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

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

Postby KakitaKaori » Thu Mar 28, 2019 6:19 pm

The tenement building where the Spider were gathering was three stories high and had several entrances on the ground floor. This was the place’s strength—and also its weakness.
As the moon rose over the Second City, the Arashi bushi took up their positions. Harun waited in a doorway for Seiho’s signal, the small group he had been asked to lead waiting with him. They followed him willingly, despite even the youngest of them being older than him. But, given what Seiho had said about him, Harun wasn’t surprised.
From where they were, Harun could see the entrance to the building. People passing by, no one stopping as they passed the doorway. All quiet.
He then heard the measured tread of soldiers as the Arashi bushi walked down the street. Seiho in the lead.

It begins, thought Harun.

He led his men around the rear of the building. Harun held up a hand; they halted, waiting. They heard the shouts of the Arashi, the clash of steel and crash of wood as they forced their way into the building.
Harun gave the order to attack. They shouted as one, drawing their weapons and rushing through the door. They smashed into the Spider who were running away from Seiho’s onslaught, from the other groups that had forced their way in through the other entrances.

The ring of steel on steel, the rush of people…the noise…the hot blood…it was all so familiar. And Harun liked it. There was nothing here but the will to survive, and not just for himself but the soldiers who looked at him for direction. All uncertainty, all doubt about himself, fell away in the heat and din of battle.

He saw Seiho, a whirl of steel as he swung his kama—one in each hand—blood pouring down his wrists as he cut his enemies down. The pincers of their attack had merged.

Seiho grinned at Harun as he sank his kama into the head an enemy. “Is this what you do for fun, Kakita-chui?”

Harun shrugged. “I have other pastimes.”

When the Spider were finished off, they searched the building.
“This looks to be all of them, Arashi-sama, but we will continue to search,” an officer said to Seiho.

“Looks like we took them by surprise,” said Seiho, grinning again.

Harun shook his head. “This can’t be all of them…not with several cells coming together. Let them check everyone with jade.”

The Arashi officer looked to Seiho who nodded. The officer left. “They can hardly be hiding behind every shadow,” said Seiho.

Harun ignored this. He looked around. It couldn’t be this easy. There had to be more to this.

An Arashi bushi approached Seiho. “Arashi-sama, we have found something.” He handed Seiho a ratty scroll.

Seiho unrolled it, frowning. Then handed it to Harun. There were small pictures of everyday items, a cup, a furoshiki cloth, a spoon. Next to each item there was another decoration. A spoon… The symbol of the spoon was next to a curving symbol that Harun recognized as the decoration that hung above the Warlord’s palace. Another spoon lay by a stylized image of a crane with a chain around its slender neck. Arahime “It’s a list of targets…” he realized, speaking aloud. At the bottom of the scroll was something Harun couldn’t read.

“That last bit is Ivindi,” Seiho explained. “Don’t know what it says.”

They heard shouts from the next room. “What’s this?”

Harun tucked the scroll underneath his armour.

Two Arashi came forward with a prisoner. An old man in dirty rags, he was thrown on his face before Seiho.

“We found this one hiding,” said an Arashi. “Shall we kill him now or later?”

Seiho looked down at the prisoner. So did Harun.

“Have mercy, great lords,” said the prisoner, his voice muffled from being pressed to the floor. “If you have compassion, spare my life.”

“Your masters, is this all of them?” Seiho demanded.

“No sama,” replied the old man.

“Where are they?”

“Gone sama.”


The old man dared look up. “I don’t know sama…they…they don’t tell me anything.”

Seiho shook his head in disgust. “There’s nothing there.”

Harun frowned at the old man; he wasn’t so sure. They just happened to find this old man when the house had been a battle site not so long ago.

His mind went back to the wall. The ring of Crab bushi that surrounded him as the Crab Champion’s son made him take the Test of Jade.

We all do it, Harun, no exceptions, Hida Nasu had said.

As Seiho started to turn away, Harun held out his jade finger. The Arashi bushi next to Seiho looked at it. The heimin seemed to notice this. He turned, ever so slightly, but this was enough to see what Harun held in his hand.
“Get back!” Harun screamed. With one hand he reached for his sword, with the other he pulled as many back as he could, one of them was Seiho.

“What?” Seiho asked, confused, as there was an explosion of blood and taint.
Most of the bushi had heard Harun’s warning and had had time to react. But not all of them. Some were caught in the blast, lying writhing on the floor.

“Jade! Now! Everyone!” Harun bellowed.

“Archers!” shouted Seiho as he got to his feet. “Take out that Maho-Tsukai!”

The Tsukai made a gesture, the arrows bounced off with no effect. They surrounded him, weapons ready, but no one wanting to engage. The Tsukai reached into his clothing, pulling out a dagger.

“Stop him!” Harun shouted.

They loosed arrows again. But this time they got through, landing in the Tsukai’s arms and legs, streaming blood everywhere. He smiled.

“No…no…” Harun murmured.

The Tsukai waved an arm, spraying blood everywhere as he recited an incantation. There was a low moaning from the bodies on the floor, they began to move, to stand.

“To arms! Attack!” Seiho shouted, attacking with his kama in a fury of steel and rage.
Harun didn’t think, he just attacked. It was a mad, desperate fight. Worse than before as they constantly had to evade the undead’s touch. They pulled back and back, and they kept coming and coming.

Somehow…and no one ever knew who…a lamp was knocked over. The flames began to spread, catching on the debris on the floor, climbing the walls, engulfing them in smoke. Taking advantage of the flames, the maho tsukai turned and charged up the stairs.

This is good, Harun thought, doing his best to push the risen dead into the flames. Dangerous, but good.

“Pull out!” Seiho shouted to his men as he slammed two undead, one with each kama. “Take down as many as you can!”

The Arashi began to withdraw, pushing as many undead as possible into the spreading fire as they went. The flames quickly surrounded them, licking around the room, lacing up the staircase. A flaming beam crashed to the floor, cutting off the nearest exit. The Maho-Tsukai disappeared into the chambers at the top of the stairs. His clothes on fire but he did not appear to care.

“Go! You get out too!” Harun said. “I can take him!”

“No,” said Seiho. “We’ll take him together.”

The pair of them charged up the burning staircase, quickly gaining ground on the old man. He turned to confront them, flames dancing around them all. But between the two of them and the fire, the Maho-Tsukai was outmatched. Harun’s katana was fast, Seiho’s kama seemed to be everywhere. Together they drove the Tsukai back into the flames, their jade-coated weapons burning the Tsukai’s flesh, making him scream. The Tsukai tried to get off another spell, but Harun sank his katana into his chest; Seiho’s kama severed his head.

They quickly jumped back as Tsukai fell into the fire, the flames lessening the explosion of taint somewhat. Harun turned to run back the way that they had come, but found the staircase burning heavily behind them, the rooms below an inferno.

Need to get out, need to get out… Harun’s thoughts raced as he looked for a way out. The flames continued to climb higher; the smoke was suffocating.

He finally found a window, but as they approached it, flames licked across the ceiling. Wood groaned in pain, and then split with a loud crack, sending down an avalanche of burning debris down upon them. Burning boards and plaster fell on them both, sparks scattering like fireworks.
The sparks burned Harun’s face and hands, but he was able to shove the wood free quickly. But Seiho was pinned, dazed from a blow to the head that had left him stunned. Choking for breath, Harun pulled the burning wood off him, the flames scorching his fingers. Seiho’s face was red and peeling with burns, his eyes shut fast.

“Seiho! Get up!” Harun shook him awake.

Seiho stirred. Reaching out with a hand towards Harun and then touching his own face. “My eyes! I can’t see! Oh, Kami...”

“It’ll be bad for us both if we don’t get out now,” Harun said.

Seiho coughed, struggling to sit up. “I...We’re not going to make it,” Seiho said. For the first time Harun could hear fear in his voice. “Fortunes...Harun...I’m sorry…I’m sorry about everything.”

“I’m not the one you need to apologise to;” Harun felt his frustration rising, drowning out his own fear. “And I’ll see that you give it to her in person. Now get up!” He grabbed Seiho’s flailing hand to heave him to his feet.

Seiho’s hand gripped his. Harun guided him through the flames towards the window. With a quick kick, Harun took out the window frame. Below they could see the ground where there were people gathered. Some were watching the fire, others forming a bucket chain to try and put out the flames. Some Arashi bushi then looked up and pointed at Harun and Seiho. The ground looked a long way away.

“We’re going to have to jump,” Harun said. “Get ready!”

They jumped together, landing hard, but without serious injury. Harun immediately collapsed onto the ground, letting his exhaustion take him. The Arashi surrounded Seiho, talking frantically. He was alive…thanks to Harun.
Kakita Kaori
Kenshinzen of Golden Petal Village and overly prolific fiction writer
[Kakita Kyoumi/WC5]

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

Postby KakitaKaori » Thu Mar 28, 2019 6:19 pm

It was the next afternoon when Harun returned to the Crane embassy.
A shugenja attended to him at the Arashi barracks before he left, but not before he had seen Seiho whisked away on a stretcher.
After asking for Arahime, Harun went to the garden watching the fish swirl around in the pond. He felt flat, the excitement of the raid drained out of him. Would she see him? Was she still angry?
When I left Rokugan, my path was so clear…
he thought with a sigh.
He sat down on the bench, deep in thought.

Arahime peeked around the pillar towards the entrance. The servants had carried word that Harun had returned, but she wanted to see for herself.
Some footsteps brushed the shoji nearby, and she pressed herself into the shadows. Hiding like this isn’t honourable, she thought. But what do I say to him, with my petty jealousy? It’s not his fault I was hurt. Once the footsteps had passed, she stepped out again to see her father approaching the figure in the entry hall.
The figure turned. Well, he’s all right. A few bandages on the backs of his hands, maybe. A missed night’s sleep. Nothing worse than that. That’s good.

Would she take him with her to Journey’s End Keep?
It couldn’t hurt, could it? At least for as long as it took to sort out what he really meant to her.
And more important...for her to find out what burden he was carrying. And why he was at Seawatch Castle.

“Keep balance. You cannot bring balance to others when you are unbalanced yourself… Big sister, again. Arahime took a deep breath and released it slowly.

Arahime watched her father approach, but lingered for a moment as they spoke.


Harun turned to see Kousuda approaching him. “Oji-san,” he said, making a bow.

“Heard you had a time of it, last night,” said Kousuda. “It is a relief to see that you are unharmed.”

“Thank you, but not everyone was,” said Harun.

“Oh yes, I heard about the Warlord’s grandson,” said Kousuda. “Will he recover his sight?”

“They don’t know,” admitted Harun. “In time perhaps? The Morishita who attended him were not certain.”

“It is a cruel fate, even for him,” said Kousuda.

“I agree,” said Harun. “So, you leave for home tomorrow?”

“I am,” said Kousuda. “Arahime is determined to stay…for the time being at least. There is something I wished to ask of you.”

“Anything to help,” said Harun amiably.

“Arahime told me her path takes her to Journey’s End Keep,” said Kousuda. “I want you to go with her.”

Harun looked down. “I…of course I will, but…will she accept me?”

“She understands,” said Kousuda. “I had hoped you both would come home with me, but…you staying here with Arahime means I can leave with a clear conscience.” He looked directly at Harun. “You need to swear to me to do as she says.”

“I promise,” said Harun without hesitation. “And I will make sure she makes it home safely.”

“That I don’t need to ask,” said Kousuda.

“Oji-san,” said Harun. “There is something I have to tell you…before you go.”

“Yes?” Kousuda’s voice suggested that he might not like what Harun was about to reveal.

“While I was at Seawatch, my mother came to see me,” Harun said.

Kousuda was very still. “Your mother…Yamada?”

Harun nodded.

The former Ide was silent for a long, long time. “Well,” he said at last. “I suppose it makes sense she would try to find you. How was she? How did it go?”

“Not well,” Harun admitted. “We…we had words. About the Black Hand…about how she gave me up…” He looked into the pond. “Part of me wishes that I had not said them, but I knew I needed to.”

“And how did she take this?” Kousuda.

“She accepted what I said…in the end,” said Harun. “But I still don’t understand…”

“Harun,” said Kousuda a little sternly. “Do not think for one moment that your mother gave you up willingly. Did you know that she lived with us when you were born? I saw for myself how she cared for you, how she loved you, and how it cut her to the core to leave you.”

“But why?”

“Because sometimes you have to choose between two courses of action that are both right…or both wrong,” Kousuda said. “And I think you know something about that already.”

Harun didn’t answer.

“I know it is difficult to understand her sometimes, I struggle too sometimes and I perhaps have known her the longest.” A small smile settled on his face. “Did you know that she saved my life?”

Harun turned in surprise. “She did?”

Kousuda nodded. “Years ago, in the Jewel of the Desert, but that’s a story for another time.” He pulled out a folded, sealed piece of paper. “Here is a letter, it explains everything for Ide Ujinari who Senchou at Journey’s End. You should have some help as well, Kaiu Oda and his wife Megumi will be meeting you there.”

Harun took the letter. “Who are they?”

“They work with Kyoumi,” said Kousuda. “They’ll explain it better themselves.”

“This sounds like a way for you to keep an eye on us after you leave,” said Harun.
“Well, a little,” said Kousuda with a chuckle.

They watched Arahime approach. She looked calm, quiet. She acknowledged them both with a nod

Is she still mad at me? Harun wondered. He couldn’t quite tell if this calmness was just the wall she held back her anger at him. He decided to ignore it, at least for now.
“Arahime-chan,” he said, bowing. “The raid went well, we managed to kill all the Spider samurai. But it looks there could be more, elsewhere.”

Arahime considered this. “So, the threat to me is still there?”

“I doubt they will try again, after the mess we made,” said Harun. He reached into his clothing and pulled out the scroll from the raid. He unrolled it and showed it to her. “We found their plans, the targets they had chosen. Everyone is being put on alert.”

Arahime didn’t appear to hear him. “May I…see that…”

Harun gave her the scroll.

She read it carefully, reading it all the way through down to the bottom. To the part that was written in Ivindi. “This is worse,” she said softly. “These Spider…they’re going after Shinjo.”

“What?!” exclaimed Harun and Kousuda at once.

“That’s what it says here,” says Arahime. “I’m not sure why it is in Ivindi, probably because not many Zogeki can read it.”

“And you can?” Harun asked, raising an eyebrow.

Arahime looked up at him, but did not answer.

“Arahime-chan, Shinjo is very well protected at Journey’s End,” Kousuda said. “She lives, but has been encased in crystal for a number of years. Ever since she was shot with the tainted arrow by Kanpeki. It would be hard for them to be a threat to her…not without freeing her.”

“And the Unicorn have tried to free her,” Harun added. “I don’t doubt you,” he quickly added, seeing Arahime’s dismay. “If you have a way to help her…or free her…I know the Unicorn would be grateful.”

Kousuda nodded in agreement.

Arahime rolled the scroll back up. “ I hope I do,” she said. “I just hope we can get there in time.”

The next day, Kousuda departed for Rokugan. Harun and Arahime came with him to the docks to see him off.

Harun’s farewell to Kousuda was brief, they had said everything they needed to the previous day. Harun then walked some distance away to give Arahime and her father some privacy.

Kousuda embraced his daughter, just as he had done many times since she was a little girl. He hoped, by taking her in his arms, he could protect her from all harm, whisk her away so she would never be in danger again. But he couldn’t; she wasn’t entirely his anymore. She had returned to the world with a new maturity and insight beyond her years. And then there was Harun, ready to take her by the hand once she was ready.
“I still do wish you were coming back with me,” Kousuda said. “I know we have decided, but I did promise your mother.”

Arahime gave him a bundle of letters, tied with a blue ribbon. “One of these is for her,” she said. “Hopefully this explains everything. I’ll write to you as soon as I get to Journey’s End. I’ll be home as soon as I can.”

Kousuda smiled. “You’re even more like your mother than you were before.” He tucked the letters into his kimono.

It was time to go.

Harun and Arahime stood side by side on the docks as they watched Kousuda’s ship depart.

This wasn’t part of the plan, Harun thought, but perhaps, this is better…

Several days after Kousuda’s departure, the Warlord gave a reception at the palace inviting the notables in the Zogeku houses as well as from the Rokugani embassies. Doji Mushari and Sawao were invited, along with Harun and Arahime. Harun was reluctant to go, but he couldn’t see a way out of it. So, he went with the Crane party to the palace. His court clothes were heavy in the humid evening, his swords on hip but peacebound. The guards were checking invitations at the palace gates, yet when they saw Harun with the Crane they made a bow and let them though.

“It seems that your reputation precedes you even here,” Doji Sawao said dryly to Harun.
Harun frowned; he didn’t like it but said nothing. He glanced quickly at Arahime but she didn’t seem to notice. She looked rather distant.

The palace gardens were alive with light and colour and music. Bright lanterns hung from poles, the air was filled with perfume and saffron. There were also entertainers wandering around the party. He could see a woman with a snake draped around her shoulders. A man who ate a flaming torch and then spat out a burst of flame. And a tall thin woman who seemed to swallow a sword. A straight one, fortunately, Harun didn’t like the idea of doing that with a katana.

It was a fairly informal affair. Chairs and couches were groups around tables throughout the garden. Servants walked around with trays of food and drink.

Mushari was approached by an acquaintance. Sawao stayed at his side. Harun looked for somewhere to sit down with Arahime following benignly behind him. She still looked distracted.

I have to talk to her, Harun thought, there’s so much I know she hasn’t told me. Could she still be mad at me?

They found a seat to one side of the reflecting pool. Arahime sat down, staring at the fireflies among the water lilies.

“Arahime?" he said gently. “I…I wanted to apologise to you for my behaviour. Coming back and seeing everyone treating you differently…I understand it must be frustrating.”

Arahime sighed. “It is,” she said. “But perhaps…things have to be different. After what happened, after what I went through.”

Harun looked at her carefully. Perhaps this is the time to final ask her.

“Arahime, what did happen, out there in the jungle?” Harun asked.

Arahime didn’t answer.

“Look, I swore to protect you,” said Harun. “To do whatever you say. You can tell me.”

“All right,” she said with some resignation. “When I was with the...people who found me, in the jungle...they were not human. The people here call them shojo, though that is not their name...only those that have been exiled for falling to human vises. I was dying when they found me. They couldn’t speak to me, though. They gave me this.” She touched the necklace she wore. “It…translates for me, that’s how I know Ivindi.”

“But it does more than that, doesn’t it?” Harun asked.

Arahime nodded. “I…I know things now,” she said. “Not just the dancing and the music…it’s has...memories…I guess you would say. So I remember things.”

“Like at the sagai?” Harun asked.

“Yes,” she said, nodding again. “But…when I remember, I remember being...not like myself. Being someone else. It is strange…but it feels good. It feels good not to feel useless. Helpless.” She smiled a little. “I feel confident, like I know just what to say. What to do. Like I still serve a purpose.”

[Harun frowned, if it was up to him he would take that necklace off her. “Are you surethis is a good thing?” He asked sceptically.

Arahime frowned. “It helps me help people. It helps me be useful to someone. .It does not feel evil.”

“I don’t know,” said Harun. “All I know is if you stop feeling like yourself, it could be because there’s something else taking over.”

“It’s not like that,” Arahime said, shaking her head. “Look, forget I said anything.”

“I’m not sure I can,” Harun said.

Arahime turned away to look at the pond. They sat there in silence for what seemed the longest time.

“Kakita-chui?” An Arashi bushi approached them and bowed.

“Yes?” Harun said.

“The Warlord wishes to see you,” said the Arashi.

“Tell him I will be there presently,” said Harun.

When the bushi had gone, Arahime looked at him. “It looks like he finds you more useful than me now.”

“Trust me, I don’t like it,” said Harun.

Arahime frowned.

“I am sorry…again,” he said. “If…what you’re talking about has been with you for a long time, it probably isn’t bad. I need to trust you…but you need to trust me.”

“I’ll…I’ll think about it,” she said.

And I guess that will have to do…for now. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he said, walking off.

Arashi Aram, Lord of House Arashi and Warlord of Zogeku, sat in a prominent position by the reflecting pool. He was not alone, around him on chairs and couches were people of varying prominence. On his left was a man in green shugenja robes and red hair with matching beard.
The Warlord looked up as Harun approached. “Ah, Kakita-chui,” he said. He indicated the chair next to him. “Please, sit. I have not yet thanked you properly for the great service you have done to me and to House Arashi.”

“I was doing my duty, Warlord,” said Harun, taking the seat. He took the cup that was offered. “I do trust Arashi Seiho-sama is improving?”

“Modest as well,” said the Warlord, with approval. “My grandson’s strength is returning, slowly. As for the rest…we shall see.” He gestured to the man on his left. “This is Konjo, Lord of House Morishita. He was telling me before that he knew your birth parents.”

“Briefly,” said Kanjo, his beard hiding all expression. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Kakita-chui.”

“And you,” said Harun, bowing slightly. “I was at your embassy a few days ago. The almond trees were very beautiful.”

“Thank you,” said Konjo. “Did you know that the first seedling of those trees was a gift from your mother, Utaku Yamada? It is most interesting what beauty can come from…unusual origins.”

“I cannot say I disagree with you,” said Harun. His attention was diverted by a blur of red fur that suddenly hid from view. What was that? A Cat? A fox cub? Perhaps it was just a trick of the light.

“Humph,” said Konjo. “Perhaps you will be an improvement on her.”

“I do try to be,” said Harun.

“Will you be in the Second City much longer, Kakita-chui?” The Warlord asked. “Your actions have put House Arashi in your debt, one that honour demands be repaid.”

“Please, do not trouble yourself,” said Harun. “As for your question, yes I am leaving soon. I am accompanying Arahime to Journey’s End Keep.”

“Seeing your Unicorn kin?” Konjo asked.

“Yes, we both want to see more of Zogeku,” said Harun.

“Well, I can tell there is nothing I can do to persuade you to stay,” said the Warlord. “But I do hope that you return one day.”

“So do I, Warlord,” said Harun. “But we cannot predict what fate the Fortunes have in store for us.”

“That is very true,” agreed Konjo.

Harun returned as soon as he could, and as he neared the chairs he could see that Arahime was not alone. There was a woman in the green of House Morishita sitting across from her, but from her posture and form she looked more like a bushi.
Arahime introduced her as Hogune, wife of Lord Konjo.

“A pleasure to meet you,” said Harun, bowing. “The Warlord just introduced me to your husband, I was telling him how beautiful the gardens in your embassy were.”

“Praise indeed, from a Crane,” said Hogune. “But the pleasure is mine, Kakita-chui, I knew your mother Yamada slightly. To meet her son is a privilege indeed.”

“I have been told many things by those who knew her,” said Harun evenly.

Hogune nodded. “Yes, it must be difficult for you.”

“It can be,” said Harun.

There was a moment of silence, broken by the arrival of a woman wearing the colours of the Lion Clan. It was Matsu Hayate.

“Kakita-chui, Kakita-san,” she said, bowing. She glanced slightly at Hogune.

Hogune rose to her feet. “Do not let me keep you,” she said. “A pleasure to see you both.” She quickly took her leave.

“I come from Arashi Seiho-san,” said Hayate. “He wishes to speak with you.”
“He does?” Harun asked.

Hayate nodded. “Both of you.”

Hayate took them into the palace, upstairs and along terraces overlooking the garden, and then inside to a door where Arashi bushi were standing guard. On seeing Hayate, the bushi let them through, pulling open the big wooden doors.
The room inside was colourfully decorated, the was the faint smell of sandalwood. It was also quite warm, there was a well-built up fire in a brazier despite the evening also being warm. In the centre of the room was a futon, sitting on some sort of frame, a deep sheer silken curtain was draped in front, obscuring it slightly.
Hayate stepped forward, pulling the curtain aside, revealing the bed’s occupant. Arashi Seiho.

The once proud bushi lay propped up by pillows, his breath coming in heavy gasps. Most of his face was covered in bandages, only his mouth and chin were visible. And beneath the heavy robe that Seiho wore, Harun guessed there were more bandages, covering him where the fire had burned him right down to his fingers.
Once so handsome and proud, his charm, wit and not to mention his strength…all gone, taken from him in but one moment.

He’s pitiable… Harun thought, I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it.

“Seiho,” said Hayate. “They are here as you asked.”

Both Harun and Arahime bowed.

“Arashi-sama, I pray that the Fortunes will make your recovery rapid and full,” said Harun formally.

“As do I,” said Arahime warmly.

Seiho tried to laugh, but then started coughing. It took him a few minutes and a few sips of water to recover.

“You’d have both rather seen me dead,” Seiho said at last.

“No!” said Harun and Arahime at once.

“I would have wanted it, after how I treated you,” said Seiho. “After what I’ve done, I don’t blame you.” His voice cracked as he spoke. “Arahime…may I…?”

“Yes,” she said, moving to his side. There was genuine compassion in her voice.

“I am sorry, I was such a fool,” Seiho said. “What I did to you…what happened to you…”

“It’s done now,” said Arahime. “It’s in the past.”

“It still matters,” Seiho said.

“Then, I forgive you,” said Arahime.

“See that you deserve her, Harun,” said Seiho.

“I am trying,” Harun answered.

Seiho collapsed in another coughing fit. The servant came in again to help with some water. Hayate quickly took them out.

“Will he recover?” Harun asked when they were out of the room.

“They say he will…some,” said Hayate. “But in time…months they say. And then…”

“You’ll be married,” finished Arahime.

Hayate stared at her. “Yes, we will…how did you?”

Arahime only smiled to herself, saying nothing. Her eyes looked a little darker.

Is this the necklace? Harun wondered, but there was no time to ask now.

“I wish you well then, Matsu-gunso,” said Harun, giving her a bow.

“Thank you, Kakita-chui,” Hayate said. “He has changed…for the better I hope.”

The next day, Harun and Arahime returned to the docks to board their ship that would take them to Journey’s End Keep. It felt good, being on their way again, but he was a little sorry to leave Second City. Perhaps one day they could return, but as he had said last night, there was no knowing where the Fortunes would take them.

“Ah lad, there you are!” said a rough voice from across the docks. “And I see you have brought your lady.”

Harun laughed, he didn’t have to turn to know who that was. Midori the monk came traipsing towards them, grinning from ear to ear.

“Arahime, may I introduce Midori the Monk,” said Harun. “He helped me find the ones who were trying to kill you, and was the first to tell me you were in danger.”

“Midori the Monk?” Arahime looked as if she couldn’t believe what she saw. “My father has told me many stories about you, I wasn’t sure if you were real.”

“I’m not so sure how real I am, meself,”Midori said with a grin. “Though if you want an interestin’ story, you might want to ask your father about how he tried to become Mantis Champion.”

Arahime stared. “Mantis Champion? Surely, that’s not true.”

“Actually, it is,” Harun said, remembering. “I heard it from Moshi Janisha.”

Midori raised an eyebrow. “Janisha? You saw her?”

Harun nodded. “Last winter at Kyuden Hida, saw her and her son and her husband,” he said. “This was before she…”

“Left,” finished Midori, looking a little sad. “Well, we can’t always get what we deserve, unfortunately. I should know.” He grinned again. “Anyway, I just came to see you off…and to meet you of course. You take after your mother.”

“Thank you,” said Arahime.

“Just some monkish advice before you go,” he said. “Keep your noses clean...unless there’s something worth sticking into. And keep your socks dry.”

“What kind of advice is that?” Harun asked.

“Mine!” declared Midori.

Arahime laughed. A horn sounded from their boat.

“Better not keep your captain waiting,” said Midori. “I am not sure if I will see you again, but I am glad to have met you both.”

“Thank you for your help,” said Arahime.
As the two boarded the ship, Harun stopped look back. He could see Midori looking longingly at the ship, wishing he could go with them.
You can take a man out of the Mantis…

He turned, boarded the ship. But when he looked back, the monk was gone.
Kakita Kaori
Kenshinzen of Golden Petal Village and overly prolific fiction writer
[Kakita Kyoumi/WC5]

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