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Tenkai Matsumoto

[ Ravenspire ] Unexpected Reunions

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That had probably not gone over as well as he would have hoped.

Not that he could have expected anything in the first place, however. Tenkai had been so out of the loop that he hadn’t even realized General Kanzaki had perished in the first place, let alone reborn as not so quite the same person. Of course, this had been nothing like the kind of rebirth that Buddhists were acquainted with. This was something else entirely, and Tenkai felt if he had tried to trouble himself over the details and intricacies of Raveena, her people, OXY and all of her past history, his head would likely explode. It was useless and detrimental for him to fixate on a past that had no bearing on his present. He’d save that for when the time called for it. For now it was just better to accept the situation as is. Raveena was essentially a new individual, and Tenkai would have to simply work from there. 

James, on the other hand, seemed more or less the same as always, and was far more informed on the situation. His help would be invaluable in whatever situation he got himself involved in with Raveena’s kingdom in the future. With their mention of Koji, the son of Xartia Pendragon, Tenkai imagined that time wasn’t too terribly far away. But for now, Tenkai had found himself in Kadia, originally for the sole purpose of reconnecting with the General and get some grasp of the situation in these lands. Having achieved this, he now found himself with a new point of interest: Kadia itself.

In spite of his disagreements with Raveena, Tenkai was not at all ignorant of her words. Regardless of how their unusually strict laws seemed to someone like him, Kadia was a prospering empire with people who seemed to want for little. As far as Tenkai could tell, no citizen of the empire was prevented from leaving the city, or the empire itself for that matter. The people did not seem to suffer. Far from it, even. It would seem that for all the liberties sacrificed, they were done so willingly due to the reverence they held for their Emperor. As far as they were concerned, he was a living god and, given the nature of this land, he may as well be one.

The land that had made Tenkai into who he was, now so very far away, had its own unfortunate history with living god-emperors and what came from that devotion. It was perhaps this memory of history that continued to give the monk pause in spite of his peaceful surroundings. No peace this complete and perfect ever came without a price, often a terrible one at that. Tenkai couldn’t help but wonder what the nature of the Emperor of Kadia was.

In the midst of thought, Tenkai had managed to finish his wrapped sandwich, waltzing over to a nearby receptacle—or at least something he hoped was a receptacle—to discard the wrapper. No more than just a few feet away was an Imperial Legionnaire. Tenkai recognizes him as such based on his previous encounter with them upon entering the city. The monk figured he was either standing guard or surveying the area if only for one strange detail: he was looking at Tenkai. Staring, even, from the corner of his eyes. It was subtle, barely visible due to the helmet shadowing his eyes, but Tenkai wasn’t so easily fooled. After all these years of dealing with the awkward stares of passers by, he knew when there were a pair of eyes set upon him.

Tenkai tried not to make it awkward. Besides, there could be a perfectly good reason for the guard’s behavior. Tenkai was a foreigner, and a rather oddly dressed one at that. It was reasonable for guards to look at him strangely. In an effort to ease the situation, Tenkai nodded and tipped his hand to his head in a half-salute-half-wave kind of fashion. Just enough to show due respect without being excessive to the degree of coming off as mockery. 

The guard didn’t move an inch in response. Tenkai continued on his way, turning his eyes away from the guard as he past. Somehow, the monk had a feeling those eyes were still following him.

That would have been the end of it, of course, had Tenkai not turned the corner and saw not one, but two legionnaires, just like the first one, staring right at him as he passed by. These two made no effort to hide their gaze—their heads were trained right on him as he passed. The monk wasted no time. He nodded his head and moved swiftly on his way without engaging any more than he needed to.

That’s strange, he thought. There’s certainly a lot more of them around than there were before.

The more Tenkai progressed through Ravenspire, the more the same thing occurred. It was no surprise to him that there were guards everywhere throughout the city, but he seemed to keep finding them in places that were a bit too convenient for them to run into him. The general air about them was most unwelcoming, far more than Tenkai had experienced when he first came to Kadia. It was only after walking another block or so that it all began to make sense.

That one right there, he thought, peering at a legionnaire from the corner of his eye. It’s a subtle difference, but I’m positive! That’s the same one I saw earlier staring at me with the sidelong glance!

That must be why I keep running into them!, he continued, his pace increasing steadily. They’re not just watching me—they’re following me!

Indeed, they had been following him, and they had been very good at covering their tracks. It took Tenkai much longer than it usually did to tell someone was tailing him, shadowing his movements so carefully that they could keep an eye on him without actually looking like they were following him. Either this was standard training for a Legionnaire, or these were no ordinary Legionnaires.

Tenkai kept his movements from looking too frantic. If he did, it would tip them off that he was aware of being followed, and their strategy would change. For all he knew, it was already too late. These men didn’t just seem to be tailing him. They were were predicting his movements, cutting him off as they came around every corner he sought to turn towards in order to lose his tail. Just how many of them did they have following him?

By the time he reached the bridge, Tenkai could find out.

There were about six more of them standing around the bridge, loose enough for citizens to pass but still allowing them to close ranks as Tenkai approached. The others that had followed Tenkai were standing not too far behind, covering all areas for escape. There had to be about a dozen of them, no weapons drawn, no action to be openly interpreted as hostile. They simply stood there, surrounding him as a matter of intimidation. But why would they do this? Tenkai had not committed any crime. He was quite critical of Kadia’s codex, sure, but that wasn’t against the law as far as he could see, and there’s no way they would’ve known that unless they had been tipped off. The only ones who could have done that were James and Raveena, and that was highly improbable. In spite of her being a different person now, Tenkai felt he could trust her that much. These days, that was a lot coming from Tenkai.

“Is there a problem, gentlemen?” Tenkai asked, his tone of voice neutral as his eye scanned over them. It was useless for him to try and use his other eye, as it was still acting strangely.

The monk’s simple question, met only with silence. At least, not until another man stepped forward. He seemed like part of the Kadian Legion from the outset, but his armor was different than that of the other Legionnaires. Tenkai figured he was their captain, but it was also possible he was someone else entirely. Who was he? For that matter, who were they? Were they really Legionnaires?

“That’s exactly what we’ve come here to find out,” said the armored man in charge, slowly approaching Tenkai. “All mankind is welcome in Kadia, and you appear to be human, but your manner of dress smacks of foreign religion. State your business.”

Tenkai was taken aback. It didn’t seem like they were aware of what he had spoken of to James and Raveena. Instead, they were more concerned with the fact that Tenkai’s robes clearly resembled that of a holy man. In particular, a holy man of a faith not native to Kadia, or even this world for that matter.

“I am visiting a friend,” said the monk, finding no need or want to lie but no desire to give any more detail than that. “I travel a lot, you see.”

“Yes, travel,” replied the “captain”, “We are aware of the ‘travels’ your kind are known for, spreading their word and proselytizing the peoples of sovereign nations with words of ‘hope’ and ‘peace’”

“I do no such thing,” Tenkai said, the neutral tone now permeated with a twinge of irritation. “I only help those that suffer.”

“Then no one has need of you here. If anything causes them to suffer, it is the intellectual laziness inspired by blind faith. Know that Kadia follows the Corvinite Ecclesiarchy and the Emperor’s secular truth. None shall be found wanting.”

Tenkai quirked a one-eyed brow at that statement. “Corvinite Ecclesiarchy, you say? Strange...,” he said, rubbing his chin. “For all your disapproval, that sounds an awful lot like religion to me.”

“You’ll watch that snide tongue of yours, foreign priest. Your ‘freedom’ of speech is worth nothing compared to the Empire’s sovereignty.”

“It was merely an observation.”

“Even an observation that insults the Corvinite Truth cannot be tolerated.”

The Legionnaires and their leader stepped closer. Tenkai had no idea whether they would strike at him or not, though he felt that if the situation had elevated that far they would already have their weapons drawn. They were merely increasing the pressure.

“I meant absolutely no insult.” Tenkai kept himself perfectly calm, making not a single sudden movement. 

“Your intentions mean even less to us than your ideology,” said the leader. “If your business in Kadia is concluded, then we shall see you to the gate.”

The legionnaires began to close in on Tenkai. It was likely that they intended to escort him to the gates of Ravenspire, if not the nearest port, and send him on his way out of Kadia. At least, that’s what he could only hope they intended to do with him. They made no move to attack or manhandle him, but at this distance Tenkai could feel it as clear as the day itself. They were absolutely itching for a reason to pummel him into the dirt, practically daring him to disobey. What better way to make an example than to have him, a monk from a foreign land, causing trouble with the Kadian Legion when nothing was expected of him but his obedience. The fact that Tenkai was carrying a sword likely made matters worse. It didn’t seem like they had cared about that fact either way, but they would without a doubt use it against him. Simply uncovering the weapon would probably be enough justification for them to execute him without question. 

Bloodshed was the last thing Tenkai wanted right now, and he would rather acquiesce and depart from Kadia than cause an international fiasco. But how could he be sure that was all they would do? If he cooperated, they could easily lead him somewhere more restricted and out of public view, strip him of his armaments and then...well...at that point, it would be over if they wished him to disappear.

The Legionnaires were uncomfortably close. A cold, armored hand reached out to firmly grasp his shoulder and move him along...


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"Those three chests, and there's two more over there," Rou pointed out to the stewards of Kadia's sovereign household, having played guest to the royal family for the last several weeks.  "I want everything in order for our departure back to Umbra, tomorrow."  After not a few fortnights spent in Kadia's court, the recent announcement by Emperor Corvinus to wed off his eldest son hadn't quite ended the way Umbra's pro tempore princess had anticipated-- he was to wed another woman, nullifying the chance to forge a Kadian-Umbral alliance in blood, as her liege had hoped.  White-gloved attendants packed her things in the trunks she'd had sent with her growing, illustrious wardrobe, in need of layers and furs that she'd likely never wear again in Umbra's desirably warmer climate.  All of her things were being packed onto a carriage bound for the harbor, awaiting a vessel that would bring her back to an empty home, and likely Rafael's wrath for not securing Deiter's hand.

With a heart that still bled heavy from recent betrayals, even Deiter's infatuation with Umbra's An'She seemed no match for Corvinus' will and intuition, and found a more invested partner for his son.  Walking slowly down the stone steps that descended the palatial, she pulled a fur stole tighter around her shoulders to ward off the chill, bearing a despondent sigh that rang with just a guilty twinge of relief.  "And tell the Head Stewardess that I'll take my tea in the Garden Sanctuary, today; I want to pay my final respects."  Rou bounded down the final few steps with a much more enthused spring in her gait, albeit out of character for one heading to a memorial... where she could aptly avoid all the gossip and chatter of Kadian court that would likely whisper behind her back, should she have participated.

The gardens surrounding the Ravenspire palace weren't quite a hedge maze, but certainly required some navigation to find the Ellwood Memorial, tucked away behind shaped walls of ivy.  The privacy and peace of mind were anticipated a blessing, so that she might prepare herself for another bout of this masquerade, and bury her heartbreak beneath cunning banter and a clever smirk.  She was going home on the morrow, smile for her liege and his new bride... no matter how false, no matter how much it hurt.  However, cursed as she was to never find solace, the gardens were bustling and buzzing, and would not provide the comfort she desired.

The guards were surrounding someone in the terrace, and Rou was sure she was going to be ushered away, but through the pockets between bodies she made out a familiar guise-- a face from a world she'd left behind.  While they'd never taken to labeling each other as friends, Rou was in short supply of old acquaintances that didn't despise her.  Rushing as fast as heeled shoes and a swishing flurry of her red coat would take her, she intruded upon the guards' perimeter hunt.  "Stand down, soldiers," Rou said in a voice more authoritative than Tenkai probably remembered of the former Buxom Bandit, "This man is a guest of the Carmine Empire and Umbra."  Some of the Kadian knights looked as if she'd just spoiled their sport, but after being paid a stern glare from Umbra's An'She, they dispersed back to their posts to resume guard.  It might not have been an order from their Emperor, but they knew better than to compromise the fragile alliance between Corvinus and Rafael.

"Monk, what in seven hells are you doing here?" she hissed quietly between her teeth, but found her questioning too strong.  "Not what, but how?  I'd thought you were lost in Hard Times; the detective said you'd been poisoned by Nurgle's Rot... I wasn't aware there were survivors."  The last she'd heard of the monk was from Edward Queensborough in their brief acquaintance, and all affected by the rot had been quarantined to ride out the devastation by themselves.  Plenty of Gaians had immigrated to Valucre after Sigil had found its portals working again, all the way until the place was nearly desolate.  She hadn't heard so much as a peep about the monk, but the peace-promoting samurai was always a quiet voice in the realm of huge, terrible egos.

"You're going to have to hide the prayer beads," Rou insisted, her eyes still on the backs of the guards to make sure none of them were eavesdropping, "The only thing Kadians hate more than a heretic is a non-human."  Finally assured that they were in the clear, her shoulders sunk with a relieved sigh, before assuming a tilted, wry smile.  Valucre had changed Rou from the scrappy, untamed Bandit that she used to be, now a developed woman who was playing the vicious, subtle game of territories, yet that grin hadn't changed ever since she'd left the tournament circuit.  Tenkai Matsumoto was nearly just as she remembered, but older, more sagely.  He'd looked just the same as he'd used to, the essence of a samurai from his attire to his posture, even bearing that peaceful smile that made Rou feel strangely content, but was never admitted.

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Tenkai raised his head a bit in acknowledgement of the authoritative voice that rang out. There was a heavy twinge of familiarity to it that quickly began to jar the monk’s memory.

Is that...?

Lo and behold, standing before him now was Rou Ji, the proclaimer “Buxom Bandit” herself. Looking at her now, she was certainly hitting upon the first part of her moniker. As for the “bandit”, however, Rou was like a completely different person. Even in their short time of acquaintance, Tenkai had known her to prefer to run away from authorities rather than towards them. Not only that, but she was actually commanding them, and much to Tenkai’s astonishment, the legionnaires immediately stood down. 

Their strangely-armored leader, on the other hand, lingered just a bit longer.

“By the Emperor’s will, we will acquiesce,” he said, knowing full well that actions against guests of foreign diplomats would not sit well with Corvinus, even with their level of authority, “But do take care to keep your pet heretic on a leash.”

On his order, the legionnaires dispersed and their captain followed suit, granting the two of them their privacy.

Without a doubt, this was not the same Rou Ji that had accompanied him to Leviathan Stadium. Her attire was more regal now, more like a queen or princess rather than the practical bodysuit she wore. Based on her proclaimation—speaking on behalf of the “Carmine Empire of Umbra”—It seemed as if she had traded the life of stealing trinkets for that of stealing kingdoms.

“Rou Ji...“‘The Carmine Empire’?”” Tenkai uttered with a mix of mild astonishment and disbelief. He took a deep breath and sighed exasperatingly. “Did everyone just move here and started playing thrones? I swear, it’s like everyone familiar to me around here has become some sort of monarch or regent.”

Tenkai did look more or less like he did the last time Rou saw him, but there was something very palpable about his demeanor. He was no longer the pleasant-smiling monk as he was known to be when amiably conversing with an old acquaintance. There was something grim and jaded about him now. His astonishment at seeing Rou felt more ironic than simply being pleased at seeing a familiar face. There were small errant gray hairs forming on his head, not enough to imply age but enough to show that life was taking a toll on him.

And he was missing his right eye.

“Words of my death have been greatly...ah, forget it. I’m sure you can figure that out,” he said, referring to the event Rou spoke of. He hadn’t seen Dr. Queensborough since that time, so it was understandable that he wouldn’t know. Indeed, Tenkai had been previously doomed to a fate that should by all means have ended him, a small yet meaningful victory for the Grandfather of Plagues had it come to fruition. Had it not been for a literal act of God (or Buddha, in this case), Tenkai would not be standing here today. All that remained of that harrowing circumstance was a deep scar on the right side of his torso, a permanent reminder in spite of being completely purged of any Warp-spawned contagion.

This...,” he said as he jerked his thumb towards his sword guard eyepatch, “...happened in a completely unrelated incident.” Ah, yes, that one was quite a story. A particularly long one, in fact, and one that Tenkai would have to save for another day.

Tenkai had wished that whatever ambient energy that was disrupting his eye’s abilities would disperse already. He had learned that being able to see a person’s soul as clearly as he could see their body provided a rather unique level of insight. The soul told no lies and could hide only so much. It represented the truest essence of what that person was. Tenkai imagines that this was an effect of his own empathic capabilities influencing his new eye. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to see Rou in that way, perhaps gain some sort of idea of how much she had changed as a person over the years.

“Well, you’ve certainly grown,” he said, immediately realizing the unintended meaning behind those words. “Figuratively speaking, of course.” But seriously, what was she feeding those things???

It was at this point, struck by the familiarity in meeting an old acquaintance, that some ounce of the “old” Tenkai seeped back in, and he remembered his manners.

“I’m sorry. The first thing I should have said was thank you for helping me. If you hadn’t come along, things would’ve gotten pretty dicey. I don’t even know what I did, to be honest.”

That was when Rou mentioned the peculiar state of the empire of Kadia, and everything he had read had started coming back to him again. Of course, he thought. Of course they’d be that way. It practically goes hand in hand with this kind of society.

“Heretic, huh?” said the monk, thumbing his rosary beads. “Can’t say this is the first time I’ve heard that. Come to think of it, there was mention of restrictions regarding non-humans in the codex. I guess I didn’t realize these prejudices ran so deeply.”

Tenkai pulled out his small codex primer that he received upon entry into Kadia. Nary a wrinkle on it, but the seams were starting to wear from how many times he flipped through the pages. “Kadia seems to be a rather peculiar place. You aren’t over 30, are you? They mentioned something about mandated procreation, but I’m guessing you’d be exempt from that being a foreign diplomat and all.”

Tenkai still couldn’t believe he was referring to Rou Ji as a “foreign diplomat”. At this point, however, Tenkai was used to these big, unexpected changes.



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With only one eye, it seemed nearly twice as obvious when his gaze traveled downward, and her relief evaporated twice as quickly, narrowing eyes and lips with suspicion.  Like a lash (sans her implicit whip, but with all the same flair), her wrist slung forward, delivering an abrupt and scolding snap mere centimeters from Tenkai's nose.  If not for Kadia's barrier against magic, it might have even sparked.  "Oi!" she collected his attention gruffly, and jabbed a finger accusingly into his chest, only half-joking when she sarcastically sneered back at him, "Don't make me take your other eye."  She was used to being ogled by romantic partners, strangers, and enemies, the cut of her clothing on her body always purposefully risque, but the samurai hadn't quite fit into any of those categories.  Internally, she accepted it as a fair brush of her ego.

"We've all changed," Rou admitted solemnly, noticing the subtle silver sprouts in his hair, her expression finally bearing the weight of hardship that hadn't translated to the outside of her figure.  She'd always figured she'd hit her prime in the fighting pits all those years ago, when she was athletic and muscular and ferocious; she seemed more plush, now, a blossomed beauty that had to invest more in her mind to play this cruel and catty game of chess, and was intimidating in an entirely different way.  He was right, that all the familiar figures of his past were trying to navigate a deadly spider's web, where power and life hung in the balance... and the proverbial flies were spun up and slaughtered, mercilessly.  Even now, Roen, Rou's closest ally, was her enemy, the cost of trying to play spider with spider.  "This world is entirely different, where the strength of one man bends beneath the man with the biggest group of followers to exalt him."  Her gaze found the floor, overwrought with frustration as her brow rumpled and her nails dug crescent lines in her palm from the fists balled at her sides, not sure whether she hadn't fled a hell for a worse one.  "Sigil wasn’t much, but it was home to a lot of us.  When The City of Doors was no more, we adapted.  We had to."

She was quiet for a long moment, before looking up at Tenkai with the same yellow eyes that had once looked across from him in the tournament ring.  Even behind her yellow eyes, a subtle fire still yet smoldered from within, but haunted and stalked by the darkness of the shadows it created. 

"... I had to."  And she'd done terrible, unspeakable things to get here.  Her soul had been tainted with a dense, seeping, black malice, the products of betrayal, guilt, jealously, violence, and pain, nearly palpable even to those who didn't possess the sight.

Rou shrugged and sighed with no little bit of melancholy, as she could not simply and entirely blame the monster bred on Valucre on the world, itself.  "I have more to my name than I've ever owned in my life.  A home, a title, a fortune, prestige.  But I'll be damned if I sit on my laurels now; I've come too far."  The bandit had achieved so much, but in the grand scheme of where she'd wanted to be, retrospect made it feel like a single drop in a bucket.  Placing a tender hand on his shoulder, she squeezed gently, managing half a tilted grin as she was never too short of a chance for a clever quip.  Some things, luckily, hadn't changed about the Buxom Bandit.  "We can't all be pacifists for a living.  I don't think I could work the wardrobe, honestly."

Stealing a sidelong glance out of the corner of her eye, she'd noticed the Captain lurking too close for comfort, trying to eavesdrop on their conversation.  Tenkai, as opinionated as he was, wasn't in the wrong, but the last thing Rou wanted to do was jeopardize her position when she was not a day from departing.  Hooking her arm around the samurai's in an intimate --though no more than cordial-- fashion for a titled lady, she eluded the Captain their conversation by bringing it to whispers, and gestured towards the gardens.  "Walk with me, won't you?"

She matched his stride, though hadn't often picked up her gaze from the cobblestones in front of her, navigating slowly and sightlessly.  In all honesty it had been soothing to move, an effort that kept her from pacing heatedly back and forth when she'd arrive to the aggravating politic of it all.  The fair breeze provided some respite to the tell-tale flush in her cheeks, but it was clear that Rou felt similarly in regards to Kadia's laws and customs.  "Even my liege, Rafael, earned a great deal of resistance and discourtesy here in Kadia, and Umbra's supposed to be in alliance with them."  Catching a short glance at Tenkai, she offered a single token, honest insight; talking to him was somehow cathartic and welcoming amidst the political and emotional masquerade she was used to.  "It's kept up simply on Corvinus' will to be so... and it seems fragile, at that."  She scratched nervously at her throat with her nails, flushing the skin, lips curling with a fair amount of internal guilt.  It hadn't helped that she'd shot down Leoa's O'o, a magical bird given to her by a particular guest of their wedding... no one had seen it for the disguised metaphor that Rou saw it was.  Rou had damaged her personal rapport with Corvinus, and whittled the alliance down to hairs.  "I don't practice the faith, so I've been treated with every courtesy..." she said, as one of the few and probably only Umbrans who hadn't publically participated in the Carmine faith, "... 'when you see sausage being made', as the expression goes?"

The law was a sour note struck, as evidenced by the rumpling of her lips and brow.  "That's why I'm here; an unfortunate law that my own home, now, shares.  Not even thirty, and he's trying to sell me off like some..." she visibly struggled with the comparison, not for lack of words, but for gross disgust, "... some prized breeding mare."  Brooding made her snarl like a dragon, sneering off to the side to spare the samurai from her shade.  She'd trusted Rafael, loved him, and the wound of being expected to move on and forget was a wound that cut too deeply-- she was starting to feel like she was covered in them.  "I've half a mind to rebel and defy it altogether.  No law and no man are worth ruining the one card I have to play."  More suspiciously, she'd thought, if she were otherwise preoccupied with a husband, Rou's enmity and deadly pursuit of his wife might cease.  He could only pray, to whatever gods a god had, because Rou's jealousy was a determined and violent beast.  "Diplomacy doesn't exempt me from the law, but I've always fit well into the criminal moniker."

Patting his arm in the hopes of venturing towards less controversial subjects in public, she thought it best to caution him.  "I don't know what brought you here, monk, but I suggest you make your trip in Kadia a short one," Rou offered sternly, only staring at one of the nearby guards as long as she could without warranting unwanted attention, "Please promise me you're not going to get yourself into trouble.  I may have had influence today, but that expires very soon."  She sighed, in an obvious way that made her miss home.  "It's a short trip from here to Umbra; you'll have to find me once I sail home, tomorrow.  It would be nice to have a houseguest every once in awhile."  After so long apart, the many questions she'd had all seemed lost, and struggled to put voice to one.

In her silence, Rou couldn't help but stare at his eye patch out of the corner of her eye, as if sensing the damage behind it.  "Does it hurt?" she asked quietly after many moments, swallowing hard as she imagined a phantom pain of her own.  

Edited by Narcissa

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The monk raised his hand lightly, shaking his head. He clearly meant nothing of offense, though he could tell Rou was only half-serious. It was good to see that there was a spark of her old spirit still within her, but unfortunately it was still just a spark. Tenkai wasn’t too troubled by the lingering Legionnaires trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. Not a whole lot needed to be said between them in order for Tenkai and Rou to grasp their mutual understanding of the situation. Nevertheless, Rou was probably the only one preventing Tenkai from falling into a rather awkward spot, so he felt it best to keep close to her. When she asked the monk to walk with her, he did not object.

As Tenkai listened to Rou’s words, he couldn’t help but feel the heartbreak that they were steeped in. Tenkai didn’t need his Soul Sight or empathic abilities to feel it; Rou conveyed her feelings through these words alone, and his use of psychic ability had never hampered his natural human ability to empathize. Much of what she said carried more meaning than they let on initially, and some words stung more than others. It was the phrase “breeding mare” in particular that struck him, given all that he had previously read about Kadia. From the sound of things, life in the Carmine Empire wasn’t any brighter by comparison. 

Tenkai never expected to see Rou like this. At the time that he had met her, he knew well enough about her immoral occupation. It wasn’t the most honorable calling, but Tenkai didn’t judge her too harshly for it. Thievery was a condition of mortal desire and suffering. If anything, Tenkai had pitied Rou, knowing that a life such as hers was not wholly one of choice. No one would have known it by looking at her. She was a free, rebellious spirit; a firebrand, both figuratively and literally. Thieves stole what they had the power to steal as both an expression of their own freedom and a symptom of the intense desire that only springs from a life of poverty and want. The bitter irony was that such a condition was brought upon them by others who stole from them on a grander scale,many of them the very kings and queens that Rou now called her peers. 

Now, in her never-ending ambition, Rou had obtained what other thieves could barely taste in their lifetime. She dressed in the finest silks and furs, wore the most precious jewelry. She had given up taking gold in favor of taking thrones. To be set for life in such a way was a burglar’s dream. 

But at what cost?

What did Rou have to do in order to get here? What did she have to become? Was it anything like the very same lords and ladies who made sure that there was no other way for her than a life of crime? Could any of Rou’s actions have caused other young children to resort to such means just to survive in the world? And what of her freedom, her ever-burning will to do as she pleased? Could she truly say she felt that way anymore?

As he looked at her, dressed in furs and jewelry she once only dreamed of owning, things she once had to take for herself now gifted to her freely, Tenkai saw the price she paid. Rou was like a bird in a cage, a prisoner of her own political aspirations. This could not have been the life she truly wanted, in the end. What freedom was there in this? To that end, Tenkai felt a deep pity for her. Not the kind that condescends someone as beneath oneself, but the kind that recognizes the wounds of the soul that no one else could see.

And now, here, Rou was asking Tenkai about his own pain. 

“All the time,” said Tenkai, referring to his lost eye. “But its a different kind of pain.”

Not much could be said about the “phantom limb” effect regarding Tenkai’s eye. It wasn’t a limb to begin with, and at the moment it was perhaps far more phantom than limb anyway. The nerve endings that had previously served his eye were closed off and their efforts rerouted. The sensation he used to have seeing out that eye was replaced by the similar yet far more extraordinary ability of the Magatama encased in the false eye underneath his eyepatch. It was only recently, hampered by the mysterious force enveloping Kadia, that Tenkai was reminded how it felt to have his vision impaired.

But the wound hurt him in a different kind of way. It was more than just a scar on his face. A part of him died the day he lost his eye, not just from the wound itself but in his actions that day. He had been broken down by a betrayal that cut deeper than any blade, filled with a burning rage unlike anything he had ever felt. Contrary to his own character, he poured all of that rage into his sword and converted it to grim, righteous indignation, the bane of all wickedness, and with that power he took the life of a dear friend. Torn between the pain of loss and the anger at his betrayal, Tenkai knew he would never be the same again.

That was simply the nature of a wound. They healed, but the deepest ones left scars, and much like the ones that riddled his body, these scars were his memories writ in flesh. The artifact in his eye socket was now a memento mori, reminding him of those that had died and that he, too, would one day join them. 

Not intending to get himself lost in thought, the monk did not overlook the weight of Rou's words and the information to be gleaned from them. Her dealings in the politics of the region showed that there was a relatively uneasy alliance between her liege's nation and the Kadian Empire, tenuously held into place by the will of their emperor. To what end such an alliance serves in the long run for the two nations was something yet to be seen, at least by Tenkai. Who knew what Rou knew of the full breadth of the situation? It was unlikely that Tenkai would be able to learn absolutely everything he needed to know about the current state of affairs, especially not out here of all places. All Tenkai knew was that alliances didn't just happen on a whim, especially ones that were barely held together by the strings people like Rou pulled on a daily basis. There had to be some sort of end goal behind it, be it individual interests or a mutually shared goal. Based on what he knew so far of both empires, the thought of what their "individual interests" could be filled him with unease.

Tenkai couldn't forget the line that struck him the most out of what Rou was telling him, however. He had to bring it up with her.

"As I mentioned before, I read about Kadia's so-called law regarding mandated procreation, and it seems you're familiar with it as well," said Tenkai. "Quite a lot of things seem to be mandated in Kadia, and much of it is centered around their military. A very Sparta-esque society."

If Rou wasn't as good of an ear, she would have almost confused Tenkai's tone for fascination. It would be an easy mistake, given his naturally inquisitive nature, but it was not fascination as one would imagine an explorer delving into unknown territory. Rather, Tenkai was quite familiar with this kind of society, and none of it gave him any peace of mind. No nation bred its people for the sake of fueling a war machine without intent to eventually make war. Truth be told, the primary reason why Spartan society relied so heavily on its strict militaristic culture was due to the constant fear and threat of helot uprising. It was perhaps the most bitter irony that one of the most powerful military nations in his world's history, supposedly taking such pride in their personal strength and achievement, ultimately founded their society (and even military) on slavery. But Kadia was not Sparta. There were no serfs to be seen, at least from what Tenkai managed to see so far. In fact, its citizens seemed perfectly content, a pristine empire without any noticeable sign of strife. 

"Noticeable" was the operative word, of course. Rou did well to hide her feelings, but that was hard to do in Tenkai's presence. She may not have been from Kadia, but if being forced to be bred like a prize race horse was so disquieting to her, then there was bound to be someone in Kadia who felt the same. People who didn't want to give up their only child to a life of war. People who did not want the Empire to take away their children for being born imperfect. If they did exist, then the only thing that could possibly keep them in place is the knowledge that there was absolutely nothing they could do. The will of the Emperor was absolute, and defiance would not be tolerated.

This, of course, begged the question. Who was this "Emperor"? And how did he command such unswerving obedience to his will that he had been elevated to the status of godhood? This, Tenkai thought, was something he needed to see for himself.

"One day, I shall take you up on your offer, perhaps. When the time is right," said the monk. "For now, I am here in Kadia. I originally came here in search of an old friend, and in doing so I seem to have found that and then some. I don't intend to overstay my welcome, as little of a welcome that may be, nor do I seek to cause any trouble for you or for the Empire. But there is one last thing I'd like to do before I leave, if you would do me this one favor."

Tenkai stopped abruptly, his stance firm enough to prompt Rou to halt her tread even if she willed to go on. It was clear he wished for her to look him in the eye.

"I would like an audience with the Emperor of Kadia. Could you bring me to him, before you depart?"


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