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 Post subject: Fear [Story][Public]
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:33 pm 
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Fear
by RuwinReborn
Status: Public :diamond:


Flowers and Thorns


Kimberley, eyes closed, held the fourth Kata for as long as she could.



Stillness, Jinsen had told her. Calm. Kimberley exhaled, her muscles relaxing. At the moment, she was standing on her right foot. Her knee she had pulled up to be level with her waist. Her hands she kept loosely upon the hilt of her blade, which was attached to her hip by a red sash using a complicated knot Jinsen had shown her how to tie.



The fourth Kata and the second Kata were similar, she had found. Both required you to stand on one foot for a portion of the maneuver. Both only used a single stroke. However, with the second Kata, the blade began unsheathed, and level with her cheek. Her elbows were much more involved. The other major difference was that Jinsen had pushed her to complete the second Kata as quickly as possible. That had been the point.



The fourth Kata was the opposite. Jinsen had claimed he had once held the beginning stance of the fourth Kata for a week before completing it. Kimberley accused him of growing a sense of humor, but secretly, she believed him. Stillness always seemed to be his specialty.



She did not have a week, however. At least, not unless she wanted her audience to get bored. Jinsen had claimed that each time she performed the fourth Kata, she would know when it was supposed to end. If she remained still, if she remained alert. He told her it would be a learning process.



In front of her, the floorboard creaked.



Quickly, as Jinsen had showed her, she drew and thrust her blade in a single, smooth motion, her raised foot providing the necessary balance as she returned it to the floor. The weight of the blade was familiar by now, though Jinsen claimed that she would one day not notice it at all. Kimberley opened her eyes.



Staring at her with wide eyes and an impressed smile, was Jin Eijo. The tip of her blade was bare inches from his chest. Kimberley immediately stepped back - Jinsen told her never to point her blade at someone she did not mean to kill - and sheathed her sword.



“I heard you come in ten minutes ago.” She told him, frowning. “What were you waiting for?” Jin shrugged.



“I was just watching.” He told her. “It’s very impressive. The Lotus teaches you well.”



“Just watching?” Kimberley teased coyly, and smiled with satisfaction as a blush ran up his neck. He ran a hand over the top of his shaved head.



“I- Yes.” He cleared his throat. “Walk with me?” He requested politely, stepping to one side and gesturing to the door with a small bow. Kimberley briefly entertained the thought of turning him down to watch him flounder, but decided it would be unnecessarily cruel.



“Alright.” She agreed, and walked past him to slide the door open. The room set aside for her in Lord Eijo’s estate was spacious, if sparsely furnished. Turning around to regard Jin fondly reminded her of how little she actually owned, in comparison to him. She was still dressed in her travelling clothes, which were bland browns and greys. In contrast, Jin was wearing a loose tunic that left most of his chest bare, and flowing silk pants that were held to his lithe form by a belt in a complicated knot. The silk was all died soft blue and white.



She felt envious, briefly, of the life he led. Comfort and stability. No wondering where next he would be. No worrying if the only person he relied on would leave him.



“I’m glad you decided to visit.” Jin said warmly, as he stepped out of Kimberley’s room. She smiled at him and pulled herself out of her thoughts. He offered his arm, which Kimberley took with a coquettish look and a laugh as he cleared his throat. “It has been too long.”



“I’m surprised we visited.” Kimberley told him. Jin led them both down the hall, towards Lord Eijo’s private garden. “Jinsen insisted. I think he needed to speak with Kymoko, though he would not tell me why.” Which was true, for the most part. Kimberley had been speaking often and loudly about Kamigawa and their mutual friends there, and she believed Jinsen had finally gotten the hint. It had only taken her three months.



Sometimes it was hard to tell if Jinsen was being oblivious on purpose, or not.



“Oh, I see. I had thought-” Jin cut himself off, and Kimberley only gave him a sideways glance. “Well, it is good to see you again, Miss Talon. You’ve… progressed well in your studies.”



“You’re not very good at small talk.” Kimberley informed him flatly, and he surprised her with a startled laugh.



“No, maybe not. It’s just-” He paused to open the door to the garden for her, and shook his head before leading her through. “You left quite the impression on me when we first met.” He paused again, perhaps waiting for her to respond or perhaps admiring the greenery. Kimberley hummed noncommittally, so he continued speaking. “You departed in a hurry and…” He sighed, and stopped beneath the shade of a small tree before removing his arm from Kimberley’s.



“I’d have rather stayed.” Kimberley offered, hoping it was some sort of consolation. “Jinsen is…” But Jin cut her off with a smile and the small shake of his head.



“No, it’s good that you went. To learn at the feet of the Lotus is a rare blessing.” He hesitated, then, before tentatively raising his hand. It hung in mid-air between them for a heartbeat, and then he placed it carefully on her shoulder, and stepped closer. Kimberley was keenly aware of the weight, the warmth of his hand, but kept her eyes locked on his. “I never told you…” ...Told her?



Oh, gods. Kimberley felt her heart leap into her throat and a blush run up her neck. A thousand answers played simultaneously through her mind, and for all the variance, most of them were disconcertingly similar. And, well, Jin was attractive, he was stubborn, he was opinionated and fiery. She had known him for such a short period of time, although she had thought about him with an increasing consistency and - she was not sure if she wanted him to say what she thought he was going to say-



“I’m sorry.” Jin told her, and she let out her breath in a gentle sigh as he looked away. “I was- I was awful to you. Before. I treated you…” The muscles in his jaw flexed as he clenched his teeth. “You did not deserve how I treated you. You showed kindness despite me. I didn’t deserve it, and then I never got a chance to apologize. To truly ask for your forgiveness.” His hand slid down her shoulder, and into hers. Then, he took her other hand just as softly, lifted them both up, and bowed his head. “I beg your forgiveness, Miss Talon.”



Kimberley stared at Jin’s bald head, her lips parted slightly in shock.



“That,” Kimberley said, “was very melodramatic.” There was a brief pause, presumably as Jin processed her words, before he chuckled lowly.



“And yet, here I am, still unforgiven.” He murmured, voice deep with mock severity. He still did not look up at her. “...It has weighed heavily upon me, these past months, Miss Talon.” Jin said seriously, finally looking up. “I was not raised to treat another person like that.” And… well, she could see it. It had bothered him. Affected him. He was staring at her with such sincerity, such earnest conviction that he had been wrong, holding her hands. He was very close, so… Kimberley decided to kiss him, and did.



It was chaste, at first, much like before. Kimberley had only kissed a handful of people in her life and not many of them had been pleasant experiences. She had fond memories of Kamigawa and Jin - regardless of her time spent incarcerated - and she wanted more of those memories. Good ones, like this kiss, which deepened as Jin released her hands and placed both of his on her waist. She cupped his face and he pulled her in closer.



He pulled away softly, resting his forehead against hers.



“I think I can forgive you.” Kimberley whispered, smiling.



“Thank you, Miss Talon.” Jin replied quietly, almost reverently.



“If you call me ‘Miss Talon’ one more time, I’m never kissing you again.” She chided, and kissed him again. When he pulled away a second time, it was with a mischievous grin.



“But, Miss Talon-” He began, but Kimberley shoved him away and folded her arms. “-That’s improper!”



“You will call me Kimberley, or I’ll show you just how well Jinsen has taught me!” She threatened playfully, and Jin raised his hands in surrender.



“Threatening an unarmed man! You are crueler than any ogre…” He paused for a inordinately long time and Kimberley glared at him all the while. “...Kimberley.”



“Prettier than an ogre, I hope.” Kimberley said primly, smiling. Jin nodded, and offered Kimberley his arm once more. This time, he put his hand over hers as they continued to walk through the garden.



“If you are looking for compliments, you don’t have to be coy.” Jin told her. “You are very beautiful.” Kimberley felt herself blush deeply.



“Oh, I. Um.” Now her mouth decided not to work. “Thank you.” She managed, finally. Jin gave her an amused look, but said nothing, instead turning his attention to the garden. It was a peaceful place, in the center of Lord Eijo’s manor, and Kimberley briefly wondered how it was so well cared for. When she voiced the question aloud to Jin, he sighed.



“I maintain it. Mostly.” He admitted, shaking his head.



“I never would have thought of you as a gardener.” Kimberley pointed out, and Jin sighed again, but with a small smile.



“My father believed it would help soothe my temper.” He explained. “I regret that such a thing was ever necessary, but am grateful that he was right.”



“...You do seem more calm.” Kimberley observed, and then added, a bit smugly. “You didn’t even try to arrest me this time.”



“I didn’t just try to arrest you, Kimberley.” Jin said dryly. “I did.”



“Semantics!” She declared immediately, smirking mischievously at Jin. “But, I suppose if you’d been worse at your job I wouldn’t have had all that time alone to think.”



“A wise perspective.” Jin murmured. “Tell me, how long will you be staying here? I know the Lotus likes to wander.”



“He didn’t say.” Kimberley replied, frowning. “Honestly, he seemed… distressed. He wanted to speak with Kymoko, but I’ve never seen him want something so… urgently.”



“...He is a mysterious man.” Jin said.



“Not really.” Kimberley told him as they reached the opposite end of the garden. They stopped in front of a door that undoubtedly led back inside of the manor proper. “He’s quiet, and he likes to be alone. He takes himself seriously, and… he takes me seriously. But he’s not concerned with much else. Food, shelter, water… he doesn’t worry. I’m not sure he even knows how.”



“He is a masterful samurai.” Jin pointed out. “When you are in command of yourself, you are in command of your surroundings. Perhaps he need not worry because there is nothing to worry about.”



“He can’t be ready for everything.” Kimberley insisted.



“If we were speaking of anyone else, Kimberley, I would believe you.” Jin said. “But the Eightfold Lotus… My father tells me that Kymoko has seen nothing like him.”



Kimberley hummed in response, but remained unconvinced. She did not want to talk about Jinsen anymore. She cared for and respected Jinsen deeply, of course, but it was smothering to think that he would impact every facet of her life like this. She needed a little room to breathe, and so, she decided that her time with Jin would not be spent talking about her mentor.



“Has Kymoko seen anything like me before?” She asked, and, alright that was a little unsubtle, but at least Jin seemed to take it in good humor.



“Maybe. Maybe not.” Jin shrugged, but adjusted himself so that he was facing Kimberley. “I know I haven’t.”



Kimberley snorted. “Flatterer.” But she placed her hands on his chest as he wrapped her loosely in his arms. He grinned.



“Flattery? Are you implying I want something from you?”



“Maybe.” Kimberley murmured, right before Jin kissed her. She decided that if she was going to be flirting with someone she was actually interested in, she would have to find some better material. Luckily, she was better at kissing than she was at flirting, which had disturbing implications that she certainly was not going to be worrying about right now-



A sudden, sharp knock at the garden door startled them both apart. While Kimberley’s first instinct was to jump away, she felt Jin pull her closer, arms suddenly like iron cords. His grip slackened immediately, of course, but Kimberley felt herself blushing regardless. It was an… oddly sweet gesture. Even if she could handle herself, and they were in no danger.



Wait, why was someone knocking on the garden door?



She glanced at Jin, and he seemed to have asked himself the same question, because his brow was furrowed in confusion. The mystery was solved, however, when the Eightfold Lotus opened the door, watching the both of them placidly. Kimberley froze. If there was one thing she knew about Jinsen, it’s that his hearing was legendary. She had not once been able to sneak up on him. Jinsen had once asked if she was thirsty, and then led her to a stream that was half a day’s walk away.



He had certainly heard Kimberley and Jin kissing.



And it was not that she thought he would disapprove, it was just- Well, embarrassing. That someone would have intruded, even accidentally, on a private moment like this. The more she thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. Yet, Jinsen’s black eyes seemed to focus on her with the intensity of an accuser, and...



“I have just spoken with Kymoko.” Jinsen stated, and, well, alright. At least he was not going to comment on it, but that was cold. Jin released Kimberley from his arms just as Jinsen addressed him. “My apologies. Had I guessed at the nature of your relationship beforehand, I would have returned Kimberley sooner.”



Kimberley groaned and buried her face in her hands, mortified, as Jin sputtered.



“That’s-” Jin cleared his throat. “...Thank you, Lotus. I appreciate your consideration.”



“You don’t get to ‘return’ me, Jinsen, I can visit when I want.” Kimberley informed the Eightfold Lotus testily, but any irritation she was feeling fled at Jinsen’s puzzled look.



“Of course, Kimberley.” Jinsen murmured, ducking his head. “I have received troubling news...” The way Jinsen trailed off put Kimberley on edge, because his eyes moved away from where they were focused on her face to some point far behind her. She got the impression he was looking at nothing. “It requires my immediate attention. Lord Eijo has offered his hospitality while I am away.”



Kimberley blinked.



“I’m… not going with you?” She asked hesitantly, a knot of fear building in her stomach. Which was ridiculous, really. She… had no idea what Jinsen actually had to attend to though. What if he did not come back? “How long are you going to be away?”



“I am unsure.” Jinsen informed her. “A few days, perhaps. No more than a week.”



“Oh.” Kimberley swallowed. “Alright.” Jinsen placed a cool hand on her shoulder.



“I will return, Kimberley.” He promised her gently. “While I am gone, continue practicing the Fifth Kata.”



“I still don’t know what you mean by ‘accepting’ it…” Kimberley grumbled, folding her arms and looking away. The Fifth Kata was… complex. The most complex she had attempted yet. Jinsen consistently reassured her that he was confident in her abilities, but it was a confidence that she did not share.



Jinsen hummed thoughtfully before responding.



“As I have said, Kimberley - it is something your blade will teach you.” Jinsen turned away. “I must go. Remain diligent, Kimberley.”



And with that, the Eightfold Lotus vanished. Kimberley sighed, pulling the nervousness in her stomach apart until she barely noticed it any more. She glanced at Jin, who had remained silent throughout the exchange, and was staring at the empty space where Jinsen had been.



“Is that what it looks like?” Jin murmured thoughtfully, brow furrowed. “To planeswalk. You just… go?”



Kimberley thought about the Blind Eternities. About the infinite grey chaos that surrounded her whenever she ‘walked, about the sensation of falling but without direction. About the weightlessness, about the gravity, about the feeling of being pulled everywhere and nowhere at once.



Every time she ‘walked, she was afraid she would never be the same.



“It makes my hair stand on end.” Kimberley told Jin casually. “I can never get it to lay down properly for an hour after.” This had the desired effect of startling a laugh out of him, and Kimberley grinned. Well, maybe this would not be such a bad thing. Jinsen could handle… whatever he needed to handle, and would be back in a week. Or less!



Yes, everything was going to be fine.



As Jin took her arm and led her back through the garden, however, she could not shake the unease that settled in her gut.



***


Jinsen allowed himself to feel a mild sense of guilt as he emerged from the eternities and stepped onto the Sea of Blades. Perhaps he should have given Kimberley a more concrete time frame. Perhaps he should have explained himself better. Perhaps he should have brought her with him.



Perhaps.



Then, he let the past be the past, and focused on the present.



The Sea of Blades was aptly named. It was not the expansive, white grass that appeared almost luminescent when night fell for which the rolling fields were named. It was the hundreds of millions of small, nearly invisible razor like thorns that stuck up from the ground in harsh, deadly patches. These plants were called Kor’s Spite by the humans. The Kor called them nothing at all, because they were not foolish enough to incur the wrath of the Ancestors by traversing upon their holy ground.



Few things lived here - only creatures capable of flying long enough to avoid landing, and creatures capable of burrowing beneath the deadly thorns. Of other thinking creatures besides Jinsen, there was no sign. For the Kor, only legends and the dead traversed the Sea of Blades.



For the Kor, the Eightfold Lotus was both, and so, he felt a strange sense of belonging.



Much time had passed since last he came here.



Still, he remembered the way to the Ancestor’s Road. Even he could not forget something as fundamental as that. The Ancestor’s Road was the only path through the Sea of Blades. It was the only haven from the relentless, cutting edges of the plains. Legend said the first cobbles were the skulls of the first Kor forced from their homes by the humans. That the Kor bled and wept upon the bodies of their fallen, even as they crawled over them. That it was the spirits of these first martyrs that led them to hidden quarries, where stone was abundant.



Jinsen supposed it could be true. He had seen stranger things in his travels. He found it hard to honor the Ancestors, however. Neither their wrath nor their blessings had ever fallen upon him. Perhaps planeswalkers were not beholden to their will. Perhaps the Ancestors did not exist at all.



Perhaps.



It took two days to reach the Ancestor’s Road. He had arrived so far away so that he would have time to get his thoughts in order - to steady himself. To say what must be said, and do what must be done. While he walked, he meditated. His feet found purchase in the soft grass, and avoided the thorns. Likewise, his mind found purchase in the stillness, and avoided the sharp edges of his fear and doubt. Neither would serve him here.



He opened his eyes only when he felt his bare foot touch smooth stone. The Ancestor’s Road.



The Ancestor’s Road was many miles wide. The opposite end could be seen, but only just. More obviously, enormous standing stones dotted the side of the road, covered in ancient carvings and writing. Signposts and history books both. It was just like the Kor to seek wisdom from the dead. Jinsen glanced at the sky, and shielded his eyes from the sun.



...Clan Nurima would be camped beneath Isvul’s Watch. If what he had been told was true - and he would never accuse Kymoko of lying - then their stay would be extended, and the mourning drapes displayed.



He headed west.



It was not but an hour before he felt the presence of the Watchers. He wondered if the Winds of Manaan still watched over this portion of the Road, or if they had ceded its protection to another school. He supposed he would learn soon enough - the Watchers approached.



One was male and one was female, at first glance. Jinsen kept his arms respectfully behind his back, and his head lowered slightly. They may mistake him for a pilgrim, but he doubted they would let an armed man - even a Kor - pass from beneath their sight without at least a few questions.



Both Kor were armed - this he could hear. From the soft tinkling of metal on metal as they approached, he identified several dozen separate weapons, though many of them were of similar make. The Winds of Manaan still watched over the Road, then. This pleased Jinsen. The Winds were infamous among the humans for their unerring accuracy with throwing weapons and their ability to vanish into almost any terrain, like the wind rushing into the sky. Among the Kor, the Winds were famous for their even temperament and ability to stay calm during crises.



“Brother Kor.” As the woman addressed him, Jinsen raised his eyes to meet her gaze. Her face was smooth and impassive. Her companion - a younger Kor that Jinsen assumed was her apprentice - looked much more irritable.



“Sister Kor.” Jinsen replied in kind, returning his attention to the woman.



Her shaved head indicated that she was a Weapon Master, just as he was. She wore garb traditional for the Kor. Silk, animal hides, and several loosely bound strips of cloth around her feet and hands. Several belts criss-crossed her body, from which hung the myriad knives that she would utilize should an encounter turn violent. Jinsen briefly noted where he would cut, exactly, to most efficiently remove the weapons from her reach.



She remained neutral as he regarded her.



Her companion, however, tensed briefly.



“I am Makoto Jette.” She introduced, bowing slightly. “Weapon Master of the Winds of Manaan. This is my apprentice, Makoto Imoi.” She gestured to her companion, who curled his lip as Jinsen glanced at him. He waited for her to say something else, but when she did not he returned his focus to her.



“...Have you business with me?” Jinsen asked, frowning. Jette blinked.



“You are alone, and far from caravan.” She explained slowly, as Imoi flexed his jaw behind her. “I would like to know who you are, from where you have come, and to where you will go.” Jette’s eyes briefly fell to his hip, where his blade rested in its sheath. It was disrespectful to ask a Kor about their weapon, he remembered. Still, now that the questions were asked, he would either have to refuse to respond, lie, or tell the truth.



Jinsen took a deep breath, and then sighed slowly.



“I am Nurima Jinsen, Weapon Master of the Eightfold Lotus. I have come from the Sea of Blades. I go to the caravans of Clan Nurima.”



There was a moment of silence. Jette’s eyes widened, and shot to Jinsen’s feet, while Imoi’s face darkened.



“Have you proof?” Imoi demanded immediately. Jette shot her hotheaded apprentice a wary look, but did not speak up to correct him. Jinsen frowned for a second time - hopefully that would properly portray his displeasure with the situation. What had happened while he was away, that being alone was cause for interrogation?



“I have nothing to prove.” Jinsen said slowly. Imoi scoffed.



“He is an exile, master.” The young man growled, placing both his hands on his hips. It did not escape Jinsen’s attention that they rested on the handles of two throwing knives. “Unfit to be walking the Ancestor’s Road.”



Exile? Jinsen had never heard of his people exiling their own. A small strand of fear wormed its way from his heart and into his belly, making itself known. He acknowledged and banished it with a thought - something was wrong here.



“We have no proof of that, Imoi.” Jette chided quietly, staring at Jinsen with intense focus. “I can believe you are going where you say. Your other claims are… outlandish.”



“I have not lied.” Jinsen stated plainly. “Once more, I have nothing to prove.” He nodded briefly at the road beyond the two Watchers. “May I pass?”



“You claim you came from the Sea of Blades.” Jette repeated, ignoring his question. “Yet your feet are uncut. You must understand my skepticism, brother Jinsen.”



“I’m sorry, sister Jette, but I do not.” Jinsen replied. “Why are these questions necessary?”



“For the safety of our people!” Imoi asserted, raising his chin. Jette waved for him to be silent, but once more, she did not correct him. She watched Jinsen expectantly, still.



“...I am no danger to the Kor.” Jinsen told them.



“We cannot be sure of that.” Jette spoke softly, but her eyes were all flint and steel. Jinsen came to the understanding quickly that, should things continue in this manner, violence would fall upon them. “You must tell us who you are, and where you come from.” Earnest, almost desperate - she did not want a fight.



Behind her, Imoi smiled smugly. Clearly, he did.



“I will tell you this once, Makoto Jette.” Jinsen murmured lowly, unclasping his hands from behind his back and letting them fall to his side. “Should I be forced to draw my blade, you will not survive the encounter.” Jette’s eyes narrowed, and her hand shifted…



Jette’s eyes widened as they met his, and her hand fell still.



“You dare threaten my master?” Imoi shouted, unclasping the knives from his belt with a flick of his thumbs. “You-”



“If I draw my blade, you will die.” Jinsen repeated, more sternly, and this time directed his words at Imoi.



The young man growled, and the sound of metal against leather hissed from his hips. Jinsen inhaled, and watched as Imoi’s wrists rose and bent, his arm rippling as his elbow pivoted and threw the knife - glinting in the sun - a perfect spin, weighted to kill-



Jinsen placed his hand on the hilt of his katana.



Faster than a viper, Jette snapped the knife out of the air and spun on her apprentice. A quick finger punch to his wrist sent the second knife tumbling out of his numb grip before she deftly pulled his feet out from under him with the a turn of her foot. To his credit, Imoi was able to flip over and mostly catch himself with his only working hand.



Imoi grunted as he hit the cobbles.



Jinsen took his hand off of his katana.



“Just because you do not recognize death, does not mean you should dance with it.” Jette hissed at her fallen apprentice, who had rolled over to gaze at her in utter confusion. “Stay on the ground and thank the Ancestors I was fast enough to stop you.” Then, without another word to Imoi, she turned to Jinsen, breathing deeply, black eyes wide. “Forgive him, Lotus, he knows not what he does.”



Jinsen nodded.



“No harm was done.” Jinsen told her. “No forgiveness is necessary.” Jinsen frowned for a third time, however. “I am disappointed to see that a student of the Winds of Manaan has not yet mastered their temper.”



“A failing I take full responsibility for.” Jette replied immediately, bowing deeply. “This lesson will be valuable to him…” The weight of her words settled over Jinsen like a shroud. She would not meet his gaze, and yet, her hands stayed loose and by her hips. The easier to arm herself at a moment's notice. She still thought Jinsen was a threat.



She believed that he was still going to kill Imoi.



He felt something in his mind shake briefly, and he closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. He was going to kill no one. He was going to hurt no one. He was more than the deeds of his past, and he was more than the fear of this woman.



“...I am glad to have helped.” Jinsen told Jette without opening his eyes. He felt the air swirl around her as she sighed in relief, heard her heartbeat stutter and slow. “Go in peace, Makoto Jette.”



“Go in peace, Lotus.” She replied automatically, as Jinsen stepped past her, and continued down the road. His thoughts - so even and smooth after walking across the Sea of Blades - were now full of sharp edges and ragged spikes. Something was strange about this world, his home, this place he had not returned to for many decades. Something had gone wrong. The Kor had never treated another of their kind like this. Never with open suspicion, never with fear. Or, could it be something else was bothering him? Perhaps it was the terror that had filled Jette’s eyes. Perhaps it was the anger that his existence had stirred within Imoi.



Perhaps...



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 Post subject: Re: Fear [Story][Public]
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:33 pm 
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Joined: Sep 22, 2013
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A Bad Person


It was not until later that night - after she and Jin had shared dinner, conversation, and several quiet moments together - that she realized she had not seen Lord Eijo at all since she had arrived earlier today. Jinsen had clearly spoken to him at some point, and admittedly, she had been too preoccupied with Jin to spare his father much thought. Neither had she seen any of the small Kami that were an extension of Kymoko’s sight. For that, of course, she was glad. She disliked the feeling of being watched.



Though it did strike her as odd that she did not run into Lord Eijo in his own home. Had he spent all day in town? He must have gone to the shrine with Jinsen, but after that…



Maybe Jin had asked for privacy? That thought made Kimberley smile to herself. She wondered if he had planned most of the day - as best as he could - and whether or not it had been what he was expecting. She sighed and…



...She was acting like a lovestruck loon.



It was time to focus.



Jinsen told her to remain diligent, and she would. She doubted her blade would be as efficient teacher as the Eightfold Lotus, but it would have to do. She hoped Jinsen did not expect her to come to understand the Fifth Kata on her own, while he was away, but she never claimed to know what was going on in his head. She drew her katana.



Since acquiring the weapon, Jinsen had quickly gone over the motions of the Katas she had already learned, this time with minor adjustments to account for the katana. She now had a better feeling for what the Katas were supposed to teach her, and what they were supposed to represent. With that understanding, and the daily exercises that Jinsen put her through, she could feel herself becoming stronger. Faster. More alert, even.



Still, as she watched Jinsen go through his own Katas every morning, she wondered if she would ever achieve his level of mastery. She wondered if it was possible, and if it was, how long it would take. Jinsen had dedicated his life to the Eightfold Lotus. Would she need to do the same? Should she? Did Jinsen expect her to?



Remembering the ghost of Jin’s lips against hers, she was not so sure.



Kimberley widened her stance, and began the Fifth Kata.



She had watched Jinsen perform it, of course. The blade began drawn, and ended sheathed. Jinsen described it as an end to what the First Kata began. Kimberley understood where he was coming from, since the only Kata she had learned where the katana began in its sheath was the first one. When Jinsen performed all the Katas in succession, he only drew the blade twice. She had thought that was odd, at first. Why would he sheathe it again at all? It seemed like an extraneous step, and so, she had asked him about it.



He had explained that the sheath was where his sword belonged. There, it was safe. Content. Powerful. Kimberley was not sure she had understood at the time, and Jinsen said she would know better when she began practicing the Sixth Kata - but this was not the Sixth. It was the Fifth.



The movements of the Kata she had mostly memorized. At this point, concentration, stillness, and coordination came easily to her. Jinsen had encouraged her to take the Fifth Kata as slowly as possible, to familiarize herself with the movements. Like all the Katas, she would eventually be able to do them quickly and without hesitation. Jinsen sometimes performed them so quickly that she could not identify the individual movements. She was not quite so proficient, so, she swept the blade slowly, from left to right, then brought it high above her head with one hand. Her free hand also rose in time with her blade, so that they met in the center directly above her head.



The key was symmetry, and that was one of the trickier parts. Her free hand did not have the weight of her katana it it, and so she had to imagine that it did.



Kimberley brought the katana down hard, until the tip was barely an inch above the floor.



Now, all that was left was to sheath the the blade. Jinsen had told her that she needed to be able to sheath and draw her katana without looking. So, when she tightened her stance and rolled her hand so that the blade was primed to be put away, she did so with her eyes forward.



As she thrust the sword backwards, she nearly lost balance before groaning irritably.



She had missed the sheath. Again.



Jinsen had told her that the Kata had to be completed without using anything but the blade to guide her. She could not hesitate - she simply had to know where the sheath was. She had to know how it weighed when it hung from her hip, where it lay when she crouched, stood, and moved. She had expected to learn to become proficient with a sword - she had not expected to wrestle with its wooden container.



Jinsen had-



Kimberley clenched her teeth.



That was the problem. She could not stop worrying about Jinsen. Which was ridiculous, because he was more than capable of taking care of himself - or so she had been told. But, she had never once seen him eat of his own volition - so who was going to remind him to eat? Where would he even find food? Kimberley had been taking care of that, too. She’d gotten pretty good at makeshift fishing and creating snares… He needed, he…



Kimberley clenched her teeth even harder, until her jaw creaked, and wiped away the angry tears that spilled onto her cheeks. She liked being wanted. She liked being needed. She liked the sense of belonging that training under Jinsen filled her with. She had been living with these things for just long enough to be afraid to lose them. Now, with losing all of it a very real possibility - because it did not matter what Jin said, Jinsen could not be ready for everything - she came face to face with her cowardice once again.



Kimberley was trying to stay strong. She was trying to stay calm.



But she hated feeling out of control. She hated being afraid. She hated waiting for the next tragedy to strike her.



She was so convinced that something was going to go wrong - and that it was going to happen right then - that when there was a tiny knock against the wooden wall outside her door, she nearly jumped out of her skin. This was doubly unfortunate, because her blade was still unsheathed and she ran the risk of cutting herself. She shoved her katana unskillfully into the sheath before wiping her eyes and glancing at the shadow being cast upon the paper door. It was Jin.



“Come in.” She called, and hoped it did not sound like she was croaking. That would be more unattractive than her puffy eyes. Jin slid the door aside with his head lowered, carrying what appeared to be a bundle of blankets.



“I just remembered that you have nothing to sleep on.” Jin murmured, glancing up. She assumed that whatever he saw pleased him, because he decided not to look away again and smiled slightly. “I-” Then - as his eyes flicked towards her face - he frowned. “Are you alright?” Kimberley covered her cheeks and turned away, fighting back more tears. This time, she was just embarrassed.



“Oh, you know.” She muttered, trying not to sniffle. “Just keeping my cheeks, um, moisturized.” She tried not to wince as her quip fell flat because, yeah, her heart really was not in it right now. More deflection through humor. It was like she had not learned anything.



She heard Jin drop the bundle on the floor and approach, so she shied away from him slightly. She was not sure if she wanted to be touched right now, or even if she wanted him to be here. She felt vulnerable and stretched thin. If Jin said or did anything… anything, she felt like she was going to snap and break down.



It was silent for a few moments.



“...Would you like me to go?” Jin asked quietly. Kimberley thought about that for a moment before shaking her head. He was, if nothing else, something to focus on that was not the crushing sense of inevitable tragedy that seemed to hover over her shoulder wherever she went. So far, the only other person to dispel that feeling had been Jinsen.



“...Tell me everything is going to be fine.” She whispered, eventually, hoping she was not coming across as cryptic or needy. Hoping she did not sound like she was begging.



“Everything is going to be fine, Kimberley.” Jin said immediately, and with such conviction that she let herself believe him for long enough to step into his arms and bury her face in his chest. For a few minutes, she pretended like she was not crying and he pretended like he could not hear her. He did not ask any questions, which she was grateful for.



After a long, semi-comfortable silence, Jin spoke again.



“I remember sleeping against the door when you were detained.” He remarked lightly, quietly, as though he was telling a story for no reason but to tell it. Kimberley huffed a small laugh at his use of the word ‘detained’. She had been imprisoned, but she could trust this more temperate Jin to soften his words for her. “I woke up the first few mornings and expected you to be gone.”



“Where would I have gone?” Kimberley mumbled into his silk shirt.



“I did not know.” Jin replied. “But you seemed the sort who would run, if given the opportunity.”



Kimberley scowled, since Jin could not see her face. He was more right than she would ever admit to him, if she was being honest with herself. She had been flighty and dismissive, while she was hunting down Jinsen. Nothing seemed as important as finding the Eightfold Lotus, and so, she had always had a ready rationalization for why she could not stay and pay her dues. For someone who was readily a magnet for trouble, this left her with a handful of places she could not return to for fear of retribution if she was recognized.



“...I think the only reason I didn’t was because Kymoko was watching.” She told him. “I remember thinking about it.”



Jin hummed thoughtfully.



“I thought that as well.” Jin said. “I told myself that if you could get away, you would. Later, I learned that you could have left at any time.” Kimberley had nothing to say to that, just like she had nothing to say to it when he had pointed it out the first time. “You never told me why you stayed.”



Kimberley swallowed, feeling not at all mysterious or even wanting to.



“Do you know why I think you stayed?” Jin asked after several heartbeats of quiet. She nodded vaguely against his chest. “Because you are a good person. The kind of person who stays imprisoned so that a son will not lose face in front of his father.”



...She wanted to believe him. She really did.



There was, maybe, too much evidence to the contrary.



“Watching a grown man get yelled at by his father was really embarrassing, to be honest.” Kimberley teased him, instead of telling him that he was wrong. It was probably for the best. Jin chuckled.



“I believe I’ve already made my regret clear.” He told her dryly, and she looked up at him, a little more confident that maybe her face was not puffy and wet.



“You could stand to make it clearer.” Kimberley whispered, standing on the tips of her toes. Jin kissed her softly, and then released her from their long, standing embrace.



“If I stay much longer, my father will begin asking me inappropriate questions over breakfast tomorrow morning.” Jin informed her as he stooped to gather the bedding he had brought in with him and began to lay it out properly. “Given that you’ll be there, I’d really he rather did not.”



“I was wondering why I hadn’t seen him all day.” Kimberley said idly as she watched Jin smooth out the bedroll. “Where was he?”



Jin paused briefly as he adjusted a silk sheet, before returning to the task.



“He met with the Lotus at Kymoko’s shrine.” Jin answered, but she noticed how his brow was furrowed slightly. “He spent the rest of the day in meditation there after the Lotus left.”



“He’s very dedicated.” Kimberley observed vaguely, because Jin was acting strange. Jin only nodded.



“Yes.” He replied shortly before inspecting his handiwork and standing up. He gestured to the bedroll. “If you need anything else, just let me know.”



“How about a goodnight kiss?” Kimberley asked sweetly, and even though she felt a little annoyed with herself for being so saccharine, the blush that run up to his ears was worth it. He stepped forward and kissed her once, lightly, on the cheek before stepping back again.



“Goodnight, Kimberley.” He said with a bow. Kimberley just smiled at him.



“Goodnight, Jin.” She said. Then he left, with a lingering backwards glance as he shut the door. Kimberley waited until his shadow disappeared from behind it before sighing and glancing down at her katana. So much for practicing the Fifth Kata tonight. She felt emotionally and mentally exhausted, so her body could not be much farther behind. It would be easier on her to just turn in for the night.



As she put out the nearby lamp that lit up the room and lay on the very soft and meticulously made up bedroll, she thought about what Jin had said. She wondered who else she had tricked into believing Kimberley Talon was a good person.



***


They knew.



It was an inevitability, Jinsen knew. It was not in his nature to lie. It was not in his nature to hide. He was who he was - and it was in the nature of the Kor to talk. Word had spread since his encounter with Jette yesterday. He wondered, briefly, how she spoke of her meeting with the legendary Eightfold Lotus. With reverence, or with fear?



He did not feel like he should be inspiring either.



The Watchers had not bothered him since he had spoken with Jette and her apprentice. Clearly he had been given leave to walk the Road, otherwise there would have been bloodshed. Imoi’s accusations yesterday still troubled him, however. When he had left, the Kor were bedraggled from war, worn from skulking, and haunted by what they had experienced. But they were still the Kor. Understanding. Peaceful. Accepting. Open suspicion did not suit them, and interrogating a lone Kor simply for walking the Ancestor’s Road was cause for concern.



He was still uncertain what they had planned to do with him, had they not come to realize he was who he said. Apprehend him? Kill him? He doubted they would have the strength, but the thought was… It was beyond troubling, it was almost impossible to comprehend. Imprisonment was rare among the Kor - they valued freedom. Execution was reserved for only the most serious of crimes. Exile was unheard of. All Kor reserved the right to be buried upon the Road. What, then, had changed?



As Jinsen approached Isvul’s Watch, and the caravan of Clan Nurima, he felt he already knew.



There were no mourning drapes.



Isvul’s Watch was one of six extraordinarily large standing stones. Jinsen had seen trees that failed to rival them in height. Every inch of the stone was covered in script - the life story of Isvul, one of the Revered Ancestors. Jinsen could not say he remembered much about Isvul, other than that he died urging his people to walk away from a conflict that no one remembered the cause of.



Beneath the shade of this enormous standing stone gathered the caravan.



Kor caravans were expansive and took up much of the Ancestor’s road when not in motion. Isvul’s Watch was on the eastern portion of the road, and though no one dared tread upon the Sea of Blades on either side of the road, it was about as close as the Kor were willing to get. Other clans passing by a caravan at rest would do so single file, or, if the width of the road allowed it, two-by-two. Always, they passed by one side, so as to maintain the sanctity of clan boundaries.



Clan Nurima, however, had stopped in such a way so as to block the entirety of the road. As Jinsen watched, cart after cart passed through the center of Clan Nurima’s encampment. Another clan passing through. Jinsen watched a cart roll by him - pulled by two harried ibex - and glanced at the driver. He spared Jinsen a small bow, but paid no more mind to him than that. The driver seemed worried. The symbols on the side of the cart denoted him as a member of Clan Okamo.



“Hail, brother Okamo.” Jinsen called, raising his hand in greeting. The driver went to pull up his reins, but Jinsen shook his head and kept pace with the ibex instead. It was away from Clan Nurima, but he would not be walking long.



“Weapon Master.” The driver murmured, bowing once more, as well as he could while sitting. “May I be of service?”



“I have a question.” Jinsen stated, and the man nodded for him to continue. Jinsen gestured behind him, towards the encamped caravan. “Clan Okamo passes through Clan Nurima - what is the purpose of this?”



The driver blinked at him.



“The - The Nurima checkpoint?” He asked, glancing behind him. “They check for stowaways and contraband items.”



“For what purpose?” Jinsen demanded, agitated. This was highly unusual.



“For the safety of our people.” The man replied, as though it were the simplest thing in the world. That phrase again… Jinsen nodded.



“Thank you for your time.” Jinsen told the driver, and stopped walking beside the cart. Several other carts trickled out of Clan Nurima’s encampment, and Jinsen watched them go with an increasing sense of alarm. Once or twice, the passengers looked at him and began whispering, but he chose to ignore them. All the carts were from Clan Okamo.



After about four hours, the carts ceased coming and Clan Okamo trundled down the Ancestor’s Road, as though nothing was wrong. As though it was completely normal for one clan to search another clan’s property. What had happened to individual sovereignty? The Kor’s sense of simultaneous independence and unity was what made them strong. Many small groups that formed a mighty nation when roused from slumber.



Someone had convinced them this was no longer necessary. That someone, Jinsen did not doubt, was looking to control the Kor. It remained to be seen whether or not the perpetrator was Kor themselves, or not.



Two Kor stood guard - flanking the exit of the encampment - and a cursory glance told Jinsen that they were only militia. They had single weapons each, and neither held themselves like a Weapon Master would have. In fact, one had the audacity to look bored. Jinsen wondered what state the world was in, that the militia was deemed necessary enough to be enforced, but tedious enough to engender boredom. Jinsen knew for a fact he had left Clan Nurima with a capable Weapon Master. Where were the apprentices? The trainees?



The guards caught sight of him, eventually. It did not appear as though they were watching the road. They were more concerned with what came out of the encampment. One - the bored one - looked him over with a raised eyebrow, before blanching and straightening. The other followed suit. Jinsen regarded them both silently as he continued to approach.



They knew.



Jinsen was beginning to think this was a good thing. It was becoming clear that he would need to be the Eightfold Lotus, and not Nurima Jinsen.



“Who leads this Clan?” Jinsen demanded sharply as he stopped in front of the bored guard.



“I’m not supposed to answer questions unless you identify yourself.” The guard replied nervously, glancing at his companion. Jinsen followed his gaze, and saw that the other guard was intently watching something far down the road. Good.



“I am the Eightfold Lotus.” Jinsen stated. “Who leads this Clan?”



Kor do not pale. The guards face did turn a mortified shade of blue, however.



“Isawa, she-” The guard said immediately.



“Isawa is ill and unfit to lead.” Jinsen interrupted. “Who leads the clan in her wake?”



“Sojinrei. H-Her son.” The guard stammered.



Jinsen watched him carefully, though he knew the man spoke the truth. Perhaps fear of the Lotus would spur him to keep better watch for outside threats.



“Leadership of the clan is not hereditary.” Jinsen pointed out. If the guard had anything to say about that, he kept it to himself, and only nodded. Jinsen himself had nothing else to say either, and so simply stepped past the guard in order to locate Isawa’s carriage.



“Wait!” The guard called after him. Jinsen almost did not stop, but reminded himself that this man had a job to do, and he was simply doing it. “I c-cannot let you pass until you tell me why you’re here.”



“Isawa is ill. I have come to visit before she is put to rest.” Jinsen did not turn around before replying. There was a brief pause as he decided whether or not he should tell the guard the whole truth - that after seeing the state of the Clan, he intended to have words with this Sojinrei. He did not mention to the guard that this would occur with or without his permission. Jinsen had seen all he needed to see in order to ascertain that this man had not the discipline to stop him, even if he tried.



“Very well, Weapon Master.” The guard murmured, and Jinsen could hear the clothing and gear shift as the guard bowed stiffly. Jinsen did not wait for the guard to say anything else, and simply wandered into the encampment.



While on the outside, the Clan had changed a great deal, Jinsen could not see how much things had changed on the inside. Most of his time spent with Clan Nurima had been a blur. He had passed the time in a haze of need to escape the crush of people - or so it felt to him back then. In his travels, he had seen more people than he thought could possibly exist in one place. He had wandered through crowds so congested that he was forced to gather his thoughts in deserted side alleys.



Here, things seemed much the same. The Kor worked. Children played. Adults bickered. He recognized no one, and contented himself with that fact. It would be simpler - the staring was complicating matters enough as it was. He supposed it had been too long since any of the Kor had seen a man with a single weapon walk amongst them. At least the wariness of the Kor caused a small bubble of quiet to follow him through the camp.



Eventually, he found the only thing he recognized. Isawa’s carriage. Once, he had lived there. That had been a long time ago. Clan Nurima apparently had the decency to place the mourning drapes over the carriage. Still, it was very little fanfare for the passing of the Clan’s matriarch. Perhaps it was because she was not yet dead. Usually, however, the Kor started early. It was their way. Jinsen had no such fascination with death. Another thing that set him apart.



His mind was stretching too thin. Jinsen reined in his thoughts, and focused. Isawa. His promise.



He approached the carriage.



Interestingly, there was no guard here. He thought perhaps her son - Sojinrei - would have wanted to make certain she was undisturbed. Jinsen supposed whatever paranoia forced the Kor to check strangers for stowaways and post guards at a semi-permanent encampment did not extend to their own Clan. There was that, at least.



Jinsen realized he had been staring at the closed door for longer than was proper. He inhaled deeply. It had to be done.



He stepped inside the carriage, ducking as he did so.



And there she was. Nurima Isawa. Frail, and dying.



As the door shut behind him and cut off the outside world, he could hear the gentle sound of air moving in and out of her lungs, hitching upon something rough and wrong. Her heartbeat filled the small carriage with the futile sound of a trapped bird, beating its wings. They had laid her in repose, surrounded by black cloth, flowers, and small, lit candles. Jinsen took care to avoid all of these as he approached, and knelt beside her. Despite her drawn and withered features, Jinsen could still see in her the beauty he had always admired. Her eyes, dark and deep, opened as his fingers brushed her hand.



“I didn’t think you’d come.” She whispered after several small wingbeats of silence. Jinsen enfolded her smaller hand in both of his, and nodded.



“I promised I would.” Jinsen told her.



“You haven’t aged a day.” Isawa murmured, her mouth creasing into something like a smile. “Maybe you are a god, as so many believed.”



“Were I a god, I would heal you here and now.” Jinsen murmured back, closing his eyes. “And you would live forever.” He heard Isawa breathe out a dry chuckle.



“Special treatment for your most faithful follower?” She teased. Jinsen squeezed her hand. Her pulse shuddered, as though trying to escape.



“A favor, for my most faithful friend.” Jinsen replied, and in the blinding silence, he was left with only the sound of burning candles. He could feel her heartbeat fluttering beneath his palms. “I should have come sooner.”



“It is good that you did not.” Isawa replied, with as much gravity as her body could muster. “The Kor… they walk a road I can no longer follow. And they have left me behind.”



Jinsen opened his eyes.



“...No Kor is left behind, Isawa. No matter how difficult the road.” He told her, frowning. She had closed her eyes at some point, and did not smile as she spoke once more.



“Were that still so.” She whispered. “It is not a natural sickness that sends me to the Ancestors, Jinsen.”



It took most of Jinsen’s willpower not to squeeze her hand tightly. He dispersed the anger throughout himself, and permitted only a small, slow intake of breath to help balance his emotions. Kymoko had said the sickness was sudden. Kymoko had said the sickness lethal. Kymoko had said everything but that she had been poisoned - but Jinsen had suspected.



And now he knew.



“...Who has done this to you?” Jinsen asked quietly, looking away.



“Oh, my Jinsen.” Isawa whispered mournfully. “To answer that question would be to condemn you before the Ancestors. I know you would not leave it alone.” Jinsen said nothing, but still did not look at her. She need not see the resolve in his eyes - she need not see the steel. “In truth, I am counting on that.”



Jinsen clenched his teeth.



“Tell me.”



Isawa sighed.



“There is a group of Kor who seek to unite us against the humans in war. “ Isawa told him. “You have seen the fruits of their labors already. They use fear to drive the Kor inward, so they think only of themselves - and in doing so, doom us all.” She squeezed his hand. “We should not have even survived the last war. But the Ancestors were kind, and you were strong.”



“...This time, I will not be here to save them.” Jinsen murmured.



“No.” Isawa replied. “You will not.” There were several moments of soft silence before she continued. “They expected your arrival, these Kor. They knew of your promise. They have killed me so that they may draw you out.”



“For what purpose?” Jinsen demanded.



“That, I do not know. Perhaps they seek to turn you to their cause. Use you as the weapon so many see you as.” Isawa sighed. “Perhaps they seek to kill you before you can interfere.”



That would not go well for them, Jinsen thought darkly. Already, he had decided those responsible worthy of death - such a challenge would make finding them easy.



“You have that look about you.” Isawa observed. “I can feel it in your fingers - see it in your shoulders. But Jinsen, my Jinsen, you must do as I say.”



“Anything.” Jinsen told her immediately, breathing deeply. He heard Isawa swallow, and shudder.



“Oh, how I wished you would not say that.” She breathed, barely even a whisper, filled with sorrow and regret. “I have already been so terrible to you…”



Jinsen shushed her. Such things were long past. “You have done more good than harm, Isawa.”



“I will never forget how you wept.” Isawa murmured brokenly, and Jinsen looked at her once more, if only to wipe the tear off of her cheek.



“I have forgiven you a thousand times, Isawa.” Jinsen whispered. “I never would have been ready to give you the love you wanted.”



“It is not something I should have taken.” She said. Jinsen swallowed.



...Even so.



“...Tell me what you would have me do, Isawa.” Jinsen prompted gently, squeezing her hand.



A long silence. The only reassurance he had that she still lived was her small breaths and her smaller pulse.



“The poisoner is my son, Sojinrei.” Isawa murmured. “He has appointed himself Patriarch in all but name, claiming that those are my wishes. Outwardly, he opposes the group who wishes war with the humans. Secretly, he pursues their agenda.”



“I will-” Jinsen began, but Isawa interrupted him with a small shake of her head.



“It is not so simple.” Isawa said. “If you reveal that he has poisoned me, and demand justice, the warmongers will use him as an example. They will say we must be more vigilant. That we must be more careful. They will say, clearly, it was the human’s fault.” Isawa coughed. “And the Kor will believe them.” Jinsen could hardly believe that things had soured so much since his absence. He could hardly believe that the people he had left behind - fierce, independent - would succumb to such fearmongering.



A thought struck him, then. He remembered the guard. He remembered the carriage of Clan Okamo.



“Isawa.” Jinsen said carefully. “What of the Weapon Masters?”



“Most died, during the war.” Isawa whispered.



“But the students-” Jinsen began, and caught his breath. The students, the ones he had been able to save, the ones that had seen death up close, as he had dealt with those responsible for slaying their masters. Eyes wide with fear. “...The students never carried on.” He murmured. “They gave up.”



“There have been precious few Weapon Masters these past years.” Isawa confirmed quietly. “The warmongers seek to march us into a war we are not equipped to fight, let alone win.” Isawa took a small breath. “But they have called themselves after the most ruthless Weapon Master who ever lived, and use his legend to support their aggression. They say that it was what he would want.”



Jinsen closed his eyes.



“What do they call themselves, Isawa?” Jinsen asked.



“The Children of the Lotus.” She replied.



Nothing but the sound of dwindling candles.



“Tell me your plan.” Jinsen implored, almost silently, words barely a breath. “Before it is too late.”



“Sojinrei cannot lead the Clan.” Isawa told him, voice soft. “His elder brother is the one I groomed for the position, pending the decision of the Clan. His name is Kensune. He is soft spoken, but a staunch believer in peace.” Isawa rubbed her thumb against Jinsen’s palm, in slow circles. “Like you, he is very quiet. He loves Sojinrei, however, and believes dearly that his little brother is fulfilling his mother’s dying wishes. He trusts easily like you, as well.”



“If you say he will make a fine leader, than I believe he will.” Jinsen told her.



“Of course.” He heard the corners of her mouth move upwards as she spoke. Then, her voice became somber. “Sojinrei and the rest of the Children await your arrival. Surely he stands outside my carriage even now, wondering what you are doing. He knows not that I have the strength to speak. This, I have kept from him. Implore him to gather the Children together…”



“Isawa…” Jinsen warned quietly.



“They will heed your call. They will gather as fast as they are able, if they believe you will lead them -”



“Isawa.” Jinsen said, more firmly, but still, she continued as though he had not spoken.



“When they gather, then-”



“Isawa!” Jinsen hissed, without heat. He felt like a beggar, kneeling before her, both hands over hers. “Do not make me do this.”



“...Then you must kill them all.” Isawa finished raspily, turning away from him. “Your name will be disgraced, and never again will it be used as a rallying call for war.” She breathed in shakily. “With their deaths, it will give the soft spoken Kor like Kensune a chance to bring peace to our troubled clans.”



“Please…” Jinsen murmured, bowing his head.



“You have sworn a boon unto me.” Isawa whispered hoarsely. “This is what I require.”



Jinsen let go of her hand.



“...So you have said, Isawa.” Jinsen told her, and stood. “So it will be done.” He turned his back on her, then, and stepped towards the door, careful to avoid the flowers and candles again. He heard her sob, and stopped, conflicted. “Had I known what you would ask from me instead, I would have given you a child. I would have given you dozens, gladly.” He lifted his chin. “But trust is meaningless to the dead, and honor does not follow you to the grave.”



“I’m sorry.” Isawa choked.



“Keep your apology.” Jinsen said stiffly. “May it keep you warm as you walk the long road.”



He stepped out into the light, and closed the door behind him.



A crowd had gathered, as Isawa had predicted. At the front, was the man Jinsen could only assume was Sojinrei. Sojinrei watched Jinsen, eyes unreadable, stance wide. He had the look of a warrior about him - many chains, and two long knives. Trained by the Iron Tide, but with his head unshaven. Not a Weapon Master.



For several moments, no one spoke.



“I have come to speak with my Children.” Jinsen called. “Gather them for me. You have three days.”



A low murmur shot through the crowd as Sojinrei smiled, and directed another Kor to do as Jinsen told. Jinsen never took his eyes off of the younger Kor.



Three days, and he would never return here again.



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 Post subject: Re: Fear [Story][Public]
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:34 pm 
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What Love Requires


It was not until Kimberley had sat down for breakfast that she realized how surreal the situation was.



Lord Eijo had finally made an appearance, but besides a small greeting, had said little else. Jin had prepared most of the meal while Kimberley sat across a low table from Lord Eijo. All the while, Jin had made small talk with his father and Kimberley. She could claim to be many things, but attentive in the morning was not one of them, and it was not until Jin had placed some steaming rice dish in front of her that she woke up enough to become uncomfortable.



She could not remember ever having shared breakfast with… anyone. Not even Jinsen, come to think of it. They rarely ate together at all, since Jinsen’s appetite was sporadic at best. She had certainly not shared breakfast with anyone in so… intimate a setting. Was this normal?



Lord Eijo murmured his thanks and lifted the bowl, though evidently, he was waiting for it to cool and nursing a cup of tea. Jin dug in immediately. Kimberley’s stomach churned. Everything was very quiet all of the sudden, with only the clink of utensils and the muted sounds of the world outside. She could hear birds. Her hand began to tighten into a fist against her thigh, and she had to will it to be still. This- This was normal. Nothing bad was going to happen. Nothing-



“This must be strange for you, Miss Talon.” Lord Eijo noted before raising the small cup to his lips and taking a sip. Kimberley’s eyes flicked to Jin, who was watching her with raised eyebrows and gave her a small smile. Was… Lord Eijo a telepath? “I can’t read your mind.” Lord Eijo said immediately. “I am simply observant, and Kymoko has seen that look many times before.”



“...Kymoko?” Kimberley prompted, not sure what else to say. Lord Eijo nodded, and set down his cup.



“I see what Kymoko sees.” He informed her, and she mentally congratulated herself for guessing that correctly the first time she had come to Kamigawa. “And I remember what Kymoko remembers. Nothing happens in this village that I am not aware of.”



Kimberley thought for a moment that such an arrangement was amusing, if strange, but stopped before she said anything. Then, remembering yesterday, she felt her face heating up. Beside her, Jin sighed.



“Father.” He warned flatly as Kimberley stared at her lap. Lord Eijo chuckled.



“Forgive me, Miss Talon.” Lord Eijo said. “Your embarrassment is not my intention.”



Kimberley nodded, silently accepting his apology, and Jin returned to eating his breakfast, albeit rather subdued. Kimberley still did not have the stomach to do more than pick at hers, and Lord Eijo began eating, slowly. Jin, understandably, was the first to finish his food. As soon as he had set his bowl down on the table, Lord Eijo spoke again.



“Jin, why don’t you tend to your garden?” He suggested immediately. Jin watched his father with a guarded look and a thin mouth, but nodded and reached for his bowl. “I’ll clean up here, my son.” Lord Eijo interrupted. “Thank you for the meal.” Jin hesitated, but stood stiffly, and glanced at Kimberley. She returned his look with a bemused expression, but waved him goodbye anyway. Not very subtle of the old man, sending Jin away, but it was clear Lord Eijo wanted to talk to her. No need to insist that Jin stick around.



Jin made his exit with a bow, and the low table was filled with the sort of tension that finally set Kimberley’s stomach at ease. Now, at least, it was obvious something was going to happen, and she knew the source of her uneasiness. She decided not to think too hard about the fact that imminent problems were comforting to her.



“He’s very… obedient.” Kimberley noted once she was sure Jin was out of earshot. Strangely, Lord Eijo wore the same expression that Jin had last night, when she had broached the subject of his father.



“Indeed.” Lord Eijo agreed, setting down his bowl. “He will make a fine leader of this village one day.” Kimberley frowned.



“Is that the problem?” She demanded immediately. “You don’t think I’m… good enough for him?” And although the thought of being judged so harshly made her angry, she secretly hoped that, maybe, Lord Eijo would confirm this for her. It would be… devastating, but at least she would be free of the fear of disappointing Jin.



Lord Eijo stared at her without blinking. She felt the defiance leave her face, and she had to look away from his milky-white gaze.



“On the contrary, I think you’re perfect for my son.” Lord Eijo said, and Kimberley’s heart tightened. “He takes everything very seriously. You show him that life is to be enjoyed, not just endured. He has been refreshingly gentle since meeting you. You have my thanks, Miss Talon.”



Kimberley put her face in her hands to hide how red she was becoming. Honestly, she was absolutely mortified, because she had done nothing to deserve such praise! Let alone his thanks! Parents were supposed to… Protect their children, right? She did not have much firsthand experience with that, but she had read about it! Lord Eijo should have been indignant, or… something. Anything, other than this.



Why was he being so nice to her?



Lord Eijo sipped his tea, and then cleared his throat.



“Actually, it is not Jin I wanted to speak with you about.” He said as Kimberley sighed and composed herself. Alright, so there was something wrong. “Jinsen asked me to oversee your training while he was away. I admit, I’ve seen him perform his Eight Katas often enough to have memorized them, even without Kymoko’s perfect memory. I cannot do much in the way of demonstration, but I could perhaps be of assistance.”



Kimberley sighed. Familiar territory - her inability to learn basic techniques. This, she could work with.



“I’d appreciate that.” She told him neutrally, finally deciding to begin eating her breakfast. It was surprisingly sweet for what looked like a bowl of white mush. It probably would have been tastier had she eaten it hot.



“Tell me about your training, then.” Lord Eijo prompted, and Kimberley filled him in on what she knew in between bites. He seemed pleased that she had mastered the movements of four Katas, and as she described her troubles with the Fifth, he simply smiled knowingly and nodded.



“I know how I can help.” He informed her, and gestured to her now empty bowl. She handed it to him automatically. “I’m sure you’d like to freshen up.” Lord Eijo observed, and Kimberley wrinkled her nose. Yes, but she did not enjoy having it pointed out. “Go and prepare for the day how you please. If you have questions about the location of the bath, ask Jin. He’s in the garden.” She stood up awkwardly, thinking that if this was how breakfast was normally going to be, she might just have to sleep in. As she prepared to leave, Lord Eijo stopped her. “Meet me in the dojo once you are ready. Jin can direct you there as well.”



“Um, yes. Alright.” Kimberley cleared her throat. “Thank you.”



She decided not to think about her retreat as fleeing, and instead resolved never to be caught in such an awkward situation ever again. The worst part was that Jinsen was not even here to stare at her discomfort blankly so that she could make jokes about him being out of touch. She could not help but feel that maybe this whole situation would have been easier with Jinsen’s calming presence somewhere around her.



Well. He would not be around forever. Maybe it was better to get used to that early.



Kimberley found the baths without having to go to Jin, thankfully. If Jin asked questions about her conversation with his father she might have actually died of embarrassment. She was so distracted constructing mortifying scenarios in her mind that she did not think about how long it had been since she had a hot bath until she was already in the water. Shocked, she found herself sitting stiffly in the wooden tub before the heat caused the tension in her shoulders to ease and she slouched down with a contented sigh.



When she noticed the lavender soap nearby she nearly started crying.



Fortunately, she kept herself together which was a small victory in itself. She decided to stay in the bath until the water was lukewarm and she was beginning to prune, mostly because she was enjoying herself too much but partially because she was delaying her visit to Lord Eijo’s dojo. It would probably be rude to delay much longer.



As she toweled dry, she noticed a nearby polished bronze mirror, complete with a comb and brush. She blinked at it, curious, because… Well, because neither Jin nor Lord Eijo had any hair. She wrapped the towel around herself and inspected the objects. They were not dusty. Had these been set out for her? That was considerate. Kimberley dreaded to think what sort of snarled mess her hair must have been in to prompt such kindness. Or maybe they just thought she was vain.



Well, they were right. Kimberley grinned as she brushed her hair properly for the first time in recent memory, making faces in the mirror as she did so. One day, she would have her own room somewhere, with her own things, she decided. For the time being, however, she was dedicated to following Jinsen around, wandersome though he may be. Thinking about it, she did not know how he would react if she told him that she was leaving. Not that she wanted to.



But it was hard to think of Jinsen getting violent with her. Really, it was hard to think of Jinsen getting violent with anyone, despite the stories. Maybe none of them were true.



Kimberley shook her head. Focus. Lord Eijo’s dojo. It was time to go.



She almost resigned herself to putting on her old, travel worn clothes when there was a small knock at the bathhouse door that nearly startled her off her feet. Frowning, she stepped carefully over to the door and opened the slat at eye level. No one. They must have beat a hasty retreat. Still, Kimberley was curious, so she unlatched the door and peered out. On the floor in front of the door was a pile of what appeared to be clothes. Kimberley grinned, snatched the clothing, and closed the door once more.



It appeared to be cotton, for the most part, although there was a white silk sash that she ran through her fingers. It took her a few tries to figure out where all the pieces went, or how they fit together, but eventually she was standing in front of the mirror wearing a soft, blue tunic and trousers. With the sash tied around her waist, she admitted she looked rather fetching. She was not sure what the symbol that was embossed over her heart stood for, though. She would ask Eijo when she arrived.



She left her old clothes folded up for retrieval later, and went to get her blade from her room. She did not hear or meet anyone on her way there, nor did she hear or meet anyone as she wandered the manor for a solid fifteen minutes trying to find the dojo. When she finally did find it, mildly annoyed, Lord Eijo called her in from behind the sliding door as she approached.



He really wanted to rub in that “all-seeing” thing. Well, Kimberley supposed she would do the same in his shoes. Kimberley entered the dojo, closing the door behind her.



It was a simple room. Three windows, four wooden walls, and a paper sliding door. The floor was covered in some sort of reed mat. Lord Eijo stood at the opposite end, and bowed to her as she entered. Kimberley returned the gesture hesitantly, and Lord Eijo smiled encouragingly.



“Much more respectful than last time, Miss Talon.” Lord Eijo commented, putting his arms behind his back. “I should tell you that Kymoko is pleased.”



“I’m… glad.” Kimberley replied cautiously. “I’d hate to displease them.”



“So would I.” Lord Eijo gestured to her blade without expanding on his comment. “May I?” he asked.



“Oh. Of course.” Kimberley agreed, stepping towards Lord Eijo. Before she had taken more than two steps, he gestured for her to stop, and then made a beckoning motion. Kimberley found that contradictory for a moment, and then her blade floated out of its sheath and towards the Lord of Kymoko.



Right. Kami metal. Of course he would be able to control it.



“I see you’ve already put it together.” Lord Eijo mused as the blade hovered in front of him, turning over and over. “Yes, I have mastery over this blade. It is part of Kymoko, and so, is part of me.” That made Kimberley feel a little uneasy and admittedly possessive. That blade was hers! Not… she sighed and schooled herself. Now was not the time to think about things being unfair. Lord Eijo had been more than hospitable. If Lord Eijo noticed her thoughts, he did not comment on them. “Tell me, Miss Talon - have you ever been wounded?”



Kimberley blinked. Was. That a threat?



“Um. No.” Kimberley replied shortly. “Not… I mean, not in the way you mean. Not in the way I think you mean. I’ve cut myself a few times, gotten some bad bruises, but…” But, she was always careful. 'Do not anger people with weapons' had always been her motto, and what she could not outrun, she could definitely outcharm. Usually.



“I would not recommend it.” Lord Eijo told her, though his voice was humorless. “However, it is the fear of impaling yourself that keeps the fifth Kata from your grasp.” Kimberley’s blade suddenly flipped, and was point-first, directly at Lord Eijo’s belly. His hand was still raised. Kimberley tried her best not to appear alarmed. She knew from experience how sharp her blade was. “The final motion is visceral. Dishonored samurai sometimes kill themselves with a similar motion. The death is slow, agonizing, and ultimately, inevitable. A flick of the wrist…” Lord Eijo waved his hand, and the sword spun about, with the tip now facing her. “...and a similar fate could befall you.” Kimberley folded her arms.



“Are you going to stab me?” She demanded. “I don’t think Jinsen would be very happy about that.” Lord Eijo raised an eyebrow.



“You jump so quickly to the worst possible outcome.” He observed. “I have shown you hospitality, generosity, and mercy. I have been nothing but kind. Still, you would think this of me.” If he was upset by his accusation, he did not show it. His voice remained low and without menace. Kimberley, however, was beginning to wilt. How was this supposed to help, exactly? She knew she was being ungrateful and paranoid, but that did not have anything to do with her training.



“I get it. I’m a bad person.” Kimberley grumbled.



“Your words, and not mine.” Lord Eijo told her. “But no, I do not believe you are a bad person. Simply a scared one. In the right situation, the difference can save your life. If you are a bad person, and someone wrongs you, you would do anything to spite them. A scared person simply runs away.”



Kimberley did not know what to say to that, and so kept her mouth shut. He was right, of course.



“You are afraid of your own sword.” Lord Eijo continued. “And you must not be. In battle, it is your only companion, your constant ally. If you do not trust it, accept it, and believe in it, it will fail you.”



“You make it sound as though it’s alive.” Kimberley pointed out. Lord Eijo smiled.



“All wielded weapons are.” Kimberley’s weapon vibrated momentarily. “This one more than most.” A living sword? Great. With her luck, it would start talking to her. “But, for all it’s life, it will do nothing that you do not command it. It will not be your sword that harms you. It will be yourself.”



Kimberley spread her hands wide, staring at Lord Eijo with an expectant nod of her head.



“How does any of that help me?” She asked, letting her hands fall limply back to her sides. “I already knew that.”



“You knew, yes, but you did not accept it.” Lord Eijo told her solemnly. “You blame the sheathe, or the blade, or your lack of skill. Well, the sheathe is well-crafted, the sword is exquisite, and you are talented. What else would it be, then, but your fear?”



Kimberley sighed.



“I see why Jinsen likes you.” She said to Lord Eijo. “You both say some of the most cryptic things.”



Lord Eijo gave her a knowing smile.



“I doubt that is the only reason the Lotus ‘likes’ me, Miss Talon.” Lord Eijo commented, before flicking his wrist and floating her sword back towards her, and then gestured for her to take it. As she did, Lord Eijo continued speaking. “You will perform the Fifth Kata, but you will do so with your eyes closed. The first time you fail, I will summon Jin so he can watch you. If you fail again, I will begin asking inappropriate and embarrassing questions about the both of you.”



“What?” Kimberley yelped, face heating up at the thought of being interrogated like that. “I- What is that supposed to accomplish!?”



Lord Eijo chuckled, and shrugged.



“You need something else to be afraid of, and that seems harmless enough.” His eyes seemed to twinkle despite the milky whiteness. Creepy. “If you do not fail, you have nothing to worry about.”



“That’s-”



“Perfectly reasonable, I know.” Lord Eijo interrupted, waving his hand. “Begin, please.”



Kimberley let out a slow, annoyed breath, but closed her eyes and concentrated. Alright. Like he had said, if she did not fail, there was nothing to be afraid of. She just had to get it right the first time. No fear. Left, right, raise the blade, symmetry, strike, stand… sheathe…!



She missed.



Lord Eijo snorted, but Kimberley kept her eyes closed. Well, she probably had a few more attempts before Jin showed up, so-



“Father.” Jin said, and Kimberley heard the door behind her open up. She barely suppressed a groan. He had summoned Jin before she had even started. Unbelievable. “You needed something…?”



“Yes, come in.” Lord Eijo said amicably. Kimberley opted to keep her eyes closed and reset her stance. “Kimberley is practicing. She requested you be here to watch.” Kimberley clenched her teeth, trying to fight the heat creeping up her neck. She had not! Ugh, Jin was going to think she was being vain. Lord Eijo had literally planned all of this. She could tell.



She really should not have been so snippy with him earlier.



“Oh. Of course!” Jin said enthusiastically. “Thank you, Kimberley. It will be enlightening to see the Lotus’ teachings in practice.”



Kimberley hummed and nodded, but still, remained blind to the world around her. She doubted she could bear to look at Jin right now, anyway. Ok. No problems if she just did it right this time. Swing, raise, strike…



She missed.



She could practically hear Lord Eijo’s grin in the smug sound of his voice.



“Jin, Kimberley was telling me how attractive she thinks you are.”



Kimberley almost fell over.



“W- what? I, uh, I mean…” Jin stammered as Lord Eijo laughed. Kimberley tried not to snarl as Lord Eijo began to expound on what “she” had told him. It was going to be a long day.



***


Jinsen meditated for the three days while the “Children of the Lotus” gathered. He demanded that he not be disturbed, and the sequestered himself in the shadow of Isawa’s carriage. It had been a favorite spot of his when he still lived among Clan Nurima, and though he chided himself for the sentimentality, he took comfort in the familiarity all the same. Even if Isawa had betrayed him - betrayed everything he wished to be - she would not poison the few happy memories he still had. Thus situated, Jinsen fell into himself, to find purpose in the path life had set before him.



Mostly, he examined and removed himself from the anger and the hurt he felt at Isawa’s “boon”. From her perspective, the choice was perfectly reasonable, if perhaps desperate. It had been the bloody path Jinsen himself had cut through the Mad King’s War that had led to stories of his exploits being told. He had always thought of himself as a cautionary tale, but the Kor had whispered him onto a pedestal, and made him a legend. The times had been dark, and his actions could have been construed as heroic. He was what the Kor had needed then, in the face of a madman’s hate. After the death of Mairth - after the end of the war - they should have forgotten him, like any weapon.



Instead, they decided to worship a sword, and would dare to be surprised when it cut them.



Jinsen knew if he ever returned here, it would probably come to this. Of his own volition, or not. His memory was too corrupted, too bloodstained, to be anything but a detriment to the Kor. If they revered him, they condoned his violence. But if they shunned him… He had saved them too many times to be shunned, however. Killing the Children of the Lotus in cold blood would forever mar his legend. He would become the cautionary tale he always wanted to be.



He had killed enough people during the war, that this should not be the case. But, it was. Jinsen did not fool himself into thinking he was doing this for the greater good. He did not fool himself into thinking he was doing this to avert war. He was doing this because it needed to be done, and as it always had been, he was the only one who could do it.



With that thought, his mind froze, and fell into the lake of his soul, before drifting. A small measure of peace.



Jinsen was roused from his meditation twice by Sojinrei bringing a thin broth into Isawa’s carriage. No doubt now that Isawa had served her purpose and summoned the Eightfold Lotus, she would be given a lethal dose of whatever poison Sojinrei had been administering. Jinsen briefly entertained the thought of ending Sojinrei’s duplicity then and there, but he stepped outside of himself and examined the urge until it vanished entirely. Isawa’s plan would fail if he acted rashly, and it was too late to save her anyway. There was only her vengeance left for her.



After the second time Sojinrei came, and then left, he did not come back. Jinsen no longer heard Isawa’s thin heartbeat against the wood.



If an announcement was made, Jinsen was too far adrift to hear it. He did not stir again until the three days had past. When he did, it was with his resolve intact, and with clarity of purpose.



Isawa’s carriage was obviously still in place. If they had moved her body to be interred, he did not know. He had little desire to see her corpse. It would be little without her spirit within it. He wished that he could take the carriage with him. It would be interesting to have a roof over his head wherever he wandered for a change. Kimberley might appreciate it. Interestingly, while he was meditating, someone had taken the opportunity to move several other carriages in a large circle around Isawa’s carriage, creating a walled off circle. An impromptu meeting area. He took note of his surroundings quickly. One entrance, a few lower carriages. A quick or desperate Kor may be able to leap over. He would have to be vigilant.



As he thought this, Kor began trickling in, led by Sojinrei. The Children of the Lotus, no doubt. Jinsen turned his attention fully to each person who entered, making sure to make eye contact with them and gauge their reactions to his stare. Most bowed deferentially. Some looked away, afraid. Awe and fear. Nothing had changed. Jinsen stood in front of the door to Isawa’s carriage - as close to the center of the circle as anything else - and folded his arms behind his back.



All of the Kor were young. Far younger than him. None had shaved heads, though most had weapons. He saw signs of a few apprentices, but no full-fledged warriors of any given discipline, and certainly no Weapon Masters. Jinsen breathed in deeply, and then out again. Isawa had sent him to slaughter children. Dangerous children, maybe, but children nonetheless.



Eventually, Kor stopped arriving. There were thirty-six of them. Jinsen gazed over the gathered men and women, face placid. The outcome of this battle was assured. He did not have it in him to strike without warning though. He would give them a chance to make peace.



Sojinrei looked like he was about to say something, but Jinsen was not sure his patience would outlive the sound of that man’s voice. Instead, Jinsen spoke.



“I have three questions for all of you.” He barely had to raise his voice for it to carry, such was the quiet. “The answer to the previous will change the question that follows. In this way I will test your worth.” The young Kor watched him with what appeared to be a mixture of apprehension and anticipation. He saw their faces, the way they shifted nervously. He felt the tension in the air. No one expected to see the Eightfold Lotus again. No one knew what would happen next. Not truly.



Jinsen closed his eyes.



“Who am I?” He called out, turning his head so that he could listen to their answers with his favored ear. There was a moment's hesitation, followed by several voices calling out.



“The Lotus.”



“The Eightfold Lotus.



“Yes, the Lotus.”



Jinsen’s heart clenched, but he remained calm. It was as he thought. They did not know his name. They did not know who he was, or what he stood for.



“What does the Eightfold Lotus do?” Jinsen asked, and with a sigh, opened his eyes once more. None had answered correctly the first time. The next two questions hardly mattered at all.



“You defend us.”



“Destroys our enemies.”



“Protects the Kor.”



Jinsen let his hands fall, limp, loose, and defeated to his sides. They would never learn. The Kor would never learn, unless he did this. It was the only way to send the message. War begets war. Violence breeds violence. Jinsen was a creature of death. Now, they would remember it.



“You have misspoken.” Jinsen told them, and allowed a ripple of disconcertion to flow through those gathered. “I see many of you, from many different clans. I see Nurima and Chorano. Desana, Ujuwei, and Imkuro. I see apprentices of the Iron Tide, the Winds of Manaan, and the Three-Point Star. And yet, you would leave those behind, and become the children of a man whom you do not know. Your ignorance disgraces you.” There was now a more palpable rumble of outrage, but Jinsen did not give them a chance to reply. “You expect I will lead you to battle against the humans, but you know nothing about me. The only thing the Kor remember of me is my strength.”



“That’s because you are strong!” Sojinrei shouted confidently, taking a step forward. Jinsen clenched his teeth.



“And I would never sire a weakling such as you!” Jinsen snapped, and just like that, everything fell silent. “None of you are my children.” Jinsen informed them all quietly. “Your answers were wrong. I am Nurima Jinsen. I kill people, and I have just one more question for you.”



Jinsen drew his blade, took a deep breath, and widened his stance.



“How would you like to die?”



As soon as the words left his mouth, he focused on the cold steel of his katana, and let the noise of the sudden panic and anger of the gathered Kor fade into the background. Some of the Kor closest to the entrance were already moving, trying to get away. They did not speak, but still, they answered his question. They were telling him they would like to die on their bellies.



He obliged.



As he was removing his blade from the first of the Children, the horrified shouts increased, and he heard steel being drawn. So, some would like to die fighting. Honorable. Jinsen sidestepped several thrown daggers, simultaneously cutting down a Kor who attempted to run past him. Jinsen had closed the gap between Isawa’s carriage and the entrance too quickly. Soon, some would try to climb the walls, but for now the cowardly had backed away, afraid. They would remain in his awareness, and die last.



For now, he simply moved like a serpent through the slow, clumsy assault of those Children who thought to lay him low. Step, strike, slide, strike, duck, kick, strike. The battle - such as it was - was seamless, all motion clear as a still pond to him. Nothing was small enough to escape his notice, and he remained untouched. Seven seconds later, the nine Kor with weapons lay dead.



Save for Sojinrei, who Jinsen had disarmed rather literally. He still had words for that boy.



The cowards among the Children were probably begging, but he did not hear them. He cut them down quickly and efficiently. The Blade of the Eightfold Lotus was sharp, and there would be no pain in their passing. Mostly, he regretted their fear. Some did in fact try to climb, or even jump, over the carriages. They wanted to die on their backs. So be it.



After a total of fifteen seconds, he had killed thirty five Kor and removed the hands of a thirty sixth.



Jinsen spent two seconds inspecting his blade, and two more inspecting his robes. Free of blood.



He turned around and stepped over to where Sojinrei was kneeling on the stone, attempting to clutch at his bleeding stumps. He would not live much longer. The world fell into focus around Jinsen once more, and he schooled himself calm.



“You monster…” Sojinrei spat, breathing heavily. “You killed them all…”



“Yes.” Jinsen confirmed. “Your mother asked me to.”



“She…” Sojinrei shook his head. “I…”



“I have a fourth question for you, Sojinrei.” Jinsen said, squatting down to look at the dying man. “Are there any Children left?”



After a brief pause, Sojinrei shook his head again, and squeezed his eyes shut. Jinsen had no reason to take Sojinrei at his word, but he also had no reason to disbelieve him. Even if Sojinrei was lying, Jinsen had done as Isawa had asked. Let Sojinrei protect what few people he still could.



“Good.” Jinsen raised his blade. “May you find comfort on the long road.”



The sound of Sojinrei’s head hitting the cobbles echoed through the circle. Decapitations were messy. Jinsen cleaned his blade on Sojinrei’s clothes before sheathing it. Then, he glanced out towards the exit. He had expected more of a crowd to have gathered, considering his talk with Sojinrei had taken almost as long as the battle itself had. But no, there was only one Kor. A young man, staring at Jinsen in horror. No… staring at the corpse at his feet in horror.



“Brother…” The young man whispered softly. Ah. Kensune. Jinsen had not taken the opportunity to meet Isawa’s favored son. It was strange that he and Sojinrei should look so different. Kensune was taller, thinner. With…



Jinsen paused. He had seen those cheek bones before. That brow. The eyes. He… Isawa...



Jinsen looked away. Well. She always had been clever, and he always had been trusting.



“This is war, Nurima Kensune.” Jinsen called. “It was what they wanted. I gave it to them.”



“How could you!” Kensune screamed, a sound of grief and rage. Isawa had said he was soft spoken, but it appeared even the gentlest of Kor had their limits.



“Go and tell all the Clans what the Eightfold Lotus has done.” Jinsen said on the heels of the echo of Kensune’s scream. “Let them remember the wages of war.”



His business concluded, and eager to be elsewhere, Jinsen planeswalked away. If he ever returned here, he resolved, it would be to die.



***


In the end, Jinsen was not even gone a full week, and Kimberley never successfully sheathed her sword without taking shortcuts. She had gotten closer, though, and she felt pretty good about that. What she did not feel good about were the several mortifying conversations that Lord Eijo had prompted between her and Jin as she trained. She had spent that entire first day holed up in her room after practice, completely embarrassed. Lord Eijo had, of course, insisted on the same thing the next day. And the next.



At least Jin was in good humor about it. It was a small comfort.



She was in the garden again when Jinsen returned. At least, she was in the garden again when she heard that Jinsen was back. Apparently, he had gone directly to the shrine of Kymoko and met with Lord Eijo. She heard the news from Jin, who received word from one of the little eyeball spirits that were part of Kymoko.



“The Lotus hopes you are well, and that you have been practicing diligently.” Jin told her, brow furrowed in concentration as he made out the whispers of the tiny spirit. What little Kimberley could hear, she could not understand at all.



“I think we both know that’s been the case.” Kimberley told him quietly, and she watched his face smooth over before he laughed, and grinned along with him.



“I suppose you’re right.” Jin hummed. “Though this means that you will be leaving soon.”



Kimberley felt her stomach drop, and looked away. Yes, well… That was what that meant. Jinsen returned, and soon, they would go. She would be lying to herself if she did not admit the time she spent her had been enjoyable. Jin had been kind, light, and tender. He had mentioned nothing about what they were doing, or what she thought this was, or any sort of talk like that. They had just… been together. She supposed that, from his perspective, that was the wisest course of action. Why waste time sorting things out, when time was limited to begin with?



“Yeah.” Was all she said. Jin touch her chin, prompting her to look at him.



“You’ll visit whenever you want to.” Jin told her, smiling. “You told the Lotus that yourself.” Kimberley looked down, away from his eyes, before squaring her shoulders and grinning impishly.



“I did say that, didn’t I?” She agreed. “Right! I’ll come visit. Soon. When Jinsen has had enough alone time.”



“I’ll be sure to have a room set aside for you.” Jin offered. Kimberley, feeling suddenly bold, quirked an eyebrow and gave him a lidded look.



“Shame. I was hoping to share yours.” She told him, voice low as she leaned forward. Jin’s face immediately turned red and - rendered speechless - he leaned away from her slightly. Totally worth it. Kimberley burst out laughing, and Jin dragged his hand down the side of his face.



“You are…” He began, regaining his composure and glaring at her. The look slid away, though, and he sighed. “Well. You are beautiful.”



Kimberley smiled shyly, and leaned forward to kiss him. He reciprocated the gesture this time, and afterward, they spent the rest of the afternoon drinking tea, tending to the flowers, and enjoying each other’s company. Jin was surprisingly easy to get along with, especially considering their rocky start, and, well, for those few hours, everything was simple and pretty. No katas. No swords. No Lotus.



As was the case whenever she became content, however, she also became terrified. Luckily, she was able to hide this from Jin. She just had to remind herself that she was panicking for no reason, and was, in fact, having a good time.



It was not until almost sunset that Lord Eijo walked into the garden.



Kimberley and Jin sat up from where they were laying on a small patch of grass, watching the sky change colors. Jin nodded to his father, and Kimberley waved, but it seemed as though something heavy was weighing on the older man’s shoulders, and he approached without reaction.



“Kimberley, the Lotus will see you in the dojo. Bring your katana.” Lord Eijo informed her curtly. “Jin, with me.” Jin nodded, squeezed Kimberley’s hand, and promptly left with his father. If they had anything to talk about with one another, they waited until they had left the garden. Kimberley’s heart had started beating quickly as soon as Lord Eijo had entered the garden, however. Something was wrong. Lord Eijo was somber, and Jinsen… Jinsen should have come straight to her, right?



She fled the garden to retrieve her blade. The sooner she got to the bottom of this, the better.



Several scenarios ran through Kimberley’s mind as she walked to the dojo. Jinsen was hurt. Jinsen was angry about her and Jin. Jinsen planned to leave again, but for longer. Something was wrong, though. Something had happened, and now it was time she paid for all the happiness and contentment with the grief and panic she was familiar with. She should have demanded to go with him. She should have-



Kimberley stood in front of the door to the dojo. She took a deep breath, and walked inside.



Jinsen was kneeling on the far side of the room, facing away from her. He did not look hurt. She closed the door behind her, heart in her throat. The silence stretched on.



“Jinsen-” Kimberley began, no longer able to bear it.



“You will not speak again until I say you may.” Jinsen told her suddenly, voice low and without inflection. “You will complete the Fifth Kata now. If you fail, you will no longer be my apprentice.”



His words sent a lance of ice through her stomach, and she just stared at him uncomprehendingly. What… Why? She could not even ask him why! Why had he delivered this ultimatum now, and no earlier? What had happened while he was gone? This was not… This was not fair it…



Kimberley flexed her hands. It was not fair! She had done everything she had been told, everything he had ordered, no matter how strange! And she had watched over him as well, even made him smile, she thought…. She thought he cared. About her. About teaching her. She thought it was what he wanted to do.



Anger, sadness, and fear.



...And yet, here she was, still his apprentice. She had not failed yet. She… she already expected to fail. She was so afraid of what would happen - what Jinsen had just said would happen - that she refused to believe it could ever be any other way.



All she had to do was complete the Fifth Kata. That was… all she had to do. She had done so much more than that, over the seven years she had searched for Jinsen. She had questioned, investigated, traveled, hiked, ran, hidden, and, and… She had sacrificed her entire childhood to her father, and almost all of her adolescence to her search. She had already given so much, she had already done so much.



Kimberley stepped forward and drew her katana, ignoring the tears that streamed down her face. She would do this as well. Failure, she decided, was no longer an option.



Swing.



Rise.



Strike.



Sheathe.



Her katana clicked into the sheath, and settled there. Content.



Despite performing the Fifth Kata perfectly for the first time, Kimberley felt nothing but a hollow sense of victory, and suddenly, an overwhelming peace. She had done as Jinsen had said. She was still going to be his apprentice. Kimberley was no longer crying, but did not bother to dry her face. She held the ending stance of the Fifth Kata for as long as she could. Eventually, Jinsen would stir.



“...You are truly an excellent student.” Jinsen said, finally. Kimberley allowed herself to straighten, and continued to stare at Jinsen’s back. “Go and rest. We leave in the morning.” Kimberley could not help but notice that he had not given her permission to speak. She raised her chin.



“No.” She growled quietly, taking a step forward.



“...No?” Jinsen responded, shifting slightly or the first time, his head turning. “No, what?”



“No, I’m not going to rest.” Kimberley told him stiffly. “No, we are not going to leave in the morning. No, I am not going to leave this room at all!” She had transitioned to shouting halfway through the last sentence, and closed her teeth with an audible clack before speaking again. “You do not get to treat me like that, Jinsen.”



“I treat you as a master would their student.” Jinsen said tonelessly.



“Normally, yes!” Kimberley agreed hotly. “But not this time. That was cruel. You know it was cruel, you know-” She breathed in deeply, calming herself. “You know how I feel about this, Jinsen. About being taught by you. You know how important it is to me.”



“If it is important to you, surely you can set aside your pride-”



Kimberley bared her teeth.



“What Pride!?” She screamed. “What pride do you think a broken girl from the Rasfallen slums has!? What pride do you think that same girl still has after travelling alone for seven years!? I didn’t have any pride until you! Gave! It! To! Me!”



Jinsen said nothing. She knew he did not like it when she shouted, so she swallowed her ire. She was not crying. That was a victory.



“This is the only important thing I’ve ever done.” Kimberley told him, voice mostly even. “Why would you threaten to take it from me?”



“...It’s not what you think it is, Kimberley.” Jinsen whispered. “The Eightfold Lotus is violence, and death. It is not something to be proud of.”



Kimberley folded her arms, and looked away from Jinsen’s still form. What had happened while he was away?



“That’s funny.” She muttered. “To me, the Eightfold Lotus has always been hope.”



“You are wrong.” Jinsen stated flatly. Kimberley scowled.



“I cannot be ‘wrong’ about an opinion, Jinsen.” She shook her head, and took another few steps forward. Was it her imagination, or did Jinsen hunch his shoulders…? “But maybe you’re right. Maybe all the Eightfold Lotus is good for is violence, and death.” Tentatively, she reached out, and put a hand on his shoulder. “But you’re not just the Eightfold Lotus. You’re also Jinsen.” She squeezed, and smiled weakly, hoping she sounded stronger than she felt. “You have excellent hearing, and almost no sense of humor. You like tea, and quiet forests. That doesn’t seem so violent to me.”



For a long time, Jinsen did not respond to her words, and keeping her hand in place became uncomfortable. He shifted as soon as she moved it, feeling overwhelmingly awkward.



“Have a seat, Kimberley.” He offered, gesturing to an empty space beside him. Kimberley knelt down. “Thank you for your kind words.” He began. “I am sorry for trying to chase you off. It was foolish of me to believe such a tactic would work.”



“...You were trying to get rid of me?” Kimberley asked, feeling small.



“No, I was trying to save you.” He murmured. “But I have already done that once. And you reminded me that I am now giving you the skills so that you may do it yourself later.”



Kimberley glanced up at Jinsen. The sun had set several minutes ago, and so there was only the pale moonlight that made his skin seem translucent. She recognized the familiar signs of tears on his face. The front of his tunic was still wet. Kimberley swallowed.



“You thought I would leave?” She tried her best to keep her voice neutral.



“I thought you would stay here, and I would leave.” He replied. “To be with Jin, maybe. Start a different life.” Jinsen shook his head. “Foolish of me. You are stubborn. It never would have worked.”



“...If you really wanted me gone, you could have just not come back.” Kimberley pointed out.



“...I promised I would.” Jinsen told her.



“Oh.”



Silence.



After several minutes of staring at the wall, Jinsen spoke again.



“I understand you met Isawa while you searched for me.” He spoke mildly, but for the first time since Kimberley had known him, she heard something in his voice. Not enough to know what it was, but… something.



“Ah…” Kimberley thought back. That had been… that had been so long ago. “Yes. Your, um… Wife?”



Jinsen hummed. “Not for many decades, now.” He paused. “She passed on. I went to visit her before she did so.” Oh. Kimberley felt bad for shouting at him, now. Well, she had felt bad before but especially now. He had still been a jerk, though.



“I see.” Kimberley whispered. “She um… I remembered asking her if she was sure that you loved her. She said she didn’t know.” She shook her head. She… did not really know what she was saying. Just that she needed to say something. “Did you?”



“...Not how she wanted, no.” Jinsen replied. “And, in the end, it became clear she did not love me how I wanted, either.” That last sentence was so full of emotion that, Kimberley had to turn and stare at Jinsen. His eyes were closed tightly, and he was… grimacing. He looked like he was in pain.



“I’m sorry, Jinsen.” Kimberley offered.



“Until I met you, she was the only one who called me by my name.” Jinsen confessed, more tears leaking through his tightly shut eyes. “I thought she saw me as more than a weapon. She… She did not.”



Kimberley’s throat closed up, and she shifted sideways to put her arms around Jinsen’s waist, and her head against his chest. For once, she was the one doing the comforting. Jinsen draped a long arm over one of her shoulders. Jinsen did not weep, in the practical sense. Occasionally, his eyes would close, and more tears would leak out, but for the most part, his face remained smooth, and his body free of sobs. She was hardly surprised that, like with everything else, he suffered with quiet stillness.



“She was not who I thought she was.” Jinsen breathed after almost an hour. “I think that is why I mourn. It was like she died twice.”



Kimberley just nodded, and retired to bed soon after that.



In the morning, Jinsen greeted her with a placid smile and an invitation to breakfast with Jin and Lord Eijo before they left. They walked together towards the kitchen in silence, but for the first time in what felt like forever, Kimberley was not afraid of what came next.



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 Post subject: Re: Fear [Story][Public]
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 5:34 pm 
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Epilogue


Kor were a rare sight in the human city, but more common now than in days past. No one gave more than a curious glance to the tall, white stranger as he moved silently through their midst. It was, after all, market day, and even the Kor engaged in rudimentary bartering. Since no one was paying attention to him as he walked through the crowds, no one saw him duck into a side alley, and knock on a small wooden door.



No one saw him enter the low building and remove his straw hat.



The room was small and the Kor had to crouch, his face pained. The smell and smoke of incense burned heavily in the air, and it was only by the light of a few sparse, randomly placed candles that he could see at all. He had been here only once before, at Sojinrei’s insistence, but he came here now again, seeking answers.



He strode through a beaded curtain, behind which sat a small human with her hands folded and her head down. She looked up at him as he entered with a small, secret smile.



“It all happened.” Kensune said, voice strained. “Just like you said. It all happened.”



The woman nodded, and gestured to a cushion across from her. Kensune sat down as the woman lit two more sticks of incense, before placing them neatly in a censer.



“For your brother, and your mother.” The woman whispered. “My condolences, Nurima Kensune.”



“Why?” Kensune demanded. “Why did the Lotus do this? How could you have known?”



“A guess, mostly.” The woman admitted. “We understood your brother. We understood your mother. We guessed at the nature of the Lotus, and it so happened that we were right.”



“Could you have stopped him?”



The woman let out a small laugh, like the sound of a cat’s bell.



“Could anyone in all the world stop the Eightfold Lotus, Nurima Kensune?”



“You knew the future. Not even the Lotus can do that.” Kensune insisted.



“You don’t think?” The woman replied quietly. Kensune had nothing to say to that, and felt his fingers gripping agitatedly at the hems of the pillow he sat on. This was infuriating. Why tell him in the first place? Why let him know what would happen to his family, when he was powerless to stop it? These last several weeks had been dreadful for him, only for it all to culminate exactly as had been foretold.



“War was coming, Kensune.” The woman told him gravely. “War was coming, the Kor against the humans, but this time the Kor would strike first.” The woman splayed her hand on the small table in front of her. “Your people would not have survived. The Lotus only blooms once.”



“Why tell me?” Kensune asked. “Why not just let it happen, if you have seen things so clearly?”



“Because, Nurima Kensune, you needed to know. You needed to understand, because it will come to pass that you will be a strong voice within the Kor. Already, your council of elders seeks to make you patriarch of Clan Nurima. You will lead with wisdom. Patience. Strength. Most importantly, with peace in your heart. The Kor will prosper.”



Kensune frowned.



“Another prophecy?”



“A possibility.” The woman corrected. “Peace could not have been achieved while so many were still bitter towards we humans, so scared of the past. Now, with a new monster to hate, your Kor can unite together once more. Free of war, and free of the Lotus.”



“...I see.” Kensune muttered. There was a long silence before Kensune spoke again. “And yet, it seems that your organization’s interest in this could not possibly be benevolent.” Kensune folded his arms. “What does the Eternal Eclipse expect from protecting the Kor?”



The woman raised an eyebrow.



“My mistress has property nearby.” The woman said mildly. “She would see it undamaged by a dangerous conflict.”



Kensune grimaced.



“How very human.” He growled, but then the heat left his voice, and his shoulders slumped. Kensune stood. “Very well. Thank you for your time. I will not trouble you again.”



“It was no trouble at all.” The woman told him sincerely. “And please, Nurima Kensune. If you need anything at all, do not hesitate to send word. We stand ready to assist in the coming time of peace.”



Kensune nodded, put his hat back on, and left.



The woman waited three heartbeats before she reached beneath the low table and began scribbling out a missive. She was glad that Kensune had not asked too many questions. It was possible he did not know that Sojinrei had been poisoning his mother. Perhaps the Lotus spared him from that. It saved her the trouble of lying about where Sojinrei had gotten the poison in the first place.



Everything had fallen very neatly in line. Yeong Eode would be pleased.



She blew on the ink as she finished writing.



The Lotus was here.



And if he was here, they could find him again. The woman smiled to herself, small, secret, and satisfied. In time, he would be convinced to turn to their cause.



In time.



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