As the days passed, Rokusho excused himself from patrols, which stunned some of his fellow soldiers, but they didn’t question this uncharacteristic behavior. They knew very well how hard Rokusho worked, and they could stomach losing one knight for a shift.
Rokusho’s armor-clad feet took him further from the castle than he usually went before stopping in front of a monastery. Life hummed within its stone walls, full of hushed prayers and rhythmic chants. The air that rushed past him once he stepped through the gate was soothing and welcoming, despite his unfamiliarity with the place. It was a nice change of scenery as he wandered over the cobblestone, passing by the lush gardens tended to by diligent monks. It was as if he’d stepped into a completely different world.
Not to lose sight of what he’d come to do, the knight procured incense from some of the rather friendly monks and burned it upon a lone altar in one of the prayer rooms. He knelt before it, a bit unsure and unfamiliar with praying. In the end, he simply used the mannerisms he used when addressing his superiors: head bowed and hand lifted to his chest.
“... For my mother and father, as well as those Scissors souls who reside in both life and death in unrest, I wish upon you... peace.”
“Well said,” came the Scissors leader’s voice. “Though not really in accordance with tradition, it’s nice of you to pay penance.”
Rokusho looked up as the Scissors leader approached and knelt by him. “I had a feeling you would come join me,” Rokusho commented. “I can arrange for you to meet the king directly under the guise of visiting diplomats. I can also order the guard detail to patrol elsewhere so you have an opening. We’re under high alert, so I’d have an excuse to do so.” He kept his voice low, only loud enough for the fellow Scissors to hear.
“That’s good news. You know, a couple of days ago, when you went to the letterist’s, my soldiers and I were worried about your tie with the Helms getting in the way of our plan. I hope you’ll understand why we needed to look through your mail, though I’ve never taken you for the type to send the prince such rich poetry.”
Rokusho, a bit embarrassed, simply replied, “Take it as you will…”
“So now… I have a good understanding of exactly what Kabuto is to you, and I understand why you can’t afford to refuse us. I really do apologize for using him as leverage against you.”
Rokusho closed his eyes, head down, “At the end of the day, everything I do is for Kabuto.”
“And I assure you, if you help us with this task, he will be with you for a long time to follow. We hold no animosity toward him,” the leader replied.
Rokusho thought of making a protective threat, but, considering his current position, thought better of it. Instead, he stood, a little lightheaded for a moment from the incense.
“I do have a question,” he said. “Why did your troops approach completely in sight? You would have given yourself the upper hand passing unseen.” Rokusho looked up at the leader, who gazed forward now at the memorial shrine in front of them.
“I wanted your king to know his enemy. It may not be a strategic move in your eyes, but I assure you, we have had no trouble getting past your increased security. Besides, this way, he knows to distinguish you from me. This way, you have the largest chance of coming out blameless.” After a short pause, they hummed. “Still… would you like to come with us after this operation? I fear they may connect the dots about our collusion. I know you must hate us, but we can offer you a home. A home with your own kind.” The leader stood. “I wouldn't normally tell this to someone working with us, but you’re a special case. We can't afford to lose even more of our people.”
Rokusho didn’t answer for a minute. He didn’t even look in the leader’s direction. He simply stared at the billowing wisps of smoke rising from the incense burner and thought back to his parents’ wishes to avoid any violence, entirely.
“Then why continue fighting like this? You don’t have to do all this. I know that given the circumstances, it seems preposterous, but sometimes it’s better to let the past remain in the past. There are other ways to put the dead to rest.”
“Like what?” the leader said with slight annoyance.
“Go home, rebuild, thrive, flourish. Continue teaching the next generation of Scissors. If you kill the king, then the next head of the Helms will surely come after you, and you’ll continually be on the run. This path you’re taking… there is no good future to it.” At last, he turned to the leader. “If you abandon this quest for bloodshed, then I promise to do everything I can to help you and the others.” This he meant in earnest. If there truly was a peaceful way, he would do everything he could for it.
The leader was silent for a moment. “Please understand that I wish it could be that simple. I wish that peace were an attainable option for us. But this… must be done.”
“But why?! Why must this great tragedy be repaid with more bloodshed?!” Rokusho replied in desperation, not noticing how snappy he had been until the leader gripped their weapon angrily.
“If we were to back down, the spirits who we swore to avenge would be even angier! And think‒ does this king deserve to live? Did he treat you with any semblance of kindness when you arrived? A refugee from a land he destroyed, himself!” The shout echoed throughout the room. Though this holy refuge was considered more or less neutral territory, the noise made Rokusho internally wince. Hopefully, the monks were out of earshot.
Rokusho looked at them sadly. “It’s true. Had it not been for Prince Kabuto’s good graces, I would not be here right now… but people change, mostly for the better. They may do things that are completely irredeemable, but I’d like to think that they also strive to do good afterwards to atone for what they’ve done.” He touched the leader’s shoulder. “I know it’s a big thing to ask, but it’s not too late to allow him to atone for himself instead of letting this die in blood… You’ve shed more than enough of it before you’ve been able to even see the king.”
The leader shrugged Rokusho’s hand off and stepped back, holding their naginata a bit more defensively. “This is something unrepentable. What would this king even do? These Helms have done nothing but take. I would be surprised if the king even understood the idea of losing his home like he did to us.” They turned and began to walk out, calling over their shoulder, “You will still be there when we call upon you. You know what the consequences are if you don’t.”
“Hmph…” Rokusho looked back at the spiraling smoke of the incense as the fire finally began to die down. “... I apologize for my… acquaintance’s behavior. This is no place for such words and actions.” He bowed his head before leaving on a different path.