12. InvitationsThe next day Leeta was doing some general housekeeping while Lord Suzaku was out on patrol when the dolls informed her that there was a visitor. Suzaku had charged her with being the mistress of the house so it was only polite that she should go and greet the visitor. She found him seated in the Fire Room with an empty glass on the table in front of him. He was a handsome man, likely yokai like the rest, with long black hair tied back in a ponytail and wearing black silk clothing bound around the ankles and wrists in a way that seemed to say "ninja" to her but decorated with finely embroidered designs of bamboo and snow flakes that began at the waist and chest on the left side and flowed over the right shoulder to a small circle on the back that depicted a stag against a crescent moon, with matching circles on the sleeves near the shoulders. He was looking at a small electronic device in his hand, which he put inside his shirt into what she assumed was an inside pocket, when she came in and he looked up at her.
"Suzaku is not at home presently," she said wishing that Suzaku had not commanded her to just call him Suzaku since it might be more appropriate to call him Lord Suzaku to other people. "I hope the dolls have made you comfortable."
"So you are Leeta, the girl from New Locura," he said appraising her in a curious glance.
"Yes, I am Leeta," she said, "and your name is...?"
"Takumi," he said, and seeing no recognition of the name he added, "I'm in the employ of the Secret Police. Just how much do you know about Yokaisekai anyway?"
"That it is a part of the world Triudomhan," said Leeta concentrating a bit. "It is inhabited by yokai, is surrounded by high mountains and roughly divided into four parts corresponding to the four cardinal points and embodying... well a dominant season; Winter for the north, Summer for the south, Autumn for the West, and Spring for the east with power centers in each as well as the center, northeast, and southwest. I think the power centers are in association with rulers as the one in the northeast is where the Queen is and the one in the south is here. The land is ruled over by a king and queen. The Queen is Morrigan. I don't think she is yokai. She has a power that is both familiar and very strange. This part of Yokaisekai is Minamichiku and is ruled over by Suzaku, the Vermilion Bird. That is all I know."
"Very observant, but ill informed," was Takumi's appraisal. "Has Lord Suzaku told you so little, not even the names of the king, his son or the four other daimyos?"
Leeta didn't reply. She felt uncomfortable at this yokai's accusation of her master's neglect, perhaps because it was true.
"Are you interested in knowledge," Takumi asked watching her, "in finding out more about the world around you, or even just things in general?"
"Yes, of course," she said somewhat eagerly. "I read all the time."
"I don't suppose you have a computer around here... That would be too much to expect," said Takumi, "though I could build one from spare parts..."
"I don't think there is the right kind of equipment for building a computer here," said Leeta. "Suzaku's dolls are not compatible with that technology, nor is anything else I have seen. But how would that add to my knowledge? Is there a kind of internet here? It seemed that this world worked more on... magic, rather than on physics and advanced technology."
"It works on both," said Takumi, "and you're probably right about the lack of materials to build a computer being here. If you had a computer and access to the internet, via satellite, you could have all of the knowledge in the Library City of Athuair at your fingertips."
"Library City of Athuair?" queried the green haired girl.
"It's easily the largest city in Triudomhan," answered Takumi, "and completely devoted to housing the collected books and knowledge of the Athuarian people, who were devoted to gathering all the knowledge of their galaxy, and elsewhere. Their whole library city was transported to this world, on the Talamh continent about where NSider Ruins were in Old Locura, just after the World Split."
"World Split?" Leeta asked. "Was this world somehow a part of Locura at one time?"
"Yes," said Takumi. "Are you sure there isn't something I can make a computer out of? It would be a lot easier for you to find the answers to your questions yourself than for me to sit here and explain them to you."
"Of course!" she said. "Suzaku said I could alter my room in any way I saw fit. I could create a computer there!"
"All right," said Takumi getting up. "Let's go there."
She quickly led him to her room. It never even occurred to her that someone else might think something of this since it was clear to her that he wasn't interested, but Takumi was careful to leave the door of her room open so that it would be obvious to passers-by that nothing sexual was going on. After all, Suzaku's place did have a certain reputation, and Takumi's own reputation wasn't exactly pristine either.
Leeta looked for a convenient spot in the room and created a computer work station out of the elements of the air and the room around her. "Now, if you will give me the specifications I'll make a computer," she said to Takumi, happy to have enough of Suzaku's commands to be able to do something for herself like this. Takumi took out his hand held device and keyed the analysis functions as he verbally gave her the technical specifications for a computer that could connect to the net without having to run cables through the solid rock of the volcano to an outside satellite dish that didn't exist. Reading the analysis of what looked like Leeta producing a technically sophisticated computer out of thin air he saw that she was actually altering existing matter on a subatomic level, without using spirit energy or fay magic and that the resulting energy from the atomic rearrangement was being absorbed by Leeta and redirected somehow. He wasn't sure what kind of power she was using, but it certainly had miraculous results. Leeta though was just glad that her experience and training with Danny Korliss enabled her to follow Takumi's instructions in building the computer.
Suzaku returned from his patrol and was greeted by a doll who told him of Takumi's arrival. The vermilion bird daimyo received the news with mixed feelings. It had been fairly apparent that Takumi had undergone a major change since going on Pilgrimage, and everyone else was forgiving his past crimes, even making him a member of the Secret Police, but he had a hard time accepting Conchobhar's team mate into his house after he had blatantly violated his hospitality at the royal wedding feast. "Where is Takumi now?" Suzaku asked the doll.
"He is in Leeta's room," the doll replied.
Leeta's room! Suzaku hurried down the halls to Leeta's room his mind in a whirl. Was was that son of a disreputable woman doing now?!
As he rounded the corner he heard Takumi's voice through the open door, "There... now you're in... See how easy that was. How do you feel about this?"
"Wonderful!" said Leeta's voice in return. "I never dreamed that there could be something like this!"
Suzaku entered the room to see them together... looking at a computer screen. Leeta was seated primly at a computer work station while Takumi looked over her shoulder to help her navigate the Library's system. Suzaku was too flustered to say anything at first, having to compose himself.
Takumi looked at Suzaku as he came in. "You're finally back. You know, I don't usually tell you what to do with your women, Lord Suzaku, but this one has a brain, one that has been sadly neglected. Not all women are brainless sex machines like the toys you surround yourself with. Some have brilliant minds, and will wither away without mental nourishment. If you're going to keep this one, you need to pay attention to that."
"What are you doing here anyway?" said Suzaku with a bit of an edge to his voice.
"I'm here on the Queen's business," said Takumi noting the hostility in Suzaku's voice, "and since I'm obviously still not welcome in this house I'll leave as soon as I'm finished. First, I came to bring you this..." He pulled a small device similar to the hand held computer that Suzaku had, but smaller and more like a cell phone, out of another pocket "It's an upgrade from the one you just got. As usual there is an internal manual showing how to use it's functions. I really should come up with a name for these things, and not 'smart phone' either."
"What kind of functions does it have?" said Leeta.
"Aside from basic communication like a phone, it can gather, store, transmit, and retrieve a wide variety of data, with a built in sensory array and video camera. It has a data lock that responds to the spirit power aura, biometrics, and voice of the owner, so that all functions except for the basic phone can not be used by anyone else. If lost it will give out a signal recognizable to the owner," said Takumi.
"What about datacoms?" said Leeta. "Since its main functions are data and communication."
"I guess that would work," said Takumi. "The second reason I'm here is to give you an official invitation to the birthday party Morrigan is giving for Aine, Connlaodh and Vanadis, and Takara at her place on the 14th. It seems that Lord Genbu personally requested an invitation after I told him about it, so now she's inviting all of the daimyo."
"Lord Genbu... wants to go to a children's party?!" said Suzaku incredulous, but then the dark lord had seemed rather interested in Takumi's son Takara. Then a rather revolting idea occurred to him.
The revulsion must have shown on his face because Takumi replied, "I don't think it's anything like that. Is it so hard to believe that he might have a very natural desire to have children of his own? He would be the first among you four to want children, though maybe Lord Seiryu has changed his mind, and is the only one incapable of having children, at least in the normal way. Anyway, all of the daimyo are invited by Queen Morrigan's request. You can bring a guest if you want." He looked in Leeta's direction.
"Of course I will be there," said Suzaku.
"Then I'd better be going," said Takumi turning to leave. "I still have the capital and Byakkodokutsu to get to.
"Are you ready to go to Morrigan's party?" said Suzaku coming into Leeta's room after knocking on the open door.
"Yes," said Leeta finishing wrapping the last of her gifts, "but I am not sure how I am going to carry them all while riding on your back."
"Here," said Suzaku spreading out a cloth that already contained his wrapped gifts. "It will be easier to put them all together.
Leeta added her gifts to Suzaku's and he bundled them all together. Then giving Leeta his arm he led her to the hangar and transformed into his giant bird form. Leeta changed into her flying clothes and mounted, the dolls handing her the bundle of presents. As Suzaku took off Leeta couldn't help being a bit excited. Suzaku was taking her to her first party in Yokaisekai! Even if it was just a children's party Suzaku was taking her, and introducing her to the important people in his life.
Hours later the fiery plumed Suzaku landed just as the coachman from Kiryushiro (who brought the birthday chldren and their parents) drove the coach to the lakeside to unhitch the snowy white fay horses that pulled it. Leeta got off of Suzaku's back, carrying her bundle of packages, and changed her riding clothes into something more festive in green and gold with peacock blue ornamentation. When she alighted Suzaku transformed into his more human form and took the parcel to carry it himself and they went to join the others. At that point the huge white tiger form of Lord Byakko dashed out of the woods from the direction of Morrigan's Gate, with a small bundle tied around his neck, and loped across the grass towards the group, stopping to transform into a heavily muscled man with graying hair and wearing a white gi with a tiger dojo emblem on the back, still with the bundle around his neck, as he approached.
"Well, we're all here except Lord Genbu," said Morrigan waiting for a moment, "so why don't we all go inside. They all walked the short way through the forest and entered the front room of Morrigan's abode. The presents were deposited on the table, including Conchobhar's strange box, and diaper bags under it as the children were put down on the green carpet. Aine left her yosei companion, with whom she had been dancing all bedecked in flowers from the garden, and ran laughing over to the other children still in her fay form, a lovely elfin child with flowing red hair and sea green eyes like a lighter greener version of Leeta's jewels. The others couldn't keep up with her quick light movements, though Takara tried, so Vanadis turned into her diminutive black dragon form (actually as big as a medium sized dog) and romped around with the fay child while Takara began playing with his "Mushi", first attracting the attention of the more shy Connlaodh, and then the others. Vanadis tried pouncing on the beetle but it just scurried into Takara's clothing until she calmed down (transforming back to human) and he coaxed it back out.
While the toddlers were thus occupied inside, outside an enormous black tortoise with a long snake like neck arose in the center of the lake (spooking the fay horses) and slowly swam to the shore. As its front feet stepped onto the shore it changed into a man with long black hair and elegant robes, held above the water line over one arm, and kind of pants like undergarment tucked into the tops of the sleek black "riding" boots that he wore when outside of his fortress. The other arm carried a dark velvet wrapped bundle. As he left the water behind he let go of the skirts of his robes letting them cover his boots and brush against the grass as he strode towards Morrigan's house.
Morrigan opened the door as the dark lord approached, and the toddlers left off their play and stared at him in interest as he entered. "If you would please," said Lord Genbu hesitantly, yet formally, beginning to address the parents, "pick up your children and carry them to one side as I set up the 'gifts' for the choosing..." The parents picked up their children (actually the mothers carried and the fathers stood by, except for Conchobhar who carried Vanadis) and took them to the to one side of the room while Lord Genbu lined up objects in front of them some distance away. The other guests stood by the present table out of the way.
"I see," said Lord Seiryu to Princess De Zhen. "This is an old fortune telling custom. At the first birthday, which by ancient custom was counted as the second birthday, objects are presented to the child and the one he chooses shows what kind of occupation he is destined for, though it is difficult to say whether the destiny holds true or not."
"I believe there was some such custom among our people long before Aru became our God," said De Zhen. "Many such fortune telling customs gave way to consulting God directly."
"As should be," said Lord Seiryu softly enough that he wouldn't be overheard and offend Lord Genbu.
The dark lord finished lining up the items, each at a short distance from the other, and each equally ornate. There was a bejeweled leather bound storybook, a gold clad telescope with the purest crystal lenses, a jade official's stamp (as yet unmarked by a name), a red velvet bag partially open showing the gold helions within it, a brightly colored jeweled and gold embroidered ball, a jewel hilted dagger (securely fastened in its finely decorated sheath), red yarn on a jeweled spindle, and an elaborately decorated mortar and pestle. "Let the children choose which git they wish to keep," said Lord Genbu. "We shall see if they choose to be a scholar, scientist, an official, rich, an athlete, a warrior, a craftsman, or a doctor," he said gesturing to each item in turn.
The parents let the children go, as everyone waited in excitement to see what they would choose, as if it was a great game. Vanadis (who had changed back into human form to play with Takara's bug, just as Aine had changed to her adorable little cloven hoofed oni form like her brother's having finished with being a fay) transformed into a dragon again to out run the others, reaching the items first and pawing over all of them. Aine and Takara toddled after Vanadis, but Connlaodh went directly to the large storybook. Plopping down he opened the cover and began clumsily turning the beautifully colored pages. When Vanadis saw what he was doing she went over and tried to take the book from him. Connlaodh turned into a dragon too and coiled his golden body tightly around and around the book so that she couldn't reach it and growled softly at her. Aine picked up the jeweled spindle and danced around trailing the red yarn after her in circles. Takara watched Vanadis tackle Connlaodh for a bit then played with the jade seal, abandoning it to knock over the velvet bag spilling the helions, and finally to settle on picking up the jewel hilted dagger and bringing it back to his dad to see. Vanadis finally gave up on pestering her brother and went back to the other items settling on the ball to push around and chase. After she left Connlaodh protectively took the book and went back to his parents. Aine took the string back to show Morrigan and her father while Vanadis charged around the room butting and chasing the ball. When it was clear that each child had chosen Lord Genbu gathered up the remaining items and put them away.
"So," laughed Enma, "we should expect Connlaodh to become a great scholar, Vanadis to take her father's place in the Dark Tournaments, Takara to become a renowned warrior, and little Aine to make what... those legendary fay items that often cause trouble and consternation with their powers?"
"Do not underestimate the power of ancient rites, my lord," Lord Genbu replied almost emotionlessly in response to Enma's ridicule. "The children have chosen according to what is within them. You might also say that the young prince Connlaodh has already shown his great love of books and Vanadis her intense competitiveness. Princess Aine has shown a disposition more like her mother than her father, but with fays there is also an early showing of their gifts. It is not unlikely that she would indeed make such "legendary fay items that often cause trouble and consternation with their powers" as you have said. As for Takumi's son... We shall see what kind of warrior he shall become."
"Well then, we shall give the children the rest of their gifts before continuing on with the party," said Morrigan.
The other daimyo agreed and fetched their gifts. Lord Seiryu approached first, with De Zhen and Yutaka just behind. "I hope they will enjoy my gift," he said as he handed the parents a round package tied up in red brocade cloth artfully decorated with flowers from his garden, "though it seems that my gift to Vanadis will be somewhat redundant.
When Vanadis saw the others beginning to open their gifts, she ran back to her father looking for her gift. Unwrapping the colorful cloth revealed brightly decorated balls, much like the one Lord Genbu had brought only smaller and tougher with centers of tightly wound hide that were strong enough to take the bite of little dragon's teeth, and small enough to easily fit into a small child's hands. Each was decorated to match the owner - gold dragons, black dragons, fairies, and foxes - so that there would be no mistake of who it belonged to. As the children played with the new balls De Zhen and Yutaka presented their gifts, boxes full of children's art supplies. Next came Lord Suzaku, also carrying little cloth wrapped bundles more oddly shaped, and Leeta with paper wrapped boxes topped with glittery ribbons. Suzaku's gifts were mechanical birds, much like the one he had given Conchobhar so many years ago, but they were each distinctly different - a ho-o for Connlaodh, a quetzal for Vanadis, a peacock for Aine, and a rooster for Takara. Conchobhar remarked on the difference from his own childhood gift, and Suzaku explained that he had not used his own feathers as with Conchobhar's gift but had made different kinds of birds at Leeta's suggestion, at which point he formally introduced the green haired girl to everyone in the room. Then they opened Leeta's gifts. Each box held a different hollow polygon in varying colors, with shaped cutouts on the sides that small shaped blocks fit into. Takara had very little difficulty putting the shapes into the proper holes, but Vanadis tried to jam the shapes in the wrong way, getting mad when they wouldn't fit and then kicking the polygon across the floor.
Then Lord Byakko presented his gift, a simple white gi with the tiger logo for each child, after which Lien Hua got up with Yutaka and retrieved her gifts and the strange box that Conchobhar had brought while Conchobhar watched Connlaodh and Vanadis play with their new toys. Lien Hua's gifts were sets of clothing made for each child, far more individualized for the child's species, gender, and variety of activities than Lord Byakko's, though probably not as durable as the white tiger's gi. Then Conchobhar traded watching the kids for the odd box. Going over to Takara he reached into the box and pulled out a stone. He placed the stone in front of the yokai boy and began to pet it, singing something odd in Gaelic as he did. Aine immediately became interested in what was going on and paid attention. The stone slowly became furry little cat-dog shape, a pudgy sunekosuri. Takara squealed in delight and petted the animal, which was both purring and wagging its tail with all its might while trying to lick Takara's hand. Aine was the next one that Conchobhar presented a stone from the box to, but she didn't wait for her elder brother to waken it for her. She petted it and called to it in Gaelic coaxing it out of its stone shape, then holding and hugging the furry little sunekosuri as it tried to lick her face. Finally he presented two to his own children who waited impatiently for their father to waken the little animals so they could play. Next Takumi presented the other children with their own "mushi", a butterfly for Aine and dragonflies for Conchobhar's children, on behalf of himself and Inori. Inori wondered if the other children's "mushi" actually had all of the same functions as Takara's or not. Aine's mushi settled into her hair like an ornament, but Connlaodh and Vanadis were having a hard time deciding which of their gifts to play with, especially Vanadis who kept trying to monopolize her brother's gifts as well (not that his sunekosuri or mushi would comply).
At that point Morrigan went to each child and blessed them, presenting them with an unique broach of celtic knot work animals and gem stones. "Now, I think we should let the other children in for our feast, if you will gather up the gifts..." she said, and as the fathers collected most of the presents on to the table she went and and opened the door for Suigen's wife and Aine's yosei companion. They bowed to Morrigan and brought in a mixed group of young yokai who came in respectfully and very eagerly. Morrigan led them into the fenced in area and seated them at the tables, with the help of Suigen's wife and the yosei. The older yokai children made the younger ones wait until the lords were seated, and the birthday children blew out the candles helping themselves to handfuls of cake in the process, and the lords began taking food for themselves. Only then did they begin pigging out on the heaps of food. Afterwards Morrigan opened the toy box and invited the children to play with the toys. The lords looked on while the children had fun, Lord Genbu with a rather wistful look that only Takumi caught, and Lord Seiryu casting glances at De Zhen. Inori was glad to see Takara running around with Suigen's young pups in fox form. Eventually the toddlers grew tired and Morrigan sent the yokai children away with bags full of toys and sweets. The parents and the daimyo said their goodbyes and headed off for home.
Two days later and they were headed to another party, this time at Lord Seiryu's place, the Spring Festival, the festival of new life and the ascendancy of Lord Seiryu's domain. Sixteen days she had been with Lord Suzaku, not even a full month, and they seemed to be getting along quite well. He had managed to fit her into his life quite comfortably. There hadn't been any more "female visitors" lately so it really was a bit too early to tell how things would ultimately work out between them but Leeta was optimistic. Her master's light hearted banter, genteel protectiveness and concern, and non-serious flirtation helped buoy her outlook.
Leeta marveled at the beautiful flowers as they landed by the lake at Lord Seiryu's azure palace and Suzaku led her around the gardens for a bit before escorting her inside. Suzaku was surprised to see the whole royal family of Aleriand there, as were the other Lords, but true to his promise he introduced Leeta to all of them. They expressed their sorrow at the end of Locura but welcomed Leeta warmly. As Leeta tried to sit at a different table than that of the daimyo, and their close family, the other lords made her sit by Suzaku saying that she ranked as family anyway. She felt a bit out of place kneeling on a pillow next to Suzaku at the low table spread Japanese style, even though she had met the same daimyo that surrounded her at the children's party only two days ago. After all, this was a far more formal occasion. After the ceremony welcoming spring, Lord Seiryu the Azure Dragon of the East announced that he and Princess De Zhen had that very afternoon been married by a local village priest and that tonight was the first night of their wedding feast. Everyone cheered the new couple and began to make merry. Some a little too merry.
By the time Seiryu and De Zhen retired for the night and other yokai had begun to seek out rooms (or fall asleep where they were) Suzaku was thoroughly drunk. Leeta helped Suzaku to stand as a tree woman offered to show them a room, one of many screened in with sliding paper screens and a futon bed made up on the floor. Suzaku managed to walk to the room with his arm around Leeta without staggering, though he seemed completely out of it. As the woman left, Suzaku caressed Leeta's hair and whispered in her ear... "Sleep with me."
Suzaku awoke a little before dawn, as he always did regardless of how late he got to bed the night before, though sometimes he wouldn't feel exactly like getting up right away, like today. His head hurt and his senses were a bit fuzzy, something that usually went away in an hour or two, but there was something else... or rather someone. He felt the soft form of a woman against him, his arm draped around her slender form, and her hair against his face. His mind casually dallied over the woman's height, weight, and form trying to place who it was. When it registered "Leeta" he came to a full panic alert! What had he done last night?! Opening his eyes he confirmed that it was Leeta and they were both fully clothed. There was at least that. He couldn't have gone very far fully clothed, could he? He pushed back the desire to hold the soft female form longer and sat up. Leeta turned to face him and sat up too, leaning on one elbow, her pretty dress all crumpled from sleeping in it. He pushed down the thoughts that came to mind before they turned completely lewd and gained control of himself before speaking. "I am truly sorry," he began uncertainly, having never had to apologize like this before, at least not that he could remember. "I don't remember anything from last night, but... I hope I didn't... Tell me, what exactly did I do?" he said pushing back his hair.
Leeta dutifully answered, "You ordered me to sleep with you. When we got into bed you immediately fell asleep and so, per your orders, I fell asleep too. I awoke when you did."
"Nothing more then, thank the gods," Suzaku sighed with relief. "I am terribly sorry to put you in such an awkward position. I should have given you an order to say 'no' to me as well as my guests, though I'm not sure that would work properly... still... In the future, I order you to treat anything I order while I'm drunk as the foolishness it is, as no order at all... Whatever I say under the influence of alcohol, or any other substance will have no force of command to it and you shall do as you see fit. I would count it as a great service to me, and a safeguard as well, if you would be in control of yourself when I am not in control of myself." He said that sincerely, holding her hand in his. She smiled at him gratefully in appreciation of his order. Gods, he thought to himself, if she was anything but what she was he would seduce her then and there. He let go of her hand and quickly got out of bed. "Freshen up and change your clothing, and we'll get some breakfast before we leave," he said, his back turned to her as she got out of bed and magically did as he ordered, "and hopefully salvage your reputation," he added under his breath. He straightened his own clothing and took her arm in his as she came up beside him. Giving her a gallant smile he led her from the room and down the halls to the banquet room. As they were greeted with some rude cat calls and jests that made Leeta blush uncomfortably, Suzaku turned and sternly asserted that nothing had happened between them.
"Too drunk to get it on?" laughed one yokai that Suzaku had partied with before.
"Yes," he admitted, "but I've also ordered her to ignore what I say when I'm drunk... She's off limits to everyone, including me!" he said, a little more strongly than intended. The comments stifled, he sat down and asked asked for some food, still a bit embarrassed by the whole thing. He had never had to explain his behavior regarding a woman before.
Out of earshot Takumi spoke to his wife. "Suzaku's going to get himself in trouble with that," he said shaking his head.
"What do you mean?" Inori asked.
"It's obvious he's falling for the girl, and that after only a couple of weeks, but at the same time he's both living with her and trying to set her as 'off limits'. It's as ridiculous a situation as me trying to be celibate during my convalescence after the war. It just won't work. He would be better off giving her to Morrigan and then wooing her like a normal girl," said Takumi "His will power in this is probably as weak as mine, and when he violates his conscience... well, what will he do then?"
"He could take her as his wife..." said Inori. "It wouldn't be the first time marriage began with violation..."
"Sorry, poor choice of words," said Takumi squeezing his wife's hand. "I'm glad you stuck by me even though I did that to you and gave you every reason to leave me for good. I hope I can make it up to you somehow."
"You are," she said smiling at him.
After breakfast Suzaku said goodbye to the newlyweds and made his excuses for not staying. He thought it better not to have a repeat of the night before or to have to explain his relationship to Leeta to anyone... even himself. Then he and Leeta flew back home to Suzakuyama.
The strength of Spring under the newly wed Seiryu could be felt all over Yokaisekai, with new life sprouting everywhere even in the frozen lands of Lord Genbu. Lord Suzaku felt it too, and was less than pleased. It raised in him urges that he usually would have eagerly pursued, only his thoughts kept returning to a certain green haired girl who happened to be off limits. What's more the Spring seemed to make Leeta more alive than ever. Her joy in the season could barely be contained, and she enjoyed sharing it with Suzaku. Suzaku put on his best face when with her, but had a hard time just stopping with harmless flirtation. Self denial was something he wasn't used to, and it was like some perverse torture to spend so much time with Leeta, whom he had come to both desire and appreciate more than ever, yet maintain that his relationship was only a paternally protective one. It was driving him crazy and he wasn't sure he could keep it up. Maybe when Spring was over it would be better, he thought to himself, but in the back of his mind where he didn't want to go he knew his feelings for Leeta would only increase.
The evening before the feast that signified the change of Seiryu's dominance to his, the Summer Festival (Beltain to the fays), he and Leeta were sitting in the Sunset Room sharing a meal and watching the colors of the sun setting over the ocean. Leeta had known for some time that something was troubling her master, but she wasn't sure what it was. "Suzaku," she began with a serious note that broke through his attempts at light hearted banter. "I know that something is bothering you... and it has only grown worse as your feast day approaches. You have been so kind to me. I want to know what the problem is so that I can be of help to you."
"Dear Leeta," he said with a smile, patting her hand, "There isn't anything wrong. What an imagination you have!"
Then it dawned on her what the problem might be... "It's me," she said. "I've become a burden to you. It's been months since you've had any women over to... to 'party' with, even though we had an agreement on that subject. I'm cramping your style... I knew I would only be a nuisance. You know you can always order me to be anything you want me to be, or if that's not enough you can give me away to someone else..."
Suzaku couldn't maintain the lie anymore. His facade crumbled. "Dearest Leeta, he said clasping her hand. "You are the most perfect girl I have ever met. The problem is completely with me. I am such an unscrupulous cad! Here I set myself to protect you because of your condition of absolute obedience, yet all the while I have had lustful thoughts about you. I can't even woo you properly into being my bride because your will is what I can make it to be. Because I am your master you can never tell me 'no', and yet in so doing you violate the very core of your being! Curse the man who put this spell upon you! Curse the sorcerer Hashad Cuerl! There has to be some way to take the spell off you..."
"Don't try..." Leeta pleaded. "I feel that someone else in the past tried and it went very badly. Morrigan herself said that it couldn't be done."
A thought occurred to Suzaku. "There is one who could do it," he said standing, looking out at the setting sun. "Aru, God of all gods, Creator of all worlds, he could take away your curse!" He began to pace quickly. "I'm not sure we could make it there and back by tomorrow night, but it might just be do able! Not if we went through the gates... that would be a delay... but if we left from here... Leeta! I command you to make a doorway big enough for my bird form to exit over there," he pointed at the windows. Not comprehending what he was talking about she followed his orders. Suzaku transformed into his giant bird form and told her to climb on his back. Then commanding her to change the window back after they left and to hang on, being ready for fast flight, he took off, flying towards the right of the setting sun at such speed that it never quite set until they far out over the middle sea nearing Aleriand.
It was 10:00 at night when Suzaku landed in the landing field. Taking Leeta by the hand he fairly ran up the stairs to where Saebhreathach stood by the Temple of Heaven's doors. "Please, may we enter the Temple," Suzaku panted. "I need to speak with Aru on behalf of this girl."
"All are welcome to enter, but I cannot guarantee that Aru will speak with you, especially if your motives are not pure," said Saebhreathach opening the doors. "Go inside and kneel on the carpet respectfully."
As they went inside Leeta marveled at the silver tree that grew diamond fruit as a living thing. Then they knelt on the carpet by the tree and closed their eyes. Suddenly Suzaku found himself flying in a trackless sky. No sun, moon, or stars could be seen but the whole was lit by a brilliant glow that seemed to come from everywhere, gilding and pearlizing the vibrant blue. Far below all that could be seen was a huge bank of shining white clouds marred only by the wings of fantastic flying creatures who seemed to ignore Suzaku's presence and go about their business. Suzaku could feel Leeta on his back so at least they were together in this strange world. Suzaku was not one to be frightened by any kind of sky or weather conditions, but somehow this beautiful venue both terrified and exhilarated him.
Leeta couldn't comprehend where they were or how they had gotten there. This world was strange and trackless for her. She could get no feeling for it's shape and substance, only an overwhelming power that permeated everything. Even if she had been in an illusion she would have a secure feeling of the world she was in, it's order or lack of it (as in the case of Locura), the feel of its shape and terrain, but not here. It was like she wasn't a part of the world at all, that somehow she had been cut off from her anchor to physical reality, and yet she herself was physically real and so was Suzaku under her. "What is this place, Suzaku, and how did we get here?" She nearly whispered yet her voice carried easily. "It feels so strange..."
"It's Aru's world," said Suzaku. "From what I understand no one is sure what it is, but you get to it through the Temple of Heaven in Aleriand. When Conchobhar was here he followed Aru's power to a high mountain. See if you can find some kind of power signal, or anything that will give us a direction to go in." Suzaku was already tired from flying for eleven hours straight. He didn't want to alarm Leeta, but if he didn't find a destination soon the chances of crashing to the ground, if there even was any ground, were pretty good.
Leeta well understood his fatigue and searched diligently for some indication of a power source, or even a landing place. All she got was a vaguely intuitive direction to go in. She pointed up and slightly to the right. "Maybe that way..." she said.
"Then that way it is," said Suzaku changing course to match the one she indicated and increasing speed. Without thermals to ride going upward was hard, but he was glad that he did when a massive mountain came into view. Even from the height he had flown to, the top looked out of reach, and he struggled to fly up above the sheer sides. This mountain was much higher than the ones that surrounded Yokaisekai. "Give me strength!" he groaned to no one in particular as his wings began to seize up from exhaustion. Leeta took that as a command and poured from herself, and the energy around her, strength into Suzaku's massive body, healing his fatigue and giving new energy to his flight.
After some time, as he reached the summit he saw winged creatures, immensely powerful in a kind of spirit energy he had never felt before, coming and going. They were entering and leaving a massive airy palace as breathtaking music emanated from their wings. Leeta was awestruck with the magnificence as they flew in and landed. Suzaku transformed and took Leeta by the hand, leading her into the fantastic palace, towards the center. All around them winged creatures walked, more gloriously beautiful than anything Suzaku had ever seen, going about their business, though Suzaku couldn't even guess what kind of business that was. They passed through colonnades and gardens, a fantastic array of beauty that delighted Leeta's senses, until they reached a throne room, and the one who sat upon the throne dwarfed King Enma for size and shone brighter than the sun. Leeta stood unable to move, mesmerized by the presence, both in awe of the entity's power and beauty, and in fear, cognizant of her deeply buried and unremembered guilt and sordid past. Suzaku fell to his knees, trembling, and not just from fatigue.
"Son of the wind," the entity addressed Suzaku, "why have you come?"
"I have come that you might undo the cruel curse that was placed on Leeta by the sorcerer Hashad Cuerl," said Suzaku pleadingly. "You are the only one who can do it."
"Understand, son of the wind, that this curse is not easily removed," said the one on the throne to Suzaku. "Layer upon layer has been added to this girl by each master since, like the layers of an onion. Each must be peeled away to get at the core of the curse and remove it. It is a long process and you will have to give her to me for it to be done."
"If it will free Leeta from the pain and suffering the curse has caused, then do it," said Suzaku standing. He reached over and squeezed her hand, looking into her eyes. She nodded in agreement. "Leeta, I am no longer your master. You will belong to Aru now," he said giving her a slight push in the direction of the throne. Her eyes went blank as she forgot all about Suzaku and her past. As Suzaku saw that loss of memory of him show in her eyes he thought briefly, what have I done? Then the one on the throne rose and took Leeta by the hand, and her eyes went all flowery and stayed that way.
"Son of the wind, you may return home," said Aru as he began to lead Leeta away.
"No!" objected Suzaku, "I... I want to stay with her! I want to help her."
"What possible help could you be?" said the entity. "Can you bear the pain and suffering of each of her past lives as I peel them back? Can you take away the torture that has been heaped upon her by her masters?"
"No, but I can stand beside her in her suffering, as a friend," said Suzaku.
"If that is what you truly want, then follow," said Aru continuing to walk away with Leeta. "Don't say I didn't warn you though, for I warn you now. You will not be able to bear the pain that you will face today. If you wish to return to the life you had before then go home now!"
Suzaku stubbornly followed after them, not letting Leeta out of his sight. Soon they came to a pleasant garden where Aru seated Leeta on a stone bench and stood behind her with a hand on her shoulder. "You may sit beside her if you wish," he said to Suzaku. Suzaku sat down next to Leeta on the bench and took her hand in his even though she looked at him like a stranger, but that only lasted a moment as Aru peeled back the first layer of her life and her memories of her master Suzaku flooded back, both the good and the bad, the pleasant and the unpleasant, only this time Suzaku saw them too. He saw life with himself through the eyes of the woman he loved. There were a great many things he regretted. Then Aru went on to peel back more layers, one at a time, each greeted with a shock of memories returning and the reliving of pain, sorrow, and suffering, along with the few scattered joys. Each time Suzaku also shared in the experience, finding the pain more and more unbearable the deeper Aru went. Not only did he suffer with her though the unimaginable degradation that many of her masters put her through, but he also began to see in himself and his own character and life many of the characteristics, attitudes, and even specific acts that they had committed, not that he had done these to Leeta specifically but to other women he had known and used in the past.
When Aru reached the layer that was under Leeta's master the magi Myrradin Suleimandra the process paused while he undid the spells that the magi had cast upon her, especially in regard to her memory. The old man had meant well, and was kind in his own way, but was more of an academician and often treated her more like an experiment than a feeling person. When the memory spell was undone though and all of the memory from the masters before that time came flooding back, Suzaku could see why he had put it into place. The pain and horror of what had been done before drowned him in a flood. How was Leeta able to bear up under all this? How could Aru expect her to continue to live with such a burden? Perhaps the magi Suleimandra's way was best after all and Suzaku should never have tried to have Leeta's curse removed. She herself had recommended against it, though the "curse breaking" incident she had feared was actually one where her master had sent her back in time to stop Hashad Cuerl from capturing her in the first place. That attempt had failed and the sorcerer had her torture, perversely abuse, and physically maim her own self before sending her back with a curse that would kill her master, and any future master that tried to foil his plans. Leaving her to live with such memories would be no kindness.
At that point Suzaku became aware of something that had been going on since the beginning of the whole process. Aru had been taking all of Leeta's guilt and pain upon himself and putting in its place his own unsullied righteousness so that the memories she was left with carried no suffering for her anymore, only a pity for people so lost to the truth that they felt the need to torture someone who could only do them good and was bound by nature to care for them. Suzaku had no such service done for him. Sure, the memories that belonged to someone else would likely fade in time, but not his own guilt that these memories had dredged up. Aru had been right. He could never go back to his old way of life. He could never go back to being carefree Suzaku, following the wind and living however he pleased. His guilty past would always be there to haunt him. No amount of living right would ever erase the heavy karma of living wrong. No one had forced him into a life of shame. In this he was not the victim, but the offender. He was in the same company as Leeta's many sordid masters, only now he knew the truth about himself. How ironic that only a short time ago he had condemned Takumi for what he had been, when he himself, Lord Suzaku, was just as bad.
"I can change that too..." said a voice in his mind. "I erased Takumi's guilt, I can erase yours as well..."
Suzaku looked up at Aru standing behind Leeta, still peeling back the layers of her life, giving her healing and reconciliation at each point in time. He could do all that and still take time to speak to Suzaku's heart. Was also it true that Aru had actually taken on weak human form and suffered punishment and death for all of the guilty? "Yes, it is true," said the voice. "What about you, son of the wind? Do you still wish to live by your own will, being blown in every direction by the gusts of your own lusts and emotions, or will you give yourself into my hand to mold you into something better than that, to free you from the many lifetimes of guilt you have built up for yourself?"
Suzaku thought for a moment... about Takumi, Conchobhar, Morrigan and Enma, all those he knew who already "belonged" to the God... about his life and the freedoms he held dear... Had his "following the wind" ever made him truly happy, in all of the lifetimes he had ever lived? He had to admit it was all just covering up his loneliness, lifetime after lifetime of watching friends leave and die, watching all good works crumble into dust, the sheer futility of life, living just to live. He had lived the party life to cover up the emptiness within. He had dulled his senses so that he didn't have to look the ugly truth in the face, and in the process he had compromised himself beyond redemption. Now Aru was offering him a change. Did he dare to take it? Did he have the courage to leave the old repetitive life dulled by pleasure behind and become something new under the hand of the all mighty one? The prospect of change was a frightening one, but so was the prospect of an eternity of cycles like the ones that had gone on before, and the possibility of completely loosing himself as a slave of his own debauchery like so many others. He vacillated between the two options for some time before finally settling on the former. He had endured far too many incarnations to really enjoy the prospect of more of the same, even if Leeta would have him and live with him forever, which was far from decided after what she had endured. "Lord Aru," he thought directly, "I give my life into your hand... Do what you will with me." Aru placed his other hand on Suzaku's shoulder. Leeta's memories vanished from view as he did and Suzaku felt the serenity of forgiveness. The deeds of his past lives were brought into view, with Aru - who lived outside of time and unfettered by what was his own creation - taking responsibility for making right what could never be undone, for the apologies that could never be said to people long dead, justifying his whole existence based on Aru's own righteousness, with a promise of a future different from the past. In many ways it was like the peeling back of Leeta's past lives restoring her to wholeness. At that moment Suzaku was able to see through the brilliant light of Aru's presence to his kindly smiling face.
With Leeta, Aru finally passed the generations of incarceration she had experienced at the hands of the hero Tarvik Sondros who defeated and killed Hashad Cuerl, the extermination of her own people and world by her own hand at the evil sorcerer's order, and down to the moment of the curse itself, and her entrapment in human physical form. As Aru freed her from the curse Leeta disappeared and a shimmering amorphous spirit appeared in her place. Suzaku gulped as he realized that this was her true form, and the dream of her being his wife was a physical impossibility. Still, it was better for her to be truly free rather than a slave to his will forever. With Aru's help he would accept the loss.
"So, daughter," Aru said to the powerful, yet still some how feminine, spirit form, "I have restored you to your former self, but the world you were created to care for is gone forever. What would you have me do for you? I could give you a new world to care for, or keep you in my presence to rest from all your labor. What ever your desire is I will do it for you."
The feminine spirit being observed Suzaku. Of all of her past masters he was the only one to succeed in breaking the curse, and at great cost to himself. As a spirit concerned with supplying the needs of a world she saw exactly what he had desired of her, something that in freeing her he could never have, and neither could he go back to the lifestyle he had once lived to fill that void since he had remained beside her during the whole ordeal. "My gracious Lord," she replied. "If it is pleasing to you... I would like for you to make a body for me, compatible to Suzaku, so that I may be the wife he has longed for till the end of his days, if he is so willing. He has shown me the greatest kindness of all of my past masters in bringing me here to be freed of my curse. It would bring me great pleasure to return that kindness as his partner for life."
"What say you, Suzaku? Are you willing that she be given a body that she should be your wife?" said Aru.
"Are you sure?" said Suzaku standing. he could hardly believe what he was hearing. He wanted to hold her hands but there were none to hold. "Are you really sure you want to do this?"
"Yes. I am sure," she replied.
"Then yes, I do want you as my wife!" he rejoiced.
"Then I shall give you a body similar to the fays," said Aru. "Then you can keep much of the identity and power you are used to, though more limited to your physical form than in your present state. Time and use will show you your limitations. If Suzaku's physical life should finally end, and you then tire of a continued physical existence I will give you the option of returning to your former self or continuing existence as the spirit of a mortal being to gain immortal physical life at the end of all ages along with all of my children."
The amorphous spirit took on definite shape as bone, muscle, sinew and skin took form around it making a woman of mature build and tanned skin, supple and lovely like the fays, with long green hair flowing in gentle curls around her body, and with golden eyes. To Suzaku it was as if Leeta had matured into something wonderful before his eyes. He finally took hold of her new hands (her wrist completely unmarked by the old tattoo) into his, as a long white dress wrapped itself around her, fastened by a golden clasps and tied with a golden sash. Aru put one hand on Leeta's' shoulder and the other hand Suzaku's and intoned, "For this purpose a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, joining closely with her so that the two shall become one flesh. What God has joined together, let no one tear apart!" Then removing his hands he said, "You may kiss your wife and take her home, Suzaku." Suzaku didn't have to be told twice. When the kiss was over they were back in the Temple of Heaven standing in front of the silver tree, Leeta still in her brand new body.
Saebhreathach opened the doors as they approached the exit revealing first the light of morning. "Dawn already!" said Suzaku incredulously, though he felt completely refreshed as if he had slept all night. "I don't think I can make it to the feast in time. It's already past noon in Yokaisekai and it took us eleven hours to get here. that would put us there after midnight, after the feast is over!"
"It think I can accommodate you there," said Saebhreathach smiling. He made some complicated dance like movements while speaking in Gaelic, much like Suzaku had seen Morrigan do. "Now time has been halved for you... You can travel at twice the speed as before and arrive with plenty of time to spare."
"Thank you very much!" said Suzaku grabbing Leeta's hand and running down the stairs with her. reaching the landing field he transformed into his giant fiery bird form and called for her to climb on.
"I can do one better!" she replied, and transformed into an equally large bird in various shades of green, a long beak, red gold eyes, and an iridescent crest and long tail feathers tipped with peacock "eyes". With a thrust of her powerful blue-green wings she took to the air followed by Suzaku. The two did a short aerial ballet before taking off for Yokaisekai.
The guard at the great western gate, Nishimon, was surprised to see Lord Suzaku outside but quickly let him and Leeta in. They quickly ran, hand in hand with Leeta laughing for the sheer joy of it, through the tunnels out into Nishichiku where they took off again in bird form.
At Suzakuyama the guests had already been seated, and served drinks before the meal. Everyone was present (even Conchobhar who was sitting next to Lien Hua and completely concerned about being unable to find Takumi, yet not telling anyone about the disappearance because of the feast) except for the owner of the house and daimyo whose feast it was. No one, not even the dolls knew where he and Leeta were. After questioning the dolls in private Morrigan found that he and Leeta had eaten dinner together in the Sunset Room the night before but hadn't been seen since. As nothing else unusual or sinister had happened they simply carried out their duties. It wasn't unusual for Suzaku to just take off on the spur of the moment. It was possible, Morrigan thought, for Suzaku to make use of Leeta's unusual talent to leave unnoticed, but why and where had he gone and what had kept him from returning in a timely fashion? Morrigan would give it a few more hours before using more drastic measures to locate the missing daimyo. Just then Suzaku and Leeta entered the room breathless and laughing. Morrigan couldn't help but notice the physical changes in the girl who was much more fay like, so much so that she mistook her for a stranger at first.
"Dear friends!" Suzaku began so exuberantly that more than a few thought he was drunk already. "I am so sorry for keeping you waiting, but I have just been on a non-stop trip to Aleriand and back!" ("And boy are my wings tired!" said Leeta under her breath which made Suzaku choke up with laughter.) "Friends, I want you to rejoice with me," Suzaku continued. "I have just married a wonderful girl who has been finally freed from her curse!" At hearing "rejoice" and "married" many in the crowd set up a cheer and called for more drinks. It was definitely a party atmosphere at the beginning of the feast. It would be a wonderful summer and a fruitful New Year's Day when 2011 rolled around. The only thing that marred the season that marked the ending of the year for Yokaisekai was the disappearance of Takumi and his family.
And they lived happily ever since...
And they lived happily ever since...