Act One – Chapter Five
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â€œHow is she now?â€?
â€œVitals are exactly the same. Get more water.â€?
Five minutes had past. Everyone was assembled in Natokoâ€™s room, a museum of unworn Samurai armour, large hanging scrolls displaying calligraphy and swords on display, al bought from convinience stores and sovenir shops. Silence lay dead in the air, the group surrounding Natoko and ignoring all the feudal era merchandising everywhere, devoid of dust that should have been there in layers.
Everyone was rushing in and out the room, a bucket run going between them as water was gathered in the best drinks containers they could find. The loser was currently lying on top of a futon, her head lying on Akiâ€™s lap as her victor shoved water down her throat, the liquid covering the bed sheet as it fell away from her parched lips. It was probably a good thing that she wasnâ€™t awake to witness Sagara trying to drown her.
â€œHey,â€? Otsune said, her rushing in turning to a hesitant approach as she watched Natoko coughing some water back up. â€œAre you sure you know what your doing?â€?
â€œWell I havenâ€™t done this before if thatâ€™s what you mean,â€? Sagara replied bluntly, everyone quickly beginning to realise they had given their friend up to some clueless doctor. â€œBut we should be fast about this. You can die of dehydration fast after a possession. If we fill her up with water, sheâ€™ll at this stop looking thinerâ€? Aki whimpered, looking worried for her friend again. She could do nothing but hold her steady.
â€œIf she woke up, it would help a lot,â€? Sagara said clinically, slapping her cheeks back and forth until three people stopped hm.
â€œShouldnâ€™t we get a doctor?â€? Fujiko asked. â€œTheyâ€™ll probably know what to do. Doctors always know what to do.â€? Sagara was shaking his head.
â€œUsually, when one gets possessed by water demons, they take water out at the molecular levelâ€¦ or something. A doctor could only do what weâ€™re doing and they donâ€™t have my water drinking training, so they wonâ€™t be as good as it as I am.â€? Otsune wandered back out quickly, nearly bumping into Sakura as she left backwards. Sakura got as far as passing the gass to Sagara before she dropped it with a light squeal.
â€œYouâ€™re bleeding,â€? she cried out, trying to examine his chest as the blood stain covered his shirt.
â€œWhat?â€? Sagara blurted, looking down and seeing his shirt and jacket had been ruined. â€œOh yeah.â€? Examining it carefully, the ninja seemed to struggle for a second over what to do, before shrugging it away. â€œWell, Iâ€™m sure itâ€™ll stop soon.â€?
â€œHow can you say that?â€? Sakura shouted, her eyes darting everywhere. â€œYou might be even worse than Natoko.â€?
â€œItâ€™s nothing, happened when the sword poked into me,â€? Sagara replied, dismissing it like your parentâ€™s funeral. â€œSay, do you have some smelling salts? That might help wake her up.â€?
â€œI think Junko might have left some, Iâ€™ll go check,â€? Fujiko answered, rushing away in the same moment, closing the door as she did. Sagara got back to trying to make Natoko drink, ignoring Sakura and leaving her to back away ito the hall. All of a sudden, water forced itself back into the cup, the girl lying in the bed coughing loudly and moving to sit up in the same motion. Strong hands in front forced her back down. Her body tried to resist, the eyes closed and unsure what was happening, her arms quickly finding they had no strength to them.
â€œNo you donâ€™t,â€? Sagara said light heartedly, the glass of water dropping from his hand to the floor like he had placed it on a shelf, landing on the edge of the futon perfectly. Nobody stopped to admire the glassâ€™s expert gymnastic performance as it landed without spilling a drop. It felt rather sad inside. â€œStay down.â€?
â€œI will notâ€¦â€? Natokoâ€™s replied weakly. It was hard to get the words out, her throat was sandpaper brushing over glass and her words were juat adding buzzsaws to it â€œGet offâ€¦ me. What are youâ€¦ doing?â€?
Collapsing in the same moment, her hands perssted against Sagaraâ€™s, pride clawing away at them at every moment it could.
â€œSsshhh,â€? Aki said warmly. â€œEverythingâ€™s gonna been okay, Natoko. Just listen to him for now.â€? Although she was not in the state to tell who the voice was, the defeated samurai seemed to instinctively trust it, letting her hands ease off Sagara, her mind slowly drifting back to numbness.
â€œNo, no, stay awake,â€? Sagara told her, slapping her a little too hard across the face, more like he was accusing her of felicitation than keeping her conscious. â€œYou have to drink. Water is good for you, especially when you have none at all.â€?
A few moments passed, the glass on her lips spending its time convincing her mouth to let its passengers through, immigration seeming hesitant for unecessary periods of time before letting the whole lot in anyway. As she drank, the colour came back to her cheeks, letting her drink faster and faster as her body celebrated the fact that it was alive, quickly finishing off the glass and seeing the owner of the hand who was feeding her.
â€œYou?â€? she said, her dried up eyes widening, her body bypassing Akiâ€™s hands as it shot up.
â€œYo,â€? he said, lifting the glass away from her mouth and behind him, not caring who took it. â€œSomeone get some more?â€? Watching as Sakura took the glass and rushed out, Natoko calmed down again, mainly because her body was missing the fluids required to get anxious. Her head landing softly behind her, she looked around, her eyes taking in the concerned faces of thse still in the room.
â€œWhat happened to me?â€? the girl replied weakly, her mind temporarily drifting out of consciousness as she spoke.
â€œA spirit possessed you,â€? Aki replied, as casually as she would to say whatâ€™s on television. â€œShe made you act like a drama queen.â€? A few of the others couldnâ€™t help but snigger at this. Natoko seemed to have trouble believing her friendâ€™s comment, and looked over to the boy in front of her to get a better answer.
â€œIt was a spiritâ€¦. or something,â€? he confirmed, a smile on his face even though he sounded confused. â€œI donâ€™t know. Iâ€™ve never actually read about one like that. It should have been a demon. But if it was, it wouldnâ€™t have had human memories. Definatwly odd.â€?
Even dehydrated it occurred to Natoko that this was a man who was relying on knowledge he hadnâ€™t taken the time to understand. Fear tried to grip her at the thought of her friends leaving her in such a personâ€™s care, but once more failed to produce the enzymes required for the adrenaline rush.
â€œThough how did you even know there was a demonâ€¦ spirit. Thingâ€¦ whatever,â€? Otsune asked. â€œAnd how did that attack force it out.â€? Otsuneâ€™s mouth danced over her own words, her mind fumbling against them. The stuff she was talking about seemed utter nonsense, yet unless this was a poorly designed dream she was having, the evidence was before her.-
â€œIt seemed only to affect things that arenâ€™t human,â€? Sagara muttered. â€œIt didnâ€™t affect Sarah, so I knew it would be okay. But then again, why did such a technique force it outâ€¦â€?
â€œHow did she even get in me,â€? Natoko’s weak voice muttered.
â€œNo idea. I could only tell because of my eyesâ€¦â€? His voice slowed down, wrapping himself up in thought, dribbling water down Natokoâ€™s chin..
â€œI brought the smellingâ€¦â€? Fujiko started, before seeing Natoko awake. â€œNever mind,â€? she finished quickly, throwing them absently-mindedly behind her. Sakura came in right behind her with more water, trying to keep it steady as she could before passing it to Sagara, who took it off her quickly and turned to Natoko, glad that the conversation was being interrupted. Placing the glass to her mouth like he was feeding a baby, the drained girlâ€™s hand intercepted him, slowly drinking it herself. Between sips she stopped, wanting to continue the interrogation.
â€œWhat was that about your eyes?â€? Sagara cringed at Fujiko’s question, hoping the conversation would leave via. the window. Taking a few seconds to think it over, stopping to consider taking the path that he wanted the conversation to take, he seemed to decide to get on and tell them in the simplest way possible.
â€œYou knowâ€¦â€? he paused for a second, â€œabout the saying that the eyes are the window to the soul?â€?
â€œYeeeah?â€? Fujiko replied after a few seconds, realizing that no one else was going to. Sagara paused to think agaain, staring into space like heis off switch had been flicked. Everyone blinked at least twice.
â€œLook, Cabbages,â€? he shouted, pointing in what could only be considered a random direction. It would have been an excellent distraction, excelling in both randomness and attention seeking, and under normal circumstances would have got everyone to look in the random direction and thus see the brilliance of the acrobatic glass halfway through a triple backflip ending with a swan dive. It would be marvelled as the next wonder of the world for twenty years, until someone would leave it in a sink full of hot water on a cold day, but unfortunately he had given this already extreme stratagem the added disadvantage of pointing towards himself. The remaining people in the room took a few moments to look at him, to see if he really was pointing to cabbages. Then they took a few moments to stare at each other, to see if the event had really just happened, and then back at Sagara, with looks to remind him they were in a room full of weapons.
â€œErrr, well,â€? Sagara said, continuing without any distractions from himself. â€œBasically, my momâ€™s side of the family usually have green eyes and, for some reason, can see through any illusion, any trick and whatever. It has something to do with the Neutralis, but Iâ€™m a little diluted, so I canâ€™t do it constantlyâ€¦ Basically if you see that i have green eyes, that when you know i’m using it.â€? He waited for a moment, and saw that they still expected him to say more. â€œSo yeahâ€¦â€?
â€œWhat use is that?â€? asked Aki, as if understanding completely, but seeing it as a useless ability that only added +2 to his awareness.
â€œWell, I saved Kotoneâ€™s life today because of it,â€? he explained with a grin, glad that they were happy to leave it at that. â€œIf I couldnâ€™t have seen into her and realize there were two souls, we would have never been able to help her.â€?
â€œYouâ€™re not exactlyâ€¦helping me nowâ€¦â€? Natoko mumbled, causing everyone to look towards her, seeing the girl was becoming drowsy again. Her glass had fallen from her hand, and it was only because of the glassâ€™s unseen acrobatic ability that it hadnâ€™t been shattered. Fortunately this time, the glass was expecting not to be applauded and so nobodyâ€™s feelings were hurt.
â€œOh sorry, Kotone,â€? he said, taking the glass off her and passing it back to Sakura, turning this time. â€œSorry to ask again, butâ€¦â€?
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€? the smaller girl answered, leaving the room to head to the kitchen.
â€œItâ€™s Natoko,â€? a voice said from behind him, as the girlâ€™s footsteps left earshot.
â€œMy name! Ya.Ma.Na.Ka. Na.To.Ko.â€? the girl said sternly, sitting up with energy, only to regret it immediately, her body insisting that sudden movement was a bad thing, and took control back, laying down on Aki again, who continued to tie the girlâ€™s hair into knots without her realizing.
Before he could ask her what he had been calling her previously, the sliding door slid open behind them. In front of them stood the girl that Sagara had jumped over in the last chapter, now wearing a dressing gown and with a look that could be accurately described as very pissed off, with a pile of torn clothes wrapped round her hands.
â€œWhere is she?â€? she shouted, ignoring the shocked look on Sagaraâ€™s face, which contrasted with the surprised look on everyone elseâ€™s faces. Ignoring everyone and everything that was happening she jumped over Sagara and landed on Natoko, grabbing the girl by her clothes and shaking her roughly for a few seconds, ignoring the state that the girl was in.
â€œYour stupid attack ruined my clothes, you bitch. Youâ€™re buying me new ones,â€? she shook the weakened girl again. If she werenâ€™t so angry, she would have probably realized that she was somehow able to attack Natoko without getting swatted. Fuming in anger she turned to see Gen, trying to grab her softly and pull her off.
â€œCalm down,â€? he told her. â€œNatokoâ€™s injured right now, she needs to be looked after carefully.â€?
â€œBe quiet youâ€¦you thing,â€? the ten year old child shouted back in her little temper tantrum. â€œJust because sheâ€™s fighting other people doesnâ€™t mean she can ruin my clothes. My dad brought me them, and theyâ€™re from America. You think itâ€™s going to be easy to replace them?â€? She turned to see Sagara, who was still looking at her with a studious look, his head waving from side to side. His staring caught her eye.
â€œOh yeah,â€? she said, pouncing on Sagara and knocking him down. Even as he fell, the boy was still looking at her confused. Were it there, the glass would have been forced to do a triple backwards somersault with a nice little finale involving landing on its rim. This time it would have been noticed and declared the greatest glass in history. Unfortunately it was still with Sakura and was feeling intense emotional pain from within. â€œYouâ€™re the one who jumped around me, if it wasnâ€™t for you then I wouldnâ€™t have lost those clothes dad gave me. I am so gonna kick the crap out of you.â€?
Finally, something seemed to click in Sarah as well, seeing that smiling face staring back at her with furrowed eyebrows. Looking at each other, the two scanned each other, Sagara realising first.
â€œYouâ€™re the Runt, arenâ€™t you?â€? She paused for a second at his words, knowing that only one person could call her that and live. â€œI can still call you Runt, canâ€™t I?â€?
The runt just stared at the boy for a second, confusion running inside her mind, before finding the recognition it had been searching for.
â€œBoss?â€? she asked tentatively and although no answer was given she took it to be true. â€œBoss!â€? Screaming his name out once again with joy, she hugged her opponent, squeezing him tightly. The rest of the group just stared on as the ten year old hugged Genâ€™s cousin. No one had any real idea what was going on, but Sarah seemed happy, and that was rare.
Sarah was the youngest living at Heavenly Springs, and was two years younger than Sakura. Despite this, she was a loner and rarely ever left her room. Looking at her nw though, Otsune could see no more than a normal child meeting their father as he came back from work.
Lifting himself up with the little girl was still connected to his neck, Sagara chortled to himself as she held on playfully. Finally having to pull the girl away, the two looked at the now familiar faces before them.
â€œHey runt,â€? he greeted her properly. â€œYou got quite the mouth now.â€?
â€œYour mom was a good teacher, boss.â€?
â€œReally?â€? he replied. â€œI didn’t notice.â€?
â€œI take it you guys know each other?â€? Otsune was taking his place feeding feeding Natoko now.
â€œDoes Sarah usually mug people when she sees them?â€? he said rhetorically. Everybody nodded without hesitation, looking as dumbfounded as before, but Sagara hadnâ€™t noticed. â€œIs your dad here or something?â€? he asked the girl, still clutching onto him. Sarah shook her head.
â€œI donâ€™t know where he is at the moment,â€? she said. â€œHe left me here a few months back. I donâ€™t know when heâ€™s coming back.â€?
â€œKings are known for doing that,â€? Sagara replied with a grin. â€œIâ€™m sure heâ€™ll be back soon?â€?
â€œYeah, I guess. He justâ€¦â€? Sarah found herself changing the subject. â€œHey, wait a moment, what are you doing here?â€? she started poking him in the chest.
â€œTo see my cousin in one part I guess,â€? he said, wincing in pain as she proddd away. Although Iâ€™m here in Japan on business,â€? he lifted up the small child into the air to empathise his point, taking the opportunity to move her away from Natoko. Sarah face twisted up, confused at his answer.
â€œYou came to see me, but you didnâ€™t know I was here,â€? Sarah asked, wondering what he meant.
Unknowingly, Sarah was about to learn one of the greatest horrors of her life.
â€œI meant Gen,â€? he said, calmly as ever. Gen sat up, the extent of the conversation dawning on him. â€œI didnâ€™t even know you were here, runt.”
“It’s Sarah now,” Sarah insisted. “I have grown up, y’know.”
â€œSure thing, runt.â€?
â€œSarahâ€™s your cousin?â€? Gen mumbled. â€œDoes that mean sheâ€™s my cousin?â€? Sagara nodded, Sarah freezing up as she stared at the boring landlord.
â€œDoes that mean heâ€™s my cousin?â€? Sarah exclaimed with a gasp, like the situation hadnâ€™t fully sunken in. Sagara shook his head, making both of them look back at him confused.
â€œGenâ€™s on my momâ€™s side, and the Runt’s…â€?
â€œSarah,â€? Sarah replied. â€œSa-rah!â€?
â€œâ€¦is on my dadâ€™s side. Otsune isnâ€™t related to me.â€? His finger had somehow ended up on her.
â€œI had no idea,â€? Gen said, still in shock as Sakura came back into the room with several bottles of water. â€œI just heard from the girls that my grandmother let her stay without question, and that she never had to pay rent. At first I thought it was a trick, but she never gets on with anybody, so it couldnâ€™t be, then my mother insisted…â€?
â€œAh, Mizune would have known,â€? Sagara stated, taking the bottle off of Sakura and pouring it into the glass. â€œProbably her who did it.â€?
â€œBut Iâ€™m related to her through you? Thatâ€™s kind of scary, itâ€™ll mean Iâ€™ll have to put more effort into buying her birthday presents,,â€? Gen said laughing, scratching the back of his head with the concealed attempt of severing all the nerves there.
â€œCould you actually pass me the other water bottles please?â€? Natoko asked, the strength returning to her voice. It took a few seconds for Sagara to understand what she was talking about and took the bottles as he passed the glass back. Inside, the small glass screamed as Sakura left the room, it knew it was going to get put with all the other glasses again, no doubt theyâ€™ll all laugh at it again, like always.
Natoko opened up the bottle herself and sipped at it carefully, downing the bottle in seconds. â€œExcuse meâ€¦ everybody,â€? Natoko said softly, her voice sounding delicate despite attempts at making herself look healthy. â€œCould I ask that you all leave me for a few minutes. I wish for some privacyâ€¦ plus none of you are allowed in my room.â€? The last bit of the request seemed sterner than the first bit.
â€œAre you sure, girl?â€? Fujiko said. â€œI know you need rest, but shouldnâ€™t we stay in case something happens?â€?
â€œI assure you I shall be fine,â€? the girl said practically. â€œSakura has supplied me with plenty of water, and that is all I need at the moment.â€? Looking to the left, the group could see around twenty small bottles of water. They turned to the girl, looking nonplussed. If the she drank this much it would bloat her up like a slug.
â€œWellâ€¦â€? Otsune thought over it for a moment. â€œI guess youâ€™ll be okay. Sagara?â€? she asked, looking for a double check, with the hidden intention of it failing to cash in.
â€œAh sheâ€™ll be fine now,â€? he said, standing up and beginning to usher them all out. â€œAnd she looks healthy too. To think I didnâ€™t have a clue what I was doing.â€? As they all left, Aki seemed as hesitant as Otsune was.
â€œYou gonna be okay, Natoko?â€? she said, looking a little sad at leaving her friend in such a state. They looked at each other, Natoko smiling back at the girlâ€™s tear filled, green eyes and worried smile.
â€œI shall be fine, Aki. I just need to rest for a bit. I need to get back to training as soon as possible,â€? she replied, her voice sounding smoother and more elegant by the moment. With this, Aki nodded, smiling once more. She then jumped up to her feet, being gentle with her friendâ€™s head and placing it down on the futon beneath them, before bouncing out of the room, grabbing Sarah and taking the angry little girl with her.
And then, Sagara was the only other one left in the room. Natoko picked up another water bottle and drank hungrily from the plastic container.
â€œT-thank you,â€? she croaked between gulps of water. â€œIf it wasnâ€™t for you I donâ€™t know what would have happened. Your timing here was most convenientâ€? Sagara stopped by the door, looking out, yet listening carefully.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome,â€? he replied happily. â€œAlthough Iâ€™d still like to know what that thing wasâ€¦â€?
He was different now. Different from how she had seen him earlier, the image of a moronic lewd creature molesting what he could gone with the image of what, admittedly, still seemed a bit of a moron. It was almost amusing to watch him banging the back of his head against the wall, trying to spark some memory that would help him figure out what the spirit was. That didnâ€™t matter now, though. She owned him a debt of gratitude, one which she felt, by her sword, that she had to pay.
â€œMy sword!â€? she cried out, the word relaying over her mind several times.
â€œHuh?â€? Sagara mumbled as she started moving frantically within the confines of her futon, any thoughts of dehydration gone.
â€œWhereâ€™s my sword?â€? she asked him desperately, her voice shivering without the blade. Please donâ€™t say that it broke.
â€œItâ€™s behind you,â€? he said simply, unsure of her reaction. Turning around, she felt relief brighten her face as she saw it, the three and a half shaku blade that was as much a part of her life as her hand. Crawling up to it, moving on her knee, she grabbed it and brought it back to her futon. It would have all been pointless if she had lost Iziz, a part of her soul lay inside this sword.
The boy was looking at her and she felt her face fill with blood.
â€œSorry,â€? she muttered.
â€œWhat for?â€? he replied, looking honestly confused.
â€œOh, nothing. Itâ€™s just this sword is very important to me.â€?
â€œRight,â€? he said, falling silent again. Had she sounded weird again? People always went quiet when they thought she was being weird.
â€œThat arenâ€™t that many possession spiritsâ€¦â€?
â€œJust thinking,â€? he replied. â€œThere arenâ€™t that many Earth spirits that can possess people like that woman did, so it seems weird to think she wasnâ€™t a demon.â€?
â€œOh rightâ€¦â€? Was he still thinking about that? Had he even noticed her rush to her sword?
â€œMind you, there were similar effects of the possession to some Earth spirits,â€? he continued, clearly speaking to the both of them. â€œYour skill were weaker than they should have been, that was similar to when my mom got possessedâ€¦â€?
â€œYour mother was possessed?â€? she replied, finding the idea of someone else being possessed somewhat relieving. It made her less weak by diffusion.
â€œWell I shouldnâ€™t have been able to beat her,â€? Sagara replied, still speaking matter of factly. â€œSheâ€™s the Enforcer of the Balance. There aren’t any humans that could beat her.â€?
â€œEnforcer of the Balance?â€? Natoko repeated, the title meaning nothing to her except that it sounded rather stupid.
â€œOh wait, Iâ€™m not supposed to talk about that,â€? Sagara said, waiting for someone to give him permission as he said it, â€œbut I guess it doesnâ€™t matter. In essence, like I told the others, my family are demon hunters, but the point of the direct bloodline is the role of Enforcer. The Enforcer is the lord of the village and assigned the job of making sure that non-humans from other realms donâ€™t set foot on earth, because of the influence their mere presence might cause.â€?
Looking around for a moment, she realized he was being completely serious as he went on to explain other roles, sounding like a video game tutorial rather than someone describing their family.
â€œAnd this is your motherâ€™s job?â€? she said, when he had finally finished. None of that had sunken in.
â€œEnforcer, yep. And one day, itâ€™ll be mine. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m here actually, I guess. The tournament is part of my initiation ceremony.
â€œSo you really are a demon hunting ninja?â€?
â€œDidnâ€™t I say that?â€?
â€œToo many times,â€? she replied. â€œI thought I might have misheard.â€?
â€œRight,â€? he replied, clearly not understanding her troubles.
â€œI guess I canâ€™t argue with that. My wish to be a samurai is just as stupid.â€?
â€œYou wish to be a samurai?â€?
â€œAs far as Iâ€™m concerned I am one. I have always insisted fighting for honour and justice every since I got my sword, ever since my grandfatherâ€¦â€? Her voice cut itself off, that inbuilt warning instinct that usually kicked in when she got too comfortable around stranger, wanting to share but knowing fantasy should stay away from fact. â€œBut I guess there is no such thing as a modern day samurai.â€?
â€œThere isnâ€™t?â€? he asked, now looking mildly curious.
â€œAt best, i’ll just be another Iaido or Kendo practitioner. Thatâ€™s what I was toldâ€¦but,â€? she felt a deep strain on her heart, threatening to crush it, â€œbut that insults everything the samurai stood for! There arenâ€™t even classes for Iaijutsu anymore nd when I try to make my own styles up, people just say itâ€™s like this or like that. Itâ€¦â€?
â€œDonâ€™t you have to be born into a samurai family or something to be a samurai?â€? he interrupted, apparently failing to notice her discomfort at speaking about this. Before she could stop herself, the words were already leaving her mouth.
â€œI wasâ€¦I have my genology on the wall over there. My great grandfather was samurai and my grandfather gave his life alongside Mishima at the Self Defence Force building just to maintain the samurai way. Andâ€¦ even though that failed, it doesnâ€™t make me any less samurai. Just because my father chose the path of business shouldnâ€™t change that, shouldnâ€™t make me any less samurai.â€?
â€œWell, why would it?â€?
â€œWhy shouldnâ€™t it make you any less samurai?â€? Was he mocking her?
â€œIt shouldnâ€™t,â€? she replied bitterly, her voice felt cold, wanting to twist. Her eyes felt like tears should be streaming down them.
â€œSo you are samurai?â€? he said, voice still as calm as ever, yet still confused.
It took her a few seconds to realize that she had shouted, the silence echoing the room greatly contrasting the volume a moment ago. Her eyes were locked onto his, finding that urge to tear him apart returning, wishing her body wasnâ€™t as weak as it was. She waited for whatever mockery he had waiting for her.
â€œThatâ€™s cool,â€? he finally said. â€œIâ€™ve never met a samurai.â€?
The lack of belief flooded her mind, the pain gripping her heart falling away. Why wasnâ€™t he laughing? Everyone always laughed, mocking her with her own words. At the very least, theyâ€™d look away, make some excuse, talk behind her back at how silly she was. They always did. Even her friends took it all in stride. Yet he wasnâ€™t doing anything. He reacted as if she had she wanted some respectable business job or something and now…
It was clear. Now she owned him two debts. Her hand tightened over her sword. Would it actually be possible?
â€œAnyway, I need to shovel food into my mouth at an alarming rate soâ€¦â€? he began, moving for the doorway.
â€œSagara-sanâ€¦â€? she whispered, interrupting him.
â€œThis may seemâ€¦a little suddenâ€¦butâ€¦â€? She was hesitating. It wouldnâ€™t work if she was hesitating. The moment would be spoiled.
â€œWhat is it?â€?
â€œPlease,â€? she shouted, throwing her hands onto the floor and bowing her head as deeply as it could go. â€œPlease take me on as your retainer!â€?
â€œExcuse me?â€? he replied, sounding bewildered at her movements.
â€œAll my life,” she began to explain, letting the moment rush into her. “I have been determined to be samurai. Some called me childish, some strange. Others simply laughed it off. Yet you have accepted my dream unwaveringly. As samurai, I have no choice but to follow and serve you.â€?
â€œBut,â€? he said, scratching the back of his head loud enough for her to hear it. â€œAren’t you supposed to be following some lord or something?â€?
â€œIf what you have told me is true, and I have been convinced today that it is, then I have opted to follow someone who is heir to the position of a lord. I beg of you! I believe I am making the right choice.â€? She held herself in, water was leaving her body again, her eyes clamped shut like fearing the executionerâ€™s bullet. â€œ Please. Accept my plea for you to become my master.â€?
That was it. She had said it. It didnâ€™t matter how stupid it sounded now, how messed up it was. It had come out and there was no way to take it back. Whether he refused or not was just a small side detail now compared to that step she had just taken.
I thought so.
â€œNo wait. You should know,â€? he hesitated, scratching the back of his head. â€œMy way isnâ€™t exactly about honour or justice. It isnâ€™t even considered a noble thing that I do. For me to take you in probably wonâ€™t bode well in the futureâ€¦â€?
So that was his excuse. It sounded different, almost reassuring. Should she accept that?
â€œâ€¦but then again. It is your choice, and it is our key principle that we allow a person their free willâ€¦â€?
Was he just speaking aloud? Was it acceptance? It was impossible to tell. Her mind felt like it was on fire. It didnâ€™t matter if it was his answer.
â€œThank you,â€? she shouted, bowing furiously. â€œThank you so much!â€?
â€œHey, I didnâ€™tâ€¦â€? but she was looking at him now. His face had barely budged an inch since she had brought hers down. He seemed to give in. â€œNever mind, it would have probably led that way anyway. Okay, I accept you.â€?
Nodding, she brought her head back down for another bow, years of period drama teaching her exactly how she should act. But it wasnâ€™t an act. For once it wasnâ€™t an act. At that one point she felt truly free. It was a beautiful moment for her, her blood was racing despite the water shortage, feeling light and unfested. A feeling of flight emerged in herâ€¦
â€œWow, my second servant,â€? Sagara muttered as he wandered out. â€œRemind me to introduce you to Melissa sometime.â€?
â€œEh?â€? Natoko blurted out, her room finally falling quiet.
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