Author: MsLyoness PM
Karura is dead and Zouchouten still lives...but all pain must have an eventual end. An angsty yet hopeful look at the aftermath of the Six Stars.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Romance - Words: 11,121 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Published: 09-17-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7389989
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Zouchouten doesn't scream until much, much later. A few tears fall as she dies before his eyes, but he is strong enough (or coward enough, he thinks grimly) to hold the crushing grief and rage and regret inside until it's all over.
But now…now, alone in his chambers, he lets himself remember. Her scream, the killing blow dealt by the god-king, and the psyche-shaking knowledge that he didn't do enough, he never did.
His animalistic cry can be heard throughout Castle South, but he doesn't care. He can't even bring himself to be aware of what anyone else might think; no, he's reliving it, and it brings him to his knees.
He failed to protect her. He should have knocked her out once more, taken her, and run, he should have left Zenmi and fled, and though it would have been so very dishonorable, he should have abandoned his position. If he had, she would still be alive. She would be here and safe, not gone in a whirl of white feathers.
He caught a handful, tears falling from his eyes, as her body disintegrated and blew away like she had never been there at all. Now all he has left, all he will ever have, is four pure, white feathers.
"Ah, Zouchouten… I find you crying like an overgrown child." The voice is loud in the silence, aristocratic and almost bored, but with that snide enjoyment of pain that it often carries.
His head jerks up, and Taishakuten is standing three feet away. Tiny cuts are on his form, his third eye bears slashes across the lid, but no serious wounds. No, he is almost unscathed, and though this should not be a surprise Zouchouten is still awed that even Yasha or the fully realized Ashura failed to kill him.
But fine. Someone should finish the job, and he's just the man.
He wishes desperately for his sword, but that's back in the deathhouse of Zenmi, along with his right hand. His left will have to do, he thinks, as he grabs Taishakuten by the throat and slams him against the wall, snarling, "You bastard. You heartless… cold… evil –"
Taishakuten smirks, and Zouchouten is disappointed that the god-king hasn't just destroyed him. He could easily do it, even now. And maybe that's what he wanted when he attacked him, to end it. Suicide by enemy, they call it in the army.
"You killed her," Zouchouten growls out, then can't say anymore, buffeted by grief.
"I did." Taishakuten is smiling, despite the crushing grip on his windpipe. "It bothers you so much? Why didn't you jump in front of her, then?" he mocks, his question the same one that's been running through his minion's head for hours.
The Southern General squeezes his eyes shut to stop the tears even as he shakes the god-king, who is still smiling. Damn it all, why?!
"You should have. I expected you to," Taishakuten continues, even as his voice grows hoarse and he still makes no move to defend himself.
But his words do the job that his power does not: Zouchouten's legs will no longer support him, and he collapses to his knees, tears leaking from beneath his closed eyelids. His grip on Taishakuten's throat trembles for a moment, then finally releases.
The younger man takes a deep breath and then smirks down at him, murmuring, "Pathetic. Like she was."
Zouchouten's eyes open then, hatred blazing in the slitted golden depths, and he starts to gather a forcebolt around his remaining hand. Taishakuten, however, moves closer, bringing his face inches away from his subordinate's, and quietly asks, "So you'll attempt regicide? And then what? You'll never get away with –"
"I don't want to!" Zouchouten roars, and Taishakuten's eyebrows quirk in slight surprise.
"Ah. Well, you can't possibly hope to destroy me, and your own death won't bring her back, you know," he whispers, sibilant, sadistic enjoyment in each word. "Lady Karura tried to kill me. She had to be made to pay."
Zouchouten crumbles, forcebolt gone, all tension leaving his body and slumping with his head bowed. It's useless, isn't it? Taishakuten survived, though the prophecy foretold his fall, and Karura died, though the prophecy foretold her victory. Didn't it?
"You brought this on yourself, you must realize," Taishakuten continues matter-of-factly. "Had you not shielded me that day, she would have been destroyed then and there. Had you not begged me to spare her, I would have executed her. Had you not hidden the fact that she was alive from me, my armies would have crushed the entire Karura tribe and its queen. And…"
Taishakuten grabs Zouchouten's jaw, forcing the older man to look up, "…Had you stepped in front of her when it really mattered, you would not have had to watch her die."
Zouchouten's soft, broken plea is loud in the silence, and Taishakuten only squeezes harder, a sharp thumbnail digging into his subordinate's skin, and points out, "I destroyed her with this hand, you know. The fact that you have not ripped it off of my body means you have become completely weak," he almost purrs, sounding exceedingly amused at this.
Suddenly the emperor releases the other man, the general's head falling back down to stare at the floor. Taishakuten studies him, a botanist looking at an interesting orchid that has proved unworthy. The smile that blooms on his face then is pure, unadulterated evil.
"You are now in command of the entire Imperial Army. Appoint yourself three new subordinates, for the positions of Generals of the Northland, Eastland, and Westland. Rebuild Zenmi, and…" he laughs, the cruel sound echoing off the stone walls, "live a long life. I will not end it."
He turns and leaves, his sociopathic mirth echoing in Zouchouten's ears: "You have failed at what you tried to do. Your punishment is to exist in Tenkai without her."
Zouchouten stands on a cliff, somewhere in the Southland, he doesn't really remember where. Far enough that it took three hours' ride from Castle South to get here, he knows, but he can't really recall which direction he went.
He gazes down. The river beneath him is a shallow one, but rapids lace it. He takes a step towards the edge, shakes his head, and steps back.
The funerals have started. Bishamonten and Kisshouten will be interred in the royal cemetery, as befits the head of the Four Gods and the daughter of a god-king. Lord Ryuu's body was sent back to his people, his cousins' grief nearly tearing them apart. The woman from the Souma tribe and her beloved Lady Kendappa burned on a pyre, laid side-by-side and holding hands. Queen Shashi still lies in state, and he thinks that they should just let her rot, for giving birth to the abomination that brought this upon them.
And one white feather, a remnant of Lady Karura, is held in his remaining hand.
He sighs, steps to the edge, and steps back again as he thinks, No pyre for her, and no eternal sleep of death entombed. Nothing. No body. Gone, gone forever.
For a third time he repeats the ritual of advancing and standing down, falling back, as before wondering why he doesn't just take that step. What is there left, really? His comrades Koumokuten and Bishamonten, and even Jikokuten? Dead. They might have been the ones to hold him back now that she is truly gone, but they are all gone as well.
Why? Why obey Taishakuten now? You obeyed him for three hundred years and look where that led. Cheat him of his victory. Do it. DO IT NOW!
The frantic voice behind him nearly startles him off the edge, but he takes a stumbling step back and turns as the wind takes the feather. Prince Tenou dismounts his winged horse frantically, pleading, "Sir, no!"
"Let me be, Tenou. Go back to your father and tell him to find another head of the Four Gods," Zouchouten snarls. "Or take the position yourself, you're strong enough, but don't you dare order me to STOP!"
The rage-filled bellow would have made the young man shrink back in fear and run away two mere days ago, but today, with the heavens split and having seen the fires of Hell firsthand, Tenou advances.
"I'm not ordering you to do anything as a prince, General Zouchouten. I'm begging you to stay as a friend," he says urgently, reaching out a hand. "I need your help. I can't do this alone."
"And you won't have to. Your accursed father will never relinquish his control of Tenkai. Nothing in Heaven, Earth, or Hell itself can make Taishakuten fall!" Zouchouten roars. "Nothing! Do you hear me? Absolutely nothing! The Six Stars failed! Everyone's dead! But I live because he spared me to mock my pain."
He clenches his hand into a fist and snarls, "He said to me that day, 'There's nothing more painful than living in a world without the one you love.' And he was right, and I am weak."
"I watched her die! I watched her die and did nothing! I stood by as Taishakuten killed Lady Karura, the woman I loved!"
His admission to the prince of his desire for her is not a shock. Tenou knew; they all knew. Bishamonten told Zouchouten on the day of her false funeral, "She killed herself, never giving a thought to you," his tone taunting, gloating.
Oh yes… they all knew.
"And the woman I loved killed herself so she would not have to be without the woman she loved!" Tenou yells then. "Don't you see? We can't keep killing ourselves for love, or there will be no one left to stop him!"
…How? Nothing will stop the god-king.
Yet Duty damps down the smoldering fires of Defiance, and Zouchouten, one final time, gazes at the plateau below him, and falls back, this time to his knees. For over a thousand years a soldier, at this time of bereavement that sense of duty is all he has left.
Tenou looks like he'd like nothing better than to wrap his friend in a hug, but he stays still, saying only, "Thank you. You are an honorable man."
He realizes that might not have been the wisest thing to say as Zouchouten laughs: loud, long, and completely without humor. It sounds like nothing less than the cracked mirth of a lunatic who has just seen that his fevered hallucinations of evil cannot possibly hope to compete with the ugliness of reality.
"Honorable. Yes, she told me that once, you know: 'You are an honorable man, General Zouchouten. You will always protect those under you.' Honorable? No…cowardly, Prince Tenou. An honorable man would have defied your father and turned away from the horrors Taishakuten embodied –"
"And the entire Karura tribe would have been cut down! You helped keep them safe,Zouchouten. Surely that counts for something to you, even now?" Tenou asks, putting a comforting hand to his friend's shoulder.
The Southland General sighs, admitting, "Yes. To let them die now would be breaking my promise to her."
So he gets to his feet, face set in determination, and decides, "Let's go back. I won't end it here, you have my word."
And they do go back.
The next day finds Zouchouten visiting a friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend-again. Lord Yasha, Guardian Warrior of the Northland, looks up from his vigil at the side of a cocooned Ashura.
"I should thank you, General Zouchouten, for what you did," Yasha murmurs, polite even now.
"Do not thank me." It's a low growl, one steeped not in malice but self-loathing. "You don't have to thank me for such a thing. I should have joined you myself when you came to destroy Taishakuten."
Yasha gazes at the frozen form of the god of war in anguish, and says quietly, "I failed. Not only to avenge my tribe, but to protect him. My son… as good as dead. I failed him."
"All of us failed, Lord Yasha. Some more than others." Zouchouten's tone is bitter, and Yasha turns to him then, his eyes suddenly soft as he replies, "And now we both live without our purposes. My Ashura is gone, your Lady Karura is gone."
Zouchouten shakes his head violently and mutters, "My Lady Karura? No, she was never mine. I never had her by any stretch of the imagination. I had only a foolish hope, Lord Yasha."
Yasha studies the other man and sighs, "That is a pity. You never told her, I take it?"
"No. It wouldn't have made a difference."
How could it have? What could he have expected, that she would have suddenly thrown herself into his arms and let her vendetta go? Never.
The Guardian Warrior tilts his head, and then says, "Lady Karura always admired you, you know."
Zouchouten turns away. He won't let Yasha see him cry again. Humiliating, to now be the second most powerful man in all of Tenkai, and to be observed with tears on his face by the man who doesn't cry even when his son is gone.
"I think," Yasha continues, "that in her own way, she loved you –"
"Lady Karura loved only her sister, and by the end, she despised me. As she should have," Zouchouten replies gruffly. He's trembling now, and Yasha feels only sympathy for him.
"General Zouchouten… I'm telling you the truth. You were the only person, besides Princess Karyoubinga, that she ever smiled when talking about," Yasha says to him softly.
Why lie to me, Lord Yasha? Do you think it will ease my pain? No, your falsehoods twist the knife deeper, because I know that she never would have stayed, that she never felt anything for me but respect and disinterest.
"Her smile was something I loved to see, Lord Yasha… but she never, ever smiled at me for myself." With that, he stalks away, and Yasha sighs, reaching a hand out and settling it on Ashura's face, still and cold as stone.
And then hope comes suddenly, from an unexpected source, as Zouchouten is gazing out the window later that day, something more than mere depression filling his soul, a white feather held close to his chest.
You were a free spirit, Lady Karura. How could you have loved something like me: tied to what you most hated by choice and perpetuating the system that you loathed…
Yasha was lying. He had to be.
"Well, hello there. Don't you look sad."
It's a new voice, that of a man, but he doesn't bother to turn and see who it is. Probably some stupid courtier, or one of his men, or some tribal leader, one of the many called here to help build a new palace.
"Go away, whoever the hell you are," he grumbles, facing resolutely away. "Leave me alone. Hasn't anyone told you yet that I hate talking about what happened?"
"My goodness,that's no way to treat a new friend," the voice scolds. "C'mon, look at me."
"I told you to leave me be," Zouchouten barks, andopens his hand and concentrates on his talisman. If he ignores this idiot, hopefully he'll get the hint and take a hike. It works on most of them, after all.
The voice sighs, and then tells him, "I see that you'll only respect a show of strength… okay, you made me do this, you know."
The feather glows and turns immediately to ashes, heat on his palm. Zouchouten stares for a split-second, then whirls, a fireball summoned to his hand, suddenly enraged that this fucker took another piece of her from him.
"How dare you?!" he roars, launching the fireball at the figure. "You son of a bitch!"
It feels good to let it out, to be aggressive; he's spent far too long holding his anger in. His attack was powerful, probably overkill… only Taishakuten, he thinks, could possibly hope to withstand it without serious injury.
When the smoke clears, a man is standing there, not even singed. "Oh my that was needlessly violent," he sighs as Zouchouten gapes and takes a step back. What the hell… who is this?
Or rather… "What are you?!" he gasps out, taking another unconscious step away.
It's a demon in the form of a man, it has to be: the being before him has purple eyes and black wings. He wonders then if perhaps it's here to kill him, and he brightens up. Wouldn't that be nice? That way his promise to Tenou is kept, and all the pain is ended for good.
"My name," the man bows, "is Kujaku. I'm pleased to meet you, Lord General Zouchouten. Yasha tells me you're as sad as he is, but for a rather different reason."
"Are you here to destroy me?" An idea occurs to Zouchouten then, and he bargains, "Kill Taishakuten first, because I'll bet you could, demon. Do that and I won't fight you. You have my solemn promise."
"Whoa, hold your horses there, Zou," Kujaku laughs, twirling a seer's staff. "The god-king's not a threat to me, and neither are you." He grins and adds, "It was a nice fireball, though. I'll bet it made you feel a lot better."
As the confused Zouchouten starts to wonder if he's gone mad with grief, Kujaku steps forward and continues, "Sorry about your feather friend, but I need to talk to you, and you wouldn't listen otherwise. Oh well, you still have two left."
Kujaku shrugs and answers, "Oh, I know a lot. I like to pull strings from behind the scenes. That's why I'm here."
Zouchouten narrows his eyes and snaps, "Hasn't Taishakuten already won? Why does he send you to mock me? He's done that enough, thank you. He laughs at my pain and Tenou's pain, and he laughs most of all at Lord Yasha's pain."
Kujaku laughs himself, but not a cruel sound of mirth. "Of course he's won. That's why he's pulled back. He has no challenge to live for now, but of course," he smiles, "there are those who would attempt to destroy him, and plunge Tenkai into yet another sea of blood."
Zouchouten hesitates. This is true: the Ryuu tribe in particular wants Taishakuten's head. Their new king, by all accounts a decent man who had wanted his cousin to obey the emperor, has called secretly for a war. Many others would join him… and all would fall.
Because Taishakuten defeated the god of war himself, and twice, he must have. Though no one but he, Lord Yasha, and one secret other now know what exactly happened in Zenmi when everyone else died or left, the fact that Ashura sleeps eternally and that the god-king still lives leads Zouchouten to an inescapable conclusion.
No one has told him otherwise; both Yasha and Taishakuten remain silent. It doesn't occur to him that the enigma before him might know exactly what happened that day, and exactly what happened three hundred years ago as well.
Kujaku holds a hand out and teases, "Aw, enough with the pouty face. Come on and smile through your tears! I'm quite good at it myself, and I've seen an awful lot of pain. All my life, pal."
Why in the world, Zouchouten wonders, does such a being cloak his power with the mask of a jolly fool?
Wiggling his fingers, Kujaku waits for a response. Getting none but a distrustful stare, he tries another tactic: "Okay then, Zou, I think you can be useful to those of us who'd rather not have another knock-down, drag-out fight with our good buddy Taishie. I could tell you that it'll help Tenkai, and that it'll save poor Tenou from going 'round the bend, which would all be true… but I think the best leverage would be your little bird: the Sky Queen."
An irrational hope blooming in his chest, Zouchouten breathes, "Is she still –?"
A shake of the head from Kujaku makes his heart plummet once more, and Kujaku sighs, "Sorry General, but she's gone. Nobody can bring the dead back to life. But," he grins, "we can do what they would have wanted us to do."
Yes… like Tenou said, her tribe must be protected. I cannot break my vow.
Zouchouten nods, his soul so heavy he's surprised he can still stand, and agrees, "Yes. You want me to do as Taishakuten asked?"
The beaming Kujaku nods vigorously and answers, "Yes. Help us rebuild. If someone like you, who everybody knows despises Taishakuten now, tells the world to keep its head down and obey, they'll do it."
"That's rather sad that they wouldn't obey Prince Tenou," Zouchouten mutters, and Kujaku twirls his staff again.
"Some would, some wouldn't, not yet anyway. In time, when he gets stronger, everyone will. But for now, somebody like you can intimidate them into behaving." He smirks and goes on, "If they don't, you have my permission to lob forcebolts and fireballs and catapult shots at 'em."
"Hmph." The warrior sizes the other man up and finally murmurs, "So you say you know a lot."
"I probably knew more that was going on than anybody else did for years, new buddy. Even Taishakuten with his little mirror thing couldn't keep up with me," Kujaku brags as he flaps his wings, a rather preening gesture, Zouchouten thinks.
The bigger man takes in a breath, and quietly asks, "Then did she love me?"
Kujaku gives him a half-smile and replies, "Maybe. Perhaps she wanted you as well, perhaps she just respected you… she never spoke of it aloud, and though I can read the stars, I can't read someone's mind."
"Oh." Zouchouten seems to deflate as he decides, "Then… she probably didn't, as she went off and got killed without saying goodbye. I begged her to stop, and she just turned her back and went for Taishakuten."
Kujaku cocks a head, saying, "Her fate, like that of all the Six Stars, was to die. Destiny ruled her life with an iron fist –"
"I know!" Zouchouten snarls then. "Don't preach to me about Fate! She did what she felt she needed to do, she did what was right."
Kujaku nods as Zouchouten spins away once more, and sighs, "Yes she did. Lady Karura lived her life without regrets. A strong woman if ever there was one… but has it never occurred to you that she might have done things differently had she known all the information?"
He lays a hand on the distraught Zouchouten's shoulder and whispers, "You cannot stop the wheel of Fate from turning, General of the Southland… but it does not crush Love into nothing."
A hoarse sob is his only answer. Kujaku gazes out the window, letting Zouchouten pull himself together, and murmurs, "Lady Karura is waiting."
Zouchouten freezes and turns back around, asking, "What do you mean, waiting? In the Land of the Dead?" He shakes his head and snorts, "She wouldn't receive me if I went to her. Besides, I must –"
"Yes, of course you must live. You now play a greater part in the story of Tenkai than I." Kujaku toys with the rings on his staff and continues, "The epic of the Six Stars is over. A new age is beginning. Tenou must take the throne, and Taishakuten must not be allowed to destroy any more tribes… history has spoken. Heed it. You won't find your penance in suicide, Lord General Zouchouten of the Southland, but in servitude."
The black-winged enigma turns to go, one more sentence floating back: "And if you can do that… she will receive you. Perhaps not in the Land of the Dead, but somewhere, sometime. Make your choice, Head of the Four Gods."
And he does. He grits his teeth and obeys the god-king, appointing new leaders and sending messages that insubordination will not be tolerated. Taishakuten smirks and laughs, but looks rather disappointed when the first reply comes back: the Ryuu tribe will stand down.
This makes it easier for Zouchouten; he grins humorlessly as Taishakuten sighs, and doubles his efforts for peace. In the end, he doesn't have to attack anyone, because Tenkai is tired of bloodshed, and now… now they have hope, because of Prince Tenou.
The young man throws himself into keeping the peace and rebuilding, but more importantly, he throws himself into raising the people's spirits. He rides out himself, no guard, at first sneaking out from under his friend's watchful eye.
Zouchouten lectures him, then pleads with him, then thinks about threatening him but decides that will do no good. Tenou is determined to be a people's prince, and that, far more than anything else, turns the tide.
Two months pass, and there are four Four Gods again. Two of which are women, all of which are accomplished warriors, and none of which will ever be secret. They work well together, and Zouchouten can't help but feel that this is how it was ever supposed to be.
The others are never far from his thoughts, though: Bishamonten, conceited and manipulative, sending spies to watch the others as Taishakuten's personal enforcer; Koumokuten, profane and practical, serving the emperor because he feared him; and Jikokuten… the most terrible of all, the hidden Eastern General who killed her own lover for her master Taishakuten.
He shakes his head. He would rather think of Kendappa as Kendappa, the musician who knew Karura was alive and said nothing, the woman who smiled at him and played along with his flute lie. And the other Jikokuten, the honorable man who loved his daughter and who defied Taishakuten's cruelty, dying at his hand without an ounce of fear.
Old friend… you would have liked this new order.
There are new Guardian Warriors as well. Yasha has made it clear that he will not move from his son's side until Ashura awakens, and he himself suggested finding a new tribal leader to fill the position. A grim-faced Lord Ryuu takes up the Dragon Fang sword, and a second new tribe is appointed for the East.
Zouchouten finds himself standing in the Sky Castle once more, the next Southern Guardian Warrior having just been crowned leader and kneeling before him for the next ceremony.
The new queen of the Karura tribe is nearer to his age than anyone else's, with two grown children and a gimlet-eyed eagle of a bird. Heavyset and brusque, she is a cousin of the former Lady Karura's, and she looks him right in the eyes as she swears, "I will serve you happily and well, Lord General Zouchouten of the Southland, as the Guardian Warrior of the South."
The crowd murmurs approvingly; such impeccable manners!
"And I accept your service… my lady."
The hall goes quiet. People start to mutter underneath their breaths about this insult, because she addressed him by his title so he must address her by hers. But she herself smiles slightly, studying his embarrassed yet stubborn expression.
"I will never truly be Lady Karura to you, will I, General," she says softly, understandingly and not insulted in the least. "Because she was always the Sky Queen even before she was Lady Karura."
"No," he tells her honestly. "I'm sorry."
Her smile broadens as she suggests, "Why don't you just call me Tenkuka. That's who I have been my entire life, up until today."
He is ridiculously relieved as he agrees, "That will be fine, yes."
A year later, on the plain beneath the Sky Castle, he kneels before a shallow hole in the ground. Gently placing a single white feather inside it, he murmurs, "Be at peace."
He stands up, cape blowing in the wind, after carefully covering the feather with dirt. There's a single stone at the head of the small mound: a white rock, quartz, catching the light and sparkling.
All alone, he stares at the stone. It's always bothered him that she had one funeral with no body, and for there to be nothing now, when she is truly gone, is unbearable. He feels that she must at least have some words and a resting place for part of her, even if it is just him here.
He probably should have told at least Kujaku, who has become a valued friend, but perhaps, he realizes, this is more for him than for her. After all, the dead no longer care what happens on the plane of the living, what their mortal remains come to. But he cares. Oh, how he cares.
"You know, Lady Karura," he murmurs, "I would have married you in a heartbeat. I was actually thinking about asking you the day before Kuyou escaped. But she did, Yasha left, and you chafed at your bonds, and I always just thought, 'All right, there will be time later.' And then your sister was taken, and I saw the hatred in your eyes in the courtyard that day.
"It nearly broke my heart. And when she died, all I wanted was to comfort you and make you feel better, but had I reached out and touched you, you would have tried to kill me. Who knows, you might have succeeded."
He smiles slightly and goes on, "Because you, out of everyone I've ever known, had the strongest soul of us all. You died with a smile on your face because you lived as you wished. And do you know, I understand now that to have stolen you and run away would never have made you happy. You would have fought me, even if I'd never laid a hand on you, and run back to attack Taishakuten even after all your allies were dead."
He laughs, even as tears form in his eyes, and continues, "By God-King, you had spunk. You killed so many demons, and I was so damn proud of you. I was so lucky to have you as my Guardian Warrior. Yasha may have been more powerful, the Dragon King may have been more aggressive, but you had such fire in your heart that I was a moth to your flame.
"I would have died a happy man if you'd burned me, you know. Koumokuten once said, 'Carry her off and fuck her, you know you want to,' but I knew you'd hate me for that. I never would have forced myself on you, because I loved you too much.
"Although… when I did carry you off, I seriously wanted to bring you back to my rooms. I mean, it was just a thought and I put it out of my mind quickly, but," he smiles though tears slip down his cheeks, "I used to lie awake and wish you'd come to me.
"Oh well. You never did. You never will, now. But I guess what I'm trying to say is that I loved you for your passion. Not your body, because I could have never physically possessed you at all but if you'd told me you loved me, I would have done anything for you."
He sighs as the wind picks up. It feels… nice to let all this out, cathartic perhaps. He's never spoken aloud of his feelings for her in depth, and it's healing, in a way. So he continues, "I loved you, Lady Karura. I still love you, I always will. Be at peace, with the sister you could not truly live without."
He bows to the tiny grave and finishes with, "Yes… be at peace, my beloved Sky Queen."
Five more years pass, and Tenou comes into his own. Intelligent like his father and compassionate like no one else, the prince of Tenkai devotes all his energy to keeping the world safe. Zouchouten wonders, as he watches Tenou skillfully diffuse a tense situation with diplomacy, if this is what a father feels like when a child not only walks, but runs far ahead of him.
Leaving all day-to-day affairs to others, Taishakuten has withdrawn almost completely from the pubic eye, and everyone save Kujaku wonders why this is. The blind seer Hanranya tries to reach the god-king, but he sends her away with a sharp, "You are no longer of any use to me."
She cries, and mopes about when she's not following Zouchouten around like an attention-starved puppy. He lets her, because she is not a bad woman and they understand each other to an extent.
Tenou smiles, despite his grief. He finds happiness in serving his people, but Zouchouten thinks the young man deserves something more. And so one day, as they pore over correspondence from distant provinces in the new palace dubbed Zenmi Two, he makes a suggestion: "My prince, I think the time has come for you to wed."
Tenou sighs. Zouchouten can tell he is not thrilled about this idea, but knows the reality of the situation. The redhead nods solemnly and says, "I suppose so. But who? You do know the woman I loved is gone, and there will never be another."
"Well, there's always Tamara," Zouchouten points out carefully, and almost laughs as Tenou's face blanches.
"Absolutely not," the prince manages, and his friend smiles and replies, "Yes, I thought that might be the case. Still, there are many others. I seem to recall beautiful women fighting over the chance to help you when you were hurt. Some women are just naturally maternal, and find injured warriors dashing."
Tenou glances pointedly at Zouchouten's right arm but says nothing. The older man pretends not to notice it.
An idea occurs to him then, and he suggests, "What about… Hanranya? She knows what you've seen, and with the man she served so obsessively now closed off and no longer needing her, she suffers the onset of depression, I think. I'd like to see the two of you happy."
"But Zouchouten…" Tenou gazes at him helplessly, "I thought she –"
"No." Zouchouten doesn't even let him finish the sentence, and goes on, "Hanranya transferred her allegiance to me because I stopped her from killing herself. She's the type of person who must have an anchor in this world, another person to strive to please. I won't make her happy, she can't possibly hope to make me happy, but the two of you, I think, could in time grow to love each other. Woo her now and in six months, I'd be willing to bet, she'll accept your proposal."
He pins Tenou with a penetrating gaze and commands, "Marry her. Produce an heir, because you must do so anyway for Tenkai's sake and it'll be easier with someone who understands you. Have as many children as possible, as they are a joy."
Tenou nods determinedly, and assents, "Yes. I have always loved children." He thinks for a while, and then asks, "Do you like them?'
Zouchouten smiles then as he replies, "Of course I do. I've always regretted not having any of my own." Little white-haired moppets with my skin coloring… I even picked out hypothetical names.
Tenou meets his eyes, clear green against slitted gold. "Then as your future god-king: Zouchouten, I order you to start a family and be content," he says firmly, putting every ounce of authority into his words.
So he is quite disappointed when Zouchouten waves his hand and stands up, clearly disobeying him. "No, my prince. That will not make me content," he replies, honestly and rather hopelessly.
Tenou tries again with an insistent, "Then start a family and be in less pain?"
Zouchouten shakes his head and passes it off with, "Oh, you know me, Prince Tenou… I can withstand an awful lot." He walks to the door, cape billowing behind him, and leaves. Tenou gazes after him, sighs, and goes to find Hanranya.
Zouchouten was wrong: it takes only four months before Tenou proposes to Hanranya. Tenkai throws itself into the ceremonies, because after so many funerals a royal wedding is a welcome distraction from death, a defiant celebration that life does indeed go on.
Koumokuten's daughter at first locked herself in her room and loudly proclaimed that she would starve herself to death, but a sharp word from Zouchouten ("Your father would be ashamed of you, Tamara. He would have dragged you out and lectured you in front of the entire court, so stop being so damn dramatic before I imitate him") quickly made her sniffle, nod her head, and eat a huge meal because she was hungry, darn it.
She accepts it in the end, and on the third day of celebration Zouchouten notices her singing quietly to a young warrior from his own tribe of origin. Tamara heals, Tenou and Hanranya actually look happy, and Kujaku bounces around and eats eight plates of food.
Zouchouten smiles into his wine, notices a white bird out the window, then puts down his goblet and practically runs out to the balcony as the partygoers look on in confusion. A white bird, like before!
But it's only a seagull.
Stupid. A seagull. How could you mistake a seagull for a phoenix?
"Wishful thinking tends to do that, General," Tenkuka's voice comes from behind him, solemn and soft. "I saw it too, and I knew you would think that."
He sighs and fights back the urge to bawl. Pressing his fingers into his closed eyes, he mutters, "This sort of thing happens an awful lot. Like whenever I see a white-haired woman with a similar hairstyle, I have to look twice because I think it's her."
"Yes. It does. When my husband died I was the same. I saw him everywhere. Although," he can hear a smile in her voice, "his bird was a condor, and I found myself looking at geese, so I think you at least are a little more sensible."
Zouchouten laughs, because he can do nothing else, and it helps. He goes back inside, toasts the royal couple, and continues with his lonely life.
Three quarters of a century have now passed. The humans multiply, generations passing, whispering their legends of the cataclysm of the heavens, the tale growing each time it is told.
The gods begin a new generation as well: Lord Ryuu's wife bears a daughter and his brother Seiryuu now has triplets of his own. Tenkuka is given grandchildren, Tamara has a son and names him after her father, Lord Kendappa's wife is with child again, and Princess Hanranya is also pregnant, with twins, who will turn out to be a boy and a girl.
"Let's hope there's not a battle for succession," Zouchouten teases Tenou, who shakes his head, smiling and replying, "Not a chance. The firstborn will inherit the throne, and their sibling will be raised to understand that they, in fact, are the lucky one."
They both laugh, because it is true.
And speaking of children…
Yasha, despite the passing of so many years, still refuses to move from where his adopted son is enshrined. Kujaku takes care of him, makes him eat, talks to him, manages to even make him smile a couple of times.
They know each other well, and one day Zouchouten glances down and finds the two locked in an embrace. He says nothing, despite being very surprised and a little disturbed at this. But love is love, and he's seen the look in Kujaku's eyes at Yasha's name, a melancholy longing.
He would have thought that Yasha, who had stunning women literally throwing themselves at his feet before he rebelled, would not have had such proclivities... but then again, Zouchouten realizes, the former Guardian Warrior of the Northland had always flushed red and made them leave him alone, so maybe it was there all along.
"Have you succeeded in turning his mind from Ashura?" the general asks the seer the next time they meet. Zouchouten expects, hopes for, an answer in the affirmative, but the black-winged man shakes his head emphatically and tells him, "Nothing in this world can turn Yasha's attention from his son."
He gazes down at the figure at vigil, continuing, "I can distract him from his grief for a little while, but his attention always returns to Ashura. And that's how it should be. They were the first, and now they're the last of the Six Stars. They were always apart from the rest."
He faces Zouchouten and says simply, "I would do anything to make Yasha happy. He may not realize this, but to have him know joy as his child awakens… that would be all I ask for."
Zouchouten's gaze turns panicked as he protests, "You can't awaken it, you can't. He would destroy all that we've –"
"No, not this Ashura. Lord Ashura, god of war, was killed by this Ashura, the child who loved his father, Yasha. If he awakens, he will be so very ashamed and fearful of himself. But with Yasha, he would live, and the man I love would truly live again as well."
Kujaku smiles down at Yasha, whose hair is now longer than Kisshouten's, then turns towards Zouchouten again and says with finality, "But enough of that. You're getting old, General of the Southland! I'm surprised every time I see that a doddering old fossil like you is still alive!" he teases exuberantly.
"Well, you know, fossils are stone: they're always there," Zouchouten responds nimbly. Kujaku smiles, and Zouchouten smiles, and both know that age is catching up with the head of the Four Gods, brought ever faster by weariness of the soul.
He feels tiredness in his bones now, he cannot do as much, the lines on his face are ravaged and deeper. His hair has gone completely white, and even his eyebrows, so much darker, have lightened considerably. He can still fight, and he does, but each time he wonders for how much longer.
How much longer before I finally see Lady Karura again?
He dreams of her often, but this is nothing new. The unconscious flights of fancy used to involve passion, lovemaking, confessions of "I waited for you" from her and "I always wanted you" from him… but now they have settled down into her simple presence, her smiling at him, eternally young, and him not as old, how he was the day he had to let her go.
He has let her go, he realizes: he's given her permission to have left him. Not that she ever needed his permission to do anything she had to do, he reminds himself with a smile, but he's given it to her anyway. He's accepted the fact that she is dead, and he is still alive, and while his love for her remains and always will, he lets her memory rest.
That doesn't mean he ignores the fact that his time is running out. No, he is glad about this, because every day is still difficult without the Sky Queen. For a very long while he tormented himself with thoughts of "What could our lives have been like if she had lived?" imagining her next to him, bearing a child or two, her smile open and no longer full of pain.
But… might-have-beens bring only torture. And he no longer feels the need to torture himself needlessly. And when Zouchouten realizes that, realizes that he lives for Tenkai and not in personal pain, Taishakuten, in this at least, has finally lost.
And the god-king knows this. The next time they meet, Zouchouten meets his gaze head-on, and Taishakuten cocks his head, murmuring, "So. I see you no longer fear me, my Southern God."
"Oh no, Sire, I fear you. I'd be a great fool not to," the bigger man answers. "But the tide has turned. Tenkai has come back to life, and try as you might, your grip on it has weakened. No one will obey you now if you order more bloodshed. And even you," he smiles, holding his master's eyes, "can't stop an entire world set against you."
"Yet you, Zouchouten, for all that you could overthrow me and set Tenou on the throne, do not," Taishakuten observes, leaning his head into a long-nailed hand.
Zouchouten shrugs, "Why? I've seen enough death. Your time is coming, as is mine. We'll both be dead eventually, and you can kill me and I'd thank you for it, but –" he grins then, the smile of a wolf, "you won't."
"I could break my promise to you, Zouchouten," Taishakuten murmurs. "I could destroy you so easily…" But he shakes his head and decides, "I will not. That would be giving you what you most want: to see her again."
They study each other, and Taishakuten smiles, humorless and haughty, then tells him, "You're old before your time. By all rights you should have probably lived a thousand more years. But the torture of being without Lady Karura is killing you, slowly, painfully, and relentlessly."
"It is, my king." There's no point in denying this basic fact, and who would believe it anyway? It's plain to see, and such a lie would just be more ammunition to Taishakuten's arsenal.
"I thought," Taishakuten admits, "that you would end it. Perhaps you are not so weak after all."
Zouchouten shrugs again and vows matter-of-factly, "I'll see you in Hell before I leave this world. We'll most likely meet there anyway."
They smirk at each other, and the god-king nods and purrs, "Indeed we will, because for all you have done these past seventy-five years, what you wrought while in my service was unforgivable. I will find all of my original Four Gods there, you are no exception."
Zouchouten turns away and nods, "I agree that I committed terrible acts… but I, at least, will meet my punishment with open arms, not clinging to the last shreds of my stolen power."
He leaves then, walking away from Taishakuten, emperor only in name now, the man who has defeated himself because no one else ever could.
It's been one hundred years since the schism of the heavens, down to the day. Three of the survivors of the first Zenmi stand gazing down at the ruins from the new palace: Tenou, a father now and fully a man; Hanranya, a surprisingly sweet mother and affectionate wife; and Zouchouten, even older and lonelier than ever.
"There's no one left," Tenou whispers, "who remembers what happened there." Save Taishakuten, but none of them count him because he never interacts with them if he can help it.
"Even so," Zouchouten murmurs, "the circle of life goes on, eh?"
Tenou turns from Hanranya to look at him, determination on his face, and says, "And… we three will never forget those who lived under the cruelest of destinies." All of them think the words the prince whispers: "I will never… forget."
Another survivor smirks. Taishakuten, god-king, emperor of heaven, says nothing. He never has spoken of what happened there; of all of them, he knows the whole truth. And he will take it to his grave.
Zouchouten walks over to him. He is aware that the god-king keeps much from the rest of them, and today, he is no longer prepared to just accept that. "Before," the general murmurs, "you said you were living to keep a promise you'd made. So what will you do now?"
Taishakuten looks at him, as another question falls from his subordinate's lips: "What will you do now that you've kept your promise?"
The emperor smirks, but does not answer. Instead he points to the gnarled ruins of his palace, and says, "There's yet another keeping his promise over there." Ah, poor Yasha… his child will never wake up, Zouchouten thinks with pity. He'll die there, never seeing his son again.
Waving a hand, Taishakuten dismisses his son, his son's wife, and his head of the Four Gods: his servants all, but only for duty. None will mourn his passing.
And an hour later, he dies smiling from poison, three eyes closed forever. He speaks no words of praise to his son, no words of sadistic pride to his general, and no words of thanks to his seer. The three of them, along with the entire world, heave a sigh of relief as Taishakuten's remains are taken for burial preparation.
It's over. Finally, it's over.
But there is an epilogue to this tale of pain. Zouchouten gazes at the sky when all others have left until a hoarse yell of "Kujaku!" reaches his ears. He looks down just in time to see the seer destroy himself, staff plunged through his heart, his body starting to disintegrate into black feathers as Yasha screams his name again.
And then Ashura's eyes open, as Kujaku takes his hand even as his arm starts to disintegrate, smiling at the boy. His voice rings in Zouchouten's memory: "I would do anything to make Yasha happy…. To have him know joy as his child awakens… that would be all I ask for."
Zouchouten watches Lord Ashura's child fall forward, tears falling from his face at the devastation he has wrought. And it is true, what Kujaku once said. He is the god of war no longer, just the boy who always wanted to be loved.
Zouchouten bows to the father and the son and the black feathers, and turns to leave. Yasha and Ashura will live their lives, have their happy ending, at the cost of so many others.
And at the cost of one more.
"Again I find you standing on a ledge, Zouchouten."
He turns from the cliff in the ruined castle of Zenmi where the earth split, where Karura died. Tenou, god-king now, has escaped the celebration after his coronation and followed his friend back here, back to where it ended and began and will truly end for one of them.
Zouchouten bows and sighs, "My liege. Surely your Empress wonders where you've gotten to?"
Tenou shakes his head vehemently and answers, "Hanranya wants me to bring you back. She was very clear on that point." He smiles, melancholy and understanding at the same time, and adds, "And Princess Kenda started crying when she heard that you left."
Zouchouten murmurs, "I'm sorry." He is; the little moppet has adopted him like he's some sort of favorite uncle. The heir to Tenkai's throne would run shrieking over to him, bowling her brother over and jumping up and down, giggling, "Pick me up, pick me up!"
And of course he always would, as she'd wriggle around and make it difficult, and it was like being a father…
He shakes his head and repeats, "Tell them I'm very sorry." He smiles then, a bittersweet expression, and urges, "Tell young Kenda she'll make a fine Empress one day, and that I love her."
Tenou nods, "I will. So you do mean to end it now."
Zouchouten sighs again, the sound of a man whose mind has been made up for a century. "Yes, I do. It's been so long… I am old, Emperor Tenou, in body and soul. And I've waited a hundred agonizing years to see her again."
He expects the new god-king to argue, but instead, Tenou agrees, "You've kept your side of the bargain, Zouchouten. Her people are safe, and Tenkai is safe." He starts to turn away, then stops and finishes, "May you find what you seek, in one new plane or another."
Zouchouten smiles at him and farewells, "Take care, my dear friend."
Alone now, he holds out his hand, the last white feather materializing in it. He brings it to his lips, then lets the wind take it.
And he steps into space.
Epilogue: Modern-day Tokyo
The man watches the birds as they take flight from their perches, landing on the ground and the food their keeper has just set out for them. The aviary has always been a haven for him, away from the rapid, frantic pace of the rest of the city.
A smile lifts the corners of his stern mouth as a fledgling sparrow looks at him, chirps indignantly, and then resumes pecking at the millet. He can't really blame it for being intimidated, he thinks wryly, because he's aware that he makes an imposing figure.
He holds out his left hand, unadorned by a wedding band, and a sparrow lands on it. Most of them are used to him by now, as he's been coming to this aviary for many of their generations. It… soothes him.
The keeper bows to him and greets, "Good day, Mr. Yusaku."
"Good day, Kenji." He inclines his head and comments, "I see the nestlings are fledging."
Kenji smiles, "Indeed sir. Taking wing at last." He nods to the right and adds, "It is your friends the sparrows' lucky day, Mr. Yusaku. I see another friend approaching. One who the birds also trust and flock to."
They watch the slender yet curvy figure of a young woman walk up the path, a confident gait on sky-blue heels that match her business suit. She is beautiful, even with a stern expression, but as they watch her face breaks into a slight smile at the birds. And now, she is even more beautiful.
"Does she come here often?" the bigger man asks, cocking his head to side slightly.
Kenji smiles again and tells him, "Every day, Mr. Yusaku. Usually in the afternoon, but today she seems to be much earlier. Her routine must have been interrupted, as routines inevitably are."
The woman strides purposefully forwards, head held high. She bows at the two men, white hair falling into her face. "Are the nestlings fledging yet?" she asks Kenji, but the other man answers, "Yes. Only the late bloomers are left."
She looks up, smiling a bit more, and asks him, "You enjoy the birds too?"
She blinks then, as he's staring in shock for a reason he cannot comprehend. There's something familiar about this woman, and it's driving him crazy that he can't remember why. He's never met her before, has he? He searches his memory, and his brain tells him no… but his heart tells him he has.
"Um, sir? Sir?"
Damn it, he knows her, knows her voice, knows those azure eyes and white hair. But from where?
"Zouchouten," he tells her. "Yusaku Zouchouten."
Her eyes widen at that, and she frowns slightly, as if trying to place him. "Zouchouten… that's an unusual given name," she murmurs, more to herself than to him.
"What's your name?" he asks urgently, uncaring that the keeper is beginning to look at him strangely. Her frown is still there, but she answers willingly enough with a calm, "I'm Shirihime Karura."
The name strikes a chord deep in his being, and he needs to know who she is, because if he doesn't, he'll go crazy. Something tells him that his whole life has been leading up to this, to her, and if he loses this woman again he'll – Wait, "again"? She's a perfect stranger!
"Have we met?" she asks suddenly. "I feel like I know you…" She steps closer, a hand reaching towards him before she realizes what she's doing and pulls it back, flushing a tad at such an intimate gesture directed at a stranger.
Something's stirring at the back of his mind, a long-buried memory of pain and loss, and he can feel tears come unbidden to his eyes. She looks shocked, but then she says, "Have dinner with me."
She flushes a bit more at the command, and hastily amends, "I mean, would you like to have dinner with me, please?"
He is ridiculously relieved as he answers, "Yes, of course I would, Ms. Shirihime." They exchange numbers, then she nods at the city and sighs, "I really must get to work."
"Oh yes, me too."
They walk out of the aviary, head in the same direction, and study each other out of the corners of their eyes. She keeps pace with him easily, something not everyone can do given his long strides. Well, perhaps she always walks fast; she was walking at a fair clip when she was coming up the walk.
He stops in front of a giant skyscraper, and tells her reluctantly, "This is mine. Goodbye." He walks into the lobby, her right behind him, her footsteps echoing on the expensively-tiled floor. Strange, this.
He turns, perplexed, and asks, "Why are you following me?" Not that that's a bad thing, but it's still odd.
She answers rather testily, "I'm not following you, I work here as well. I've worked here for two years, and just we seem to have missed each other." Somehow, this seems a little too neat to be completely random.
"Oh… are you a secretary?" he asks, having a hard time picturing this woman at a receptionist's desk and answering the phone with a fake smile.
She shakes her head emphatically and replies, "No. I'll be a vice-presidential assistant."
He almost pinches himself to see if he's dreaming, because he's a vice president, and… "My assistant just quit. I'm getting one from another department today," he tells her, suddenly extremely hopeful.
"That's… a coincidence," she says, like she doesn't believe it's a coincidence at all. "I'll be working for the vice president of –"
They say it together: "Real estate."
She stares at him, he stares at her, and neither has to say the obvious conclusion. She nods her head firmly then and decides, "Right. Forget dinner. Let's go to breakfast," she urges, turning to go and expecting him to follow.
His stomach tells him he's already had breakfast, but the rest of him shoves it into a soundproof box as he lets her lead him away.
The waiter is one of the most beautiful men either of them has ever seen. Zouchouten thinks the guy really shouldn't have picked such vivid purple contacts, but he seems competent enough.
"I'm Ku, and I'll be your server today!" he says cheerfully, setting out menus. "Now, what'll we have for the most important breakfast of our lives?"
Zouchouten now thinks that the man is a tad too enthusiastic, but he sighs mentally and places his order: "I'll just have the green tea, thank you. I'm not hungry, really."
The waiter nods, grinning, and asks, "And for your lovely subordinate?" That sentence was directed at Ms. Shirihime, who's studying the menu with a slight frown on her face, deciding what to eat.
Wait… how did he know that? Zouchouten's brain points out, rather suspiciously. How did he know I'm her new boss?
"Green tea for me too, and, let's see… an egg, I think," she decides, folding the menu and still frowning a bit. "Fried and over easy, please, and just the one."
"Very good, milady." Ku smiles and picks up the menus, then tells them, "Enjoy your meal, General! You too, Your Highness." With that he walks off, whistling, and they stare after him, completely perplexed.
"Is that some sort of nickname he has for you, Mr. Yusaku?" she asks, turning back to face him. "Are you a regular here? He certainly seems friendly, like he knows you."
"No. I've never seen him before in my life." He frowns and mutters, "Why he said 'General' I have no idea..." He smiles then and adds, "But 'Your Highness', for some inexplicable reason, suits you very well, Ms. Shirihime."
She studies him, not warily, but as if she's trying to work something out in her head. "Why?"
A castle in the sky. A warbird in flight. A burning phoenix.
"I… I don't fully know." He meets her gaze helplessly and tells her, "It just… does."
The server comes back with the drinks, quickly and downright grinning now. He sets them down with a flourish and chirps, "Here's yours, Lord Zouchouten, and here's yours, Lady Karura. Enjoy! I'll leave you two alone to get reacquainted," he laughs.
Zouchouten reaches for his tea, opening his mouth to say, "I'm not a lord of anything, you dolt," but the woman in front of him is already asking seriously, "How do you know my given name?"
Ku winks and chuckles, "Oh, I just do. Give my regards to little Karyoubinga, Karura, and give Zouchouten a napkin because he just spilled tea on his tie."
I'm going insane, Zouchouten thinks. I'm having visions and I'm probably lying in a padded room right this minute, instead of sitting here with the most gorgeous woman I've ever laid eyes on, feeling like I'm fulfilling some sort of destiny I can't remember –
"Sir, here's a napkin." She's holding one out to him, the server gone now and completely forgotten. "For the tea, hopefully it won't ruin your tie."
"Thank you. Yes. Thank you…" he manages, taking the napkin almost in a daze.
She watches him dab at his stupid stained tie like she's gazing at history, and says quietly, "You look different now, without those sideburns and the slitted pupils. But you still look like you…"
"Yes, they were rather – what?"
"I don't understand why I said that!" She stands up suddenly and almost sobs, "Something's going on here that I can't comprehend, and today has just been so odd, and when I look at you I feel like I'm safe and that I've knownyou forever!"
He nods in confusion and agrees, "Yes, I –"
She looks him in the eye and insists, "I know you. I'm sure I do. I know you probably better than I know myself, today."
And then, in a move he has been both hopefully expecting and is completely taken aback by, Ms. Shirihime leans forward, grabs his suit jacket, and kisses him full on the mouth. The moment her lips touch his, the barrier in his mind shatters, and he understands. She's Karura, she's the Sky Queen, and he is the General of the Southland who loved her so much.
"Is it true that Karyou is being kept in the palace, Zouchouten?"
"Let her go…"
"For my sake, pardon Lady Karura her failure."
"I know exactly what I'm doing!"
My beloved Lady Karura…
She finally pulls back, sudden recognition in her own eyes, mouth dropping open as a man at the counter gives a wolf whistle and woman at the next table takes a picture with her cell phone.
"Karura…" Zouchouten breathes, hand tracing her cheek. "I…"
He kisses her then, as he's wanted to for who knows how long, and she throws her arms around him and returns it, happy tears streaming down her face. When they finally break apart for air, he takes a deep breath and confesses, "Karura, I should have told you then, but –"
She cuts him off by squeezing him tighter. "I know. And I'm not going anywhere this time," she whispers against his lips. "I promise."
"Good," he murmurs, pleased by this like nothing else in this life or the last one, "because I'm never letting you go again."
In the kitchen, Kujaku hangs up his apron, walks out into the restaurant proper, gives the affectionate new couple a fond glance, and then steps out into this strange world of concrete palaces and boardroom warlords, his work here done.
You cannot stop the wheel of Fate from turning, General of the Southland… but it does not crush Love into nothing.
(Author's Notes: Well, there it was: my nod to the absolutely horrific ending of "RG Veda". Now that I've gotten that over with, I can be as AU as I want everywhere else, ha!
I tried to keep this in the realm of the canonically possible, with one exception: CLAMP gave Zouchouten a wife. Now, I had rather a hard time with that, even without being such a hardcore Karura/Zouchouten shipper.
Why? Well, she was shown only once, in an omake no less, and we never saw or heard about the wide-eyed cutie before or ever again. This was a little strange; for a couple who were portrayed as being quite happy and infatuated with each other, the fact that Zouchouten never even mentioned Little Miss No-Name is interesting indeed.
I actually did try, for the sake of accuracy, to write her in, but her interactions with Zouchouten were very forced and uncomfortable to write. I persevered for a while, but in the end I just cut them out, as they weren't very good and kind of stiff anyway. However, if one is a stickler for Volume Six canon, I never actually say Zouchouten's unmarried; Tenou's line is "start a family and be content", not "marry, start a family, and be content."
CLAMP may have turned Taishakuten into a tragic antihero at the climax of the manga, but no matter what his motivations were, he was an absolute monster and they couldn't make him a likable character to me. I know many people really loved the whole Lord Ashura/Taishakuten angle, but I myself went "WTF."
Still, I've given a couple hints here that he did it for his lover. Everyone but Kujaku may have thought he was a bastard (they were right) and that he only wanted power (they were wrong), but he still did it all to keep a promise to Lord Ashura. Be that as it may, he was obviously a megalomaniac: he liked his control and he liked causing pain to anyone he could. His decision to withdraw from the public eye here was motivated by his missing Lord Ashura, but his decision to make Zouchouten and everybody else suffer was also in canonical character, I like to think.
As a hopeless romantic I couldn't let our protagonist just walk off a cliff and possibly never get the girl. His surname in Tokyo is from Yusaku Yara, who voiced Zouchouten in the anime. Karura's own family name, Shirihime, was taken from a character in CLAMP's "Angelic Layer" who resembled her a bit. Oh, and "Tenkuka" means "heavenly fire".
So that was "Four Feathers". I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you can also give me some feedback on how to make future stories better… please? I do have a sequel ("Fourteen People") in the works that involves all the other couples I like from "RG Veda" reincarnated in Tokyo as well. Some of the pairings are non-canon, but I use canon to build the stories like nobody's business.
CLAMP owns everything, I just borrow it to make myself feel better by writing one of my favorite, under-appreciated characters angsting for his lovely subordinate, who is my absolute favorite character. Gotta have some Lady Karura!)