Stories twist and mingle as narrators change and intentions alter. People say you have tales, rumours and the truth. All battling to be whispered, all wanting to be heard.
A tale has it, spoken in the hopeless but longing kind of reverence, that the leader of the Qiúra clan is one of divinity, birthed by the heart of Umei and mind of Umyeo. Rumours travel, out of skepticism, dislike or knowledge, that her eternity is sacred, but not her being. Whether one speaks of a gift or a depraved exchange of the soul is dependent on a history people only can recount in shades of their own. Truth is, Shizenya is both and none; she is nothing but a woman whose original demise was shaped by the sins of man. A woman who lived because death was something she wished to escape, no matter the cost. Shizenya is a woman with ashes of multiple eras staining her skin and a heart that knows, all too well, the nature of true gods. Knows with gritted teeth and wounded soul that they will always bring fate, just because they said so -- just because that's what was promised.
It always begins like this too; on a day too mundane to be touched by that celestial kismet. Sunlight enters the windows of Drakenya's palace in woven strands, free and united. The halls still hold vestiges of winter as the cold lingers around, not yet exiled by the golden rays. It won't be till few hours into the afternoon that the inhabitants can shed the additional layers of clothing and bask in the warmth of spring again. Shizenya, though immortal, is no exception. Enveloped in numerous levels of red silk, she walks through the many halls, trailed by her usual trio of maidens and, strangely enough, a dressed up chicken.
A gentle noise of chatter flows through the air as the maidens idly chatter with one another, the atmosphere friendly and open. Most clan leaders would prefer those under them to be obedient and silent, but Shizenya knows that in that silence, whispers are born. And it is not shouts, but those words, faint and secret, that defines thoughts and motives. It is those brand of distant whispers that can make truth a wound that festers, rotting in the filth of lies. So she allows everyone to talk in her clan, criticism or not, to avoid secrecy that kills bleeds.
But even now, sometimes, in some corner, she can catch those hushed syllables. Oh so clandestine. Oh so interesting.
"General Aytan-"the voices barely carry through the walls, but Shizenya hears nonetheless. Hears them speak of the wicked harbinger of fate, "-- dismissed soldiers from the Iryu union.." Silence falls with the drop of a spirit. The maidens do not need to see the face of Shizenya to know; the abrupt stop tells enough.
Iryu Union is a nation of blood and shadows, and perhaps the only adversary the congregation might want to get rid of more than her. But it is not only that, not to her. Iryu union is a symbol, one lost to everyone but herself; a symbol of love -- the kind she would perhaps die for to earn again -- of a future she denied, and of fate she wishes to escape.
She curses, because the heart betrays her so with its quickening beat. Curses because the memories slip in so easily, as does the myriad of emotions she can't afford.
[ gazes collided like seas, heartbeats synched alongside the drum of war, moonlight whispers of love alike to a mountain stream; quiet, persistent, continuous, sapphire sorrows of a tragedy, silver spectres of a thousand flowers grave.]
The gossip ends in cacophonous surprise as the doors suddenly slam open, revealing the striking appearance of Qiúra's leader. The flock of servants immediately bow in greeting, a gesture that conveniently hides the faces and lasts a bit too long for normalcy. Shizenya notices, but does not comment. There was something of greater importance needing attention.
"What is it that I hear about general Aytan?"
General Aytan does not bother to hide the surprise when he catches her barging into his office, forehead creasing as his eyebrows are lifted up. Shizenya's presence at the military grounds, while not rare, is certainly not too common either-- especially unannounced. The startlement on the man's face, while present, is fleeting, and his eyebrows furrow in subsequent concern.
" Lady Shizenya, what brings you here?" is the question, wrapped in a conscious, reposeful tone. Never in the twenty years the two have worked together has Shizenya ever put up a formal mask around him - perhaps because she is too old to care and he too stark to mind - she doesn't do so now either.
"I heard something very interesting today Aytan,"she slowly walks closer to the man behind the desk."Whispers have it that you dismissed two Iryu soldiers and barred them from the personal guard candidacy." her gaze rests upon his. " Is that true?" Fury and vengeance is what led the general to the Qiúra clan, but liberty and honor is what made him stay despite having a home back in the dark mountains. General Aytan pledged loyalty to the Qiúra clan, to Shizenya, and one could say that he might even treat the leader as a daughter [even when his hairs grow grey and hers never do.] And like many in her close circle, Aytan and her have an unspoken pact of honesty. It is why he can't lie, why he doesn't dare to.
"Yes..."his admittance is accompanied with a heavy sigh, one that tells her he'd hoped to keep this a secret.
"And you have deemed it a just one, because...?" the question flows, despite the answer already residing in the depth of both minds. General Aytan has never been one to hide his opinion on many things, including Qiúra's stance on welcoming people from the Iryu union.
"You know why. It's because they are from that...clan." the disdain is so palpable, so potent, she could taste the bitterness in her own mouth. It's hatred sprung from souls lost and bodies buried. It's one Shizenya can't take away from him, but also not something she can completely excuse either.
"You are condemning people because of their origins Aytan... Applying that same logic, should I not do the same with you?"the confusion etching in on his face beckons for an elaboration, one she gives bluntly. " You are from the Dülaan clan, are you not? One previously known to ransack cities under the guise of war, sparing no woman or child- "
Aytan immediately rises up from his seat, an indignant fire in his eyes. He might be a general of Qiúra, but his pride will always remain partly in his roots.
"That's different. That was eons ago, but those from the fallen Yūrei clan still-"
" And I appreciate your concern, general Aytan, but I did not establish this clan to be like others. The Qiúra clan thrives and prospers, and do you know why? It is because of the people. It is thanks to trading insight of those from the Daeya clan, the strength and smithing of those from the Dülaan Clan , the healing and warfare knowledge of the Shízu clan, the artistry from those of the Shinsora clan, the scholar wisdom from those of the Hyeon clan, and yes, even thanks to the infiltration skills of those previously from the Yūrei clan. It is because we, the Qiúra clan, gave them an even chance to start anew. I won't have that sullied by anyone." the harsh words bring a swift ending to the building argument, and while Shizenya can see the disagreement in his eyes, she knows he wouldn't defy them. Her lips curve into a small smile, content with the outcome. "Good. Now, please bring the soldiers you dismissed. I think I want to judge for myself if they are suited or not."
Shizenya might be immortal, but mortal traits have yet to completely escape her; she is still fickle, flawed and fallible.
[ She still looks at the fallen past, even with an eternal future]
He is standing there, sword drawn, the howling wind stinging his fresh wounds. He takes a deep breath, and the frigid air cuts at his tired lungs. Behind him, he can hear her footsteps, straying further still as he awaits his reckoning. He is glad to hear them fade away; this is not a betrayal or an act of cowardice, but the fulfillment of his last wish. He is truly glad, yet a treacherous tear spills, quickly tainted by the blood splattered across his face, an echoing duet of his deplorable affections and their wretched fate.
He is alone. And this is the end.
Except it isn't. He opens his eyes and feels this terrible ache in his chest, something heavy and cold weighing down on his heart like chains. Something almost real. He knows, of course, that it isn't. He knows the images in his head are nothing but just that, images, inconsequential and illusory. But knowing doesn't stop his hands from trembling, or his breaths from growing uneven, or shudders from wreaking his body, in memory of some visceral pain.
Issei didn't often fall into deep enough sleep for dreams — but once he did, they never let him go, dragging him further into an endless abyss each time they sunk their abhorrent claws in his skin. Sometimes, he wonders if perhaps their old caretaker was right, about his nightmares being a curse. Perhaps one day, he'll finally be dragged down to the bottom, and never come back up.
But he has no time to mull on such eventualities; there was a mission to be completed. Issei glances out of the wood-pane window by his bedside, at the dark outlines of the quiet capital and at the sky where the first hint of a sunrise threatens to show, as the stars return to heaven's vault. Most of the barracks were still clinging on to the last dredges of their sleep, some quietly stirring awake. Only one bed was neatly empty; Rua must've left first. With a soundless sigh, he brings himself to his feet.
There is no room for last night's terrors in his thoughts, when today has already begun.
"There aren't as many as we estimated,"
he remarks, studying the gathering of men, as they await further instruction — all they knew was that they had been recommended by their commanders for the post. The lack of numbers fails to give him any ease of mind, when all of them here are clueless on what the selection requirements could be.
"It doesn't matter,"
Rua declares, in his hushed, slightly rasping timbre, his gaze flicking to the group behind them to ensure that they aren't being paid attention to and then continuing,
"we are Enyo. There's not a military unit on this continent we aren't skilled enough for."
The memory of their first meeting with General Aytan, the way he had stared them down, distrust ringing in those sharp eyes, makes Issei wonder if it will be so simple. The test of skill is not the one he worries they stand to fail.
Still, he hums a vague agreement and does not voice his concerns. No doubt, Rua had considered these matters, too. But, he supposes, there is no harm in keeping their own spirits high, for now. Bringing the gourd to his lips, Issei takes a quiet sip, and tries to douse his pessimism with the cool freshwater.
He barely manages to hang it back on his belt when the call of his name comes from the entrance of the dignified building, with Rua's name swiftly following. Issei pushes back a frown. So much for stamping down his wariness; something was already wrong. Sharing a look with each other, they head up the steps to the retainer, an old man with a bent back, waiting for them with pursed lips.
"The two of you are dismissed,"
are the first words they are greeted with,
"you may leave and rejoin your troop."
The retainer does not look into their eyes, as if willing them not to ask questions, and they don't. They acknowledge the command, they salute, and they turn to leave. The silence continues even on their walk back to a more familiar courtyard, and despite their casual gait, Issei could feel the frustration resonating from Rua. The disappointment. Their step forward, cut off in one sentence.
He refrains, once again, from commenting. He knew his partner felt guilt for the stagnancy of their mission. If Issei had infiltrated alone, he would have entered under the guise of a different clan's disgruntled member. Unfortunately, that was not a sustainable idea for others, whose stolen power could only last so long. Strong as Rua was, he wasn't Blessed.
It doesn't matter, Issei tells himself. The position of personal guard to the infamous immortal was definitely a boost to the speed at which they could gather information, but they can make do regardless. They were able enough. And nothing stops them from being a part of her larger entourage for the Gathering, even if they could not get within stabbing distance just yet.
the youth finally spits, breaking the tension,
"so much for harmony amongst the clans."
Amusing words to come from men whose purpose was to break that very harmony; both of them scoff at the irony.
Oh. Something clicks in his mind, a faint possibility.
"Why don't we tell them about it?"
He suggests, with a head tilt toward the group of warriors sparring in the distance — their unit and, more recently, friends. Rua's expression shifts from surprise to realization, and finally to agreement as he continues,
"About the discrimination and the General's unreasonableness, to as many people as we can."
Rua adds with some laughter in his voice,
"of course, with our best impressions of a victim."
Dull-edged swords made such awful noises, a screeching imitation of the whistling of true blades. As the weapons clash, Issei feels the cramp in his shoulders protest a little louder. He ignores it in favor of pushing his strength into the blow, forcing his opponent's balance into disarray and creating an opening for his next swing to land. He shifts his feet and wastes no time in lifting his arms, ready to strike -
An obnoxiously loud voice cuts through the training grounds, dragging with it everyone's attention. The sparring freezes. He turns to look at the source of disruption and finds it is an oddly excited comrade, heading towards him.
"You've been asked to General Aytan's study,"
the man proclaims, patting him on the back, an action which should not have stung so much if not for the sweat that drenched his skin,
"he must've changed his mind about you and Rua."
"Right now? What about Rua?"
He questions, taken aback by how fast the response to their little bout of rumor-mongering came — it has only been a full day. The first thing he feels is not relief or happiness, but a sudden anxiety at not knowing what this unforeseen meeting was about.
"Yes, him too, I've passed him the message,"
comes the marginally reassuring answer. Right. This was their intention. He has nothing to worry about. Life truly is difficult as a spy, that he must remind himself of this so often.
Issei had not been prepared to see who he would behind the thick doors of the General's office. Neither had Rua, because he can see, in the periphery of his sight, the tiniest bit of fidgeting from the other man. He, too, is growing helplessly and rapidly tense, conscious even of his own breathing.
Nobody had bothered to warn them they would be meeting the Immortal of Qiúra, their assassination target, the source of folktales, a rumored goddess, right now, on this nondescript morning. After months of barely being able to get glimpses of her, no less.
Up close, she looks no different and yet like entirely separate entity from the woman he otherwise knew. So ordinary, but with such a sense of otherness that he couldn't quite place; beautiful and eerie in the same breath. Indeed, sitting there, in a flowing red dress that only made it harder to draw your gaze away, she looked almost human.
Still, through his flawless salute, though his eyes struggle not to linger, his face remains expressionless. He straightens, and waits to be spoken to.
Fate has never come in one face, that Shizenya knows. The eyes that used to collide with hers like seas, holding lagoons of emotions beautiful and treacherous, weren't the same that glared inferno, hoping she'd burn. Their features, sculpted by celestial hands and tuned to mortality, held no repetition, only immaterial resonance. All of skin and bones, creases and cuts, were nothing but a vessel of a soul fated and tragic. And Shizenya, with a heart heavy but foolishly longing, wonders, wonders what kind of face might greet her this time. Will it be one of love and bittersweet lies, or one of blood and betrayal? It is a conundrum only the gods and time can answer. Shizenya also knows which one not to bother with.
A pair of footsteps announce the imminent rendezvous with fate, the opening of the doors quickly following suit.
The Qiúra leader had been a player in the grand game of politics long enough to express peace even with a war of hearts. Disguised beneath layers ever so seamless, sewn together with intricate pattern, was the trembling of a timeless soul as two men entered the study. Judging from the training uniforms, both were freshly beckoned from the training grounds. Iryunian features with expressions so characteristically stoic it half bemused her; it was evident they hadn't been here since long.
An inkling of nerves slipping past one's mask tells that they weren't expecting her presence. It would've been nice, she thinks, to toy with them a little bit. To color those monochrome shades and chip away some of those sharp edges. Alas, this is not the time or place for that. Fate, in all its wretched glory, is what Shizenya wants to see.
Show me the face destined to live and die before me.
It happens then, with a pause in the wandering gaze and the allegro of a heartbeat. A hollowness drills in dull drumbeats, in the pitter-patter of beaded drops; though annums have passed, veneered in healing, there is still a chill only loss can give. To know a soul mortal and obliviate of past memories is a heart tear that never quite mends. Shizenya knows why Umei and Umyeo smiled that day, when immortality was a gift and its price fair ― has learned by now how frightened gods are of pain. There is nothing more foreign to them, and so nothing they ache more deeply to see.
Oh how tragically mortal he looks, just as he did in his two lifetimes before. His eyes harbor no burden of memories, no flicker of recognition that melts his heart with hers. Even so, Shizenya is no more a stranger to the whispers of fate lingering about. A piece of the cosmos, of stars born anew, glimmers in that soul. Like a constellation only meant to be witnessed by her, she sees him, knows him, even when he does not. Heartstrings tug and tremble, weaving a symphony of deific destinies endless, beautiful, agonizing.
Shizenya knows, but can't help wonder.
Is this real?
Is this truly him?
Murmurs of doubt, or perhaps denial, flit across the mind. They seek attention, seek to be answered ― both of which she can not give at the time. Fated or not, both her and him have their own roles to play right now. And so she speaks up, as the leader of the Quira clan, tone collected and impersonal;
"So these are the Iryu soldiers..."the silent nod from the general confirms so, a needless response but one Aytan gives nonetheless. Shizenya takes a step closer to the two soldiers, noting their frigid stance and tension in their shoulders.
"Rest easy. I've not come here for punishment." she adds, hoping to assuage the overwrought. "I understood that you have experienced acts of prejudice against you?" she slowly shakes her head. "For that, I apologize on the general's behalf. He does mean well, as there has been an incident of Iryu espionage and attempted assassination in the past-"
【 Trampled flowers in a midnight meadow, booming chants in the square spelling death, a sinner's gaze that hates and burns. Tears that cannot be spilled form at the edges of her eyes as a mirthless laugh echoes in the distant of the mind. How cruel this is. How utterly god-like. Another end, another death. For an immortal like her, it is unbecoming how much the inevitable strikes her. It is a fate she chose, and she knows, painstakingly, how fragile life is. His decades will always clash with her centuries; she will always lose him somewhere in the aeons.
But if only it wasn't like this.
The sword swings. And Shizenya closes her eyes. 】
"- of course, that does not excuse his actions and I have reminded him so, but I do hope you can understand his, albeit unjust, wariness. As for the solution to this issue" there are warnings behind the general's stone-like gaze, pressing reminders of idealistic futures and their ripples of reality. Shizenya heeds them. "I, unfortunately, can not give away two free spots in the personal guard. It will look as favoritism and create an environment uncomfortable for both of us. But,"the edges of her lips tugs into a ghost of a smile, "you two do deserve a fair chance."
Her gaze wanders over to the swords on the wall, an idea springing to mind.
"So I hereby propose a duel. Whoever wins shall be welcomed into my personal guard."tilting her head back to the soldiers, she lets her eyes rest upon fate once more.
There is a certain frustration only felt when you have forgotten that which should not be forgotten. When a gaze resonates so deeply within you that you feel the tremors down to your core. When a voice hits you like a stone hits still water and the ripples seem only to grow bigger, but never to stop. When there is something discarnate yet of such significance, sewn into the threads of your soul and etched into the kernel of your being, which you can hardly perceive but know, by the whispers that haunt the back of your mind, that you will never unsee, or unhear, or unfeel.
Few know of this frustration, much less its meaning. Issei, too, does not know; he writes off the sudden knot in his stomach when her eyes fall on him as anxiety and the hollowness he feels when they leave as relief.
"I understood that you have experienced acts of prejudice against you,"
the Immortal declares, and her words finally break him out of the spell his nerves cast upon him. He glances, so briefly it is barely visible, at General Aytan, who looks as unhappy as one could without being ill-mannered. It seems there is only one person in this room who considers injustice to have taken place — they are fortunate that it is the person they need.
It is odd to Issei, and he suspects for Rua as well, that a clan leader would find the need to apologize to lowly soldiers for any offense, let alone one so negligible in the grand scheme. It is almost uncomfortable, yet not quite unpleasant, like much of the culture in Qiúra they have experienced in the past months. It is impressive, he thinks, that within this woman and her every move, he could so clearly see the structure of her people.
The commanders were right. Her death is essential to the destruction of the Congregation.
"But, you two do deserve a fair chance."
She smiles a mysterious smile as she arrives to her conclusion,
"So I hereby propose a duel. Whoever wins shall be welcomed into my personal guard."
Issei blinks. He isn't sure what he expected from her, or from this day when it first began, but it isn't this.
"Will that be fair enough for you?"
It was more than fair. It was a situation where they couldn't possibly lose — or so he thinks to himself, but the engraved instinct for victory inside him stirs — a perfect outcome. Glancing over at Rua, he finds his partner looking back in similar surprise, but a silent understanding passes between them. They shift once more into a respectful salute.
"We are honored by your kindness,"
he speaks on both their behalves. His gaze locks with hers, and that unsettling current flows through him again, like her dark eyes were a flame and his attention a hapless moth.
"And glad for the chance to serve you, Lady Shizenya."
The duel is quick but not quick enough. Despite the guarantee of success, they do not take it lightly. They cannot take it lightly, for the sake of appearances to be kept and impressions to be made. So the shrill whistles and rapid clangs of blades cutting through air to meet each other echo in the square arena like a song of war, until silence abruptly arrives with a thud.
In the end, it is Rua who stands weaponless, with a sword leveled at his neck, and Issei who leaves triumphant, as the final member of the personal guard.
Every time he looks down the corridor, it seems to stretch on a little longer. The palace is full of people, yet this hallway feels perpetually empty. Solitary, like the night always is, even when a million stars twinkle and sing across its expanse. The bustle outside seeps in through the bamboo walls, muted and echoing like ghostly murmurs, and when the torches flicker, the shadows seem to dance to their abnormal rhythm.
But Issei does not feel a chill when he stands here. He does not feel the silence crawling under his skin or the darkness's glacial caress, like most claim to on this dreaded shift. Instead, there is an odd sort of comfort, a sense of familiarity to the loneliness.
Perhaps it was because he knew he was not the only one drenched in this solitude. Because the Immortal — the Lady — was there, too, inside her study, accompanied by her servants and yet without any real company. It comes to him like an undeniable truth, that in the same way the sun always rises from the east, Shizenya was always so utterly alone. It is almost as if he could, if he tried hard enough, see through those tall, heavy doors and catch...
A glimpse of her slight figure, staring out the window at the falling snow, open book forgotten by the candlelight. Her eyes are searching the shivering trees and the traveling clouds, searching for an incorporeal creature hiding in the mist. He follows her gaze like an instinct and his fingers stutter on the strings. His melody stops, but she doesn't notice. Of course, she doesn't notice. This is how it is. It is a fate he chose, to be tormented by the sight of a dream lingering ever just out of reach. He will never find what she is looking for in the shifting seasons, and she will never find him, standing in front of her.
The doors creak open under his stare, as if they can hear his intentions. A maid, too petite to be much older than just a girl, slips out of the room and clears her throat. She wants to talk to him, it seems. Issei gives her a nod and she approaches his side to whisper into his ears, though there was no one else to listen.
"The Lady hopes to take a walk,"
she tells him, in a high-pitched voice reminiscent of a songbird,
"and she hopes you will accompany her."
Again, he simply nods. This is not an unusual task; the guards and servants escort the Immortal wherever she goes, and at times she tires of an entourage. So Issei follows the girl's steps until he is at the entrance of the study, and waits for the clan leader to walk out, so he can take his place a step behind. He wonders if he will ever get used to this odd feeling — the one of being within reach of a woman his life's mission had been built around and not reaching.
And just like that, a mind touched by fate becomes utterly beguiled by the cosmic tapestry those deities, immortal and illusive, have weaved. It is the kind of fate that feeds on tears and glistening shatters of the heart. Destiny falls upon her like light does upon her skin, and she, eternal in age yet fickle in soul, falls for it a thousand times more.
The one she has loved and will lose as morality has decided so is one not too unlike those she met in the past. His background always brings similar nostalgic echoes of a ghost, all bearing the marking of ancient shadows and lethal lies. A deserter, like many of ex Iryunians in her clan, or so that is what his citizen report tells.
All documents and first impressions paint a picture of a soul ordinary and true, but Shizenya knows better than to trust that kind of normalcy. Despite a hope grander than the eons in her bones, she knows, deep down, of the darker and divine elements that melted into his existence. He is but a hollow shell governed by winds fated and furtive ― a trembling of time, which passes between the falling light and the darkening sky. Enchanting, fleeting, and oh so uncertain.
His soul sings to her in ways only euphonies composed by gods could, and yet....Shizenya still harbors part hesitance in believing so, may that be doubt or denial. Even with the stars aligned, she still searches for other hidden constellations, still scours this material world for the thread leading her elsewhere. As a prisoner to the will of those celestials weaving serendipity and misfortunes like it's a song that makes man sing, this immortal can't help but seek for the poem that breaks her free.
Nevertheless, it has to be him, doesn't it? It is hard to ignore the twinkling fragments in his being, the similarities in his movements that bring trembling memories.
Shizenya had watched him duel and win. And she hated every second of it, for that all she could see was...
【 Twilight drips like gentle strokes and under a chapel of ice-cold stars, her heart leaps. Draped in silence and vivid moonlight, his bare muscles tense as the sword extends from his silhouette. He hasn't noticed her yet, and a voice tells her to leave before he does.
Her breathe moves, but her feet stay.
She is not unfamiliar to the sight of men training, so this view should not capture her like it does. And yet, her eyes watch with awe how much determination and vehemence drips from his being in drops telling and translucent. His form, silver and rippling, stirs something unexplainable. Something treacherous. She quickly turns around, cheeks burning. Her figure disappears then, within the tall trees, back to the camp that slumbers. Afraid of what this means, and oblivious to the eyes following her retreat. 】
A sigh escapes her, and Shizenya closes her eyes, her fingers massaging the slight throb in her temple. Despite having been here since dawn, most of the documents remain scattered across her desk, pressing but unprocessed. It annoys her more than the burning presence outside her study does. Shizenya opens her eyes again and her gaze slowly falls on the doors as a reminder seeps into the mind.
Right, he's there.
Her lips curve into a small smile.
Perhaps this day doesn't have to end on a completely unproductive note.
"Sena," her voice makes a girl appear in front of her, strands of hair falling down the sides of her face as she bows.
"Could you notify our new guard outside that I wish to take a walk and need him to accompany me?"
Sena whispers a small acknowledgement, before disappearing into the hallway. Shizenya rises up from her seat, decides that tidying up her documents can wait another dawn, and departs from her study.
His face greets her, and this moment feels achingly familiar. But she says nothing as she passes him. Nothing when he follows.
Her walk is silent, save for the twinkling of souls and shiver of a heartbeat. A distance appropriate is kept, but it feels too cold to be comfortable. It is in these moments, alone with a vessel endlessly wandering through memories obliterated by gods, that vices mortal entangle her. Desires selfish trickle down like nightfall on glass, before getting crystallized by moonbeams. The evening aids it and the stars witnesses it; the spilling of words coated in fragility.
"You do not need to stay behind me."
"But Lady Shizenya --" His protest does not come unanticipated; Iryu soldiers have always been frightened of breaking protocol and order. This is not the Iryu Union, however, and this immortal does not mind a bit of chaos. After all, what else is time, if not long-lasting eons of gloom, beauty and craze?
" What? Do you find yourself such an inadequate guard that you can't offer protection unless you are behind me?" It is manipulative of her, she knows. Still, her heart soothes the crinkles in her conscience when he slowly appears beside her. Her fingers touch the lips threatening to break into a smile, and the leader of Qiúra lowers her gaze to the stoned pathway. "How do you find your life here, in this clan?"comes the next inquiry. Her gaze lifts from the ground and she regards his face as he takes a pause, perhaps out of nerves or something else, to answer.
"It is different, but I feel grateful to be here and to serve you, Lady Shizenya." His answer is so utterly diplomatic, a small laughter escapes her. She doesn't know whether to feel flattered or cautious about it. Perhaps both.
"Right . . And I feel fortunate to have gained such a talented soldier." Her eyes travel up towards the dark heavens. " But, I do wish to let you know -- and forgive me if this comes off as offensive, I mean it well -- that just because you were a soldier in the Iryu Union, does not mean a soldier is all you can be. " Her gaze returns back to him, expression meaningful. " If I have learned anything as a leader of this clan, it is that you Iryunians can be so much more than warriors, spies and assassins. So, please do not be afraid to leave this position if you so desire. "
She allows a faint smile to grow.
"Of course, you are free to serve me the way you are right now. Just know you are not shackled by your past here. You are free to begin again, always."
And with those words decorating the space in between, Shizenya turns left to a grand entrance. It is one seldom walked through by anyone but herself, save for the selective few tasked with nurturing a place as precious to the heart as it is. Her steps slow down as a wind breeze touches her skin, and she comes to notice the lingering of a person. Her head turns to catch her guard a couple of steps behind. "Is there something?" she asks, 'innocently' ― because there is nothing to beseech a man to hesitate, is there?
In the end, it is only a thousand flowers grave . . .