Kazuki walked through the house grounds as evening fell, nodding to the little knots of people he met. They bowed and murmured his name respectfully, but without the edges of fear or hope or anger so many had shown at the beginning of the week.
Almost all of the four Houses that remained were here for the celebrations surrounding Yohan and Toshi’s wedding; Kazuki was fairly sure Yohan had extended the compound even further than usual for the occasion. There had been feasts and receptions and, this being the Fuuchouin clan after all, competitions every day. Maiya had distinguished herself, and not only because she had nearly caused her opponents apoplexy when she casually stripped down to her fighting array. Even without the hidden techniques, her skill at the binding forms that Yohan said were the hallmark of the Northern House was outstanding. There were even murmurs starting about reconstituting the Thirteen Strings—Maiya among them. Saizou had trounced Seifuuin Koshijirou in their own match, which seemed to satisfy both of them. Toshi had fought three of her own House to a standstill, and Kazuki had had to smile at the approving sounds the onlookers to that match had made. Fortunately, Toshi hadn’t seemed to catch any of the details, most of which concerned what strong children she would bear.
And Kazuki… well, Kazuki had had a match with Yohan.
They were accustomed to each other after a year and more of training together, of course; that hadn’t been the point of this fight. No, this had been a demonstration for the clan. They had worked up through the simpler techniques all the way to Kachoufuugetsu, and when Yohan had reversed the Empty Moon onto him, Kazuki had yielded. The watchers had been silent, after, maybe shocked, maybe frightened, until Kazuki had laughed and caught Yohan up in a hug. The shock and fear hadn’t survived the sight of the clan lord flushed and flustered and having his hair ruffled. Yohan had given Kazuki a distinctly exasperated look, after, but softness had lurked behind it.
Now it was the last evening of the celebrations, and Kazuki had one more duty to fulfill before it was over. He was looking for Toshi.
He found her in one of the inner courtyards, brushing the sleeves of yet another outfit straight, and had to chuckle. “If I can delay your appearance for just a little while,” he called to her.
“Kazuki-sama!” She paused and came to look up at him with a glint of mischief much like her brother’s. “I suppose I should say Onii-sama, now.”
“I’d be quite pleased if you did. It’s a good moment for it, I believe; before you go out, I need to show you something to keep for the family.” She cocked her head at him, questioning, and he waved for her to walk with him.
“There is a technique that appears in none of the regular Fuuchouin scrolls,” he said quietly as they paced through the halls and out into the gardens. “It has been a hidden technique of its own, passed down among those who marry into the Fuuchouin main house. It’s called the Phoenix.” He glanced at her, curious. “Have you and Yohan found any mention of it in your researches?”
She shook her head. “Nothing.”
Kazuki nodded, not entirely surprised. “My mother, in her wisdom, taught it to me and so preserved it for the moment it would be most needed. I give you her words to me: Flowers are beautiful, but they can only abide in one place. The wind in nimble, but it has no will. The moon gleams from on high, but it has no warmth. However, birds not only shine beautifully, but have freedom and agility… They fly freely of their own will, and because of their warm wings, they can soar as high as they wish.” Kazuki stopped beside one of the pools and turned to Toshi. “It is not an art of strength, but of compassion and resolve. And now the heart of Fuuchouin comes to you.”
She nodded solemnly, eyes fixed on him as he took a bell between his fingers. He showed her the steps of it, so deceptively simple, and guided her from one to the next until she cast the Phoenix up into the sky and he could feel that it was right.
Toshi stood in the shadows of the trees, looking at the feather between her fingers. “This form… to complete it could take my life,” she said softly.
“If necessary, yes,” Kazuki agreed, voice steady.
“But what if…” She chewed her lip. Finally her chin lifted. “Yes. Kazuki-sama, please come with me.” She spun around and set off through the grounds toward the main court where Yohan and the heads of the Houses were waiting. There she waved off the compliments and smiles that met her and plunged into a whispered conversation with Yohan, hands shaping the air. Yohan listened and frowned and nodded, and finally rose and came with Toshi to Kazuki.
“Aniue,” he said. “Toshi wishes to give a gift to our clan. Do you approve?”
Kazuki could only imagine one thing she might want to do, and stared at her. “Toshi…!” He didn’t dare even look at Saizou, who was already eying his sister suspiciously.
“It can be done,” she insisted, eyes alight. “I know it can be done.”
Kazuki pressed his lips tight. “Give me your word that if it doesn’t go as you think it will, you’ll break off.”
Toshi nodded. “I promise. I’m not courting death at my wedding, honestly!”
Kazuki sighed; the glitter in her eyes still made him nervous, but she had given her word. “Very well. I approve.”
Yohan and Toshi moved out into the open center of the court together. Murmurs ran around the perimeter as people noticed the bell and feather in their fingers. Saizou started making his way around the edge to Kazuki, frowning faintly. Toshi lifted her head and raised her voice to be heard by all.
“There are many who could not be present to celebrate with us; but they are not gone.” She held out her hand to Yohan, in the sudden silence, and he wove his strings out around her in the taut framework of the Yellow Dragon. Kazuki’s eyes widened with sudden understanding, and he leaned forward, watching Toshi gather her strings within that enfolding, magnifying resonance and cast them upwards. The song of them, actually audible, spilled over the watchers and beyond, though the entire compound.
And the Phoenix descended.
And the Dragon rose to meet it.
Kazuki pressed a hand to his mouth, eyes blind with sudden tears. He could feel his mother’s presence, and his father’s, and those who had watched over him growing up. Saizou’s arms closed around him and he turned to bury his head against Saizou’s shoulder, feeling the hitch of quick, choked breaths in Saizou’s chest. His family was here, and he had their blessing.
He blinked his eyes clear and looked up to see the glimmering presence of the Dragon and Phoenix whirling together over the clan. Yohan and Toshi were standing below, in each other’s arms. As the forms they’d called together faded, Kazuki heard soft sobs and the swell of softer words, laughter, remembrance, not only in the court but from the rooms and gardens beyond it. As Yohan and Toshi moved back to the platform where the heads of the Houses and their councilors sat, Kazuki watched people part before them and bow deeply, ungrudgingly to them both. “It will all be well,” he said softly.
“Yes,” Saizou agreed, as Juubei and Sakura and Toshiki slipped in through the crowd to find them. “It really will.”
Kazuki met his brother’s eyes across the court, as his little House gathered around him, and smiled, open and free.
It would all be well.
A/N: The translation of Kazuki’s mother’s description of the Phoenix is by Jane, direct from the manga.