L5R - To Touch the Sky - The final post-WC5 Story

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KakitaKaori
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L5R - To Touch the Sky - The final post-WC5 Story

Postby KakitaKaori » Mon Dec 24, 2018 6:16 am

Melissa (Kakita Harun) and I are working on the final Post Onyx / Post Winter Court 5 story of our big epic.

The other stories in this epic include:
Birds in their Nests http://homeofthecraneclan.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=985
School Days http://homeofthecraneclan.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=882
Chasing the Winds http://homeofthecraneclan.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=906
Ditched http://homeofthecraneclan.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=907
and
The Duty of War http://homeofthecraneclan.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1254

It follows after the end of Ditched and Duty of War, and shows what happens to Arahime after her duel and Harun after his punishment, and how she and Harun will resolve Shiba's last request and how the new age for Rokugan would begin.

Thank you for those who have had the patience to travel with us on this journey.

Kakita Kaori
Last edited by KakitaKaori on Mon Dec 24, 2018 6:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
Kakita Kaori
Kenshinzen of Golden Petal Village and overly prolific fiction writer
http://craneclan.weebly.com/
[Kakita Kyoumi/WC5]

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KakitaKaori
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Re: L5R - To Touch the Sky - The final post-WC5 Story

Postby KakitaKaori » Mon Dec 24, 2018 6:25 am

To Touch the Sky

Second City, Zogeku – Summer 1236





The first ship from the Empire at the end of the summer had long been a cause for excitement in Second City. After the long heat and pounding monsoons had driven all the inhabitants of the city inside, the first round-bellied kobune brought news, tradegoods, and visitors from afar. This last Summer Court had been as turbulent as the bitter monsoon winds. But the last ships at the start of the summer had brought news of the death of Yuhmi and the end of the War with the Onyx. A generation had been in born and grown up under those dark shadows, far from Zogeku.

Now, everything was changing. And the first kobune would carry many of those changes with it. Heimin, Ivindi, and Samurai all found reason to gather at the docks to greet it.

One passenger stood at the railing of that ship, anxiously waiting to dock. He wore the pale blue of the Crane clan, but he was almost as dark as the Ivindi. The daisho on his belt marked him as samurai, a duellist of the Kakita school. Kakita Harun, finally coming to the end of a long journey.

Since he had heard the news confirming that Kakita Arahime was alive, all that mattered was getting to her. Seeing her again, hearing her voice and never leaving her side again. It had been two and a half years since he had seen her, since they had said good bye to her that morning in Tsume. Much had changed since then; war, deaths of those he had cared about, he had changed. Had Arahime? And if she had, how much?

As the ship docked and the crew unrolled the gangplank, Harun saw a face he recognised in the crowd. Kakita Kousuda. The sight of him made him smile...in a strange place, it was a reminder of home.

Like a man used to making his way through many a crowded marketplace, Kousuda navigated a path towards the newly-set gangplank. His eyes widened in recognition as he spotted the young man in blue waiting to disembark. He pushed through the busy crowd of eager rinjin and merchants waiting for their shipments from Rokugan to be the first to greet Harun as he stepped onto the shore. "I had expected only to receive correspondences, Harun-kun,” he said with a bow. “And here I get so much more! What a pleasant surprise. Welcome to Second City."

"It's good to see you too, Oji-san," Harun smiled.

They stepped away from the gangplank while dispatches and supplies for the Crane stationed in Zogeku, like decent tea and sake, were hoisted into the dock. Harun's eyes were everywhere. The different colours and sounds of the Second City. The smell of spices that seemed to permeate the air. It was all new and exciting and he hoped he would see much of it while he was there.

"You look well, Harun," said Kousuda. "Better than I last saw you. Are things...better now?"

Harun knew what Kousuda meant. The last time they saw each other was at Kyuden Hida. Kakita Karasu, Emerald Champion and Harun's adoptive father, had sent Harun to his new posting at Seawatch Castle. A place reserved for embarrassments to the Crane Clan, which was how Harun was seen. His actions in the taking of Toshi Ranbo, shooting Daigotsu Shimekiri with a gaijin pepper weapon during an iaijutsu duel had shaken the clan to its very foundations. It was a flagrant rejection of the traditions of Kakita, and had led to a rift between father and son.

Harun had eventually taken his punishment keenly though, knowing he deserved it though not regretting his actions.

"A little," Harun said quietly. "Father and I spoke before I left." And that was all he would say about it, for now at least. "Is Arahime here?" He asked, his voice brightening a little. "I came as soon as I could, and the journey wasn't fast enough."

Kousuda's face was unreadable to Harun. "Oh, certainly she is here. But all that can wait for later." With a courtier's grace he smoothly changed the subject. "We need to find you a proper place to stay. There is an inn...The Inn of the Silver Lantern...”

Harun raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. Of course, it’s better for everyone that I’m out of sight.

The courtier described the inn and the glories of Second City as they evaded the crowd and the docks and travelled the wide road through the flooded rice-pastures to Second City proper. Ox-drawn wagons passed them along the centre of the road, while to the edges, small merchants booths, unwilling to fight for space in the city to set up shop, crowded either side of the road to sell their wares. The recent monsoons meant planting season had returned, and farmers were wading through the waters, setting the rice. As the huge, Kaiu-built walls of the city’s military district came into view, with the peasant and merchant districts sprawling beyond those walls, Second City was more crowded than any Harun had ever been in before. Once Toshi Ranbo, or Otosan Uchi might have matched this. Not anymore.

Any subtle hesitations Harun saw from Kousuda were immediately swept away by the noise and press of the crowd. So many people, so much noise. It was unnerving. Not just because he was long used to the quiet of the ship and before that Seawatch, but because it reminded him of the fight for Toshi Ranbo. The crush when fighting in the narrow streets, allies and enemies trying to push through. Harun struggled to keep his composure and hoped Kousuda had not noticed.

If Kousuda had, he did not show it. He led Harun to a small inn just inside the imperial district. Low eaves on a red-tiled roof sheltered the wide verandas and open layout of the well-appointed inn. It was square and raised above the level of the streets by a short staircase. Two squat trees with huge leaves as long as a man is tall flanked the intricately carved wooden doorway. A servant, dressed in a lightweight, but simple, yukata, bowed as they approached, and opened the doors.

"Welcome to the Inn of the Silver Lantern," he said, his Rokugani marked with a distinct accent Harun was not familiar with.

Kousuda spoke to the attendant and disappeared inside to make arrangements for Harun’s stay. Harun waited in the courtyard, the lingering heat seeping into his skin. The heat...it sort of hung in the air and never truly dissipated.

Harun could feel beads of sweat running down his back. How did people get used to it?

Kousuda emerged. “It is all arranged. The Embassy is full, and can take no more guests. But here you can bathe and rest, and I will see you at the Embassy at dinner.”

As the servant led Harun to one of the inn’s best rooms, the duellist mostly just felt relief. He would see Arahime soon enough.





That evening, Harun stood before the grand steps leading up to the Crane Embassy. He was early; he had thought to see some of the city on the way, but thoughts of Arahime turned his feet to the building of cool plaster and blue tile.

Another time, he promised himself, with Arahime...

As he climbed the steps, Harun remembered how Kousuda had responded when he had mentioned her. Casually dismissing the question with no more effort than swatting away a fly. Was he trying to avoid telling me something? he wondered.

Harun dismissed the thought, certain that if something were wrong, Kousuda would have told him. There was so much he had been wanting to say to her ever since he had discovered she was alive. How he loved her, he never wanted to be parted from her again, and that he would go anywhere to be with her. Could she ever accept him? He wasn't sure what he would do if she didn't.

The Crane embassy was clearly well-populated, many rooms showing signs of occupation and servants busy cleaning after the day's tasks. However, for now, there were few samurai about: in the cooler evening, many had left to enjoy the pleasures of the Artisan's District.

Impatiently, he asked the servant at the door where Arahime could be found.

"She is training in the dojo. Shall I tell her you are here, Kakita-sama?" the servant asked.

"No, no need," he said. "I will find her myself."

Harun followed the directions the servant had provided until he could hear the rhythmic steps and kiais of a bushi training nearby.

There.

He cracked open the dojo screen open to peek inside. At a glimpse of white and blue, Harun slipped in to stand in the shadows behind a post, stealing the chance to glory in this first moment, and hoping to surprise her.

Harun’s eyes drank in the sight of her, like a ladle of well water at the end of a thirsty day of travel. She was doing the Ten Thousand Days long-form, a Kakita Academy staple. Her movements were as graceful as a bird in flight, her strike as accurate as a heron’s. She wore clothing similar to that he had always known: a lightweight indigo yukata and white silk hakama. Her white hair tumbled down her back in a cascade of curls. He remembered how Arahime would drive herself forward after receiving some particularly embarrassing correction, long after the others had gone to bed, just like this. It was as if nothing had changed.

Except...

The "except" kept him from approaching. At first it was hard to pinpoint what was wrong. He had seen the flash of gold at her neck -- a necklace? That surprised him; Arahime had always laughed such finery. As she pivoted gracefully, he saw that it was more than a necklace – it was an elaborate band, gaudy with gemstones. He couldn’t even imagine her choosing such a thing. But here she wore it, even as she trained. A necklace? Or a collar? he wondered.

The other "except" was more subtle. Her face was beaded with sweat...not unusual given the heat. But her breathing was off. There was a weakness in the way she moved her left arm. She did not strike with the energy he expected.

Her knees buckled and she collapsed to the ground with a tearful curse in a language Harun did not recognize.



Harun shrank back in shock. His immediate instinct was to call out to Arahime, go over to her and give her comfort. But she would never accept that, never forgive him for surprising her in a moment of weakness. And he did not want to spoil their reunion with her anger at his pity.

So, as quietly as he could, he slipped out, gently closing the shoji soundlessly behind him. He closed his eyes and put his head in his hands.

Arahime, how truly awful for you…

They had trained together side by side at the Kakita Academy, lost and won many practice sparring matches between them. And now...something was terribly, terribly wrong. And he couldn't do anything, say anything to her. Not now. she would have to tell him herself.

He composed himself quickly, drawing on his training with the Legions to keep doing your duty, no matter what. Then, he called out loudly, as if he had only just arrived and was looking for her. "Hello?" he called. "Is there anyone here? Arahime? Are you near?"

There was a pause, a gasp, and then Harun heard the sound of footsteps hurrying away.

His heart sank.




He was eventually found in the hallway by one of the embassy servants. Harun was told that Kousuda was ready to meet him to dine. The servant led him to the dining room. He pulled open a shoji screen and stood aside to allow Harun to pass. There, Kousuda knelt alone at the low table; he gestured at the cushion opposite him. Harun knelt as a second servant brought him a damp towel to wipe his face and hands.

As the soup was brought out and the two were left alone, Kousuda finally addressed the gaping void in the room.

"Arahime-chan will come soon. But I first wanted to give you an opportunity to ask your questions,” said Kousuda. “Much has changed for her, Harun-kun. It has been very difficult. She is still my little Wildflower. I do not want her to be hurt any more than she already has been."

Harun met Kousuda's eyes unblinkingly. "Hurting Arahime, Oji-San, would be the last thing I would ever do." He hesitated for a moment, he couldn't lie but how could he say it? "But I have to tell you, I...I saw her practicing. I saw her...her weakness. I shouldn’t have, but it has been years since we have seen each other and I wanted to speak with her...to see her again...I am sorry..." He looked down, the apologies flowing fast from his lips. "What happened?"

Kousuda frowned. "It would be better if you had not seen that," he said mostly to himself. With a gesture, he indicated that Harun could go ahead and eat while he retold the tale.

"Little enough has been spread to the mainland, since communication is limited during the summer,” Kousuda began “I was certain Kyoumi would have told you before you left, but I guess there was no time...”

He picked up one chopstick to roll it between his fingers. "I do not have every detail, but the gist is this. The Warlord was in the process of arranging a marriage between his grandson Seiho and Arahime. Certain forces in the city were against that marriage: it strengthened ties and bonds to Rokugan, while these forces seek greater separation from the Empire. These forces were dragging Arahime's name through the mud to block the marriage, but Ambassador Mushari learned of it and demanded the Warlord commit to stopping it. He removed her from the court under other pretences for her safety and give the Warlord time to act.”

He paused a little, his voice becoming more controlled as he spoke.

“But…an Arashi on the ship had been placed to remove her more permanently,” Kousuda continued. “He threw her from the vessel in an area known for its hostile terrain and its crocodiles, likely believing that she would not even survive to make it to shore.”

He set down the chopstick. "Fortunately...but unfortunately for him, I suppose, she did survive. But there are many dangers in the jungle to one who is alone, without lore or medicine or the gifts of the kami.” His voice grew quiet. “As I understand it, Arahime was wounded and the wound became infected. I will speak no more of it, because to do so is inappropriate, but she came very near death indeed. She says that some of the Shojo...” He blinked. “The wild people that used to live in the jungles...saved her life. But their healing powers must be primitive.” He cleared his throat. “She received a terrible injury. I have had our Asahina look at it. She claims that one of Arahime’s lungs has been destroyed, a rib removed.”

"She returned. Arahime did duel…and succeed…against the man who attacked her.” Kousuda winced. “But beyond the narrow bounds of the single strike..." he shook his head. "Doji Sawao says it would be a cruelty to train her further in the techniques of the Kakita school. That she must come to know and understand her limits, that that path is blocked to her." He had to shake his head, a little admiration in his voice. "He does not know Arahime-chan very well."

Harun’s heart ached. For someone like Arahime...so much potential, so much skill, so much love for the art of the blade. But if her father was right, she could never truly fight again. Never be the Kenshinzen he had been sure she would be someday. His thoughts grew bitter at the irony. In some ways, she had redeemed his actions at Toshi Ranbo, given the Crane and all of Rokugan a shining example of what Iaijutsu was supposed to be. And this was the result for her.



Still, it was just like Arahime to fight against it, to meet a challenge head on and overcome it. Even one that couldn't be. Even one that was staring her in the face. Harun knew all too well that that there were some things that one had to accept, and there were some wounds that would never heal.

Perhaps, I could help her...

"What paths do you see open to her, Oji-san?” Harun asked.

That gave Kousuda pause, and he hesitated before he answered. "I...it is hard to tell. I could teach her the skills of the Ide, what my father taught me, but I began my training as a child. It would be many years before she achieved any mastery, and I am not supposed to pass Unicorn secrets. Her mother's studies with the Shiba..." He shook his head. "Given all that had happened, more recently and in Phoenix lands, that would be a terrible place for her to go, even were she accepted among the artisans. Among the Kakita artisans, I see only a life of sorrow there, so close to the Iaijutsu school, and yet so far. Perhaps I could arrange something with the Doji, if they would accept her." He shook his head. "No. To start so old there, even with our protection, is its own cruelty. I will teach her what I am permitted, but it is probably for the best that we try to arrange a marriage where she will be given a comfortable home and the leisure to do as she pleases."

Even as he said it, Kousuda looked as though he had tasted something sour. The servants came to remove the soup bowls and replace them with a course of sashimi.

Harun’s heart was beating fast, he had waited years and travelled hundreds of miles to speak these next few words. If he did not speak them now, Arahime might be lost to him forever. "I could give her that future," Harun said, his voice hushed and breathless. "To help her, to provide the ground so she can grow as she needs to. Kakita Kousuda-sama," his voice took on a far more formal tone, "I humbly ask for the hand of your daughter Arahime in marriage."

The courtier inclined his head in an expression that Harun could only read as pity. "Oh, Harun-kun. I know you have been fond of Arahime for many years. I would say that she is fond of you. But times have changed now. Perhaps in times of desperation, as with your father and mother, the risk of death was near and we all took our moments as we could. But that is not how it is for the Crane. I am her father and I have to see what is the best way forward for her. What will be done will be what is best for the clan.”

Harun looked down, doing his best to compose himself from the disappointment.

Kousuda went on. "Harun, your mother was my friend, Karasu-sama, my wife’s cousin, and you are like a beloved nephew to me, no matter our lack of blood-ties. You have seen much and changed much since you saw her last. Arahime also has seen and changed much. You knew her once, perhaps very well. But you knew her when you were both little more than children, playing at being samurai. But she is not who she was, and fights to understand those changes in herself. You do not know each other. You both need time to find out who you are before I would choose a husband for her, or a wife for you. If I had the freedom to choose. A luxury I do not have."

Utaku Asuna's mocking words came back to Harun to taunt him again.

She’s never going to marry you...she is going to be traded away like a sack of rice...

After all that had happened, after how far he had come. Those nights he had spent at Seawatch, the fantasies he had had in his bunk on the ship over. Whisking Arahime up in his arms and riding away with her, somehow also with them both fending off half a dozen swordsmen. Unrealistic? Of course, but...

Kousuda interrupted his fractured daydream with quiet laughter. “Believe me, you would not want to be wedded to one such as Arahime unless it was her choice as well as her duty.”

He hasn’t said no, Harun reminded himself. I need to focus on facts not my own anxieties. Kousuda hadn't refused, he had merely pointed out realities. Ones that Harun needed to hear even if he didn't like them. Marriage with the Crane was political, everyone knew that.

But Lord Shibatsu said he could arrange it, Harun’s mind raced. As for the rest...

"Harun?"

"My apologies, Oji-san," said Harun, he cleared his throat. “You’re right. It has been a long time since we saw each other. Things have changed and I know there are...things I need to tell her." He paused again. "But you know, I would never do anything without Arahime's consent. I would never ask her to marry me unless that was what she wanted as well." He took a deep breath. "I guess...what I wanted was your permission, and your blessing, to try. Even if, in the end, she does refuse me."

Arahime's father considered that with a frown, and Harun could see him considering the cost of the duel with Shimekiri, almost smell the gaijin pepper. After an endless moment, however, the older man nodded. "Yes. If our daimyo were to grant permission for such a marriage, I would not contest, and give thanks to Benten. You can try. But be patient with her about raising the issue. I do not want to get her hopes up and see them denied."

A servant came to clear the plates, while a second came and knelt by the courtier, whispering something quietly before hurrying away, closing the screen behind her.

“She will be here in a moment,” said Kousuda.

Harun didn’t think he could bear to wait much longer to see her, but that didn’t stop the butterflies beating in his stomach.



In a few moments the screen slid open, and Arahime entered. She moved gracefully past Harun and sat down next to her father.

She was dressed in a full-length, if light, kimono of light blue, decorated with a bamboo pattern, and her obi, tied up in a traditional butterfly knot, was silver. Her long hair was up in two braids, but the curls that had always plagued her broke loose at every opportunity and still framed her face in white. Her stormy grey eyes and proud features were much the same as Harun remembered. But there were differences. Around her neck, she still wore the thick, collar-like necklace Harun had noticed while she was practicing, ornate with gold and diamonds, jade and pearls, with ivory flowers and a single, large emerald lotus at her throat. Even more exotic, Harun realized that her nose had been pierced in one nostril, and she wore a small gold ring there, similar to the small gold earrings she wore in her ears.

The corner of Arahime's mouth quirked upward in a small grin, taking in Harun's shocked expression. "You're late."

"Late?" Harun repeated, then quickly recovering. "Oh yes, I'm terribly sorry," he said, a sly smile appearing on his lips. "You see, first there was a funeral, and then there was a war. As well as a whole bunch of things that are rather hard to explain, though I think that is something you know about as well." He looked at the necklace and the nose ring. Then he sighed and gave her a genuine smile. "Arahime-chan, it is so good to see you."

Her gaze dropped to the table, her hair shadowing her face and leaving her expression unreadable. "It is good to see you too, Harun-kun. It has been a long time." Her voice was flat, emotionless.

Is she embarrassed? Harun wondered.

He couldn't be sure; she seemed so guarded. Questions could wait until later, until they were alone. He decided to keep things more conventional. "I only just arrived today, so I haven't seen much of the city," Harun said, his tone gentle, conversational. "You'll have to tell me what's worth seeing, everything looks so different here."

Arahime looked up a little. "Of course, if you like...but....How long are you planning on staying?"

Kakita Kousuda smoothly stepped in before Harun could answer. "We can find out about that in the morning. Perhaps you can take Harun-kun when you go to the Ivindi quarter tomorrow?” He suggested. “There has been some fighting with the guards and it would comfort me to know that you did not need to involve yourself."

Despite how politely her father phrased it, Arahime stiffened, though she did not retort and held her tongue. "Of course, Otō-sama." She used the formal suffix.

Kousuda shared a look with Harun, but accepted the answer. He gestured for the servants to bring in the rest of the dishes for the meal and they dined, speaking of the current situation in the city and various sights that Harun should go visit.

Harun listened with interest. He had heard about Zogeku. The almond groves, spice markets, the exotic temples and strange animals. He then related a little of his own travels. The lands of the Unicorn, Dragon and Lion in his wandering year. The lands of the Crab Clan, the Wall, Seawatch. If Arahime noticed Harun skipped a little lightly over his time in the Emerald Legions, she didn't say anything.

At the end of dinner, tea was brought out as well as daifuku which bore the mon of Imperial Treasurer Doji Arami. These had come with Harun to a rather grateful embassy.

"Well," said Kousuda. "I know you've had a long journey Harun and I don't want to keep you much longer."

Harun would have liked to stay, but he knew how to take Kousuda’s hint. He bid them goodnight.




After the pleasantries had been completed and the duellist had left, Kakita Arahime was left alone with her father.

Her insides felt twisted in knots at the sight of him. She had driven herself on through so much just at the thought of seeing him again, but now that he was here she did not know what to say or what to do.

You could dance for him, Big Sister offered helpfully. Arahime could feel the heat rise in her cheeks and she fought to keep her face still. She wished again that the soul within the navrathran haar had not become quite so helpful. At least her father did not appear to notice.

He may have come just to see you.. That was a nice thought. But unlikely, Arahime dismissed.

"Otō-san...” said Arahime. “You said Harun was in the Emerald Legion. Why is he here?"

Kousuda smiled at his daughter. His little Wildflower, thought lost forever, now found and he felt that he could soon be losing her again. She was a woman now, and had to find her own path. But...it was hard to let go.

Should he tell her what he and Harun had spoken of? How Harun had asked for her hand in marriage?

No, not yet, he decided. If something is going to happen there, it needs to develop naturally.

"I think he has left the Emerald Legion to come here, Arahime-chan," said Kousuda. "As for why he is here, why don't you ask him?"

Arahime studied her father's face for a long moment in silence. Finally, she nodded. "I will." She looked down at the bracelet on her wrist. "When are you leaving?"

Kousuda lay his hand on Arahime's shoulder. "Very soon, your mother needs me. I know she is hungry for news, even if she cannot show it. Her duties prevent her from coming or she would have flown here on paper wings if she could. I have passage on the ship that departs in seven days. There is room for two—or three. You should come with me."

Arahime shook her head. "I truly cannot. Shiba gave me one more command and I cannot return to Rokugan until it is done. I will return to Rokugan when I've done it." Shinjo...she is here somewhere. I am sure of it.

"So you have said before," said Kousuda.

Arahime dipped her head in a silent assent.

"Walk with him tomorrow,” Kousuda suggested. “Ask him what he thinks. I know you will do what you must." He smiled ruefully. "Just like your mother."

As they stood he gave his daughter a quick embrace in that private moment.

"I'm sorry, Otō-san,” said Arahime.

"I would expect nothing less of you, daughter,” said Kousuda.

Arahime's heart was full as she returned to her room. Summer is over. Harun is here. Now if I could only spin out the tangled skeins of my own heart.
Kakita Kaori
Kenshinzen of Golden Petal Village and overly prolific fiction writer
http://craneclan.weebly.com/
[Kakita Kyoumi/WC5]

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Re: L5R - To Touch the Sky - The final post-WC5 Story

Postby Kakita_Harun » Tue Dec 25, 2018 9:21 pm

Exciting times!
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Re: L5R - To Touch the Sky - The final post-WC5 Story

Postby KakitaKaori » Thu Jan 10, 2019 11:41 am

Dawn was just cracking the eastern horizon as Arahime walked down the steps from the Embassy to the street to find Harun waiting for her. She was dressed in a cool, lightweight summer kimono of royal blue, with a yellow and white sash that extended from shoulder to her hip over her narrow white obi. She awkwardly carried a white parasol made of paper and bamboo.

"It's supposed to keep the sun off my face. Or if it rains," she explained hesitantly to Harun, as if he didn't know what an umbrella was for. "It's expected."

Harun was wearing the clothes he had brought, but they were thicker and more for the milder Rokugnani climate. The day felt likely to be hot and he could already could feel sweat building up at the back of his neck. "That seems sensible," Harun agreed. "I think I will be fine, I fit more in here than I do in most places...except maybe Shiro Moto." He added the last part with a grin, hoping to make her smile.

It was early on the well-kept streets of the Imperial District; not many people were around yet, crowds only beginning to build. But the multi-storied buildings on both sides fenced them in, giving an almost maze-like sensation. Harun kept peering above them; he had never seen so many tall buildings in one place. Not even Otosan Uchi or Toshi Ranbo were like this.
You can tell who are the newcomers to Second City, Isanko had said to him at Shiro Moto, they are the ones always looking up.

Harun could hardly navigate the maze, but Arahime seemed to know her way, her white parasol a beacon to follow. They reached the gates and entered the Military District. Harun kept his head down, hoping no one would recognise him and embarrass him in front of Arahime.

It was a needless worry; it was Arahime who was being recognised. As they passed an Arashi barracks, several of the descendants of the Mantis stopped when Arahime walked past, staring after her. None said a word.

Harun eyed the Arashi carefully and moved closer to Arahime. He’d heard of no harm done her since her duel, but he still didn’t trust them.

Arahime pointed out the various dojos, accepting the glares of the Arashi. During a quieter moment, sensing Harun's tension, she explained.
"The first ship out of Second City has already left, carrying many to go serve on the Wall. The Warlord declared that it was important for the young bushi of Second City to understand the threats Rokugan faces, but I suspect he is removing his enemies." She hesitated and added, "Some are angry because their hopes were shattered, and I at least played a part. They are afraid they will be sent away to. Others fear change, and I brought it with me. I must accept it if I were ever able to help fix it. Though I don't think I will be able to." Her words were tentative, almost like that of a student, trying to apply a lesson. She shook her head briskly, as if shaking away a mosquito, and gave Harun a smile. "If you are looking for a contest though, the Harada Dojo there..." she points to a building with flags of a deep blue. “It should give you a challenge and be friendly afterwards. They are descended from the Crab styles, but welcome all comers who are quick with a joke." She looked away, "So I am told."

"That sounds promising," said Harun, looking at the dojo for a moment. "But change...it can be good or bad, but I have found it brings perspective. Makes you see what is important and what is not." He thought back on the lonely quiet months at Seawatch, nothing to do but reflect and think. He looked pensive, almost sad a moment, then quickly set his face into a neutral on, hoping Arahime didn't notice.

Arahime paused and turned, her grey eyes studying Harun carefully for a long time. But she did not answer him directly, instead turning away to lead him on away on to the temple district.

The streets were lined with walls of rubble on top of which were perched many colourful shrines.

"This part of the city was destroyed by an Ivindi artefact. Since then, the Warlord has forbidden everyone from going over the mountains to the east. Hopefully that rule will not change for a while, anyway. The Red Hunger helps keep people away too."

"The Red Hunger?" Harun asked.

Another short hesitation before answering. "Many believe one of the giant snakes that can eat elephants roams the lands of the Maharajah. I just know stories....but there are snakes that are very big."

"Snakes?" There was apprehension is his voice as Harun looked around hoping there were none about. They walked among the ruins of the grand temples that had once stood there. "What sort of stories do you know?" He asked her. " I dare say we have a few to tell each other."

"Very, very old ones," Arahime offered back. "And a few new ones. There are only small snakes in the city. They sometimes sun on the stones. Even the big ones, I am certain you have faced many more terrible things already. I want to know your stories. We can find a quiet place to talk if you like."

She said it casually, if offering only to please Harun's whim, but he could see that she was beginning to tire already and the sun was getting hotter. The streets were emptying as rinjin and native alike found a place to rest in the heat of midday.

Harun agreed and they found a cool spot in the shadow of the doorway to a ruined temple. They sat on the steps, shaded by an overgrown wisteria creeper. It was in full bloom, its violet petals falling through the air and catching the various eddies of the wind and carpeting the paving stones with colour.

A canopy of purple, thought Harun, looking up. Then another thought occurred to him, one he didn't keep to himself.

"This is like back at the Academy, the sakura trees in the courtyard," he said to her, watching the petals dance in front of her. "Do you remember? Your brother and Prince Kiseki used to climb up the tree and declared they wouldn't be coming down." He smiled at the memory, hoping Arahime would return his smile, but she was looking down. He continued. "So, you want to know my stories," he said, leaning forward and rubbing his hands together. "That may take a while, and I'm not sure where to begin. What would you like to hear about first? The War? Shiro Moto? Seawatch? No, there's not much to hear from there."

Seawatch? That is where the Crane send embarrassments, right? Arahime thought. But why?...I am sure he will explain....

Arahime settled her kimono about her, setting her parasol open to face the street to shelter them from the sun and ward off nosy onlookers. She then drew two bottles from her sleeve and passed one to Harun. The coconut milk within was cool and sweet. "I'd like to hear about everything," she offered. "But first...Did you find what you were looking for when you went to Unicorn lands? What happened?"

She did not ask him why he was late, but it hung in her words nonetheless.

"What happened?" Harun repeated. "Well, that may take more than a simple afternoon. Including," he added with a nod, "why I was late. But did I find what I was looking for..." His words drifted off and he took a sip of the coconut milk; it was nicely refreshing. "No, I didn't. When I left, when I rode out there I thought I would find answers. A place where I could fit in, belong. And I did...for a while at least." He paused, his eyes glazed over remembering, "What I found out there was far more important. It was I needed to know. And to be told."

"Was it my father who said that?" Arahime asked.

"No," said Harun, "it was mine."

Arahime started, confused. "But Uncle Karasu didn't go to Shiro Moto, did he?" Her brow furrowed as she took in the faint, knowing smile on Harun’s face as he silently encouraged her to guess. The truth slowly started to dawn on her. "You...you can’t mean your birth father, can you?!"

Harun nodded again, his smile widening. "Yes, it was my father's shriyo who spoke to me," he said. "I was at a ritual that opened a gate to Yomi; he practically ran out. He told me I needed to leave Unicorn lands and...some other things..." He took another swig of the coconut milk. "But I am getting a little ahead of myself. I will start at the beginning. In Shiro Mirumoto, I met an Ishiken named Moto Majid...."

Harun told her his story of his time in Unicorn lands. Of Lord Moto Chinua, the duel in Kaeru Toshi, the battle for Shiro Moto, the court that followed...But there were things missing, details that Harun planned to add later on, when he knew for certain that Arahime was ready to hear them. Like Utaku Asuna. When he started speaking of Akodo Zetsubou, his one changed, he grew more serious and quiet and even more so when he spoke of the Sodan Senzo's death.

"That is why I was late, and I am sorry Arahime-chan," he said. "I had a promise to keep to a very brave hero of the Lion, who died so that the taint could be driven from the land. And I thought I could keep both his and yours, but the fortunes deemed otherwise." He gave a wry smile. "Well, that is my confession, or part of it anyway."

Arahime listened intently to Harun's story, leaning in closely, asking questions in particular about the ritual he described, the Unicorn Champion, and what it was like living in a yurt.

"It's funny to think that people like us could be wrapped up in such things,” Arahime murmured. “They sound like something from the Dawn of the Empire. But maybe that is where we need to be. Maybe this is a dawn of the Empire after all. Maybe we're not just here for endings."

"I think endings also mean beginnings," Harun said. "There is a different world coming, after the war. It feels sort of exciting to be a part of it, but I don't think it's here yet."

Arahime considered that, and said, "And you got to see that really happen. Father told me you were at the fall of Toshi Ranbo. You got to be a part of winning the war that we feared would last a thousand years. What was it like?" There was an innocence in her voice.

She doesn’t know....she doesn’t know what really happened...Harun stiffened a little, if she doesn’t know...I have to tell her.

"The War?" Harun repeated. His throat tightened, adding just a slight edge to his words, a quietness and a thoughtfulness that he did his best to hide. "Well, yes, I was at Toshi Ranbo," he said. "I was Chui of Takano Unit. We were on the ships that were first into the city that day.” His eyes glazed over, remembering. “There were so many there, from all the Great Clans...we fought our way to the palace...to the Throne Room itself...” He blinked.

He looked at Arahime. She was so trusting, she had no idea what he had done in the Throne Room. She would never think any Crane, any samurai would betray tradition in such an outrageous way. I can’t...I can’t tell her...not yet, I can’t lose her again, not so soon after I have found her… “I’m sorry,” he said, putting a hand up to his eyes. “It’s just...a lot of people died that day. Good people.”

Arahime nodded. “But you prevailed, their sacrifice was not in vain.”

“Yes, it was,” said Harun, recovering a little.

"I would have gone. You know I wanted to,” said Arahime. “You know I would have asked to go if I had been allowed." There was a defensiveness in her voice. "But I'm glad it's over. I just hope that they don't think people like me were cowards for not being there."

“Of course not,” said Harun firmly, perhaps too firmly. “You were doing your duty as well as any samurai would be. Better even.”

“Thank you,” she said softly.

Besides, it’s probably better that she wasn’t at Toshi Ranbo, and not even because of what I did there…

“After Toshi Ranbo, I was at the Imperial Court at Kyuden Hida, the Crab Champion invited a few people from Toshi Ranbo as guests,” Harun continued. “You know me, I didn’t see much but I did see your mother presented to the court as the new Voice of the Emperor. She looked quite splendid on the dais.”

“I wish I could have seen it,” said Arahime with a sigh. “Did you see much else? Did you go to the Wall?”

“I did,” said Harun with a nod. “I went for a few days with the Crab Champion’s son. It’s…it’s very different there, the Wall, the people there…the Shadowlands itself, it’s hard to describe. They had it so hard during the war, the Crab…but they survived, they stand strong.”
And again, he left out details. Koten, Kumo, Koneko…the whole betrothal with the Hiruma daimyo’s daughter. How could I spoil it for her, this moment we have together? This day?

He broke off. "I think it is your turn to tell me your stories now,” he redirected, giving her an encouraging smile. “I've heard a few things about how you survived the jungle, and your triumphant return...but I would like to hear it from you."

Even just the hesitation of Arahime before she began to speak told Harun that she had changed. And just as there were details he was keeping from her, there were details she was keeping from him.

"When I received the order to go to Second City, I did want to go. I had always wanted to see the distant lands Father had told me of, though I did not think I could,” remembered Arahime. “The City seemed huge, as big as Otosan Uchi, but filled with people. Doji Mushari was very kind, and many I met here were honourable. But some were not.” She paused a moment. “One of those who was not is the Warlord's grandson, Arashi Seiho. He had a fascination...with me" she trailed off until her last words were a whisper.

Harun frowned, he knew very little of Seiho but already did not like him.

Arahime took a deep breath, and she spoke again. “Seiho was too politically powerful to challenge on it, and the Warlord thought he and I were a good match for marriage, at least politically.” She paused again. “Mushari removed us from the city so the Warlord could have a chance to discipline Seiho and bring the court under control without causing an incident. But there was one, at least, Purashi, who did not want the marriage to happen. There were probably more. But those battles are beyond me now.”

She took a careful breath and exhaled slowly. "He caught me off guard when he threw me overboard. I mean,” she added carefully, “I did not trust him, and was ready for a fight, but not for that. I managed to swim to shore, but there was no real beach there and there were crocodiles. You'll see them—well, hopefully you won't see them, actually, but I can show you a picture.” Her voice was bright as she smiled at him and continued. “But I could not stay on the shore there to wait for someone to come because of them. So, I went inland to where at least the ground was not muddy, trying to find a better place to get to the shoreline. There was a tiger. I suppose it was not hungry. And a snake that probably was. I killed it. But I fell and hurt my back."

Arahime's tone was almost embarrassed, as though describing a great failure about an impolite subject "The wound was small, but insects and sickness entered it. Things...” She winced. “I do not remember much after a point. When I woke, I was with...some of the native inhabitants of this land. They had removed the sickness. I got better, but it took a very long time. Eventually they took me to the old Ivory Palace, for they knew a samurai was there who could help me. The samurai was Shiba Tsukimi."

Arahime looked up intently at Harun, and now he could see that there was no more hesitation.
"It happened as I said in court. We shared a meal. She asked me of news of the Empire. We spoke of the Phoenix, and that the heavens needed to tell us what to do if they expect us to do more, and she said maybe they had spoken and we just didn't want to hear. We went to sleep.

“When I awoke, she was there, but it was not her, but Shiba-no-kami. He said he needed to return to Tengoku for balance to be restored, asking me to bring the scroll case and sword to Summer Court. Shiba knew all those people would be there. So after that..." She hesitated another second. "I followed the path to the sea, and met with the Ivindi, because I knew they could help me without stopping me from delivering the sword and scrolls as Shiba wished. "She shook her head. "It was mostly the people of this land that did everything. I owe them a
debt."

Harun listened patiently as she told her story, he didn't say much but noticed that she felt uncomfortable in places.

"You didn't do nothing, Arahime-chan," said Harun. "You survived, that was more that could be expected. And you brought back the truth, that's a lot." He took another swig of the bottle. "And you did more, didn’t you?"

Arahime nodded. "I challenged Purashi. I had hoped he would reveal who sent him. There was no doubt it would have been a duel. In the end, all it ever would be was my word against his. I won the duel. The Yoritomo stance is very wide; they leave their legs vulnerable if you are quick enough, and very few here have ever faced a Scorpion or Crane. Their techniques are more defensive..." she unwound into the technical discussion of comparative technique with the familiar ease that Harun remembered so well, but as she spoke, her hand slipped up to grip the necklace around her throat.

"I wish I could have seen it," said Harun. He wanted to ask her more questions, but then remembered how she had been in the dojo. So he decided to not press it. "The necklace, did the Ivindi give that to you? I don't think I have seen anything like it."

Arahime quickly dropped her hand. "It is from the Ivindi," she said simply, and offered nothing else.

Harun blinked at her reaction. Well, that's a nerve I hit, he thought, Where to go from here?

A little lost in what to do, he brought out his gift for her. He had kept it safe, wrapped in a piece of exotically patterned and strangely scented silk. It was about the size of Harun's palm, round in shape. He held it out to her.

"This has done a number of long journeys to get to you, Arahime-chan," Harun said. "And only the last ones by me."'

"I could not be worthy of a gift that has come so far..." said Arahime.

“It has come so far to get to you,” Harun replied.

"We are classmates....this is far too valuable for simply a classmate..." Arahime objected.

“Not nearly as valuable as seeing you alive again,” said Harun.

Arahime blushed. She accepted it, running her fingers across the woven silk, and then opening it to reveal what was inside inside. "It's beautiful, Harun-kun. But what is it?"

It was a coloured disc made up of other coloured discs, many glass beads in many different colours. Blue, green, red, yellow, purple, gold, grey, all melded together in a circle. And in the centre, a clear circle. "You put it up to the light," Harun explained, "it's glass, so the light goes through it and you see more colours."

Arahime turned the disk in the light, holding it to the sun and casting rainbows through the shadows of the ruined temple doorway. "It catches the sun. Thank you." She smiles.
Then she set down the disk and reached into her sleeve to pull out something for Harun.

"I was going to give you this at the end of the day, but perhaps now is a good time,” she said. “This is from this city. I had hoped to get it for you for when I returned...and I had saved it. But I can give it to you now. Please accept."

She offered Harun a small round object wrapped neatly in an indigo furoshiki cloth.

Seeing Arahime smile was worth so much. After the customary refusals, he opened his own gift.

Within the furoshiki cloth, there was a small round sphere of carved yellowish-brown stone, ornately designed with a pattern of flowers and curved onion-pointed shapes. On closer examination of some of the larger holes in the stone, one can see that another carved sphere of stone is inside the first, and, within that, a third carved sphere of stone, each piece free-spinning one within another.

Arahime looked up at Harun hopefully from under her long eyelashes.

Harun moved it in his hands so the inner spheres moved freely. "This is amazing Arahime-chan, thank you," he said.

He drank in the sight of her. She was so beautiful, framed by the purple blossoms that fell from above and danced between them. They met eyes, for just a moment. A look that perhaps promised more. All that she had gone through, and she had emerged stronger still. Still the same, but more than that.

But it was Harun who looked away first, uncomfortable in the moment. I need to be more honest with her first, he thought, tell her about Shimekiri, and my mother Yamada.
And hopefully, that won't ruin things…


"I've missed you, Arahime-chan," he said.

Arahime steadily held Harun in her gaze, her grey eyes trying to puzzle out his feelings, and her own. "I have missed you too, Harun. Very much. I am so happy you are here. But I need to know: why did you come?"

"Well," he said, taking a moment to consider his answer. "After Toshi Ranbo father—my living one—had agreed it was a good idea that I get some distance from...what had happened.”

“Was this when you were sent to Seawatch?” Arahime asked.

“Yes,” Harun answered, but he didn’t elaborate.

Arahime blinked. But why would they send him there? “I guess it was...quiet?”

“Yes, yes it was,” said Harun. “But it was not long after that when we received word that you were alive and..." He took a breath, choked up with a little excitement. "And after that, it wasn't hard to find a way to get down here. So," he said, as casually as possible, "I came to see you, I guess."

Arahime looked away, trying to hide her blush. But she was drawn back to Harun's face. "That is very sweet, and Uncle Karasu was generous to permit you to come. But without an official duty, I expect you will have to return soon?"

Before Harun could actually answer, he heard footsteps coming from the street towards them.

Arahime lifted her parasol so that they could see who approached. A trio of native Ivindi women came forward and bowed deeply to the pair of samurai, their hands held to their forehands in their sign of deference.

They wore colourful garments of deep yellow and orange, some sort of wrap, that went around the body in a curious way that also came over the back of their head, like the hood of a cloak.

"Aspara, we wish to invite you to my daughter Devika's sagai," the middle-aged woman said in accented Rokugani, nodding to the younger woman beside her. "Your presence and knowledge of our traditions will no doubt be auspicious to her marriage."

The youngest, Devika, smiled shyly.

"Perhaps your friend can come as well," said Devika's mother. "May we know him?"

Arahime touched her forehead and the centre of her chest in response. "It would bring me great joy to share in the joy of your families." She glanced over at Harun. "This is Kakita Harun. Kakita Harun-sama."

It seemed odd she would introduce him like that, until Harun realized she was offering the name and the honorific so the non-native speakers might know the correct term and not accidentally give offense.

The women smiled and gave Harun a second bow.

"He is my....classmate,” Arahime explained. “We went to school together and our families were close."

The third woman, the oldest, her white hair slipping out of the folds of her wrap, gave a toothless smile. "Ah...you have not taken him as your lover yet. That explains his dhang."

Arahime's cheeks blushed and her eyes widened with embarrassment. She blurted out a few phrases in rapidly-fired Ivindi. Harun had never heard her speak a different language before, except for a few halting practice phrases at her father's knee....Kousuda was a linguist, but his daughter was never one for those gifts. The women giggled and spoke back in the same language, but Arahime responded with a terse phrase.

The old woman bowed deeply again to Harun, her face composed in a sincere apology. "I apologize, Kakita Harun-sama. The stories say that to be with an Aspara is the greatest of all gifts. But I know your ways are different, and the Aspara is of your lands. I meant neither you nor the Aspara shame."

"There is no shame," said Harun, quickly finding his voice. "I do look forward to observing the customs of your people. Arahime has been telling me how welcoming you have been to her."

The three laughed at Harun's polite response, and Devika's mother said, "Then you are welcome to come, Kakita Harun-sama. We will be at the house of Bhrigu Mahanti, the Potter, two hours before the sun sets. We thank you."

They bowed again and headed off into the crowd.

Arahime, managing somehow to tame her blushes but still embarrassed, stood, putting her folded parasol over her shoulder. "We've been talking for hours,” she said. “I should return to the Embassy before people start asking questions."

Harun agreed. They left, Harun staying close to Arahime as they made their way back through the Temple District. As they went, Harun felt a pricking sensation at the back of his head. Were they being followed? Harun glanced behind them, but all he could see was a throng of faces, nothing stood out.

He escorted Arahime back to the embassy, cautious as they went. When she was safely inside, he made a leisurely stroll back to the inn. Taking his time, seeing if he could draw the pursuer out. He caught a glimpse of him here and there in the crowd, bald, a green robe and...was that a staff?

A monk?

Now satisfied that he was alone, the monk approached.

"Is it not a little unusual for a monk to move with such stealth?" Harun asked casually.

"Perhaps you don't know much about monks, Kakita-sama," said the monk. "I did want to trouble you with a question."

"Is it of the Tao?" Harun asked. "It seems a little hot to discuss such deep matters."

"No, no, far more pedestrian," said the monk. "Just curious about one such as yourself, garbed as you are, looking as you are have come to the Second City on the first ship?"

Harun examined the monk warily. This might have been an impertinent question for a samurai to ask, but not a monk. "I might ask why a monk is asking such questions."

"You might," said the monk with a wink. "It could be perfectly innocent, it has been years since I was in Rokugan and I could simply be asking for news from home."

"Or it could not be," suggested Harun, grinning. Innocent or not, he decided he liked this monk.

"Let me buy you a drink and you can decide," said the monk, gesturing towards a tavern. "My name is Midori."
Kakita Kaori
Kenshinzen of Golden Petal Village and overly prolific fiction writer
http://craneclan.weebly.com/
[Kakita Kyoumi/WC5]

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Re: L5R - To Touch the Sky - The final post-WC5 Story

Postby KakitaKaori » Tue Jan 15, 2019 4:58 pm

Midori? thought Harun with astonishment, Midori the Monk? The one who met Yoritomo? Who took an epic voyage to Merane? That had faced down a giant Oni with seven legs? Surely, this must be some sort of joke...

If it was a joke, neither of the were laughing. They entered the tavern, Agni's Fire. Aside the worked wood screens, it was similar to others Harun had been in. Places to sit and drink, places to stand and drink, and places where games of chance were played and then the results disputed over outside.

Midori ordered them sonti, a beverage similar to sake in its make and taste. Harun thought it not a bad likeness, though drier than he liked.

"You're staring," said the monk. "Do I have a wart on my nose or summat?"

"No, no," said Harun, shaking his head. "It's just...Midori the Monk, I didn't think you were real."

Midori slammed his fist on the counter and ordered more drinks. "That's real enough, ain't it?"

"I guess," said Harun, taking a sip of the second drink. "But the stories of Midori the Monk, the pirate captain who joined the brotherhood..."

"Hmmm?" Midori said, cocking an eyebrow. "What’s it that they say about me?"

"That you met the Emperor, that you met Yoritomo," said Harun. "That you fought a seven-legged Oni."

"Bah, that last one's not true," said Midori. "The thing had eight legs, not seven. Ripped one off to beat it to death with."

Harun shook his head.

"Does it matter if it's true?" Midori asked.

"I guess not," said Harun.

"Ahhh!" said Midori, smiling and pointing at Harun in satisfaction. "Now, I think you're starting to get it."

Harun smiled back, finished the second drink. It was good, this sonti stuff, but it went to his head deceptively easily. When he looked up again he caught Midori staring at him with a sly smile on his face.

"What is it?" Harun asked him. "Do I have something on my face now?"

Midori shook his head. "No, it's just that a dark face isn't something that is seen often above Crane fashion," he said slyly. "Nor is it oft found close to pale-haired Crane maidens who favour wearing Invindi jewellery."

Harun frowned. "All that proves that you were following me, which I already knew."

"Oh, I know more than that," said Midori, ordering more drinks.

"What else do you know?" Harun asked.

"I know who you are," said Midori said, giving Harun another sly smile. He pointed at Harun again. "Kakita Harun, former Topaz Champion, Chui of the Takano Unit, one of the ‘heroes’ of Toshi Ranbo, the Gaijin Crane, slayer of Shi..."

“Keep your voice down,” said Harun, warily looking around. "And that's hardly revealing if you have spoken to the right people.” He put his cup down; he was starting to have second thoughts about this monk, and his head was starting to spin a little.

"I may already have," said the monk, dropping the jovial tone in his voice and lowering it slightly. "Like your mother, Utaku Yamada."

Harun narrowed his eyes. While his real mother and father weren't exactly a secret, it generally wasn't known by people who didn't know him or had at least known his parents.

So he has either done his research well, Harun thought, Or...he is telling the truth.

"You have my attention," said Harun, lowering his voice as well.

"The Crane girl, there are those who wish her harm," said Midori, his voice low and with an edge of steel.

"She told me that none would touch her," said Harun.

"Bah," said Midori. "The ones I’m talkin’ about don't care about that, and they know how to get close to her."

"How?" Harun demanded, his voice rising a little.

Midori finished his drink. "You're a smart boy, Harun, you'll probably see more traps than your mother did," he said. "You should know what to do."

He stood up.

"You can't tell me more?" Harun asked.

"I can," said Midori, picking up his staff. "But I ain't going to. I'll find you again if I need to." He left the tavern, using his staff as support for his wavering footsteps.

Harun sat there for a moment, stunned in silence by the revelation. Then he stood up, headed out quickly. He had to tell Kousuda.

----------------------------------------------------------------------


Arahime trailed up the steps to the Embassy, leaving Harun behind as he passed through the building's great gates. She left the parasol with the servants of the Embassy, asking in flawless Ivindi for a meal to be sent to her room.

She slid the door shut behind her and sank to the ground. Her side hurt.

Are you all right, Little Sister?


The soul within the navrathan haar seemed as serene and patient as ever.

"Yes." It was just pain. Nothing more.

You like him.


"Yes."

He had changed. She hadn't missed the tightness in his stance, the tension in his broad hands when she asked him about Toshi Ranbo. It truly must have been as terrible as she feared. He did not speak of finding his mother, though Arahime had not forgotten what it was that he had left to seek. There was a great pain there that he was keeping hidden.

She remembered vividly hiding him in a cupboard when the bullies would come to take another swipe at him for his gaijin name and his gaijin skin. How she would threaten to fight the whole school if she had to to protect him.

She could not protect him from what haunted him.


She saw the way he moved, now. The easy grace. The effortless saunter as his blade rode lightly on his hip. The steady confidence. She had walked like that. Maybe not quite the same. But in the way Harun himself leaned over her protectively as they walked, she knew. He was just like her father. Just like Doji Sawao and Asahina Manami who had told her plainly, and the other courtiers who had hinted. Harun did not think she could protect herself. Helpless. Useless.

"I'm not useless!"

The servant sliding open the screen to bring her meal glanced up, nervous and surprised as Arahime said the words aloud. The samurai-ko turned her head away and let the heimin set the tray down and quietly depart.

Is being useless truly what you fear?

Arahime hesitated, and had to acknowledge Big Sister with a slight tilt of the head. "I know what use I am. No school will take me now. I am marked by the gaijin. I will serve to bring glory to the Crane in a prestigious marriage." Not in Zogeku...but Unicorn, Phoenix...Mantis. Someone who would ignore the barbaric reputation she was developing in light of her great revelation and the glory it bestowed. Proper service to the clan in a proper way. And she feared it.


Is marriage what you truly fear?


The spirit within the necklace, the navrathan haar, was calmly insistent, pushing. Arahime's breathing slowed. She closed her eyes and tried to examine her own feelings one by one in the peacefulness of the void.

"No. I don't fear marriage. I fear losing him."

Yes.

Arahime ate her meal in silence, and there was no sense of Big Sister for a time. When she was finished eating, she stood and went to the saraswati veena that had been given to her by the Ivindi. It held a pair of rounded gourds, but had strings like the shamisen she used to play. She knelt and rested one end on her shoulder, her fingers picking out a traditional Rokugani shamisen piece on the unfamiliar instrument. Her fingers fell easily to their places on the strings.

You let the world move you. Like the candleflame, you bend to the breeze created by the wings of others. This is why you fear.

Arahime wanted to deny the truth in Big Sister's words. But all her life she had been bound by her duties and promises and her desire to fulfill all the obligations that had been placed on her. Last of the line of Kashiwa....the line of Kenshinzen since the founding of the Empire. But that line had been broken a generation ago with the death of her grandfather at the hand of Daigotsu Shimekiri. And though she had dreamed of picking up that fallen standard, there was no hope for it now. At least her brother Mushari still served.

Even acknowledging she could no longer be Kenshinzen, she still bent to the will of others. Too much fire and air.

"I cannot oppose my Lord. I have duties to my family and my clan and the Empire. I can't just abandon that to chase after Harun or anything else."

No. But that family does not know the gifts you have. They cannot see your strength, because you have not learned your own strength in order to show them. Once you have learned, then they will see. You will be able to shape your own path, in the courts, in your life. You will show your lord you can still serve in a new way. Is that not what you wish?

She was right. Courtiers were supposed to shape the hearts of men, move the courts, direct the actions of the clan and the Empire. That was what her mother did. Bushi served and obeyed. But if Arahime was to serve without a sword, she must see the world as something that could be shaped, not just survived. Maybe she could shape out a future with Harun in it somehow. And if not, at least she might be able to shape some measure of say in her own destiny.

The schools of the Crane would not teach her those skills. She was too old, and she had been branded with a gaijin taint for the things she had done. They would not accept her now.

I will show you. There are many ways. But you must be patient, with yourself. With me. I can only teach as I was taught. We have been very far apart, lost little sister. You are so innocent. But you can learn.

Images slipped through Arahime’s mind. The concerned looks. The pain. Harun’s easy grace…protecting her, when she was supposed to be protecting him. Helpless

“Teach me.”



When Kakita Kousada returned to his chambers late in the evening, he heard the sound of music coming from his daughter's room. He had been the first to teach her how to pick her notes out on the shamisen, taught her the traditional melodies of Rokugan, and a few from the lands of his travels. He had seen the strange instrument the Ivinda had given her, the songs she had played before on it were familiar, a peaceful reassurance to him as he drifted off to sleep that his daughter was here and unharmed.

But tonight, the instrument twanged with a completely new melody, quick and resonant, similar in many ways to the gagaku music he was so familiar with, but building into dancing crescendo that was beyond the capabilities of the shamisen and accompanied by a sustained drone from the extra strings. It was not displeasing, and yet, thoroughly...gaijin.

I am losing her. I need to take her home, but she will not go. And I am losing her.

----------------------

Kousuda was still lying in the sweltering darkness, seeking Yumi-Do, when an Embassy servant rapped on the door to his chamber. He bore a terse message from Kakita Harun, begging to see him even if he needed to be roused from his bed. Kousuda sent the servant away to show the boy in and roused himself, straightening his indigo juban. Nights like this would make any man go gray. He took the moment to lay out his tea set.

Harun entered, rumpled and sweaty, as though he’d walked the day in the city and not yet had the chance to bathe.

"Konichwa Harun," the older man offered. "I do hope this late arrival of yours isn't serious."

"I am afraid it is, oji-san," said Harun, sitting opposite him.

While Kousuda poured the tea, Harun outlined the conversation he had had with Midori the Monk earlier that evening. Kousuda's kept his face carefully controlled, his on perfect, but it was only a mask for his worry.

"Are you sure you can trust this?" Kousuda asked, his voice low and tense.

"I'm not sure," said Harun. "But I think it is a mistake to not treat it as serious, given the tension with the Rinjin."

"That is true," Kousuda said, thoughtfully. He took a sip of tea. "What did you say the monk's name was again?"

"Midori," said Harun. "I thought it was a joke..."

"Wait!" Kousuda said, putting down his teacup and snapping his fingers. "Midori....Waito?"

"Waito?" Harun looked at him in confusion.

"Midori the Monk was Yoritomo Waito, before he joined the Brotherhood," said Kousuda. "Did he speak like a Mantis? Like a pirate?"

"He did..." said Harun, remembering. "Why? He is certainly a monk now."

Kousuda shook his head, remembering. "Desert cats don't change their spots too easily. I know he wanted to make good, after what had happened..."

"What happened?" Harun asked.

"It was before you were born, in the darkest days of the Onyx War,” Kousuda explained. “The Mantis were being led by a man, Yoritomo Ichido. He claimed to hold the power of Yoritomo, and bore Yoritomo's kama. He did hold a great power, power he needed to save his people. But that power was given to him through an artefact of dark and evil magic...a Black Scroll. That scroll was given to him by the monk you met. Yoritomo Waito as he was named then.” He sighed. “As I understand it, this all came to light in a meeting in the Emperor’s chambers. Much that happened during that meeting is held secret. But the Emperor understood, considering the dark times and the ways many clans had sinned, that it was done to allow the Mantis to survive. He permitted Waito to retire to make amends. This was very unusual. Waito was a charismatic and charming man, and we all felt then that he had acted out of the best intentions. But the harm done by using the Scroll did a terrible blow to the heavens, a sacrilege which will never fully be made right. Kyoumi and I have done our best, over the years, to make things better. But I don’t think that our relationship with the heavens will ever truly heal."

Harun listened to this thoughtfully. "Why would he be sneaking around like this if he is trying to ‘make amends’?" he asked. "It all sounds a little...sordid."

"Yes, that word aptly describes Waito,” Kousuda agreed. “Though if it would describe Midori...well, he could have presented this information to the Embassy at any time. A Daidoji escort could be provided for Arahime immediately. He could have come to me...her father and a man he knows. But he chose not to. He came to you. A stranger to him. Why?"

He steepled his fingers, thinking aloud.

"He is a man who would, at least once upon a time, do anything, no matter how evil or how much dishonour it brings him....use a black scroll, sacrifice his samurai status, lie, steal...to achieve his goals,” Kousuda continued. “While those goals might be most worthy, it is important to know what those goals are. He is loyal to a fault. So who is he working for now? He did not share those things with you."

"No, he didn't," said Harun. "I think he wanted me to trust him. That's why he gave the warning. He also told me he had known my mother Yamada...did he?"

"We shared a winter court. They were acquainted,” answered Kousuda. “I would not say that he was a man your mother was close to or confided her secrets to, but he knew her. It was a small court, and Yoritomo Waito made a big impression.” He thought a moment. “I think you are right...he wished for you to trust him. And I doubt his warning was made with ill intent." Kousuda's dark eyes looked away, as if reflecting on a lifetime of memories. "It is important, I suppose, that you remember there are good men, and evil men, and many who are some of each. Now....what about this threat to Arahime-chan?"

"He wasn't specific," Harun said. "He said that there were those that wished to do her harm and they knew how to get close to her. I would not have thought there was anything in it if I hadn't seen it for myself." He paused, looking down at the table. "The Rinjin, looking at her as we passed them yesterday..." He looked up at Kousuda with pleading eyes. "Oji-san, how much longer is she going to be here? Surely with the danger to her, the best place for Arahime-chan to be is back home in Rokugan."

"I know, and I have said the same to her, Harun-kun," said Kousuda with a sigh. "She feels that she has a duty to stay."

"A duty?" Harun asked. "For what?"

Kousuda shook his head. "I do not know. I think it is related to what was asked of her by Shiba-no-kami,” he said. “But she will not say. She believes I will stop her if she tells me." He sighed. "I need to leave and return to Rokugan, and soon. Kyoumi deserves word of how Arahime fares, and the Daidoji will get angry with me if I linger longer. Perhaps you will be able to find out what I have not. Or maybe you can convince her to leave."

"I don't think I will be able to convince her if she feels so strongly," said Harun. "But…” To Kousuda, he sounded like an eager child, begging to be taken to the marketplace. “...I could stay here with her, it's not as if I have anything to get back to, save going back to Seawatch, and this is one duty I will undertake gladly."

Despite misgivings, Kousuda relented. He means well, at least. "For now, certainly,” said Kousuda. “Watch her. If the opportunity arises to find out what her goal is, or to persuade her to come home, then take it." He allowed his expression, then, to turn dark...finally allowing the true depth of his concern to show, if only slightly. "I must tell you. Things have changed, since she was lost. Not merely the injury. There is more; I cannot put my finger on it. I need you to keep her safe. I need you to bring her back, Harun. Hopefully this threat is nothing. Midori heard some random mutterings from some angry Arashi upset that their coup was thwarted, and he is using it as a way to win your trust. But she could use your help."

"I will," promised Harun solemnly. "I have noticed the change in her myself, it is...hard to explain. But I am hoping, with time, she will tell me herself."

Soberly, tiredly, Kakita Kousuda answered, "I hope it will be so. Let me know if anything happens."

Harun bowed. “I will disturb you no longer, oji-san,” he said, departing.

Kousuda returned to his futon, but all hope of Yumi-do was lost.

------------------------------------



I’m not really disobeying my father, Arahime thought with a slight pang of guilt as she scrambled, carefully, down the drooping flowered creepers that hung near her window and let herself fall with a thud to the manicured garden below. After all, he never really told me I could not leave. She just had overheard him ordering the Embassy guards to not allow her to leave until he returned. That she had hid from him after overhearing after that…well, truly she was doing the guards a favor. She would not want to inconvenience them by making them go to all the trouble of finding her and stopping her. I’m sure they’ll even thank me later for letting them have such a peaceful afternoon.

Besides, she thought. Harun was invited too. He’ll guard me.

Arahime shoved the pulse of anger at that deep inside as she trotted across the cobblestones towards the gates between the Imperial District and the Military district. It was broad daylight. The Rinjin all had been ordered not to touch her. Surely she should be able to defend herself from common bandits! “I can defend myself against a few bandits, she grumbled to herself. But Harun was invited anyway.

After a deep breath, she pushed the jealousy aside. She did feel grateful to the Ivindi for the invitation to the sagai. Sometimes it seemed like her father wanted to keep her like a caged bird. She’d been trapped in cages too long.

A few inquiries about the distinctive Crane samurai quickly directed Arahime to the military district and the Harada Dojo she had pointed out to Harun the day before.

There he was, naked to the waist like the other bushi there, training in the heat of the day. He stood before them, a few Crab but also some Lion,watching him do the Thousand Days long form, his training sword a blur as he moved. Arahime sidled up to the window and peeked in, masking the twinge of pain that reminded her that such feats of endurance was beyond her now.

But still, it was something to watch Harun dance with his blade, the practice sword painting the sky with his motions. It was comforting, reminding her of the days at the Academy when they used to watch each other to critique their form.

It was familiar…and yet different. He had clearly improved since the Academy, not just in technique but in confidence.

What would he be like to face? Arahime wondered.

She noticed the scars that crossed Harun’s skin, from battle no doubt. And then as he turned, something else on his left shoulder blade. A tattoo.

The corner of Arahime’s mouth twisted in a quiet smirk. So, how many other things have you not told me, Harun?

The blade was stilled, and a younger student passed Harun a towel to wipe his face. The bushi crowded around him and Arahime could hear bits of their discussion, comparing techniques. Harun gave a nod and all but one of them stepped back.

The two took up fighting stances and bowed, then stared each other down. Harun’s opponent was slightly bigger than he was, but that didn’t matter; Harun was faster. He attacked first, lunging in with his practice sword before his opponent could guard. Arahime couldn’t even see it, but she knew where it went. His opponent tried to attack again, but Harun was ready with an upward diagonal cut, throwing him back.

He’s good. He’s very good. The realization hurt.

But where Harun’s kata showed purity in form, sparring showed the changes in his technique. Faced with an opponent, Harun’s style was fiercer, more aggressive. Even so, Arahime sensed that he was holding back, keeping his true strength in reserve. Like a hidden fire.

Arahime had begun to slowly turn away when Harun saw her. He stopped, staring at her in a white hot fury.

“Arahime! What are you doing here?” He ran out of the dojo and dragged her inside, looking around as they went as if he expected assassins to jump out from every shadow.

“I…I came to take you to the sagai” she said choked out, face flushed with embarrassment. “It’s starting soon, and we promised we’d go.”

“I was going to come for you,” said Harun. “You didn’t have to come here; you shouldn’t be here.”

Arahime glared at him, letting the anger cover her shame. “I can take care of myself.”

“I know…it’s just…” Harun took several deep breaths to calmed down. “I’m sorry I got angry with you, but I get worried.”

“It’s fine,” she answered, her hand forming a fist at her side. Helpless.

Harun quickly introduced Arahime to the other bushi. Most of them were guards or Yojimbo, but Matsu Hayate was gunso of his unit.

“I need to wash,” said Harun, drying his face with the towel and draping it over his shoulder. “Arahime, you need to stay here until I get back.”

“We will stay with her, Kakita-sama,” promised Matsu Hayate.

“Thank you,” said Harun.

Arahime glared at his departing back. She had once more been put in her place.
Kakita Kaori
Kenshinzen of Golden Petal Village and overly prolific fiction writer
http://craneclan.weebly.com/
[Kakita Kyoumi/WC5]


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