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Iashi had followed Tationy to make certain she arrived at the market center, when she crossed paths with the Saitama called Moromari, Iashi knew there was nothing more for him to do. He traveled to the furthest part of Shimragata where the Kari were residing. He planned on finding Sesiago, though he did not entirely know what he was going to say to him. Eventually he found him, near the shrine. All of the Kari had been surprised to learn that there was a shrine to Kazuma and Tearra upon the grounds they were residing. They had thought that the last shrine to Kazuma lay upon their lands, but it seemed that there had been in fact others that somehow managed to survive. Iashi determined that it was most likely due to the Shima that this one still stood. He approached the shrine and brought his hands together for a moment in a silent prayer.

“You got something you want to say?” Sesiago asked breaking the silence.

“Ahh.” Iashi responded as he stared at the two statues, marred by time and the elements. He frowned a moment, realizing you could barely even make out the details of their faces any longer. He supposed though that was how it was, time destroyed everything, even things that should be able to withstand. “I told Zen that you were a good man and he responded ‘we are Kari, none of us are good men’. He was right. I…” He paused, “I have nothing I want to say to you Sesiago. No matter what I say, you will not hear me. When did you become your father?”

“When did you become yours?”

“Ahh, you are probably right. I am just as much mine as you are yours, but my father would never have hurt the woman he loved.”

“Is this all you have to say to me?”

“Ahh, I guess it is.” Iashi responded as he turned and walked away. It had taken everything in him to keep from punching Sesiago.

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Iashi found his way to Baito’s office, though the elder was nowhere to be found. He sighed as he took a seat, bringing his hands to his face. He had a lot weighing him down and it was unusual for a ‘free-spirited’ man like Iashi to be so burdened. “What troubles you?” He heard a voice ask and realized that Zen had joined him in the office of Baito.

He sighed noticeably, “Ahh, I suppose you are going to have to find out sooner or later.” He was not ready yet to deal with the anger of a ‘father’. That was how Zen saw himself to Tationy.

“Did something happen?”

“Ahh.” Iashi responded, but did not speak right away to go into detail. “I knew there was something about her that I liked. The moment I saw her with Hiko, I could see it. Something in the way she is. I just never suspected she was Yamada.”

“You lost me.” Zen voiced.

“Ahh, Tationy, is Yamada.” Iashi spoke and Zen did not hide his surprise. “We Kari cannot pretend that she is not what she is. Even with her being Tearra, there was no way such a woman with such tainted blood could remain.”

“What did you do?” Zen asked, the anger showing on his face.

“Ahh, I let her go. Sesiago told her to leave and I just let her. What was I suppose to do?” He questioned as he looked up at Zen. Iashi could tell there were things Zen wanted to say, but instead he bit his tongue and did not answer the question, simply leaned himself against a nearby bookcase and listened. “When we are young men we are taught many things about life and love. Never fall in love with a Yamada, they will bear you no offspring. We heard it often, we still teach it to this day. For a man like myself being Yamada is just seen as a stain, overlooked because I am Kari, but for a woman like Tationy she is seen as tainted. Unable to receive the love of a Kari man. Cast aside and unable to remain within a village that has up until this point accepted her. My father would not have cared if she was Yamada. He would have liked her. Smiled and said that having children is a blessing, but there are other things equally as important for a Kari man. I said nothing like that. I just let her leave.”

Zen told himself he needed to go find Tationy, but he found himself unable to move as Iashi began to speak about the past.

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She always had sad eyes that was what he remembered most about her. Iashi remembered her being the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He told himself often that Tearra the Goddess would be jealous of his mother. Her name was Teslia Yamada and she met Iashi’s father by chance one day in the center of the market in Shimragata. She and her friends had abandoned the Yamada village and traveled by boat across the water to Torgahdah. They thought that leaving their world behind would bring them everything they wished for. Times were rough though and the free-spirited Yamada girls had to take jobs to get by. Those that could not make it by working hard, found themselves men to marry, and before to long Teslia was the only one left in Shimragata. Perhaps she was too independent or perhaps too stubborn, it mattered not to her. She was always the type of girl to do as she wished.

One day, the outspoken Yamada girl crashed into a slightly older Kari man. She did not apologize, in fact she insisted that he apologized to her for not paying attention. In a very un-Kari-like fashion he laughed and then quickly apologized. His father Shiku never believed in fate or love at first sight. He never imagined his whole would stop just by meeting one woman, but for him it did and he pursued her relentlessly. Perhaps he wore her down, it was never clear to Iashi how it came about, but in the end the two were married.

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“Here you are.” Shiku voiced as he stepped out the door, the crisp air brushing against his cheek. “It is too late for you to run away, we are already married.” He joked lightly.

Teslia turned to look at him, smiling meekly. Her eyes were distant even though her smile was genuine. “Ahh, did you have a nice talk with the Elder.”

“I did. It is still strange calling Erobus, Elder. What is troubling you?”

“Ahh, it is nothing.” She voiced.

He frowned taking a step toward her, “You overheard our conversation?”

“Ahh, why are we here Shiku, the Kari still have not accepted me even after I gave you a son.”

“Do you think I should have left my kin?”

“Ahh, I think that you have placed yourself in an awfully difficult situation. Putting yourself at odds with your clan…”

He cut her off, “You bring this up now after all of these years?” He questioned, “Did someone say something to you?”

She looked to the floor and he frowned, “Ahh, I thought if by some miracle I gave you a child that I might be accepted, but even now that Iashi is almost nine, I am still looked at like some sort of sickness.”

“Iashi was a blessing from the gods and so were you. There are other things just as important to a Kari man.” He voiced.

“Ahh, like what?”

“Well for this Kari man, getting his beautiful wife out of that dress. I have been looking forward to seeing what is underneath those layers all day.”

“Ahh, Shiku you are always so naughty.” She voiced, blushing noticeably as she looked away.

His finger lifted her chin as he leaned in whispering softly, “You think I am naughty now, you just wait until I get you out of those clothes.”

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Iashi’s parents were always talking in hushed whispers when he was around. He like any kid his age, pretended to not be listening. Most of the conversations made little sense to him at nine years of age.

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“Ahh, Shiku does he really have to do this?”

“He is nine now, it is time to begin the trials. Do not worry so much, I went through these trials when I was his age and my father, my father’s father, as far back as the Kari history goes.”

“Ahh, but…”

“Why are you so worried, Teslia?” She had gone to speak, but began coughing. It took her a moment to collect herself. “Your cough is getting worse.” He voiced, concern written upon his face.

“Ahh, it is nothing. I had that spring cold and the cough is just being a bit persistent.”

Even though Shiku had not wanted to dismiss it so simply, he nodded his head. “You should take the day off and rest. I will tell Elder Erobus that you are feeling unwell.”

“Ahh, you are always too protective Shiku. I am fine, really, besides if I do not do my share of the chores, the women of the village will be unhappy with me.” She whispered softly.

Shiku frowned, the women of the village could be far more cruel than the men. He knew they were saying things to Teslia, but she had been so insistent that they had not. There was nothing he could do about it, unless he knew who was saying what. She was the type of woman that always internalized everything. Even though her eyes were sad, she did her very best to never let her own problems show upon her face. It was not her nature to bring others into her own personal business, not even her own husband. Yamada where stubborn like that, always carrying the burdens that weighed them down alone. It was rare for them to vocalize how they felt about their own issues, when they did it tended to pour out of them a release that was often difficult to shut off.

“Ahh, will he be okay?” She asked.

Shiku looked at her and smiled, “He will be fine.” He leaned in and kissed her lightly on the cheek, before telling Iashi it was time to go.

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Iashi remembered not talking to his father during that walk. There was a heaviness in the air, though at the time he had not really understood why. His father was not known for being so serious, even amongst the Kari he was considered genuinely kind. “You’re late.” A man’s stern hard voice spoke out.

“Sorry, Sorry.” Shiku responded as he ran his hand through his hair a moment.

“If this is going to become habit perhaps we should just forget about this.”

“It will not be a habit. We are only late because my wife is concerned over the trials. It must be easy for you Katsu, with no woman about to console.” It was a dig at the fact that Katsu, father of Sesiago had no wife.

“A wife is not my priority at the moment, ensuring that my son is marked as Kazuma is.”

“Of course.” Shiku responded.

“The only reason we are standing here together Shiku, is because your son’s Yamada blood has made it so no one wishes to group with him. I am in the same situation due to Sesiago’s mother’s blood. Do not forget that we are only standing here together because no others in the village wish to pair with our sons.”

“I assure you Katsu, it is not something easily forgotten.”

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Iashi moved to stand near the boy, who was about his age. He knew that he was named Sesiago, he had no mother, and his blue eyes were those of the Shima. He tried to not think on it much. Iashi turned to look at him for a moment as he crossed his arms and then looked away quickly. In comparison, Iashi looked older, slightly bigger in build, even though Sesiago had at least an inch on him in height. Iashi did not say anything right away, his father always told him that the first to speak is the weaker of the two, he was not about to lose to this kid.

Sesiagio had turned his head to look at him. “You don’t act Yamada.” Sesiago spoke.

Iashi made a face and responded the way he had heard his mother speak once, “Ahh, you should not speak so casually about my Yamada blood.”

“I meant no offense.” Iashi turned and looked Sesiago over, when he fidgeted. The boy was nervous and he could not recall seeing any Kari behave so apprehensively.

“Ahh, I am Iashi.”

“Sesiago.”

“Ahh, that’s a Shima word meaning river.”

“Is it?” Sesiago asked turning his attention more fully on Iashi.

“Ahh, my mother taught me a little of the language. She does not know much, but a few words here and there. River was one of the ones she remembered. You….really didn’t know that?”

Sesiago nervously shook his head. “Boy’s let’s go.” Katsu voiced and Iashi turned his attention to see his father standing next to the man he knew to be the father of this boy. The boys both hurried toward their fathers.

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Their fathers had led them toward the waterfall and they silently watched as they engaged in combat. It was the first time for both young men that they had ever seen their fathers fight using the Kari fighting style. Iashi was amazed at how aggressive and fast his father was. Katsu on the other hand mostly blocked with his hands, but when he did strike out, it was with extreme force. They had been prepared since they were small for combat, but it was now time that training was going to be put to use. That heaviness that Iashi felt earlier when he and his father were walking to meet Katsu and Sesiago returned quickly.

They battled for hours, not saying a single word to the boys or each other. When they were finally finished, darkness had overtaken the area. “Join us for dinner,” Shiku said as he bowed before Katsu.

Katsu also bowed and reluctantly agreed. It had been a long time since he had a meal cooked by a woman, and this woman no matter her Yamada blood was going to play an important role in these trials. He wished to meet her.

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Iashi had rushed into the house and he gestured for Sesiago to follow him. Shiku sighed, “I don’t remember being that young,” He said stepping into the house followed by Katsu. They were instantly greeted by Teslia. She blushed a moment and looked away, which caused Shiku to smile. He did not warn her that he planned on asking Katsu to join them. He could have given her some forewarning that he planned on asking, but she always worked better when kept on her toes. “Is dinner ready?’

“Ahh, almost.”

“Katsu this is my wife, Teslia.”

He gave a single bow of his head to the woman before him. “Ahh, it is an honor to meet you.” She voiced politely. Iashi and Sesiago watched from where they were sitting as the adults engaged one another. “You will be joining us?” She questioned.

“I invited him and his son.” Shiku voiced, “Is there an issue?”

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“Ahh, no of course not.” She responded. “I should go check on dinner.” She disappeared from sight quickly and Shiku excused himself a moment. Iashi could hear them talking in hushed voices. His mother was not happy, something about what she was wearing was not appropriate for company and his father laughing and saying it was fine. “Why are you always doing this to me, Shiku?”

“I like to show you off.” He voiced. “Can’t a Kari man put his lovely wife on display now and again?”

“Ahh, I wish you would have warned me. I would have…covered myself up some.”

“There is no need for you to do that.” He voiced running his finger along her arm, “You look beautiful.”

“Ahh, you and your snake tongue. You always know what to say to get me to bend to your wishes.”

He laughed softly, “As if my lovely wife. We both know you are not shy about men’s eyes being upon you. Why not give poor Katsu’s heart a start.” She knew he was joking so she shook her head at him before disappearing to the kitchen area.

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Teslia returned sometime later and told the men that it was time for dinner. She shuttled the boys off to get cleaned up before returning to find Katsu and Shiku sitting at the table. Katsu was staring at the meal prepared. “Ahh, if there is something you will not eat, I can make you something else.”

“No, it is not that. You prepare so much for just the three of you every night?” He questioned.

“Ahh, I had a big family.”

He looked up at her, surprise written across his features. “You’re Yamada…”

She smiled sighing deeply, “Ahh, across the water were the Yamada reside, there are clans. Many that are virulent. The Yamada tend to engage in unions with those clans allowing us to flourish. I have five brothers and two sisters, many cousins, aunts and uncles.”

“Yet you are here, why?”

“Ahh, it is simple really. I wanted more than that life.”

“Did you acquire more?”

“Ahh, I do not know you well enough to answer that question.” She voiced as she rested her hand on the shoulder of Shiku as the children took their seats. She pulled her hand away as she spoke, “If you need anything further, please let me know. I shall be in the other room cleaning up.”

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The men were quiet until Teslia was gone. Once they were certain she was no longer within earshot, Katsu spoke. “Is she prepared for what is to come?”

“She is, though she has reservations.”

“Ahh, what is to come?” Iashi questioned.

Shiku and Katsu were quiet a moment, before Katsu finally spoke. “From the time you can move on your own, you are trained in the ways of the Kari. Each new generation Kazuma is sought. Thus far his vassal has not appeared within our village. The trials are quickly approaching, within another few months the two of you will be sent off on a journey with others your age. The trials are difficult, dangerous, you may not return, but we Kari believe that Kazuma is among us. You must complete each task successfully to move forward, if you fail there is no shame. If you die, then you were not strong enough to be Kari.”

“The first fifteen trials you work with another Kari. You are still young, this allows you to engage your task, learn from one another, and more importantly survive. Kari need to trust one another. We need to move as a single entity when the need calls for it. Other times, we must walk alone. We must be strong in many ways, both as a unit and as a single man. The two of you will take this journey together, Iashi and Sesiago, but only one of you can be Kazuma.”

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Sesiago was quiet not saying a single word as Iashi looked toward him. The kid with the short messy hair, was fidgeting again. Somehow he knew there was a lot of pressure on this kid’s shoulders. Iashi did not need Sesiago to say it, for him there was shame if he failed. He had to succeed, it could be seen in the kid’s blue eyes. That heaviness returned, the one he had fought off earlier. “Why are we working together?” Sesiago finally asked.

“Ahh, it is because no one else wants to be near us because of our tainted blood.” Iashi responded. Katsu and his father did not speak on the matter, there was no need to because Iashi said what needed to be said. They were the outcast of the village. “I won’t fail father.” Iashi spoke as he turned his attention to his father. Sesiago had looked toward the young man, frowning deeply before looking away. He did not offer his father such words.

Shiku smiled, “I know you will do your best. Wouldn’t it be something to be sitting at the table with Kazuma’s vassal?”

All attention went to the young man called Sesiago as his chair scrapped against the ground. “I am going for a walk.” There was a defiance in his tone as he walked away. Iashi could not read the look on Katsu’s face then, but when he thought back on that time, he understood the pressure that was weighing down Sesiago just from that single look given by his father.

The conversation had continued on without Sesiago, there were several times that Iashi had considered going to speak to him, but in the end listening to the information on the trials was more important.

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Teslia over the coming months had made them clothes, went over the necessities needed for survival on their own. She taught them to cook, make a fire, clean their clothing. Everything she knew about money, other clans, even a bit of basic language skills that would allow them to interact with people outside of the village. Her job in their training was making sure they were prepared for their journey. The next time she would see them, they would be young men and if she failed them during those months prior to the trials, then they would most likely not return.

She went down on one knee and looked ahead, as she spoke to the boys at her side. “Ahh, I want you boys to look forward,” She said softly.

“Look forward?” Sesiago questioned.

“Ahh, it is easy to get lost in the past. This village is stuck in a endless cycle where the past is repeated every new generation. Grow into fine young men, capable of standing on your own. Do not suffer the defeat of an endless cycle of being Kari. Young men like you should have wings, be free to fly. Go where you wish and make any decision that you see fit. There might come a time when your paths force you to fly separately, but during this time, solidify what is real and genuine, become brothers. Be the guiding hand that allows you both to move forward with strength, instead of being held back by the past. Your fathers are waiting for you with Elder Erobus, go now.”

Sesiago stepped forward moving to leave as Iashi stopped to look at his mother a moment. He moved toward her, but she stopped him by putting her hand on the top of his head. “Ahh, your father is waiting Iashi. You do not want to keep them waiting any longer than necessary. I will see you when you return.”

Iashi reluctantly nodded his head. He wanted to tell her that he loved her and he would miss her, but he knew that she already knew those things. “Ahh, look forward mother.” He managed to say softly as he turned away and began to walk with Sesiago. Had he known what was to come, he would never have left her side without saying everything he needed to.

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The boys entered the home of the elder and joined them in a small sitting room that functioned as an office of sorts.

The Elder of the Kari, Erobus leaned against the desk while his shield Kyo stood to the side. The boys both took seats and their fathers stood behind their chairs. Erobus looked over the two, “I remember making this journey. All of us in this room made that journey together and yet, not one of us succeeded. Kazuma has not been found amongst our kin for many generations. I imagine the other Kari villages have been far more fortunate and have had the blessing that is Kazuma. When each new generation makes it to the age of nine, their trial begins. Do not think of this as a trial to be Kazuma. This trial is to become men of the Kari as much as it is to find the vassal that carries the King of the Gods. Surviving these trials makes you a Kari man, even if you fail the trial itself. Death, says you are not worthy and you descend into the afterlife with shame. I will not tell you this trial will be easy and that you will survive, many Kari have failed and lost their lives. This journey will be extremely difficult, you must learn to rely on each other. Strengthen your bond and the two of you will be capable of succeeding at anything you wish. I have given this speech many times today as pairs like you have begun their journey. You are the last two to leave the village and all we men of the Kari can do, is wish you safe travels. Iashi son of Shiku and Sesiago son of Katsu, you know the path that awaits you.” He voiced and the two young men stood and bowed to their elder. They did not look for words of comfort or well wishes from any of the men in the room, it was not the way of the Kari to do such a thing. Iashi remembered thinking how quiet it was as the two of them departed the village.

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The two Kari boys had five years together, traveling all around the world. It was time for them to get to know each other, accomplish the fifteen task set forth for them during their trials.

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After their journey was finished they had arrived in Torgahdah. “Ahh, we can stay here for the night then head back to the village.” Iashi voiced then noticed the look on his friends face. “What is wrong?”

“Nothing really. I am just…”

“Ahh, you do not want to return do you?”

“Not really. These years have been the best of my life. You do not know what it is like to have him as a father. The pressure is too much sometimes. Anything I want or feel I need is seen as defiance. I just don’t think I am ready to go back to that life. Lets not go back, Iashi.”

Iashi frowned, “Ahh, we are friends are we not?”

“Yes.”

“Ahh, then you have nothing to worry about. I will be your strength. Don’t worry about your father, we are Kari men now the only hold he has over you is the hold you let him have.”

Sesiago nodded his head. Even though he was happy to hear those words from Iashi, it did not stop the dread from lingering in his heart. He did not want to be Kari. He had been thinking about it often and had voiced it so many times to Iashi that he thought he wanted to explore a life as a Shima. Iashi had often talked him out of such wild thoughts, reminding him that the lives that the Shima and Kari live were very different. Still even though Iashi had been there for him, Iashi believed he did not truly understand the depths of Sesiago’s emotions on the matter.

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That night they stayed at a small establishment, where Abula were in abundance. Iashi, when the opportunities arose since he was ten years old engaged in adult relations with various women they would meet during their travels. This night was no different as four different women crawled into his bed, and he willingly allowed them. “We hear rumors about the prowess of Yamada men.” One of the women whispered. “Is it true?”

“Ahh, it is.” A fifth woman moved toward the bed, but was stopped by Iashi’s words as he spoke directly to her. “As tempting as it is to be with a beauty like you, my friend is next door. You should let him climb on top of you, give him an experience he will not soon forget.”

“As you wish.” The woman voiced as she disappeared from the room, leaving Iashi with the four Abula.

Prostitution and sex slavery ran rampant in Torgahdah. These women, were most likely sold or given away by their families to save their farms, boats, or any number of other items of value. Torgahdah, even though it was so close to the Kari village was a different world entirely.  “Ahh, my beauties, do you want me to please you first or would you like to see if you can make my Yamada blood boil?” He did not give any of them a chance to respond as he leaned in and kissed the one closest to him.

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That morning Iashi was dressed and ready to leave for the village quickly. He exited the room and stopped suddenly catching sight of Sesiago sitting upon the floor waiting for him. “How was your night?” Sesiago asked, there was something in his tone.

“Ahh, it was fine. How was yours?” Sesiago remained silent and Iashi laughed knowingly, “What did you say to her?”

“What makes you think I said something?”

“Ahh, you always say the wrong thing.”

“I just said that Yamada women were built for that sort of trade seeing it was difficult for them to have children. I do not understand why she slapped me.”

“Ahh, I can,” Iashi said as he took a seat next to his friend. “My mother told me once that a lot of Yamada women end up married to men who do not want to have children, then when they end up pregnant an accident always happens. She said that all Yamada women want children, but the uncertainty of it all is both a gift to some men and a curse for others. Men like the Kari who take great pride in having children and expanding the clan avoid the Yamada because the one thing they prize more than anything they cannot have with them without great difficulty if at all, while men who do not wish for children seek out Yamada women, feeling great joy that the burden of a child will never hinder them. She most likely ended up in this trade because she got pregnant and an accident occurred. Her husband most likely abandoned her after that. You have to learn to be gentle with a woman’s emotions Sesiago.”

“There is no point, I don’t plan on having a woman in my life.”

“Ahh at the rate you are going, I believe that to be true, but you know your father and the village will not allow that to happen. All Kari men must take a wife at one point or another, it is simply the way things are amongst the Kari.”

“I refuse.” Sesiago voiced as he stood. “Are you ready to leave?” He had dropped the topic of discussion so quickly that Iashi was certain that Sesiago was angry, so he let it go and the two of them departed home to the village of the Kari.

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When they arrived back to the village later that day, Sesiago went straight to the Elder of the Kari, but Iashi wanted to see his mother. That image of her was burned into his mind. She had lost weight, was pale, her eyes dark and haunting, she had been coughing when he entered the house and by the time he found her and his father, there was blood trickling from her lips. “Ahh, Iashi.” She whispered as she saw him and Iashi had to fight back the emotion as he stepped toward her quickly, but was stopped by her words, “Stay away Iashi. Please, stay away.” He could feel the tears falling down along his cheeks as she spoke in a raspy voice, “I am glad I got to see you. You are a fine Kari man.” It was as though the world itself had stopped as the last little bit of life his mother had, left her body.

He ran, he left the house as quickly as his feet would take him. He could not shut off the emotions that were running freely and wild within him. That image of his mother, her last moment felt as though it was carved into his mind.

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He had sat alone for hours until he heard footsteps and then the sound of someone taking a seat next to him. Iashi knew it was Sesiago, he was the only person in the village that would come and check on him. “I…” Sesiago paused as he considered his words, “Don’t understand what you’re going through. I don’t know what to say.” He spoke honestly.

Iashi did not speak right away, “Ahh, I should not have left her.”

“You could not have known.”

“Ahh, I should have.” He paused then asked, “How did you know?”

“My father and I came to get you and your father so we could meet with Elder Erobus.”

“Ahh, did you see her?”

“Yes.”

“Ahh, I can’t do this.” Iashi voiced.

Iashi was always the stronger of the two of them. Sesiago was filled with anger and burdened by issues that he could not let go of, but Iashi was always free-spirited and cheerful. Sesiago could not find the words for his friend. It was not supposed to be like this. Iashi was the one that was meant to stand and support Sesiago, and it only added to Sesaigo’s burdened, by making him feel guilty for not being able to say anything in his friend’s hour of need. The two of them would remain there for most of the night, not saying anything further to one another.

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The boys knew that they could not remain suffering in the emotions that were overwhelming them. They were Kari, men that were supposed to push aside all emotion. Individually they moved forward, completing one trial after another until there were two left. It was during that time that Iashi had decided that there were other things more important to him. At first it was his intention to go through the trials until the end, but his father had become different since the death of his mother. He often found him sitting alone in their bedroom, staring at the bed where she had been laying. That last image of her, stuck in his father’s mind as it had been in his own.

“Ahh, father,” Iashi said, though Shiku did not even venture to look at his son.

“Did you complete your trial?”

“Ahh, no sorry father. I failed.”

“I suppose it was too much to hope for that a Yamada born child would bear the mark of Kazuma. It is alright, your failure is the failure of your blood and not of your skill.”

“Ahh there is nothing wrong with my blood.”

“You are probably right, but had you been born without tainted blood then…”

“Ahh, enough.” He raised his voice. “I am Iashi Kari, and there is nothing wrong with my blood. I am proud of being both Kari and Yamada. I would not change it for anything. Why….why are you being like this?”

“Elder Erobus has decided that unions with the Yamada are now forbidden. You will be allowed to remain Iashi, because you are Kari, but…”

“Ahh, I don’t understand. Why now after all of this time?”

“They could not implement a law like this within the Kari, when a Yamada was residing amongst them. You, they are willing to overlook because you are Kari, but Elder Erobus will give you the option to leave. I imagine, it is more of a request than an option.”

“Ahh, is this how it is father, my tainted blood is not good enough for the Kari?”

“That is right.” His father responded. He knew his father did not believe those words, but yet he was speaking them.

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Iashi left his father sitting in the same place he found him as he made his way to the home of the Elder of the Kari, Erobus. As always his shield stood at his side. “Ahh, why are you doing this?” Iashi asked as he barged into the makeshift office of the Elder.

“Doing what exactly?”

“Ahh, you know what. The law about the Yamada, is this really what is best for the village?”

“Your mother was a good woman Iashi. The late Elder Bingwen liked your father a great deal thus he let it go when your father brought that Yamada to the village. It took her fifteen years before the two of them conceived.  The Kari have been hit hard through the decades and if we wish to thrive, we cannot hinder ourselves by getting involved with men and women who are unable to give or bring life into this world. It would be in your best interest to perhaps understand your Yamada blood by taking a journey to their lands. You being here says you failed your trial, you have no place amongst the Kari.”

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“Ahh, you say my mother was a good woman and yet you disgrace her memory by implementing such a law. I do not understand this direction you wish for the Kari to go, but you are not going to chase me away. My blood is strong and is both Kari and Yamada, and I will not allow you to show me such disrespect, by trying to erase the influence of the Yamada on this village.”

“So you are staying to spite me?” Elder Erobus asked.

“Ahh, that is right.” Iashi voiced.

“You’re out of line.” Kyo spoke up.

He stood down quickly when Elder Erobus responded, “So be it, Iashi. You may go now, your father needs you.” There was something fore-brooding in his words, something at the time Iashi did not really understand. He would understand those words several months later, just after Sesiago was given the Mark of Kazuma, when his father hung himself. As if he did not carry enough shame from being Yamada, he became known as the Kari whose father had committed suicide and shamed his blood. Even with everything that happened Iashi kept his head held high and buried it all, every single emotion deep within him.

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“Ahh, so it is true.” Iashi voiced as he entered Sesiago’s room.

“How did you get past my father?”

“Ahh, I waited for him to leave.” He responded. Since Sesiago had finished the last of the trials, Katsu had been determined to keep the two of them apart.

Sesiago had a defeated smile, his father was being unreasonable and had gotten worse since he had finished the trials. Out of all of the Kari men, he was the only one to have completed them successfully. “I heard about your father, I am….”

“Ahh, I don’t want to talk about it.” Iashi interrupted. There was nothing gained by speaking about a man that chose suicide over life. He had disgraced the Kari and left Iashi to carry the shame of it all.

“Right.” Sesiago voiced. “What happened, during your trial?”

“Ahh, what do you mean?”

Sesiago had a look about him as though he was considering his words carefully, eventually he found his resolve and spoke. “You might not be as skilled as I am at fighting, but you are smarter. You could have easily bested the trials and had been given the mark, long before I even completed them. What happened Iashi?”

Iashi smirked, “Ahh, just was not my day.” He responded. He was not about to tell Sesiago that he did not even try that he came back because of the worry he had over his father. “Would not have mattered anyway. If we both completed the trials, they would still have given the mark to you. You are Shima and Kari, I am Yamada and Kari, besides it would have come down to a fight between the two of us, and in the end your skill in combat would have bested me.”

“You are just saying that. We both know that you would have won. Does not matter how skilled a man is in combat, it is what he has going on in his head that counts. You definitely would have been given the mark.”

“Ahh, Sesiago, you are just saying that because you would rather someone else have it.” Iashi voiced as he took a seat on the floor.

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Sesiago sat in a nearby chair bringing his hands to his head, “There is this pressure, it is worse now. My head has not stopped hurting since I got back. My father keeps saying that being Kari is everything. Having the mark is a great honor. He does not understand the dread I have in my heart over all of it. What am I suppose to do, Iashi?”

“Ahh, I don’t know Sesiago. I have never had to carry such a burden.”

Sesiago could tell Iashi was being untruthful. He had the greatest burden of them all, he was Yamada in a village that hated Yamada. “Why are you being like this?”

“Ahh, like what?”

“Like you have no cares or worries in the world?”

“Ahh, that…because I don’t.” He responded simply.

“I don’t understand.” Sesiago voiced raised, “Why are you acting like this Iashi? You can talk to me about anything, you always could, why now are you being so passive?”

“Ahh, you worry and read into things too much, Sesiago. I am just comfortable that is all.” Iashi could have poured all of his problems onto Sesiago, but it was not as though Sesiago would have anything to say to comfort him. He had never been good at finding the words, in fact he always found the wrong ones to say. Sesiago was Kazuma’s reincarnate, he had enough to contend with, without adding to his burden so Iashi locked it all away, and put on a smile. He pretended that everything was alright, and he did so for the better part of his life. Some months later they would run into that Zenaku who would tell them about the arrival of Tearra and another Kari to the village.

They really lived a relatively quiet life as Kari men. Seven years after that conversation, Sesaigo’s father worked out an arranged marriage with a Maiba girl whose mother had been taken in by a Kari. He refused, but a year later would end up marrying Eri of the Maiba. Iashi never really understood what happened, but he was certain it centered around the death of Katsu. Katsu had said something to Sesiago on his deathbed, though Iashi did not know what, it had made a profound impact on Sesiago. He had become a different man after that. Traits of his father began to crop up, he was no longer the defiant young man that would get into mischief with Iashi. Even though they were still the closest of friends, they no longer confided in each other like they used to.

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Iashi had sometimes regretted remaining with the Kari. He never felt as though anyone understood him and he was often leaving the village to head to Shimragata to visit the Abula. What he knew about his Yamada blood was only what the Kari had told him, and little bits and pieces from his mother. She never liked to talk about them, he always wondered why.

When Suemeli arrived to the village six years before the arrival of Tationy and Hiko, he had known instantly that the girl had liked him. She had recovered from her injuries after being rescued by Sesiago, and more times then he could remember the Elder of the Kari sent her back to the Saitama only for her to quickly return. Four winters later, he slept with her. He completely regretted it afterwards, but it was a moment of weakness on his part and it continued even after he told himself it needed to never happen again.

She was the type of girl that fell in love. Not just regular love, but head over heels, head in the clouds kind of love. Iashi had never been in love before. Certainly he liked the girl, she amused him to no end, but it was definitely not love, at least not on his part. “Iashi, this thing with Suemeli, you need to marry her.”

“Ahh, I am not interested in marrying her.”

“What you’re doing is wrong. Kari men do not just hop into bed and use a woman like that. You have to make this right, you are ruining her reputation, by sleeping around with her while not in a union.”

“Ahh, you are hardly one to give relationship advice.”

Sesiago looked away, “I don’t know what you are referring to.”

“Ahh, really Sesiago, you are going to just pretend your wife is not spreading her legs for the Elder of our village?”

“You’re mistaken.”

“Ahh, how un-Kari-like for you to pretend it is not happening.”

“We are not talking about me. Your relationship with her is causing unrest amongst the Kari. Don’t do it for yourself, think about her reputation. No man in this village will go near her as long as you and she are engaging in a relationship. You need to marry her or let her go.”

“Ahh, we both know that letting her go will not change anything. She already belongs to me that is what this village thinks. She and I have made no pledges to one another, we are just enjoying each other’s company. She is not complaining, so I do not understand why you are making such a big deal out of this.”

“You are unbelievable. Fix this,” Sesiago said as he took off leaving Iashi to his thoughts.

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Iashi entered the small homestead he had moved into after his father’s death. Laying upon his bed was Suemeli. He sighed inwardly. “Ahh, Suemeli, did you say something to Eri about getting married?”

“No why?”

“Ahh, it is nothing. Just, I don’t want you thinking that our relationship is going to progress like that.”

She absently rubbed her fingertips along the bedding, “Would it be so bad, being married to me?”

“Ahh, it would not be terrible.” He voiced. “I am just not ready to go in that direction.”

“It is alright, I am happy with how things are.” She responded, though he could tell she was lying. She was not at all happy. Like anyone would, she wanted the happily ever after.

“Ahh, when and if the time is ever right, we will take our relationship in that direction….” Before he could even finish his words, she had her hands around his neck holding him tightly. She was happy, though inside he was less than so. It was not that she was not lovely. She was adorable, with a tiny little voice and a cute face. She was filled with a boundless amount of energy and she could keep up with him in the bedroom, there had been few that could. He just was not attracted to her mentally. Physically, Iashi was not picky. It did not matter the size of the woman, how she looked, or even what clan she was from. For him, it was all about her mind. He liked a woman with thoughts in her head, a curious mind always asking questions and wanting to learn. At first glance he often seemed free-spirited and the type of man that was never serious, always goofing off, but the truth of the matter was he was probably the smartest man in the entire Kari village. There was not a single Kari as perceptive as he was and he wanted a woman that challenged him.

Even though he did not particularly want to marry her, a year later the two of them were joined in a union. When Iashi looks back on it now, he is aware that he was a bad Kari man. He was just tired of being alone, and it could have been anyone. It did not have to be Suemeli.

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Late in the evening one-night Iashi had been making his rounds, when unexpected arrivals entered the village. The one was a Kari man and the other a woman with the eyes of the gods. He had only looked at the man briefly as he began speaking. Iashi’s attention settled on the woman. “Forgive our intrusion upon the lands of the Kari, we have traveled from Bicorla.” Even though he was listening he watched the young woman as her eyes wandered about. She did not hide the fact that she was looking around. The way she stood, seemed outside her. He did not know why, but he felt it was not who she really was. He was not entirely certain what it was about her, but he already liked her. “We wish to speak with your Elder.”

“Ahh, you traveled a great distance.” Iashi voiced.

“Ahh.” Hiko responded. Iashi pulled his gaze away from the woman eying the Kari man suspiciously, he had Yamada blood.

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“Ahh, do you have names?”

“Tadayoshi and this is my wife, Ako.”

“Hmm?” Tationy had turned to look at Hiko as he introduced her. She was seemingly oblivious to what was going on around her.

Iashi turned his attention toward the woman again, inwardly he smiled. He could tell there was something special about her. More importantly he was certain she was Tearra and that he would need to inform Sesiago of her arrival. He looked her over, memorizing every little detail. He was surprised, she was not built for children, her breast were not very big, her hair black and they most certainly did not match her eyebrows. He wondered why she was dying her hair and deduced it had something to do with the man she was with. Perhaps it was his preference or perhaps it was for another reason, he could not really fathom why. “Ahh, you may follow me.” He remarked leading the way to the Elder’s home.

While they spoke with the elder he waited outside and when they finally exited, he showed them to a small homestead they might stay.

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His mind was preoccupied with thoughts of her as he arrived home. Iashi quickly stripped of his clothing and climbed in bed, more than ready for the day to end. He rested his head against the headboard, closing his eyes, as he felt a body climb on top of him. He knew it was Suemeli, the soft little coo as she spoke, and the way her body felt would have given it away hundreds of times. Her hands ran along his body, but when he opened his eyes, it was not her he was seeing. He held his breath a moment, he did not understand why his mind was placing the woman called Ako into his head, but as clear as day she was on top of him. That night, lost in fantasy he was more aggressive than he had ever been. He had never fantasized about other women before. It was not as though he could not have any woman he wished. He was the type of man capable of being charming. He was the type of man that when he was with a woman, no matter who she was or how she looked it was all about her.

That night lost in fantasy he did things to Suemeli he had never done before. By the time the sun came up, he did not have it in him to tell her about Ako. Part of it was fear that she might know that he was thinking about this woman and another part, he wanted to keep her to himself a little while longer. He had never told that story to anyone, not even Sesiago. There were times he had stood outside of the small homestead she shared with Hiko, wanting to speak with her, but he kept his distance. There were nights he saw her leave her homestead, but he was not the only one. Sesiago had noticed as well. They were best friends and she was Tearra, he was certain of it. It did not matter what feverish fantasies where occupying his mind, he was married to Suemeli and she was with Tadayoshi, but more importantly she belonged to Kazuma.

After he had told that last part of his story, he frowned at himself. He had never wanted to admit his attraction to her. Even that night after the Kari village was attacked, he had thought of nothing else, but going to her. He had not been surprised to find Sesiago there, it was not as though he could compete with the King of the Gods for the Queens affection. So he kept his distance the best he could. He hid how he felt, what he thought of her, and kept himself in check by keeping the focus on Sesiago and Tationy.

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When he finally stopped talking, he wished he could take it all back. Zen certainly was aware there were things not said. He imagined the condensed version of Iashi’s life was just a flickering of a candle, but a single moment in time. He considered his words, “The Yamada are an interesting people. I knew many in Aslann and all of them had the same views on love. For them it was as though their heart had been locked away, unable to be freed until that one soul they connect with on a utopian level arrives. I imagine it was that way for your mother. She could have easily have apologized to your father and walked away, but she didn’t. She gave him a reason to see her. Forced him to apologize and in so doing, made him desire her more than anything. Tationy has a conflicted heart. Her mind is always in a dark place and even if for a moment she had managed to find that utopian level, I doubt she would recognize it. You on the other hand, you know that is what it is yet you keep your distance because of your friendship and your clan. If you interfere with Kazuma and Tearra, you will never be forgiven, but what if he is not Kazuma?” Zen questioned.

“Ahh, he is.”

“Iashi, you failed to complete the trials because you chose to, there is no guarantee that you would not have accomplished those task. Perhaps it was always your fate to face-off against Sesiago. The Shima and Yamada have a long history together, both as allies and as rivals. I think Elder Erobus was right, you should have left the Kari.” Iashi looked up at him, surprise written across his face. “Your mother, bless her was a remarkable woman. I can tell that just by the little you shared, but she kept things from you about the Yamada. Things that you obviously need to know. Tationy needs to know these things as well. She has this hole in her soul and it gets worse the more she is here in our world. I searched for her, wanting to be there for her, but in the end it is not my place, I think it is yours. The law Elder Erobus implemented is necessary to allow the Kari to grow, but allowing you to remain with such a law only hurt you. I know you may not want to hear this, but you should have been forced to leave.”

“Ahh, why do you suppose he didn’t force me?”

“It is difficult to say, I do not know all the people involved. He was the Elder, without a doubt he could have forced you to leave, but perhaps deep down he liked you and respected you. Having two different faces is sometimes required of an Elder. As for Tationy, you definitely said the wrong thing, but I don’t believe it would have mattered.”

“Ahh, how so?”

“You are his friend. No matter what you would have said, she most likely would have taken it as a defense of Sesiago or making excuses for him.”

“Ahh, what do I do then?”

“That decision is yours, but you are obviously not at all happy with how Sesiago has handled things. Do you think he will change his mind?”

“Ahh, he is more Kari than any man I know. He will not forgive her for being Yamada.”

“You make it seem like it is some sort of sickness.”

“Ahh, to him it is. His father’s influence on him and the driving need to be the perfect Kari has tainted his mind. We Kari have become hard and cold, our failure as a clan is because of our own stubbornness.”

“It is difficult to know if things will change in the coming years, but what is clear you have a decision you need to make. There is no guarantee that you and Tationy will ever be more than what you are, but you both have things that you need to uncover about yourselves about your clan and it might be easier for the two of you to do that together.”

Iashi was quiet, no words could be found to express what he was thinking and feeling. Tationy was with the Shima, he was certain Moromari would have taken her to the Lord of the Shima himself. He was not certain he had the right to go there that even if he did that he could request to the Lord of the Shima to allow him to see her. Even if he agreed would she want to see him. He would not call his feelings love, though Zen was right there was something bigger than him. He deduced it was because they were both Yamada, that strong connection he felt was that utopian level that Zen mentioned. He did not know anything about the Yamada, he wished he would have asked his mother more questions than he had. He stood from where he had been sitting, “Ahh, tell Elder Baito that I …. tell him what happened with Tationy and that I did not agree with Sesiago. That the Yamada should not be cast aside so callously, they are people to. Tell him, I cannot stay amongst the Kari, with this heavy heart.” Zen simply nodded his head as he watched Iashi leave the office of Baito.

To Be Continued

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