Kazusa took stock of her day as she stood her watch. All she had lost and the things she had gained.
I woke this morning angry with myself. For my carelessness and for losing face.
I go to my rest still angry with myself. For the narrowness of this morning’s view. For believe my pride was worth grieving.
I cursed the rain for wetting my shoes.
Now I stand in the sea.
Piotr. Speaking to the cleric Beolfeii of her grief had been strange. She had told him much she had never told to others. Even Shino who knew her better than most. His strange disarming nature and her own grief-worn state had wrung more from her than she usually allowed to be seen. And yet in being seen, she felt lighter somehow.
The cleric had argued that she should honour Piotr’s sacrifice and his words had rung true. Piotr would have not have allowed her to wallow. Rather he would have made a joke of it, would have tried to make her smile. And if that had failed, he would have done something silly just to distract her. His was the way of Seii, of sincerity. And she missed his lightness more than she had words for. She reached into her pouch for his final gift to her – the fangs of the wolf.
She turned the fangs in her fingers, feeling more than seeing the grain of the tooth, the density of the bone. She had not carved since leaving Minkai and she had not the tools for it here but perhaps… perhaps…
She must have already been thinking of such things. After all, of the trophies she had taken in exchange for blood they had for the most part been bone and horn and claws. Things she could carve and work.
She took up a dagger and worked to strip the claws from the lizard beast’s severed limbs. Long and curved, they were wickedly sharp. As the scars to her wrist could attest.
Like her throat, these slashes had not healed smooth but formed three ridged scars across the soft flesh of her inner wrist. She touched them, following the new corrugation of her skin. It was strange, and at the same time not unpleasant. She had felt the sting of them, the hot run over her life’s blood as it ran down her hand but there had not been fear. Not the way there should have been. Everett was down, Shino stunned and the beast bearing down on them all. She had felt the rush of healing warmth from the cleric once before, even before she’d seen him up close. And as she called to him for aid, she knew it was not their time.
A strange feeling, after she had run so recklessly into the jaws of death at the Barbarian King’s throne.
Thoughts of the throne made her reach for her wakizashi. The black gem sat under the wraps of the handle, taking the place of the menuki that had been there. There had been no pain when it entered her, or as it passed under her skin and into her chest. She and Shino both had feared its meaning and, in the moment, she had beseeched him not to speak of it to the others. There was too much to do, too much to worry on to deal with this trouble yet. Now it seemed to have found a place of comfort in the handle of her blade, she felt guilt she had taken something from him. The wakizashi felt swifter, sharper, more agile in her hand. She had not used it in its current form yet but she felt sure it would make a difference.
And then there were the rings. She had given one to Jeff without reservation when he asked, trying one on herself. It sat snuggly on her finger, warming to her skin. A simple gold band etched with ornate patterns, the origins of which she could not guess at. There were eight more in her pouch, each beautiful in its own right. She would offer one to Shino and the rest to Everett. The brute had blooded Shino so he had right to a tithe but the kill had been Everett’s and Jeff’s. They between them should take the rest. Or if they don’t want them, perhaps they could be given to the three women they rescued, to help them start a new life.
She felt responsible for the women. She had freed them after all, but had no plan as to how to help them. She had barely spoken to them since she was under the cart, leaving their fate to others. She felt… uncomfortable around them. Unsure what they wanted from her. Rastus had tried to make her the Banner of Women but the thought sat badly with her, running cross-grained to all her training.
And then there was the horn taken from the snake man who had come near to killing Shino. She had asked Jeff to remove it, somehow ending up with half the skull attached. If she could clean off the flesh and cut the bone free, she might fashion a knife handle or some other thing from it. Shino may not want such a gift. The taking of tithes was not his way but Jeff would. She set it aside, there would be time to work on that later.
Her sparring session with Shino had been… interesting. It was a pleasure to spar with someone again. To learn and adapt, to flex her muscles in some arena other than fighting for her life. And it helped her get out of her own thoughts awhile.
He was a formidable opponent, his skills as a warrior extended beyond the Way of the Blade, surprising her more than once.
But then they had talked afterwards. As equals. Sharing thoughts and secrets. She had reached for him, taking his hand and looking into those strange blue eyes. And in truth, she wasn’t sure what she saw there. What she felt. There was too much in her already that she couldn’t categorise.
Perhaps it was better to set those thoughts aside for now. Lest those waves crash over her and leave her drowned once more.
She set her things down and did a lap of the camp, checking in on each member of her company. Everett was passed out, head thrown back and snoring. Shino slept lightly, his eye half opening as she passed. Jeff curled in on himself like a child, sweetly unguarded in his repose. Beolfeii slept with a hand on his great-sword, brow furrowed in some distant through.
She moved over to inspect those not of her company. The anger she felt towards Buster was still hot and bright and her threatened words still ran in her mind. Sleep lightly.
She stood over him a moment, reflecting on what might have been had Shino fallen. Part of her wondered if she would have kept her word, have slit his throat in the night and sat by his cooling body to accept the judgement of the others when they woke. She would not have run or made any effort to hide her act. Perhaps they would have allowed her to take up Shino’s blade and take the noble path of Seppuku.
The night was chilled and the grass dewy. Part of her teased at the idea of running a damp blade of grass across Buster’s sleeping throat. To let him feel what the cold of her blade would have been like.
But then Jeff snuffled in his sleep and the moment passed. She toyed with the plucked blade of grass, folding it onto a star before letting fall onto Buster’s chest and walked away. She had another hour of watch and the robe she had been given would need alteration if she was to wear it without it dragging on the ground.
Aware of the disorder of her own thoughts, she set herself with a clear view of the camp and started to sew.