Age of Emperors
What Has Happened so Far
Kazue grew up in the shadow of her sister, Kochiyo, and she liked it there; she like being able to go to her sister and ask for advice and she didn’t mind being held to the same standards as her idol. Though she could never figure out what her sister saw in bad boys, she had terrible taste in men. Kazue also didn’t understand her sister’s fascination with the shadowlands, there were far more interesting things so learn about, and Kazue set about learning all she could about everything. With everyone always asking her sister to go off and do things it left Kazue plenty of time to learn and practice, she found that learning and preforming came rather naturally to her and loved doing each. Her favorite activities were story telling and sculpting. When she wasn’t doing one she was doing the other. She never saw anything remotely similar to bloodshed until she watched a Kakita practicing with a friend of hers in the yard one day; the play got a little out of hand and the Kakita bloodied the nose of her friend. Luckily she had been practicing water magic and was able to fix him up before his mother found out. This however set Kazue against fighting to solve problems, and since that point she has been unable to learn any spells related to fighting. Kazue was not surprised when Kochiyo got sent to study under Isawa Reijiro to learn the ways of the shadowlands, but she missed her terribly and didn’t think a crane could fly under water. While her sister was away Kazue learned of the fetish makers in the Asahina family and decided, if possible, she would try to follow in their footsteps; she feverishly threw herself into a deeper practice of sculpting. One night Kazue had a terrible headache and she knew her sister was dead. She began mourning the following morning and when her father asked her why she simply replied that he would know soon enough. The dreaded letter came on a rare night her mother was home, and the family, mother, father, Emi, and Seka, all sat around a fire as it was opened and read, all but her mother cried all night. Kazue thinks her mother keeps her emotions under lock and key because her father lets his run loose, but she still expected a little sadness from her. She recently noticed her mother coming home more often, spending less time at the temple, and more with her children. Kazue was hoping to spend some time with her and planned on making her mother more a part of her life when her father told her that he was planning on going to retrieve Kochiyo’s belongings form the crab lands. Kazue knew this was a cry from her father for her to go, even if he couldn’t admit it. Kazue knew her father was fearful of letting his second oldest daughter go to where his eldest died, but someone had to go, and there was no way her father could get away from his work. She offered to go in his stead and wasn’t surprised when he said he already had a yojimbo for her. Kazue was soon introduced to him, Daidoji Keizo, and while she thinks he is a bit of a wet blanket she trusts his judgment. She hopes to think of him as the brother she never had. They had a pleasant and safe journey to Kyuden Hida, but she was a bit miffed when Keizo asked her to stop telling stories when they crossed into crab lands.
She met with the Hida daimyo with little fan fare and there she was asked, with some other people to ask for aid form the Emperor to man the wall, so the event that killed their relatives would not happen again. Kazue felt pressured into accepting the request when everyone else around her did, she cared very little for the woes of the crab and decided she would go along for a free ride to Otosan Uchi. She knew she would never have a chance to go there without the help of a daimyo’s request, it wouldn’t hurt to be owned a favor from a daimyo either. She traded little words with the rest of the party but she noticed how dangerous the Mantis was when he requested the aid of Kurotsu, saying it would help the Ide if his name were attached to the story he was writing. She knew this would cost the Ide the favor he was owed when he accepted the mission, but she didn’t care because the Yoritomo’s attentions were not on her. She felt bad for the Ide, the poor fool. They were given ponies and sent along their way with even less celebration than when they arrived.
The journey from Kyuden Hida to Otosan Uchi was a long and boring one for Kazue, and very little of it stands out in her mind. The bit that she does remember is trying, unsuccessfully to bond with her fellow travelers. Both the Isawa and the Hida seemed to dislike her a rather lot; the only one that seemed willing to talk to her for more than a few sentences was Bayushi Tomodachi but Kazue’s yojimbo wouldn’t let that happen. She filled her time with listening to the sounds of the horses prodding along and the banter of the Ide and Yoritomo trading words. She didn’t listen to the particulars, but she is certain it had something to do with the Yoritomo taking advantage of what great mounts the unicorn produce. Kazue was incredibly surprised when they weren’t attacked in their adventure through the Crab lands, although she doesn’t think anyone in their right mind would want to live here in a village, much less in a bandit camp. On second thought she’s not surprised they didn’t get attacked. Finally Clear Water Village, which is actually a large port city, was in sight, Kazue breathed a sigh of relief, knowing they would soon be in Crane lands, and back to civilization. Little happened in the city that Kazue knows of, other than the selling of their horses and the boarding of a ship back to her beloved Crane lands.
After entering the Daidoji lands Kazue think she saw Keizo relax for the first time during the entirety of their time together. With him loosened up she could finally talk to him, thy were traveling by foot so this gave her plenty of time to learn interesting things about him. She had no idea that as a child he had his nose bloodied by another child and then fixed by a young girl. Crazy how often of an occurrence that is. This was when Kazue first began thinking of Keizo less as a yojimbo and more like a brother, or at least what she expected a brother to be like. She remembers passing by a lovely stream made even better by the fact that there was a moment of complete silence when all she could hear was the passing of the water and the chirping of birds. What a glorious land they were traveling through. This moment lasted only a moment and was broken by the Yoritomo and his absurdities. Why was she so cursed as to be traveling with people who can’t appreciate beauty. She heard they would be taking a boat from the next city they were visiting to Otosan Uchi, this made her incredibly happy, it would be her very first voyage by sea! The city they ventured to was a bit of a disappointment as the Governor there seemed only to notice when people could play kimari. Then over dinner he hinted that he would like a sculpture made by her hand. Amazing! This was the first person other than her parents to show any interest in her work, she accepted his request and set about sculpting something wonderful for him. She didn’t have time to finish it there since they were rushed out in the middle of the night to catch the boat leaving for Otosan Uchi. She isn’t sure why exactly they were in such a hurry, but it had something to do with the Governor and the Mantis captain, Sankuro, having some kind of deal. It mattered little to her, she was going to the Imperial City! She would just have the finish the sculpture on the boat ride over.
She loves the sea, the smell, the air, then whole feel of it. The experience was only sullied by the Yoritomo not wanting her to open windows. She thinks he may be afraid of the ocean, that would explain why he was so adamant about not taking boats, that poor man, she felt a tinge of guilt at forcing him to take the boats. It lasted only a moment though because Kazue was soon accosted by the Ide wanting her to create a sculpture for him to present to the Emperor to gain favor, she was certain he did that at the behest of the Yoritomo. She agreed anyway though, knowing it couldn’t hurt for people in her party to owe her a favor or two. After the window incident Kazue was sleeping soundly one night when she was awoke by a woman’s voice beckoning her to come outside to the top deck. When she emerged from the below she was struck by the image of a luminous woman standing at the bow of the ship. She didn’t step forward for fear of breaking the trance, disturbing the image, she must have let out a sigh, because the woman turned around and looked at her. Kazue was a bit sad when it turned out to be her sister Kochiyo. Kochiyo had little to say to Kazue other than she wanted her to become strong so that Kazue wouldn’t repeat her mistakes. She wasn’t sure what mistakes her sister was talking about, but they must have been dire to make her unable to rest. The ghost disappeared just as Sankuro came above deck. He shared with her a story that she will not soon repeat, she thinks it was a threat. She isn’t sure why he would be threatening her, perhaps it was more of a warning, a warning against Otosan Uchi. The rest of her time on the boat was uneventful but she managed to finish her sculpture, she was rather proud of it.
With Sankuro’s warning still on her mind Kazue finally caught her first glimpse of Otosan Uchi. With as many disappointments as she had had throughout her travels, she hoped this place would live up to the stories she knew and loved. As soon as she stepped onto the stone inside the gates Kazue knew this was a place she was meant to see. The group was showed to the lion embassy by a friendly little old man, by the name of, Miya Yurikago; they were greeted here by Kitsu Takeneo and his lovely niece Kitsu Takeko. Kazue noticed a blush and a glance toward Tomodachi from Takeko. How cute, never had she seen anything so sad and adorable. Kazue was certain Takeko knew better however and thought little about it after the act. This is where the group was informed that they would need to meet with the tribunal to get into the inner city. Kazue thought this was incredibly unfair as they had been sent here by the Hida daimyo. They stayed for a night at the lion embassy and were called again in the morning to meet with Takeneo, he had something to tell them, she thinks she saw him shift uncomfortably in his seat when he told them Doji Aritomo had arranged for them to get past the gate without meeting with the council. Music to Kazue’s ears. She would finally see the fabled city, the Forbidden City, the one so blessed it never rains. The outer city was amazing and she, for a moment, thought she had caught a glimpse of Tengoku, only it could be this beautiful. This is the place where the ones blessed by Amaterasu reside. Perhaps she would see a demon, or a god, imagine the stories it would know! Sankuro must have been mistaken, no place so wondrous could be rotten on the inside.
Kazue was jolted out of her musings when a servant, the same servant that took them to meet with Takeneo, came up to her group and began showing them to their respective guest houses. This man was so full of stories she was left speechless, she couldn’t even think of questions to ask him. She would have to seek him out in the future so she could learn everything he knows about the city. He lacked a bit of grace in mentioning some of the other clan homes, but when she was finally dropped off at the Crane family guest house she was thankful for his tour. Kazue was greeted here by Doji Aritomo’s student, Doji Ginko, Ginko told her that there was a meal that was going to start soon and that Asahina Kiichi, the greatest playwright in recent years, would be in attendance. Kazue would have to make sure she looked her best for this dinner, she was sure it would be an elegant affair. After her bath she dressed in her best kimono and went to the meal. It was not at all what she expected. There was drinking and merriment and Kazue felt at ease for the first time since entering the city. It was easier to relax because Keizo was by her side, nothing would harm her while he was there. She enjoyed this night fully and even got to preform along side Kiichi in her favorite play Machiga, what a wonderful night. Kazue hoped the rest of her time here would be so grand.
Kazue had not heard anything about meeting with the Emperor when Aritomo requested her presence. It was then that he told her of Isawa Okita and asked her to become friends with her, she had no problem with this because she would finally be making a friend outside the crane family and in the imperial city. What could be better than that!? She didn’t know anything about the girl, but she thought they would be quick friends as she was an Isawa and the same age as Kazue. She didn’t expect to meet her as soon as she did though, and certainly not at an event she didn’t even want to go to. Doji Hoitsu‘s wedding banquet, she had the great fortune of meeting Hoitsu before this affair, so she knew that the only gift she was giving him was her silence about his appalling behavior. His betrothed, Miya Yahiko, however would be given a kimono of her family’s colors to remind her that he was marring into her family not the other way around. Kazue sat next to Shiba Takimoto, Okita’s yojimbo, and only talked briefly to her asking nothing of importance. Their talk was interrupted when Yoritomo dropped a tea cup which was part of a set he was gifting to Hoitsu, she thinks he dropped it on purpose just because the idea amused her. Hoitsu took note of it as well she noticed. Then a story was told, a story specifically designed to shame the unicorn at the banquet. While she was amused by the story in the beginning it was soon apparent that the story teller designed this tale to get a reaction out of the Ide and his companion, Ide Yorin, which he got. Ikoma Shichirobei would be a man Kazue would try to not be around, he was too good at getting a rise out of other men(pun intended). Yorin challenged the Ikoma to a duel and with the permission of Hoitsu the Ikoma accepted, placing as his champion, Matsu Shojiro, a truly vile man. The lion must love fighting more than common decency to create such a scene at what is supposed to be a joyous light hearted event. After that horrid display Kazue was disappointed thinking the night would end in a sour note, she was quite surprised when Okita leaned toward her and started up a conversation. Kazue was instantly struck by how beautiful and cute Okita was, not to mention how well spoken. This would be the future empress, an intimidating fact for anyone to digest, Kazue was glad Okita made the first attempt to connect because she certainly wasn’t going to. Okita said that she heard form her uncle that Kazue was interested in art and stories, she didn’t know how Okita’s uncle would know that, unless she had made more of an impression on Aritomo than she thought and he talked to him about her. They talked for a it and it ended with Okita inviting Kazue out to see Munemitsu, the great sculptor, in the Imperial Mound. Kazue was surprised to say the least, and she offered to show Okita some of the sculptures she was working on. She was even more surprised than she has been when Okita accepted the invitation giddily, yet another person who likes sculpture! Kazue liked this girl very much. With that the night was over, or so Kazue thought. She was on her way home when Hoitsu had the nerve to slink over to her and suggest they have an affair! The man isn’t even married yet and he was already setting about secret loves, when Kazue refused he asked for her help in getting the Hida to find her way to his bed. She refused to aid in his endeavors and headed to her room for a long awaited sleep.
Kazue awoke the next day with a tinge of fear that Okita wouldn’t show up, and that last night was a courtly game she didn’t know how to play. She resigned herself to continued work on the sculpture for the Emperor. Her fears were brushed aside when a messenger came to her room and told her she had a visitor. There Okita was with her faithful yojimbo waiting patiently to see her work. Kazue excitedly showed them the piece she completed for Doji Bikoto, the lonely governor, she was even happier when Okita proclaimed her admiration of it. Kazue was so wrapped up in the excitement she even showed her the one she was working on for the Emperor, even though it was only half done. To her surprise Okita loved it too. Kazue knew she liked her work, but was incredibly surprised when other people liked it as well. She told them the story of the lonely governor and how she had to complete the sculpture while on a boat. With the sculptures viewed they began to make their way to the imperial mound. Sankuro’s warning crept it’s way back into her mind, and for a moment she thought of the imperial mound more like a Droseana and less like a place she was visiting for a good time. This made her go into the situation a bit on edge, this fear was dispelled when she saw the group they were meeting. One of which was comparable in appearance to Tomodachi, Otomo Ryosuke. The rest of the group was Ryosuke’s sister Otomo Rei, an imperial guardsman, Seppun Katai, and of course the great artist, Munemitsu, who was painting a picture of the beautiful Rei. They were simply lounging around relaxing, Kazue felt instantly accepted when Ryosuke asked her to tell stories of the outside. They asked why she had been to the crab lands and she told them of the dire need of the wall for aid and what happened to her sister. She happily obliged telling stories the momentary moment of sadness passed, and she was able to relax in the company of strangers. When Munemitsu was done painting Rei he asked if anyone else wanted to get painted, Kazue was a bit embarrassed and flattered when Ryosuke proclaimed her too beautiful to not paint. She had never been complemented in such a way, but Okita was the one that wanted to be painted, so Kazue suggested that Okita be in the painting with her. To her dismay Okita declined the invitation and Kazue had to sit still while Munemitsu painted her likeness, she felt a bit odd being on display like that, but she noticed the artist kept glancing at Rei even though she was no longer the subject. Interesting. While she was being painted Kazue noticed the close bond that Ryosuke and Katai had when they acted as though they were school boys, much to the dismay of Rei. The painting was done and Munemitsu decided it did not completely capture her essence, Kazue told him that pieces of art are never finished, and he handed her the painting to keep. Okita was next and she gracefully placed herself in position, during this time Kazue laughed and talked with the group. She couldn’t help but glancing at Ryosuke every now and again, just to see what he was doing, she caught him stealing looks at her a few times as well. Once the painting was done Okita and her spent a little more time socializing, Ryosuke and Rei argued a bit about the eunuchs that constantly followed them around. Rei didn’t mind them but Ryosuke hated and resented them for what they represent. Soon it was time for Okita and Kazue to take their leave, and Kazue asked if it would be okay if, were she fortunate enough to visit again, she could bring along the sculpture she was working on. They sounded excited about it and told her that was a magnificent idea. Kazue knew this place was one that she would try to visit often.
One day while Kazue was working quietly Okita came to the Crane quest house and excitedly told her she had something to give her. She didn’t know what to expect, no one had given her a gift before, well no one besides her family of course. Kazue was surprised to notice they were heading toward the imperial mound, what could Okita possibly give to her. Okita would do nothing but talk about how excited she was. She was nearly exploding into confetti. They soon walked up to a small building surrounded by splendor. That when Okita stopped moving. Kazue looked around expecting someone to hand her a small package. She was floored when Okita told her that the gift was the small building, that small building, in fact Munemitsu’s old studio which he was no longer using since moving to a larger one further into the mound. Kazue was speechless, not only was this her first gift, but it was a studio for her to pursue her passions. She thanked Okita profusely and promised to give her a sculpture as soon as she was able. She wasn’t over the initial shock of the gift when Ryosuke walked up, eunuch in tow, and handed Kazue a small book, she had never seen him so flustered. The book was a collection of stories written by Miya Goemon about his travels and the stories he heard along the way. This book must have meant a lot to him, she knew he loved stories about the outside, and this must have been from his personal collection. She would treasure it. He quickly dismissed himself and Kazue took her first steps into the studio Okita had just given her. She had a place all to herself in the imperial mound, this meant more to Kazue than Okita would ever know. Her own studio! It was amazing. She would spend most of her time here perfecting her craft. When Kazue opened the book a little note fell out, surely the book hadn’t already broken down. She was incredible surprised when the contents of the note were realized, it was an incredibly rare love poem written by one of the great nameless poets. She showed the poem to Okita and the two shared a secret smile. Kazue had never had a suitor before. Too bad this suitor was an imperial bastard and unable to marry, Kazue couldn’t help but feel a tug at her heart, life was a bit cruel at times.
A short time passed with nothing of importance happening other than her friends stopping by her studio, Kazue took advantage of this time to work more on her sculpture for the Ide. She was working on it when a servant informed her that the emperor was expecting her and the rest of the party that afternoon. The sculpture was unfinished, but she had a different gift for him. An umbrella, to protect him from unexpected events. She made her way to the place where they would meet the emperor with only Keizo accompanying her. This was the first time in a while that she would see her traveling companions, she can’t say she missed them. Especially as the only one Kazue would consider calling by their first name would be Tomodachi. The group was instructed by Ikoma Kaii how to act once they enter the emperor’s chamber. There were so many rules Kazue feared she would forget one and make a fool of herself, or maybe even end up messing up so bad she gets executed. She was terrified. This must have heightened her recall ability because she didn’t mess up once. Kazue almost forgot that they would have to present gifts, when the next horrifying stage began. The emperor seemed bored with all the gifts, the Isawa’s chopsticks, Tomodachi’s book, The Ide’s story, the Hida’s [something], even her own umbrella, all bored him except for Yoritomo’s snowshoes, the emperor cracked a smile at that. Nothing threw Kazue off more than the emperor smiling. She thought he may be about to kill Yoritomo when it was announced the beginning of the tea ceremony. This was when Kazue realized she would have to pour the emperor’s tea, this is the moment she would be struck down, she was going to fail and spill tea all over the emperor. She doesn’t remember pouring the tea or the point up to that, but she remembers sitting back down and not being dead. She must have done the job decently enough to not insult the emperor. After this the final part began, they waited patiently for the emperor to ask them to present their request. When he finally did Tomodachi took up the reins and told them of the plight of the wall. As soon as he finished the emperor denied the request and said that the deal was with his grandfather not him. Kazue doesn’t think he even listened to them, he knew what they were going to suggest, and he already had his answer. They left disappointed, but Kazue knew she would not be returning to tell the Crab clan daimyo that the emperor denied him his promised aid. The party parted way here, Kazue made sure to give the Hida her horse money to return to Kurotsu.
After the bitter denial of her group’s request Kazue found she had a lot of time on her hands. This was great for her, she needed time to relax and work on sculptures she had promised to people. The first one she would be working on was a bokken for the Hida, since she was already out of the city she would have to send it to the main castle of her family. She owned the Hida for a wonderful blue kimono she gave Kazue since she had no use for such an elegant piece of clothing, or so she said. If only she knew how many eyes she had caught, Kazue was going to tell her such, but she was afraid the Hida would attack her if she did. This one only took a day and a half. The next one was for Okita and it would be of a phoenix breathing fire, she hoped that this image would encourage Okita to be stronger. This one would take a little longer at a few days. While she was carving Ryosuke only missed a couple days a week of hanging out with her, he spoke of his mother and his time growing up in the imperial mound. He told her a wonderful story of the first time he met Katai. Who would have thought they would have met when Katai, having a crush on Ryosuke’s sister, walked up to him and demanded to know why he was spending so much time with Rei, they must have been 6 or 7 years old. Katai started a fight with Ryosuke thinking he was Rei’s boyfriend, he was quite embarrassed when Ryosuke told him that was his sister, and the two have been friends ever since. Come to think of it Ryosuke never told her who won that fight. During this time Kazue became quite familiar with the eunuchs, she could now recognize each one, since there was a different one with him each day. One day Kazue, Keizo, Ryosuke, Katai, Okita, and the eunuch, Go, went on a picnic, at this point Okita and her watched as the men of the group had a friendly foot race, Keizo won, much to the dismay of Ryosuke. Kazue assured him that he did excellently in the race and congratulated Keizo on his win. Kazue could feel herself getting ever closer to the point where her feelings toward Ryosuke would be overwhelming and push aside her reason. This was something that Keizo couldn’t protect her from. Once the sculpture for Okita was completed, she requested that she come see her when she had the chance. She waited a few days but finally Okita had time to stop by. Okita adored her present and was just as happy about it as Kazue had hoped. Kazue hopes to one day be able to give Okita a gift that she has blessed.
While Kazue was thinking of what to sculpt next, Ryosuke came running up to her studio. He had something he wanted to show only her. This was a brief moment he had alone without a eunuch following him, they had all been called away to deal with a fit his brother was having. She knew she should turn him away, but she couldn’t; instead opting to ask Keizo to fetch something from her room. She hoped this would give her enough time to see what Ryosuke wanted her to. They dashed through gardens and managed to sneak by the harem, Kazue had never been this far into the mound. By the time they were at the place Ryosuke stopped she had no idea where they were; she felt safe with him though, and she was incredibly surprised when he pressed on the wall and it opened! She didn’t know Ryosuke was a shugenja and skilled enough for a silent innate spell! That’s when she realized it was just a secret door, not magic. She calmed herself and stayed close to Ryosuke as he led her through the corridors, yet another place Kazue could get lost in. She was thankful for her guide without him she would be lost down there forever. They stopped in a little alcove off the main hallway where Ryosuke lit a candle and showed her the reason for the journey. He told her this was a shrine he made for his mother, the dragon woman. He stole her ashes when he was a child and set this up with the help of Katai. He told her Katai would not approve of him showing this to her. Then Ryosuke showed a break in his composure and began to cry at the remembrance of his mother. Kazue comforted and kissed him, Kochiyo spoke of power into Kazue’s ear, Ryosuke looked shocked and broke the embrace momentarily before attempting to kiss her back. This attempt was thwarted when they heard voices coming down the hall. Hurriedly they put out the torches, and stayed together in the darkness listening to the words that threatened their safety. The two men, who’s voices she didn’t recognize, spoke of poisoning the Kage child heir, and plotting to kill a woman who was holding something back that they wanted freed. Kazue thinks they were talking about the empress, and if one empress can fall so can they all, and she didn’t want anyone threatening Okita’s safety now or in the future. Much to Kazue’s dismay Ryosuke didn’t want them to speak further of this matter, to let if have fallen on deaf ears. This saddened Kazue quite a bit as she didn’t want anyone’s blood to be on her hands, but Ryosuke reminded her what was at stake if she were to tell someone, they could get killed, or worse, shamed. He escorted Kazue back to her studio where Keizo was waiting for her. He was incredibly worried, he thought something terrible had happened to her. Kazue apologized profusely and thanked him for getting the sculpting tool from her room. She ended it with that, even Keizo couldn’t know what had happened.
Kazue had heard whispers of her being promised to Daidoji Chuichi, son of Daidoji Kaku a high ranking Crane general, but thought little of them, even though she had just learned how serious whispers can be. Floating through the days Kazue thought nothing when she was summoned by Aritomo, she had never regretted a meeting with him and she hoped this would be the same. She went to meet him and sat quietly as she awaited his words. He gave her news that made her lead inside, her sisters were coming to the imperial city, admittedly with a large contingent of Crane, but Kazue expressed her excitement at being able to see her sisters again; Aritomo seemed pleased. What he said next made her heart sink, she was in fact to be married to Chuichi, what if she were pulled away from the city. That would destroy her, she would be separated from Ryosuke and Okita, not only was this man her betrothed but he would be coming to the city with his father. Kazue had learned that the man that was to be her father in law was responsible for the death of a cousin of the Matsu daimyo, him coming to the city would just stir up bad memories and even worse tempers. When she told this to Aritomo he agreed that he was no happier about the large group of crane coming to the city. Along with her betrothed and his father, the party would also include Kakita Saito, the Kakita daimyo, who Aritomo said was only brought to court when the Crane Clan Champion, Doji Kozuo, wanted someone dead. This began to make Kazue even more worried about the event that she had originally been excited about, she didn’t want her sister wrapped up in someones murderous plot, she wanted them safe. It was interesting to see Aritomo worried about something, it made him seem more human than before, Kazue thinks she can trust him.
Wracked with guilt about hearing horrible things and being able to do nothing about them, Kazue spent most of her time for a while at her studio, avoiding most people. During this time Munemitsu found his way over to her. He couldn’t help but notice that she had not even attempted to carve the massive stone block that came with the studio. Kazue told him she found the giant block to be a bit intimidating, and he reassured her with his words. He told her that she only needed to listen to the stone as she carved it, and this would lead to a marvelous statue. He claimed that the stone already knew what it wanted to be and would cleave accordingly. Kazue was astonished to hear this because every other time she spoke to stone it seemed to have no concept of appearance. After Munemitsu left she decided she would give this piece of stone a chance to tell her what it wanted to be. When she attempted to see what the stone wished to be, all it told her is that it wanted to be beautiful. What a stone thinks is beautiful she doesn’t know. Munemitsu must be much better at interpreting the cryptic messages of stone than she is, it doesn’t surprise her, he is the great artist after all. The wood blocks staying in her studio decided to chime in demanding to be beautiful as well, Kazue assured them they would be carved one day as well. She needed to do something about all the materials in her work space, she had to move all her sculpting tools to this place to create more space in her room for when her sisters came to the city with the crane contingent. Kazue was excited that her sisters would be able to see the wonderful city she was residing in, but she wished she had more space in her studio to work.
One day Kazue was sculpting presents for her sisters
-- well attempting to sculpt, she had been having troubles concentrating on the little netsuke she was working up for Seka and Emi; She had a hard time not thinking about the kiss in darkness, and the deadly words overheard there. The trinkets she was making were sure to turn out horribly -- and Ryosuke came hurriedly into her studio, he looked rather flushed. With irritation plainly written on his face he laid on his side facing away form her. She knew he had heard of her engagement to the Doji. She offered tea the the eunuch accompanying him, and he graciously accepted. Ever since the night under the tunnels Ryosuke had begun acting differently toward her, and she knew she had begun acting the same way. She loved him, and he loved her she imagined. That thought was confirmed when Ryosuke asked Kazue about her engagement in a very sad angry way, asking her if that meant she would be leaving the city. Kazue assured him that she would try and not leave the city, this seemed to calm him down a little. They sat in silence for a while, Ryosuke now facing toward her watching her work, he claimed it helped him relax, and she had to admit it helped her relax as well. Then out of nowhere a man covered in tattoos showed up at the door to her studio. He invited himself in saying he had a gift for the one with dragon blood. Kazue had no idea what he was talking about, the events happened so quickly she was left in a daze. She offered the strange man tea and asked him name. She doesn’t think he would have offered it up without being asked, and he introduces himself as Togashi Denbe. She thought it was odd when all he did with the tea was smell it and return the cup to her. She was still dizzy from Denbe’s entrance when Ryosuke finally spoke up, he thought the gift was for him. He had never told her much about his mother, but then Ryosuke told her that his mother was from the Dragon clan, making him one with dragon blood. Denbe walked up to him and brandished a needle and a vile of blood. This put the eunuch all in a tissy and he started screaming at the monk saying he would go to the emperor and tell him what was happening. Denbe thought that was a grand idea, because t would let him know the gift had finally been given. He claimed that the emperor had already agreed to the gift a long time ago, and even if he had forgotten the dragon hadn’t. The eunuch began to rush off and the Dragon said it was for the best, that what was to be said was only for the one with dragon blood and the pretty lady, Kazue assumed that meant her. He asked Ryosuke to drop the top part of his kimono and he obliged. Kazue watched as Denbe slowly tacked the tattoo into the middle of Ryosuke’s skin, normally she found tattoos barbaric, but this one she had a feeling she would like. As he tattooed Ryosuke Denbe told them a story, a story about a young dragon woman that so enamored the emperor he agreed that no matter the time the Dragon clan could bestow a gift onto the children of the woman and man, and that the emperor would protect these children. As he finished Denbe stood back and looking upon his work said, for the man with two souls residing within him, that his light produced darkness and his darkness produced light. With that he left. Kazue couldn’t help but trust the cryptic words of the Dragon monk, even if she didn’t understand the meaning. Kazue looked upon the swirling yin-yang bestowed to Ryosuke and she couldn’t help but touch it, this made him jump, and once she realized what she was doing Kazue quickly pulled back her hand. She told him she was no happier about the engagement than he was. Ryosuke thought it would better for him to leave before the eunuch came back, so he quickly left. The eunuch didn’t return that day, and neither did Ryosuke.
There was a rare moment when Okita had time to hang out with her, and this was done through a shopping day, so Kazue could find a gift for her clan’s champion. With Okita was a scorpion girl by the name of Shosuro Meiko who Kazue was put on edge around. She was a little annoyed that she wouldn’t be able to relax on this day, not with a scorpion so close. She thinks the scorpion was attempting to shame her by suggesting absurdly expensive gifts she should buy. Kazue thanked her for each suggestion but finally decided to paint a scenery for her gift. As Okita was talking about the latest fashion to hit the streets, Kazue noticed Bayushi Toshio flirting with Matsu Nene outside a store. She made sure to bring it to the attention of the rest of her group. They all shared a knowing look. She couldn’t help but wonder what he looked like behind all those masks he wore. Before the shopping day was over Kazue convinced them to go by a art supply store so she could pick up some canvas and paints. After they separated for the night Kazue went back to her studio and began working. After the painting was completed Kazue set to work on a gift for Ryosuke. She put in many a late night trying to finish this.
The day rolled around that her sisters would finally be coming into town, and also her betrothed. Okita was busy and all the other people Kazue knew were not allowed off the mound, except for Katai, who was most likely on guard duty. That left Kazue and Keizo alone to wonder about to watch the wonderful parade , she had never seen such a grand display, there were decorations everywhere celebrating the entry of the crane contingent. She and Keizo walked about, sharing laughter and stories of times past. They talked about growing up with their families, and how they wished to see them again. She would have to remember to request a visit to Keizo’s family home for the new year, she thought it would bring great joy to him to be able to see his family. She would also like to see hers, but since her sisters were coming to the city there was less need of it. He had apparently not seen his family in a good long while since his yojimbo duties had kept him so busy. He was not yet ready to tell her how his last charge came to their end, but she still felt once he was ready he would tell her about it. They were discussing Kazue’s desire to become a fetish maker when the drums signaling the beginning of the fanfare. First came the Emerald Champion, Usagi Ikaida, decked out in splendid armor, proudly sitting upon his horse, stoic faced. Keizo remarked that he wouldn’t mind having armor like that, and they shared a chuckle. After him came the emperor and empress in side by side palanquins, they were talking about something very heatedly. Kazue wished she had better hearing or could read lips or something, she very much wanted to know what had made the empress lose her composure. Keizo was looking around anxiously while they were passing, so he wouldn’t even know what she was talking about if she asked him, she kept her thoughts to herself. The royal heirs were next in the procession. At the head was Okita’s rumored betrothed, Akodo Kyoichi, in brilliant golden armor that was lined with a bright green jade, beside him rode Aritomo looking as illustrious as ever. He and Kyoichi seemed to be having a pleasant conversation, Kazue couldn’t help but to make sure Keizo noticed their ally, he was a bit annoyed by it she thought. Following after his brother came the gloomy, dark figure that was Akodo Takeshi, he looked as happy as a fish out of water in the procession; at his side was Bayushi Toshio who was talking in Takeshi’s direction, but the second heir made no responses. Behind his brother was Akodo Shou he was the most splendidly dressed of all the brothers, with his bright silver armor and brighter smile, Kazue doesn’t think this man can be trusted. No one that can make so many people swoon with only a smile could possibly be honest. Along his side was Isawa Ton who for some reason was wearing a large wide brimmed hat and a mask, she thought only scorpion wore masks; you could hear his and Shou’s laughter from the sidelines, they must enjoy each other a rather lot. The last of the brother was the little and least attractive of them all, Akodo Hiroshi, he was almost completely obscured by his brother’s shadow, but Kazue noticed the little heir. His adviser was Yogo Sadaku, they rode in silence beside one another. After them rode the Imperial daimyos and the lesser imperials. Kazue paid little attention to them. She chose instead to look about the crowd. She noticed nothing of great importance. Except she realized how rare it was to see an unattractive person in the crowd. When there was one they stood out like a red bird perched on a dead tree. After she noticed Keizo’s annoyance at her bothering him when she showed him Aritomo, she decided it would be ill advised to bother him again while he was in his yojimbo mode. Finally the crane contingent was in view, she couldn’t help but feel happy about being able to visit with her sisters. With the parade ending Kazue began her trek back to the crane quest house to greet her sisters.
Before she had a chance to reach the guest house she was intercepted by a servant who told her Daidoji Kaku, her betrothed’s father, wished to meet her. She agreed to the meeting and followed the servant to where Kaku wanted the audience to take place. The servant made very little conversation along the way, and Keizo was more on edge than usual since there was an event going on so he wasn’t much to talk to either. She instead filled the walk with daydreaming about what it would be like to be married to Ryosuke. She imagined it would be amazing to be married to the one you loved. Kazue found this thought to be sad and happy all at the same time, her dream would never come true. When they came upon the building the meeting was taking place in, she almost ran into the servant guiding them, because she was paying so little attention to where they were going; she would have too if Keizo hadn’t noticed what she was about to do and made a little noise to snap her out of her dream world. He was always looking out for her. They were led into a large room where both Kaku and Chuichi stood waiting. As soon as Kaku saw Kazue his face lit up with a large smile, and he announced that Chuichi should be happy that he had such a beautiful betrothed. Unsure of what to say after that comment, Kazue just stood there and listened. Kaku decided he had been there long enough and took his leave reminding Chuichi to invite her to the picnic. This left the two of them together with Keizo and the conversation that followed left Kazue feeling bad for Keizo because he had to listen to the dribble. This man didn’t even know what type of art she enjoyed. She knew even less of him. She could tell he had just as little interest in her than she did of him. When he invited her to the picnic he suggested that she also invite Tomodachi to the party, she wasn’t sure why he was so interested in the scorpion, but she agreed to ask Tomodachi to come since it was a request by her betrothed. With the invitation agreed upon Kazue was glad to be able to head back home and get to sleep. She had almost forgotten about her sisters staying in her room until Keizo asked her if she was excited about getting back and having so many crane around. She had to admit it was comforting having so many crane in the city she was coming to love. They arrived at the guest house a little after dark and she went to her room right as her sisters were finishing unpacking. Seka seemed to be in a pleasant mood but Emi was as dour as ever. Emi was complaining about how small the room was. Kazue was comforted to have her bickering sisters momentarily in her life once again. Kazue invited them on a tour with her favorite imperial Miya Yurikago. They would surly enjoy him as much as she did, and it would be a great way to show them the city. With that decided Kazue settled in for bed, she had a restful sleep.
Kazue was awoke one night by a voice from outside her door. She quietly made her way to the screen and opened it. She was incredibly surprised to see Katai and Ryosuke crouched in the hallway. This was the first time since the tattoo she had seen him. She could see Ryosuke doing this sort of thing, but she never would have guessed Katai would let him. She decided that what ever it was that he needed he would get it at her studio, she had a gift for him anyway. Katai and Ryosuke agreed to meet her at the studio. Kazue made her way to the meeting point, making sure she didn’t wake her sisters. They would need all the rest the could get in order to stay awake during the tour Kazue was going to take them on tomorrow. On her way to the studio she had to get past a couple guardsmen who she told she needed to work on something in her studio, a half lie. She made her way through the imperial mount, trying her best not to be seen. Finally she got to her safe haven, Katai and Ryosuke weren’t there yet so she relaxed for a bit while she waited for them. She fiddled with the trinket she had made for Ryosuke, a yin-yang made of a crane and a dragon, and she couldn’t help but fantasize about how amazing it would be if her and Ryosuke could get married, she knew it would never happen, but it was fun to think about. The image of him as he got his tattoo crept its way into her mind, what an amazing thing that was to see. Finally they made it to the studio and Katai said he would wait outside. Kazue now knew what Ryosuke wanted, and it was something she wanted as well. She gave him the gift and he appreciatively accepted it. Kazue knew that every time he looked at it he would think of her and know she was thinking of him as well. They slid out of their cloths and laid with each other. After they were finished relaxing in each other’s arms speaking of little things, Ryosuke proclaimed that they should run away together, Kazue thought about it for but a moment, but then told him that he wouldn’t be able to leave the city with out being a fugitive, and if they were caught both would be killed. It came time for them to part, and Kazue sneaked her way back to her room in the crane house. Emi was waiting for her there, she asked where she was and when Kazue told her she was at her studio, when Emi challenged her further she decided to just go to bed.
Okita stopped by one afternoon and invited Kazue to a dinner with her and the empress, Akodo Kasumi, while the idea of meeting the empress scared her, she got to enjoy the company of Okita so rarely that she couldn’t help but accept. With that they headed toward their destination. Kazue hadn’t realized how much Okita looked up to Kasumi before the walk to the meal. On and on she went about how amazing the empress was and how elegant and how she hopes one day to be just like her. The made their way deeper into the imperial mound all the way Okita talking about the empress. Kazue was in awe of her surroundings, things seemed to get brighter and more beautiful as they moved forward. When they finally reached the place they were meeting the empress, and they were shown in by heavily armed guards, they seemed to be everywhere. Kazue felt the familiar sense of fear creeping back into her body. This was a situation Kazue had no clue about, and so she followed Okita’s lead in everything. Once they bowed and entered the room, Kazue caught her first glimpse of the empress. Everything she did was elegant and beautiful, Kazue almost didn’t notice the other woman in the room, who introduced herself as Seppun Kioko, that woman seemed determined to create a stir as soon as Okita and Kazue walked through the door. Kazue couldn’t help but notice how politely Kasumi dismissed Kioko, and how quickly after that Kioko left. Polite conversation was traded between each of them, with Kasumi leading the talk and Kazue listening mostly as Okita replied. When they finally left Kazue felt like she could finally breath again. She told Okita that the experience scared her a little bit, and Okita laughed and told her that if she wasn’t scared the empress was doing something wrong. Kazue was in awe when she, out loud, speculated that one day Okita would be the same way, perfect and terrifying. Kazue neglected to say the terrifying part and she was saddened when Okita got happy about her remark. The empress wouldn’t have allowed Kazue to dine with her without a reason, she wondered what that reason was as her and Okita walked away and back to her studio and parted ways.
Once again Kazue was in the tunnels with Ryosuke sharing a kiss, when he pulled away and his eyes began glowing an eerie red color as he disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel. She began walking out of the tunnel knowing where to go, but not knowing why. She came to the outside where the moon had blocked out the sun and witnessed two dragons, one of jade and one of obsidian flying in darkened sky. She was pulled away from this by a fascination with following a flaming path with shadows dancing in the flames. The path led to the Imperial Palace where the emperor sat on the throne and the jade throne was completely blackened. Kazue awoke when two inhuman hands began to choke her and the life left her body. She awoke in a cold sweat and didn’t know what to make of her dream. The only person, other than Ryosuke and Keizo she could think of to ask about this was Okita, and she sent a messager to request that Okita meet her at her studio. While she was waiting for Okita to come to her studio Kazue told Keizo her dream, leaving out the part with Ryosuke, and he just replied that he didn’t understand such things. She teased him for a while, attempting to get his opinion about it, but he held strong and never gave her an actual answer. Just as she finished teasing Keizo, Okita came strolling into her studio, what perfect timing she had. Again Kazue retold her dream to a friend, leaving out the part with Ryosuke again. Okita took a great interest in her dream but admitted that she had no gift for interpreting dreams. She suggested Kazue and her go to Moshi Tenpi the Sun Priestess because she would have more experience with prophecy. They immediately headed over toward the temple. They entered the temple only to see a woman praying at an alter, they waited quietly as to not disturb the priestess’ prayers. When she was done the beautiful young woman stood up and introduced herself as Tenpi and asked what they needed. Kazue told her that she had an extremely disturbing dream and sought help interpreting it. She told her of the dream and noticed Tenpi most troubled by the moon completely blocking out the Amaterasu’s rays, in the imperial city no less. Tenpi suggested this was a time frame, as the next solar eclipse was 3 years from now. The rest she spoke little of, and Kazue decided she needed to meditate on it further. As they were just about to leave Tenpi asked if they would like her to ask Amaterasu a question for each of them. Okita went straight for it, asking about her marriage; Tenpi told her that she would marry the next emperor, but it would not be the one she wanted. This infuriated Okita, Kazue had never seen her so ill composed, but she quietly fumed as she waited for Kazue to ask her question. She too went with a question of marriage. Tenpi gazed into the fires again and said that should would be engaged 3 times, never for love always for duty, but never married. Kazue hopes this isn’t the case but she has become slightly more superstitious as soon as her sister started haunting her. Kazue thanked Tenpi for her time and they left. As soon as they left the temple Okita began speaking loudly about how Tenpi was not as wise as she had thought, claiming she was wrong and saying that Tenpi didn’t know what she was talking about, she wanted Munemitsu killed after all! The prophecies still left a bad taste in Kazue’s mouth, but she and Okita parted ways leaving Kazue to spend the rest of her time thinking on what had happened.
The day had arrived where Kazue was to have a picnic with a small group of crane, her betrothed, his father, her sisters, and Tomodachi in tow. Today was certain to be uneventful, she had no love for her betrothed, though she was amused by his father. Seka seemed to heed the warning about the scorpion she gave last night, but Emi mistook it as Kazue having feelings for the man, and proceeded to flirt, rather poorly, with him. Tomodachi seemed a good sport about it though, and kept her wonderfully occupied during the morning. Kazue noticed her betrothed paying a little too much attention to the scorpion, more attention to him than her anyways. He even rode up to him on many occasions ignoring Kazue almost completely, she doesn’t think he likes ladies very much, or at least she hopes that is the cause, she doesn’t want to believe she is so unlikable. Him not liking women suited Kazue just fine however, as she had no desire to be with anyone other than Ryosuke. Kazue and Seka shared private laughter at Emi’s behavior, which she felt bad for as soon as she saw the look on her sisters face when she heard the giggles. With Emi occupied and Seka safely with Keizo, Kazue decided to see if her betrothed’s father had an interesting stories to tell. He did not. He was telling her of his battle that had caused so much unease with his visit to court. She didn’t like battle stories, but she hoped in learning the tale she could smooth out some of the ripples; perhaps with more embellishment on how valiantly the lion that was slain fought, or maybe give him some grand last words, she imagined the lion liked such things. She paid rapt attention to the old man as he categorically recounted the battle. There would be no flare form this man, which made her job all the easier, a whole block is easier to work with than one that has already been altered. As he completed his retelling, a pride of lion showed up, armored and flashing brandished weapons. They demanded the justice for their fallen comrade, but when Daidoji Kaku said that they fought in an honorable duel and so he would give them a duel as well, the Matsu, which Kazue recognized as Shojiro, the one Okita told her had raped her friend multiple times, proclaimed this as a folly and began to charge. The poorly equipped crane party had barely enough time to pull their wakizashi before the lion collided with them. 12 heavily suited and armed lion against 13 poorly armed and finely dressed crane. The brute even wanted to kill her sisters. Luckily Keizo was around to hold off the one rushing toward them or her sisters and she may not have had time to turn tail. She noticed Tomodachi running toward them, easily passing her, she hoped in an attempt to help them escape, she wasn’t sure because the Matsu had called him by name telling him not to interfere. She had to believe he was there to help, she heard a cry from a familiar voice, Keizo’s voice, she turned just in time to see him cut down a lion and get struck down himself. She hardly noticed Kaku getting beheaded by Shojiro. She was broken by the slaughter happening in front of her, Keizo, the one she had traveled with and come to love as a brother was struck down attempting to protect her and her sisters, it was a death worthy of a yojimbo, but she was crushed by the loss. She noticed no more specifics of the battle, only how sickening the red blood overwhelmed the silken kimonos of her fallen clan mates. She had no idea how long she was perched there on her horse, who’s hooves were now caked with blood, she started to move somehow, wasn’t broken from her trance until she heard Aritomo’s comforting familiar voice. She noticed who had pulled her from the carnage, Tomodachi stood. Her reins in his hand, she was suddenly ashamed, he had seen her cry. She noticed her sisters were safe and assumed he had rode off to aid instead of harm them. She was grateful, and would have to remember to thank him later. He was dismissed by Aritomo and Kazue was glad when they began to head back to the crane guest house. On the way back he asked her what had happened, and she told him all she could in between her sobs.
Aritomo had warned Kazue the night before that there would be a hearing In the morning and she would be expected to testify. Her along with her two sisters, Tomodachi, and the murderous Matsu. The survivors along with the slayer. Kazue listened as her clan champion called for blood, and proclaimed the unjust attack on the crane an act of war. He resounded with great assurance that the testimonies would support his claim. To her despair Kazue was called first to testify. She regaled her tale in short sentences, making certain to get everything as precise as possible, she even mentioned the story Kaku was telling her. Which in hind sight was a bad choice which she understood when she noticed the lions listening to her testimony shift in their seats. Suddenly she was aware of how many lion survived while the crane fell that day. Kazue after that point slowed down her story and made sure to be even more neutral in her telling, what she was doing at the time didn’t matter only the events that occurred. She found it incredibly difficult to not embellish, to take herself out of a story she was a part of. She could see the impatience growing on everyone’s faces, she hated having to tell the story of Keizo’s death, she rushed through the last bit. She was certain she hadn’t left anything out. Emi was called next to testify, she crumbled under the pressure and Kazue wished they were on better terms so she could comfort her, Emi began to cry and was instantly dismissed by the emperor himself, he used incredibly harsh words on one that had just passed her gempukku. Kazue wished she could have spared Emi this shame. Why did her sister’s have to come to this accursed city. They would have been spared all this bloodshed if only they had stayed in their family’s home far from the rotting innards of the forbidden city. Emi ran crying out of the chamber. Kazue hoped Seka would do better under the circumstances, she had not even passed her gempukku, though she knew Seka was a more deft courtier then Emi. Seka backed up what Kazue had said, almost to the word. She must have been more affected by the stress than Kazue had thought, as Seka droned on Kazue’s mind kept flashing back to the image of Keizo being cut down. She hated this whole mess. She felt so useless. So unsafe. She was having a hard time thinking of reasons she should stay in the city. Kazue listened mildly as Tomodachi effectively said nothing relevant to the event. Perhaps he did not deserve her thanks. The Matsu was next and she only heard his loud voice proudly dictate that he was following orders and carried the murderer’s head through the city. That man calling Kaku a murder left a sour taste in her mouth. The Matsu daimyo stepped forward happily and claimed responsibility for the order to kill the party, calling it a blood feud. With the testimonies over the emperor sat with a scowl on his face, she could tell he was not happy with any of the events that had occurred. She saw Kaii lean over and whisper something into the emperors ear, she can only imagine what it was; right after the words were done however the emperor sat up and proclaimed the massacre to be the end of the blood feud between the Daidoji and Matsu, and that there would be no more bloodshed in the guise of feud. After the ruling, back in the crane family home Aritomo shuffled Kazue into his chambers and assured her that she had done well. Kazue let him know that she was not happy with how close to war they had come, and she wondered how the Matsu were waiting for them, as if they had been told beforehand where to wait in ambush. It seemed these questions were also running through Aritomo’s mind, and she felt less ridiculous for her thoughts. Daidoji Kozuo came in not long after, paying her little heed. Kazue doesn’t think he even noticed her when he strutted in. He let Aritomo know he had completed what he had come there to do, and he would be leaving soon, the duel was just a bonus to his visit, a happy little occurrence. Kozuo felt that it was better to die with pride than to live without it, his brother on the other hand wisely claimed that while pride could be regained, when a life was lost it was gone forever. Aritomo sounded incredibly annoyed with his brother and all the violence he had brought with him. Kazue was listening intently and she affirmed her opinions of both brothers.
The day Kazue had been wishing would not come rolled in, marring what would have otherwise been a wonderful day. Sunny and fresh, smelling of blooming flowers and perfumes. Why would such a day be once again filled with blood, Kazue dreaded the event that she knew she must go to. Her absence would be noted by everyone; since the duel was issued in order to regain the honor of Doji Shiori, Kozuo’s daughter, if any crane didn’t attend it would be viewed as a dire insult indeed. Kazue found her days to be filled with bloodshed, never before had she imagined Otosan Uchi would be so red. She was floating through the crowd. She was feeling a bit lonely, Kazue realized she had very few friends in the city, since she was always in her studio working on one piece of art of the other, when Aritomo called her over to the group he was entrenched with. The group included, Kage Hisanobu and Kioko, one she had met the other she had not. Aritomo was discussing with the Kage how if the little heir, Kage Omezo, could come to the Asahina lands , he may have a better chance of living with so many healers about. Hisanobu was leaned on heavily by Aritomo to let Omezo go into crane territory, and eventually the Kage agreed. Kazue breathed a little easier knowing this would get the little man out of harms way, or at least she hoped as much. Though one life would surly end today, perhaps another was saved. She also noticed Miya Utaemon showing off his sword, a gift from Aritomo. Tomodachi was in that group she saw, it must be nice to be surrounded by so many friends, all of hers were confined to the Imperial mound. Kazue felt a bit jealous of Tomodachi in that instance. Bayushi Ise was as comfortable as ever in the company of the young hostage of the Ide family, Mirumoto Jakuchu. This was all Kazue had time to view before the duel began. Temur walked out attempting to look braver than he was, it must be terrifying for him to stand there knowing full well he was going to die. He was visibly shaking, Kazue wondered what he was thinking about as he faced death. Was he thinking of who caused him to be in this situation, or thinking of his family, or was he glad that his death would be an honorable one. She wondered what stories he was taking with him, what secrets. When Saito stepped onto the duel field he was a beautiful sight, like a jade statue, cold and beautiful. Kazue saw soemthing in his eye, she wasn’t certain what it was, but it scared her. Both men had their weapons drawn and preformed their salutes, and then the death signal was given. The duel began. It took only an instant for Saito to advance and slice Temur hip to hip. Kazue knew looking away would be a sign of weakness, and so she gazed on the scene in horror, giving none of it away on her face. Temur let out a horrible scream and Saito looked upon him, in what Kazue thinks was amusement, she knew a man of Saito’s skill could have easily beheaded the poor Moto, why had be chosen such a cruel fate for Temur. She thought she was a twinge of a smile of Saito’s face. He was a dangerous person. No wonder he was only brought to court when the crane wanted someone dead. Kazue listened as Temur continued to scream in agony, it must have gone on forever, she knew it would haunt her dreams. They finally ended when Saito saw fit to give the Moto mercy, beheading him in one easy stroke. With Temur’s death Shiori’s innocence was set in stone, no one would speak ill of her again. Was her honor truly worth a man’s life. A man who was a hostage in order to keep the Moto from attacking the crane. A dangerous game was being played, Kazue didn’t like it one bit.
There was a rapping at Kazue’s bedroom screen once again. She was instantly excited, she would get to spend more time alone with Ryosuke. It was a bit disappointing when the only one out there was Katai. She followed him to a garden where they could talk. He told her the eunuchs had a spy outside the crane guest house and outside her studio, a gardener named Tae. He also explained why Ryosuke hadn’t been around for a while, rumors of some imperial bastards sneaking off the mound had found their way back to the eunuchs, and they decided for the time being it would be better to trap all of them in one area, to ensure none of them went anywhere. Kazue told him she thought it would be better if her and Ryosuke didn’t meet again until the heat had died down. Katai agreed that that would be the best idea. She let him know that she didn’t want Ryosuke put in any danger and that she knew if they just stopped meeting completely with no other contact, Ryosuke would find his way to her, no matter the consequences. Katai and her came up with the idea of exchanging letters in place of meeting. It would hold Ryosuke in a safe spot for a little while at least. Katai agreed that the letters would work for a short amount of time, but he knew eventually Ryosuke would get tired of them and come to see her, he just hoped the time he got sick of it would not be until the eunuchs stopped paying as close of attention to him. Kazue decided she would meet with him tonight, so she could explain her plan, she figured he would be more likely to go along with it if she told him instead of Katai. He gave her instructions on where to go, and said she would find Ryosuke waiting for her. Once again she glided through the shadows, following the directions given to her. She managed to find her way there, only stepping on a few sticks, she luckily didn’t run into any guards along the way this time. As promised Ryosuke was awaiting her arrival. As soon as she saw him they shared a smile and he comforted her about the loss of Keizo; her joy was brought down, but he did his best to make her feel better. Ryosuke reluctantly agreed to this being their last meeting for a while, making sure to insist that it be only for a short time, since he wanted her safe as much as she wanted him. They shared a bed a second time. In their pillow talk she let him know she told Aritomo about what they saw, Ryosuke agreed that her choice had been a good one. She also decided to let him in on her dream and the prophesies she had heard. When she was telling him about the dream he was initially happy about her fantasizing about him in her sleep, until she told him the rest of the story. When she had finished he proclaimed her dream meant nothing was left for them in the city and again suggested they leave. It was a bit more difficult to convince him not to do that, and how little life they would have if they were constantly on the run. He thought Tenpi was full of nonsense, knowing for certain prophesy was only as powerful as people let it be. They lay there for a long while in silence until Ryosuke and Kazue decided it was getting into the hours and they parted ways.
Kazue was sitting in her studio attempting to create a new art piece and came up with nothing. Art seemed to lose its meaning with so many horrible things going on. Still depressed over the loss of Keizo Kazue was at a loss of what to do. She felt a lot more insecure about what she was doing without him around. Okita came by, it seemed like forever since they had last spoken, she expressed her sorrow at the loss of Keizo and asked how Kazue was doing, she told Okita how lost she felt. While they were talking Katai came to Kazue’s door and requested her. He said he had a matter Kazue and him needed to discuss, Okita dismissed herself and invited Kazue to dinner later, Kazue accepted and Okita left. Seeing that Katai wasn’t inviting himself in, Kazue invited him in and offered him tea. He accepted her offer and looked even more grim than he usually did. Kazue knew this must be a very serious matter, she feared for Ryosuke’s safety, and asked Katai if something had happened to him. He replied shortly with a no. That when he told her of the letter he had intercepted telling the emperor of Ryosuke and her affair. Kazue was incredibly shocked by this knowing full well that she and Ryosuke would be killed if the emperor found out, and that if Katai had been found to have aided them he too would be killed. Who could have seen them she wondered, then Katai told her. It had been her sister Emi. This hit Kazue as a physical blow might have. When had Emi’s jealousy turned to hatred. Kazue decided that she would deal with this on her own, attempt to talk to Emi, to make her understand. Katai hadn’t yet told Ryosuke and didn’t plan to, since he didn’t know how he would react. Kazue agreed that that was the best choice. Kazue sat for a long time alone after Katai left wonder what she had done to make Emi hate her enough to want to kill her. She almost forgot about her dinner arrangements when Okita came by to pick her up. Okita and her shared a meal and when she noticed how detached Kazue was she offered to show her some parts of the city she had never seen. Kazue accepted in hopes that this would take her mind off Emi, if only for a second. She was a little surprised when the event actually managed to cheer her up a bit, it was hard to stay too sad with so much beauty around. Okita seemed pleased with herself when she noticed Kazue cheering up. Kazue got to see the wonderful statue Munemitsu did of Amaterasu, it was so beautiful Kazue thought it could come to life any moment. She was incredibly grateful for having Okita as a friend. She was glad to have a brief respite from her troubles, which seemed to be piling on top of themselves. Kazue thanks Okita for being such a good friend, they then parted ways, as it was getting late in the day. She walked back to the crane house when she stumbled upon Kakita Meiji sneaking around toward the Seppun house, he claimed to be going to the water gardens to practice his swordsmanship. Kazue say through this lie easily and decided it was better to tease him than to call his bluff. She eventually parted way with him saying it was too late for her to stay out any later. Both of the sisters were in the room getting ready to sleep, Kazue decided she would wait for them to go to bed and wake Emi up and talk to her. This only took a moment as it was already fairly late. Once Kazue was sure Seka was asleep she woke up Emi and asked her if she wrote a letter to the emperor. When Emi admitted to it, Kazue told her if that letter had gone to the emperor both she and Ryosuke would be killed. She noticed Emi’s mild surprise when she told her that, she knew it was not her intent to get her killed. Kazue threatened to ruin her and Tomodachi if Emi wrote again to the emperor. This was a mistake, she hadn’t realized how much Emi liked that man, this immediately put Emi in a defensive mood. She claimed the emperor had a right to know if his bastard was sleeping with a slut. Words cut like knives, and all that Kazue could force out was she couldn’t help who she fell in love with. At this Emi fell silent. There was no more to say. Kazue had to do something, Emi was threatening to do something that would get the one she loved killed, along with herself. She would go to Aritomo tomorrow and get him to force Emi back to their family home.
After learning of Emi’s betrayal Kazue knew she needed to get her out of the city, her jealously was going to kill Kazue and Ryosuke, and maybe even Katai. There was no way she would let that happen. She decided to go to Aritomo and request her sisters ejection from Otosan Uchi, this would solve all her problems, Emi would be safe in their family’s house, and she would no longer be a threat to Ryosuke’s safety. Kazue would be glad to get one of her sisters out of the city also just so she would only have to look out for one of them, and Seka was by far easier to look after. She requested an audience with Aritomo and spent the time reading the book and poem Ryosuke gave her. It took half a day for him to call her into his study. She wasn’t sure what exactly sure what to tell him, what to leave out and what to say. She decided to start off as vague as possible. Starting off with Emi was making it incredibly difficult for her to function in Otosan Uchi. He was a little annoyed when he herd this, thinking Kazue had requested a meeting just to talk of family rivalry. Kazue knew she would have to tell him a bit more, she revealed to him that Emi was sending letters to the emperor saying she was doing something more than being a friend to Ryosuke. He asked how she knew, and she let him know the letter had come into her possession. Aritomo seemed to get really serious when she was finished explaining. When Kazue asked if he needed to know more, he staunchly refused. She was relieved by him not wanting to delve deeper into her business. It would be horrible if in her attempt to save Ryosuke she had to reveal the one thing that could get him killed. Aritomo sat there for a while and then announced that he would order Emi to leave the city and return to her family estate. Kazue was greatly relieved that her plan to get Emi out of the city was going to go over so smoothly. The words that came out of his mouth next were a blow that she wasn’t sure she would be able to handle. Emi, once back in Asahina territory would be ordered to commit jigai. Aritomo would not let someone who so blatantly betrayed their family and clan live. He let Kazue know he had plans for her and people that got in the way of that would be inconsequential. Kazue didn’t know how to react to his decision, she couldn’t tell him what to do, he was of a higher status. He wrote out a letter telling Emi what was required of her, and gave it to Kazue, making sure to let her know to give it to Emi while other people were around. Now her actions inadvertently were going to cause her little sister to lose her life. Kazue was struck with what a great cautionary tale this would make. She bowed in acceptance of his decision and left. What a horrible day.
The next morning Kazue went down for breakfast, she wasn’t hungry, Emi was there with Seka and Meiji, she delivered the letter, simply stating how she wished Emi had loved her as much as she had loved her. Lost in a state of disillusionment Kazue listlessly went about her day. She began painting an image of Emi, she hoped this would ease her guilt a bit. Never would Kazue tell anyone who the painting was of, or why she painted it. The exception would be only Ryosuke. On her way home she was approached by Miya Utaemon, and he was very excited to be talking to a crane, quite adamant about how lucky she was for being born a crane. She wasn’t sure exactly what he was talking about. Lots of blathering about how amazing her clan was, eventually he rolled around to the point of the conversation. He wanted her to talk to Aritomo about getting him an invitation to the court being held in Kyuden Kakita. He was incredibly proud of the gift Aritomo gave him; the sword she saw him showing off to everyone at the duel. She asked if she could see it, and he happily agreed, it was a beautiful weapon indeed, she thought about how sad it was that such a beautiful thing would eventually be used to wreak so much havoc, not unlike Otosan Uchi itself. He wanted to know if she had any Kakita ancestors, she let him in on the information that her grandmother was a Kakita duelist. This made him smile broadly, he was quite excited to be so close to someone with her lineage. She decided this man was quite odd indeed, but she let him know she would speak to Aritomo on his behalf. Utaemon giddily dismissed himself after she told him this. At least this place was filled with interesting people, was the thought that Kazue had running through her mind as she entered her room. She was greeted by Seka. Her sister wanted to know why Emi had to leave the city. Kazue assured her it was because Emi was in danger there, when Seka challenged her reason, she reinforced her claim with how Emi had been behaving in the city. She hoped this was enough for her, and decided she would tell Seka later the truth, when she was older.
In the morning just as Kazue was going back to her studio to finish up the painting she was working on she was once again approached by someone requesting her aid. Ide Yorin wished for her to make a sculpture that both showed how much he loves Otaku Setsuko and how horrible a person Tomodachi was. It took the Ide a good long while to stop talking about how amazing the Unicorn woman he was after was. Kazue understood why Munemitsu had him thrown out of his studio. This man seemed certain that Tomodachi was evil and that somehow a statue could show that. She was staunchly against using art to degrade someone, and she told the Ide that she would make a piece of art to show his love but not that would cause harm to anyone. He even went so far as to insult her abilities to try and get her to do exactly what he wanted. She ignored his vain attempt at manipulation, and after much deliberation he finally accepted her idea; she doesn’t think anything she creates will be well received. He seemed so determined that she couldn’t turn him down, and now that it was only to show love she had no moral issue with the suggested piece. While Kazue walked up to her studio she decided she would use her feelings toward Ryosuke as inspiration for the sculpture. She noticed Tae was already at work when she showed up, and she invited him in for tea before she got to work on the painting.
Hoping for a day of peace Kazue decided to wander about the gardens of Otosan Uchi. Perhaps she could gain some insight as to the horrible things she was going through, Kazue knew if she just had a chance to clear her mind everything would get better. Finding herself in a garden she had never been in before she took time to gather her bearings, she noticed a flash of color through some on the hedges. Perhaps a fine statue, painted beautifully, or a woman’s lost kimono, she would have to find out what the color held; there was only a moment of dread, what if the statue were broken, how sad a day. She brushed back the branches and revealed a mound of blood soaked kimono, with a woman’s body, throat slit, lying within its ruffles. A broken statue. A sad day. She immediately left to find a guard, she had no idea what else to do. It didn’t take long to find one, she was relieved it was one she didn’t know. Kazue didn’t feel like talking to someone that knew how she thought. Her and the guard walked back to where the body was, it was a sullen journey. The guard didn’t seem as phased by the body as Kazue was. She looked at the face this time, it was Miya Yahiko, the woman meant to marry Hoitsu. Rumors had been flying about her getting caught attempting to flee the city to get out of the marriage, in response the date had been moved to the end of the week, Kazue had been invited. The guard decided Kazue was a suspect and took her to an emerald magistrate. She wasn’t certain of why he thought she would kill someone, but decided it would be easier for her to clear her name if she went with him. He led her to an imposing building, what if they didn’t believe her, assumed her to be a murderer. Luckily the magistrate to see her was a fellow crane, and understood the Asahina traditions. She told him exactly what had happened, he deemed it a suicide and sent her on her way. Kazue had a long walk back to the guest house. So much death in this city. She went to bed. Tomorrow she would begin work on the statue for the Ide.
Kazue slept in late this morning, Seka had already left for her training when she decided to roll off her futon. She could still smell the perfume and metal that surrounded her yesterday. There was a small piece of paper beside the door, a note, she assumed it was for her. The note asked her to be in the water garden at night by the fat god. She thought maybe the crazy dragon or Katai had something they wanted to tell her. Whoever sent the note obviously didn’t want their name attached to it. She hoped Ryosuke was okay. Kazue decided it would be a good idea to familiarize herself with the gardens, she found the meeting spot and scoped out the area, it would be easy to get back to later. With that completed she headed back to her studio to begin work on the promised sculpture, swinging by her favorite spot along the way, Munemitsu’s statue of Amaterasu. Lying on the ground beside the statue was Shiba Yoruto, he was limp sprawling on the ground face down. Why was it always her that had to discover the dead bodies, for her own sanity she had to risk becoming unclean, she attempted to wake him by rocking him. He didn’t even groan. She asked the stone beneath him if it could feel a vibration off his body, it responded that he had been lying there a while. Kazue thought kami were annoying useless sometimes. She noticed he was breathing and so called for a couple servants, paid them half a bu each and gave them another bu to rent a palanquin with instructions to discretely bring the Shiba back to the phoenix guest house. Certain the task would be completed Kazue headed to her studio. At least there wasn’t another dead body for her to discover today, she was happy to have a day free of violence. Once inside the safety of her studio she grabbed for the wooden blocks and began her work. She was glad for an excuse to think about Ryosuke in the mess of her life, he seemed the one constant, her work would be easy. A servant came by later and had another message for her. Kazue was surprised to be so popular. She was invited to a banquette being held by Asako Kanosei, her recent brush with the clan led her to think his invitation was a bit jaded. She decided to skip out on the banquette and meet with the mystery person instead. She was afraid something terrible had happened to Ryosuke. Darkness fell and Kazue began the trek to the water garden, to the fat god. This was her first time in the water garden at night, it was truly beautiful. The gazebo where she was to wait was illuminated by the light of Lord Moon, it made for a wondrous sight. She entered the gazebo through its one entrance. The location gave her a fantastic view of the whole area. She was about to leave when a tall shape darkened the door, long while hair, and a familiar glint to his eyes. She knew this man. Saito, the one man she was terrified of. He told her not to struggle, she screamed, he was in front of her in what seemed like an instant, tanto slowly moving up her thigh. He called her beautiful. She looked into his eyes and saw nothing of kindness in them. Someone stumbled outside her cage. Yet another figure stepped in, larger than the last. She heard a brusque voice tell Saito to leave. There was not enough room for him to pull his katana so he reluctantly walked out. Leaving Kazue and her savior alone. It was Matsu Shojiro, she was filled with dread once again, would he too assault her? He asked her if she was having a good time, she managed to breath out a response. He smelled of sake and volunteered to escort her to where she was staying. She thanked him for his rescue, he laughed and reminded her that if it weren’t for him she wouldn’t need saving. Perhaps he wasn’t as mindlessly cruel as Saito. The return home was awkward, quiet, and a bit smelly. What had she done to deserve such horrors in her life.
Kazue awoke to a pain in her thigh, and she realized last night hadn’t been some nightmare, it was real. She stroked the scabbed over slice that existed where there had once only been skin. After calling for a servant, Kazue got ready, she would request a meeting with Aritomo. He was apparently not busy because it didn’t take long for him to see her. He greeted her and told her he wasn’t sure what to think of her visits since they always bring dark words. Kazue was afraid he disliked her telling him what she found out, but he assured her that was not the case. She had been bringing him a lot of bad news, and she was happy to finally have something less dire to bring to his attention. Aritomo looked on expectantly as she told him of Otaemon’s desire to be invited to Kyuden Kakita for court. When she told him what was requested, he looked a bit confused. Utaemon was a daimyo’s heir, if he wanted to go to a court all he had to do was show up. Kazue told Aritomo that his wish had less to do with being allowed to attend and more to do with being invited personally to his favorite family’s court. She also took this time to request a new yojimbo, she felt incredibly unsafe after last night. Everything she seemed to say made Aritomo confused, he didn’t understand why she needed a yojimbo in Otosan Uchi. She told him the event that had been happening recently made her very wary no matter where she was. It was decided that she would get protection when she was outside of the city walls, but had no need for protection while inside the barrier. Defeated, Kazue set off to work on the statue. She ended up getting a little bit done before she saw Ryosuke in the distance, smiling and with two children with him. Kazue looked over to Tae, he looked flustered and attempted to look busier than she knew he was. Ryosuke didn’t give him a single glance. The image was picturesque, she would have to remember it later when she wanted to paint soemthing new. He came to her door and let her know the eunuchs were preoccupied and they were going to enjoy a day of fun. She loved having time to spend with them all. Perhaps this would distract her mind from all that had gone on recently. They ended up in a garden she had never been in, it was none the less splendid though. They seemed to be the only ones there. Ryosuke introduced the children as Otomo Hotaru and Terada, they were his siblings. Kazue had only a little experience with children, but she knew how much she loved seeing shugenjas form water into animals and have them fly around. She attempted to get the kami to listen to her call. They ignored her twice, maybe they some how knew what she had thought about them just a day ago. The kids and Ryosuke looked on expectantly, she didn’t know what to tell them, all she could do was laugh. Proclaimed that the water kami seemed unresponsive today. Instead she decided to entertain them with soemthing she was good at. She told them all stories. Little Terada was running around the whole time but Ryosuke and Hotaru humored her with their attention. After a while Terada ran up to Ryosuke and asked him to climb a tree pointing toward the largest in the garden. There was nothing but admiration in his eyes. Ryosuke looked to her and asked if it would be impressive, she had to admit it would but she didn’t want him to get hurt. He promised he wouldn’t get hurt, and ran off toward the tree. Kazue was amazed with the skill at which he scaled its heights, it was as if he were flying. When he reached the top he waved down to them, she could see the tree swaying in the wind. Hotaru grasped her hand and told her to get him to come down, she was afraid. Kazue obliged her and called for Ryosuke to come down, he got down as gracefully as he had climbed up. Kazue let him know that she was thoroughly impressed, and that she had never seen anything like it. With the kids distracted at the end Ryosuke and Kazue had some time alone, he let her know this is what it would be like if they were to run away together, she reminded her how difficult it would be to have a life when they were constantly running. She was about to tell him what all had been happening with her, when she decided it was better not to spoil the day. Too soon the night was overcoming the day, and Ryosuke had to take the children and leave, they had a bed time. By the end of the day Hotaru preferred clutching onto Kazue than Ryosuke, and she saw a twinge of jealously on his face. They all walked back with her to the studio. From there Kazue made her way home. Along the way she met another dragon, she assumed he was a dragon since he was poorly dressed and barefooted. They had a short conversation, and she excused herself. He began following her. She was instantly reminded of her last encounter with a strange man, she walked faster, visibly disturbed. Luckily a guard was around and he stopped her and wondered if the man following her was bothersome, she told him he was. While the guard and the dragon were talking Kazue slipped away, certain this would give her enough time to sneak away. She was glad to within the safety of the guest house by the end of the night.
A moment of peace is all Kazue wished for. A momentary break from the insanity that was the city she lived in. Before she had time to leave for the day, the emperor called for a court session, everyone was summoned. It seemed Miya Utamura had something he wished to tell Akodo V. She was certain he was going to request his place as daimyo be recognized, since his father was unable to preform anymore. When she entered the chamber everyone was abuzz with the same thought. Everyone was excited, Utamura deserved this. A hush fell upon the room when the emperor entered the room. He called the old man to say his piece, he looked to be in a rare good mood. Utamura stood with a sad look on his face. Kazue thought it was odd, seeing as he was about to become daimyo. When he began to speak she understood his face. He told the emperor that he saw something while searching for a flower in the Seppun house. Akodo stated his hope that he was not here to hear about him sneaking into a house to see a flower. Utamura told him there was more, that he saw the empress and Kakita Meiji together in the garden speaking of love, betrayal. Kazue wasn’t sure how he saw anyone though, since his eyesight had long ago began to fade, who else had been there with him she wondered. At this the emperor raged, demanding to know if this were true, the empress cool as ice denied the claim. Utamura said he wished to commit seppuku in order to substantiate his claim. The empress sat stoically. Ikoma Kaii said that it was well known that Meiji frequented the Seppun house. The empress shifted in her pose, she began to look worried. She called the accuser a liar, stating again that she would never do such a thing. The emperor shut her up very efficiently by telling her that what use would lying be, since he was going to forfeit his life. He called Meiji forward to hear what he had to say about this. Meiji told them he did go to the house often, but refused to saw why. The emperor proclaimed that he was sentenced to death, and his immediate family was to commit seppuku, their names wiped from the books and all lands and titles stripped from them. Meiji’s extended family was also to have their lands and titles stripped from them, Kazue was stunned, why wouldn’t he tell them why he was there. He must have a similar situation as her, a forbidden love. Meiji was dragged from the chamber. The emperor didn’t know what to do with his empress, she was taken away. When the emperor stormed out, people began to leave. Immediately Kazue was approached by Okita. The dark words she heard in the tombs finally made sense. Okita was crushed, she was afraid for the empress. Kazue was afraid for her, if one empress could be attacked, so could another. The rest of her day was spent with Okita, attempting to cheer her up. Okita fell asleep in her bedroom teary eyed, Kazue looking over her that night.
The death of the empress was a shock to the Imperial courts, but the shocking this to Kazue were the events that followed. Kazue got called along with every other court-ling to the announcing of who would be marrying the imperial heir, Akodo Takeshi. Kazue knew who it would be of course, it would be Okita, she had only been training for it since she arrived in Otosan Uchi. The only thing Kazue was afraid of was a possible negative reception since Okita was really close to the late empress. After getting to the event Kazue sat with Okita and the Phoenix party, she has no real friends among the crane, so this was not a difficult decision. They waited anxiously to hear Okita’s name when the Emperor began the announcement, but it was not Okita’s name that left his lips, but [[:matsu-nene; Matsu Nene’s]]. Ripples of shock and whispers rang throughout the audience, the Pheonix were outraged, and immediately stood up and left, taking Okita with them, and leaving Kazue stranded. Luckily Aritomo waved her over, saving her from more embarrassment. Poor Okita, Kazue’s mind was swimming, her best friend had been promised and was in love with that man. She couldn’t help but think about the Priestess prophesies about both her and Okita. The audience was so shocked by the first announcement that they had to regain focus when the emperor let everyone know he had another up his sleeve. This second proclamation was even more shocking than the first. He would marry Mineko, a concubine of common birth. This spurred on even more whispers than the first, it was almost forgotten in the scene of things, by all but Kazue. After the event Aritomo looked obviously disappointed, and said that he would have to figure out what his brother’s plan was. He let Kazue know to lay low a while, since she had been so close to Okita. Okita came to Kazue later that night and let her know they were leaving and she wanted Kazue to come with her. It took some convincing because she didn’t want to leave the area Ryosuke and her sister were, but eventually Kazue agreed, since she assumed soon she would come under fire. She waited for Seka to get home and let her know she was leaving and gave her a latter to give to her lover, who she did not name. Seka was floored by the revelation that her sister wasn’t a mindless robot, and Kazue felt a little closer to Seka after the confession.
The next day, when the Phoenix were going to be leaving, and Kazue would be stowing away, and find herself hopefully in a safe place. Okita came and got her early and Kazue brought only the essentials, with the book Ryosuke gave her wrapped in a special cloth. Everything was going really well, her and Okita whispering to each other, playing games as they rode along in the palanquin, to the safety of Phoenix lands. Unfortunately a feather from something Okita owned found its way around Kazue and she sneezed, the party came to a sudden stop, and they quickly discovered Kazue. She was ashamed because she was caught hiding under pillows, and it was made worse when Okita’s uncle displayed his disappointment. In the distance a bright light could be seen, Kazue let out a breath of relief because this drew the uncle’s eyes away from her and Okita. She could hear the sound of horse hooves approaching and when she looked she recognized the brilliant armor instantly. It was Akoko Shou, the third child of Akodo V. The Phoenix contingent waited for him to ride up to them. Kazue was dumbfounded, what in the world was he doing riding up to them? It didn’t take him long to reach the party, when he reached them he announced his intentions to leave with them. He explained that he killed three guards on his way out and his outrage at the empresses unfair killing. His request to travel with them was denied, they were in hot water enough as it was without an imperial stow away. It was requested that he take Kazue back with him to Otosan Uchi, which was not happy news for her since not only was she going back to that horrible place, but on the back of a horse with an imperial heir. She couldn’t help but think of how ironic the past events were because she was supposed to lie low. She said her goodbyes to Okita and gathered her things; the ride home was silent and awkward. There was no resistance getting back into the city, who would question the imperial heir? She slunk back to her residence, and burned the letter Seka was supposed to give to Katai to give to Ryosuke. She was happy that the letter hadn’t been seen by anyone but her.