The Tortoise Endures

During the fourth session, Kiyomi went out and got ‘intro trouble’. This is what happened to her.

The Tortoise Endures

Kasuga Kiyomi carefully checked over her yojimbo, Toritaka Hitomi for injuries, but she found none. Instead, the large woman was fast asleep, having just made it to their room before passing out. Kiyomi carefully covered up her cousin, preparing to sit and read some more when she realized something.

Her constant shadow was fast asleep.

Unable to let such a chance pass her by, Kiyomi quietly left the room, grabbing a small bundle from the bottom of her pack, and snuck to a far, forgotten corner of the grounds. Quickly changing into peasant garb, she stashed her Kimono and most of her belongings under a bush to be collected later. She kept her plain war fan and tucked it in the tie, just in case, as well as the green stone Toshiro-sama had given her.

A Kitsune Tear—a way for her to talk to her mother over great distances, as Kasuga-sama had the other half. It was quite the gift and she didn’t have anything to give in return. Not yet.

After taking down her hair and tying it in a simpler style and dusting her face and clothing with some earth, Kiyomi made her way from Kyuden Toshiro to the nearest small village.

The peasantry was all busy rejoicing, taking little notice of one more among them. Joy and relief were on everyone’s faces; there was rice at last and few of them cared how it came to them. The ones that seemed to know what was going on—the Crane’s generosity and their future rule—seemed to be better dressed and fed than the rest.

Kiyomi quietly moved among them, taking note of everything. Things were far worse off than they appeared and it seemed the ‘fortuitous’ arrival of the rice meant that many deaths had been averted. None of the rice or grain was wasted; immediately into the pot or into storage. Kiyomi ventured that most, if not all of the peasants were going to hide a stash from prying Samurai eyes as well, for when times became lean again.

One old, attentive woman caught Kiyomi’s notice. The old woman was watching everything, one hand idly sketching symbols in the air. Kiyomi carefully moved closer, trying not to draw the woman’s attention. At first the symbols were unfamiliar; not any language Kiyomi was familiar with. Unless it was secret.

An old story came to Kiyomi’s mind about the Mongoose Lord being part of the Kolat. It had been many years since she had seen those sign—not since before several of her Father’s crew died—but she slowly started to recognize them as symbols the Kolat used.

‘Crane peasants. Possible Agents. Meeting, dusk, river’s edge.’

It alarmed Kiyomi that Kolat agents were still plaguing the Mongoose, but there was nothing to be done right now. Not while she was alone and vulnerable. She made careful note of the woman’s appearance, then continued on, moving through the festivities.

And she was being followed.

Two completely plain, ordinary looking peasants, a worn-looking woman and an older man were gradually catching up to her, both holding farming tools. She slowed, trying not to draw attention to the fact she noticed them, keeping to the more crowded areas. While there was much celebrating, the late hour meant the crowds were beginning to thin, looking forward to a quiet, fat winter.

Kiyomi suddenly found herself grabbed in a wide hug and spun around by a large peasant. When he released her, she noticed he was a young man, not unhandsome for a peasant, grinning widely. He was covered in sweat and dust, likely just coming in from the fields. She felt herself relax. He wasn’t a threat.

It was a grave offense for a peasant to touch a Samurai. Kiyomi didn’t care.

“It is good news, isn’t it?” she asked him, chuckling. She noticed the peasants tailing her had gone to opposite sides of the street, waiting, making idle conversation with those around them.

“The best of news,” he said, resting a heavy arm on her shoulders. It wasn’t uncomfortable and helped warm her slightly from the cool evening air. They watched the rice being distributed and shared. “Our village will survive the winter, now.” He looked around more, brow furrowing. “But what is the cost of this? Nothing is free.”

He was a very attentive peasant. It was a shame that they were being punished for a child’s ignorant actions. “That’s a matter for the Lord and her vassals, I think.”

“The matters of lord and vassals quickly become the troubles of peasants and servants.” He gave her a look she couldn’t quite read. “And my sisters serve in the castle.”

“How very true.” Kiyomi didn’t know quite what to say. Everything hinged on Tatsuya’s success and Lady Hinata somehow getting out of the deal Yuzuki made with the Crane. There was nothing a peasant could do to fix it. “But the important thing is that there is rice.”

He gave her a sardonic smile. “You’re right. I should quit being a worrier. Plenty of opportunity for that after we start starving again.”

It seemed like an impossible task, but the fact that Toshiro-sama had already given Tatsuya half of it boded well. Yamako-sama wasn’t that scary, after all. And Tatsuya’s father had done impossible things before. “Don’t be so sure of that. Have Faith.” Kiyomi glanced back at where the two peasants were still hovering, then back to the large peasant. “Could I ask you to escort me back to the castle?” she asked him, voice low. She’d determined the true state of Mongoose lands and now it was time to get back. “I’m being followed, but I’m not sure why.”

“Of course, my lady,” he whispered, just as quietly. “Walk with me.” He kept a tight arm around her, navigating the crowd carefully. The two peasants following started moving just as they did, slowly catching up. “I’m not going to ask why you’re here. It’s none of my business,” he whispered. He cheerfully greeted another peasant in the street, a friend from the way it sounded, going around him while giving Kiyomi a significant look. “All I ask is that you don’t punish my sisters for my mistake.”

How could he tell? What slip up did she make? “What mistake?”

“Touching one such as you,” he said, voice still hushed. Despite his words, he didn’t remove his arm from her shoulders. “I did not realize until I felt…” He went quiet, face beginning to redden.

Unnecessary touching was a taboo, and a silly one in Kiyomi’s opinion. “One such as me?” she asked, smiling. The two peasants were getting closer. Her hand wrapped around her war fan tucked at her side. “Whatever do you mean?”

“I know who you are, my lady samurai. And a heimin is forbidden from touching one so blessed by heaven… even with the Lord Sanjuro’s wishes.”

Part of her duty was to deal with peasants and if she let such a small thing bother her, she would be useless to her clan. She smiled softly. “No wrong was done. I am not dressed as thus, am I?” She was going to have a hard time convincing the Mongoose Samurai of her real identity, if it came to that. “So I am not, right now.”

This peasant, whose name Kiyomi was going to have to figure out, had been honest and open with her. Even when he saw through her disguise, he only asked for the life of his sisters, not his own. Kiyomi felt a fondness for him, and wondered if she could use him to learn more of the Kolat in the area. “I would ask a favor of you, and you are allowed to say no.” She didn’t want to put anyone, Samurai or peasant, at unnecessary risk.

“Of course my lady,” he responded, giving her a much more genuine smile. “What can I do for you?”

The two peasants emerged from the thinning crowd, directly towards the main way back to the castle. “After we take care of my tails,” she responded. She put on a friendly, disarming smile, and took a step towards the two that had been following her. “Was there something you needed?”

“A word with you is all,” the woman said, fingering her kama. She looked worn, underfed, and tired.

Kiyomi looked at the kama, then back to the woman. “And what word would that be?” They didn’t seem to want to hurt her. Only capture her.

The man stepped forward, flashing a gold, gaijin coin. “The word against Heaven’s oppression. Catch her.”

Before Kiyomi could move, she was suddenly lifted into the air. The large peasant who had given her a gentle smile not minutes before had a blank expression, eyes glassy and empty, holding her firmly but not roughly. She was forced to release the fan and it fell back into its hiding spot.

She looked down at the two. “You’re making a mistake. A Grave. Mistake.” Usually when she made such threats, she had Hitomi’s shadow behind her, backing her words up with the threat of violence. As it was, she was being held by a peasant who was barely moving or even breathing. Hardly intimidating.

The woman seemed suddenly discomfited, but the man shrugged her threat off, turning away to speak into a strange crystal tear. It was familiar to her, very similar to the Kitsune Tear hidden in a small pocket in the sleeve she usually put koku and bu in. Kiyomi focused on the woman, the one affected by her threats. “This is wrong and you know it. Let me go and I won’t bring the matter to those with more Honor.” Which at this point was any of her companions, none of whom knew where she was.

The woman wavered, looking back and forth between Kiyomi and the man, eventually shaking her head. The man returned from his conversation, tucking the crystal tear away. “Very well, Kasuga-san. You will follow us, I hope?” He grinned, motioning to the peasant. The peasant, whose name Kiyomi still didn’t know, carried her to the nearest home, his face and eyes passive and blank, muscles not strained by her minimal weight.

From outside, there was the sound of steel against flesh and then someone choking on liquid, blood most likely. Kiyomi held a small sliver of hope that it was someone to rescue her, dashed when the man entered the hut, cleaning off his kama. He had killed the woman. “Now then. You and I are going to have a talk, Kasuga-san. You will be unconscious for most of it, and when you awaken you will have forgotten all of this.”

Somehow they had figured out who she really was, and they were planning on using her. She was able to struggle enough to slip the Kitsune tear into her hand, activating it so her mother could hear the conversation. Even if she forgot, at least some good would come of this. “You mean to make me a sleeper agent then?” she asked. Sanjuro-sama and Hinata-sama had both been one once, if the stories were correct.

He nodded, pulling out various pouches and bowls from his robe, collecting others from around the house. “Much like your friend there, and most of the peasantry around here. It is difficult, and takes much time, but Master Silk has permitted the use of a more unique method upon you.” He fed a banked fire until it roared, setting several irons nearby to warm. “Unless you can be convinced otherwise? It’s really rather preferable to me.”

Kiyomi didn’t want to lose any of her memories, and she didn’t want to be a sleeper agent. She wasn’t quite sure what their plans were, but this was an excellent way to find out. She grinned to hide her fear of the situation. “You really know nothing of the Tortoise, do you? I believe the saying is ‘Find a den of rats and there will be a shell among them.’ It’s much truer than any of the ‘proper; Samurai like to admit.” Unless it directly endangered the Empire or the Emperor, nothing was forbidden. The Tortoise had eyes everywhere.

He sighed. “Which is why your conversion is so necessary. You stand to inherit your mother’s position, and it is rare to see such an opportunity…” He motioned and the peasant released her. She unceremoniously fell to the ground.

“Oww.” She stood slowly, rubbing herself, thinking quickly. While she was the eldest, that didn’t mean she would take over as Daimyo. It really depended on who she married. But the man across from her didn’t know that. “I’m not going to inherit anything; my little brother is. If my Mother has her way, I’ll be married off to the Fox or the Falcon to some minor Samurai,” she said with her voice full of fake venom and disgust. Really, either one would be fine to her. Marrying into a Major Clan was one of the things that wasn’t.

The man seemed a little taken back by that, brow furrowing. Eventually he shrugged, going back to his concoction. “Eliminating any other heirs would be standard practice,” he said, casually talking about murdering her siblings. “Do not worry; we shall ensure your continued standing as a ‘proper’ samurai.”

They hadn’t been watching her that closely then, if they thought that was a concern. “I’m not in line at all. My marriage will be decided at Winter Court.” Kiyomi looked around the hut. Her one means of escape, the entrance of the hut, was being blocked by the large peasant who stood there like a statue. The walls were surprisingly sturdy and the roof thick. There were several clay jugs scattered around the area.

The ‘statue’ guarding the door blinked. That was different. She started watching him out of the corner of her eye for more movement. “And besides, what good can I do you if I don’t remember anything?” she asked with a smile. The large peasant blinked again, eyes unclouding, and he looked at Kiyomi with much confusion.

The older man didn’t notice, keeping an eye on her as he ground powders and stirred bowls. “You will do us good as an agent, or as a capable puppet. You needn’t remember what will be done here to obey orders and ensure the downfall of the Celestial Order.”

Kiyomi had suspected the man was a Kolat agent, but that confirmed it. Hadn’t they gotten what they wanted already? “Hantei isn’t Emperor anymore; Totori is. Lord Moon and Lady Sun have been replaced. Spirits and ancestors have come back from the realms and you’re concerned with the Celestial Order?” She laughed, as she found it ridiculous, and partially to distract from the large peasant coming out of his trance.

The smile the man gave her was crooked and menacing. “Call it preparation, Kasuga-san. We have seen much of Heaven’s plans, and the dominion of Man is not within their intent. You will see.”

He was crazy. Completely nuts. Kiyomi realized her chances for surviving this with her memories intact, or at all, was quickly diminishing. She picked up one of the clay jugs, its contents sloshing around. “I won’t.” She threw the jug at the table, dashing to the door.

There was a tremendous explosion just as the large peasant caught her, pushing her down to the floor. Everything was bright and hot and loud for what felt like forever, but was only seconds. When her vision cleared, she found herself on the ground, the large peasant leaning over her, braced against the explosion. Kiyomi was mostly unharmed aside from a few light burns. Her savior’s back, arms, and legs were covered in heavy, black burns.

The hut they had been in, the one with sturdy walls and a thick roof, was completely gone. Several of the nearby huts were on fire. Kiyomi scrambled out from under the large peasant, checking him over. It looked grim. “We need to get you to a healer. Can you walk?”

A pained whimper was his only response as he collapsed. Her savior was not in good shape.

Kiyomi vaguely noticed her name being called from her palm and remembered the Kitsune Tear. “Mother? Do you have any way to contact Keitaro-san?” she asked, sitting down on the blackened dirt. “Otherwise I need to start running.”

“Yes,” her mother quickly responded. “Are you alright? What happened?”

“A man who I assume was Kolat tried to make me into a sleeper agent. I threw a jug and caused an explosion. The peasant that was helping me is badly hurt. He needs a healer. Now.” Kiyomi had contemplated asking the peasant to help her keep an eye on the Kolat, but they had gotten there first. Now her savior was badly hurt and it was her fault.

Her mother was silent for a long moment. “Did you secure the Agent?”

What was left of the hut could fit in a small basket, but she hadn’t seen if the man had been caught in the explosion or not. “I don’t know.”

“Alright. Keitaro-san said he would hurry down to you. What happened to Hitomi-chan? I thought she would be with you the whole time!” her mother sounded worried, not quite frantic yet.

“She hasn’t been sleeping well. Something about a gaki? She passed out a few hours ago after Keitaro-san removed it.”

“And you went wandering?" she eventually replied, tone disapproving.

“I went to check the actual state of the Mongoose lands, from the peasantry. I couldn’t do that with Hitomi hovering behind me!”

“Train her to be smaller, then.” Her mother let out an exasperated sigh. “Are you alright, at least?”

All around her, peasants were fighting the fires attacking her homes, with much furor and horror. “For the moment.” And it was all her fault. Kiyomi cursed her lack of knowledge about healing; why hadn’t she paid attention better?

Mongoose Samurai arrived at last, headed by Isawa Keitaro-sama. He immediately extinguished the fires and began to heal those who had been fighting them. It took quite a bit for Kiyomi to get his attention, and once he was done healing one of the peasants, came over. “Are you two alright over here?”

Kiyomi sighed a little. “I’m fine Keitaro-sama, but he’s not.”

He took a second, closer look at her, eyes widening. “Kasuga-san!? What are you doing here?” He knelt down to examine the peasant’s injuries.

“Long story. Can you heal him?” The man, whose name Kiyomi still didn’t know, had saved her life.

“No,” Keitaro-sama said, examining her.

Kiyomi shook him off. “No? NO!? But…” He had saved her, he had to be alright.

“I’m sorry Kasuga-san. He,” he paused, eyes hardening. “Didn’t make it.” He bowed at her, and left to go save more lives.

Kiyomi settled in next to the peasant, glad Keitaro had turned away before he saw the tears on her face. She wasn’t going to leave the large peasant until the eta came to take him away. He had saved her, and she still didn’t know his name.

As she sat there, in the blackened dirt, she felt an odd itch, something twinging within her mind. Suddenly, the world around her vanished, being replaced with a land gray and empty. Lines and rows of people she couldn’t truly see extend far beyond her vision. Only one of them had distinct, but grey features; the large peasant. Time bent and distorted she began to make out the flaming letters above the man: ‘Judged: Maigo no Musha.’

“Maigo no Musha? What’s that?” she asked herself, looking around at the grey land and figures. “This isn’t right at all.” Ignoring propriety, she grabbed onto the peasant’s arm.

He looked at her with some shock, his color starting to come back. “My lady. Did you die as well?”

“No, you saved me but,” she hesitated, not quite sure she believed what she felt. “You’re not supposed to die yet.”

“Who… are you sure?” he asked, more of his color coming back. “How do you know?”

“I don’t know, I just know. Come with me. Please.” He nodded and they took a few steps together before the world twisted again. Kiyomi caught sight of a giant man, wreathed in gold and red, standing before a Torii gate. Before she could get a better look, reality snapped back into place. The large peasant started howling in pain.

“KEITARO-SAMA!” Kiyomi screamed, unable to believe her eyes. Her savior was alive!

Keitaro-sama hustled over, stunned, and immediately began healing the man. Kiyomi tried to stay out of his way, but close enough to keep watch. She jumped when Keitaro-sama swore under his breath. “That’s the most I can do.” The large peasant’s wounds looked better but still far from being fully healed. Keitaro-sama looked up to Kiyomi. “How is he still alive? He wasn’t before!”

Kiyomi wasn’t sure what she saw, but if anyone could tell her, he would be one of the few who could. “Have you heard of ‘Maigo no Musha’ before, Keitaro-sama?”

His face was impassive. “Where did you hear that name, Kasuga-san?”

“I read it,” she said, lowering her voice significantly so no one could overhear. “It was almost as if I went to Meido and I saw he was judged to go there.” She gestured to her savior, who was starting to whimper in pain.” I didn’t know what it meant, but it felt wrong so I,” she looked at him with a chagrined expression, “brought him back?"

Keitaro-sama’s expression was carefully concealed, almost blank. “Tell no one else of this. I need… there is much to study.” He shook his head, standing again. “The man will have to heal on his own. No shugenja will see to a peasant for that long, especially not after he’s been pulled back from Meido."

Kiyomi had stopped him from dying, from going to this ‘Maigo no Musha’, but he was injured still. “Is there anything else you can do for him? He saved my life.”

“I cannot stay so long, not for the life of one.” He didn’t say it, but she heard the meaning. For the life of one peasant. “He must heal on his own, or die on his own. I am sorry.”

She turned away from him. “Thank you.” He was supposed to be the greatest Shugenja, one of the Souls of Rokugan, and she felt shame that she was resentful that he wouldn’t do more.

Keitaro-sama hovered for a moment, watching her. “I will leave a balm for the burns. We use it to treat my students.” He bowed again and left.

After a while, some of the better dressed peasants helped her to her feet, and lifted the large peasant, grimacing slightly at his whimpering. With direction from the friend the large peasant had greeted before, they took the two of them to a simple hut. With great care, they laid the man on the sleeping mat, saying a prayer to the kami, before leaving the two of them alone.

He was alive, but broken. Hurting. And it was all her fault.

She had to make it right, somehow.

“Mother?” Kiyomi asked, sitting next to the simple bed. “Can you contact Yamako-sama?”

~

Kiyomi was just starting to fall asleep when a red form darted into the room and suddenly a beautiful woman in a red kimono stood there, looking over them. “Kiyomi-chan? You called?”

Kiyomi stood, wiping the sleep from her eyes as she bowed deeply. “Yamako-sama. I need your help.” She gestured to the man sleeping fitfully.

Yamako-sama looked over the peasant, pulling bags and pouches from her obi. “He is badly injured but he is just a peasant, Kiyomi-chan. What makes him so worthy?”

“He saved my life, Yamako-sama. It’s my fault he’s like this.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Tell me.”

Kiyomi quietly and thoroughly told the tale, except the parts Keitaro had told her to leave out, as Yamako called upon the kami and healed the large peasant’s broken body. His breathing evened out, his skin healed, and he fell into a peaceful sleep.

Yamako-sama looked over the much smaller woman with a slight nod. “I have done all that can be done for him, Kiyomi-chan. What damage is left will be with him for life.” She gathered her things, tucking them back into her obi.

“Thank you Yamako-sama,” Kiyomi said, bowing low. “Thank you.”

Yamako put a finger under Kiyomi’s chin, lifting the young woman’s head so their gaze met. “I did not perform this favor for free, Kiyomi-chan.”

“Whatever the price, I’ll pay it.” It was the least she could do for her life.

Yamako smiled. “I understand you will be traveling to my home for my little brother’s court along with my nephew?” Kiyomi nodded against Yamako’s finger, still against her chin. “Then your price for this young man’s healing is to help Tatsuya-kun earn my forgiveness.”

“How does he have to do that?” Kiyomi cautiously asked.

“Soon, little Tortoise.” Yamako leaned forward, placing a kiss upon Kiyomi’s forehead, and then she was gone.

Kiyomi sat on the edge of the mat, stunned, waking the large peasant. He coughed, moving around. “What h-happened?” he asked, voice very rough.

“You saved my life so I saw to your healing.” He still had a few patches of reddened skin, beneath the soot, but it seemed most of his injuries had been healed. He might have a few scars, maybe a limp, but the best healer in Rokugan had done well.

“W-why were we there?”

It was Kiyomi’s fault they were there. Had she stayed in the castle like she was expected to, it wouldn’t have happened. “You were being controlled by someone who was trying to capture me.”

“W-why?” he asked, still coughing. His speech was still halting and his voice coarse.

“They thought they could use me. How are you feeling?” Kiyomi wasn’t sure what helping Tatsuya gain Yamako-sama’s forgiveness would entail, but if it meant her savior was healed, she could handle it.

“H-hurts less,” he replied, speech still halting.

“I’m glad. Th-thank you, for saving me,” Kiyomi said, her own voice catching in her throat. Slowly the large peasant sat up, shifting into a kneeling bow. She looked at him with a sad smile. “Don’t. Please.”

“I am p-pleased to have helped you.” He remained in his low bow, not looking up.

Kiyomi still didn’t have a name to go with her savior. “I don’t know your name.”

“Y-Yuu, samurai-sama.” A simple name.

Kiyomi resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Of all the times to stick to propriety. But I guess he didn’t know who she was, so it was understandable. “Yuu-kun, sit up. Please.” He slowly complied, rising from the bow with some awe on his face. She smiled at him. “My name is Kasuga Kiyomi, of the Tortoise clan. Our founder was a disgraced Dragon and my ancestors include criminals, gaijin, and peasants. Please don’t call me samurai-sama.”

“H-hai, Kasuga-sama.”

She frowned slightly. That wasn’t much better, but it was an improvement. And she finally had a name. “Are you feeling better?”

“Y-yes. T-thank you.”

“Don’t thank me.” Kiyomi felt awful for the trouble she’d caused and it made no difference that it was peasants she had hurt. She moved into her own kneeling bow, going all the way to the floor. “It was my fault you were caught up in all of this and that you nearly died and were injured. Thank you for saving my life I hope you can forgive me for the trouble I’ve caused you.”

Yuu’s eyes went very wide, and he hurried to return the bow, struggling to get even lower. With Kiyomi being so much smaller than him, it was nearly impossible. “There is no need to thank me, Kasuga-sama. This humble one is honored to have served.”

She sat up, smiling again. “Are you sure you’re a Mongoose peasant?”

“A-all of my life.” Yuu remained bowing. “My parents… served the Kakita family.”

“Ahh, that explains it.” The ‘proper’ manners had been instilled by them. She settled in comfortably across from him. “I do have to thank you, because you saved me. And I’m not one to forget such a thing.” Kiyomi wasn’t sure what she could do to help this peasant who had saved her, but she would figure something out. The smile she gave him was tinged with sadness. “I think I preferred when you thought I was a peasant. You were much more open.”

“I… touched you. That was wrong.”

“I don’t believe so. If I did, I would have said something when you hugged me.” She had been surprised, but not unhappy by the small gesture.

Yuu’s blush deepened a little and he slowly came up from his bow. “It was… I was pleased. I had been out in the fields past dark, caring for the few remaining crops. That we have food now…”

“It’s a joyous and good thing. The peasantry shouldn’t be punished for the actions of the samurai, yet they are. I will do what I can to help, as little as it might be.”

He shook his head, quaking slightly. “I would not ask anything of you…”

“I know, but I’m going to help anyway.”

“…we have enough rice for the winter. There is nothing else we need.” He bowed again very low.

“You need the land to be fertile again, so you don’t have to rely on the ‘generosity’ of the Crane.”

“We will work harder!” he answered quickly.

“And I will help the one Inari has cursed to gain forgiveness so your hard work will not be for naught.” That was her price for healing her savior and the right thing to do.

He started to sit up, a little confused. “Inari-dono? Who has…” Yuu bowed again. “It is not my place to ask.”

Kiyomi very much preferred when he thought she was a peasant. "Will you stop that? I’m a Tortoise. It makes me uncomfortable.”

He sat up then visibly halted himself from bowing again, conflicted. “I… apologize?”

She smiled at him, unable to be angry with what had been likely been drilled into him. “You’re forgiven. It’s usually best to be cautious when dealing with samurai, but trust me Yuu-kun, you don’t have to with me.”

“I… forgive me, Kasuga-sama, but… even in Mongoose lands, it is best to be unfailingly polite.”

“I understand. I have to be skilled in interacting with everyone from Major clan Samurai to eta.” She smiled. “Though, obviously I need to work on my disguising ability.”

“I didn’t know that you weren’t until I…” He stammered, words not coming out, a blush forming on his face. She gently gestured for him to continue. “Ah.. you are… soft, my lady.”

Kiyomi nodded in understanding. That was something much harder to fake. “I see. I neither work the fields nor work with a sword, so I would be rather soft. I will have to take that into account next time.” Yuu continued to blush. “Thank you, Yuu-kun, for being so honest with me.”

“I, ah. I live to serve.”

“I’m not Mongoose.”

“But you are appointed by Heaven above me.”

Kiyomi wasn’t so sure of that. “I am appointed by the Emperor to protect the Empire and by my Lord to do whatever necessary to accomplish that. Would any other Samurai pretend to be a peasant to do that? And I was doing a fair job of it until you touched me.”

“This servant apologizes…” He half-bowed, and then restrained himself once again. “Kasuga-sama… you probably have other duties. This humble one should not keep you so long.”

“It is getting late, and you’re probably tired. I apologize.” She stood. “I should be getting back. Hopefully no one has missed me yet.” Hopefully Hitomi hadn’t woken yet.

He bowed. “Heaven smiled upon me, to bring you here.”

She returned the bows “Thank you Yuu-kun.” She stood straight and grinned at him, humor entering her voice. “Now I just have to make it to the castle without being ambushed. Again.”

“I know the servants’ way, if you need an escort?” Yuu stood with a barely-audible grunt. A far cry from the dark burns he had when he was brought in.

“I would appreciate that. It’s much darker now than when I came down.”

Yuu bowed again and began leading her up to the castle, walking slightly more slowly, and limping every other step. There were many things Kiyomi wanted to say, but she didn’t know how, changing her mind every time and resorting to walking at his side silently. Yuu noticed. “Does my lady have something to say to this servant?”

“Thank you. I’m sorry. I wish there was more I could do.”

“You have done… much, my lady.” He led her to a tiny gate at the edge of Kyuuden Toshiro, and bowed again. “Thank you for speaking with this humble one. I will treasure the memory of your courtesy and kindness.”

Kiyomi smiled and bowed herself. With all of the bowing, she thought it was worse than court. “Take care of yourself Yuu. Thank you for escorting me back”

“This humble one was pleased to be of service. And would not dream of asking for anything.” He offered her a very small, but warm smile before bowing low once again and turning to head back toward the village.

Kiyomi waited until he was out of earshot before she spoke again. “No, but I can’t do nothing. Not when it’s my fault.” With one final look at the village, she slipped inside the gate and to the area her clothes were hidden. A small animal had disturbed them slightly—likely looking for snacks—but nothing was missing or damaged. Kiyomi quickly got into her kimono, heading to the baths.

Given the late, or very early hour, Kiyomi wasn’t surprised that they were empty. She soaked for a long time, letting her slight injuries soften in the warm water, mulling the events of the evening over.

If anyone knew about Yuu, how he had saved her, how she had become fond of him, how she had arranged to get him healing, they would disapprove at best. At worst, someone would try and use him against her. Or kill him outright because they could. He was ‘just a peasant’ after all.

Kiyomi didn’t want that, not after all of the trouble she’d already caused. Helping Tatsuya would help Yuu and the other Mongoose peasants, so she would focus on that.

She might not have a mask like the Scorpion did, but she did have a shell. A Tortoise watched. A Tortoise endured.

Dressing again, Kiyomi quietly returned to the room she shared with Hitomi, not running into anyone but early risen servants. They avoided her and she let them. She’d already ‘disgraced’ herself once for the evening.

Hitomi stirred when the door shut, looking up at her sleepily. ‘You bathed?’ she signed.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Kiyomi replied, going to her pack to shove the bundle of peasant clothing inside. The Kitsune tear had gotten moved to the sleeve of her kimono, but the war fan was still wrapped inside. It had been next to useless so she shoved it to the bottom of the pack. She had the ornate one anyway.

‘Should sleep,” Hitomi signed, yawning and stretching. ‘Wedding early.’

“Hai Hitomi-chan. I’ll try and sleep.”

Hitomi nodded, rolling over and beginning to snore again. Kiyomi laid down on her own sleeping mat, drifting off into a light, doze, Yuu’s face in her mind.

If only she knew how to heal, perhaps there was more she could have done. Talking to the kami couldn’t be that difficult, could it?

The Tortoise Endures

Legend of the Five Rings: Accursed Destiny FairyTaleofDoom