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Fantasy A Monk's Journey

Sub Genres
Action, Adventure

Erato

🖤🖤🖤 [art: peritwinkle]
@ashwynne @Spottedbark @Fyuri

Mentioned: @ashwynne

A Monk's Journey Lore

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A Monk's Journey

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The night before his execution, Koda woke to the sound of a guard rapping at his door.

He rose with a sharp intake of breath, his pulse thundering in his ears. It took a moment to recall where he was, the shadows and shapes unfamiliar to his eyes. Koda took time to breathe, to remember, his frozen fingers fumbling at his blankets. Cold, hard ground dug into his sit bones. He looked up, but no constellations twinkled and twirled above him. He blinked, but his familiar writing desk was absent. He inhaled through his nose, and the musty stench of fear brought the answer forward in sword-sharp clarity.

A prison cell. Now he remembered.

Three days ago, Koda had made himself an enemy of the Jinshu Empire. He’d began by freeing a sick man bound and gagged outside the Palace of Prudence. The white-haired gentleman had been tied hand and foot, left half-dead in a wagon bound west. Assuming him to be some unfortunate debtor, Koda took pity on the man by burning his ropes to ash and carrying him to a healer. Then he lied to the elderly woman, claiming that the man was his uncle.

The man wasn’t his uncle. According to officials of the Jinshu Empire, he was a traitor.

By the following afternoon, they had arrested Koda for treason.

Another rap at the door. Koda blinked away the memories, shivering beneath his blankets. “Yes?” he asked, voice tremulous over the thundering of his heart. Monk he may be, but self-preservation thrummed strong and sure in his veins. He and his head were dear friends, and he hated the thought of being parted from it.

Golden torchlight crept into the room as the door swung open. Koda squinted, fearing a stony-faced executioner. It was the head guard, however, with no rope in hand, and he beckoned Koda to follow.

They did everything with hushed expediency, an air of illegality present in their breathless whispers and hasty motions. With tired feet and a numb mind, Koda tripped between the two guards, boneless and weak as they carried him from the cell. They pushed supplies into his hands, shoved a hooded coat onto his shoulders, and hissed directions into his ears.

“Why?” he asked the guards, knowing his question sounded ungrateful. But Koda of Ennai was a monk of little to no importance. He'd traveled to the grand city of Taishu to scour the famed library, searching for sacred texts their temple had lost in last year’s fire. They had instructed him to copy and bind the books before returning, bringing the knowledge back to his brothers in meticulous handwriting and fresh ink.

Invigorated by his task and his purpose, Koda had arrived with starry-eyed wonder and awe, frozen by the breathtaking heights of the buildings, the hundreds of smells, the streams of pedestrians, and the myriad lanterns dotting the streets like rogue stars.

At first it had been a magnificent dream. Now it was an inescapable nightmare.

“Why?” he repeated. The guards didn’t answer. Either they were too scared, or they didn’t know themselves. They frog-marched a confused Koda through the shadowed back alleys of Taishu, dumping him onto a wagon. As they concealed him, they instructed him to get off and head west at the next town. Then they disappeared.

Koda did as he was told. Alone and lost, he settled in among the bags of grain and trembled as he counted the slow-moving stars.

Once the wagon rolled to a stop, the driver went to show his credentials to the city guard. Koda wriggled out of the sacks, being certain to leave behind three coppers before he scampered into the night.

Koda breathed warmth into his fists as he walked west, his breath clouding into mist before him. The stars pierced the darkness of night, guiding his way through the trees. He shivered beneath his robes, drawing his arms around himself, but even as he cursed the chill, a rosy pink kissed the sky along the horizon, promising warmth with the dawn.

Even as the first morning rays warmed him, the path was difficult. Hard rain had hit the forests along the west, muddying the meandering road he trudged along. His boots squelched in the wet earth and his ankles turned twice, but his own misfortunes dwindled into nothing as he saw another traveler along the way.

Koda gasped as he spotted the muddied young woman beside the road, a despairing expression fixed on the little of her face he could see. Yelping, he hid behind a well-placed shrub, his exhausted, illogical mind fearing recognition.

It was then that altruism, a permanent fixture of the inner workings of his mind and spirit, won over. No matter that his last good deed had nearly got him beheaded, Koda bravely emerged from his hiding spot. With slow, soft motions, he approached the woman and piped out a greeting.

He grimaced at the rasp that came out. Koda hoped his appearance wasn’t too horrifying, either. His face must look paler than usual, three days of little sleep and less food making his eyes too wide. His hair, normally shaved close to the skin, was a strange silver-white fuzz beneath the hood of his coat, and he knew he desperately needed a bath.

“May I help you?” he asked, holding out his palms in what he hoped communicated peaceful intentions. After taking inventory of his gifted knapsack, he knew he had a knife, a wicked-sharp thing with a bone-white hilt, but he wouldn’t use it on the woman. Koda hadn’t learned to fight. He didn’t even eat meat, so its use was limited in his hands.

Still, perhaps it was best not to mention it.

“It would be my honor,” Koda added with a shy smile, a tired phrase that still rang true amid his own despair. He showed her the contents of his knapsack, fit to bursting with food.
 
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ashwynne

|aquatic authority | ✎ art: peritwinkle
Supporter
[ @Erato, @Fyuri, @Spottedbark ]
--> Mentioned: @Erato


She had been named for the night she had been born. It had been balmy, late in the year in the time when summer changes to autumn. Chimes danced in the breeze and crickets sang to each other. Presiding over all had been a crescent moon. When, at last, her first cries had split the silence of the night her mother had held her close and declared her Miyako. Her father had agreed. Beautiful night. She was a blessed child, destined for a charmed life.

They had been wrong.

Branches tugged at her hair, snapping off as they became inextricably tangled and she refused to stop to release them. Her scalp screamed in protest at every snag, but Miyako could not stop, would not stop. Every time she thought about it her feet only seemed to move faster away.

Kobayashi Miyako was dead. Had died, she supposed, back in the woods behind her husband’s castle… even if the blade had never sunk into her belly.

No, Kobayashi Miyako had died sooner than that. She had died the instant one of her husband’s vassals informed her that the emperor had been overthrown and her husband had accordingly committed seppuku. This, said as he shoved an ornately carved short sword into her hands, bowed his head, and turned away as though he had handed her a cup of tea.

She knew her duty, knew what honour demanded. She had married a daimyo, oh how her parents had smiled, and for the sake of honour her blood needed to join his in the ground. But, as her hands had clasped around the hilt, the nerve to plunge it inside herself refused to come. What did she know of bloodshed? Of death? To Miyako it was the wheezing breath of the old and infirm, a cough of the sick, it was not the providence of those young and healthy like herself. Why should she die for some distant emperor? What honour would be found in the spilling of her blood, which none save her parents even cared for?

But the truth of it was that she was a coward. She didn’t want to hurt. She didn’t want to curl around her abdomen and watch her lifeblood trickle away. Honour was everything, honour was life, but Miyako did not have the courage to take it for herself. And she could not return to the castle. It was as she said; the moment her husband had committed seppuku, Kobayashi Miyako had ceased to exist too. If she was lucky, they would kill her on sight if she returned. If she were unlucky…? And so, she had run.

The short sword was still tucked into the band of her kimono. Leaving it behind, unbloodied, would have given her away, and if nothing else she hoped to spare her parents the dishonour of a daughter like her. Perhaps they would believe the wolves had come for her… perhaps they wouldn’t look for her body at all.



How long she ran, Miyako did not know. The sun came and went, perhaps twice. A small creek had been her only stop, sinking to her knees before it to cup the water in shaking hands to her cracked and bleeding lips. It had been enough to sustain her for a while longer, but without food or rest her body would soon make the choice for her. She would die, dishonoured, with her belly weeping for sustenance and her throat parched and burning. Perhaps the blade would have been kinder after all.

She fell, not for the first time, dirt thick beneath her nails and streaking her delicate face. A great beauty, that was how she had always been seen. “That one will marry well,” the old women of Nakakoshi had all agreed. And she had. But for what? A few months of marriage? Seeing her husband a handful of times within that? Only for him to fail his duty, kill himself, and the same be expected of her? She had never cursed her beauty before, but she did now.

Silently, lacking the energy or moisture to even groan beyond a soft wheeze, Miyako staggered back to her feet and continued to shuffle forward. Why she bothered, not even the woman knew, but all she could control was the movement of her feet and so that was what she did. One in front of the other, eyes somewhat unfocused as she stared at the uneven ground along the road that she walked.

Rays of early morning sun brushed soothingly against her back, feeling like the gentle fingers of a lover, their warmth beckoning her towards sleep. Give up. Lie down. Rest. Let your bones remain here—caressed each morning until the earth claims them entirely. It was tempting, so very tempting.

“--help you?”

The words seemed to come from deep underwater, the latter half being the only part that she dimly understood. She lacked the strength to be startled, to flee, coming to a swaying stop before him instead. Addled by a lack of sleep and nutrients, Miyako lifted her face up to stare mutely at him for far longer than was polite. It was not intentional, she could hardly piece together what was happening, let alone observe niceties.

She continued to stare as he rifled through a pack, not comprehending what he was doing.

“It would be my honor.”

The gentle smile had far less of an impact than the knapsack full of provisions that he held out to her. The part of Miyako that had fought hard to survive this far seemed to break. With hope presented in the apparent kindness of this stranger, she reached with dirty and trembling hands to wordlessly pluck out an apple. Finished, she fell to her knees, not even feeling the pain as they made contact with sharp pebbles and the tightly packed earth.

She made quick work of the fruit, nothing ladylike in any of her actions, and it wasn’t until it was all gone—right down to the stem—that Miyako realized that tears had escaped without her knowing. Baffled, she swiped at them, her hands coming away dirty and streaked with moisture. Renewed energy, small though it was, flowed through her too and she found that she now had enough command of herself to speak.

“Thank-you,” it came out cracked and strangled, the voice of one who had flirted with death. “You—you’re too kind,” it sounded stilted and out of place here, but the old habit of polished manners was all she could cling to. Inadvertently, Miyako’s eyes came to linger on the knapsack, knowing there was more food there. “I—Would you be willing to share some more food with me?” she winced, unable to meet his eyes, hands clenching the fabric of her kimono into a ball beneath her fingers. Her whole body trembled, both with need and desperation. A vicious part of her wondered if she could sink the short sword into his belly. Take the food, eat, live, and carry on. But the rational part of her, the part that recognized the kindness in his eyes and of his gestures, recoiled in horror at the thought.

In the end, it didn't matter. She no longer had the strength to stand. The apple had stayed the hand of her execution, but without more she would not last long and--having finally come to a stop--the sheer willpower to keep her feet moving was now absent. He would help her, or she would die.
 

Spottedbark

art: peritwinkle
[ @ashwynne @Erato @Fyuri ]

Nishan perched at the bow of his boat, peering down at the water below. Several varieties of fish enjoyed their day there, just waiting for the harvest. In one hand, he held his oar, and in the other his net, a hand-woven piece strung up strategically inside of a cone-shaped frame. It was nearly as big as he was, but he carried it easily, balancing on one foot so that he could use his toes to help steady the piece.

There! The unmistakable ripple of bubbles, and Nishan dropped the net down at an angle, using his free foot to push the bamboo cone down underneath the gentle waves. With one foot planted on the net and the other on the boat, he turned his oar, thrusting the handle through the top of the netting several times to scare the fish. That done, he returned his oar to its natural place, tucked behind his leg, and he reached down, hauling up the net.

As Nishan brought his catch into the boat, he frowned, curling his nose a bit as he detached the fish, unhooking their gills from the trawl. It wasn't a bad catch by any means, adding a fair amount to the ones already flopping in the baskets, but still, it was not enough. It would never be enough. He straightened and took the handle of his paddle, balancing once more at the bow.

This time, however, he did not take up the fishing basket. With the power of his leg, Nishan rowed towards shore, the piece of wood tucked behind his heel becoming an extension of his limb. As he gained speed, he kept his eyes towards the shore, where houses raised up on stilts rested, halfway in sea and half on land. It was easy to be distracted by the bright colors of the merchants' boats, but he focused on rowing, building speed until it wasn't possible to go any faster.

The wind tugged at his dark hair, which was tied back by a kerchief, cooling the sweat off of him, and for a moment, Nishan let the boat glide on its own, closing his eyes. He took a breath, bending his knee slightly to maintain balance over the crests and dips of the sea as the fresh air rejuvenated him. In the depths of his imagination, the smoke-hardened dugout canoe vanished beneath him, replaced by painted boards and a red sail behind him. Like this, he could almost forget that he was a fisherman, destined for the stable life and liberty of trade than the stink of fish.

As the boat slowed, the forever-present and rancid stench that clung to him and his boat reached his nostrils, shattering the image. "I'll get out of this one day," he told the sky, studying the shape of the clouds, "One day."

. . .
The sun was still up when Nishan reached the village, rowing into the merchant district to a small house on stilts with a row of steps leading to the water. While YuTsun wasn't his native village, Nishan knew his way to DaMei's just fine. As he hooked a line around a post, jumping to the lowest step, it was not DaMei who came to attend him. Tolika, upon hearing his call, poked her head through the doorway and beamed.

"We weren't to expect you until next week!" the girl exclaimed, climbing down the steps. Her sleek, black hair was tied up neatly in a bun, the traditional wrappings of Hmuban Pla replaced by the pretty tunic and skirts of the YuTsun. Had it really been a month since he'd ferried her across the seas for a better life?

Nishan shrugged, reaching into the bag where he kept his lunch and pulling out a rolled letter, holding it out to her. "Your mother wanted me to deliver this, and I can make just as good of a living fishing here. There wasn't any reason for me to delay." Tolika reached for the paper, but Nishan snatched it out of her reach, holding it over her head.

"Nishan!" she whined, jumping, though still her hands would not reach, "Give me that letter-- Or I'll have DaMei look elsewhere for fish!"

"I was promised a copper upon delivery," Nishan reminded her, a smirk on his lips as Tolika climbed a step or two in an effort to retrieve the note. Still, his fingers remained elusive, until finally the girl huffed and dug through the pouch at her waist.

"You vermin, robbing a poor little girl," she complained, but Nishan knew that she held no real malice for him. Comments like these were part of good manners. After the handing over of the copper, he relinquished the note to her, and Tolika ran back up the steps with her prize, just as the motherly silhouette of DaMei graced the doorframe.

"Nishan," the woman bellowed, "You better not be bullying my ward!"

His smile faded to what he hoped to be an expression of solemn repentance. "Never, DaMei. I wouldn't dream of it," he said, and she brightened considerably, letting Tolika slip inside the house before climbing down to meet him.

"Look at this nose!" DaMei criticized, "If you bash it in one more time, you'll ruin your looks forever!"

"Can't lose what you don't have," was his reply, attempting to turn the conversation to business and away from his personal life. "How many baskets this time?"

"Two," DaMei answered, reaching into her pouch for the coins, but she would not relinquish the topic. "Keep entering the fights and no girl will want you," she warned.

Nishan lifted two baskets of stinking fish onto the step. "Once I can afford a merchant ship. . . then I'll be rich enough for any woman. . . bashed-in nose or no. Not that it's any of your business. You have a good day, DaMei."

Transaction completed and his pouch feeling slightly heavier, Nishan looped the lead over his arm and stepped back onto the boat, once again hooking his foot around the oar and continuing onwards.

"Just you watch," DaMei called after him, "That sort of thinking will get you into trouble one day." Nishan only smiled, lifting his hand to acknowledge the woman, though still dismissing her comments. What did DaMei know?
 
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Fyuri

ηεмσρнιℓιsт
Administrator
( @ashwynne @Erato @Spottedbark )

This was supposed to be an easy assignment. Bai was only supposed to snoop around the court officials home and see what she overheard or stumbled upon that would have been of interest and then report back. She'd spent weeks dressed up as a peasant beggar, feigning a leg injury and begging for coins from passersby. During this time she'd be keeping tabs on who came and went from the home and when. If any items or goods made their way in or out. Just logging anything and everything and listening in on conversations where she could.

When she sent her last report though a new order came in to get closer, get into the home undetected for some meeting they were having with some others. To find out who those attending were and what was being discussed. It should have been simple enough. She could have just casually lounged in the rafters of the roof unseen and unheard without any problems.

Of course things didn't go that easy. There had been someone else sent to be a snoop. Bai didn't know who they were aligned with or served, but she couldn't risk leaving them alive to inform whoever it was of her presence. This resulted in a fight between the two spies and it directly led to them being exposed to the people Bai was ordered not to be seen by. She was disguised of course, dressed in dark clothing and her face obscured by a mask. They'd never be able to identify her unless they caught her first.

Her tussle with the other spy caused them to fall from the rooftops and into the courtyard which alerted the officials servants who alerts the guards. Oh it was a mess! With both of them being exposed and failing to gather information secretly all they could do was stare each other down from their positions and make a run for it. The other figure she still couldn't leave alive and so she chased after him, over the estate walls, across the rooftops, down alleys.

Eventually she managed to snag a piece of his clothing and yanked him down through the roof of an old abandoned hut. These falls hurt them both. Bai wasn't the best in combat; not yet. She struggled to land blows as she was more efficient at evasion. She'd only been armed with a small dagger since swords were cumbersome for stealth missions. His was slightly longer but at least it wasn't a sword that gave him an unfair reach.

The fight ended rather quickly as Bai jabbed the blade up and into the man's torso to give him a quick death. He wouldn't talk and reveal who he worked for and while killing him signaled something had gone wrong in his mission, he wouldn't be speaking about her to anyone. She didn't leave the fight unscathed either, he'd managed to slice along her arm and the fresh bright red blood dripped onto the floor. She made quick work to wrap the injury to not leave a trail as she left and used some flint on her person to set the hut aflame.

Problem with fire. It caused smoke and attracted the local guards more quickly that she estimated. They caught sight of her and so Bai had to run again. She was near the water and if she could get across the river she'd be able to get away safely. The shouts they called after her alerted more guards who joined in the chase and Bai was cursing her luck as she ducked into a market area between stalls and people. It increased the distance between herself and her pursuers, but they wouldn't give up for a while yet.

Bai ran towards a random stranger resting on the beach who was near a boat. This was her ticket. She slowed down to a brisk walk to appear casual when she approached and tried to not give away from her breath she had been running. "Sorry to bother you. I've got a bit of an emergency and need to get across the river quickly. I'll pay of course." She pulled out a silver coin from her pouch and held it out to the man. Based on his scent he was probably a local fisherman.

She would prefer to not kill an innocent if she could, but if he shouted out in alarm or refused or did anything other than help her she might have to for her our security.
 

Spottedbark

art: peritwinkle
[ @ashwynne @Erato @Fyuri ]

After several more stops, Nishan pulled up to a beach for the night. The evening was warm, peaceful even, but he didn't feel tempted to join the other homeless fishermen amongst their campfires. Even now, he could hear laughter drawn out by cheap gin and smell fish cooking. Fish! Nishan thought, One day, I'll afford real bread. Even so, he felt a certain amount of pride, not having to spend a penny to feed himself.

With a casting net, Nishan captured his own dinner, deciding to make his own fire to avoid social interaction. He cleaned his catch easily, first by removing the fins with his knife and then descaling and gutting his meal. While his dinner cooked, skewered on sticks, Nishan sat in his boat, repairing his nets in the last light of day. Winding knots calmed him, so even after the sun dipped out of view and his meal was long since eaten, his fingers still worked.

They were still working when someone new entered the beach, walking briskly, as if with a hurried purpose. Nishan glanced to the other fishermen, who had also noticed the entrance of this stranger. One or two had even stood, their hands lingering along knives or fishing spears. Out here in the open, there wasn't much security against thieves, so oftentimes, fishermen like these would look out for each other. But so far, no trouble had been caused.

For a moment, no one knew where this intruder was going, but when the form approached Nishan, he sat straighter, fingering his knife while the other hand plucked at the nets in his lap. The voice was female, a shocking realization, her words polite even. She offered a silver, and for a moment, Nishan only stared, watching as the piece glittered in the moonlight. Desperation was hidden in her tone, and she could not hide her urgency.

"At this hour?" Nishan scoffed, examining her up and down. She wore black, all black, her face covered with a mask. Black was an expensive color, and her speech suggested a politeness only found in the higher tiers of society. She could pay more than one measly silver, even if that was more than what he made in a week. "You look like trouble, so I'll do it for three," he told her, "Three silvers now, and another two when I deliver you safely."
 

Erato

🖤🖤🖤 [art: peritwinkle]
[@ashwynne @Fyuri @Spottedbark]
Mentioned: @ashwynne

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Koda supposed the woman might have been beautiful beneath the dirt and sorrow. He watched her eat as much as civility allowed, sitting beside her and picking an apple for himself so she wouldn’t dine alone.

What he saw troubled him.

Lips cracked, eyes tired, limbs trembling, this woman had been without for at least a few days. The tears that streaked down her face hinted at some great grief or trial, but Koda hadn’t the courage to meet her hungry eyes and ask her outright.

He chuckled at her timid request, amused by the polite phrasing. “Of course,” he said, offering her his bag and letting her find whatever she wished.

After a moment, the silence grew tense and uncertain. Koda cleared his throat.

“Shall we continue?” he asked, voice gentle, lilting. “Where were you going? Perhaps I could…”

His voice trailed away. The young woman now curled upon the wet forest floor, either fast asleep or rendered unconscious. Koda frowned at her, smoothing her hair away from her face, feeling for the warmth of her breath on his palm. She was alive, if exhausted. Perhaps ill.

Koda sighed. He was accustomed to carrying things. Chores were commonplace at the monastery — shouldering bags of laundry and grain, hauling deep bucketfuls of water. His youthful stamina and years of training went a long way in contributing to his physical abilities, but it wasn’t the woman’s weight that troubled him. It was what to do with her that worried him. Who or what was she running from? His frown deepened as his gaze ran along the fine fabric of her kimono to a fine sword nestled into the band.

Rain came. One drop. Two. Then a steady patter of precipitation fell from the sky, soaking into his clothes.

After a resigned and weary groan, Koda shouldered his pack and pulled the woman into his arms. Sliding over the wet earth, he brought them under the shelter of the trees, the thick leaves keeping most of the rain off them.

Koda walked. There was a town, Shinai, only a day’s travel west from Taishu. His instincts were to avoid any heavy populated cities; he couldn’t imagine the Jinshu Empire would be enthused about his escape and might be looking for him. Still, it was an option if his new friend’s health deteriorated any further.

The rain continued, thunder rolling in from the west. Midday approached, with promising patches of sapphire blue opening just beyond their reach. Storm clouds blustered their way east. Lightning crackled in their air. Yet just as he began to despair, Koda found a cave.

Perhaps ‘cave’ wasn’t accurate. The blessing Koda discovered was a great slab of rock with a niche in the side, a nook that would provide enough cover to keep them warm, dry, and comfortable.

Once inside, Koda propped the woman against the wall, shrugging off his coat and tucking it under her chin. He then balanced a heel of bread into her hands until she grasped it, smiling when she began to eat it. Almost as an afterthought, he unearthed the water skein from his pack and tucked it against her side. Whether or not she heard, Koda promised to return before searching for firewood and tinder.

He returned not long afterwards, pink-cheeked and damp at the shoulders, but otherwise none the worse for wear.

“I thought,” began Koda as he arranged the cedar bark and birch wood, “that I might help you.” He carefully unpacked the bag’s contents, frowning as he took careful inventory. Huffing disappointment through his nose, his fingers disappeared beneath the tinder and a spark caught. Koda puffed out his cheeks and blew on the tinder till it grew healthy and strong.

As he worked, Koda appraised his new companion. “Introductions first? My name is Koda.” Hopeful, he waited for a response, raising an inquisitive eyebrow at her while the flames licked at the kindling.
 

Fyuri

ηεмσρнιℓιsт
Administrator
(@ashwynne @Erato @Spottedbark)

"T-Three?" Bai hissed out. This fisherman had some guts to negotiate with her. She didn't exactly have the time to negotiate with him. Her mind quickly raced through her options. She could steal his boat, but he could try to interfere and fight her. Which was understandable when someone was committing theft of your property and this was probably his livelihood. There were the other fishermen loitering around as well who she could attempt to approach as well, but they were grouped together and that put her at an unwanted disadvantage should they try and mug her.

She couldn't fault him for his assessment. She did look like 'trouble' and she was in trouble. Each second was a second being wasted and her pursuers closing the distance as they searched for her. Bai gritted her teeth. She'd compromise slightly, but she was going to make it very clear she wasn't going to budge further. "Three only. One now, two when I reach the other side. Take it or leave it. If you decide to not take it I'll just see if one of your friends over there will. Decide quickly."

It was a risk to negotiate. A big risk but she wasn't exactly an aristocrat who could casually toss out such coin. She only carried so much on her person at any given time, only enough to survive for whatever mission she was on. Posing as a beggar of course gained her some copper, but she hadn't planned to have to buy a ride across the river and so she had always handed off the coins she earned while lingering around the official's estate to someone in actual desperate need.

Bai took out two additional silver coins to show she had the funds to actually pay him should he take her offer, but just as quickly as she flashed the coins she deposited them back into her small pouch. Her presence attracted those of the other fishermen and no doubt they had seen the glint of the coins reflecting the firelight. She had done this on purpose to put pressure of this fisherman, to see the greedy interest in the eyes around him.

She didn't like taking advantage of the desperate and struggling, but that didn't mean she wouldn't if there was a need for it. This was one of those times where she would have to use their needs against them. The curious eyes only increased in number as the group of fisherman began to whisper to each other as they wondered what was going on. She'd give him only ten seconds to give an answer before she would go over to the larger group. Greed could be used as an effective tool to manipulate and her risk of being mugged would decrease if their personal greed overpowered their camaraderie.
 

ashwynne

|aquatic authority | ✎ art: peritwinkle
Supporter
[@Erato, @Fyuri, @Spottedbark ]
--> Mentioned: @Erato


For the first time in what felt like weeks, Miyako was warm. That was the first thought that tugged at her mind as she slowly regained consciousness. Bits and pieces were coming back to her; the knife glinting in the moonlight, a nightmarish run through the forest, the steadily weakening cries for food from her belly, and the parched dryness of her mouth and throat. Vaguer were her recent recollections of a bedraggled silver-haired man, a knapsack full of food, and an apple. Inadvertently, a smile curled her lips up. The apple. In all her years she had never eaten anything so delicious. It had tasted like the finest meal ever served, a bouquet of sweet flavour exploding on her tongue. So great had her delight and relief been at having food in her belly that she had promptly lost consciousness once the food was done.

At once, Miyako’s eyes fluttered open. It seemed like such a trivial thing, opening ones eyes, and yet it felt as though mountains were weighing them down. Alarm bells were beginning to chime in her head as she recalled more of what had happened, and the woman had a sudden need to know where she was. If she was right, she had passed out right in front of the stranger. Who knew what things a man might do to an unconscious woman? Miyako hadn’t sensed any sort of malice from him but she also hadn’t been in any sort of state to do a proper assessment. So now, for better or worse, she wanted to know what was going on.

The first thing Miyako understood was that she was being carried by the stranger. That was why she had felt warm. It was odd, no one had ever carried her before… not since she had been a little girl. Even her husband’s nightly embraces had been efficient and unsentimental. He needed heirs; she would provide them. In the end, she had never really been held and Miyako found a strange comfort in it. That said, the man carrying her was a complete stranger and she had no reason to trust him. For all she knew he was gently carrying her to some cave where he could violate her in secret. She wouldn’t reject this warmth—nor did she think she could have continued walking on her own, even if she wanted to—but she would stay wary.

Her eyes closed again, and she found herself drowsing despite her resolution to stay awake and aware. One second he was keeping a rhythmic walking pace, the next she found herself being handed a heel of bread with her back against cool stone instead of his warm chest. Miyako was not cold though, he had taken off his own coat and tucked it all the way under her chin. It was strangely touching, enough to make tears want to rise, but she feigned sleep—though she ruined that by inadvertently beginning to eat the bread—only half listening as he deposited a skein of water beside her and promised to return with firewood and tinder.

The instant he left, Miyako opened her eyes. A cave, just as she had feared. When she was sure he wasn’t going to return for something he had forgotten, she finished devouring the bread, polishing it off quickly and going so far as to lick the crumbs from her fingers. Shaking hands then wrapped around the waterskein and before she had realized what she was doing, she all but drained it. She might have felt guilty but if he hadn’t wanted her to drink it, he shouldn’t have given it to her.

Before long, he was back. This time, Miyako didn’t pretend sleep, watching him silently from beneath her dark lashes instead. His cheeks were rosy, and his eyes seemed kind, the dampness of his clothes making her feel another quiver of guilt considering the fact that she was the one with his coat. He began to chatter away, stating that he thought he might help her and then asking for an introduction, beginning with his own. Koda. She rolled it on her tongue as she silently studied him and promptly decided it didn’t suit him at all.

“Are you a eunuch?” Miyako was being impolite and she knew it but considering the trials of the last few days she did not have the energy to dance around the crux of the issue. “How can I know your ‘help’ won’t involve taking advantage of me?” She drew her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them defensively as she stared at him. Yes, he hadn’t done so till this point, but Miyako knew that didn’t necessarily mean she was safe.

For a moment she thought to leave it at that, but he had been nothing but kind thus far, “My name is Miyako,” her eyes shifted away from him as she said it. Telling him that much could not do any harm, or so she hoped.
 
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Erato

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Koda stared at Miyako. The distrust in her eyes clashed horribly with the shock in his own.

His mentors taught him to use silence when thoughts came too fast. All at once, Koda considered her name, Miyako — a musical name, a name meant for stories and songs, a name whose beauty matched its owner. His mind raced with the possibilities of her circumstance, how such a finely dressed woman ended up lost and half-dead in a wood, how the tight huddle of her body had suspicion written in every line.

He focused on her question first.

“No,” he answered her finally, amusement tugging at the corner of his mouth. Folk often made assumptions about him, their curious minds preoccupied by the secretive order of Ennai. The monks of Ennai hadn’t meant to be greedy in their mysteries. They had only sought refuge from the bloody wars of Jinshu, sheltering to the far east. There they had planted the seeds of peace, cultivating them so they might distribute and share them.

They found, however, that most people didn’t have the stomach for peace.

Still, strangers were most interested in monkish matters that tended to be...lewd in nature. It didn’t bother Koda much. Depending on his mood, he either shrugged and remained mute or grinned mysteriously and let the nosy questioners draw their own conclusions.

Koda did not smile at Miyako’s next comment. He sighed, glancing around their intimate cave. Viewed at the wrong angle, he supposed her worries weren’t irrational.

“I don’t intend to hurt you,” he assured her, working to meet her gaze again, “but you are wise to be cautious.”

Koda crossed his legs beneath him, his chin on his hands as he thought. “I suppose…” he began, “if I had such intentions, I might have stolen your short sword first.” Nodding to her sash where the weapon remained tucked in place, he continued to tend the fire.

“I would give you all I have,” he admitted, matter-of-fact, “but I am in trouble myself, and these are gifts from strangers.” He gestured towards the contents of the bag. “I would rather not forfeit my life when others have risked all to save it. It seems a sorry way to repay them.”

While those words settled, he ran his fingers over his head, unused to the fine hair growing there. He leaned back and gazed into the dancing flames before him, sighing in contentment as the warmth dried the damp fabric of his robes.

“Do you know how to make a fire?” he asked, glancing up and scrutinizing what he could see of her hands. He’d feel better splitting up with Miyako if she could at least do that, but judging by her soft fingers, it appeared she wasn’t accustomed to hard work.
 

ashwynne

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So, not a eunuch then. The hint of a smile around his lips and sparkle in his eyes spoke clearly enough to that, even if his denial hadn’t. Miyako tugged his jacket tighter around herself, her dark and expressive eyes studying the ground between them. Would he expect some sort of sexual favour from her in exchange for his aid, then? He had a warm and kindly look to him, something about his demeanor lending itself to a feeling of both innocence and harmlessness, but she knew better than to trust shallow impressions.

He said that he didn’t intend to hurt her, causing her eyes to flick up and meet his. Miyako held their shared stare, not wanting to appear a coward, and doing her best not to betray the quiver of nervousness she felt as he agreed that she was wise to be cautious. Was this a subconscious betrayal of his intentions? Or merely his way of letting her know that he understood the source of her ill-bred questions?

Her mind was racing, but the way this ‘Koda,’ settled himself down with legs crossed beneath him and chin cupped boyishly in his hands stilled her thoughts. Instead, she stared at him, wide-eyed. What an incredibly strange man… perhaps strange enough to be as innocent as he portrayed himself to be. And then he nodded towards the short sword that still hung against her side.

Miyako turned to look where he gestured, as though she were only now realizing it was there. In truth, the sight of it made her feel sick to her stomach, but he had a point. Leaving a weapon in the hands of the girl you intended to assault was not a wise move, particularly since he was fully aware that she had it. Then… was he really just a kind soul who had stopped to help a woman in need?

The wary expression on her face shifted to a faint frown as Koda went from factually stating that he would normally give her everything he had to admitting that he was also in trouble. An ugly part of her recoiled from him at that admission. Well bred girls did not associate themselves with criminals or people of ill-repute.

Guilt assailed her almost instantly. She was no better than a common criminal herself now… a woman without honour or a family name. Perhaps fit for nothing better than living her dishonourable life on her back in a brothel somewhere. Even if this seemingly kind, though criminal, stranger violated her in the end, what did it matter? There was nothing left of her to dishonour anyways. And here she was, repaying his apparent altruism by assuming some false sense of superiority that she had no right to have.

Suppressing a shudder, Miyako realized he had asked her a question. Could she make fire? Her eyes shifted down to the ivory smoothness of her hands, meticulously maintained by lotions and an easy life. Even through the dirt and scratches that marred them it was still plain that they were the furthest thing from the hands of a labourer.

“I…” she tucked her hands beneath his jacket, shifting her gaze away from his. “I have no idea,” she almost explained that the servants had always done it for her but managed to hold her tongue. Miyako didn’t want him, or anyone, knowing who she was. Who she had been. The other burning question on her mind was what he had done to get into trouble, but she feared that if she asked him, he would wish to know what she fled from in turn and she could not bear to say it out loud.

The fire was warm. His eyes were kind. And it was all suddenly too much.

Miyako stood, the movement surprisingly fluid, strength having returned to her to a degree following the food, drink and rest. “It is an imposition, I am aware, but if you will permit me to keep your coat I will take my leave,” she was already beginning to back up towards the entrance, trying not to despair at the sound of rain sheeting down over the small cave. “I thank you for your kindness towards me, I would surely have perished without your help,” she offered him a tenuous smile, revealing a hint of the beauty beneath the grime, before quickly ducking out of the cave.

In such a torrential downpour she was immediately soaked, earning a soft gasp as droplets of water rolled down her neck and past her collar. There was no point in trying to shield her face so Miyako took a few steps further away from the entrance and scrubbed her hands over her face and through her hair. In this way she cleaned off as much dirt as she could, pulling twigs and leaves from her long tresses with every pull of her fingers as well. She felt immediately better being a bit cleaner, even if she was now soaked to the bone.

The trouble now, of course, was where exactly she should go from here. Maybe a brothel was the only suitable place for her after all. Miyako shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. The thought of allowing someone to touch her was intolerable, still, she had no doubt that one look from the master of a brothel would land her a position. Food, shelter… those needs would be met, but was it worth it? Was a life like that worth living? But… what other option did she have? Apart from her beauty she had nothing. Koda’s simple question had made that painfully clear.

Miyako blinked, startled to find the short sword in her hands once again. Raindrops glistened as they slid over the cold steel, warping the reflection of the woman who stared down at it. Slowly, as though in a dream, she turned the blade in her hands until she could feel the point pressing into her belly. Hunched over the weapon her hair formed a curtain, water streaming down around her as her breathing began to hitch and speed up. Still trance-like, her hands tightened around the hilt. She didn’t know what else to do.
 
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Spottedbark

art: peritwinkle
Nishan had expected her to bargain, knowing fully that five silvers was an unholy sum for the voyage. His fishing vessel wasn't exactly a luxury passenger boat, and the promise of three silvers was better than one, so Nishan snatched the one she held out to him. Even if she double crossed him, he'd still have that one. "Get in," he told her.

Sparing only a small glance at the other fishermen, he wondered if this was good luck or unwanted trouble. There was a bit of smoke behind the line of village buildings, and the light of torches glowed through the bamboo. Absolutely, this was a bad idea, but the promise of three silvers. . . well, that would sit nicely in his savings. Surely, she couldn't be all bad if she had the decency to spare a bit of politeness for someone like him. Once she was settled, Nishan grabbed the hull, and with a mighty shove, he pushed his boat into the lapping waves.

He guided the vessel with the heel of his hands, not caring at all about getting wet. When he was about knee-deep in the water, he stepped onto the boat and took up his oar, perching once more at the bow. With quick, practiced motions, Nishan paddled out backwards a bit and then turned the boat. By that time, the men presumably after her had found the beach, but he remained calm, using that tiny bit of fear to suitably hasten their getaway. Perhaps the two of them could just melt into the sea.
 

Fyuri

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Bai didn't hesitate in the slightest as she got onto the fishing boat. She didn't sit down but instead crouched, ready to make a move when and if she needed to. She kept her balance as the fisherman shoved the boat into the water before getting onto the bow and paddling them away. The delay had been just long enough for the local guards to storm the beach after her, shouting commands for them to stop. The targeted shouts at the fisherman too ordering him to turn around or be considered a criminal by association and assistance.

A few went over to the other group of fishermen who were tensely watching the scene and demanded to know the identify of the man steering the boat and they freely gave his name to save themselves; Nishan. That was when the guards called out his name to him and officially informed him he was now labeled as a wanted criminal for his involvement in the attempted assassination of an official

There was a small pit of guilt from dragging this man into her problems. She didn't know if the others on the beach were Nishan's friends or not. If they had been perhaps it was panic that made them give his name or perhaps they didn't care for him at all. As she stared at the men on the beach she was glad that they didn't have any bows or arrows on them. It would have made escaping in this manner more difficult. While they could have tried to follow after in boats of their own they were either too stupid to consider that, lazy, or figured they'd become someone else's problem.

When they reached the safety of the other bank she disembarked quickly. Bai didn't want to get caught should they take one of the bridges. Though she only technically owed him three silvers, the fact that he was now a wanted man made her add an extra two. She wasn't so rude as to toss the coins where they could fall into the water should they not be caught, she just waited till he was close enough, took one of his hands and shoved the five silver into it.

"It won't make up for you getting marked as a criminal, but it should help you move on somewhere else," she informed him casually, as though she hadn't just wrecked his life. She gave a polite bow and then turned to leave, taking a random direction away from the nearby civilization so should Nishan be caught he'd give them wrong information about her.
 

Erato

🖤🖤🖤 [art: peritwinkle]
[@ashwynne, @Fyuri, @Spottedbark]

Miyako’s sudden decision to leave shocked him. Koda had no words as she stumbled out of their sanctuary, halting momentarily in the curtain of rain that greyed out her features.

A frown, quick and unbecoming, darkened his features. Had he frightened her?

Gazing deep into the flames of their fire, Koda ran through his conversation with her, trying to find the snags. Most people greeted him with a smile, a wave, and a whistle on their lips. There was no distrust shadowing their eyes, no suspicion hunching their shoulders. He must have done something wrong. But what?

For a moment, Koda resolved to let her go. He’d anticipated her wanting to leave, but he’d planned on splitting his provisions with Miyako, knowing even those meager rations could get him to the coast. The rest of his money could buy his passage west.

He wasn’t sure what prompted him to groan to a stand, to glare out into the rain before heading out into the storm. Perhaps he worried Miyako would faint again. Perhaps he wanted to see her go as far as he could make out her diminutive shape. Perhaps he was curious.

When he found her, however, she was hunched over, face hidden by her hair. Koda hastened his step, blinking the rain out of his eyes, worried his gift of food had made her ill.

But she wasn’t sick. No. She was about to sink a sword into her stomach.

“What are you doing?!” Koda exclaimed, slipping and sliding on the wet earth until his fingers grasped the sword hilt. He flung it away from her, sending it sliding into the mud, watching it go as his heart thundered in his ears.

Koda stared at her. Miyako's intentions sat muddled in his mind, her polite thanks and request for his coat clashing with her suicide attempt. Having stood in the rain, she looked cleaner now, though something wild still lurked at the edges of her eyes, something that sent a shiver down his spine.

He might have raised his voice. He might have scolded her, glaring his disapproval at her disregard for her own life. But he had no inkling what horrors had informed her decision, and terror filled him instead—terror that she might bolt for the sword again and he wouldn’t be quick enough to catch her.

So Koda rushed forward, engulfing her in a crushing embrace that pinned her arms to her side and kept her still. He held her there, tight, as the thunder rolled across the sky.

Death wasn’t unfamiliar to Koda. He had seen many great men die on their sickbeds or go peacefully while they slept. Even a few had gone by accident, a wild carriage or a rogue wave sending them to an early grave. He'd helped bury them himself, sobbing as he performed the rites with his brothers, his heart aching as he turned over the fond memories in his mind.

But never had Koda seen such violent intentions towards the self. It made him nauseated to consider what might have happened if he’d let her on her way, humming on his journey to the balmy coast, blissfully unaware of his unused coat and the dead woman who wore it.

It was warmer with Miyako in his arms. She was soft, and small, and he welcomed the human touch, but Koda grew wary of keeping her contained for long. She might confuse his attempts to protect her as attempts to subdue her. Using gentle, slow movements, he pulled away, praying she’d changed her mind.

Now the cold rushed back into him, his pulse slowing and his arms empty. Shivering, Koda wrapped his arms around his torso, the downpour plastering his clothes to his body. Miyako had fared little better, the rain soaking her through to the bone. They needed warmth. They needed shelter. And Miyako needed...something. He just wasn’t sure what yet.

“You are not well, Miyako,” he said firmly, using what he believed to be a stern, guiding tone. “I must see you to safety. Please allow me to do so.”
 
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ashwynne

|aquatic authority | ✎ art: peritwinkle
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Thunder boomed overhead. Ordinarily, storms terrified her, but right now the sound seemed distant and inconsequential. The tip of the blade dug deeper into her belly until she felt the beginnings of warm wetness amongst the cool damp of rain and knew she had cut herself. At least they had given her the courtesy of a sharp blade. Sucking in another breath she closed her eyes and was prepared to gut herself when a shout startled her.

Miyako faltered for a fraction of a second but it was all the time Koda needed. He snatched the sword away from her and tossed it away. It sloshed into the mud, rain pinging dimly off of the naked steel. She stared after it, confused, almost dazed. Her fingers twitched. So close, she had come so close to doing her duty. To dying for nothing. She beat that second thought away, confusion, panic, and anger vying for dominance in her mind.

“W-why…?” but her strangled question died as he suddenly wrapped his arms around her. Warm and secure they pinned her against him, restricting the movement of her arms. Her nose was buried in his shirt, the scent of sweat, dirt and rain forming a potent mix that Miyako couldn’t determine as repulsive or comforting. It didn’t feel oppressive so much as it felt sheltering. Like he was a bird tucking an errant fledgling back beneath his wing to protect it from the elements.

What nerve she had gathered to go through with it, her tiny flame of resolve, sputtered out. Absurdly, she found herself contrasting him with the vassal who had perfunctorily shoved the sword into her hands. That man would have stood dispassionately and watched her lifeblood spill and mix with the mud and the rain. This one had gone out of his way to preserve it. Had her arms not been pinned to her sides she would have reflexively held onto Koda. This was now the second time that he had saved her life, and Miyako knew that she did not have the strength to try and take her own for a third time. She truly was a fledgling; vulnerable, lacking the ability to survive on her own, and utterly dependent on the strength of another to live.

Koda unraveled himself from her with gentle, smooth, movements and stepped away. Released from his hold the cold rushed back in and Miyako’s arms wrapped uselessly around herself. She couldn’t be a whore, she simply couldn’t. She also couldn’t summon the nerve to kill herself. He had taken that option from her and she felt a bubble of terrified anger rise up at this realization.

He told her that she was unwell, as though that was somehow news to her, and then insisted that he see her to safety. As though there was any place in the world that was safe for her now. Wordlessly, the woman turned on her heel and sloshed back through the mud into the warm shelter of the cave. Soaked to the skin she was bitterly cold, but the bite of fear was far worse.

Koda followed behind her and once Miyako was in the warmth of their shelter she began to pace. Rivulets of water still streamed down her from the deluge, darkening the ground where she stepped until small puddles marked the path she took. Back and forth, back and forth on the opposite side of the fire from where he was. At last, her flurry of tangled thoughts managed to unfurl enough that her tongue was loosened.

“Death was my only escape and you took that from me!” back and forth, back and forth. “I can’t survive on my own, I have nowhere to go. What have you done? What am I…” she trailed off, her steps faltering for a moment before steadying back into the rhythm. Back and forth, back and forth. “You have to take responsibility for me. Take me with you, wherever it is you’re going.” Miyako stopped suddenly and whipped her head to stare at him, droplets hissing into the fire. “Or kill me yourself, but I won’t become a whore,” her eyes widened, and she looked away from him again, resuming her pacing. “I won’t be your whore either, but I can… I can…” she had no skills to offer him in return, nothing practical at least. It wasn’t a fair demand of him, and she knew it, somewhere in the back of her mind, but what other choice was there? “I can sing and recite poetry,” she said finally.

It was a poor return. Asking him to, essentially, play husband to her without offering any intimacy on her part. Offering nothing but song and snippets of verse. Still, what else was there? Nothing. She had nothing. She was nothing. And he could never know why she had fled in the first place. Miyako did not think her spirit could bear another man looking at her like a living corpse as they pushed a blade into her hands and bid her go die.
 

Spottedbark

art: peritwinkle
[ @ashwynne @Erato @Fyuri ]

The woman had slipped into the boat without any more prompting, crouching there like a cat amongst his nets and spears. By the time her enemies graced the beach, he was already a good deal out on the water, back turned to the commotion happening on shore.

He hoped for several minutes that all of the fishermen on the beach didn't know his identity. In fact, he was fairly certain that he'd never done business with any of them, but somehow, the soldiers procured his name, and Nishan cursed under his breath. He should've left her at the beach after all, it seemed. But had such a woman truly killed an official? Surely, they were all mistaken! But whether or not it was true, the fact was that she had turned him into a target. That, he would not thank her for.

So he continued onwards with his charge, navigating through the waters smoothly and without any issue until the opposite bank spread before them. With a practiced eye, Nishan chose a good spot on the bank, one that would not ruin his boat, and he steered the vessel into it, taking into account the current.

Once he had pulled up onto shore, the woman wasted no time in escaping his boat, pressing the fee into the palm of his hand. He opened his palm, counting the coins, his eyes narrowed into slits at her words.

"Are you joking?" Nishan wondered aloud, staring at her turned back as if he could burn holes into it with his gaze alone. "Five silvers? That's not nearly enough to start a new life on!"
 

Fyuri

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Bai halted and half-turned as the fisherman stared her down and voiced his displeasure with the amount he had been given in exchange for having his life in the town destroyed by helping her. Her eyes narrowed as she looked him over before the settled on his nose for a moment. Her eyes then went to stare directly back at him; no fear or even worry in regards to his anger. "It's not like I run around carrying a fortune meant to fund someone's new life," she countered as she turned to face him fully.

"Had you not decided to negotiate the price of passage I would have been across the water before your identity and life would have been affected." She didn't say it directly, telling him he was also responsible for his own predicament letting his greed waste precious seconds.

She sighed loudly as she weighed her options in dealing with him. She could flee and he could follow after her, though unsure if he'd be able to keep up and she could shake him. Killing him was also an option, but he wasn't truly a threat to her person currently. She could always drag him along with her to her master. If he was going to complain about starting a new life then she'll give him one, though he might not like it.

"You want a new life? Here are your options. You can take that five silver and make your way to a different prefecture or you can tag along with me and my master can sort out a new life for you from there. As far as what new life you'll get isn't my decision, but if you take this path I can assure you there will be no option to turn back."

Bai turned her back to him once again and began to walk away, "Follow or flee. Your choice."
 

Erato

🖤🖤🖤 [art: peritwinkle]
@ashwynne @Fyuri @Spottedbark

Mentioned: @ashwynne
+++​

Never had Koda stopped someone from committing suicide. It shook him to the core to see Miyako so vulnerable, perched on the razor’s edge of life and death. He'd been so frightened in that moment, for reasons he still didn't comprehend. And although his expectations of her reaction were unexplored and thankfully so, he hadn't expected anger.

He watched with wide eyes as Miyako paced, her frustration clear in every step. Her tone felt accusatory, another sin laid against him. Seeing her alive and passionate and full of spitfire, however, did not encourage Koda to repentance. Instead, he felt rather pleased with himself.

His lips drew to a line at her suggestion — that he might kill her — and at her refusal to be his whore. Eunuch or no, Koda didn’t believe he seemed the type to take advantage of a disadvantaged woman, no matter how mysterious her circumstances.

Still, he refused to acknowledge that part of her tirade.

“I love music,” Koda said earnestly, his nod the only formal agreement they needed. “You are welcome to come with me.” He would rather see Miyako safe, tucked away as a seamstress in a seaside village with the fishermen clambering to marry her. Who knew what winding paths his own journey would follow, and what dangers would meet him along the way?

For now, he encouraged her to sit by the fire, eyeing her soaked clothes with trepidation. Already Miyako had been in a pitiful state, and now she was sopping wet. It didn’t bode well for her health. Fortunately for them, the rain raced off towards the mountains, chased by a twilight so purple Koda wished he could make cloth out of it.

Night crept upon them. Stars soon glittered in the inky sky, their whirling constellations taking Koda’s breath away as he gazed into the heavens. Now, more than ever, he was aware of the air filtering through his lungs, of the biting wind that numbed the tip of his nose, of the pulse thrumming in his fingertips as his hand rested at his side.

Encouraged by the peace of the earth, Koda sat by the fire and prayed. Everything joined up — the healthy breath of his lungs spreading out to tickle the leaves on the trees, the warmth of the fire reaching out to the heat of his blood. Energy and life breathed together in him, flourishing together in harmonious concert. All of it he stored, tucking it away somewhere in the deep folds of his spirit. It felt wonderful to sit and forget the worries that creased his brow.

Sleep didn’t come so easily. During the night, Koda awoke to a warm press against his back. His eyes fluttered open, and he blinked, struggling for comprehension. Miyako had somehow crossed the two feet of space between them to curl up against him, back to back. With held breath and silent prayers, Koda inched away like an earthworm, falling back to sleep once his space was his own.

They left after breakfast, a few apples and bread that Koda equitably halved. Their journey started slow, the hours trickling by like honey through a jar. For a few days, Miyako kept to herself, their conversations one-sided if they existed at all.

After a week, though, Miyako matched Koda’s own curiosity. They traded questions quietly and carefully, exchanging them like gifts.

One sunny afternoon, when Koda allowed them a rest, he looked up from his half-eaten apple to puzzle out who Miyako was and why she was with him. Even as he asked his questions, she was tight-lipped about herself. Strangely, he found her drawing his own story out, and he freely admitted why he was in trouble. He explained about the man on the cart, and the lie at the healer’s, and the guards who led him away from his execution.

To his surprise, she wasn’t shocked. And Koda smiled at her response, warmth blooming from his chest to curl at his toes. Their rapport was building, even if it was slowly, and Miyako looked less like a frightened stranger and more like a new friend.

He almost ruined it.

“Are you certain,” he said next, “that you wouldn’t rather find some occupation at a nearby town?”

He'd meant it kindly, but immediately, she bristled, pushing herself to her feet and whirling away from him so he couldn’t look at her, arms crossed tightly over her chest.

“Oh?” she said, “To be a whore after all? I told you I’d rather die! There’s no other occupation I have the skill for, I was a—” She froze and swallowed the words, gripping her arms more tightly.

Koda stared at her, mouth opening and closing like a landed trout's.

Miyako continued. “If you don’t wish to deal with me being a burden, then you can kill me yourself, right now.” She tugged the short sword out from where it was hidden among the folds of her robe and whirled to thrust it at him.

“No!” Koda exclaimed, shoving away her sword and scowling at her. “I won’t kill you — please do not suggest it again. I just…” He sighed, exasperated at her passion, feeling it tug the corners of his mouth downwards. “I am afraid I will be dangerous company. That is all.” He inclined his head at her in a muted bow. “I would be honored to have you with me, Miyako.”

After that, their roles were established. Koda led the way, Miyako followed. They continued west, Koda doing his best to hide their tracks as they went. The days grew steadily warmer, but each evening brought a renewed chill in the air that forced them to gather firewood and sleep near the dying coals.

They smelled the port city of Miyahama before they arrived. The briny smell of sea salt and fish wafted towards them on the breeze, letting them follow their nose till they reached it. Koda immediately took to the bustling docks, approaching the friendliest-looking captain who would leave that day. He did his best to negotiate, but soon Koda returned to Miyako, a sheepish frown on his face.

“We don’t have enough money for passage,” he informed her, blushing as he recalled the many times he’d given coin to beggars and street rats. “I told the captain I would work for my fare but we still need three silvers.”
 

ashwynne

|aquatic authority | ✎ art: peritwinkle
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Just because he was a monk did not mean he was sane. That was the thought that occupied Miyako for much of the first few days she spent travelling with the strange man. What other explanation could there be for him to answer her request to be taken care of (with only singing and poetry in exchange) by saying ‘I love music?’ Of the many rational responses he might have given, that was not one. She had been prepared to argue with him, to press her point, but instead he had yielded to her will without a single protest.

She’d encountered monks before. Usually while being escorted to various high-class establishments where her mother would carefully arrange her kimono and hair—making the bait more enticing to high-ranking men, Miyako supposed. Those monks, at those times, had not looked at her with good natured smiles and companionable eyes. No. They had looked at her in the same hungry way as all men did. So, if he was not a eunuch, Koda must be insane. It was the simplest explanation.

Still, his insanity did not make her need him any less, so they travelled together in tenuous peace. If there were nights where she found herself pressed warmly against his back… well, Miyako simply pretended she hadn’t woken in the first place. Insanity was warm. When he asked her simple questions that were not too prying, she answered them. It turned out insanity was easy to talk to. And, when he told her how he had made himself an enemy of Jinshu, she found insanity was predictably kind to a fault.

By the time he tried asking her more difficult questions, Miyako had decided that insanity was far less of a threat to her than sanity was.

He nearly changed that, though, when he tried suggesting abandoning her in some nameless town. But, as before, he met her passionate anger with immediate acquiescence to her will. Enough that she almost felt guilty. Almost. In the end, though, her role as his travelling companion was cemented and the feeling of safety that this gave her chased away any guilt.

Companion to a fugitive monk. It likely would end in ruin, but this new life she was beginning to claim was borrowed from death anyway. Long or short, she would not forget that.

They had been journeying to the coast and before long… she began to smell it. Suddenly, Miyako found her steps becoming lighter. She had never seen the sea before, had never thought she would have the chance to. The closest she had ever come was the lake beside her hometown of Nakakoshi, but even that had become inaccessible to her after she married Katsuhide and was escorted further north towards Taishu… to the beautiful prison that was meant to be her home for the rest of her life.

The air stank of fish the closer they came. Salt in the air sticking to her skin and filling her lungs. It was disgusting… but also breathtakingly alive. Miyako found it heady and intoxicating. Every fisherman’s hut they passed, every vessel, every stall, and every scruffy merchant behind it. It was dizzying, and for the first time since her death had been ordained she felt fiercely glad to be alive.

Koda left her tucked away sitting on an abandoned crate near a row of merchant stalls while he went to negotiate their passage across the sea. There, Miyako sat, a grin beginning to bloom across her face as she let her legs swing and leaned back with her hands against the rough surface of the crate. No one yelled at her to maintain decorum, no one fussed over the placement of her fingers, there was only the cry of gulls and background haggling between merchants and their customers. Still, the travel had not erased her loveliness and with a beaming smile brightening her countenance it was impossible to keep eyes from being drawn towards her. She didn’t even see them. Too preoccupied with this strange new freedom.

When Koda returned, Miyako greeted him with a smile far brighter and lovelier than any that had graced her face since they had first met. It didn’t last long. His sheepish look as he admitted that they were short of coin turned the smile into a disbelieving purse.

Miyako knew precisely where that money had gone. She had thought to question him on his open-handed giving but had not wanted to step on any manly pride he might have had when it came to managing finances. More the fool her! She’d forgotten he was not a sane man.

Well.

“Since I don’t believe you’ll find any customers at the brothel to give you silver…” she snatched up the pitifully empty coin purse, hopped off the crate and stalked with stormy grace to a courtyard within sight of her previous perch. Curious eyes watched her. It was difficult not to be intrigued, an albino man and a woman with a noble’s appearance garbed in dirty clothes was sure to draw attention. This time, Miyako counted on it.

When she reached the centre of the courtyard, she placed the open purse a foot in front of her and straightened. Abruptly, as if by magic, her entire bearing transformed into that of a delicate maiden—eyes beseeching and full of a heart-rending longing that was not difficult for the woman embodying it to evoke. When she began to sing, the words rose sweet and tender into the square;

“I want to hear the voice of the sky
Through the wind’s voice in my ear
I want to understand the voice of the sea
While searching for your voice

The more I think that I won’t be able to meet you
The more I want to meet you
The muttering river, the whispering mountain
It just feels like your voice
If I close my eyes, I can hear it
Your pleasant, lovely laughter
If it might reach you by this voice
Today I’ll sing as well
Along with the voice of the sea..

The voice of the sea and the voice of the wind
The voice of the sky and the voice of the sun
The voice of the river and the voice of the mountain
Will bring along my voice…”


By the time she finished a fair-sized crowd had formed, most unable to tear their eyes away from the delicate woman who sang so beautifully, no longer seeing the dirt-stained clothes she wore, but rather a maiden pining sweetly for her lost lover. Coins fell into the bag. The people here were not wealthy and so the amount was not great, but it was enough for their passage and a bit of provisions as well.

Finished with her performance, Miyako bowed prettily to the crowd and flounced back to Koda. A renewed sense of purpose filled her steps, buoyed by the knowledge that she could be of some use after all and dangerously oblivious to the unsavoury looks some of her audience were still casting her way.

After counting the money, she plucked out a few coins and slowly held out the purse to Koda, studying him with an assessing look. “This covers the three missing silvers… and a little extra. I’m keeping some of it myself so that this doesn’t happen again.”



Before long, they were on the deck of the ship. Miyako found herself flitting from bow to stern, gripping the rails and leaning out to stare at the swelling waves roiling beneath them with bright-eyed delight. It seemed endless and yet, if the few crewmen she had spoken to were to be believed, this vast expanse of water was merely an inland sea. The real thing was far larger. Miyako couldn’t begin to imagine that. No other shore seemed to exist when she looked out towards the path they would take, just an endless expanse of rippling indigo. Part of her was a bit apprehensive, the sway of the boat foreign beneath her feet and the endless blue dizzying. But the larger part was desperately excited.

When she’d managed to sate the tip of her curiosity, Miyako returned to where she had left Koda. Unlike her, he was already looking green and ill. “Have you caught some illness?” she asked him, stopping short for a moment. In her former life, approaching a sick man was something she would never even have contemplated. But this was Koda. Her protector and companion. Sucking in a breath for courage, Miyako closed the rest of the distance between them and pressed the back of her hand to his forehead the way her mother had done when she was a child. He didn’t feel feverish, so she dropped the hand and tilted her head birdlike at him. “Truly, Koda, you look wretched… what can I do to help?” she was already rolling up her sleeves as though some messy healer’s task might be ahead of her.
 

Spottedbark

art: peritwinkle
[ @ashwynne @Erato @Fyuri ]

Nishan's eye twitched in irritation as the woman tried to pin his misfortune on the good manners of haggling. He should have just listened to his gut, but no! Her silver had to cloud his judgement. Now, he was hopelessly unprepared for the life of a fugitive, all because of greed.

He pursed his lips, a sour taste in his mouth as she presented him several options. Knowing that the first, starting a new life on his own, was an unlikely outcome, Nishan immediately dismissed it. Perhaps he might be able to hide in another prefecture for awhile, but not for long with a distinct nose like his. Unwittingly, he'd become a marked accomplice in the murder of a statesman. On his own, his days were surely numbered. There was no going back anyways.

Clenching his jaw, Nishan crossed his arms, shutting his eyes against the enormous decision. How did he even know that her master would bother with someone like him? And what if he was forced to kill? Fights in the ring were one thing, but murder, as this girl had done, that was something else. But still, he could not afford to let her walk into the bamboo without him.

"Would you allow me to travel with you awhile?" he asked her turned back, "I know nothing about being a fugitive or this master of yours. If you teach me a bit of practical knowledge--things that might keep my head attached--I'll let this whole thing go."
 

Fyuri

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(@ashwynne @Erato @Spottedbark)

Bai didn't stop or turn back to the now fugitive fisherman, she had places to be and time was precious. "It's your choice if you want to travel with me. There isn't anything to prepare anyone for a fugitive lifestyle, believe me. So tag along if you want and here if my first piece of advice, keep your head down and blend in as best as you can. No one looks at the lower classes most times, take advantage of that invisibility. Where we'll going you can practice."

Since he was going to be her traveling 'companion' for an unknown time she decided to take the most direct route to the closest city which was the port town of Shixiang. She needed to change out of her current clothes and lucky for her she had someone who could go into the shops and buy something for her without raising much suspicion. If Bai wandered into the city in her current attire and injuries those who looked for easy coin would turn her over as a suspected criminal without hesitation.

As far as she knew this fisherman was unknown there, or at least could blend in well enough to not draw attention to himself. "If we're going to be traveling together an exchange of names is needed. You can call me Qi Suyin," she said giving her most recent alias as she didn't trust him with her real name. "From the commotion I believe I heard your fellow fishermen call you Nishu? Nisha?" She had heard the first part of his name, but it had been hard to hear the rest over the shouting.

"What is your name?" she flatly asked as she entered the bamboo forest, casually walking as though she didn't have to worry about being chased by the local guards. She weaved her path slightly, not trying to throw of Nishan, but to throw off anyone who would try and follow them. She even broke things on purpose here and there in directions they did not go, even using her own blood to mark random and fake paths. At least an injury could be useful at times like these.

"Lesson number two: don't make it easy for someone to track you down. If you can mislead someone to take a different path do it, even if it takes up a bit of extra time. Even if you have to go in a circle."

She traveled with him like this as they made their way to Shixiang, giving random 'lessons' that didn't require a great amount of skill, things to help keep ones presence less noticeable, like how to walk to reduce the sound one made. She stopped on the outskirts of the port city and turned to Nishan with a friendly if not slightly predatory smile, "Time to put my lessons to use."

"I can't exactly wander around in what I'm wearing so I'll need your assistance and you can try out those lessons I've taught you. I need something clean to wear, nothing fancy of course. I also need some medical items for my injury to prevent infection. Food as well, things that can last for a journey on foot till we reach the next closest village."

Bai pulled out her small coin purse and took out three silvers, more than enough for everything she asked for, "You can you the extra coin to buy whatever you need for yourself. Or..." She looked at him darkly, "You can flee now if you want with all the coin, but I'll be very disappointed."

She actually had no intention of just letting him wander the city alone. She'd do what she did best and observe him from a safe and undetectable distance. Bai wouldn't stop him if he fled, but she wanted to see what choice he would make. If he opted to run on his own, she'd just get what she needed on her own and continue on her way. If he actually completed his tasks he'd get some improved respect from her.
 

Erato

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((@ashwynne @Fyuri @Spottedbark))

Mentioned: @ashwynne

+++​

Koda abhorred seasickness. When the monks forced him to go on journeys for supplies with the monks, he spent a few days wretched in the ship's belly, holding his stomach and willing the world to stop moving. This voyage was no different, except Miyako was there, prepared to do whatever was necessary to help him. Koda glanced up at her in disbelief, eyeing her rolled-up sleeves with bald incredulity.

"I'm only seasick," he told her, green in the face and avoiding her gaze. "You don't have to stay with me."

But the beautiful thing was, Miyako did, at least mostly. She ensured he had plenty to drink, changed out his buckets, and smoothed his forehead while she sang to him. She had a gorgeous voice, angelic and pure and unlike anything he'd ever heard. It'd stunned him at the docks, leaving him breathless and frozen, but now her lullabies settled him, relaxing his tense muscles and evening out his breathing. He found himself soothed more often than not, dozing in her lap while his stomach churned. Somehow her presence eased his pain and his sickness, hastening him towards wellness as the days passed.

The fourth day of their journey they found themselves on the deck of the ship, curled up on their seats together with blankets piled on to ward off the early spring chill. Miyako sunbathed in a bright ray of sunshine while Koda dozed in a patch of shadow, his fair complexion suffering if left too long in the sun. The gulls screeched, and the sailors barked orders at one another. Koda felt utterly content, grateful to share this morning with Miyako.

She broke the silence first. "You said you're not a eunuch," she began, "but usually when men see me the first thing they do is undress me with their eyes. Do you not have an interest in women?"

Koda's eyes snapped open. "What?" he asked, squinting at her sun-kissed face. "I...of course I do. Why?" Heat rose to his cheeks, but Miyako looked merely curious, so he stayed put, loathe to leave the warmth of their blanket.

"Hmm...so then I am not desirable to you?" Miyako frowned at the sky. "Or is it that monk's swear vows of chastity and you try taking it seriously?" She clicked her tongue. "I could see that. Then again, I've encountered other monks before and they looked just as hungrily at me as all the others. You're sure you're not a eunuch?"

Koda stared at her, jaw agape. This was impossible. He frowned at her continued investigation, his blush reaching down to his neck and up to his ears. Where did he start? "We don't swear vows of celibacy, no, but they encourage it." He scowled at her, trying to gauge her reaction, but she wouldn't meet his eyes. "I'm not a eunuch, Miyako." Why wouldn't she believe him?

Their conversation continued in the same strange, awkward vein until Koda forcefully turned the subject towards her. What he discovered was that Miyako tied her usefulness to her beauty, and Koda couldn't understand it. At all. He prodded her with questions about what she wanted, who she wanted to love, what she longed to do. Her story haunted him.

"My mother had me use my singing to lure men in just as surely as my body did," she said. "That, too, is tainted." Miyako drew her knees to her chest and curled her arms around them with a shudder. "You'll leave me behind one day, Koda. You're not my husband in truth. I'll never regret what small things I've done to help you, in return for this new life I get to keep for a little while, but in the end I still have nothing and no clear future that I can see."

Koda felt tears springing to his eyes at Miyako's reply, his exhaustion making his emotions raw and open. "I cannot believe that," he said, shaking his head. "I cannot. Your singing is lovely. You are kind, and you were clever at the docks." He huffed out his frustration in punchy sighs through his nose, blinking away his tears so she couldn't see them. "I will help you find your future," he vowed, reaching for her hand beneath the blanket. "I will not leave you behind until then, or until you wish me to."

It was the best he could do. She'd forced him to take responsibility for him, but he'd give her more than that. And as the hours passed, they shared a little more about one another. One evening, Miyako questioned him about Ennai and his life as a monk. He told her how the temple forbid violence, demanding that he respect all life. He told her he didn't eat meat. He told her of the wonderful peace found there, of his time spent swimming in the summer or observing the snow fall in winter. She asked him about magic, and he guided her to her own cultivation choice: water.

Lessons began the next morning. Miyako's eyes had lit up, excitement making her more gorgeous than he'd ever seen her. Together they traipsed up to the deck, wrapped in blankets and happiness as they grabbed their tasteless breakfast. It was a lovely day, the sun shimmering on easy waters, a gentle breeze filling the sails. Koda irritated the fishermen by feeding the seagulls, laughing as they waved their muscled arms at the birds, trying to get them to fly away.

"Now," Koda said as they finished their meal, tossing the last of his breakfast to the gulls. "Are you ready to start?"

"Yes!" Miyako said, "I am! Though..." He watched her eyes shift to the rails. "Do I need to be in contact with the water for this to work best?"

"It might," admitted Koda, "but we won't go for a swim today." He took her hand and led her to a stand, guiding her to the railing. "Feel the spray on your skin? The salt water that sticks to your cheeks?" He closed his eyes, feeling it himself, taking it in. Turning his back to the waves, he placed her hands on the railing, holding them in place. "Close your eyes. Feel it. Hear your spirit calling to it." He waited for a long moment, enjoying the peace and the warmth of her hands beneath his. "Tell me what you feel," Koda said, voice soft and encouraging.

"Warmth," she murmured distantly. "Cold. A gentle touch inside my heart." Her eyes flashed open. "It...it goes on forever." She swiveled her head to stare up at him, looking exhilarated and frightened all at once. "How could I possibly call upon something like that? It could swallow me whole." Miyako looked back over the rails at the ocean which sprawled as far as the eye could see.

"You don't," Koda said, tightening his grip on her hands as she leaned forward, wrapping his thumbs around her wrists. "I don't call on volcanoes, nor the fire beneath the earth." His eyes searched hers, finding confirmation in her wide gaze. "It's overwhelming, I know. But magic is gentle, at first." He slid closer to her, his side touching hers, uncomfortable by her hungry bend over the rails. "You meditate, find the energy first. Then you cultivate it, feeding it your energy and time until it yields the power you want."

Koda held out his hand to her, palm up, and at the center a tiny flame danced up before vanishing, disappearing into a thin wisp of smoke. "I focus daily on my own body heat. The warmth of the sun on a rock, or the heat when I rub my hands together."

Their lesson continued thus. Koda encouraged Miyako to find ways to cultivate her magic (baths were a favorite). One horrifying revelation that revealed itself was that Miyako couldn't swim, and Koda was unamused at Miyako's subsequent grin. They agreed he'd teach her one day.

Then, when the moment felt right, Koda tried to get her to open up. It failed. Miyako folded inward, refusing to talk, even if her words were kind. Koda crumpled a little inside, but her vague description of being raised to marry well, being punished for deviation, and the pretty cage they enslaved her in had to be enough. She had shivered, and while it was cold, he wasn't sure it'd been the weather. He shook off his own blanket to tuck it around her shoulders, guilt sending ice snaking through his belly.

"Miyako," he said, working to meet her eyes. He hated how distant they got when he touched on her past. "I won't ask you again. I only wanted you to know I'm here."

Somehow, it worked. Well, after a fashion. Koda went wide-eyed and disbelieving as Miyako sniffled and turned to bury her face against his chest, her fingers clenched tightly at the fabric of his shirt. He wrapped his arms tight around her, amazed at how he wasn't blushing and stammering and doing his best to wiggle out of the embrace.

"What a rotten teacher I turned out to be," he mused airily, smoothing a hand over her back. "To make you cry during our first lesson." He might have let go of her then, but he didn't, thinking she needed the support and pretending he didn't need it, too. "You may scold me, if you like."

Miyako pulled her head back to frown up at him, tears still glittering in her dark eyes. "Scold you?" she asked. "Scold you!? For what? For being too kind? F-for holding me even though I keep secrets?" She thudded her forehead back down against his chest and wordlessly shook her head. "I think you might be an idiot, Koda," she said, but there was a small smile in her voice as she did so.

Koda laughed. His guilt, for now, evaporated. They exchanged a few more words, holding on to one another as the sea foam sprayed their shoulders. They promised to teach one another magic, and music, and swimming. And when Miyako yawned, her exhaustion for caring for Koda clear in her drooping eyelids, Koda lifted her over to a bench where they slept, napping in the warm afternoon sun.
 

ashwynne

|aquatic authority | ✎ art: peritwinkle
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The following three weeks flew and yet seemed endless. Miyako had feared that her wonder and enjoyment of the sea would grow to discontent and a longing for the shore, but their days grew so full that she hardly ever thought about what would happen once they reached port.

In the mornings she rose feeling full of vibrant life, inching away from the warmth of Koda’s back to slip from beneath the covers. The morning chill would send goosebumps across her skin, cold floorboards chasing away what remained of sleep. The instant she had finished changing into her clothes she would go to their wash basin and let her fingers rest against the surface of the water. Then, her eyes would close, she would slow her breathing, and call out with her spirit.

Every time she felt herself connect with the magic of the water she would find herself utterly breathless. It was so very vast. It surrounded them; in the air, in their bodies, in the food they ate, and obviously in the ocean itself. Summoning any kind of water that could be of practical use wasn’t even close to being a reality for her, but in practicing her cultivation she could at least feel the indescribable wonder of the water magic as it wreathed through her.

Their days were repetitive in a sense, but never dull. Once Koda was also awake and they had scarfed down the pitiful fare that the ship’s cook called a ‘meal,’ the pair would find somewhere to settle, and lessons would begin. They would sit in companionable silence to work on cultivation, or Miyako would practice singing, or she would help Koda refine his whistling—so that he might accompany her while she sang. To that end, Koda professed a desire to learn instruments and Miyako had no intention of denying him anything she could grant him… for everything he had done, and was doing, he deserved that much and more.

A sailor allowed himself to be cajoled into lending them his shamisen for the duration of the trip and so lessons in that had also begun. It was nearing Koda’s second week of diligent work in learning it. Nearly the end of their fourth week total of sailing. One week remained until the captain estimated they would reach Shixiang and lately, growing with every passing day, Miyako had begun to feel a weight of guilt in her chest. But it was not due to any anxiety over the impending end of their voyage.

She harboured a secret knowledge. A discovery in herself that she was terrified to admit to. One that was also rendered inescapable by simple virtue of their forced nearness; her feelings towards Koda had changed. Part of her knew that this was probably inevitable. He had saved her life with his open-handed kindness on that first cold dawn beside the road. Then he had saved her again; staying her hand just when she had believed she had the strength to do the honourable thing. More than that, he had agreed to take responsibility for her, to shelter and protect her, even though Miyako offered him nothing of equal value in return. Those things alone were enough to make any sensible woman fall in love with him, but there was more to it than that.

Four weeks now, she had spent side by side with him. Sharing his bed, waking together, taking meals together, walking together, laughing together, and discovering a breadth and depth to life that she hadn’t thought possible for herself. Magic. Swimming lessons! The chance of a future. And even when she had pulled away from him, when she had refused to tell him of her past, he had accepted her. Even now, the thought of that was enough to nearly bring tears to her eyes. That such a man could even exist! That was, perhaps, the worst part of it all.

Koda was the sort of man she had always secretly wished would sweep her away. He was warm, kind, gentle, intelligent, cared for her, did not restrict her freedom and beyond all of that she found herself attracted to him physically as well. It caused an acrid pit to open in her stomach that made her want to weep. Bad enough that she had lived in the first place. To now want something beyond that, to wish for his love, was unacceptable. Not least of all because Miyako was sure he would hate her when he knew the truth.

It left her with only one choice.

The air this morning was cool, but it did not have any real bite to it. They were seated on the deck, on a favourite bench. Miyako’s fingers moved idly over Koda’s as she adjusted the position of his fingering for a particular chord. “My husband committed seppuku. Because of his failure to protect the previous emperor.” Her voice and fingers trembled as she said it, fear making the words nearly choke her. “As a wife of a daimyo, because that was what I was, I was meant to commit seppuku with him. But I couldn't do it, Koda. After his vassal shoved the sword into my hand and told me to go do my duty I tried, but I couldn't bring myself to push in the blade. So, I ran.” Miyako shuddered and pulled herself away from him, arms wrapping tightly around herself as she kept her gaze pinned on the deck. "I'm a dishonourable coward. I've shamed his family name and mine... and that of my ancestors." Her eyes squeezed shut, "If you push me overboard, I would accept that as just.”

For a moment only silence greeted her words. Miyako supposed it was understandable. Undoubtedly, he was shocked, perhaps even attempting to decide how best to mete out the punishment she deserved. Her heart ached, bracing for his judgment.

“I… I won’t push you overboard, Miyako,” he said at last, his voice firm in her ears. She flinched, waiting for the other shoe to fall. But it didn’t. “My condolences, Miyako. But I don’t understand. How would you giving up your life honor anyone?”

Miyako's brows tugged together, her heart stuttering anxiously in her chest. “I don't know how or why, but honour demands my death. That's the way things are. Why is the sky blue? Where does the wind come from? They simply are.” Her arms tightened around herself, “And t-there's nothing to offer condolences for. I saw Katsuhide only a handful of times and even then, it was only to--" she didn't need to elaborate. "Me being alive is wrong. If I were to return, if they saw that I lived, I would be put to death immediately and branded an honourless coward. That's the way the world is.” She managed a choked laugh, “I was married for barely a few months to a man who only cared to be with me in bed, who said barely a dozen words to me, and with his death I was told to die too. That is the world I come from.”

“You being alive is good. I cannot believe they would want to see you dead, Miyako. I cannot believe your late husband would wish it either. But perhaps I should try. I am sorry. I am grateful you were brave enough to put that sword away, Miyako. I am grateful you are here.”

The more that Koda spoke, the more Miyako trembled. It felt strangely surreal. That this secret, one she had firmly believed would ruin her in the eyes of anyone who knew it, ruin her in Koda's eyes, was instead met by his disapproval. Not for her actions but for those of the world and people who had led her to this situation in the first place. More than that, he called her brave for failing to kill herself. Said that he was grateful she was here. Of all the things she had thought about herself, of all the ways she had viewed her actions, bravery had never crossed her mind. She still could not believe that what she'd done had been brave, but for Koda to say it... He wouldn't lie to her. Which meant this was how he truly felt. He didn't hate her. His face was not full of the cold disdain she had imagined it would hold. Miyako's composure crumpled and a half sob choked its way out. Her fingers dug into the tops of her thighs as she trembled to control herself, but her tongue had a mind of its own. "I'm... I don't deserve this kind of grace, but I can't help but be happy, Koda, because I'm falling in love with you and I couldn't bear to hide this from you." What self-control she had left was truly gone after that and she dissolved into deep, frame-shaking, sobs.

For a moment there was a shocked stillness in the air. “Are you well?” he asked her at last, even as one of his hands began to soothingly smooth over her back while the other worked to unclench her fingers. Then, he inched nearer to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders as soon as her fingers no longer pinched her skin.

Miyako’s shaking sobs transformed briefly into a choked laugh "I don't know if I'm well. I was sure you would hate me. So many nights I've imagined it in my mind; You looking at me like that vassal did, like I was already d-dead, worthless," the tears returned again but not with so much fierceness that she could not speak. "And I knew I c-couldn't avoid it any more today, because I finally had to admit to myself that I feel something more than friendship for you. Even though I... I don't think I deserve to be happy, not with what I did, even if you don't hate me for it." But selfishly she could not stop herself from burrowing into his strong arms, drinking deeply of the safety, comfort and warmth they offered her.

“Oh, Miyako. You deserve happiness,” his arms tightened around her. “And I want you to be happy. I care for you, too. I... I’m sorry, this is all very new to me.”

The tightening of Koda’s arms around her was soothing, but it was his words that struck her most. That he believed she deserved happiness, that he wanted her to be happy, perhaps most of all that he cared about her too. Of course, caring for her could be interpreted many ways and she couldn’t be sure which way he meant. Miyako took in a deep, steadying, breath, allowing his comforting to work on her until the sobs abated. Her eyes felt puffy, her body weary, but she’d come this far and to leave it like this was not good enough. “When you say you care for me, what do you mean?” Her stomach pitched nervously, knowing his answer would change things one way or the other. “Do you feel the same as me? Or do you only mean you care for me as a friend?”

He laughed warmly and drew her even closer. “And you call me an idiot. The same, of course. You’ve made a monk fall properly in love with you.”

Warmth bloomed in her chest and spread throughout every inch of her being as Koda answered her question. The anguish, guilt and fear which had weighed her down all these weeks was lifted for the moment, replaced with a transcendent happiness that made her want to weep all over again. She turned in Koda’s arms so she could look at him, lifting her hands to brush her fingers gently across his face where she then rested them lightly. “I don’t think I deserve you, Koda, but that doesn’t change the fact that I think I love you,” a tremulous smile crossed her lips as her heart began to pound, “And selfish though it is... I can be a little glad of my cowardice, if only because it led me to you.” She lifted her head to press a kiss against his jawline.

“You deserve everything,” came his reply, his hand covering hers.

Dimly, she wondered whether it was his racing heart that she felt or if it were her own. Miyako liked to believe it was both. Two hearts pounding wildly to the same rhythm, one that they alone shared. The radiant smile stretching across her face only brightened further as Koda settled one of his hands over hers, the flush of his cheeks and roughness of his voice taking her breath away as she realized the effect she was having on him. She was similarly effected, the high flush of her own cheeks attributed far more to him than to her tears, the swelling and fluttering of her heart also owed to Koda. "You're the sun to me, you know," her expression softened further, feeling the rightness of the words as they settled in her chest, "You lit my life when there was nothing but shadows before," she glanced away shyly, embarrassed. "I didn't think a man like you could ever exist. Anything you want of me, it's yours. All of me. Gladly."

“If you stop asking me to throw you overboard that would be a good start,” the tease made her smile, but his next words made her blush only deepen. “I am yours, too, Miyako,” he said to her, “Gladly.”

All the world around them seemed to fade to nothing, until only the pair of them existed. Their conversation shifted into a playful flirtation, Koda blushing furiously at every teasing remark she aimed his way. He’d never kissed anyone, never had any sort of relationship, but for all of Miyako’s bravado… she might as well have never had one either. The physical mechanics of intimacy were something she had some experience with, but an actual connection with a man, love was something she knew as much about as he did. Now, though, she allowed herself the freedom to daydream a little bit.

Off-handedly, Miyako mused about them having children of their own someday—perhaps raising orphans as well—and much to her shock it brought tears to Koda’s eyes. He had been abandoned by his parents at Ennai, he told her. An orphan himself. The mere suggestion of them taking in abandoned children like he had been clearly meant a great deal to him and Miyako felt her heart swell in a surge of affection and protectiveness. While she had breath in her lungs, Miyako intended to never let anything pull her away from him. She’d keep an extra close eye on their coin purse as well, that one day they might be able to give a home to children like him.

Their conversation shifted once more back to sweet flirtation, and in her playful teasing about his innocence and inability to touch her, Koda proved her very wrong. Much to Miyako’s shock, he kissed her in truth. And it was bliss.

The following week passed in a blur. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a quiet voice whispered that this happiness could not last, but Miyako briskly waved it away. If that were true, then it was all the more reason to revel in every moment they spent together now. Discovering the depth of their feelings and having no obligations to anything beyond each other.

No longer did she spend the night curled against his back. Now, Koda turned to hold her, tucking Miyako securely against his chest where she slept more deeply and happily than she had anywhere else in her life. Their days carried on much as they had before, only there was a fresh warmth between them. A knowledge of feelings given and received, a knowledge that only seemed to bond them more tightly together.

At the first glimpse of land far in the distance, Miyako found herself ecstatic to finally reach it. To see new sights and experience this new life beside the man she was choosing for herself.

They docked by the end of the fifth week. Koda returned the shamisen to the sailor who had lent it to them, and the captain bid them good travels. But the excitement that she had felt when they’d seen the coast in the distance was morphed into something heavy and apprehensive in her chest.

Shixiang was busy. There were people everywhere, many of them casting curious glances towards the uncommon dainty beauty who stood beside an albino man. Miyako had forgotten about the weight of such scrutiny. Onboard the ship the sailors had grown used to them and their odd ways quite quickly, accepting them as a part of their daily view in a way that had made her feel delightfully invisible. It had made her feel safe, especially considering the fact that Koda was branded a traitor.

Nervously, Miyako threaded her arm through Koda’s as they walked through the crowds, pressing her side against his for the comfort his touch offered her. “So, where exactly are we going from here?”
 

Spottedbark

art: peritwinkle
[ @ashwynne @Erato @Fyuri ]

Her first lesson, to Nishan, wasn't much of one, but he followed her, tucking the coins away and packing up a few last things from his boat before pushing it back out to sea. Land felt wrong underneath his feet, but he caught up to Bai since she took the time to lay false trails. Misunderstanding much of what she did, Nishan observed her like he might an odd sort of bird that had stolen his breakfast.

Qi Suyin, as she'd introduced herself, had done a whole lot more than that, so her mere existence chaffed him. Irritated first by her introduction of a name that was most certainly not her real one since she gave it away so easily, then her absolute butchering of his name, Nishan was tempted match her flat tone. However, determined to glean some sort of knowledge from her, he remained amiable enough.

"I am Nishan of Hmuban Pla," he told her, not that she cared. He dodged around several shoots of bamboo in an attempt to keep up with her. Clenching his teeth, one of his feet caught on a root as he tried to squeeze through a gap she had slipped through like a wisp of smoke. Although he recovered quickly from the stumble, she was already several paces ahead, purposefully marking the trail with blood, which he soon attributed to her injury while she spouted to him about her second lesson.

Of course, her method of teaching seemed to revolve around hints and vague comments, requiring the student to be observant to what she was doing. Lots of times, he was too busy trying to keep up with her to realize the loops she created unless she specifically pointed them out. "Miss Qi?" he commented once, "I'm really beginning to question your teaching methods."

To his surprise, she responded well to this, and after she compared moving through the forest like water around rocks, he was significantly less of a blunder.

Once they reached the outskirts Shixiang, Nishan felt a little more confident in his ability to move through the forest. While he would have liked a rest, Miss Qi was already thinking about the next step of their journey: the acquisition of medical supplies, provisions, and a change of clothes. She gave him three more coins, threatening him with disappointment should he run. Nishan frowned at her, understanding in an instant that running would be a mistake that would cost him his life.

Glancing at her again, he sighed, swinging down his pack and digging in an inner pocket for a scrap of folded fabric and a sealed ceramic pot smaller than the size of his palm. "Sit down," he told her, gesturing to a rock, "You've been bleeding out now for hours. It's a wonder you're not dead. And don't worry, I know what I'm doing. Most fishermen know a thing or two about cuts. It saves a couple coppers here and there."

He perched on the rock, leaving enough space for her, unraveling the scrap over his knee to reveal several flashing needles and loops of neatly coiled thread. The pot, which he set open on stone beside him, contained an acrid-smelling solution. "It curls hair every time, but it does the job," he joked, "What do you say?"
 

Fyuri

ηεмσρнιℓιsт
Administrator
(@ashwynne @Erato @Spottedbark)

Bai wasn't going to go out of her way to pamper the fisherman. While her attitude was clearly not one he enjoyed, most likely making her company only tolerable at best, he stick stuck to her. What came as a shock was when he pulled something from what was a poorly constructed pocket and told her to sit down, noting she'd been bleeding for some time. When he commented that it was a wonder she was not dead she let out a small laugh; mostly a small puff of air since she wasn't going to let herself stay amused over such a thing.

She picked up the pot and brought it to her nose and took a sniff of the contents. She was decently familiar with poisons and this didn't raise any red flags. Besides, he was probably too poor to procure any sort of poison anyway. She shook her head at him though and handed the pot back to him. "You're forgetting a very important step," she began. "A wound has to be cleaned properly first.
Even if you use a healing balm of salve, if you leave in the dirt and grim it's utterly futile to use it and then stitch it. It increases the risk of infection greatly."

Still, she sat down casually as though she wasn't bothered by the wound. She'd bound it decently enough that the bleeding was minimal. Oh it hurt like hell, burned with movement and she was fatigued from the blood loss still, but she was a survivor and she'd survived worse wounds.

"Once you come back with clean water I can clean the wound from there I can tend to the wound. I am curious though, Nishan, because a normal fisherman wouldn't carry around items for stitch wounds. Based on profile of your nose, you're not just a fisherman. You don't see the type to drink away their coin and get into tavern brawls so I'd have to guess you have a side occupation which results in unpleasant injuries. Or, you could just be especially clumsy and have walked into a wall one too many times. Or perhaps you owe a debt to someone who is inclined to give you physical reminders."

Bai shrugged, holding back the grimace as pain flowed through her. "At this point in time it doesn't matter much to me. Right now I want to see if you can put the basic lessons I've explained to use and return here with the items I've requested. I'd like to rest in an inn tonight, so the sooner you set to work the better. If you don't want to go then you can stay here and I'll go with my alternate plan."
 

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