For a while she remained in that pose until Miroku spoke to her, breaking her concentration. She had not felt like she had progressed at all and she was uncertain what she was supposed to see or even if she saw it. “You and your brother are very different….” She left her words hanging. “You have Saitama blood, does he?”
Miroku sighed, it was a difficult question to answer. “My father had two wives. His first wife was a Saitama named Itoa and his second wife was a Shinohara named Chiyaki.”
“So you and Hayato are half-brothers?”
“Yes.” He paused a moment, “You have a lot of questions, don’t you?”
“A little.” He responded. “We have time still, I will tell you everything you want to know, but we should first encounter the rest of the spirits that are trapped here in purgatory waiting for you.”
She reluctantly agreed as the two moved through modern Aslann. They had found Otoha in a small park, where the annual summer festival was usually held. He was kicking the soccer ball, toward the goal. She had always admired Otoha, perhaps even had a bit of a crush on him more than any other guy at Aslann High School. He was quiet, popular, but not like Sadoo or Abe. This guy was genuine and kind. He was always willing to stop and help someone if they dropped their books. He often stayed after sports practice to clean up, while Sadoo would go off with Tsubaki. Truthfully she knew nothing about him, other than what everyone else at Aslann High School knew, he was good at sports and popular. The social lives of teenagers.
Miroku took a seat on a bench, as the rain began to fall lightly. Tationy stood toward the side, quietly watching him and Miroku kept his eyes focused on her. Otoha gave her a passing glance. He was tall, the tallest of all of the guardians of the Prince of Aslann. He was physically fit and lean. She bowed her head a moment, she was not certain what to say and even if she did, could he respond to her. “Tationy, why don’t you guard the goal.”
She heard his voice and stumbled nervously over her words as she walked toward the field, “I don’t know the first thing about defending a goal.”
“You are always so afraid to try something new.”
She blushed noticeably, “Sorry I am just not good at athletics.”
“That is not true.” He told her. “Sadoo and I found you just before the war broke out and you were a gymnast.”
“World War II.”
“Did the two of you fight in that war?”
“Sadoo did, he left me to take care of his wife.”
He did not tell her that the two of them had a relationship with each other during that time. He did not tell her that he got her pregnant. He did not even tell her that he had been in love with Sadoo for as far back as he could remember. Those things were not important. “You were really good. You have it in you to do what you want, you just have to stop being so afraid to try new things.” He paused as he put his foot on the ball, “You ready?”
“No.” She responded as he set up and then kicked the ball.
Miroku tried to not chuckle out loud. She was not even close to stopping it, though she had given it a good try. He found it amusing that someone that was trained to fight, had such bad hand eye coordination, though he supposed the man was well aware that she probably had not even tried and would never be able to stop it. He assumed the point was to show her that she did not need to be afraid to try something new and go outside her comfort zone.
After they had played a bit, she awkwardly fidgeted as she tried to consider how she wanted to approach any discussion with him. “Did you know, I …”
“I knew that you were not the Prince of Aslann, that you were different. That does not mean you are not my lord. I understand now why I was loyal to you, and the lengths my prince went to. You are only a fraction of what you were, but you still hold a great deal of power over the people that served the Prince, because you are the Prince and yet…”
“Not.” She voiced.
“Yes. There are many that will refuse to see you as just Tationy, you are what remains of the Prince of Aslann. That is very important to the world. You do not understand how valuable the Prince of Aslann is and how much power he has. You are the essence of the greatest prince Aslann had ever seen. Respected, by men. Uniting with the Prince of Aslann and becoming whole again, will do great things for the world. The Prince to many is just as important as the Gods themselves.”
“I don’t really know what to do.”
“You say that, yet I can tell you have already made your decision.” Tationy sighed as she glanced toward Otoha, “You do not need to hide it, your guardians, we already know the decision you have chosen to make and I think that all of us understand it in our own way.”
“You do not think it is the wrong one?”
He bowed his head slightly, “That is not for me to say.”
“You have that look on your face.”
“The one you get when you lose something important. You used to get it when the ‘Warriors’ did not make it to the championships.” He glanced up at her quickly and she blushed noticeably, he had not noticed that she had paid such close attention to him. He searched his memory, trying to recall any time he had noticed her watching him, but nothing jumped out at him. “I guess I might as well say it now. I know it is pretty late and all. When I first arrived to Aslann I kind of had a little crush on you. Now you cannot say I didn’t try something new.” She voiced.
He smiled briefly, “I am sorry I could not protect you.”
“It is alright. Does that apology mean it is time for you to leave?”
He nodded his head, “It does, but before I go I will spare you the trouble of trying to figure out Sohma. Order him to atone.”
“I can’t do that.”
“He will never move forward if you do not.” He told her simply.
She sighed, briefly nodding her head as Otoha faded from purgatory.
She walked for a bit with Miroku, silently contemplating everything. “You were pretty brave.”
“Telling him how you felt.”
“It was just a crush.” She stated.
“Still, I don’t think you would have gone outside your comfort zone before.”
She stopped walking near the kissing booths, sighing deeply, “I suppose not.”
“That is a pretty somber look, considering what you just said to Otoha.” Sadoo responded which caused Tationy to jump as she turned quickly to see him sitting at one of the booths.
“Do we have to talk about this?” She asked.
He laughed, “No not at all.”
Tationy took an awkward step toward the booth, “Why didn’t you find anyone? Sohma said you remained hidden until you recovered your memory.”
“I had no one I wished to see.”
“No one at all?”
“You have to understand Tationy, that we guardians were never friends.”
“Otoha and I have known each other a long time, we were friends and rivals, but … not the type of friends that would not kill each other if we were ordered to. The Prince gave me my orders long ago and no matter how loyal I was to Otoha, in the end, I knew that my fate was to kill him and his was to kill me. My only sin I wish to atone for is against you. We never should have brought you here. We are selfish men, following our lord even when the decisions made were not the right ones.”
“So you do not agree with the decisions the Prince of Aslann made?”
“No, but I followed each order given me, like any soldier would. You however, were an innocent used by our lord to accomplish a goal. I failed you. I helped Chochi blame your murder on Abe, I failed to protect you time and time again. It ate away at me knowing that I was not strong enough to…”
“Please stop.” She whispered.
He smiled knowingly. “Come here and close your eyes.” He told her and she cautiously did so. His lips brushed lightly against hers.
“What was that for?” She asked as she opened her eyes and stared at him.
“Otoha should have kissed you before he left.” He smiled as he watched the pink hue travel across her cheeks. “It was a shame the two of you died before bringing that baby into the world.”
“What baby?” She asked.
“He didn’t tell you?” She shook her head, “He probably did not want to burden you. The two of you found comfort in each other’s arms, while I was fighting in the war. It would have been normal to be angry, but I wasn’t. The three of us never had a normal relationship dynamic and I was surprised that you were pregnant, but it brought me joy to think that the three of us might raise that child together. We never got the chance though. An Ishi arrived, so we took off. I am not really sure what happened, we were separated and you were killed. We were certain that the Ishi that was following us was not the one that hurt you, but we were killed before we could uncover what happened. We failed you, I cannot tell you how many times, but everything revolving around you is the only sin I wish to atone for.”
“You do not have to.” She responded.
“Stop being stubborn and let me do this.”
She relented as she sighed, “Alright.”
He smiled, brushing a strand of loose hair away, “I should go. I don’t expect forgiveness or anything like that. I just wanted you to know that I have always felt guilt and regretted the decisions I made revolving around you.”
“You have to go already? I thought you and…”
“We would never be able to enter the Land of Souls with you, even though we all want to. We all agreed to wait, but Otoha has decided to speak his heart to you and leave. He felt it would be harder if he waited. We all have realized that the longer we wait to say what we need to, the more we are not going to want to say it. So, we agreed that we would move forward and atone for our sins. I hope you understand.”
“Yes, I understand.” She responded as she stepped away from the booth. She turned away as he faded her eyes falling on Miroku who was smiling. “What?”
“I told you I just find it hard to believe you did not have boys crawling all over you.”
She sighed, “It is not like that.”
“That is right, it is not.” A woman’s voice spoke. Tationy followed the woman’s voice until her eyes fell upon her. She looked a little familiar, sort of like the Abula that was sitting at the giant window, when she traveled to have a meal and a nice night with Hiko and Tatsuya of the Kari. “Take that ridiculous look off your face.”
Tationy straightened herself up and spoke, “You…”
The woman sighed noticeably, “You call him Taku, I am his sister.”
“You’re Masae.” She responded remembering hearing Sonchiro and his brother Kensuke talk about her when she and Oro visited the men while she was with the Ruthlbahdo.
Masae only acknowledge that it was truth with a nod, before turning her attention toward the Emperor. “Please leave us.”
Miroku was surprised at how brazen and direct the Kensuku woman’s personality was. He frowned, “I will leave only if she ask me, you have no say over what I do.”
“It is alright, Miroku.” Tationy encouraged as she turned her attention completely on Masae, “I imagine I sinned against you somehow, but I am uncertain….”
“Not you, your counterpart. I did not get the chance to speak my mind to that foul prince, so I will certainly say what I wish to you.”
“The Kensuku have a beautiful language, customs, rituals. Taku confided in me that he was in love with a woman. His family rarely seen him after he became the guardian for the Prince of Aslann. Before he left for the war, he told me that the two of them had engaged in a physical relationship even though she had not reached shitorma, the age of understanding. Taku pledged himself to her, both his body, mind, and spirit. You have to understand, this is not something the Kensuku take lightly and he is bound by that love. You need to fix this. You have to make certain that beast does not survive, so that he might move on with his life. He is stuck in this endless cycle of devotion, all that live are. That woman, the Prince of Aslann, what a foul creature. The Prince has never cared about anyone, only about what that beast can use them for. Taku will never be able to have a mate. He gave himself over to a love that was one-sided, no Kensuku deserves to be used like that. We deserve to be free people. We deserve love, passion, friendship, and loyalty. That is all I wanted to say.” She responded. “I don’t expect you to honor something your counterpart did. I am not a fool, like others here in purgatory. The least you can do is make certain that the Prince of Aslann never leaves the Land of Souls.”
Tationy wished she understood more about the Kensuku. She was not brave enough to ask though. Masae was just as her brothers described her, bossy and scary. “I will try…” Masae gave her a hard stare, “I will make certain the Prince of Aslann does not leave the Land of Souls.”
“Good.” Masae responded and in a blink of thee eye, she was gone.
Tationy sighed noticeably, “I feel spent.”
“Some things never change.” She heard a voice respond and turned quickly. He had a comforting smile that forced her mind to distant memories.
“Why are we here?”
Oro smirked, “I have been trying to figure you out since our first encounter, kid. Just could not place my finger on it right away. Took me a bit.”
They entered the Red Lantern, Oro quickly taking a seat. Tationy had not even given the place a once over as she joined him, crossing her arms. It had been two weeks and she had been posing as a boy named Tse Rio, with the Ruthlbahdo. “All the pretty girls in Aslann, you never look at them. Even the most disciplined soldiers take a little look now and again, but not you. At first I thought that maybe it was that cold way about you, but then I noticed it.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Oro laughed, “Yeah, he did not notice either. The old man sure does look different with his hair down, doesn’t he.” Tationy tensed, but Oro pretended to not notice, “Don’t worry though, Zen does not even pay attention to that kind of stuff. Kari men, I never got them. They are the most disciplined men I have ever seen. They can be standing right next to their naked lover and they would not even blink an eye. We Ishi, we never got the point of restricting ourselves like that. Can’t for the life of me figure out what clan you are from, starting to think you might be Kari with that unreadable expression and lack of emotional response.”
“What does this have to do with why we are here?”
Smirking he responded, “I am going to get you some.”
“Get me some what?”
The boisterous laugh caught the attention of many. “That is why I like you kid, your pretty naive. After tonight you will be a little less naive.”
“You brought me here to have sex?”
Oro shushed Tse, “Be a bit more proper.” As she looked back on it, she realized that Oro was trying to correct some of her modern behavior. They did not talk about sex so casually in the New Aslann Empire, even when they were in an establishment that revolved around the sex trade.
Oro had always visited the same man at the Red Lantern, a Kensuku named Sonchiro who was the brother of Taku. That night though, Oro had bought the company of two men, Sonchiro for himself and his older brother Kensuke for the ‘young boy’ Tse Rio. The two of them sat quietly across from each other, in the room that belonged to Kensuke. Tationy had not dared to look around, she did not want to appear interested in the environment or even the man sitting across from her. She felt particularly self-conscious and overly cautious, afraid that he might find out she was not a boy at all. That first night, they had not spoken a single word to one another.
On the walk back to the Ruthlbahdo headquarters, Oro gauged the silence. “Did you at least talk to him?”
“Did not have anything to say.”
“Maybe you should start with some sort of greeting.”
“Like I need relationship advice from you.” Oro had stopped talking, but that did not mean he did not persist in Tse accompanying him to the Red Lantern again.
A week later she found herself sitting across from Kensuke again. He reminded her a bit of Hiko in his looks, but he did not have the same sort of ‘bad boy’ aura around him. At first, it was not any different from the first time she had visited, the two sat quietly not speaking to one another. “This room is kind of nice.”
“Thank you.” He responded politely, though there was a hint of something in his tone. Tationy thought it seemed a bit like annoyance and something else, but she could not pinpoint what it was.
She fidgeted with her fingers as she tried to come up with something to say to the man. It was not that she really wanted to talk to him, she was simply tired of the awkward silence. “You like to read?” She questioned, but he did not respond right away so she continued, “I noticed the books lying about.”
“We don’t have to talk.”
“I am not interested in having sex with you.”
“Good, I am not interested engaging in such activities with you either.”
“Good,” She said, pausing a moment, “Why what is wrong with me?”
For Kensuke the question from the ‘boy’, surprised him a moment, “I am simply not interested in men.”
“Then how did you end up here?”
“I don’t know you well enough to talk about my personal life.”
“I am sorry.” She responded. “That was rude of me to ask.”
Kensuke stared at the ‘boy’. Tse was quiet and polite, he never saw a smile travel over the kid’s features not even when Oro was cracking some joke. “How old are you?”
“How long have you been with the Ruthlbahdo?”
“Couple of weeks.”
“Why does your Commander bring you here?”
“Something about I never look at all the pretty girls in Aslann.”
Their talk was casual, they did not get to personal with one another. They talked about books, especially the works of Kita which Kensuke was fond of. The two never engaged in any sort of physical relationship, during the three months she was with the Ruthlbahdo, she and Oro visited the Kensuku brothers at least fifty times.
Her mind forced the old memories to the side as she stared at the face of Kensuke. Even though Pai Pai had told her that he was dead, she still could not believe she was looking upon him. “I thought we could go for a walk.”
She nervously nodded her head and Miroku decided it was best if he kept his distance, allowing the two to be alone together. Much like the first time they met, they did not speak to one another. Eventually he had stopped walking and turned to face her. Her mind had changed the scenery and their clothing. “Did you know?” She asked him.
“I didn’t want to know.” He voiced. “I think for most men, we don’t want to know that there is a girl pretending to be a boy. I am sure some men pay attention to such things, but the rest of us, we are to concerned about our own lives to worry about such delicate matters. With that said, I did enjoy our time together. I honestly at first thought you would be like every other ‘man’ that came to the Red Lantern, but you were just a kid taking each day as it was. You were not looking forward and praying for what may come, you were holding back, keeping it all locked away. I was selfish, stuck in my own problems to notice that you needed me. I could have offered you friendship and comfort, but I decided that my own problems were more important than seeing what a young ‘boy’ visiting me was going through.”
“It is alright, Kensuke.
“No, it is not. I should have been there for you, at least offered you a kind ear to listen to your troubles, but I could not even bring myself to do that. How many times did you and Oro visit?”
“I do not know, a lot.”
“Yet, we never really spoke about anything other than books and the weather.”
“Let us do something.” She voiced changing the serious topic.
“Uh…alright.” He responded as she quickly grabbed his hand and they moved back toward the festival grounds.
The two built a snowman together, made snow angels, laughed, though they hardly talked.
Together they ice skated, “You look different.” She whispered.
“Your hair mostly.” She responded. “Even though I know you are exactly the same, you seem younger.”
He gave her a kind smile, though changed the topic to something a bit more serious. “Masae…”
“It is alright, you do not have to say anything.”
“No, I think I need to explain.”
“Alright.” She responded.
“She is protective of us. When we were thrust into slavery she thought she could protect us, by selling herself. For a while it worked, but eventually the man that owned us discovered he could get far more money if he sold us off to the man that ran the Red Lantern. Sonchiro and I were sold and she always felt responsible because she could not protect us. My little brother, when he became a guardian she was so happy that one of us was going to be free. I am not even sure I can put into words how much it meant to her that at least he would be protected from the life we were living. I know I told you how she was, it was one of the very few personal conversations we ever had, but I don’t think….”
“It is alright.” She responded. “She was a little scary and bossy, but what the Prince did to Taku was wrong. I will do what I can for him and I promise I will take care of Taku.”
He had smiled briefly before losing his balance. “Awe….awe….ugh.” He managed to say as he tried to keep his balance, but landed hard on his tailbone. Tationy had nearly been pulled down as well, but she managed to steady herself, as she looked down upon him. “Are you alright?”
He smiled, then chuckled awkwardly, “Good thing I am dead, otherwise that might sting for a bit.”
She laughed softly as she offered him, her hand, helping him back on his skates.
They moved off the skating rink, at first they just stood quietly together, but eventually he took her hand and pulled her in closer to him, so that the two might dance together under the stars. “I had a nice time.”
“I did to.” She responded.
“I want you to not take things so seriously. Try to relax and enjoy your new life. Experience it all. The years of your life that existed in your modern world were not yours to command. Others dictating your life, now is your opportunity to be free and experience your new world.”
“Yes, but so many people I want to experience it with are already gone.”
“Thus is the way of life.” He told her simply. He took a step back from her, lifting her hand to kiss the back of it. “You have many people still to see. You should move on from me.”
“Stay just a little longer.” She whispered.
He smiled, “Alright, just a little longer.” He pulled her back into his arms, as they slow danced together until dawn.
After Kensuke had faded she had gone in search of Miroku. She had wandered all around Aslann. At least that was what it felt like to her, but she could not seem to find him. “The Emperor of Aslann is giving you sometime to yourself.” She heard the soft coo of Suemeli. Tationy turned to glance at her and Suemeli smiled, “So cute.” There had not been that much difference in their ages. When she arrived at the Kari village, Suemeli had instantly taken a liking to her. Tationy quickly frowned, wondering if Suemeli had been like Eri and had been faking their friendship. “Why such a sad face?”
“It is nothing.”
“You are not happy to see me?”
“No I am.”
Suemeli tried to decipher her expression, “I would not worry much about Eri, she was jealous of Tearra. She always said she never wanted to marry Sesiago, but that was not true. Every woman in the village desired him once he was marked. The problem with a man that bears the Mark of Kazuma, is that his heart will always only belong to one woman. You understand that though don’t you…with Hiko?”
Tationy nodded her head, “There were times amongst the Kari that I grew to hate myself because I was so jealous of a dead girl, then it turned out she was not dead at all.”
“Eri knew the moment you arrived at the village and Sesiago’s eyes fell upon you. He thought no one noticed, but she did. Then, any chance he got he asked about you. He wanted to know what she knew because she was around you all the time. She was nice because she had to be, fearing she would alienate Sesiago. She never told Erobus her suspicions of you. She kept praying that Sesiago would act upon his feelings and I kept telling her that he was not the type of Kari.”
“Were you nice to me because you had to be?”
“No. I thought Eri was being silly. She did not even love Sesiago and yet she was jealous. She cheated on him and …. ”
“She always swore that her children were Sesiago’s, but there was always talk that Kin was the son of Erobus. Of course no one spoke the words, no one dared say it where others could hear. Iashi always suspected that was why, Sesiago was so cold to Kin. He looks nothing like his father.” Tationy had tensed when she mentioned Iashi’s name and quickly looked away. Suemeli allowed her head to turn, her attention to focus in on Tationy who was staring out at the gently falling snow. “Iashi is really good in bed, huh? He charmed me, like no one had before. My brother and I grew up outside the lands of the Anami. My father was a pure-blood Saitama who came from the Retreat of the Empress, and my mother was from a clan called the Matsuo. My father had been sent on a suicide mission, to kill a high ranking member of the Anami, someone the Dragon Lords wanted dealt with. He survived, though was injured severely and stumbled upon my mother’s doorstep. She was a widow, her husband had died during the war. They fell in love as she tended to him. The Saitama hate half-breeds, but even more than that they hate failure and betrayal. They had discovered my father was alive and came to retrieve him, only to find that he had married a woman and had two half-breed children. My brother and I escaped together, while my father and mother held them at bay, but they would be killed. We managed to make it to the mountains, but our pursuers were closing in on us. He stayed behind to allow me time to escape. It did not matter, they killed him and then came after me. They did terrible things to me and left me for dead.”
“Sesiago found you?”
“He did and I owed him everything. He brought me back to the Kari and Elder Erobus had my wounds tended. They thought I was going to die, but I survived. He kept sending me back to the Saitama after that, but I kept returning and eventually Iashi stood up for me. Told them that it was not right to send me back to a clan that would kill me. How could I not fall for him, he was so amazing. He is really smart, funny, passionate, and such a good man. You know all of that already though, don’t you?”
“Do you hate me?”
Suemeli giggled softly, “Of course not. The night the village was attacked he told me to run, but I could see it on his face. He was worried about something else, someone else and it was not me. The worst part of it was that I did not know when it happened. When did he fall in love with someone?”
“You are mistaken.” Tationy voiced, “We are just keeping each other company.”
“I hope that is not the case. I died, so that he might look forward. I asked Eri to tell him, I suppose she never made it though. So I will tell it to you Tationy. Tell him to look forward. He will know what it means.” She voiced as she began to walk away.
“Suemeli.” Tationy called out. “Why are you here?”
She smiled, “Oh I thought I told you. I am here so you do not feel guilty for loving him. It is alright. I loved him so much, but Iashi feels as though he cannot be happy. With what happened to his parents and his history, he just shuts himself off when it comes to love. When Sesiago did what he did to you, it awakened something in Iashi. Something I never got to see that I always wanted to. I am so happy knowing that he has the chance to have a wonderful life. Take care of him for me. Don’t forget to tell him what I said.”
“I won’t.” Tationy responded. She wanted to believe it was true that Iashi was in love with her and yet there was another part of her that did not want that sort of pressure, not with all of the decisions she had to make. It made her so worried that she would make the wrong decision and people like Iashi would get hurt.
She walked for a while. The longer she was in purgatory the more things she had to think about. She thought she had her mind made up, but each person she talked to only added to her conflict. She had stopped suddenly when she heard footsteps behind her, which caused her to turn and focus in on the figure moving around in the winter wonderland that was Aslann. “Tsubaki.” She whispered and the woman came to a stop.
Tationy had always thought she was the most beautiful girl in all of Aslann High School. Why though was she here? Her counterpart she had only met once, at the estate of the Waichia. She could hardly imagine how they sinned against each other. “I will get straight to the point.” Tsubaki remarked, “Your chalta contacted me when you arrived back to the New Aslann Empire and asked me to let him know when you came before the Lords of the Waichia. That meeting had to take place before he would send in the assassination squad to attack you. That assassination squad belong to my father, the leader of the Matsuo clan and leader of the assassin village of Rogama.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The one you call Atsuki, traveled across the water from Aslann where the Matsuo, Yamada, Shinohara, and other clans reside. Many of these clans use their skills as assassins, spies, and mercenaries for hire. He made the journey because my mother a Zenaku prophesied this phenomenon revolving around you, long before the Prince of Aslann was even born. He ensured that a spy would be placed amongst the Waichia clan, first my mother, then myself. He ensured that the assassins of the Matsuo would be waiting for his signal to attack. I just had to wait for you to arrive and report back to him. It would ensure that the guardians were separated from you and allow him time to finish the preparations needed for the next generation of war.”
“What is he doing?”
“I can only tell you what I know, the Lord of the Shima will fall, Shimragata will be attacked, his nation divided into four regions. Part of it will be controlled by the Anami, another by the Zenaku, a portion by the Maiba, and what remains of it will be lands free of buildings where a small struggling village will be built. This village though will be different from the great nations ruled over by the Anami, Zenaku, and Maiba. This small village to survive, will offer its unique services to those nations by means of assassination, espionage, and sabotage. A village that stands alone like a mighty nation, yet it is not one. War will wage for hundreds of years between the Anami, Zenaku, and Maiba, eventually even the clans across the water will join in, but that single village will train warriors and allow their skills to be sold to the highest bidder. The Anami, Zenaku, and Maiba will claim all of Torgahdah and all of the surrounding area, even what used to be known as Aslann, as their own. Only the Gods can help that world now.” She voiced as she started walking, not giving Tationy a moment to respond.
Tationy wondered what Atsuki was trying to accomplish and had attempted to ask Tsubaki, but she had already departed. She felt foolish and thought back on their first real conversation with one another. She could not help, but wonder if he had been using the Prince, playing on the small child’s emotions. He had obviously manipulated all of the guardians in one form or another, he had even had encounters with the Emperor of Aslann, which made everything he said to everyone suspect. She wished she could remember. Her memory was so fragmented and she thought for a brief moment if she had access to all of the lifetimes she might truly understand what Atsuki had been up to. Then, she realized she was probably naive to think it would be as simple as that.
Her memory had been locked away from her, there was really no one left in purgatory she could ask except Atsuki and Sohma. Atsuki she doubted would tell her the truth and Sohma….even though he swore he did not hate her, she was certain he did. He was supposed to be some brilliant tactician, so she found her resolve and moved through Aslann toward the apartment that he shared with his aunt and uncle. She had been there once, during her first year in Aslann when she made the mistake of joining one social club. She had hated it, but her mother insisted. Mai and Pai Pai had picked on her often about being stuck with the nerds of the school, their leader Sohma.
She had found Sohma sitting in the dimly lit living room. He seemed to be quietly contemplating, though what she had no idea and most likely little understanding. “Sohma.”
“Come to tell me what an awful man I am?”
“No, I don’t agree with what you did, but that is not why I am here.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I….I need the mind of the Prince of Aslann’s brilliant tactician.” He looked up at her, his eyes focusing in on her face. “You are supposed to be really good at that sort of stuff, so I want to start from the beginning and work through it. I want your advice, your thousands of years of military tactics and wisdom. Can you do that?”
“I can.” He responded.
“That first night we all arrived and introduced ourselves. Then, we all separated, before coming back together for dinner, then the conversation regarding The Exiled Prince story. You and Atsuki disagreed over the book written by Jee Ishi. Why?”
“Atsuki has always been rather vocal about his dislike of the Ishi. He believed that the Ishi were too dangerous and not able to be trusted. It clouded his vision.”
“Like yours with the Shima?”
“Atsuki said in the story that it was not the will of the Emperor to kill the Prince, that it was because of the Adviser Jin. Atsuki according to Tsubaki was aware of the circumstances surrounding me because of her mother. If that was the case, why would he not put someone in to spy over the Ishi, instead of the Waichia?”
“What makes you think he didn’t?”
“The Ishi don’t seem like the type of clan to allow…”
Sohma interrupted, “It was Nene of the Ishi, sister of Oro. I told Taku that she was left behind, but the truth was far more interesting. She remained behind after the Adviser Jin abandoned his home. Tien brought her to me and she slipped a few times, it was rather subtle, but she was not Ishi at least not mentally.”
“What was she?”
“Best guess, Nakamaru. I thought it was some mental disruption technique to keep her mind from being overwhelmed, but I know now it was the same technique used to remove my lord’s mind and transfer it into the body of Agito. At some point Nene was taken by the Nakamaru, the transference would have been done and she would have been returned to the Ishi to spy on them.”
“Why spy on the Ishi and the Waichia?”
“Next to the Tylo clan, they were the two most powerful clans in all of Aslann. Any move those two clans made for power, could have easily have been accomplished.”
“Which of the guardians were closest to Atsuki?”
“Chochi was pretty close to him, Abe was probably second. Taku and I were the youngest, always outcast amongst them. Sadoo and Otoha stuck pretty close to one another.”
“Sadoo followed the orders of the Prince, whose orders were the rest of you following?”
“Taku and I thought we were following the orders of our Prince. The others, I have no idea.”
“Atsuki told us parts of the story of The Exiled Prince, what he told us, was it true?”
“We were exiled, we did believe it was because of the Adviser Jin. A thousand of the Emperors men came after us. The prince was injured and we escaped by boat. Sadoo was the first of the guardians to fall, he battled Kuro. It was not a battle that many of us could have won. Abe was better suited to fight him, even Chochi, but Sadoo found his resolve and stayed to hold them off. I cannot tell you if the Prince ordered him to be first to battle or if he simply decided to be.”
For a moment Tationy thought about what Atsuki said about Jee Ishi’s book and how he had said that Sadoo had been given the chance to surrender, but refused. She sighed noticeably, things were far too complicated. “Abe and Sadoo were always fighting because of what happened with Tsubaki. Was it more than that?”
“The Prince had me manipulate Abe into sleeping with Sadoo’s lover, it drove a rift between the two of them long ago. Prince Tatsuya wanted to keep the guardians at odds with one another. Well with everyone honestly.”
“The Prince and Abe were not lovers. Abe remembered and said as much. He allowed people to think they slept with each other because she asked him to. She was pregnant, I think she allowed Abe to believe the child was Taku’s because he seemed unaware that the child belonged to the Lord of the Shima.”
Sohma frowned as he stood and moved toward where she was standing grabbing her by the arm and quickly turning her to face him. “Taku was very angry with Abe and the Prince. I knew that she was going to use Abe to make it seem like something was going on, but we never suspected she would give herself to him. When it appeared as though they had, Taku and I traveled back to Aslann together, on a suicide mission to destroy the scrolls that contained the technique we used to be reincarnated. We did not want anyone to come after us, but more than that, Taku had to get away from the Prince.”
Tationy held her breath as she looked into the eyes, the same dangerous eyes that his brother Chee of the Hamara possessed. “Why would the Prince hurt her guardians?”
“To make certain that we were not able to see what was going on around us. It is like a magician, you have people watch one hand while you are doing something else with the other.”
“After we arrived, I stayed mostly in the room, except that first day when I took off. What was going on during that time with all of you?”
“Atsuki was keeping to himself, hardly talking to anyone. Abe, Chochi, Sadoo, and Otoha were training and Taku went back to doing what he is very good at, gathering information or at least on the surface that is what he was doing. The prince gave us many orders before our deaths, when we returned we picked back up where we left off, we had many people to contact and prepare for the onslaught against the Emperor and the Adviser Jin. Taku and I also looked into Tatsuya of the Kari after your first encounter with him.”
“What did you find out?”
“He was an unusual choice for elder, his political views were not favored amongst his clan, yet he secured the position rather easily. He and the Waichia were loyal with one another and we believed that there were contracts whether written or verbal between them, just in case the Waichia ever obtained power within Aslann. Though we were never able to find any, which is not unusual with either clan, but it makes for a whole lot of speculation.”
“From what I understand Prince Tatsuya had relationships with Abe at least once, Taku, Chochi, Otoha, and Sadoo. Were there any unions with Atsuki or you?”
“Supposedly there were a few times with Atsuki, but no never with me.”
To Tationy, Sohma had seemed heartbroken. “Jee said that Atsuki had hunted us down and killed us through the many reincarnates. Do you have any memory of such a thing?”
“No. I remember once when I was thirteen, you had found me. You were a widow then, traveling alone through Shimragata. We stayed together for a long time, but my memory never really surfaced and when I was fifteen we had stopped at a small village. Their leader gave us shelter for the night and you asked him if it would be alright for me to stay. He agreed and you left. You said something to me that night, something cryptic about having to go meet the first person you gave your heart to. I did not really think anything of it then, but through the years I often found myself wondering about whom you were referring.”
She had wobbled as she leaned forward and rested her head on his chest. “I am sorry Sohma, I am…suddenly really tired.” Her voice was a whisper. “I think I need to sit down.” She managed to say, but did not even make it past him as he caught her in his arms.
He laid her down upon the couch, sighing deeply as he took a spot on the floor and watched her. She was running herself ragged to make it through purgatory so she could get to the Land of the Souls, he was frustrated with himself for having died and seeing her face only made his guilt worse.
He had been manipulated by the Prince and even Atsuki. Thinking back on it, he was certain the Ishi woman Nene and Atsuki where working him together. That concerned him, the fearsome power of those two combined he had to wonder what devastation they were up to. He had tried to watch them, while he was in purgatory, but he was unable to see them. It had frustrated him to no end. As he sat on the floor and watched Tationy rest, he had considered everything he wanted to say and needed to say to the girl before him.
She yawned and stretched as she sat up. Sohma had picked himself up off the floor long ago and was sitting at the end of the couch. His attention turned toward her. She was far less proper and ten times more relaxed than his young master. “Sorry.”
“You need to go at a slower pace here. You are in such a rush to get to the Land of Souls it is taking a toll on you.”
“I do not have time to take my time, Sohma.” He did not argue with her, there was not much point. She was just as stubborn as the Prince of Aslann. “Did you or Taku know who the Dragon Lords were?”
“No. Had we known we certainly would not have been working with Guiren of the Takahashi.”
“What about the others, did any of them know?”
“Not that I am aware of.”
“The Prince, did she really go to Atsuki and ask him to stop the union between the Waichia, known as Ritsu and herself?”
“She did. Prince Tatsuya was aware that if she did not do such a thing that Atsuki would suspect that something was going on. The Prince never hid her interest in Atsuki, we all knew it, and had she done anything other than go to him it would have caused a great deal of issues.”
“Do you think Atsuki felt the same?”
“We believed he did, but…”
“Chalta’s are not exactly trustworthy.”
“Did you try to find me at all?”
Sohma closed his eyes a moment. Was she asking about him specifically? He doubted it as he considered her question, he figured she wanted to know about the others and Taku. “Taku and I knew where you were, by the time you were with the Ishi.”
“You did not come and get me, why?”
“We did not want the cursed eyes to develop. You need to be in a centered place, without over-stimulation. We knew if you stayed amongst the Ishi and with others that would bombard your senses we would not have to worry about your eyes. With your memory issues, we worried that if your eyes developed you would try to stop us, not understanding that it was the wish of the Prince of Aslann to do what we were doing. We could not afford for your memory issues to hinder the plans. Taku was very vocal about not wishing for you to stay amongst them, he wanted to go and get you and I often had to talk him out of it, reminding him why it was important to keep you away from us until the time was right. I am sorry, if your memories were intact it would never have been an issue.”
“If they were intact would you have come?” She questioned.
“Without hesitation.” He responded. “Taku was worried that Chochi would uncover everything. We managed to manipulate him enough to keep him out of our hair for the most part. Things after you departed escalated unfavorably. I thought the Prince was….” Her arms wrapped around him and his entire body tensed uncertain how to react to her proximity. “What are you doing?” He asked.
“Forgiving you.” She responded. “I was told by Otoha to command you to atone, but I don’t think that is really what you want. I cannot tell you why the Prince never looked at you, why I never did, but I wish I would have gotten a chance to talk to you before. Is it weird that I can see your heart when you talk about the prince?”
He nervously and more than a little cautiously brought his hand up and rested it on her arm. “Please don’t say things you do not mean.”
“I do not understand why you did what you did, Sohma. Even though you speak with no emotion, I can feel your pain. It makes me sad. Maybe that is why the Prince kept her distance from you, she could not bear to be overwhelmed by such powerful emotions. Are all the Hamara, like you? Do you all feel so intensely?”
“I do not need your forgiveness.”
“No you do not need it, but you want it.” Her head rested against his shoulder her arms still around him tightly, “I command you to tell me everything you know, everything said to you, everything you have ever seen, everything you have ever done, do not leave anything out, Sohma. Even if I do not like what I hear, you have my forgiveness, but I will not command you to atone. You have to want to.”
Sohma closed his eyes, allowing himself a moment of happiness in her arms as he started talking. He began at the beginning and went over every detail about everything that he knew of or witnessed. Things he knew about the other guardians and the players that remained in the world. He spoke on everything that happened up until the time of his death and speculated on anything that might occur. It was his last act as the brilliant tactician of the Prince of Aslann.
To Be Continued