Instinct

Instinct goes in red and white.

The hall was a mess of scarlet, with pale ceremonial robes ripped and torn, and worse, flesh ripped and mauled and left to lie there in an unseemly squalor which should not have dirtied the purity of Heaven. The mirrors facing along the walls multiplied the bodies into an infinity of corpses. Goujun's nostrils flared in disgust as he finally began to move, the long paralysis of shock breaking at last. Such things should not have been. Such things should not be. Dragons are creatures of instinct, and they bow their heads to Heaven or are broken by the weight of divine law. They move to divine order and they act to maintain it.

The stench of blood fouled the air and profaned the room. The penalty for treason is death.

Outside the cherry blossoms hung on the trees outside in eternal shades of white and pink, a colour so delicate that it could hardly be related to the carnal mess of blood within. The petals were like stained silk washed a hundred times, unable to regain their purity. He had watched them from a distance at that past cherry blossom viewing; Tenpou and Konzen talking, mature, adult, private, Kenren playing with the itan child like a child himself.

He had seen Tenpou's face as the Marshal raised his sword to strike down Litouten. There had been no self-deception there, no misunderstanding, wilful or accidental, nothing except clear-eyed death. That he had failed was a featherweight in the balance against the fact that he had tried.

He began to move. His sword was in his hand.

The dragon uncoils, flexes, acts; within him is the weight of a thousand thousand years, the force of the living waters which shape and girdle the earth, the strength which shatters mountains. His gaze is unclouded by mortal emotion, unshadowed by personal judgement; no mortal force can change the dragon's path, no whim or desire alter his obedience.

The Marshal looked away from the tableau of Kanzeon Bosatsu and the itan creature, and their eyes met. He stood there, silhouetted by the Bodhisattva's light, framed against it as though against a window that opened on the hearts of stars, and he had the courage, or the grace, not to look away to his companions, but to keep his gaze level and steady.

The blood on the floor soiled Goujun's boots.

What does a soldier do when his weapon betrays him? He casts it aside. What does a smith do when his tool turns awry? He cannot trust it again. What does a commander do when his subordinate disobeys orders? He removes the man. What does a dragon do when he sees an offence against Heaven? What else should he do?

It should have been Kenren who tried to strike Litouten down from behind; the proud, flamboyant, far too human General, wine-drinker, carnal, deceiver, betrayer, seducer of his most trusted Marshal, man of foolish compassion and untimely anger. He would have executed Kenren with only a mild feeling of completion and a certain wonder as to why it had taken so long. Not joy -- joy would have been inappropriate -- but nothing would have surprised him.

And yet, Kenren would not have tried to strike Litouten down from behind. Kenren would not have seen it as a matter of the good of Heaven, or as a case to be weighed and decided and acted upon, cold-eyed and steady. He would have struck the man in the face and drawn a blade openly and challenged him over something as petty as the welfare of a single child.

The universe was out of order. No matter. He knew what he must do. It was what he was. To be otherwise would be a betrayal as great as the Marshal's own.

Tenpou watched him with a face that was as clear as glass, mouth flat and silent, eyes dark with comprehension of what he had done and what was now going to happen, and yet quite certain of himself, poised against the light, with every line of his body saying, yes, I know, I know, and I would do it again, and we are both what we are, and this is the final consummation.

The river strikes from mountain to sea in a single arrow: the ocean moves and the land cannot stand against it: the dragon descends from the sky and brings the judgement of Heaven.

He cut Tenpou down before the Marshal could speak, and watched the light vanish from those iron-hard eyes, the spirit depart from the body between one breath and another; here, then gone. Kenren had fallen to his knees in that resounding silence, holding his commander, trying to press the edges of the wound together as though that would make some sort of difference. Blood ran across Tenpou's white labcoat, over Kenren's hands, down onto the skirts of his uniform, pooling on the floor.

He looked up from the body, and a pair of red eyes caught his from the mirror across the room -- red eyes in a bone-pale face splashed with blood. It took him a moment to recognise his own features under the disfiguring impurity of emotion. His judgement was righteous, had always been righteous, and yet now it screamed in him like a sin before the silence of Heaven. How -- how can I have done what was right, which was what I knew to be right, and yet at the same time have the stain of murder on me . . .

Kanzeon Bosatsu's voice broke the air like thunder, sexless, male-female. "Goujun."

He turned towards the Bodhisattva. The light fell outwards from hir, falling through hir as though se was a window on another place, rippling across the floor and somehow mingling the sacred with the profane in everything it touched; the blood, the marble, the stinking air.

Se understood what he did not. To hir it all made sense, encompassed in a single instant of enlightenment, life and death balanced in those dark eyes. For a moment he hated hir for that. And then he remembered Tenpou, and he did not regret, because it would not be right for a dragon to regret judgement, but he found four words in his mind that would not leave him. I thought you understood.

He had no words to apologise for being what he was; he had no apology to make for being what he was; he was what he was. He looked on the Bodhisattva and would have cried out for mercy, for respite from being what he was, but that was not a thing that a dragon could do.

"You are a creature of instinct, dragon," se said. "Be what you are."

The light fell away from him together with thought, in a shattering wave of emptiness that swept self and memory and conscious mind from him, together with the knowledge of a human body, of the body's pain, of blood and Heaven, of structure and Law, of everything except falling and darkness and need.

Time passed, but there was no Self to measure it. Years turned, but there was no Goujun to know them. He was who he was, and there was only the instinct in his heart to guide him as he spread thin white wings and flew, a mortal thing, in earthly skies.

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