Central District, Teikoku
(13th of Eleint, 1491 Dalereckoning)
Kaileena tried to accustom to the weight of her mother’s sword at her hip, even in its inactive form.
“Gods, I just got used to my current fighting style.” she noted dryly, throwing her hips to compensate for the added weight, “With the spheres and all.”
Zolin nodded, “Aye...but if you could wield sword, buckler, and spheres...that would be a force even the most seasoned warrior could not overcome.”
The thought of her defeating the most seasoned warriors unsettled her deeply...but if she ever had to protect someone...
Gods, the thought of fighting another being, even another Malakas, left a hole in her stomach.
They returned home, and both Gatsuyu and Nagomi peppered her with questions, not the least of which why she was suddenly armed, when proper weapons were illegal to most in Teikoku.
“Please.” Kaileena begged, “Not just yet. I need to think awhile.”
At that, she passed right into her room, and shut the door.
Shrugging off her cloak and pack, she took a cross-legged position, and meditated, not yet ready to appeal to Sune for spells or counsel.
So instead she considered her next steps; with the bounty repealed and the crest in her possession she’d be harder to harass, but it would be by no means an impossibility. She could see anyone petty enough to defy the Hitorigami’s wishes to do so, provided the Hitorigami would even bestow protection at all.
She still had no reason to trust him, after all; even if he’d been close to her father, he’d never met her, and her...appearance might soil initial negotiations.
No. It was best that she stayed out of sight for the moment, and kept herself prepared for a fight. Word must have reached the Karyudo Kisai by now, and her brother’s home would be the first place they’d look.
She resolved to tell Gatsuyu their situation, and after that, they would return to the tower, close enough to keep an eye on them, by magical or mundane means. She wouldn’t run...not this time, but she wouldn’t leave herself in the open, either.
When she was set on her course, she returned to the main area.
Much of the afternoon passed as she recounted the information Golem had delivered her. She left nothing out, wincing at the expressions of disbelief and even fear at the news she’d been born to a human enchanter and...something else entirely.
"You are my sister." Gatsuyu finally replied, when it was done, ”And I love you as my sister, whatever your origins."
Needing that support, Kaileena accepted a small meal, feeling lighter for the effort.
But then someone knocked on the door, and her heart skipped.
Without a word of protest, Kaileena retreated to the guest room, Zolin closing the door behind her, while her brother went to the main door.
Gatsuyu greeted whoever was there, and the tenseness of his voice set her further on edge.
The reply, in a voice she knew well, brought such a tumult of mixed indignation and sheer terror that it nearly undid her.
"I know she is here, Gatsuyu." Lord Minamoto replied calmly, ”I wish to speak to her."
Zolin grimaced at her expression, his sword drawn, “Come, quickly. If we hurry-”
“No.” Kaileena replied, drawing her own steel and trying not to shake, “We knew this would happen. But this is our home, and we will defend it.”
She silenced his protests, immediate and vehement, “I would be arrested, Zolin. You’re an outsider. You’ll be killed on sight.”
Kaileena went to the door, and opened it, entering the main area before he could stop her, determinedly closing it behind her.
There, in the doorway, was her brother, and beyond him, was the man she’d dreaded, and hoped, to meet again.
He too had aged in her exile. Lord Minamoto looked weary; his melancholy brown eyes were darkly lidded, and his face showed many more wrinkles. His skin had paled, and he looked leaner, a much greater prominence of grey in his hair, which draped in lengths, crowned by a regal topknot. He wore layered robes in native style, inner black, and outer blue, with a dark breastplate, fingerless gauntlets, and an outer coat called a haori in stark white.
How those eyes saddened further when they appraised her in turn.
"Minamoto." she greeted, stubbornly refusing to bow.
Gatsuyu and Nagomi blanched, for more than one citizen had lost their head for such breach of etiquette, but as in earlier days, Minamoto suffered her, ”Kaileena."
The silence stretched, each staring the other down.
Eventually, Minamoto smirked, ”You’ve grown. In more ways than one. I’m only here to talk."
As he entered the house, Brother stepped aside stiffly, concern written on his face. Neither of them seemed to know what to do, as he stood before her, and turned towards the table.
"Sit with me."
Tense as a bowstring, she sat opposite, her legs and tail to the side, while he knelt more formally. Remembering herself, for there were expected courtesies with visitors, especially visiting nobility, Nagomi rushed off to set tea, putting a kettle on the stove.
Minamoto set both hands on the table, drumming his fingers.
"I am glad to see you are well."
How inadequate that felt.
Kaileena remained silent, considering the fact that while Minamoto was reigning Lord of the Central District, present with full authority to do or say as he pleased, he seemed unsure of what to say.
Knowing what she did of the man, Kaileena concluded it was, as it had always been, his doubt in his decisions regarding her and her father, more than her unnerving appearance.
"Are you here to return me to Fusestu, Minamoto?"
Again, she had declined to refer to him by title.
He frowned, thoughtful, ”I’ve received numerous missives from Lenao’s tower, including a most curious one, recently. That the bounty is revoked. Curious too, because not moments before, one of my couriers had arrived bearing a letter informing me you had been sighted by Higoi."
"And so you came looking for me."
Nodding, Minamoto sighed, ”With the bounty revoked, and your crime-"
He reconsidered, ”Your charges over a decade old, the injured parties departed or having lost interest to pursue, I see no reason not to dismiss them. I see no reason either, to revoke the offerings I’ve left your family, nor the protection I’ve placed upon this house."
"However..." he added, more dangerously, ”I am very concerned to learn that you are an enchanter. A rogue enchanter, outside the jurisdiction of Mount Renmei."
Prepared for this, Kaileena presented her crest, which earned an incredulous look from their guest.
"My father’s crest." she explained, ”Offering immunity."
"Lenao was your...father?"
He shrugged, ”A tale, I am sure. I never met Lenao...but I know him to be a man who composed himself with honor. I will accept the transfer of the crest. Where is Lenao?"
"Dead." Kaileena replied, ”Years ago. The crest is my inheritance, as is his tower."
"You were not present for this?"
His expression grew even more somber.
"I am so sorry I prevented you from paying your respects."
"Circumstance did. He was dead long before. His proxy was managing the bounty, and his affairs over all these years."
"I see... Very well." Minamoto decided, ”You charges are dropped, your bounty is null, and I will validate your holdings and immunity. Perhaps the Hitorigami will call upon you to the same position as your father."
"Thank you, Lord Minamoto."
"But..." he added, ”You brought an outsider into this land. Without the Hitorigami’s approval."
"He is no longer here. He only followed me as far as-"
"Don’t lie to me, Kaileena."
She tensed, swallowing.
"I know he is here."
There was no uncertainty.
"I will not charge you for this." Minamoto added, ”And the act will encompass my debt to you, in...failing to help your father. I cannot in good conscience execute you, after all that I have done to set you on this destructive path. You are home, now. You have found your rightful place, and not even I will gainsay, despite your use of magic. But this outsider..."
"Zolin." Kaileena named him. It was generally harder to kill someone whose name you knew.
"Zolin will accompany me. I will see him removed from Teikoku, alive."
"No, you won’t."
Gatsuyu gaped, and Nagomi spilled the kettle, sending up a cloud of steam.
"I extend my protections to him." Kaileena replied hastily, ”With the crest, I have the right."
"You are also an enchanter, and a woman, who is carrying a sword and bears previous outstanding charges. You do not have the right."
"Then I will leave with him. We will return to-"
"No. You won’t"
She blinked, cringing, her legs weak, as that tangible sense of danger returned to Lord Minamoto; stern and unflinching.
There was no uncertainty in him anymore, ”I will not let a rogue enchanter out of my sight so easily. I have tolerated your insolence because I genuinely sympathize with your plight. I have bent the rules in your favor but I will not break them. The Hitorigami’s law cannot be gainsaid for personal benefit. Your father was bound to that tower. Until the Hitorigami approves an advisory position for you that you may attend him in the capital, then you, like your father, as an enchanter, are bound to that tower, or this house, for the rest of your days."
Kaileena hissed, though it was of panic, nor anger, ”He is my mate. If I marr-"
"DO NOT!" Minamoto snapped, slamming his hand on the table, ”This is your protection and your binding, Kaileena."
Zolin stepped from the doorway, blade drawn. He and Minamoto eyed each other in open hostility. Kaileena drew Minamoto’s ire back to her, ”You would do as you have before, then?"
He looked to her, confused.
"Another prison of your design."
Minamoto shook his head, sharply, ”It is no prison."
"Yes, it is."
"I will keep you safe! As I have before!"
“SAFE?!” Kaileena shrieked, ”You enslaved me! You rewarded those who tried to kill me, to appease foreigners of evil weal! You killed my father, for seeking the only course of justice! And now you will again part me from those I love, to another prison of your design. This is my home, Minamoto! I won’t let you shatter it again!”
"It is not your place."
But Kaileena, all panic and rash impulse, again drew her mother’s sword.
“The Moon’s light reveals!” she snapped, and struck her crescent sword’s razor sharp edge into the table, right between his hands.
None spoke. Even Minamoto gaped now.
"There is no path of peace, here, now." Kaileena finally said, panting, ”Only appeasement. And appeasement of injustice is unconscionable to me. If I cannot have justice peacefully, then I will fight for it."
"Do not." Minamoto gasped, ”Do not do this."
"Lord Minamoto." she replied, her entire body shaking, ”I challenge you to armed combat."
In horrified silence, Gatsuyu stared blankly at his sister’s challenge, unwilling to accept this as reality. Surely, he’d misheard; Kaileena had accidentally dropped her sword onto the table, and he’d only imagined that.
But Minamoto rose, towering over her. His horrified expression no doubt mirrored Gatsuyu’s own.
"I can." Kaileena said, little more than a whisper, her pupils wide as coins. ”And I have."
"It is done, Brother." Kaileena interrupted, ”I have the crest. By Teikoku law I am a noble. My challenge cannot be denied, lest the challenged forfeit honor."
"I failed to save your father." Minamoto blanched, ”Rescind it. Don’t make me kill you, too."
"The challenge is given. Minamoto, do you deny my claim?"
His reply didn’t come. He just stared at her, tormented. His hands clenched.
Minamoto looked away, then met her gaze, and there was such wounded anger, such heartbreaking remorse, that for a moment Gatsuyu dared hope he would indeed refuse her challenge.
"I do not." he eventually replied, his voice broken, ”The time is your decision, and the location is mine to select. Within a tenday."
"A tenday, then."
"At Fusestu, in the courtyard. A challenge to a lord must take place in their capital, and it is the most suitable location."
"I will be there." Kaileena assured him, ”On my honor."
And that was that.
When Minamoto departed, Kaileena had immediately excused herself, needing to think. She’d left her mother’s sword where it was, struck into the table, not having the heart yet to remove it.
Not having the heart to accept she’d just challenged one of the most accomplished swordsmen in all of Teikoku.
Alone, Kaileena meditated in the guest room she shared with Zolin, though he had insisted on watching the house. The evening came and went, and she knew no answers.
She cradled her holy symbol in her hands, slowly rotating it to catch the light of a small paper lantern. She wanted to pray, but it wasn’t in her at that moment.
Kaileena held her tears at bay, for she couldn’t betray her family’s honor by fleeing for Cormyr, nor could Gatsuyu or Nagomi flee, for they would forsake their home and become refugees. If they managed to escape at all. No, that was not the answer.
So Kaileena sought memories of Cormyr instead, for comfort and perhaps inspiration. Lady Gaelyse and her brothers and sisters in faith at Teneth’s. Curate Amran and the other priests at the abbey. Even the guards at the Citadel, who’d on occasion joined her and Zolin in their sparring.
Like Teikoku, Cormyr had been a land of humans...but unlike Teikoku, it had accepted her fully and without restraint, without condition. It had become her home, its people, her people.
One way or another, Kaileena sensed that she would never see it again.
She dropped her head in her hands, the sheer panic of that sense of all-consuming finality forcing a choked sob, and an agonizing aching in her chest.
For the second time in her life, Kaileena had lost her home.
She knew her brother opened the door, though he’d done so very quietly. The air was heavy with his spoor. His proximity only upset her further, and she held herself very tightly, clutching her holy symbol, a gift from the woman who had become her mother, the woman she’d never be able to repay for a lifetime’s worth of kindness.
Her brother sat beside her, and placed his hands over hers, parting them.
Looking up, she watched as his hands brushed against her holy symbol.
"This is Sune, then? The red-haired woman?"
Nodding, Kaileena dried her tears. She didn’t want Gatsuyu to see her like this.
"A goddess of love." she explained, ”Not only of body. Of heart and spirit, too."
Gatsuyu nodded, as distraught as her, but possessed of a curious little smile, ”We’ve never had gods. It seems so strange."
"Could you tell me a little more about her?"
"Her teachings are simple..." Kaileena replied, in the very words Lady Gaelyse had used, “Beauty is more than skin deep. It issues from the core of one’s being and reveals one’s true face to the world, fair or foul.”
"My siblings in faith had no difficulty in accepting me, in accordance with this tenet. Never did I feel unwelcome, as if I didn’t belong. And you’d be surprised how much business I brought in."
She laughed at his discomfiture, smiling warmly, “Believe in romance, as true love will win over all. Follow your heart. That’s what I’m doing, Brother. I hope you can understand...and forgive me.”
"I do, and I have no need to. This Zolin is a good man, I think...but must you really-"
"Yes." she replied instantly, ”He is a good man, and deserves a place here. He’s...he’s a great many things to me."
Gatsuyu nodded, ”But to fight Minamoto...are women warriors in the other lands?"
"Oh yes." Kaileena replied, ”Dove Falconhand, Cattie-brie Battlehammer, Alusair Obarskyr, the Simbul. The fables are packed with rangers, warriors, ...enchanters, all who performed heroic deeds and vanquished mighty enemies. Our own queen regent led the defense of Suzail when the Shadovar invaded."
"What’s a shadovar?"
"Pray you never find out."
"I’d rather pray to this Sune of yours."
Squeezing his hands, Kaileena continued her sermons, “Encourage beauty wherever you find it. Acquire beautiful items of all sorts, and encourage, sponsor, and protect those who create them. Love those who respond to your appearance, and let warm friendship and admiration flower where love cannot or dares not.”
"There isn’t much to actually praying." she explained, ”Just call out with her name, hold your attention carefully, all the while allowing your mind to wander. Repeat these tenets, and act upon them. She will hear..."
He paused, breathless,
"I see. I see roses..."
Kaileena tensed, gasping in wonder, as a faint music filled the room, accompanies by a scent of flowers.
Sune had heard, indeed...
"This is my loving act." he breathed, ”My love of my family. Our home. Our will to protect it."
Overjoyed, Kaileena embraced her brother, laughing, and together, they prayed to her goddess. Their goddess.