They cremated the Hitorigami’s remains with honor, for one could not respectfully bury someone who’d perished through decapitation. A proper funeral would occur soon, but that was in Hitorigami City and he could not attend.
Minamoto received a burial in Fusestu, to which Koukatsuna attended now. His leg ached abominably in its splint, and a crutch was something he considered beneath him, but he owed his lord enough to suffer through the indignity, as well as the hostile stares from all the rest involved.
Waru, still cloven, for only he could repair it, rested in its scabbard alongside Saku, none the worse for wear. Aika was beside him, who bore nearly as much grief. Minamoto had been their greatest friend and ally, and the driving force behind their people’s assimilation. With him gone it would become difficult to maintain their standing with the Humans.
“For once...” the bladedancer muttered, “I wish Ryū were here.”
Aika nodded, but said nothing. Minamoto’s body, borne on a litter, was brought to the family site. Dozens of stones lined the forested area right outside the city, and there was room for plenty more. The family would endure; Lord Minamoto had not taken his bloodline to the grave with him.
They stopped at the newest stone, Minamoto’s personal and formal monikers inscribed upon it, as well as his accomplishments. Koukatsuna also noticed a series of names engraved but splashed with red ink. Perplexed, he looked to Aika.
“The names of his wives...” she whispered, “A sort of expectation, perhaps, or a bind of loyalty to their deceased husband.”
Nodding, Koukatsuna watched as the eulogy was delivered. He numbly acknowledged the words, and nearly broke as they lowered the Lord of the Central District into the ground. He approached, against the disapproving stares of the Humans, and claimed one of the shovels as the others filled the grave.
Gritting his teeth at the almost unbearable pain of supporting himself without the crutch, he drew a shovelful of dirt, and tossed it in with the rest, then another...
Kaileena watched the grim procession beside Arteth. A golden urn, made just for the occasion, now held Mikoto’s ashes, where they would be housed in a special cavern underneath the royal palace beside the remains of his entire family. The urn was wrapped in paper, which traditionally represented a protection from evil spirits.
A multitude of trays bearing flowers, incense, and gifts were hauled alongside its path to its ultimate destination in the cavern. She, along with the others, watched that procession as they made their way down.
The day was one of bright sunshine and birdsong, unfitting for a funeral, though it did stress a fundamental truth that even in death, life continued.
Kaileena thought that appropriate, considering the ceremony that would occur later in the afternoon. Itaku approached her, holding Heikiku, the Hitorigami’s katana.
“You have decided, then...” she noted, and the Commander of the Karyudo Kisai, now perhaps the highest standing noble in the land beside Lord Kiromichi, nodded.
“Mikoto’s third son to his second mistress is the ideal candidate, though he doubts his wisdom. I would offer you the honor of giving him this.”
Accepting the sword, she smiled and bowed formally, “Thank you, Itaku.”
“There is no need for that.” he replied, “I would like to think of you as much a friend as ally. You will continue to be afforded a place in Teikoku. I would hope that you...might consider staying.”
She heard the pleading in that statement, and shrugged, “This is my home. Arteth and I will go to Moonshadow, but only for a time. I wish to see the rest of my family.”
They hadn’t come to that decision lightly; the Dread Hammer still presented an unknown threat, but Kaileena had been adamant. She’d met Lenao, her birth father, brief as their meeting was, but not knowing Uchiki tore her apart inside.
The Silkrit of Moonshadow were a prolific race, living for hundreds or even thousands of years. She had little doubt she had cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, ancestors...
She wanted to meet them, to know her heritage, to cement her mother’s memory and forge relations with the rest of her kin. Even as she was...she still felt the need to do this. She was no longer explicitly Silkrit, but she was still Kaileena, daughter to Uchiki of Moonshadow.
So she would go, along with Arteth. She knew that while he feared nothing more greatly, he deeply desired to return home. She would not, could not, deny him that.
As the last of the litter bearers disappeared into the undercroft of the royal palace, Kaileena whispered her last solemn farewell.
Ryū watched the others leave with lukewarm sentiment. Everything just seemed muted, muffled, against his growing foreboding.
Enshi’s death throes had given him a most troubling vision of the future. He desired his people’s freedom and happiness, and this path would guarantee it.
So why was his hand shaking at the very thought of it?
Iki-o-Korosu mocked his sentiments, rapturously awaiting a dream that it now actively sought, one that he would seek against his wishes. He’d been more than ready to die for his people...more than ready to embrace his undead condition. But...this...?
When only he remained, Ryū wept, amid his loneliness and broken desires.
Arteth shifted from foot to foot, having changed from black robes to white, a slim diadem adorning his chitin crown. He’d left Verlangen in their room before coming; no weapons were allowed.
A thick band of red gold and diamond; Kaileena’s gift and pledge, adorned the index finger of his right hand. It glowed with its own inner light; she’d enchanted it to always know her whereabouts, as he had with her own. Likewise, after today, the enchantment would alter to also allow telepathic communication and, if need be, permit one to teleport instantly to the other’s side.
Her skills had grown indeed, not only to create such a complex enchantment, but to create it to function without her presence.
He was anxious, but in a good way for a change. There was another important event scheduled this day, now that Mikoto’s funeral had come to a close.
Under most circumstances it was proper to inform one’s guests months in advance for a wedding, but Kaileena had thought it important to lift everyone’s spirits, so the Djinn had handled everything, ensuring that all who desired could attend.
He arrived first via teleportation, and the guests filed into the small garden pavilion in ones and twos. There were large tables on either side, stacked high with chopped fruits, desserts, and a light sake.
A large platter of puffer-fish filets was being prepared by skilled hands; a delicacy in the region. Possessed of a unique texture and taste, puffer-fish caused a slight tingling sensation when eaten because of small amounts of toxins present in the meat. Unless precisely prepared, it could cause death.
But he’d passed along enough gold to hire on the entire culinary staff of the royal palace for the event, and there would be enough safe puffer-fish for everyone.
Ryū appeared first after him, smiling but sunken-eyed, holding an umbrella to ward off the sun rather than a drawn cloak, as was his usual habit. As far as Arteth understood, the vampyre could now walk in daylight without harm, but only if he wielded Iki-o-Korosu, Dekeshi’s darksteel trident. He didn’t currently, but if he was uncomfortable he didn’t show it.
Gatsuyu and Nagomi came next, preparing for their own wedding in a few months. Kiromichi, the only remaining lord of Teikoku, appeared next. More a formality, his presence officiated the ceremony, as did Commander Itaku of the Karyudo Kisai, and Shirudo, Commander of the Te Fukushu.
Yokai, to everyone’s silent displeasure, also attended, and it was odd, thought Arteth, that sworn enemies stood together without complaint at such an event. It distantly pleased him.
Illuthien, Farcia, Elurra, and Vilaseth arrived next, stepping through a dimensional portal. And, as a last minute surprise, a small group of Kodama also appeared, Rairakku among them. Each sang lightly in an alien, otherworldly cadence, and carried a small brazier, inside of which burned incense.
Fanning out around him, they formed a pair of columns on either side the central isle, which itself parted the rows of seats that housed the other guests.
Minstrels manipulated stringed instruments, small drums, and flutes, adding to the festive atmosphere. Arteth’s wings ticked, betraying his nervousness.
Rairakku herself took a place beside him, “I would accompany whoever oversees this ceremony and lead the procession in your honor.”
Nodding, for he had more or less anticipated that since she entered the room, she smiled in response, “Chin up, Djinn. This is the day of your wedding. That usually only happens once in a lifetime!”
Arteth tried to look nonplused, and failed miserably. A quarter hour passed, with the guests lounging, chatting and occasionally claiming a few tidbits of food. He exchanged a few choice words himself, but the Djinn felt his mind inexorably locked on what would come. Patiently, expectantly, he waited.
Suddenly the minstrels shifted in tune, became more urgent, more insistent, and the guests took their seats. He stood at the heart of the pavilion, Rairakku and the Kodama flanking him.
And then, she appeared, at the far end of the aisle. The sight of her stole his breath...
Kaileena was radiant, garbed in a three-layered white kimono, inlaid with gold thread in weaving patterns of swirling air. An obi corset, also golden in color, held the garment together. A white silken haori went over it, which was so long it trailed several feet behind her.
Hana, her godmother, held the flowing garment steady, standing behind and slightly to the left of her. She wore the platinum and blue diamond ring on her left index finger, opposite to his own arrangement.
A unique traditional hat crowned her head, called a Tsunokakushi. It was, in essence, a rectangular piece of cloth which conventionally covered the bridal high topknot, which was called the “horns of jealousy”. In this case, it covered most of her feathers and the horn nubs. It symbolized the bride’s desire to be a gentle and obedient wife.
He needed not test her on the latter, though for the former, he sorely doubted that was a promise she would be able to keep in the coming months...
Kaileena remained calm only with the greatest of effort. The sight of all her friends, here for her, even her sisters among the Kodama, was too much. And Arteth...
He cut a striking figure in his white robes, regal and confident. He was the Firstborn of Surthath, a prince among the Djinn. She’d never thought of that; she was marrying a prince!
“Easy, child...” Hana chided in a whisper, and Kaileena smiled, gracefully heading towards the dais on the center of the pavilion where they stood. Itaku also approached from behind her; as a figure of authority it was his right to oversee the procession. Kiromichi could have too, but Itaku had traveled with her, fought beside her, protected her, been her friend and confidant. She wanted him to do it.
As she passed through the rows of seats, Kaileena was comforted by the approval and joy in the faces she saw. Never in Kazeatari, where she’d lived as an outcast, had she imagined so many would come to support her.
And yet, there she was, marrying the man that she loved, garbed in finery that would shame the wives of any of the nobles of the realm, surrounded by friends and family. Every hardship she’d suffered in her life was balanced twofold by the sheer happiness that filled her in this moment.
Kaileena joined Arteth on the small dais in the pavilion, and after a short pause Arteth began the vows traditionally spoken in Teikoku to forever join a pair of souls; “This woman I swear to marry, in sickness and health. I swear to love this person, respect her, console her, help her, and I swear that death will not part us forever.” (he’d altered that last line slightly, for death to him was hardly an eternal parting), “...protecting our fidelity, honor, and happiness. I thus swear.”
Itaku nodded, “Arteth, Son of Surthath, High Arcanist of the Djinn, will you marry this woman and become her partner? Will you, in peace and war, in sickness and health, respect, comfort, and protect this woman?”
“Yes, I promise.”
He looked to her now, and she nodded, “This man, I swear to marry, in sickness and health. I swear to love this person, respect him, console him, help him, till death part us, protecting our fidelity, honor, and happiness. I thus swear.”
Itaku nodded, “Kaileena, Daughter of Lenao, Master Enchanter, and Uchiki, Silkrit of Moonshadow, Master Enchantress in your own right, Champion of the Hitorigami, Hero of the People of Teikoku, will you marry this man and become his partner? Will you, in peace and war, in sickness and health, respect, comfort, and protect this man?”
“Yes, I promise.”
“Are there any who dispute this claim of marriage?” Itaku said, waiting the necessary time, sharing a look with Rairakku, before concluding, “So be it. By my authority as Commander of the Karyudo Kisai, in accordance with the laws of Teikoku, I declare you, Arteth, and you, Kaileena, to be husband and wife.”
“And so do I...” The Kodama High Priestess added, “Declare this holy union an eternal one, by Anima’s will and your own. May the world offer her infinite bounty freely for your happiness. May you know all of life’s joys, unto the end of time.”
His hands closed over hers, and Arteth leaned down. Kaileena leaned up, and they kissed deeply, and at that moment, the pavilion exploded in cheers. Arteth’s magickal runes flared, his pulse accelerated, and when Kaileena opened her eyes, she gasped as thousands upon thousands of white flakes rained down on them both. White rose petals.
“You have made me the happiest being in all the multi-verse, Kaileena.” he said, his voice soft but rich with emotion, “I thank you, my little fox.”
Kaileena threw herself at him, and he spun her in a hug that, had it contained all his strength, would have crushed her. The minstrels went wild, their music carrying all across the pavilion as they were showered with praise, and all the recent tragedy seemed a distant thing indeed.
The day carried on under a clear sky, and the continuous application of magicka kept the rain of petals constant well into the evening. Hardly did she notice this, however...
As the day drew to a close and the wedding no doubt entered its final, physical consummation, Yokai smiled, for once at something akin to inner peace.
So be it. He would play the hero, and satisfy his oaths to Kaileena. He owed her that much, especially now that he’d slipped away from the wedding and begun his travels. Kaimei would want to know of his release, after all. Much was going to have to change in their plans, if indeed he was still worthy to lead his Kagemusha.
“Do you think they will find their place?” Tengu asked him, her great wings buffeting the lands below them.
“Kaileena and Arteth?” he asked, scratching his chest, at the voided black gem there, “Perhaps they might.”
“And...do you think we might as well?” she asked, in a much smaller voice, and Yokai laughed heartily.
“You never know, my bonded. You never know...”
To be continued in Book 3 of The Enchanter’s Cycle: The Scythe and the Seer