Silent War – A Ryuu-ou's story

By Philotas

Disclaimer: I don't know RG Veda, I make no money for this, yadda yadda. The magnificent story and the wonderful characters belong to CLAMP, and I have no intention to steal them!

Warnings: Angst, slightly AU, placed in a series of fics I'm working on. The only thing you need to know is that, in this sort of chronicles I'm writing, at a certain point Taishakuten asks Ryuu-ou to marry him and is rejected. Nothing affecting the general story line too much, but making things a little harder on the poor queen. I am such a bastard.

Author's Note: We all know that Ryuu-ou's mother did not intervene in the Holy War, but since she seems to be in a rather good relationship with Ashura-ou, I would wonder why such a fierce-tempered woman decided to stand there and watch. I don't think the fact that she believed her only task was to protect the west of Tenkai from the mazoku was the only reason why she chose not to fight. This is exactly what this fic is about.

Special Thanks: Thanks a lot, Kellie, for beta-ing this for me… you and I know you saved me from a rather embarrassing mistake, hehe… ^__^;;;; (thinking of the drag scene)

* * *

I read the bulletin for the hundredth time, as if hoping the letters will scatter and rearrange themselves into a different message. Anything, dear heaven, anything but this. But it's real, and I am caught in it. Civil war.

When I first read this missive, I recalled the slight blush creeping across his marble cheeks as he asked to marry me, and I couldn't believe the same man could throw the whole world into chaos. When I turned him down, he accepted my words as if he was expecting them, he is no fool after all, and showed me a different side of himself, a vaguely tender heart where none was supposed to be, and a courageous resignation which too many misunderstood as bitterness. I believed that was the real him and, though I still refused his proposal, I felt a deep sympathy for him conquering my heart.

I was a fool. I should have trusted my first instinct, and instead I granted him the benefit of doubt and finally fell for his act of "tough but good". Damn you, Taishakuten. Damn you for fooling me, damn you for daring rebel against Tentei, fulfilling the one hypothesis of mine I had hoped to never see validated. And damn you for breaking Ashura's heart.

Ashura-ou trusted Taishakuten. I know him well enough to understand he did. He trusted him in battle, and trusted him with a part of his heart, the one he only once in a while allowed very few people a glimpse at. He considered Taishakuten his friend. Nobody else can say that much, besides myself, and maybe Kuyo, and again I can tell we have never been held at the Raijin's level either. He was the only one Ashura-ou has ever considered his equal. So I find myself angry at him, as I have never been in my entire life. I know the sensitive soul behind the cold façade of the Anti Heaven, and know what he must have felt when Taishakuten shattered his trust with a single word from his lips: war.

It's odd. His betrayal of Tentei, I can forgive almost easily. I respect the man as my sovereign, but I know that only a matter of luck prevented that he made any mistakes during his kingdom. Fortune can be a generous mistress, but she is capricious and short-lasting, and right now she turned her eyes from Tentei and set them on Taishakuten. The bastard isn't even alone. Three of the Shitennous, and my lord Koumokuten among them, have taken the Raijin's side in the conflict. Ashura-ou and Jikoukuten are the only defences left against the army of ten thousands Taishakuten managed to gather. Not enough, especially now that Ashura-ou's slut of a wife decided to betray the man who had given her more than any woman has the right to desire.

My troops too are expected to be among Taishakuten's. At this very moment, Koumokuten's messenger is waiting for my final word. With them, or against them. The cruel bastard will not allow me any another option. My first instinct was to march at the head of my army against him, with the intent to slay him or die trying. The Ryuu are brave and faithful people. They would follow me to the end no matter where I take them, to the gates of Heaven or to the gates of Hell.

Forgetting the raging chaos of my own emotions, I have decided that I shall not care about anything but them, the Ryuu. My people. Dragging them along with Taishakuten in his blasphemous quest for power is unthinkable. Setting them against him and his army is dangerous. Forgive me, Ashura. I am your friend, but before that I am Ryuu-ou. Even if I will never be able to look at myself again, I have to protect my clan. If I have to turn into a coward to do it, so be it. Forgive me, my dear friend. I am a warrior, but I am also a woman. If I can choose, I choose life. For myself, for my clan. For the baby growing inside my womb.

An urgent knock on the door of my study lets me know that my decision has to be delivered without delay. I try to control the tremor in my hands and give the word to come in. One of the guards rushes in with a flustered expression on his face.

"My liege, the Raijin Taishakuten and Lord Koumokuten are here."

My heart sinks. It may very well be that the fate of my clan has already been decided, and that they only fooled me, pretending to offer me the ghost of a choice. It wouldn't be so surprising. My allegiance to Ashura-ou is no mystery. But I am Ryuu-ou, and I can face my death with dignity. Nodding curtly, I follow the soldier to the audience room.

The whole "diplomatic" committee is there, and when I catch sight of Taishakuten I cannot help being surprised. He is not paying attention to his surroundings, and he looks tired, distant somehow. I had expected derision, arrogance, but not this. I try to justify his neglected figure with the stress of the campaign, but the excuse seems lame to say the least. He has always paid great attention to his look in the first place, and impressing a potential ally or enemy with a striking appearance is a trick no leader is unaware of. I guess it's fitting of him to confuse things this way, but I find myself at a loss when thinking how to face this attitude he has.

Koumokuten is at his side, and his taut expression speaks volumes. I pity him and loathe him at the same time, but I have to recognize that what he lacks in courage he makes up with wit. A porcelain vase travelling among iron buckets cannot survive long without it. Afraid of standing against Taishakuten's irate temper, he chose to betray the emperor he is sworn to protect, but I don't feel like blaming him. I am afraid myself. Only a fool wouldn't be scared of what the Raijin can do. I have seen him burn mazoku to ashes as if they were dead leaves. His ability to manipulate electricity can do that and worse.

The unsettling pale eyes of the traitor, the same eyes that held something akin to tenderness and respect when he proposed me, fix inside my own for the briefest moment and then turn away again. I blink, just to make sure I don't have anything blurring my sight. I could have sworn it was the same eyes again, those of the man who told me I deserved all the happiness in the world, and a someone who could love me dearly and truly.

It's only a fleeting moment, however, before he fulfils my expectations entirely, mocking expression, feral grin and all that.

"My lady Ryuu-ou" his baritone voice echoes in the hall. "What a pleasure, after all this time."

"I would immensely like to tell you I am just as pleased, Lord Raijin, but I am sure you know it would be a lie" I reply, managing to keep my voice neutral, even if my tone is glacial.

"Let's skip formalities, then, my lady. I am here to collect your second refusal, it seems."

I am aware I flinch visibly at the reference, and my hands run almost unconsciously to my belly, where my and my husband's child grows with each passing day. I am not vain, but I know I am uncommonly strong for a woman. In this moment, in this contact with the womb holding my heir, all my hopes for the future, I find a new strength, one I never knew I possessed. One I am not happy to possess. The strength to shatter my pride in front of a traitor. The strength to make myself believe that the outcomes of what I am going to do will repay me of the humiliation. I clear my throat, and start a speech which I rethought over and over for the past hours.

"I am not refusing your proposal. Neither I am accepting it. I will make you a counter proposal, instead, Lord Raijin."

I hear the startled gasps of my advisors and officers. I would have hoped they weren't here to witness my capitulation, but it's just wishful thinking. I try to tell myself they'll understand I am doing this for them, also.

"I am listening" he replies glacially, urging me on.

"The Ryuu will not interfere in the conflict. When it is over, they will serve the winner with loyalty, no matter the outcome. We are not interested in quests for power or glory. There is no honour in transferring them from one hand to another. We are the guardians of the West, and our task is to protect this part of Tenkai from the invasion of the mazoku. This is what we have always done, and what we will keep doing, no matter who sits in Zemni-jou. This is my proposal, and the final word of the Ryuu. The choice is yours now."

He seems to be pondering my words, but I can't tell if it's a good sign or not. He might very well be keeping me on my toes and giving me hope just for the pleasure of shattering it, as he shattered the trust Ashura and I - yes, even I - had in him.

His expression is dark, unreadable. I see a resolve settling over his features, and I understand he has really been thinking about what I told him. Slowly his lips curve into another smile. I almost cannot hear him over the frantic beating of my heart.

"Very well, Ryuu-ou. I will hear your pledge of allegiance when this conflict is over. We will meet in Zemni-jou, then. Just remember, what you could have earned as a peer, you are going to be granted as a beggar. Until then, my lady."

I have to fight my urge to strike him, I cannot ruin what I have given my dignity to accomplish. The sighs of relief coming from the men of my staff provide the force of will I need. Yes, my dear ones. We are safe. No matter who wins, the Ryuu will survive. Taishakuten's maddening arrogance I can easily forget… maybe. Ashura-ou, my friend, forgive me, and save me if you can. You are the only hope Tenkai has left.

I am relieved to see the Raijin turn on his heels and leave the audience room without adding anything else. Koumokuten looks at me with a serious expression, as if trying to intimidate me, but I can see the realization in his eyes. He has definitely lost the respect and support of his bushinshou, and he is aware that the effects of this will not influence his future for the better. I had not expected him to speak, and his voice startles me.

"Your guardian star is a lucky one, Ryuu-ou. I am sure your heir will grow to be strong and courageous just like yourself. The way I hope my Tamara will grow to be beautiful and proud just like her mother. Until then, farewell, Ryuu-ou."

I stare at his back as he walks away, once more fighting with myself to control an urge, though a much gentler one this time. Forgive me, Koumokuten, I almost say. You are a father, you know the burden of a child's destiny on your hands. You took the decision which you believed best to preserve your little girl's life, even if your choice shames you. I have been taught that life without honour is not worth it, but I know now that it can't be applied as the universal rule, and deciding the fate of others is a responsibility far too great to indulge in idealisms and deny reality. I suppose Koumokuten feels the same. We have all been swept around by a wind way too strong for us to stand against, and the best we can do is bend to it and survive, hoping one day we will be able to pay our debts to those we have disappointed.

* * *

Ignorance is killing me. We have been completely isolated inside our territories. All the men I sent to gather information about the conflict have not returned. I presume that Taishakuten had them all intercepted and killed. If anyone sent messengers for me, the same happened to them. I am virtually fallen off the surface of the world. The clan carries on with its daily routine, but I am not even allowed the distraction of the trivial tasks. My belly is too swollen, and I am too close to delivery to mind the affairs of the state. My husband is quietly but efficiently taking care of them for me. I am too tired to even curse the Raijin or myself for this maddening wait.

I am only grateful that, in spite of my scarce attention and care for myself, my pregnancy has gone smoothly. I was moved to tears by my people's support and understanding, which is probably the only thing that allows me to tolerate the sound of my voice or my face in the mirror any longer. They made my decision their own, and bear the consequences with much more courage than I have been able to manage so far.

I walk out on the terrace of my chamber, from which I can see past the gates of Naga-jou and the mighty cliffs that surround my palace. The afternoon slowly reclines and turns to dusk before my eyes. I don't know how long I have been here. I am thirsty, and hungry, but I feel like anything I ingest will be rejected. I wonder where Ashura-ou is now. While I enjoy the comfort of my house, perhaps he is stealing his only hour of uneasy sleep in the mud of some battlefield far away, or tearing his way through hordes of enemies hungry for his life.

I am shaken out of my sad musings when I catch sight of a small cloud of dust at the horizon. It's distant, but it's also approaching rapidly. A horse. And somebody riding it. I am alive again with hope, when they get close enough for me to recognize the colours of my clan. One of the men I sent returned, at last, and if he could make it maybe he has good news. But even if he doesn't, I will not wait to hear them. I almost literally fly down the stars, through the halls, out the portal. I shout orders not to stop the man coming for any reason, granting him passage and addressing him to my private study without delay.

I am so anxious I feel a few contractions, as if my waters were about to break, but it has to be a false alarm. And, even if it is not, I cannot think about it now, but I am still enough in control of myself to understand that my talk with the home-comer is best made in private. I enter my study, close the door behind me and wait.

I would pace, if the pain in my back allowed it, but all I can do is sit on my high back chair and wait. I feel like a bowstring about to break. There is an unnatural silence around me. My heart seems to have stopped beating and then, suddenly, it jumps and starts racing.

Someone is approaching hurriedly. My mind reels as I realize what a fool I have been, but it's too late now. I would recognize these steps among millions. The man enters and closes the door behind himself, pulling the cape with the colours of the Ryuu from his face and head. Taishakuten.

"Greetings, Ryuu-ou. I am most grateful for having been avoided the annoyance of making my way through your guards."

So he had been killing my informers, after all. He is wearing the proof, but it hardly matters now. I am frozen in place, unable to say or do anything. If he has changed his mind, all I have given up to preserve my clan will be a vain sacrifice. But if he came here alone, he cannot seriously expect to do away with the Ryuu all by himself. He is self- confident, but not crazy. What is he doing here? I can sense the muscles of my face shaping themselves into a hard expression. His smile disappears.

Without notice, he pulls something out of the cape, a small object, and tosses it on the desk near me. My eyes cannot help but look down at it. My heart recognizes it right away, but my mind refuses to make the connection.

"I will see you in Toriten in three days, at the celebration of my crowning… and my wedding."

When I lift my eyes again, he is gone, and I almost wonder if he was here at all to begin with. But the necklace he left behind, and the emblem on it, tells me the nightmare is real. The six-armed chiselled figure stares at me with empty eyes. Ashura-ou is dead, and Taishakuten is the Lord of Heaven.

* * *

The crowning ceremony went smoothly, as far as I am concerned. The halls of Zemni-jou still stunk of blood, but I could hardly take notice of anything. I watched him walk up to the throne, holding Shashi's hand, and sitting down in the place his strength and cunning have earned him. I pronounced the required pledge of allegiance without faltering once. I did not hear the remarks he made. Through all of it, I felt nothing. It was as if everything was happening to somebody who was not me.

Only when I returned home, to Naga-jou, the load hit me. It was something stupid that triggered it, really. When Taishakuten had last come to visit me, I had tossed Ashura-ou's necklace in a drawer, detesting the sight of it. A few days ago, digging through that very same drawer looking for my seals I came across it again, but it was not the only thing I found. In all my moving things left and right to find what I sought, the stupid piece of jewellery had the bright idea get stuck inside the envelope of a letter long forgotten. The letter Taishakuten wrote to me when I announced my wedding. The letter which had finally convinced me he was a good man at heart. The proof that I am only a foolish woman.

I let his lies deceive me, I let Ashura-ou die. I have no excuse. Even the survival of my clan doesn't seem worth it any longer. I want out. Oh, heaven, I just want this torment to be over. I no longer desire to live. It would be better if I disappeared altogether. I am totally spent.

With this unbearable weight on my chest, I move around as a phantom, estranged from everything I always cherished. I spend my days in my chambers, crying most of the time, refusing the bulletins bringing news of cities destroyed and people slaughtered for opposing Taishakuten.

I have my meals delivered to my door, I do not attend mundane events, not even for a brief appearance. My husband, who takes care of it all in my name, is the only one not pleading with me to try and go back to normal, like the others do. Perhaps he doesn't want to upset me further because of the baby, and thinks that this intolerable hollowness inside my heart will fill with time. I am sorry, love. It's not going to happen, and thus I'm failing you as a wife, as well.

I would double over, if I could, as another contraction starts. This time, I feel my waters breaking, and I understand it is time that my heir is born. To such a world I am delivering you, my child. I ring the bell on my dresser, and a maiden rushes in. When she understands what's going on, she helps me to the bed and runs to call the nanny, to help with the birth. I hear her screech merrily as she goes that the next Ryuu-ou is about to be born. I wish the exclamations of joy she receives in reply would help me a little, but they don't.

I lay on the bed and try to even out my breathing. The pressure inside me grows stronger. The little one is asking its way out, fiercely too. Lend me strength, child of mine. I want you to be born, but I need you to help me out. Be my reason to be again the warrior I once was. Heaven, it feels like centuries past.

Soon I am surrounded by maidens, undressing me, adjusting me to a more suited position for the delivery, and generally fussing over me excessively. They pat my hands and whisper words of encouragement, which I return with simple nods and shaky smiles. This is starting to hurt a little too much for my taste. The nanny lifts my gown up and spreads my legs, ordering the pests to leave me alone and inviting me to concentrate and breathe evenly.

I try to do as directed, but it gets difficult as the contractions become more frequent and strong. Soon enough I am screaming in pain. They tell me that my consort is waiting outside the chamber. I try to conjure up in my mind the image of his soft, quiet smile, the feeling of his gentle hands caressing my hair, the sound of his steady, soothing voice whispering words of comfort, and the task I'm carrying out seems less taxing suddenly. I am about to deliver the fruit of our love. As much as I am miserable right now, I can't spoil this for him. I just love him too much to do that.

I push, just like I am told, many times over, and the nanny looks up at me for a moment to tell me the head is coming out, and that once the head is out there is little left to do, so I concentrate deeply, ignoring the pressure on my loins, and push as hard as I can.

I wouldn't realize it's over if I didn't hear the loud wail of the newborn rising high above the delighted chatter around me and the loud thumping of my heart in my ears.

"It's a boy" they tell me with tears in their eyes. "A beautiful, healthy baby boy!"

I sigh in relief, as the pain fades out. I was able to accomplish this much at least, give birth to a healthy child. Big deal. Any woman could do that. I had much more important things I should have done, and failed miserably in doing them.

I open my eyes, which I had not realized were closed, when the baby is put to my breast for his first meal. I recognize the hand doing that. I look up to be met by the warmest shade of blue ever created. There is a world of understanding in those eyes.

"Look at him" he tells me, gazing down at our son. I do look at him, and I am amazed to find a small male replica of myself, busy finding his way to my breast with his tiny rosy mouth.

"Our son's future will be better than our own" my husband tells me in his usual quiet way "but we have to show him the way. I can't do this alone. We have to build his future. Together."

I look at him, then at the baby, and back again. Yes, I see what he means. How didn't I think of that myself, I wonder. He will be better than us. I just know it. He will make his way in this world and succeed where we have failed. But, until he is grown enough to do it, we have to protect him and teach him that, no matter what, there is always a way to look up to the heaven and see the stars, even among the darkest clouds. I have to put my mourning behind me. I have to stop dwelling in the past. I must build the future. This is the meaning of the choice I made: life. In my child, I have found my redemption. This is my act of war, though no clashing of weapons is heard or blood is spilt. I will raise my child to uphold the values I believe in, so that he will bring them on in the apparently hopeless future. Perhaps I am only trying to comfort myself, but it's all right. Even if it's self deception, as I look down at my baby boy, I know that all I have endured was not in vain. I look at the man I have chosen as my life time partner, thanking him wordlessly for this magnificent gift he gave me.

"By the way, what's his name?" he asks me.

"Naga. His name is Naga."