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After the Emperor had departed both men stood silently. The heaviness of the words of the Emperor made an impact on both men great enough that they were fearful of what this meant for their nation when a child was the only one standing up for its people. Sonchiro was only twenty-four years old, he had not even lived yet and he was so willing to give up everything to protect the place of his birth, his home, his clan, and the people that were oblivious to the demons lurking around every corner.

“That little punk,” Hiko said under his breath.

“We will do as he asks of us, let us not dwell on things we have no control over.”

Hiko’s attention was drawn to Mikio who was already well through yet another cigarette. “You are taking this rather well considering he thinks your Elder is one of those responsible.”

“Jee is young and has much to prove, but he seemed rather beside himself when he came to see me. I do not see him making a move like this. There is only one among the Ishi with such ambition. Don’t misunderstand though Hiko, all Ishi are capable of such power-plays if it benefits them. I believe I would have noticed if Jee was making such a push, any of them for that matter.”

“So you are, confident it is not him.”

“I did not say that.”

Hiko stared at Mikio for some time before sighing, after all of these years he still did not completely understand the man.

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That unwelcome silence returned and Hiko watched Mikio as he moved toward the door opening it briefly and directing someone, “Go find that Tylo girl and bring her here, immediately.”

Hiko could hear the person respond in the affirmative, but could not recognize them from their voice which told him it was probably someone for the Shisosha. When the door closed Hiko asked, “Are we really going to do this?”

“Why does this trouble you so much?” Mikio questioned and Hiko kept his eyes fixed on the man as he moved toward the desk.

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“Why?” Hiko repeated the question. “Soti Tylo became a monster so feared by the nation that they killed him and his entire clan. It is only because of that girl’s blood that she lives. If her blood had been insignificant she would have been killed along with the rest of them. What happens if the girl takes the same path?”

“Who knows.” Mikio responded as he turned his back to Hiko and looked out the window. There was something surrounding Mikio and Hiko tried to figure out what it was as Mikio spoke. “She is what she is because the Tylo clan was very smart in whom they bred with. Tearra with an Ishi, Soti with a Saitama, Miroku with a Yamada, Chilè with a Shima. A wise decision on that girl’s part would be to give herself over to one of the pure clans and make powerful babies, but she is the blood of Tearra and being just a woman would never make someone like that happy. So we will, do what we do with any other soldier we are uncertain about, test her until she quits or she proves she is capable.”

“I do not agree with this.” Hiko responded as the two became silent again. There were things they should have discussed, but both where the type to simply take care of the business at hand.

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When a knock finally came to the door, both men straightened up from the casual poses and silence that had taken both of them over. Before either could say enter, the door swung open and closed loudly behind her. Hiko frowned when he noticed what she was wearing, “Your clothing is inappropriate.”

“I did not realize that this meeting had a dress code.”

Hiko glanced toward Mikio briefly noticing he had his gazed fixed securely on the girl. From her general physical appearance she was seemingly in shape, but there were men among the village who looked as though they worked out every day and yet could not even run five miles. Hiko had been about to address her comment when Mikio spoke, “Take your clothes off.”

“Excuse me?” She questioned as she glanced toward him.

“You heard me.”

“Look boys as tempting as that would be to be naked in front of two good looking men, I am not into threesomes.”

“I guess joining the military was just a flight of fancy.” Mikio responded. Hiko pursed his lips together as he went to speak, but her movement caught his attention. Neither man hid the fact that they were watching her as she slowly removed each piece of clothing from her body. “Remove that thing from your face while you are at it.”

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She appeared to Hiko to be more reluctant about removing the bandage from her eyes, then she was about taking her clothes off. She used her hands to cover her body and Hiko thought to himself if she was trying to be modest at this point that she was falling far short after all she had already stripped naked in front of two men she was not married to. At first Hiko did not understand the point of this, was Mikio trying to humiliate her? Was it his intent to take her? Eventually Hiko allowed his eyes to linger to other parts of her body that he had told himself not to look at and he realized what it was that Mikio wanted a closer look at.

There had been talk when she was about sixteen. People had said that she had disappeared from the nation for a week and when she had come back she had an esoteric incantation upon her body. He could see it more clearly now, not just bits and pieces here and there. The lines as they traveled along her body swirled into a phoenix, the symbol of the first Emperor Tearra Tylo. “Who put that on you?” Hiko questioned.

“No one.” She was not even looking at him and he could tell she was lying.

“Hiko do you know about this incantation?” Mikio asked.

“Not this particular one. I know that both Ryozo Waichia and Bak Ishi have incantations upon their bodies, but I have never seen one to this level.”

“This one is special. It is a protection incantation, designed and used by the first Emperor, Tearra Tylo. The first Emperor used it to protect herself from harm, similar to the blocking sword technique of our second Emperor Sóme Kensuku. With the incantation tattooed upon the body, Tearra was able to forgo words and simply summon a sword to block any attack while Sóme who had a similar technique was required to use incantations to alter the resistances of his weapon to make those blocks happen. This technique is very old and forgotten. While there are some as you said within the nation that use tattooed incantations, they are too a minor degree. This caliber is a forgotten art.”

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“I will ask you again, who put that on you?” While Hiko waited for her response, he noticed how Mikio moved toward the door and quickly slipped out, leaving the two of them alone. He only briefly wondered where he was taking off to as his attention drew back toward Tationy, who was refusing to answer. Her attention was not even on him. This angered him as he took several steps toward her, grabbing her wrist. “Do you think you can just ignore me?” He questioned and the surprised look on her face caught him off-guard.

Her mouth was open, her teeth gritted, her eyes wide. Was she afraid of him? It was the same look he had seen dozens of times on the faces of people he had killed. Why though? His mind was tangled in question after question as he searched her face for the answers. Was she hiding something? Protecting someone? He let go of her wrist stepping back from her. He cursed Mikio for leaving them alone. “Why do you refuse to answer?” He questioned. She gave him nothing, not even a simple ‘I can’t’ which added to his concern and distrust of her.

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It was about five minutes of silence before Mikio returned and set some clothing on the chair. Hiko refused to look or talk to her further because he was certain he would say or do something that he would probably regret later. “Get dressed in these and meet us in the court yard.” Mikio spoke.

The two men walked out of the room and the moment the door closed behind them, Hiko grumbled.

“Did she refuse to tell you?”

“Ah.”

“Being proficient in incantations is not enough, one also has to be adept at tattooing and weaving the incantations into the ink. There are few in the nation capable of putting those on her at that skill level. Though the silence when I entered told me that there is something else.”

“It is nothing.”

“I can tell by your anger that is not true.”

“Why do you care?”

“Who knows.” Mikio responded.

Hiko sighed as he started walking and Mikio followed suit. “She is afraid of me.”

“This is a bad thing?” Hiko could tell by the question that Mikio did not understand why it troubled him. “I doubt it will ease your mind, but you were not the only one she is afraid of. She has secrets that she is protecting, perhaps hers, perhaps they belong to someone else. It really does not matter whose they are at this point. Right now we need to gauge her strength because I am guessing that whomever put that incantation upon her also trained her and if that is the case, then we need to have her close so she does not fall into the wrong hands.”

“Are you worried that she might be used against the nation?”

“Something like that.”

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The two waited for the girl in the courtyard. Various soldiers were about training diligently, more so now that the two highest ranking individuals within the military where standing there. When she finally stepped out of the building she stretched her limbs and sighed, “I feel so restricted, how do you guys move in this?”

Soldiers stopped what they were doing to look to the young girl, dressed in their uniform, talking casually with their Commanders. The dead silence all around the courtyard was telling for Hiko. “Get use to it.” He responded as he and Mikio moved toward a wall. “You have a minute to climb to the top.” Hiko stated not giving her any direction on what to do or how to do it. She stared at the wall, for the first twenty seconds and when she finally did move to climb the wall the rain had begun to fall. Even a seasoned climber did not do so in the rain, but even if she fell from the wall and hurt herself this was part of her trial.

There were a few points during her climb that she took risk that even made the reckless Hiko hold his breath. At one point she had put herself in a semi-crouched position upon the wall and then leapt up grabbing a climbing hold and hanging there by one hand. Though even with the danger that she put herself in she managed to do the climb with time to spare. She had a self-satisfied smile upon her lips as she walked toward the two Commanders. Hiko noticed how she looked between both of them as though she was looking for some sort of praise or acknowledgement.

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“Defend,” Mikio said suddenly.

“Wha…” Was all she managed to say as both Hiko and Mikio came at her.

Hiko had expected her confusion to be met with a severe beating from the two of them, but her movement was so quick and he realized what had happened much to late for him or Mikio to do anything about it as she stood still, with only her arms and hands used to defend. Hiko knew that his face betrayed him and when he landed to the ground he realized that Mikio was just as surprised as he was. It was not just any esoteric technique, it was one very specific to the Tylo clan. A combination of her precognitive abilities and esoteric time techniques. Someone had gone to great lengths to train this girl, but it was not just anyone. This person had to have knowledge of the Tylo clan and that told Hiko that it had to be one of Soti’s surviving students.

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Just as quickly as she defended she attacked. Back and forth the three of them dueled as the rain increased into a deep roaring downpour around them. Hiko felt familiarity the longer the fight went with her. It nagged at him until her long legs swung around and he maneuvered himself into a position to evade it. That kick belonged to a friend of his. When he was growing up the three of them; Hiko, Chee, and Hero, were always together. Hero, the tallest of the three had long legs and powerful kicks. While he was an exceptional swordsmen and one of the best trackers in the nation, it was his powerful hand-to-hand capabilities that made him truly fearsome.

The realization that his long time friend had been training her caused Hiko to step back from the fight when Mikio entered the fray. He wanted to watch her more closely and it was easier to do that at a distance. It was almost as though he was watching Hero himself fight. There were differences, certainly, but the things that made Hero so dangerous where the same things that stood out with her. It brought up too many questions and he frowned deeply at the realization that he may not know either of his friends as well as he thought he did.

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It took only a few moments for Mikio to shut the girl down completely with a kick to the face that sent her flying. She had lasted a lot longer than most could have against the two of them, but that did not mean she didn’t need training. She had the skills, certainly, but she lacked discipline and from what Hiko could tell, she was relying on mostly instincts and her precognitive abilities. That would only get someone so far. Certainly if she were Soti’s level, neither of them would have been able to touch her, but there was not a single soul within the nation that could teach her how to properly use those techniques, not even Hero.

While she brushed herself off, Mikio and Hiko spoke briefly before Mikio departed their company and Hiko gestured for her to follow him. “Where did the old guy go?” She asked.

“The old guy, is Commander Mikio Ishi of the Shisosha.”

“I know who he is.”

“You need to show respect.”

“Why, no one ever shows me any.”

He had stopped walking and glanced at her only briefly. “Respect is earned, besides you are just a woman.”

“Of course I am, so is this where you tell me no that I am not going to be accepted and to find someone to bend me over?”

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He did not like the way she spoke and simply kept walking in silence. As he entered the office that once belonged to Ritsu Waichia she moved ahead of him slightly. A light tap on his arm drew his attention toward her as he stopped and she pointed. “What about you, want to take me on that desk?”

“Is that what you want?”

“What I want is to be taken seriously.” She responded, “But we both know that is not going to happen when even the Commanders treat me like …”

“We treat you how you deserve to be treated. Respect is earned through trials and accomplished through hard work. You get nowhere in this nation, by allowing things to be handed to you. The fact that you are standing here means that the Emperor believes in you and that is the reason we both gave you an opportunity, despite our own personal feelings on the matter.”

“What are your feelings on the matter?”

Hiko was not prepared to answer that question and had not even for a single moment considered that she would ask it. Despite that he spoke honestly, “I think you are deceitful and do not know your place. More importantly, your dangerous.”

“My place?”

“No matter how capable and strong a woman is, she should be at home taking care of house and family.”

“I have none of those things and probably never will. So shouldn’t my skills be used to benefit people and things that actually exist?”

“Eventually the Emperor will step in and you will be married off to someone.”

“Tearra Tylo never married.”

“That was a different generation. There were no divisions as there are now. Women and men were equals, no titles or labels separating them.”

“Maybe it should be that way now.”

“Then what?”

“What do you mean?”

“Even when there are no divisions, people are still not equal. The first Emperor understood this better than anyone. Despite leading a nation and holding that title she was still seen as a woman and men of this nation plotted against her. Some of them wanted her power and others wanted to covet her. Had she been a man, they would have simply wanted his power. Men will always see you as a woman because you are one. The men will resent you being here. They will hate you, some will even try to put you in your place. You will be treated not as a soldier, but as a pair of tits that has stepped out of line. They will not trust you, will not support you, and most likely leave you to fend for yourself during times when you need more than your own strength to survive.” He paused a moment as he considered his words and added, “Not even General Takahashi will be able to protect you.”

He could see it in her eyes, before she quickly looked away, “I do not need anyone to protect me.”

Hiko made note of her stubbornness as he spoke, “I have duties to attend to that I have put off far too long. You will remain at my side.”

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Tationy had not said anything as she followed behind Hiko. He met with fifty-seven Generals and forty-eight Captains of the one hundred units that made up the Ruthlbahdo. Instantly he was called out about his shadow. His men jokingly asked if she was his new girlfriend and teased about how cute she looked in her ‘uniform’. “That is enough.” Hiko settled them all down with one sentence. He glanced over his shoulder briefly to make certain she was standing there and being have as he considered his words to his men.

“As many of you are aware, this morning the remainder of unit twenty-three was put to death including the executions of Commander Ritsu Waichia and Commander Oro Ishi. We all feel the burden that has been laid upon us and feel the eyes of scrutiny watching. There is nothing we can do for them, their time has passed and they move on from this world. Let us hope they find a great battle wherever they have passed on to. Even though we have lost much, we cannot allow ourselves to be clouded by grief. We have a duty to the people of this nation to protect its people, its lands, and its beliefs. Everything that we hold true will not be corrupted or taken from us without a fight and I want all of you to know that you are not without leaders and allies.”

“This afternoon, Commander Mikio Ishi and I received our new appointments to Commander of the Shisosha and Commander of the Ruthlbahdo. I do not know if I am capable of filling the shoes of Commander Waichia, but it is with great honor that I have been given the opportunity to lead the most courageous men I have ever served with. I am deeply humbled as I stand before you. With that said for the most part, it will be business as usual with a couple of notable exceptions. “General Kiyoshi Kensuku, your unit has been semi-active for the past six months due to your injury. With the loss we have recently taken, we cannot afford to have you and your unit home-bound. Please see Chee Hamara to have your health evaluated. I need to know if you can continue on in your position. Until then your Captain, Abe Sosa will lead the unit. Your unit will be picking up twenty-threes schedule.”

“In addition, it is my understanding that Takuya Waichia is still doing a special investigation into the assassination of Emperor Akizuki Kensuku. If he calls upon you to speak, please make yourselves or members of your units available.”

Hiko talked for about thirty minutes before he paused considering whether or not there was anything else that needed said. He did not glance at her as he placed both of his hands on either side of the podium, “Some of you know Tationy Tylo. For the past few years she has made request to be allowed into the military. Those request were denied by our late Emperor Akizuki Kensuku. Emperor Sonchiro Kensuku, spoke with myself and Commander Ishi regarding her this morning and after a test of her skills we have decided to allow her to join.”

The Generals and Captains began to whisper among themselves and for a time Hiko remained silent allowing them to do so. He was not surprised when the first question was asked, nor the second, and third. “Settle down and I shall address all of your concerns.” Hiko paused a moment to give the room time to quiet before he continued speaking, “As of this moment, I have not decided where she will be assigned. I can tell you that she will be a part of a unit of the Ruthlbahdo. Which will be determined at a later date. When I make my decision the General and Captain of that unit will be informed. She has decent combat skills and is on-par with many of our junior soldiers. She will not hinder or slow down a unit. I would never ask any of you to do something that I was not willing to do. I understand the concern weighing many of you down. While I make my decision on where I will assign her, she will be directly under my command. I will train and guide her.”

The whispers had started again. He would have hoped his men knew him well enough to know that he would never just pawn her off on someone else. She was to be a soldier under his command and that meant training and guiding her was as much his responsibility as it was to the unit he assigns her too. He glanced around prepared for any further questions, but when he received none he decided it was best to send his men on their way. “Dismissed.”

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He watched as each of his men disappeared from the conference room before motioning for her to follow. There was much he needed to go over with her, so he figured an early dinner would give him an opportunity to ask her questions. He doubted that he would be able to bring down her walls, but at the very least perhaps it would give him some insight so he could better place her. The person he placed her with, might well be the only one capable of reaching her. “My, my, Commander Hiko Kari of the Ruthlbahdo out and about at such an early hour.”

“Chee, you are being rather lazy today. I thought you would be in meetings with our new Emperor.”

“Well our new Emperor threw us a slight curve, didn’t he?” He questioned as he glanced toward Tationy giving her a disapproving look.

Hiko did not address Chee’s comment, “Are you and Abe getting dinner?”

“We are.”

Hiko moved slightly so he was out of the way of foot traffic navigating the busy market area. He turned his back away from Tationy and Chee followed suit as the two silently watched the passerby’s. Admittedly, Hiko could not recall a moment that had been so awkward. “Commander Ishi and I were unaware that the Emperor was going to approach us as he did.”

“I am sure you were, but that does not diminish the shock-wave that was ripped through the Elder Council.”

“So it is done then?”

“If by done, you mean that child pulled no punches and tied my hands by making me the only voice of reason on the Elder Council, then yes.”

Hiko glanced toward Chee only briefly. He could tell that Chee was not sleeping well, his hair was a mess, his eyes tired, not to mention he was being far more obvious and direct in both his words and actions. For example, this was twice now he seen Chee wearing the robes of the Sosa clan. He was not bothered by the relationship of Abe and Chee, in fact he had been one of the first to know about it, but there were still some within the nation that would not be understanding. Chee had always been the type to rock the boat and not care about the consequences.

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Chee sighed noticeably, “My, my, what a day. So are you the one responsible for this girl now?”

“Ah.”

“What a mistake.”

“She was not the one responsible for the Matriarchs death.”

“Let’s not pretend Hiko that you care anything about this girl. We both know you are simply doing this because the new Emperor asked you to handle it. She is trouble.”

“We were both called that once. As I recall, they called us lots of things. Trouble was probably one of the cleaner words used.”

“Look at us, all grown up in to old fine upstanding citizens of the great nation of Aslann. I would say life has been good, but we both know it hasn’t been.”

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There was a pause in the conversation that both men took as finality. It was not as though either of them could stand around all day and discuss the old days. They had their own lives and duty to attend to. When they both turned to face Tationy and Abe, they realized much to late that they had been oblivious to what was going on around them. Hiko rushed toward Tationy grabbing her from behind, his voice wretched from his throat as he yelled, “Tationy, control yourself.” He felt a force as Tationy was pushed into him further making note that Chee also got himself involved and was trying to separate Abe and Tationy.

Were they arguing? How did it end up like this? His mind tried to think back to when they first encountered each other, but nothing jumped out at him and up until he had turned around and noticed them going after each other, he had not heard a single negative word.

“What the hell are you doing Abe?” Chee yelled as they finally managed to pull the two of them apart.

Hiko kept a hold of Tationy, her body was tense though for the life of him he did not understand why. “Calm down.” He told her, but her body did not relax. “Chee get him out of here.”

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With the two of them completely separated, Chee dragged Abe down the street. The passerby’s that stopped to stare began to move again and when Abe and Chee were completely out of view, her body relaxed. He realized where his hand was and moved it quickly down her waist his other to her wrist as she turned her head to look at him. Her lips curled into a soft smile, “You can let me go now.” Hiko looked down at her, his hands still holding her in place. She was almost as bad as he was at that age. He had not realized that her smile had been contagious and the corners of his mouth curled slightly until she spoke, “You should do that more often.”

Was she flirting with him? He considered that it was probably how she dealt with uncomfortable situations and he made note to put a stop to it. Hiko had never been the type of man to get hung up on a woman. They were a dangerous distraction, one he was unwilling to have in his life. He relinquished his grip on her, stepping back as she turned to face him. His mind was muddled with too many questions again as the two stood face-to-face staring at each other.

To Be Continued

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