently at Kayura's side.
Ryou frowned with his eyebrows. "Well come on, Yul. It's not like you can catch the next train."
"I know," Yuli said, and then he took a half-step backwards, without turning. The other three warlords were there at his back, and without any prior arrangement they fell into an informal flanking formation around Kayura, an arrow's point with the last of the Ancients at their head. Yuli could feel them there, the separate quarters of his whole, and he could feel Kayura over them all, as a compass point feels the sweep of a needle. Yuli sensed the warmth of golden light on his brow, saw the comprehension on Ryou's face, and emotion closed a thick hand around his throat.
"...You're not coming back with us." It was not a question.
Yuli shook his head in a no.
Ryou bit his lip, nodded to himself. "Yeah," he said. "I guess not."
Yuli looked at them but couldn't meet any one gaze for too long. Sage's approving nod, Rowen's sad smile, Sai's shining eyes, Kento's unabashed tear, they were all too much. Mia had her hands to her mouth, in realization and disbelief. Only Ryou's expression was unchanged. Ryou, Yuli's childhood hero, his friend, his brother in everything but bloodline. They both moved forward and met in the space between, in a rough and raw embrace, and Yuli pressed his face into the leather collar of Ryou's jacket.
"You can always find us in the armor," Ryou whispered roughly.
Yuli nodded. White Blaze had come up to them, and bumped his heavy, furry shoulder against their hips.
"I'm so proud of you." Ryou's grip tightened, almost painful.
Yuli made a little gargling sound. "God, Ryou, stop. I'm already crying in front of these guys."
"Well so am I, dammit." Ryou pulled back to smile at him, and he was. He cuffed Yuli's shoulder. "You'll come visit, right?"
Yuli blinked his burning eyes. "But the gate-- I won't be able--"
"Kayura is going to set one up at the lake, behind Mia's." It was Ryou's turn to grin at the understanding on Yuli's face. "It's private, and it'll be close to us. It's too dangerous to do otherwise now, to seal things off. We'll just have to watch both sides."
Yuli's heart soared. It was so unexpectedly right, and the last shadow over his armor inheritance was lifted.
"So we'll be expecting you over for dinner sooner rather than later," Sai called out, and shot the other Warlords a narrow look. "And bring your friends."
Yuli went to his knees and flung his arms around White Blaze's neck, but it was not out of grief. The tiger nuzzled Yuli's face in a farewell that would not be lasting, Yuli went back to join his new companions, and waved as his old ones vanished one by one through the gate.
"There's just one thing, Sai," Rowen said, just before the light swallowed him entirely. "Are we ever gonna get those blueberry pancakes?"