Disclaimer: Owning manga copies doesn't mean I own the guys in it… Life is unfair…

THANKS, if you were waiting for this chapter, and SORRY if you weren't waiting for it any more…

And, as usual, feel free to say thanks to Sanada for the wonderful beta-reading… She derserves it A LOT.

« Mosaics of Events »

Part two

Summary: Litouten makes his move, kamis seek comfort, and children aren't as oblivious as grownups would want them to be. Ho. And people smile too much.

oOo KONZEN oOo

If you long had been the eternal spectator of your own life…

You would appear like a pale blur of swirling silk and golden hair, striding along the corridor, anger almost palpable about you. Anger and the faintest tinge of worry, as only a few people would have been able to guess. Both these feelings are relatively new to you. It would hurt, too. And this pain would be new to you as well. Nobody ever told you it would hurt this much to come to life at last. Even motion is so unlike you. Your legs would hurt, since lately you've been striding paradise hither and thither. Your breath would become shallow, there is fire in your lungs and your heartbeat is sometimes awkward. Your throat is raw, too much shouting. The little saru feels sometimes as elusive as an eel. But you can't catch your breath and catch the kid at the same time. You have to choose. Because he always disappears on you.

The bright haze of Heaven's never-ending daylight would jump to your vision without warning through a red colonnade. You would squint your eyes in disgust. Even the sun is against you in this endless saru-chasing. Ch'. You'd think the radiant brilliance might have lured the gaki outside. You'd almost expect to see flowers again on your desk, later in the day. But you couldn't be sure anymore since that day not so long ago when you heard your saru use the word « blood » and « Ten-chan » in the same sentence, in the marshal's library. And your feelings would be getting wary. Cautious. Gradually becoming aware that Tenkai isn't really the peaceful paradise it's supposed to be.

This place is strangely deceitful. And you wouldn't be able to explain how you have been allowing yourself to be deceived for so long a time. Even when you first met Tenpou and his nicotine stained fingers drumming madly on your desk, you hadn't been able to see. Yet, restlessness was emanating from every single pore of his body under the poised appearance he wanted to let show anytime he was idly talking to you. But you have started catching some glimpses of hidden realities, now, as if that moment you gave this name to Goku, you made yours as well this power of his to look through appearances. It broke your mechanical routine, of course. Maybe one day it will break you too. You just don't imagine it yet. It's been only for a little while that Tenkai is hardly a place where you feel comfortable with letting the child out of your sight.

You would stand there, bathed in light… (Some people would even say you were positively shining!) Until you'd spot that humming darkness heading in your direction. Soldiers. Thousands, and thousands of soldiers. A slow moving wave that sends icy shivers down the small of your back. Not exactly knowing why — confusingly feeling you have to, though —­ you would follow. You weren't invited. Usually it would be your aunt's way, not yours, to be nosy about things that don't concern you… What's the point in involving yourself? Because usually, the army's presence is so much more discreet in Tenkai.

And because they won't tell. They. Kenren, Tenpou. Two men you would have learned to consider a unique entity. Walking among these kamis hurrying to some place unknown to you (some of them eyeing you strangely), your anger would slowly rise. Not one these outbursts of temper your « friends » are used to. Only a slow fire crawling under the skin. Damn them, you'd think all over again. Damn them. They won't tell you anything, they leave you in the dark, and all you have to do is watch the bruises on their faces and hear their false reasons, behaving as if you were clueless. You can't stand it anymore. Someday it might be of graver concern. Someday it might involve Goku. Even if you wouldn't admit you care, you wouldn't accept that. The kuso baba is right. There are things you shouldn't wait to be given. Things that you should grab on your own, and there are pieces of knowledge in here that might be needed. Even if the army isn't a world to which you belong.

The bodhisattva's presence in the large room would hardly surprise you. The kuso baba tends to be true to hirself. In a strange way, it's almost comforting to realize se follows hir own advices. The dark-haired man speaking to the assembly, you'd know him as well. The snarl on your face is enough of a giveaway that you remember him well. Another one is familiar. The blank face of the dragon is turned towards you for a moment (this alien gaze burns holes in your skull), but soon enough, it would slide off you, hovering on the crowd, only to be once again aiming all his attention on the standing orator and his unbelievable demand. What Litouten asks is extravagant. Even you can realize. Litouten? Having his own army?

But you wouldn't be like that kind of person who could stand up in the middle of an assembly and speak their mind freely. Kenren's absence, all though strange from such a meeting, might however be a blessing, knowing the guy's taste for wrecking havoc anywhere he passes and for irking anybody crossing his eyes…

You aren't either one of those people who would be able to jump in the void for the sake of something precious. You wouldn't be alive enough yet. All you would have is this slight premonition of what happened and the utter ignorance of what you could do about the matter. All you would be able to do would be to look on.

You would know enough to be afraid, but not enough to be able to do anything about it. And nobody at the assembly to fill in the blanks. Nobody to explain things. Somebody who would know what's going on.

If you long had been the eternal spectator of your own life and only trying now to learn how to deal with your own existence, your eyes would be scanning through the crowd, locking eyes again for a mere second with the non-bliking glare of a white dragon. You would realize both of you are searching the same thing, wondering about this absence, and knowing this isn't a good omen. You would miss Tenpou's gensui's presence in this assembly and fear the worst. Because if you weren't only a spectator anymore, you'd know all too well, you're not much better.

oOo KENREN oOo If you were a general…

Piece of cake, you would have first thought. Strong beasts, but no brain. Easy to lure. Who would need a squadron, anyway, to achieve this mission? You would be sure Tenpou would never have the time to notice your absence before you come back. The sealing gun in your palm would be warm, by now. The pungent smell of holy gun powder would float about you, hurting your eyes even more than the darkness. The creatures would fall and fall one after the other in front of you. It would be a little messy though. You sure wouldn't have expected the creatures to eat their own as soon as they would hit the ground. Well, at last it would be even more simpler for you to attract your targets towards you.

Piece of cake, you would have thought, really! That is… Until you would feel on your nape this huge foul breath a little too close for comfort. (Do not move, do not move lest it sees you, you would think.) So massive a body it would almost crush yours against a wall brushing past you to reach the corpses laying on the rock in a bloody pulp. You would hear some urgent sniffing while you would aim for the beast with the gun. This one would be no small-fry at all. But the creature would not be eating the fallen ones like the others. From the reptilian throat would come out a strange muffled sound, striking you dumb for a second. It would have sounded like a sob; from sheer surprise, your index finger would relax on the trigger. A quiet click in the silence. Not good. It would mean the beast would spot you, and even worse would feel the need for revenge as well, like any other creature wounded in the flesh of its flesh. Running would be your last chance, because, really, these tranquilizer guns are bullshit against such a being…

« Hoooo, ka-san is angry… »

Oh, yes, 'she' would be, and 'her' strong paws reaching for the mere sticks of your running legs would not be tender… You would scream in agony. The pain would radiate from your broken leg through your whole body, but even blind you, making you unable to think properly, reducing your world to the dark crimson behind your closed eyes, leaving you helplessly groveling on the rocky ground of the cave, oblivious of the lethal blow to come. It would hurt so much, for a brief second you wouldn't mind dying. Damn, and you always had thought your death would be something so much more glorious…

And here would you be, listening to Death coming closer and closer. And you would hear… Grinding of gravel under other feet. Faint whisper of a blade cutting through the air. The affronted growl of the beast feeling the burning of a gash on its muzzle. You would crack your eyes open, which meant you are still alive. You would be unable to bite back the teasing words, when you would see him. You would stifle the moans of pain that would make your voice raw and would tell him:

« How come you're here? I thought you threw me out of your check game… »

« Teme… » the green-eyed man would curtly retort. Anger so cold you could almost miss it. Maybe, it deserved no other answer. That and a nasty look from Tenpou gensui. But you would feel the grin that would break on your face. Tenpou's would instantly turn blank, but you would think he was clearly believing nobody should look so ridiculously happy to be called a damn bastard… But HE came. The fact he would be doing something he had certainly sworn himself he'd never do. You would perceive it, even when he would walk past you, already focused on the youkai beast. As he would smile at it, you would hope he'd never smile that way at you ever. His presence would feel already like such a miracle you would not even question his ability to confront the youkai.

Another consideration would weigh so much more on your mind, still as dazed by the pain as by this sudden presence… Because you would be already aware that you had won over His chess game; that you mean more to him than all his schemes. Maybe you were testing him by jumping willingly in that trap and were not even aware of it (or would you be too proud or ashamed to admit it?). You would not be thinking, not thinking yet (you never think of the sheer consequences of your actions, anyway: you are ready to bear the cross for them but never will let them influence your decision). Even if you would know what is at stake (now that he had told you what game he was playing). That messing with his plans, making him throw away anything for the sake of whatever it is between you, might leave him unguarded, and might kill him. You wouldn't think of what he sacrificed by coming here. All that you would know is that the twinkle of ire in his eyes would be real, that he would have no need for a mask right now and you'd be awfully relieved to see that. Your chess player is still a man.

You would hardly see the fight, too exhausted to keep your eyes open. You would only distinguish the following moments into the ones where he would be near you and the ones where he would disappear to fight. You would hear the sound of falling rocks; feeling like this sound would be splitting your skull, but not being able to relate it to the collapse of the whole mountain above. You would catch, once or twice, a glimpse of Shien's presence at your side (you would swear you felt him help the marshal hauling you outside), and so, the marshal still would have the ability to surprise you even through the foggy haze that is currently your mind. How the hell did he get the man to help? Once in the bright daylight, you would see the marshal nod his thanks to the other kami. Shien would nod back. It would feel to you like the strangest thing. The only reality able to keep you hanging on would be the pain and the feeling of exhaustion coming from your shaking limbs and the cryptic words coming from the marshal's mouth...

« If we were gods like the ones in Greek mythology, » would muse Tenpou out loud, « my blood flowing on this ground would give a new flower's birth… ». Here we go, he rants again, you would think, just like when he is drunk… Can people be drunk from blood? It would be so oddly typical of him, though. So you really, really wouldn't mind this off-topic babbling. With the blood oozing freely down his features from a deep cut hidden in the dark hair, one side of his face would be red ; it would look almost as if he was wearing half a crimson mask. As if one of the green eyes was missing… But you really wouldn't mind, because…

« Lean on me, I'll take you home, » Tenpou would add. You would hope he is referring to his own damn library. Never would have guessed you'd ever miss its reassuring mess and the suffocating scent of dusty books, would you have? The odd thought would make your ribs tremble and your body shake even more. Tenpou would look at you as if you were mad. Maybe you are.

If you were a general… You would laugh inside, laugh like hell while coming back to paradise, because you would be alive and because of thanks to whom you are alive. Flowers are good, women too. Once you have grabbed a cup of sake to share with this man, everything would be quite fine.

oOo TENPOU oOo

If you were a marshal…

You would feel strangely ashamed of the comfort you would take in the feeling of this battered body's warmth pressed against your side. Of the comfort of this (ho, certainly not dead, you forbid) weight on your shoulder. Of this breath near you neck and ear. Strangely ashamed of the righteousness brought by this closeness, of which you would have not so long ago been willing to renounce for the sake of what you had taken years to plan, to build. Above all, you would appreciate the silence on the way back home. You would, because Shien's presence behind you is quite unobtrusive. Because other soldiers don't even dare get near the three of you. And because it is oddly considerate of Kenren not to push the matter further, not to have already jumped on the occasion to get his point across. It's comfortable, but also a little scary to think of this someone who pretends to be able to see through you like that.

It would almost hurt to see the Tenkai again, the same way it hurts to see something beautiful but something stained and rotting. Beauty is terror, as says the philosopher. Maybe you wouldn't care for Heaven so much, if you weren't so afraid to lose it. It would almost hurt, but relief would be there too. You weren't gone long enough for anything significant to happen, right?

You would suddenly almost miss a step. Kuso. You wouldn't have expected to spot Goku from afar, the child being right there, waiting for you at the Tenkai's gates. He never did before. You had always been careful never letting him know when you or Kenren were going on missions. Usually only telling him when you left and when you came back (the latter one with a slight delay in time after you came home: how necessary to delete any trace of war in your demeanor before meeting the child again). Till that day, you wouldn't even be certain he knew you really were in the military. Sometimes you were here, sometimes you weren't, that's all.

Even more surprising would be Nataku's presence by his side. Even from the distance, you could see a small frown on his boyish face, while recognizing an army composed of his own men. Shien would instantly seem to vanish from sight, as if ashamed to face the toushin taichi. He would be so swift in his doing that the child certainly didn't even notice his presence among the others. Popping from nowhere, Zenon would brush past your shoulder, apparently trying to tail the other toushin god. Hardly surprising.

The number of the soldiers is for an instant like a curtain hiding you from Goku. It's easy. You could do like Shien, just escape. But you wouldn't do that. Even though you would need a long second to compose your face like the one of the mild-mannered librarian Goku knows. This is a hopeless battle, you would be painfully aware of the fact. Looking all right and harmless, when your friend leaning heavily on your shoulder looks only half conscious, and when you both reek of death and carnage. Fortunately, blood doesn't stand out much on black leather.

If you were a marshal, you would be strangely ashamed, and think the pale man is wiser than he lets show. Who would be able to face these children in such a state without staining this innocence which is the only thing really worth saving in such a place? This would be absurd, but you would smile. You always smile. Even when it hurts.

oOo GOKU oOo

If you were a child…

If you were a child in this paradise, you would see things so differently from most of the people there that they wouldn't believe they live in the same place as you. Even if, in fact, it simply isn't the same things matter to you and these people. Power, ambition, politics, what does that mean to you? Nothing. It's not warm, you can't eat it, you can't smell it, you can't marvel in its beauty. The most important thing in your life — how unintelligent it might appear to them — would be to closely follow your sun, and second, not to forget next time you see your best friend to tell him the name Konzen gave you… Well, you would always forget actually, it's a shame, but you would always have so much fun together, so who gives a damn?

To put it simply, you would see things differently, and see things others don't, as well. It is perhaps why they brand you as a heretic and make your wear chains. You try not to mind much. It's not worth wasting time on it. Chains are. You shrug and keep going. Don't let yourself be bound by them. What matters right now is Nataku's presence at your side, and Ten-chan and Ken-ni-chan coming in your direction with a smile on their face. You're glad to see them back. The way the red-haired god leans on the other doesn't alarm you. Their closeness always has looked pretty normal to you. Reasonable. They come nearer and nearer. The closer they get, the better you can see them. Somehow, you wouldn't notice the obvious. Small red spots on skin and garments. The faintest of crow-feet near their eyes painfully belying the genuineness of their face, you wouldn't see it. Everything would look quite fine to you. Until the faint scent reached you.

Sensation felt, thought hardly formed, tongue already moving.

« You smell…like Nataku when he comes back. »

It meant you could faintly catch the stench of blood on them. Of sweat…Of death and decay. Even anger turned into ashes and sadness, you would be able to detect in the middle of that quiet despair of the one who has seen… or done… You wouldn't know how you could guess, but…Yes. It was the same smell. Like Nataku. It would send long-forgotten and, oddly, deadly exciting chills down your short spine. Maybe because a part of you would well recognize this smell. A part of you who would relish in it, deep down. This part of you whose presence, inside you, you would be hardly able to consciously grasp in the depth of your chest. You usually act as if you were blind and deaf to it. The brightness of your sun makes you forget, most of the time, and lock this secret, and throw the key away…

The shock on Tenpou's features would only add to this growing fear which curiously has only marginally to do with him…There is a secret shame in his look, that you can read even better than the books he lends you, as if he would have been relieved not to have to explain, not to stain you with words describing a world whose ugliness he would like you not to know. Confusingly, you know. The one who can see what the others don't. Ten-chan never knew you had heard from his mouth the meaning of your name. As he would answer, Ten-chan would sound as if he were addressing Nataku rather than you.

« Do you remember some question you asked a few days ago? » he would ask of the toushin taichi. You wouldn't mind. You can share him with Nataku. « There are a lot of gods here, much more impure than you will ever be, » your friend would add, still talking to your other friend.

You wouldn't fully understand what he means, but you would be aware of the comforting intent behind the words. There is a warmth in Tenpou gensui that only few are able to see, but which you had always known existed, in spite of his detached ways. Suddenly, things would feel normal anew.

If you were a child, things would be simple. Feelings, something easy. Be caring as well. The blood on the people you can smell it. But your love for these people would be so much stronger than the slight fear it inspires you. Though, you would note to remember asking Nataku about what Ten-chan said. Hoping you won't forget to tell him your name as well… It is simple. Live life for the sake of life itself. And smile.

oOo Nataku oOo

If you were a puppet…

If you were a puppet, an abomination or a tool under the shape of a child, you wouldn't move. Most of the time. You would stand still until you were told what to do. You would sometimes even wish you were really an object… Things would be so much easier. You'd sometimes wish you wouldn't know how to laugh, how to live, since each time you would be reminded (each time your father would remind you, being so gentle its scares you) that such things aren't meant for you. You'd wish you could just remain here, looking at the dust falling in the dusk, obscurity falling on your soul, just be silence, darkness, absence. But you never indulge in this temptation.

But nevertheless, at times, you would be able to forget this oppressive and everlasting feeling. Each time a high-pitched voice would echo in Paradise, bouncing back on the red columns and the corridors — calling your name — and golden eyes ­— the same as yours, really ­— calling you as well, all innocence, all caring… And you would even join him. No matter the shouts, the bitter and disappointed comments of the father whom you would leave behind fuming on the balcony. Today (everyday, if you could), you would just join him.

He would say he heard from a strange guy looking like a pirate (you'd stifle a delighted laugh at this description of your father's man, this Zenon) that his friends were coming back from Earth. You naturally would assume that the eccentric marshal had simply achieved the feat of bringing the general down to Earth on a whim of one of his so-called expeditions in the pursuit of weird human-crafted objects. Tenpou gensui's hobby is proverbial. Not only in the army, but at Tenkai's scale, even… It's a thing you would have easily understood: you yourself would be so glad to show some of your beloved places to your little golden-eyed friend…

He'd say he wants to welcome them. He'd say he wants to introduce you to them (officially, doing the thing right, with names and all, this time! Funny thing would be if he at last thought to introduce himself, rather…). As if you wouldn't know already who Tenpou gensui and Kenren taishou are! As if the marshal and the general didn't know who you are, and more importantly what you are! But you would follow anyway. You'd suddenly think he might be right. Tenpou gensui and Kenren taishou don't know Nataku the child.This isn't the first time this thought strikes you, but curiously, the wonder never ceases, as well as the feeling of loss. But you wouldn't mind showing them if the boy walking by your side were to ask you to. Killing puppet, would mumble a god or another, disgusted, as you would walk past him. You would ignore it. Your friend wouldn't hear. Your friend's chirping tone would be able to heal you, somehow, as he would be babbling enthusiastically. Smiling, always smiling. You'd laugh with him.

Even waiting would become a pleasure. Plain happiness is so unusual to you. Then, both of them, marshal and general, would appear eventually. Only, not alone. Their silhouettes would alternatively stand out and disappear in the midst of scores and scores of other soldiers flowing through Heaven's gates. Almost a whole army. This would feel unexpected to you. Their spotless yukatas identify them with certitude as the men of your own troop, in spite of Shien's absence. Wherever you would look, the pale man would be nowhere to be seen. Even more strange. You would stare. Helplessly. Unable to draw a meaning from this scene. You haven't yet this gift to create significance by weaving together scraps of events. With the flow of soldiers brushing past you, Tenpou gensui and Kenren taishou would suddenly seem to materialize just in front of you. Haggard. Wounded. Dirty. It's like looking at a reflection of yourself. Which is strange, since there shouldn't be any other being like you. Heaven forbids it.

« You smell… like Nataku when he comes back, » your friend would suddenly utter, and time would slow down, and world reel, narrowing down to this impression that stings inside. You would know exactly what he means. You too would be able smell it. The sickening sweet perfume of battle to the death. A scent too powerful to remain ignored. Even if both of the grownups are doing their best to. You'd be grateful you friend never thought to ask you about this scent anytime he catches it on you. Where would you find the strength to explain? The general's look grows unfocused. He seems to lean even more heavily on his superior. The shadow of massacre lies in the marshal's look. Well hidden, behind the glassy shield of his glasses. But not enough for one who knows where to look. Your eyes would meet, and unexpectedly, he'd talk to you.

« Do you remember some question you asked a few days ago? »

Do you think I'm impure?

What a burden to be a puppet with a soul... You wouldn't be able to even explain how you let it slip, at that time. A sign of weakness. Your father had taught you to despise weakness.

« There are a lot of gods here, much more impure than you will ever be, » the marshal would keep on, almost serenely. Something would go loose in your chest. You wouldn't have realized you had been holding your breath, waiting. Your little friend would look clueless. A blessing. The general would out of the blue bend forward to ruffle the chestnut hair of the child, the sudden shift of weight almost sending both him and the marshal supporting him to the ground. He would ignore his officer's mildly or mockingly (you'd not be sure which) irritated growl.

« Hey, would say the general. What mischief are you up to, boys? » His smile dazzling again, in spite of the pain that would twist it and almost turn it into a feral grin… Patent attempt at normality. You wouldn't be able to fail him. He tried to help you once, he is a good man. And so is the marshal.

« Nothing. Berries, » you'd answer, putting as much spirit in the words as you can muster. For their sake. To make their smile more real. « Simple and innocent berries. No emperor's pranks scheduled today. »

You would be already grabbing your little friend by the arm, and, with a kind tugging, almost hauling him away (he wouldn't protest as far as food and fun are involved), and giving the two soldiers some privacy for themselves. Not stating the obvious questions of their presence with men of your own army. Not sure you'd want to know, anyway. Because you wouldn't dare say, wouldn't dare think that you suspect your father of being responsible. You just know he is involved. It is too much like that day in the marshal's library. You could quite guess what happened.

If you were a puppet, you would already be a broken one. Knowing deep inside, there is nothing left to save you, even if there are still a few uncanny people reaching for you. For a little time more, maybe you would try and not to let yourself drown. Sealing your connivance, your smile would hurt as much as theirs, even if only for the sake of another set of golden eyes.

oOo Zenon oOo If you were a wolf amongst sheep, a youkai amongst gods…

Most of the said gods would look a lot alike to you. You wouldn't remember the time when Shien started standing out amongst them (or just wouldn't think of it), so that just now you would spot him at once among countless other soldiers coming back through Heaven's front gates where you would have obviously been waiting for this return (even if you wouldn't tell him this). That and the fact that among all of these silky yukatas, only his is bloodstained. Your feet would start moving towards him. As you would brus your way past Tenpou gensui and Kenren taishou, the marshal wouldn't let anything show, and neither would you. Both of you are aware this is not the right place. Meeting with a battered Shien at last, you would guess that this man you consider a friend is currently feeling the blood flowing along his arms from the so many gashes, but doesn't really care, until a rough voice would cut through his thoughts.

« This looks pretty bad. You should let me have a glance, Shien. » A sigh punctuating the sentence. This hoarse voice would be yours. Sounding strange even to your own ears. Caring. Is it so long already you have lost the habit of showing concern, that you wouldn't recognize your own voice?

« Zenon. » Each time, it is all the same. The long-haired man would expressionlessly call your name, as if surprised of your mere presence. It is rather unsettling. But you already got used to it for quite some time. You don't mind anymore. But you would have to admit the spots of dried blood on the fabric disturb you more. They stare at you like a grim parody of the sakura petals standing out on his sleeve not so long ago. These ones, you would be unable to remove them with a fleeting touch from the tip of your fingers, wouldn't you…?

A few minutes later, you would find yourself in the cramped space of the infirmary, having persuaded him to follow you without a fuss. Of course the room is small, in this paradise where the sole being supposed to sustain flesh wounds is a child. You would be alone in here with the wounded god. Certainly, the marshal and general preferred to avoid this place that belonged to the minister's sphere of influence.

« I'm afraid some might leave scars… » you would say. Perhaps you wouldn't even dare raise your head from your medical task, because you would know what you told the marshal wasn't enough to prevent them. Your hands would be still full of the feeling of Shien's torn flesh under your palms. With the extent of the damage done that you'd want to mend, dexterous palpations after ghostly touches, you would be grimly tempted to think that now you'd know this body almost as well as you did once the one of your wife.

« Today I did some things. I am not who I was when I left here back then… » Hearing that you wouldn't look at his face, certainly NOT his face: it never betrays anything, anyway… You would keep on concentrating on your work, all these bandages. They would happen to cover both whole arms, as well as the slender torso. There would be hardly any sleeve left of the silken yukata but a little bit of torn fabric near Shien's shoulders. The blood staining his body as well as your hands, now, is enough of a giveaway of what might have happened. The only person you ever saw in this state, is Nataku. Toushin taichi Nataku. Said to be impure Nataku. Killing puppet Nataku. Easy to guess, what Shien did!

« Today you did what you thought was the right thing to do. I guess. I do trust you, Shien. »

« Like Litouten does trust me? » In Shien's question, there is something derisive and many interrogations unfolding. As he would slightly hold out his hand to have a look at your work through half closed eye-lids, as usual, you would feel the need to give him some privacy in his scrutiny, this slow assessment of his own state. But you wouldn't take it on you to simply leave.

« I don't think so, » you'd answer instead. All that you'd want would be to brush the subject away. You would shrug. « When he learns what happened, he would graciously send the toushin taichi's healer to take care of the marshal's and general's wounds… » you would snicker (which is more like you).

« From now on, I think I'll keep my arms this way… » One of his long fingers would thoughtfully trace the whiteness of the bandage down his arm.

« A reminder? » You would have taken a few steps back, slightly turned to the side, apparently busy lighting a cigarette. Your usual little ruse, rendered useless by the fact Shien looks too lost in himself to really care about your presence. But it wouldn't keep you from observing the other god, a single hawk eye is enough for that. A reminder? Really? You wouldn't mind as long as he doesn't show the scars beneath the fabric to anybody else. These could call questions you'd prefer he had not to answer in front of Heaven's laws and taboos.

« You may put it that way. A reminder. Of my mistakes. And delusions… » But hearing that, you wouldn't be sure you want to listen any more. It was already hard on you to be consciencious of Heaven's imperfection, even knowing perfectly well you had never totally belonged here and never would. But how painful and disturbing could it be for a creature purely heaven-bred such as him?

« Oi, Shien. Let's have a drink. I'm even ready to taste your awful Oolong tea to make you agree… Let's celebrate. »

« Celebration? Of what? » You would be very proud to have caught his entire attention. When you're conscious a soldier like him, you wouldn't miss how much of a diversion tactic it is.

« You opened your eyes, pal. Let's just say I like green. »

He would hardly flinch as your arm would fall a bit too familiarly on his shoulders, and you would hope you didn't brush one of his recent wounds. Even though you'd find yourself unable to release him, physical contact being the only means allowing you to lead him to the deserted officers' mess, towards the little bar hidden in a corner.You'd be serving your beverages all by yourself, casually stepping behind the counter. Soon, it will be full again of the usual buzzing sounds of military life. For the moment, it's all yours.

If you were a wolf amongst sheep, a youkai amongst gods, you would enjoy the company of the silent god in the silent bar. You would enjoy this tranquility so rare in the place. For once, you'd feel not quite as alien as you thought you should feel in this place called Paradise.

oOo Goujun oOo

If you were a white dragon…

You would later be the one who would understand the best why the precedings events were important. Because you would be standing where those people would have supposed to stand, and you would be the one to behold the sheer consequence of their absence. And you would watch, indeed, and do nothing. Because Paradise is immutable, your duty doesn't change, you're bound by the Law and nothing save your honor binds you more… It makes you the perfect witness.

Leaving the bodhisattva on hir own, you would stride across the high-ceiling room with the majesty of the king you are. You would reach the place which is legitimately yours, for centuries, on a dais, at the west side of the vast room, which marks you as the guardian of Western Sea, one of the pillars of Paradise. Your men would be gathered about you, a little beneath you. Some of them talking animatedly like elderly women, you would notice, which is mortifying for the so called military dignity. You'd recognize the particular group at once. These men are Tenpou gensui's men. You know them well. There is something of their superiors about them. Something of Tenpou gensui's absolute confidence and efficiency, as well as something of Kenren taishou's absolute audacity and insolence lying under their air of devoted soldier. The current object of their conversation would happen to be their officers' absence. It upsets them.

They should be here. But they aren't. Your search through the crowd, even with such sharp senses as dragons' gives no result. You would only give the mere hint of interest for Konzen Douji's presence. He looks so out of place… Like a flower on a battlefield. You wouldn't be alarmed yet. Only mildly worried.

« I'd prefer knowing for sure they're fucking each other somewhere, instead of wondering if something happened, » you would suddenly hear one of the men mutter under his breath, almost affectionately. You would square your jaw and be awfully disturbed, while the thought would dawn on you that you totally agree… Which would make you a little bit more than mildly worried, thus… After all, your officers are under your responsibility. Which means you're responsible to some extent of their well being, as well. It would be to not know where they are…

Well, usually, you wouldn't care much about the taishou, only bailing him out of jail once in a while when the chastisement, if not deserved, was at least exaggeratedBut the marshal? He was so reliable, usually… It's not like him to be absent from this kind of meeting. Most of the time, he only skips ceremonial (and boring) ones. Right now, he would normally stand by your side, a faint sneer tugging at his lips. As if blasé. Deceptively blasé. Dangerous. It wasn't as if the marshal had ever tried to hide the fact from you. You would quite remember the day he had admitted it. At that time, you had already long noticed that ever since the general belonged to your army, the marshal spent less and less time haunting your den of an office.

« My new general is quite the thing, the marshal had let slip, non-committal

— I could send him back, you had answered. Just quickly enough for the sentence to be welcomed by a chuckle.

— No, I didn't mean that. Kenren taishou is a good soldier, straightforward. Smart. Smartass, too, though. But suddenly a slight frown had faintly marred his face, whereas he kept on: He is dangerous. Even if it's for the best, I can't help but think people that try to change me are dangerous…

— And you? Aren't you, dangerous?You couldn't help but quietly tell, more like a statement than a question.

— Ho, you noticed? » The marshal had looked meditative

Silence would suddenly fall on the assembly, at the emperor's appearence. Without letting anything show, you would realize how frail and drowsy he appears, not at all a picture of the dignified power he is supposed to embody. A thing you shouldn't feel allowed to notice. Then, unexpectedly, Litouten would rise. And talk. And make his demand. If you were anything else but a dragon, you would have gasped. You would feel the discreet uproar that rises among your troops. The emperor, leaning slightly, would repeat: « An army? » As if seriously pondering the question. Which is simply unbearable.

The righteous ire of your brothers is yours as well… You'd feel yourself stand, in silence. The four of you. One ageless draconic mind in four bodies. Four sentences would be uttered in the same breath from the four corners of the vast room, so that none of you, dragons, would be able to tell which was his own. Strength of the statements not lying in the force of the voice but in the even stronger power of naked truth:

« Heaven is under our protection. »

« The task is ours. »

« We are the guardians. »

« Did we ever fail? »

Of course, the dragons guardians of Heaven never failed… A credence in which your race believe as much as its honor. Draconic perfection in their task is a truth turned into a myth.

You would suddenly remember the marshal's voice. Random time, random words. A time when the marshal still used to pop up in your office, from time to time, just for a talk. You had never understood his insistence in doing so. You had never understood why you missed it afterwards. You weren't particularly interested in philosophy either. But were polite enough to listen at least. On day, the marshal had sprouted some nonsense about Heaven's perfection, uncharacteristically urgently…

« You don't understand, Goujun-sama… Most of people think perfection is the condition, state, or quality of being free from all flaws or defects. But etymologically, it simply means: something completely done through, from beginning to end. Therefore, Death is the only result of perfection. There's no room for life if there's nothing left to make perfect, to improve… Life is perpetual mutation… Heaven can't be perfect, nothing can. If Heaven is, then I fear for this place…

We, dragons, guard it. It won't crumble, you had simply cut him.

Are you so sure? Are you… perfect? » Tenpou gensui had answered with a sly smile…

Unfortunately, with a single wave of his bony hand, the emperor would shush your protests… He would then clear his throat and his spokesman would utter what would sound very much like a carefully rehearsed speech:

« Considering the service and gift you offered Tenkai… »

Something offered. Something offered? Gift. They're talking of a thing. What thing of great value Litouten had been able to offer…? Nataku…? NATAKU? This child with this smell of… wrong? Something so wrong (not just itan), so wrong, you would sometimes wonder why you haven't already taken on yourself to simply destroy it… Which has nothing to do with the compassion you would sometimes feel for the child, and the respect in which you hold the toushin taichi.

« … the emperor wishes now to grant your demand… However, Heaven's tradition specifies that the four armies are the four and only pillars of Tenkai, and are consequently the only armed force allowed to exist and the source of the soldiers allowed to the toushin taichi's close guard. Even so, we, emperor of the Tenkai, here raise you to the honorific dignity of vice-guardian which bestows upon you the commandment of any of the four armies whose king would go missing or unable to accomplish his secular task. »

Most of the discourse would have been covered by a low murmur. But eventually, North, South and East guardians would sit back on their seats. Apparently satisfied. You would realize your brothers wouldn't argue anymore. They must think of this as a joke at Litouten expense. How could something happen to one of the four dragons? This would be virtually impossible. In this condition, you wouldn't be able to do anything but regain your place as well. Your honor binds you. You can't go against the emperor's will. A dragon wouldn't be able to do that. You wouldn't be able. But you would still doubt. Because Litouten would look too satisfied by this edict, while bowing as low as he can in front of the emperor.

This is wrong. So wrong. Who will stand? Who will fight this madness? Ho. Was it that Kenren taishou meant, back then? This moment when you shouldn't keep quiet. Somewhere, deep inside you, something would recoil. The sinking feeling in your gut would fight against the draconic rigidity of mind common to your race… But nobody would know, nobody would guess. Your features of white dragon hides feelings like the mask of a statue gnawed at by centuries of erosion… This lack of faith in Heaven's holy command, although unnoticeable on the surface, is not like you. What happened to you?

And suddenly, it would strike you. This is because of them. Them. These dangerous men… What did they do to you? How dare they change you? Once again, a memory of the marshal would cross your mind. He feels strangely present to you despite his absence in the room… His voice had this distant teacher-like quality which falsely tended to make his statements sound harmless.

« Simple scientific fact: A looks at B. B changes because A looks at him. Call it Coincidence if you want, but it's proven. But you wouldn't know, I suppose : most of people haven't the nerve to look at dragons too much, you'd remember him saying, while staring straight into your eyes. Now, the question is: will A change as well because he looks at B?

­Is A you or I? » You had suddenly inquired, slightly puzzled but not showing it, guessing somehow he wasn't only still referring to his and his general's relationship…

Tenpou gensui had smiled.

If you were a white dragon… Would you have changed, would you have changed simply by looking at them? But it is impossible. Dragons don't change. Heaven doesn't change. You don't move against the emperor's sentence. You would smell it already, though, the rank smell of death lying under your white scaly perfection… If you were a white dragon, you wouldn't be a flawless dragon any more.

oOo Litouten oOo If you were a minister… Well.

You would have waited. Still bowed low, you would have heard the entire crowd retiring from the place, leaving you alone in the vast chamber.

Victory would taste like sweet wine…And power would feel like a warm coat on your shoulders.

Your laugh inebriated with glory would echo in the deserted hall.

No. This is reality.

Your laugh echoes in the deserted hall, the long corridors and bounces on the red columns of Heaven which seem to shake like frail branches in the storm.

You won. They don't realize yet, but you won.

And this is only the first step…

OOO

OOO

OOO

Bonus: For Sanada, with Love…

Beta-kidding:

(In Konzen's POV, when the poor kami is looking for his pet… )

Your throat is raw, too much shooting (to replace with) shouting. The little saru feels sometimes as elusive as an eel.

Lol!

Okay. My fault, totally… Got Confused…

I'll repeat it until I can keep it in mind… But you see, these guys are sooooo alike!

Sanzo shoots and Konzen shouts. Sanzo shoots and Konzen shouts. Sanzo shoots and Konzen shouts. Sanzo shoots and Konzen shouts. Sanzo shoots and Konzen shouts. Sanzo shoots and Konzen shouts. Sanzo shoots and Konzen shouts…

(In Goujun's POV, when the dragon thinks about Konzen, here is Sanada's comment )

He looks so out of place… Like a flower in a charnel house (to replace with) whore house (kidding Goujun would NEVER talk that way) house of prostitution. You wouldn't be alarmed yet. Only mildly worried.

(blushes)

Lol! Here I almost spat Tea on the puter's keyboard…

I wanted to use an equivalent of the French word « charnier » (from the latin word for flesh and which means: pit/hole were are put many corpses… Or figuratively what looks like a battlefield after all fighters are down, and if I dare, are already rotting…)

Now, the wonder is… WHY DID MY F------ DICTIONARY TRANSLATE IT BY CHARNEL HOUSE ?????

This said, I really loved your comment, here, Sanada! Hmmmm, maybe I should have let it with « house of prostitution »…