IMPORTANT: This fanfic is connected with RahXephon's fanfic Master of Corruption. To properly enjoy this fanfic, you should read my partner's fic too. Check out my favorites in my profile to access it. Thank you!


Mistress of Tyranny

Ch. 10 Mistress' Power

By Sesshy's Girl 00 and RahXephon


An elderly woman sat huddled before a fire in a cold, secluded room. She held tightly to a clay cup of steaming tea in her twisted hands. After many long minutes, the peace of her shelter was interrupted by a knock upon the door. "Who is it?" She snapped in a sharp voice.

"It is me, Matsuro-sama." the soft voice of a much younger woman replied.

The crone smiled upon hearing her name and turned with a shuffling motion to face the door. Encouragingly, she called out, "Come in, dear Junko. I've been waiting for you."

The door slid open with a reluctant creak and the form of the other woman stepped into the room. Junko approached the fire sedately, her dark eyes dancing with mischief. Her sharply angled face created contrasting shadows, as she neared the older woman. Once they stood before each other, the two women bowed in greeting. Then, the older woman reached forward and touched the prominent scar on her companion's nose.

"What have you learned about the 'Angel of Echigo'? I know a full report is expected during the meeting next week but I simply can't wait." Lady Matsuro informed Junko.

Junko sighed in frustration as she collected her thoughts. The angel was infuriatingly difficult to pin and somehow…otherworldly…. It was as if she didn't belong here at all. "The Prince favors Miss Soryu and there are others who support her. However, there are those that oppose her ascent to power."

Lady Matsuro leaned in closer and displayed a toothy, acidic smile. "Is she as youthful and passionate as they say?" She inquired enthusiastically.

Junko smirked at her companion's clear interest. "Even more so. The angel is barely a child herself. However, she might just be the one we're looking for. I predict Miss Soryu has great potential to either help or hinder our plans. She posses a light I've never seen before."

"Then you know what to do, Junko. Extend a personal invitation to her." Lady Matsuro decreed.

Junko bowed respectfully and moved towards the door. "Of course, Matsuro-sama."


I opened my eyes to find a grungy, stinking, disgusting Shinji in a fetid loin cloth standing before me. He waved a bloody bamboo spear in my face and growled menacingly. His starved eyes were completely dark and bloodthirsty. They craved only one thing, the beating heart in my chest. I could feel his overpowering, uncontrollable rage in every quiver of his muscles. Whatever he'd once been, this was no longer human; it was a beast and a savage monster. I opened my mouth…and the next thing I knew, I was bolting upright in bed and screaming at the top of my lungs.

It quickly died in my throat and I fell back exhausted onto my futon. My entire body trembled uncontrollably from head to toe and I could barely breathe. Shinji's snarling face seemed permanently etched on the back of my eyelids. Every time they tried to close, he was there before me once more. I wanted to know what this hellish vision meant but I did not dare say a word. I was determined to bury my past far behind me, where it would never appear again. So why did it continue to haunt me?

It took nearly ten minutes for the shaking to subside to a level where I regained control over my body. I slowly rolled myself onto my stomach, hoping to escape the image of Shinji in my mind. A small groan of physical and mental agony escaped from my lips. My whole body ached but my shoulders were even worse. The pain from them was sharp and deep, descending into the marrow of my bones. I might have laid there forever, wallowing in my personal misery but a raspy, hacking cough from nearby brought me back towards reality.

Carefully, I got onto my hands and knees. From there, I made my way across the floor to Koto's side. Her yellow-green irises followed my movements closely. She stretched out her hand and moved her fingers carefully. A tear welled in Koto's eye and trickled down the side of her face.

"You didn't leave me, Mistress. I …arigato…" She whispered in wonder.

"Of course I didn't." I responded indignantly, "You're the one who helped me escape from there. I don't forget those I owe a debt to."

I was starting to see just how scarred this poor creature was. Koto clearly needed to appreciate the value of an individual and to respect herself. Filled by quiet determination, I began to plot on how I would pass my knowledge onto her. Koto stared mutely at me for several minutes with a mixture of confusion and disbelief on her face. I met her gaze and waited for her to ask the question I knew was coming. "Why? I am…no one…"

He voice trailed off and she turned away from me to hide her shame. Although she didn't want me to, I saw the blush spreading across her cheeks. I turned her face back towards mine and stared at her in complete seriousness.

Reluctantly, she met my gaze and I told her the truth. "I am just like you and I don't think that's such a bad thing."

Koto shook her head in protest and opened her mouth to speak. "But…"

I sharply cut her off with one of my disapproving glares and rebuffed her. "I don't care what the rest of the world says. You're not scum just because your parents weren't of the same race. A human being is a human being, regardless of race or any other distinction people place on each other. You will learn that or go back to where I found you, understand?"

Koto nodded and bowed her head to me in gratitude. "Hai, Mistress. Arigato, it's been a long time since anyone told me that."

For a minute her eyes took on a wistful look and her mind slid somewhere far into the past. Sadness and tears appeared but she stayed them off with an impressive show of willpower. With a melancholic sigh she returned to the present. I placed my hand comfortingly on hers and asked. "What's your story, Koto? How did you end up as the prisoner of such horrible men?"

At first, Koto could only look at me in silent disbelief. It was like she'd forgotten what it was like to be a normal human being or unable to fathom why I cared.

"Life for me wasn't always like this." Koto began uncertainly, "My father was a minor Kaihonese noble and my mother his slave from a distant land across the sea. They fell in love and I was born. My father, I believe, wanted to love me as a parent but I was a stain on his reputation. An affair with a non-Kaihonese is appalling but a child of mixed blood is even more atrocious."

"I spent much of my early childhood locked away and closely monitored by the few who knew the secret of my parentage. I'm not sure when or how, but someone who shouldn't have been there learned about me. All I know was that one day a bunch of angry men dragged me outside in front of the entire court. There was a lot of yelling and then….. And then my parents were decapitated."

She paused and closed her eyes tightly, attempting to rise above the pain of her past. After a minute, she regained enough control to finish her story. "Since that day, I've been prisoner of the Namiki Gang."

I smiled and she timidly copied my expression. "Well, you're now free, Koto. Welcome to your new home."

Koto looked around with an expression of surprise and wonder upon her face. "You'll let me stay here?"

I nodded in assurance and placed my hand on her shoulder. "If you'll work for me, then you may stay as long as you want."

"Arigato, Mistress."

For several minutes silence reined once more. I rose to my feet and moved towards the door. I paused a moment and Koto spoke again, "Mistress, are you feeling better? I woke to your screaming."

Without turning around to face her, I replied softly, "Hai, I was having a nightmare. I'm sorry I woke you up."

I focused on the sound of approaching footsteps and watched Frieda come around the corner. She carried a tray with a delicious spread of food upon it. The smell of the approaching meal reminded me that my body had basic needs that needed attending to. Thankfully, Frieda never forgot. I smiled happily and motioned for her to hurry up. Frieda shook her head knowingly but kept her steps even. "You're in a good mood this morning, Mistress. How do you feel?"

"Worse than expected but I will live. What did you bring us?"

Frieda paused in midstride and blinked hard. "Us?"

For a second, I did not understand why Frieda was so confused. Then, it became clear and I felt foolish for causing it. "Hai, Koto woke up. She will eat with me."

Frieda acknowledged my command and hurried past me into the room. She set the tray down and knelt beside Koto. Frieda spoke softly to the injured, young woman and tried to assess the severity of her wounds. Meanwhile, I took a seat before the food and began to devour it with great haste. With a gentle smile, Frieda cautioned me to slow down or face my stomach's fury. I ignored her and charged ahead, until I came upon something that stopped me in my tracks.

In one of the covered bowls, lay a gorgeously prepared sampling of sausage and sauerkraut. I was so thrilled to see real German food, that I couldn't help the squeal of delight that escaped my mouth. I clapped my hands together and gushed in German to Frieda. "Where did you get this? You are amazing! I've been missing eating real German food for so long."

Frieda nodded in acceptance of my praise but remained silent about the source of the authentic sauerkraut. I was too blissful to take note of her reluctance to answer and lifted the bowl into my hands. I raised it to my nose and inhaled deeply, savoring the tangy, salty scent that came with it. It smelled wonderfully like home and I couldn't get enough. I closed my eyes and allowed the familiar, comforting aroma to take me away to my grandmother's kitchen in my childhood.

Neither Frieda nor Koto made any comment on my preoccupation, but they must have wondered. They ignored me and for several minutes continued with what they were doing. I returned their silence with my own and concentrated on savoring my rare bounty. It tasted great, and it was all the more amazing for its homemade quality. I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten something this good. Frieda returned to my side after seeing to Koto and held out her hand to me. "Allow me to examine your arm and back, Mistress."

Reluctant but fully aware of my need, I removed the top half of my robe. Frieda gently cleaned my new tattoo with a cool rag and spread healing salve over the site. Then she turned to my arm. Frieda un-wrapped the bandages and covered the wound that marred it with more salve. Once that was done, my arm received a fresh covering of bandages and I was deemed ready for the day. Frieda helped me change into a fresh kimono, fix up my hair and put make up on my face. I glanced in the mirror and decided that I liked how I looked.

I was certainly no traditional Asian beauty but I undoubtedly possessed my own kind of attractiveness. Maybe it was the fire which flowed through my veins or perhaps something else entirely. However, the effect – the raw power – it bestowed on me was unmistakable. Now that I claimed my own fire, I could use it to make these bakas obey me. I planned to set Echigo on a different path and bring her into the future. Whether these foolish leaders wanted it or not, I wasn't concerned with their opinions.

"Mistress, you should try out your powers." Frieda suggested cautiously.

I turned my head to look at her and nodded in agreement. Gently, I set the mirror aside and waited for instructions. Frieda approached me and lay my right hand palm up in the air. In a soft, encouraging voice, she explained. "You must focus your will and concentrate the fire into a single point. Then unleash it."

"Any restrictions on me - my power?"

Frieda nodded and informed me, "You only receive a limited amount of mana to start with. As long as you have some left, you may summon fire. Once you run out, you must wait until the moon rises in the night sky to replenish it."

"Sounds simple enough. Is there a limit to my range?"

"Only the Fire God knows that right now but since you're a novice, it won't be great. Your range will increase as you gain more strength and control." She assured me.

Frieda stepped back to stand next to Koto and the two women motioned for me to try. Feeling slightly foolish, I closed my eyes and concentrated on the images of fire from the evening before. Almost instantly, the flames leapt to life inside me and began to course through my veins. Surprisingly, it wasn't painful in the least but it was intense and was controlling my senses. I breathed deeply and concentrated all my energy on my right hand. After a minute, I felt it bending to my will and gathering in my palm. I opened my eyes and a tiny flame, like the flicker of a burning candle, appeared.

I marveled at its innocuous, delicate appearance. The fire might be innocent and nearly harmless now, but it would get more dangerous in time. To my eyes, it was simply the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. It danced and waivered for a moment, then it disappeared in a puff of smoke. I sank to my knees and the loss of mana tired my body physically. I sighed and forced myself to stand up. My knees wobbled slightly but I remained firmly on my feet. It took a few minutes for the weakness to completely pass away, but it didn't drag me down again.

Frieda and Koto nodded in pleasure, after seeing my display of 'power'. It may not have been spectacular but I had done it. I possessed a small fragment of the Fire God's strength and wielded it on my own. That had to count for something special or was I loony? Despite what happened to my mother, I didn't believe I'd gone crazy just yet.

As I would learn later on, at present I was only limited to summoning five flames a day, either separately or in a group. If I preferred, I could cause things to spontaneously combust instead but I was currently limited to items that were close and would burn easily. Another important detail was that a day started on midnight and ended on the next. It all seemed simple enough, except it wasn't, because in actuality I had very little real strength. I wasn't about to impress anyone with five little flames, but I recognized what this meant. It was the sign of things to come. The Goddess of Fire reigned supreme.


I intended to start my mornings by seeking out the Ichigawa family and speaking to them personally. I felt that after what happened the day before, I owed them a personal apology. However, Kotoya had different plans. He decided that I needed to follow him around, while he attended to official business. I wasn't particularly interested in doing anything of the sort. However, Kotoya reminded me that it would be an important learning experience and I needed to defend my black powder publicly. So I didn't have much of a choice in the matter.

The first part of my experience was relatively innocent and boring. Kotoya met with several of his more important ministers and military leaders. Through their discussions, I learned that the war in Han was becoming steadily more and more unpopular because of how poorly it was progressing lately. The Han had mounted a strong resistance in the countryside and were holding the Kaihonese back. Foolishly, the Kaihonese had yet to figure out that the Han, who seemed very much like the ancient Chinese, weren't just scum to be stamped on. I guess I couldn't really blame the Han for being so angry, since they were being attacked for stuff that came out of the ground and were treated as nothing.

Midway through the morning, a message was delivered to me from a most interesting person, Junko Harada. It was a short note but I found it an interesting one nonetheless. Junko requested a meeting with me later that morning. She indicated that she had an important private matter to discuss with me. Curious, I wrote a short, careful reply accepting her request and signed my name at the end. Then I wrote a second letter in German to Frieda requesting her presence at the meeting and ordered it taken to her.

Dutifully, Frieda arrived at the designated room minutes before Junko appeared. She assumed an inauspicious position behind me and we patiently waited for the meeting that was about to transpire. After a brief wait, an expected knock was heard upon the door. I rose to my feet and beckoned Junko to enter. The door opened and she stepped inside.

I frowned deeply as Junko Harada approached me. She might have been beautiful if she put on a little weight and covered the scar on her nose. Junko was made of skin and bones, a collection of sharp angles from head to toe. Her rocky marriage to Emori Harada was well known due to their many loud fights. Privately, I suspected the problems were their age and size difference. Emori was nearly fifty and an overweight giant of a man, while Junko was twenty one and little more than a twig.

Junko bowed before me and kept her head lowered when I bid her to rise. Frieda remained still behind me but I didn't bother to raise her because I didn't want Junko to see me showing kindness to the servants. I was already considered foolish for being so concerned about them. Not that Junko would care, but I wasn't going to take any risks since appearances were everything.

"Good morning, Harada-san." I greeted her coolly.

"Greetings, Mistress Angel. I am honored you were so agreeable to meet with me." She replied evenly.

I fought the urge to grind my teeth in frustration with this woman. She was so well controlled. I could read nothing except for the placid surface she presented me. However, I knew no that facade was perfect, and if I waited long enough she would reveal her true self to me.

With my gaze focused on her, I replied. "Not at all. You promised you had something interesting to relate and I wish to hear it."

I forced myself to remain impassive and display no sign of serious interest to Junko. I might want to hear what she said but there would absolutely be no groveling on my part. For the briefest instant, Junko seemed uncertain, but her hesitation promptly disappeared and was replaced with calm serenity.

"Mistress…I am a representative of an alliance…who wishes you to join our ranks." She began ambiguously.

"Go on…" I permitted her.

I had absolutely no idea what kind of 'coalition' she was talking about, let alone why they'd want someone like me to join. Still, I was willing to let her continue to speak for the moment. I was curious to learn more and wanted to hear what she had to say.

"This association is a gathering of enlightened female minds. We seek equal respect and status for all women." She explained carefully.

Okay…this was really interesting. There was group of women out to win equality for the sexes. And they were centuries ahead of their time. I almost wanted to laugh this off as a prank, except Junko looked completely serious about it. After recovering from my initial shock, my first instinct was to agree with this mad plan, regardless of the risks or apparently futile nature. I'd been raised to believe that men and women were equals. The disparity between them in this world had rubbed me the wrong way from the first day. However, I felt I could not trust Junko because I felt like she was lying to me or at least concealing the whole truth. Knowing this, I could not comfortably leap right into what could easily be a devil's bargain.

"Tell me, is there anything else I should know about this alliance. How many are involved? What is your plan?"

"I cannot answer your questions at this time but I assure you we are well positioned and prepared." Junko responded in a mixture of firmness and apology.

I feigned only the slightest interest, while I tried to decide my next course of action. Junko seemed eager to end this conversation, but I needed more information. I sensed that Junko was keeping something from me and without it; I simply didn't feel comfortable joining these women. Behind me, Frieda coughed a sign that she wanted to speak to me in private. Calmly, realized that I needed more time to think this proposal over and hear what Frieda desired to say. With a courteous bow to Junko, I excused myself politely. "I'm afraid I cannot give you an answer right now. Permit me a week to think this over and I will inform you of my decision then."

Junko bowed and replied, "Of course, Miss Soryu. Until then."

The second she was far enough away Frieda rose to her feet and exclaimed emphatically. "Mistress, you must not listen to her! They are all wicked witches and harlots, deserving of no mercy from you."

The sincere passion and loathing in her voice was impossible not to hear. I turned myself to face Frieda and gave her my undivided attention.

Frieda breathed deeply and regained some measure of composure. "I'm sorry. That was inappropriate of me." She apologized weakly.

Aware that Frieda was still shaken by the force of her emotions, I assured her that I was not offended by her outburst. Then, I asked her to explain what she meant about the women. I did this not because I doubted her but because I wanted– no, needed to know what she did.

"That group of women…." Frieda began reluctantly, "There are whispers amongst the women, terrible ones. I hear the most unspeakable…awful things about them. It is rumored that they defile, ruin the genitals of those who displease them and use the blood of innocents in heathen, blasphemous rituals to suit their ends. Mistress Soryu, you must not join them."

Before I had time to completely comprehend what I'd learned, a soft voice spoke from behind me. "I've heard such rumors too."

We turned to see Koto, hovering uncertainly in the doorway. I quickly waved her in and closed the door behind her. Once Koto was seated and ready to speak, I urged her to tell us what she heard.

"I…I know of a member of that despicable group who is married to a Kaihonese noble. They don't want him to have an heir, especially not one who is male. So when she delivered a male child, he was taken away from her before he was barely free of her womb and drowned in the nearest river. These are evil, soulless women and you must not join them!"

After hearing Koto's pleas, I decided that I needed to investigate this group extremely closely and find out the truth. My instinct to be cautious had been a wise one indeed. I took my leave from Koto and Frieda, ordering them to return to my rooms, while I took care of some other business that needed tending to. It was long past time for me to visit the Ichigawa family and make my apologies. They suffered most horribly under my greater knowledge.

Silently and swiftly, I made my way through the narrow corridors, looking for the Ichigawa chambers. After everything that had happened yesterday, I needed to speak with them. Urara and Sayu were the most important ones for me to see. I hoped to clear up the misunderstanding and see that her injures were healing well. Considering everything that had happened, I decided to do this in private. It seemed much safer then facing Urara's wrath in public. There was no doubt that there would be problems.

It took me several wrong tries for me to find the right door. Once I did, I knocked firmly and waited for an answer. To my relief, Urara responded quickly. When she saw my presence on the other side, she frowned in disapproval. "Miss Angel, what a pleasant surprise." She hissed nastily.

I forced the most pleasant smile possible upon my face and bowed to Urara. She glared down at me, her face contorted in an awful scowl. I met her stare with one full of guilt and apology. I doubted this would soften her hatred of me but after what happened to her daughter; I owed it to her. "I came to apologize for what happened to Sayu and the other children yesterday. I never meant to hurt anyone and I feel terrible about everything."

Urara narrowed her eyes in disbelief and frowned sourly. Her arms remained crossed across her chest and her body rigid. "Wretched witch. Get out, NOW!" She seethed.

"Mama?" Inquired a soft voice.

We both looked down to see Sayu standing at Urara's feet. Her face was red and swollen where she'd been burned. One eye was covered with bandages and the other watched me with interest. A flash of remorse stabbed me deep in the gut, knowing I had caused her face permanent disfigurement. In this world, I'd probably ruined her chances of a decent marriage if any at all.

"Sayu get back inside." Urara commanded her.

"Mama, don't be angry. The Angel didn't want to hurt me." She whispered softly.

Tears welled in Sayu's good eye and tricked down her cheek. Urara softened slightly and gently nudged her daughter back inside. Then she turned back to me with an enraged, wrathful glare. Without another word, I knew she would not hear more from me and it was useless to try. I'd become the enemy – a hated, blasphemous, demonic witch. Urara seized the door and slammed it closed between us, leaving me alone in the corridor. I turned swiftly on my feet and headed back down the hallway in a flourish of silk.

When I returned to my rooms, I found a visitor waiting for me. Kotoya paced anxiously back and forth, his hands working in an agitated fury. As I stepped into the room, he rapidly approached my side. "I'm glad you return unharmed Mistress. I believed …"

His voice trailed off but the implication was clear. I firmly assured him that I would allow neither incident to be repeated again. Hearing me state my resolve in person seemed to appease him and his tense face relaxed. I offered him a seat at my table, which he reluctantly accepted and sent Frieda off for a pot of tea. Once we were alone and comfortable, I turned his attention to the issue at hand. "What do you want, Kotoya? I believe there was a reason you sought an audience with me this morning."

"Indeed, there was." Kotoya acquiesced.

He hesitated for a second, uncertainty apparent in his expression. Then, resolution reappeared. "I came to bring you a…a most important gift. One I expect you will be glad to have but I pray you have little actual need of."

He raised his hands and clapped twice, sharply. The door opened, revealing Ginga Uesugi and General Uesugi standing on the other side. Both were dressed formally in fine silken robes and wore serious expressions. Although, I thought General Uesugi's was actually slightly wrathful in appearance. Ginga protectively carried a long, wooden, highly polished, gold and precious gem encrusted box in his hands. The pair stopped behind Kotoya and Ginga gently placed the box in the prince's hands. Kotoya stepped towards me and presented the container to me.

Uncomfortably aware of the intently watching eyes, I carefully untied the ribbon that held the box closed and lifted the lid. Inside laid the most beautiful piece of weaponry I ever saw. A recently forged katana in a black leather scabbard gleamed coolly in the bright light. Although the box was completely ornamental, the blade it held was made to be used. The hilt was wrapped with strips of leather for better handling and the blade itself was honed to a deadly precision.

I carefully wrapped my hand around the hilt of the katana and lifted the blade into the air. I smiled at how comfortable and natural it felt there. My internal fire seemed to eat and be fed by my weapon's strength. In time, I would turn this into a devastating combo which would leave me unopposed by these fools. I made a series of controlled strokes through the air to test the blade's balance and my own flexibility. It responded so smoothly, I almost believed it was lighter than air.

I grinned broadly and re-sheathed the katana. Kotoya nodded in approval and requested my company for the rest of the afternoon. My first instinct told me to politely refuse his offer and return to the relative safety of my room. The morning had been tedious enough for me to sit through. Admittedly, I had learned some useful information and my public image only grew as I spent more time around others. Also, I found further enticement in that fact that General Uesugi clearly didn't want me there. So I politely accepted Kotoya's appeal for my presence and we left for the formal meeting hall.

The afternoon meetings were just as bothersome as the morning ones had been. Thankfully, Kotoya engaged me in the issues and asked my opinion on any number of topics, which kept me from going insane due to boredom. The highlight to my day was the arrival of a formal invitation from General Akaka to perform the blessing of Echigo's first terraced hill in two weeks. Excited by the unexpected news, I quickly sent back a reply promising to be there. He seemed overly confident for one who still had much to accomplish but I trusted things would work out. I'd be helping this project along after all.

That evening, I returned to my room to find Frieda and Koto feeding dead mice to the black snake from before. The serpent turned his head and hissed at me but I refused to be intimidated by it. After a minute, the snake returned to eating and seemed untroubled by my presence. I watched the trio for several minutes, noting Koto's romantic, loving nature towards the beast and Frieda's awkward attempts at communication with it. The whole situation would be almost comical, if I could sake the feeling that there was a human level intelligence inside the obsidian serpent but that appeared impossible to do. There was something too…deliberate about the movements and a sense of watchful, awareness in the eyes.

Determined to gain a better understanding and figure this out, I broke into their conversation and asked my question. "Koto, tell me about the tattoo on your hand. What's the story behind it?"

Koto rubbed her hand thoughtfully, her eyes sad and mournful. The snake wrapped itself around her shoulders in what seemed an effort to comfort her. "An Long was a good man and the first person to show me kindness…as punishment, they turned him into a snake and bound him to my hand. I think they meant that to destroy us but…" Koto explained.

I smiled to myself, knowing where this story was headed and understanding becoming perfectly clear. "Allow me to guess, the Serpent Lord took pity on you two and didn't punish as planned? I can only imagine how unhappy the Namiki clan was about that."

Koto nodded stiffly and stroked the snake's – An Long's - head dejectedly. "Sadly, there is no known counter curse to the spell they used on him."

"Why can't the Snake God help you?" I demanded, "He must have the power to reverse the Namiki clan's cold hearted action."

"He refuses to tell me if that is even possible. He's made it clear he won't aid me in this task. I think he still wants to punish us and this is the way he intends to take it."

She caressed the snake lovingly and continued, "Truthfully, I fear to try. His soul is still here but nothing guarantees…"

Koto's voice trailed off and she refused to say another word. However, I didn't need her to complete the sentence to comprehend her meaning. After all Koto had been through, the fear of loss must be terrible for her. So I sympathized with her desire to cling to the snake, when it was the man she truly wanted. I wished I could help her but I didn't know how I would intercede with the Serpent God on their behalf. As I considered it, an idea came to me in a moment of brilliance.

"Koto, once I gain power, I promise that I will personally challenge the Gods and return An Long's human form." I declared boldly.

I felt confident, Both Frieda and Koto became pale and wide eyed while An Long hissed dangerously. For several minutes none of them were able to speak but Frieda finally found the voice too.

"Mistress, you can't be serious. Please cease this madness! What you speak of is pure insanity. The gods are the basis of everything in this world. One does not simply remove them." She begged me.

I shook my head at her and smiled deviously. I would not listen to a word she said. "I don't care about any of that, Frieda. This world is full of superstitious fools and I won't stand for it. I'm going to take power in whatever form I can, whenever I am able to and wherever it's found. If I don't, these foolish mortals and your beloved Gods will destroy everything."

"It is not about good or bad, Mistress. You're new here so you don't understand the power they posses. It's beyond anyone's imagination." Koto insisted.

"So, there's nothing to say I won't be capable of defeating them one day." I replied brazenly.

"No – Mistress, please…not even the most skilled magic wielder or warrior would ever dare to think of such things. Even they understand that one represents a single drop of water in the ocean." Frieda pleaded.

They tried to continue their argument but I refused to hear another word. I went straight to bed and covered my ears to prevent me from hearing their insistent requests that I reconsider. Eventually, their voices wore out and they fell silent at last. I adjusted the blanket and drifted into a troubled sleep, where demons and angels haunted.


I shielded my eyes from the sun as I stepped out into the light. Cicadas sang incessantly in the distance and their voices filled the air. Trying my hardest to ignore them, I closed the short distance that separated me from General Akaka and his companion. Upon hearing my approach, they turned and bowed in greeting. "Welcome, Miss Soryu. Thank-you, for agreeing to be here today." General Akaka enthused.

I grinned broadly with anticipation and bowed in return "Not at all, General Akaka. I am thrilled to be a part of today's celebration."

General Akaka bowed low in gratitude for my presence and motioned to his companion, a young man I recognized but couldn't name. "Allow me to introduce my bold partner in this endeavor, Ichiro Hanabusa. I'm afraid I've rather overworked him these last few weeks, but he's been supremely helpful."

Bowing to Hanabusa, I began to remember what I'd learned about him. He was Echigo's underappreciated overseer of agricultural affairs. This meant he spent most of his time tracking and organizing imports of food to make certain the inhabitants of Echigo had enough to eat. Hanabusa was young be in such an important position but he was the only person brave enough to tackle the job. I would envy him, except he was one of those people that took everything in stride and rarely became unsettled.

"Arigatou. You are most generous with your time, skills and knowledge, Hanabusa-san."

"It was nothing, I assure you. I've long desired to free this land from her heavy dependence on foreigners for food." Hanabusa assured me.

General Akaka pointed to the hill behind us. For the first time, I noticed the number of people that stood upon it, staring at me with wide eyes. The blatant awe on their faces amused me greatly and I smiled more out of mirth then contentment.

"I - we are all humbled that you honor us with your presence, Miss Soryu. If you will permit me, I will say a few words and then you may address the crowd." General Akaka explained.

I extended my arm in a sweeping pseudo curtsy and stepped aside. "Whenever you are ready, General Akaka. I wish to hear what you want to say."

General Akaka took his place at the makeshift podium that waited for him. He placed his hands on the bamboo railing and held his head high. "Thank-you, for all your hard work and dedication to this project. It may not seem like much now, but your actions bring much honor and good to this land. Now, the Angel of Echigo has personally come to bless these fields."

General Akaka turned to me and held out his hand, in a gesture that he wanted me to join him. I accepted his outstretched hand and allowed him to pull me foreword. The waiting crowd jostled eagerly to find the best vantage point and eyed me with anticipation. Looking back at them, I could feel their energy flowing through and feeding me. I seemed to grow taller and more impressive from basking in it. With a deep breath and consciously amplifying my voice, I opened my mouth to speak.

"Citizens of Echigo, I first want to thank each and every one of you personally for what you have done here. Your efforts are only the beginning of a course that will one day free Echigo from the need to buy so much food from other provinces. People will be free to grow food with their own hands. You, the good people here today, are the start of something far greater. From these humble origins, a stronger, more prosperous Echigo shall soon emerge. Her light shall shine brilliantly for all to see and be the envy of the world."

I paused and the crowd cheered enthusiastically. They pressed closer to the stage, their eyes hungry for more. I raised my hands and called my inner fire into life. The surge ignited the preplaced charges and they exploded in a cloud of smoke and dirt. As the air cleared, I was able to look around and take in the effects of my work. Radiating from the detonation sites, were several rings of holy, white powder. Seeing how well I'd done, I had to smile to myself in pride. I turned to the people and showed them false benevolence.

Not surprisingly, the crowd cheered for me in ecstatic adoration. I humbly bowed in acceptance of the praise. Clearly the people loved me and for that I was grateful. Their belief in me made me more acceptable to the nobility. If enough people supported me, no one could oppose me. I loved how that sounded. I savored every bit of deference I received because I knew I deserved it. I was immensely superior to these uneducated fools and I knew it. I was determined to gain and keep their respect.

Upon returning to my rooms that afternoon, I discovered several letters waiting for me. I smiled happily as I collected them to read. It seems my efforts hadn't been in vain. Now, I just might have the hard evidence I desired in my hands. I quickly found a comfortable spot on the floor and eagerly opened the first scroll parchment to read.

After hearing what Frieda and Koto said about the women's group two weeks ago, I decided to take action. I threatened and bribed members of the intelligence core to tell me what they knew and bring me fresh information. Of course, it was necessary to beg an extra week from Junko to give the spies time to work and bring back what I wanted. The scrolls I held were the culmination of that research.

Unfortunately, they were too ambiguous for my tastes. The women's group, locally known in Kaihon as the Women's Power, still existed but the list of active members was null. No one seemed willing to admit to being a part of its activities or knowing who was. Their exact motives and work were also unknown. They had been implicated in countless heinous and bloody affairs. These even included wild allegations of being involved in the disappearance of the Han Emperor himself! Yet for all the outrageous claims, there was no solid evidence. The only positively known acts were minor offences no one paid attention to, let alone punish.

Still, I'd seen more than enough to make up my mind on the subject. I would not, could not join the Women's Power or support them in any way. However, based on what I knew, I considered them a credible threat to everyone's safety. They complete haziness in these reports was too much; I felt troubled and deeply concerned about the whole thing. I intended to secure my position and protect the people but I couldn't do it with this. It was past time to have hard data and a pair of eyes on these women. Essentially, I needed a woman willing and able to join their ranks and report back on their activities. The question was where I would a willing person. I supposed I needed to approach Benito Genji, who was in charge of such things. Although, I wondered how well he was prepared to infiltrate a women's group.

Well, I suppose there were other ways to accomplish my goal if Genji proved uncooperative. Still, I hoped I didn't have to resort to drastic measures.

Silently, I considered the best way to approach Benito Genji with my proposal. There was no reason why I couldn't do this. It was only a matter of technique. A soft knock at the door distracted me from my planning. Momentarily annoyed by the interruption, I rose to my feet and went to answer it.

When I opened the door, I was surprised by who I found standing on the other side. Yuina started back at me, her face bloody, swollen and bruised from recent injuries. At her side were two figures. One, a young man I could only assume to be Zero, was tall and lanky. His eyes were unfocused and they seemed more of a dark red then black. Unlike his counterpart from my world, this Zero seemed more of a gentle, lost soul then beastly. I swore that the other figure that accompanied Yuina was a small female cherub. With a beautiful heart shaped face, perfect rosy skin and innocent dark eyes, it was easy to believe that she came from somewhere else.

Once I stopped focusing on the faces and turned my attention to the rest of them, I realized that they were carrying packs and futons. Yuina bowed in apology for disturbing me and inquired, "Mistress, may we please stay with you?"

"What happened?" I inquired carefully.

"She made daddy mad and now he's kicked us out." Mokota informed me acidly.

The malevolence that dominated her face was unlike anything I'd ever seen. It was so cold and calculating, more appropriate to someone much older and extremely out of place in her. Yuina colored and bowed low on the ground once more. This time, she took Mokota with her and forcibly pressed the girl's head to the floor. "Mistress, I beg you to forgive my sister's rudeness. She still has much to learn about the proper etiquette around one such as you." She implored me.

I raised her up with my hand and responded. "Do not worry about it. Of course you may stay here." I assured her.

I motioned for them to enter and they bowed a third time, before filing past me into the room. Yuina organized their stuff in a corner while Zero sat humming beside her and Mokota sulked on the other side of the room. I approached Yuina herself first. There seemed to be more going on here and she was the one to ask. Why would General Uesugi throw his own children out or had Yuina taken her siblings with her when she displeased him? I was not blind to the bruises.

Attempting to be as nonthreatening as possible, I approached Yuina and knelt beside her. Up close, I realized that she was crying silently, two trails of tears running down her face. Sympathetically, I placed my hand on her shoulder and asked, "What happened?"

Yuina quickly wiped her eyes and shook her head to banish the tears. "You need not worry about me, Miss Soryu."

I could read the resolution in her eyes and I held no desire to break it, so I let the question go unanswered. Besides, one look at her and I already held an impression of what had transpired. Yuina offered a little smile of thanks for being given a small victory. I waved her off with a nonchalant shrug because I was only too happy to let her have it. "How long have the three of you been exiled for?" I inquired.

I figured this would be a much safer rote to learn what was going on in General Uesugi's rooms. Besides, the question wasn't too rude since I was kind enough to host them. I deserved to know what I was getting into.

"Indefinitely." Yuina responded hesitantly.

"Why?"

Her answer made no sense to me, unless she thought there was no chance for reconciliation. Yuina hung her head and sighed tiredly. "He'll leave for Han soon. There is no way of knowing if he might favor us or continue to shun our presence, if he returns." She replied dolefully.

For several moments, I could only blink in confusion, as I tried to reason Yuina's words out. I'd known Han was important but I never thought it carried such weight. "Han? Why is he going all the way over there?"

Yuina's crimson eyes wandered out over the garden and she seemed lost in thought. Fearing she hadn't heard me, I was about to repeat my question when she spoke an answer to it. "He is gravely displeased with Lord Yurara, who presently commands our men in Han. So, he wishes to inspect the troops himself." She explained.

Not surprisingly, I was starting to understand just how chaotic this world really was. How did anyone survive the madness? "Is this a common occurrence? Or did something happen?"

"Nothing I am aware of, Mistress. This is a fairly frequent event, I fear. My father and Lord Yurara regularly disagree." Yuina assured me.

A smile graced my face, as I imagined the furious correspondence between these two men. It sounded like some funny long distance cold war. It was so amusingly perfect, I almost couldn't resist immediately looking for a way this might benefit me. All these rifts and the infighting were so amusing. Well, it appeared I was under a time constraint, but in my mind that made things even more exciting because I enjoyed a good challenge.

By the next morning, news that Yuina, Zero and Mokota were living with me had spread throughout the palace. The stir it caused was hilarious to watch. I cared nothing of the outrage and scandal many others saw. Their words fell on deaf ears. My main mission was to speak to General Uesugi before he decided to join the ranks of those who permanently hated my guts. The problem was that he was so upset over the humiliation I'd dealt him that he had locked himself in his room and refused to leave.

I felt no sympathy for the man I knew to be abusing and neglecting his own children. I was more concerned someone would convince them to return to their father before my plan was complete. Fortunately, Koto and Frieda were protecting the trio from the rest of the world for now. So, I had room to work with. It seemed my first task for the day was to find the shamed one himself and have the discussion I desired. After leaving breakfast, I set off in pursuit.

Walking silently down the corridors of the palace, I searched for General Uesugi. I figured he'd still be in his room, if not nearby, so I turned my feet in that direction. Whether he liked it or not we would talk because it was long past time we did. This persistent silence did neither of us any good. There was much we needed to discuss before he left, and none of it was anything easy. Both of us were confirmed to be stubborn and determined negotiators after all. I had to wonder just how this would happen. It didn't seem like I'd need to wait much longer for that answer.

I turned another corner and came face to face with the object of my quest lurking in a darkened corner. I expect General Uesugi to glower at me with a menacing, threatening glare but he seemed almost placid. I stared back at him, unsure of how to handle him. Anger or rage I could have understood but not this calculated, calm demeanor. 'Was he trying to make a point?' I wondered. Well, whatever he meant to do, I would not be daunted by it.

"Good afternoon, Mistress Angel." He greeted me coolly.

I smiled back at him with false pleasantry and bowed slightly. "Good day to you as well, General Uesugi." I responded lightly.

General Uesugi's dark eyes studied me intently, trying to gain a handle on his opponent. I maintained the look of innocence and nonchalance upon my face while I waited for him to respond. With narrowed eyes, he crossed his arms and stated in a vaguely cross voice, "How long do you intend to interfere in my affairs?"

"Meddling? I don't know what you're talking about, my Lord General."

His lips became thin and his eyes became narrow. However, he only seemed slightly annoyed by my answer and not furious. For a second, I felt off balanced but quickly settled my mind. It seemed he wanted me to be the one who exploded but I refused to give him the pleasure. I remained implacably calm under his 'fire'. "Yes, you do." He stated severely.

I betrayed no sign of guilt or even the impression that what I'd done was wrong. Some might be considering me to be harboring fugitives but I disagreed. Yuina, Zero and Mokota had every right to run away from their father after what he did to them. He was nothing more than a cruel, abusive bully and deserved no love. That was why I felt no respect for this man.

"I'm afraid we have a disagreement of opinions, General Uesugi. I do not feel that giving them a safe place to sleep is a crime." I replied calmly.

For an instant, General Uesugi seemed on the verge of displaying some kind of anger but then he regained his composure. "I must insist, Mistress. What you do is an insult to me, my family and my ancestors."

"On the contrary, your actions are much more dishonorable then my own. One's family is one's most prized possession, is it not?" I reminded him.

General Uesugi reluctantly agreed with me and I had an opening to press my suit. I prayed he did not over react to my words and more importantly, agreed to it. As distasteful as it was to my sensibilities, I wanted her safe and happy. "Then why not let Yuina marry? She is of appropriate age and Lord Kotoya would certainly accept her as his wife."

"She is sickly and has poor blood in her veins. Any child of hers would be weak and a discredit to our family." He informed me bluntly. "Kotoya-sama's desire for her is misguided."

I was starting to understand General Uesugi's opposition to Yuina marrying Kotoya. Personally I considered his position foolish but I made myself remember that this world was different. People didn't marry for love here. Such unions were solely about profit. The exact source of that gain didn't matter, whether it was political gain, monetary increase or continuation of a line. All of those were considered valid reasons but romance was an afterthought. Such a sad, pitiable world.

Somehow, I probably deserved this miserable world and all its problems. I was a prickly, horrible, unlovable woman. After my mother's suicide, I never seriously dreamed of finding someone for me, let alone having kids. So this was perfect for me. But not everyone would agree. Just because I wasn't interested in it didn't mean others couldn't find true love and romance. In fact, I would fight tooth and nail for another's right to that which I spurned. That's why I pushed so hard for Yuina and Kotoya's marriage. I had the feeling they'd be happy together and I wanted to give them that chance.

Therefore, I would find a way to convince General Uesugi to allow his daughter to marry Kotoya. In all honesty I relished the challenge and looked forward to seeing how long it took. I was certain General Uesugi would be persuaded in time. There was no way I'd let him win, absolutely none. My pride was on the line too.

Plotting my next moves, I returned to my room to work on my plans in private. I arrived there to find a message waiting for me. I expected it to be something from Kotoya or General Akaka. However, it was from a small group of influential military commanders. I couldn't read the rest because it was written with characters I didn't know. Frustratingly, I realized I'd actually have to put some effort in reading it.

Grumbling but curious about what they wanted, I unearthed my set of teaching scrolls I'd procured the other day. The first one contained a list of half the katakana, Hiragana and kanji that made up the Japanese language followed by their meaning and Romanized translation. The second scroll was the other half of that list and the rest were the rules for proper usage and sentence structure.

With the aid of those scrolls, I slowly translated the letter and unraveled its meaning. It was basically a request from a group of Generals to allow them to take a more refined version of black powder to Han to use against their enemies. I wasn't sure I was completely comfortable with the idea. I didn't like the idea of anyone taking my creation and using it on other people. I knew what the highly explosive black powder could do to someone. It only took an accident to end a life or ruin it forever. These primitive baboons weren't ready to deal with that.

I thought about what they wanted and decided that it actually had some merit. Black powder would be far more useful if it was more contained. It could be militarily advantageous to find a method to create such a system. I closed my eyes and two images slowly surfaced within it, a cannon and a grenade. The cannon seemed the more difficult of the two to create but a simple grenade…I smiled broadly at the implications of my little idea. I found a blank scroll and a jar of ink. I quickly sketched out my idea and prepared it to be sent off to a metal smith.

Fortunately, Frieda returned as I was finishing up my plan on paper. I sealed the scroll and handed it to her. "Give this and a bowl of my black powder to someone with metal working skills. I don't care who, but he must be one of the best. Tell them I'll pay whatever is necessary but it must be made of copper. Understood?"

Frieda nodded and bowed obediently. She tucked the scroll into her obi and vanished from sight. I smiled in satisfaction as I watched her go. I suspected that my little creation would have big consequences and the prospect of the havoc it would cause amused me. Full of energy and vigor, I secured a second scroll to codify my plans for the design of a cannon. I knew already that copper would be an unsuitable material for that purpose since it was far too soft and malleable. However, better metals were too difficult and costly to obtain since it involved continuing warfare to secure the mines in Han. So I was determined not to use them at all if possible.

My best hope was to find a combination or alloy with a high amount of copper and sturdy enough to function. I might not be familiar with the art of metalworking but I did learn chemistry and physics from college in Germany. So, I knew how to calculate the forces and chemical properties that were part of such a process. A little work and experimentation should be enough to give me the answer I sought.

The next morning, Frieda awoke me with bad news. General Uesugi had forbidden his Generals to talk with me when he wasn't present. He had also started a motion to have my black powder declared as heresy. Inside, I fumed darkly as Frieda related her news. A scowl appeared on my face and my arms folded across my chest. This would never do. I had to go talk to him immediately.

I rose to my feet and straightened my hair delicately. Frieda brought out the makeup box and touched up my face with her skilled hands. Smiling in the mirror, I knew I looked stunning. I was aware that General Uesugi could care less about how I looked. Still, I wanted to know I appeared at my best. Impressions were everything in this world because someone would always be watching. However, I didn't do all of this for them. I was thinking about me. I wanted to be beautiful - stunning, plain and simple.

With a wide, cheerful smile, I exited the room in search of General Uesugi. It took me a good half an hour to locate him, and he wasn't pleased to see me. He frowned and for half and instant, a look of disgust contorted his features. He initially pretended not to notice me until I placed myself in front of him and made myself un-ignorable. "Good morning, General Uesugi. May I have a word with you?"

I recognized the situation I'd put him in and just how furious he must be about it. I could only imagine how much he wanted to break my neck. However, he'd never do in front of a public audience to witness the deed. That's why I planned it this way. He was forced to respect me and refrain from physical attacks. His lack of appreciation for me was obvious, but I wasn't about to give him an opening to attack me. I was many things, but I was not stupid.

"What do you want, Miss Soryu?" He asked stiffly.

Drawing myself up to my full height and puffing up my chest, I stared up at him up at him with a determined expression. "I hear you dislike my black powder. Why?"

General Uesugi's frown deepened, as he struggled to find the right words to say what he wanted with some semblance of politeness. I waited politely for him to finish, content to let him take all the time he needed.

"How can you not see the danger it poses? What happened the other day…?"

I took a deep breath and prepared to explain myself carefully. "Don't you understand, General Uesugi? That is the whole point of black powder. It is meant to be a weapon of war, a tool for harming other people. I'll admit it makes a great show stopper but by its very nature, black powder is dangerous at its best."

General Uesugi snorted and reluctantly uncrossed his arms. "I believe that is undoubtedly so." He stated dryly.

I smiled, knowing I was finally getting somewhere with him. Now, it was time to play my trump card. "I may only be a young woman, but I understand you General Uesugi because I've grown up in the military. You like new toys, the more dangerous the better. Black powder has so much power and potential that it must be galling to see me use it as a magician's trick."

General Uesugi made no comment to my words but there was no doubt his full attention was focused on me. He nodded in indication that he was willing to hear more. "However, I am not afraid of driving a hard bargain. I'm not giving away my creations for free. My conditions are as followed. I supply your army with black powder and you allow Yuina to marry Kotoya."

Instantly, General Uesugi's face grew dark and he turned away from me. "We are done here." He stated roughly, "You asked too high a price."

Before I could protest, he swept down the hall and out of range. Within moments he was gone, and I was left to simmer my anger in silence. By the time I returned to my room, my anger had started to boil into a rage. My hands tightened into two white knuckled fists and I clenched my jaw to restrain any audible outburst. I vaguely realized that Yuina was talking to her sister in the background but I could care less about them. I just wanted to scream in fury. I saw a support post and I understood how to release this tension.

I ground my teeth in anger and slammed my fists into the post. The superstructure it was connected to barely shook, but my hand screamed in agonized protest. I held the wounded appendage against my chest and waited for the pain to abate. In the background, I noticed Yuina's gentle voice pause. She excused herself from Mokota, who she was instructing in the art of the tea ceremony, and rose to her feet to approach my side.

"Mistress, I wish to make a suggestion to you." She stated softly.

I turned to face her, not even attempting to hide my tangle of emotions. After taking several deep breaths, I felt slightly calmer and more centered. "Speak, Yuina. I will hear what you wish to say."

Yuina nodded obediently but didn't respond immediately. She seemed to be measuring her words carefully. "Soryu-sama, you lack certain…"

"Grace? Refinement? Elegance?" I hazard to guess.

All of those, as far as I knew, described what I lacked. There is no doubt what she meant to say. Determined to be diplomatic, Yuina shook her head in the negative and explained. "I would not phrase it so crudely but yes. You come off as rude, offensive and unrefined to many. This hurts your standing as an angel."

I couldn't help smiling, knowing she was trying to reprove me in the nicest possible terms. Part of me found it frustrating that she refused to be blunter with her words, but I had to respect her for speaking at all. "I'm aware of that but I'm afraid I don't know any better. The world where I lived before I came here was very different from this one. It placed more emphasis on concepts that are alien or incompatible to those living here. So, you see now why my outlook is so different from yours."

Yuina's eyes widened with a mix of awe and fear. "Is it truly that strange up there in the land of the Gods?"

Gods? No, I would not know what that was like. I'd never lived among them either. I could only imagine, just like everyone else. However, I forced myself not to laugh and meet her gaze seriously. My world would have undoubtedly been seen as magical, possibly even supernatural to her. I had seen and done things the people of this world could never fathom, even in their wildest dreams.

I was starting to understand and accept that I would never see much of that again. However, there was no law against giving this land a push in that direction.

"Hai, Yuina. You could never comprehend the world I came from." I assured her.

Yuina's red eyes closed and she nodded patiently in acceptance of my words. When she opened them again, her gaze seemed more kind and understanding.

"Regardless of your angelic status or former life, you live here now. If you wish to communicate more effectively, you must do so in a way we can understand." She reminded me patiently.

I sighed and crossed my arms across my chest. It seemed we had reached the core of my dilemma at last. "True, but it is not easy for me to learn your methods and rules." I explained in frustration.

Yuina blushed but spoke her next lines with a hint of confidence. "I am not an expert Mistress, but I could teach you what you need to know."

She lifted two of the ornamental fans in her hand and passed one to me. Yuina opened hers and motioned for me to do the same. Not understanding what she was getting at, I reluctantly did as she asked. She requested I follow her movement and I didn't hesitate. We entered an eloquent ballet where Yuina directed the motion. Beside her, I felt clumsy and stiff in comparison. Yet, at the end I knew I had gained in some measures. I felt more graceful in my movements and bearing. Yuina seemed pleased with my progress as well. The best benefit was that I also felt calmer and more centered after that.

Later that day, I settled into a corner and quietly concentrated on crafting my latest plan. General Uesugi may have the advantage now but I wasn't about to let him win. He would give his permission for Yuina to marry Kotoya. I just needed a good enough reason to convince him. The problem was, I still wasn't quite sure how to prove she wasn't going to produce weak heirs. In a stroke of brilliance, the answer appeared before me. It was so easy I was surprised it took me so long to reach it.

Before I could put my plan into action I received word from Kurata, the man Frieda employed to make grenades. He had something to show me. Slightly frustrated by the timing of the message but eager to see what he'd done, I quickly secured transport to his shop. Twenty minutes later, I stood outside a large, crudely made wooden structure in the midday sun. Every crack and orifice seemed to belch waves of heat and it was uncomfortably hot already. I dreaded going inside, especially when I was wrapped in so many layers of clothes, but I had no choice.

I braced myself against the heat as I stepped into the sweltering room. The smell of charred wood, sweat and hot metal filled the air as a noxious brew. I covered my nose to defend myself from its sickening nature. The cramped room was stifling and the sweat was soaking the kimono I wore. I wiped my brow and approached the lone figure, hunched over the roaring inferno that was his forge. He raised his head to glimpse at me and nodded in a welcoming greeting. Then he knelt over the fire once more to retrieve something from the center.

"You're in time Mistress. I just completed the first one." He informed me.

Gently, he placed the fiery orb of copper into a cooling bucket. The water hissed and bubbled violently for several minutes, releasing steam as it absorbed the metal's excess heat. Kurata shuffled across the floor to the shelves where his completed works lay. He lifted a copper sphere into his hands and carried it to me. Kurata held it out to me proudly and I accepted his gift. I turned it around in my hands, feeling for any defects. I found none. It actually seemed perfectly made. "Well done, Kurata-san. I approve; this will work nicely for my purposes."

Kurata bowed in grateful acceptance of my praise. "Arigato, Mistress. You are most kind."

I reached into my obi and removed a gold coin from my purse. I tossed it to Kurata as I pocketed the grenade. He caught it eagerly in his scarred hands and bowed to kiss my feet reverently.

"I want you to find some other smiths and start producing more of these. My servants will supply you with all the filling you need." I informed him sternly.

"Hai, my lady."

He bowed low once more as I hurried back out into the street. Instantly, I felt like I could breathe again and sighed in relief. That place was…horrible. It was similar to the way I imagined the center of Hell to be, regardless of Dante's Inferno.

My moment of reprieve was only temporary, as the hot stagnant air around me reasserted its presence. I pulled a fan from my obi and climbed back into the waiting rickshaw for the ride home.

The next morning, I decided that it was time to put my plan into motion. After breakfast, I sent Yuina, Zero and Mokota into the garden and summoned Frieda from the kitchens. She arrived, reeking of fresh seafood and rot. Handing her a bowl of water to clean her hands, I explained what I wanted her to do. "Frieda, Yuina needs a tattoo like mine. Any will do as long as it is done properly."

I sensed that Frieda wanted to question my command but thought better of it. She bowed in acceptance and turned to leave. Before she could go however, I stopped her.

"If you are not comfortable with this then find someone else who can do it, but you must be quick. Time is of the essence." I stated.

"Hai, Mistress."

That evening, I stood in the garden under the cool starlight. Silently, I guarded the old, unused gate where Frieda was due to return anytime now. A warm breeze floated over the sea, preventing the night from becoming too cold. The absence of the moon's light made it unusually dark, so I made myself study every clue carefully. This was not the time to be caught with sneaking people into the palace. Who knew what kind of rumors that would start?

At last, I saw the outline of Frieda's form peer around a nearby corner. A moment later, she all but ran in my direction, followed closely by the figure of a decrepit old man. I stared at the old man in silent interest, wondering if he really possessed the magical tattooing hands Frieda said she did. Well, I guess only time would show whether she was right. I shoved open the gate and allowed them entrance to the palace grounds. They bowed respectfully as they hurried past me to the dark paths beyond.

Once they were inside, I closed and locked the gate before leading them to my room. Yuina was waiting for us to arrive. She sat in meditative silence, as she watched her siblings sleep. I approached her side and placed my hand on her shoulder. Yuina turned and looked up at me with perfect calmness. Yet, I could sense the undercurrent of uncertainty she felt. I gave her an assuring smile, which she mirrored. "Are you ready?"

"Hai."

"Uesugi-sama, which one would you like?" The old man wheezed.

Yuina thought about it carefully for several minutes before replying, "Ice."

He smiled weirdly, revealing toothless gums, and bowed politely. Yuina took a deep breath and untied her obi. She carefully lowered her kimono to reveal her back. Her milky, white skin shone in the dark room. Yuina lay down on her stomach and Frieda swabbed it down with strong sake. The old man knelt over her and took the needle in his hand. Frieda and I sat back to watch while he worked. Similar to my own tattooing, the old man began to sing a strange, disjointed tune. The words seemed some ancient precursor to the Asian languages but were even less comprehensible then what Frieda had sung.

Abruptly, the air temperature dropped and a cool light surrounded Yuina body. It grew in intensity until her whole body was almost completely obscured. I flinched away from the brightness, unable to handle something so alien to my own being. I could feel my inner fire trying to flare up against it but I fought to restrain it. I didn't want to use up my mana so suddenly. After what seemed like an agonizing moment, it all began to fade and Yuina sank into the land of dreams.

I handed Frieda the key to let the man out and his payment for this night's work. Then, I rose to my feet and made my way to Yuina's side. I gently wrapped a blanket around the sleeping girl and prepared myself for bed. I was physically and mentally exhausted; I desired nothing more than sleep. I could wait until morning to find out the results of this night's work. I placed my head on the pillow, pulled the blanket around my shoulder and closed my eyes. Dreams came to claim me swiftly and I was swept away in their embrace.

The next morning, I awoke to the pleasant sound of birds singing. I sighed contentedly and sank blissfully into the comfort of my futon. A soft groan of discomfort met my ears, disturbing my peace of mind. I rolled over partly and opened my eyes. A quick glance told me I was facing the wrong way. I hurried to change that so that I could figure out what was going on.

"It hurts." Yuina exclaimed in response to an unheard question.

Koto knelt beside Yuina gently massaging her limbs. Fried appeared and offered the blue haired woman a bowl of soup. I slowly sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes with a big yawn. Fried appeared before me with a welcoming smile. "Good morning, Mistress. Are you hungry?" She asked in German.

I told her that I was and asked for her to bring me breakfast. While I waited, I went to Yuina's side to help comfort her. I remembered the pain I experienced after being tattooed, so it was easy to sympathize. I studied the alien symbol on her back as I rubbed the healing cream across it. I could sense it pulsing with a strange energy akin to the one I controlled, except it was the complete opposite. I tried not to touch it directly because I feared how it would react.

By that afternoon, Yuina was feeling steadier on her feet and was ready to prove herself. I preferred a public display, but Yuina completely refused. She wanted nothing to do with the celebrity I craved. So, I arranged a private meeting with General Uesugi. I counted on my own fire to be able to threaten him into submission. I wasn't going to let this fail. Feeling confident, I lead Yuina down the corridors to the designated meeting place. She seemed meek and scared but unwilling to stop.

General Uesugi was frowning when we entered the room. His arms were crossed defensively and his eyes were hidden by the glare on his glasses. I waited until we were seated before placing a flower on the table and saying. "I believe Yuina has something to show you."

General Uesugi grunted in disbelief but his face remained neutral. With trembling hands, Yuina reached out towards the blossom and touched it with the tips of their fingers. It instantly froze solid, perfectly crystalline in structure. General Uesugi's eyes grew wide in shock and he stared directly at the flower for the longest time. I waited while he processed this information and held Yuina's hand comfortingly.

"The Gods have accepted me, father. I cannot be unworthy in their eyes or…yours."

General Uesugi's jaw tensed and he tried to speak several times before he was able to. Yuina trembled slightly but my presence kept her calm. Drawing on my internal spirit of fire, I let my feelings flare around me. I knew from General Uesugi's expression that he sensed my silent threat. However, it took several tries for him to find the words to speak. General Uesugi stared both of us in the eyes and stated sharply. "Fine, have your wedding."

Without another word, he waved us out and abruptly closed the door behind him. I practically dragged Yuina's trembling form down the hallway. I wrapped my arm around her as the tears started to fall.


I sent Frieda away with a wave of my hand and turned my attention back to my breakfast. While I ate, Koto brushed out my hair with long gentle strokes. I didn't particularly want to put it up today, so it hung loose and free around my shoulders. Unexpectedly, Frieda reappeared in the doorway. Her face looked stressed and confused. After hesitating for several moments, she approached my side and leaned down to speak in my ear. "Mistress, would you come with me for a moment? There is something I wish to show you."

I didn't need another look to know that Frieda truly felt it was important. Frieda wasn't one to lie intentionally, so I had no reason to doubt her. If she thought it was necessary, then it must be. I rose to my feet and followed her into the hallway. She led me through the corridors until we arrived at one of the many storage rooms within the palace.

Frieda motioned me to stay silent before she opened the door. I didn't understand but accepted her request and followed her in. Curled up next to a massive wooden crate was a mass of white robes and blue hair. I studied the strange figure for several minutes, trying to figure out why she was here. Although I couldn't see her face under the tangled mop of hair, I suspected she'd cried herself to sleep.

"What do we do, Mistress?" Frieda whispered in German.

I looked down at Yuina, an idea beginning to form in my mind. With a gentle but firm hand, I gripped her shoulder and shook her body. "Wake up, time to get ready for the big day. You had an entire month to prepare for this."

Yuina waved me away with her hands, as she groaned unhappily. "No. I can't do it. Leave me alone."

I frowned at her weak response. This girl was positively pathetic. Although I felt I couldn't blame her because she'd never been given a chance. Still, that did nothing to dispel how aggravating it was. I looked down at Yuina and sighed deeply. Taking both of her hands in mine, I helped her stand.

"You can and will do this." I informed her forcefully.

Yuina made no response but neither did she fight my effort to drag her back to my room. Frieda disappeared to collect the day's adornments for the bride to be. I focused my efforts on calming her down and convincing her to eat breakfast. My task proved to be only partially successful but Frieda had more luck. She returned with everything Yuina needed and laid it out before us. Yuina eyed the vibrant red and gold robes with apprehension and her lower lips trembled. I smiled reassuringly at her and whispered a few encouraging words in her ears.

After a little persuasion, we convinced Yuina to allow us to dress her and our work began. Frieda began by fixing up her hair, while I exchanged her white sleeping kimono for the inner layer of her wedding dress. Yuina remained silent but obedient to our wishes. However, I saw the way her body trembled. If I thought it would do any good, I might have assured her that she was making the right choice. However, I knew my words would fall on deaf ears. It was clear that Yuina was insensitive to comfort.

As we worked, Koto appeared with a box of makeup in hand. I stepped aside and let her paint Yuina's face. Frieda, now finished with Yuina's hair, assisted me in wrapping her in the elaborate, multilayered ensemble she was to wear. I thought she looked too tiny for such an enormous amount of clothing, but I didn't know how to free her from it. Plus, Koto and Frieda seemed to think she looked just fine. So, I reluctantly acquiesced to the full garment.

It took us nearly two hours but we had Yuina all dressed up and ready to walk down the aisle. I could do no more for her but remind the servants to have her in place on time. The angel had her own role after all and I still needed to make sure that General Uesugi wasn't going to interfere. He might have given his word, but I did not trust him to hold to it. In fact, I would be surprised if he didn't at least have reservations. So I was going to pay him a 'little' visit.

I bid the trio goodbye and exited my room with grace.

After assuring General Uesugi's cooperation, I spent the next several hours loitering in the gardens. The fall winds had started to move in, providing much needed relief from an oppressive summer. I quickly came to the conclusion that I preferred this weather because it was almost comfortable. I smiled at the blue sky and spread my arms wide. A gentle breeze rushed past me, sending a small shiver down my spine. Just barely visible in the eastern sky was a gathering cloud of storms. However, not even their presence could dampen my spirits.

That evening, a series of violent tempests came from the east. I was so happy that I could barely worry about the weather. Nothing stood in the way of my goal as the wedding ended. With an ecstatic mood, I spent my time playing Go against the various members of the nobility. That night, I went to bed feeling content and satisfied.

The next morning, I received a request from Kotoya to join him for a walk in the garden. I was more interested in spending my morning in other pursuits, but I already knew what he wanted and doubted I'd get out of this. So I sent a reply back telling him I would be honored to join him.

Half an hour later, I met Kotoya and we began a slow, ambling walk around the garden. Almost instantly, he began to thank me profusely for making yesterday possible. As I listened to his words of glowing praise, I smiled politely and shook my head.

"You are far too kind. I only wished to be of assistance to you, since you've done so much for me." I assured him.

I smiled innocently and allowed Kotoya to ramble on about how I deserved his praise. I figured he didn't need to know how I traded my black powder and turned Yuina into a reluctant magic user. My own private ambitions of securing myself a place in his court and amongst the nobility were not something he needed to be aware of. We talked on for another minute or so before we were distracted.

The sound of running footsteps caught our attention and Kotoya turned to look for the source. A few moments later, one of the messenger runners burst into the garden. He paused only for a fraction of a second to spot us before rushing to bow before us. Between gasps of air, he delivered his message with urgency. "Lord Kotoya…Lady Soryu…one of the Kappas …has been washed on shore…by the storm. The peasantry won't touch it…and demand you come…"

I shook my head in disbelief, once again caught off guard by this world's ability to surprise me. Kappa weren't real, they were figures of folklore and fairytales, or at least they used to be. Damn whoever thought this place up and decided to play with reality! I officially hated them now. This wasn't so much fun anymore. I was so busy being angry that I barely noticed Kotoya's ashen face and grim expression. With a forced, calm authority, he ordered transport to be arranged to take him there immediately.

Once the servant left to deliver Kotoya's message, I turned to him. He was already making his way across the garden with long, hasty strides and I had to practically run to keep up. "Tell me the about the Kappa." I demanded, as we raced along.

Kotoya didn't break his stride, as he responded to my inquiry in a tense voice. "They're monsters from the sea. None of them should be on land. Damn, this is a bad day."

I might have found it so amusing if he wasn't so upset about it. Kotoya was far too serious about this for me to enjoy this day. I had already decided to follow him and see this Kappa. It didn't matter if there was nothing I could do. I was too interested not to go. Kotoya seemed to have no interest in preventing me from accompanying him. In fact, he barely seemed to notice my presence. I didn't particularly mind because it left me unopposed.

To my amazement, transportation was already waiting for us when we arrived at the front gate. With swift efficiency, we were carried swiftly through the city streets, surrounded by armored, mounted guards. During the journey, I managed to extract a little more information on the Kappa, but Kotoya generally wasn't too talkative. These sea creatures sounded like some sort of powerful sea guardians, but they weren't highly regarded. For several minutes, I felt increasingly irritated by his unwillingness to speak. However, I schooled myself to be patient, since I would have my answers soon.

Fifteen minutes later, we came to a stop and the sound of happy cheers emerged. I shook my head in disbelief at how easily these people were pleased. They really were so simple minded and uneducated. Well, I guess I should show them just how great I was. I parted the curtain and stepped out into the sun. A roar of cheers from the crowd greeted my appearance. Kotoya approached my side and bowed with obvious gratitude. Although he seemed content to ignore me earlier, I sensed that he was glad to have me here now.

Together we walked out of the tree line and onto the sandy beach. I realized instantly that we weren't alone and that we were about to have a whole lot of company. Clustered near the shore was a large crowd of people who probably represented a large portion of the capital city's population. Most seemed intent upon staring warily at whatever they were gathered around, but a few souls on the edge noticed our arrival and news quickly spread. Without a word being said, a path formed up as everyone stepped back respectfully to allow us room.

For the first time, I was able to see the cause of the commotion and I wasn't impressed. Although I was too far away to be certain, it appeared they were standing around a mass of sea plants washed up by last night's storm. From Kotoya's limited description, I expected something much more intimidating then that. Well, the people seemed to think it was scary. No one was within two paces of it and they looked positively terrified.

Gradually, I was able to make out more details as I got nearer. The overall effect was still plant-like but there was also something vaguely human about it as well. What I assumed to be some kind of red seaweed appeared more hair-like now. Finally, our feet came to a stop when we reached the inside limit of the circle. Kotoya looked uncertainly at the Kappa and turned to face the crowd. Sounding as confident and authoritative as possible, he assured them that the nobility would handle this. Somehow, I didn't quite feel confident in him, but I appeared the only one who could see how uncomfortable he was.

As soon as he finished speaking, I turned right around and approached the Kappa's side. Up close, it became obvious to me that this one was undoubtedly female and injured. She seemed almost too strange to be real. She was small, extremely delicate and fragile looking. Her skin was green and plant like, covered in vegetative growths. She had no legs. Instead, a mass of long strands of what appeared to be kelp was in their place. They seemed more muscular than normal plants, and I imagined she used them the way octopuses use their tentacles.

A thick, transparent yellow orange like fluid was leaking from the wounds into the sand. It reminded me slightly of LCL except it smelled sweet like sap instead of blood. Slowly, I knelt down beside her and stretched out a hand to examine her injuries. A small groan of pain escaped her lips, as I moved my fingers over her body but otherwise she seemed insensitive to my actions. Her form was alien enough that it was hard for me to know what was broken and what wasn't. However, one thing was readily apparent. She was becoming severely dehydrated by the sun. I turned to the people and commanded them in a loud voice, "Bring me a wash tub and fill it with sea water."

When no one responded, I repeated my demands and a trio of men disappeared. Satisfied, I demanded some medicine and bandages, which sent more people running. While I waited, I splashed handfuls of seawater over her green-skinned form. To my surprise, that seemed to be enough to awaken her as she started to come around. By that point, the men had returned with a giant washtub. They dunked it in the ocean and once it was full they set it beside me. Gingerly, so as not to cause her further harm, I lifted the Kappa into my arms and placed her inside. A small contented sigh escaped her lips as she sank into the salty water.

I gently cleaned the obvious wounds, removing the sand and dirt that had become encrusted there. She groaned and tried to wave me off but I persisted in my work. I held out the hope that I could prevent her from suffering a serious infection. "Do you understand me? What's your name?" I asked her firmly.

Her eyelids slid open and I saw two oddly green irises set against a yellow background. She blinked at me a few times and carefully tried to speak. "Name Ophelia." She stated in broken Japanese/Kaihonese with a distinct Greek accent.

For a moment, I couldn't believe my ears. I'd had no idea there were people who actually spoke Greek in this world. How many different peoples were there? It made me wonder about the history of this world. I made a mental note to myself to research it before turning back to the injured woman. Tempting as it might have been, I decided it was best not to try out my Ancient Greek just yet, mostly because of how little I knew and how rusty it was. Plus, I wasn't ready to reveal too many of my secrets just yet.

The men who left to find medicine and bandages returned with the aforementioned items. The set them before me and I set to work treating her wounds. As I worked, I asked Ophelia where she was hurt. I didn't want to miss any internal injuries. She directed me to her arm and I gently felt for a break. When I reached the elbow like joint, I could feel the fracture all too easily. I carefully examined the bone trying to figure out just how it broke. After a minute, I thought I knew how it needed to be re-set. It actually seemed simple enough because there was only one break and it was a clean one.

I held her arm tightly and braced myself against the ground. I counted to three and jerked it with a sharp twisting motion. Ophelia cried out in pain and wrenched her arm away from me. Defensively, she held it protectively to her chest as she whimpered softly. I apologized profusely for several minutes before she allowed me to examine her arm once more. To my relief, I discovered that the bone was back in place. From there, a pair of wooden supports was brought and wrapped into place by cloth bandages. I made a sling for her and once the whole thing in place, I knew I'd done all I could. Now all she needed was time to rest and heal. Well, for humans at least.

"Do you have someone who would come for you?"

The woman shook her head indicated she had, but there was more.

"No know when." She stated softly.

I patted her arm gently and assured her that I'd make sure she was taken care of until then. She seemed soothed by my words and relaxed into her salty pool. "Why kind? You no Kaihonese…"

"No," I told her gently, "I'm not from Kaihon. To me, you're no different than anyone else. You're injured and need help, that's what matters to me."

"Kaihonese no help, no touch Ophelia. Where from? Why here?" She asked quietly.

I thought about her question carefully before answering. In my mind, I could see Shinji's face as he tried to strangle me. Flashes of the destruction and pain of that time became all too real in my mind. I tried to fight it off but all the old wounds started to ache and I swore I could smell blood. With an agonized shrug, I informed her in a shaky voice, "I guess God decided he didn't want me around anymore but couldn't kill me. So he kicked me out."

"Well, I am glad you're here, Mistress Angel. This world is better now from your presence." Kotoya assured me.

From every direction, a chorus of agreement echoed his sentiments. I looked around, taking in all the beaming, worshipping faces that surrounded me on all sides. I smiled back, soaking it all in and letting it feed my soul. Yes, I was powerful once again. I was strong. Asuka Langley Soryu was back. The fire flared within me and burst forth in a series of small sparks. Abruptly, the ground rose to meet me and everything became black.


Tales from Echigo

Part 5: Dragon's Escape


The next morning, we arose before dawn and ate a meager breakfast in the dark. Once we were finished, it was time to change into our disguises and be on our way. Chiharu and Hitomi remained by the fire with Akiya, while I went back to the tent to change. Wataru followed behind me, eager to assist with the coming task. The two sets of armor he'd procured were waiting for us inside the tent when we arrived. I set the smaller one before me and began the process of removing my clothes. Knowing they were ruined, I tossed them aside.

Wataru held out the top layer of clothing, which I wrapped around myself. Next were the pants, then the socks and zori. On top of that I placed the heavy, bulky, multilayered chest armor. It weighed so much that for a minute I could barely breathe, and thought I would simply collapse under the weight. In that moment, I was grateful that I had the muscles of a commoner instead of those of a noble, since they were the only thing that saved me. Wataru tightened the straps for me while I adjusted to the feel of the armor on my body. A glance down gave me a second reason to be glad. Everything I was wearing effectively hid my breasts and curves, those identifying traits that marked me as a woman.

I tied back my hair in a tight bun and Wataru handed me the helmet. Before putting it on, I helped Wataru don his own armor. Then, Chiharu joined us with both of the children. Wataru put on his helmet and mask before he left to give us the privacy we needed. I reached under my futon and pulled out my late night discovery. I handed the box to Chiharu and motioned for her to open it up. Chiharu gently lifted the lid, an expression of confusion upon her face.

Inside, the colorful material of a silken kimono met our gaze. Chiharu looked from the robes to me and back again in disbelief. I smiled and assured her that the kimono was for her.

"This will look wonderful on you. It's past time you had something new to wear." I pointed out.

Chiharu beamed widely and bowed low in gratitude. "Arigato, arigato." She mouthed.

A short time later, the five of us plus Moegi-san rode out of camp under the rays of the rising sun. Kagetora was the only soul that watched us go, his massive hands waving in our wake. I didn't realize it then that I would only see my eldest brother one more time, when he was on his death bed five years later. My only concern was for the safety of my son. Beyond that, I wasn't giving much thought to the future.

--

We rode in a relatively peaceful silence for the first part of our journey. Frozen winds accompanied by snow and ice followed our every move. The thick, mountain forests partly served to shelter us from the rest of humanity and the worst of the weather. However, we refused to take any risks. During the day, I wore a complete set of armor, kept my face covered and tied my father's katana to my side. I spoke almost nothing and let Wataru do all of the talking.

It was only at night, if we found any shelter such as a locked inn room or forest cave that I dared to let my disguise drop and take my son in my arms once more. Being separated from him, watching Chiharu care for Akiya in my place, was the most horrible kind of torture for me. I relished every moment we had together and showered a million kisses on his head at every opportunity. I secretly feared he'd cease to love me as his mother, but that never seemed to happen.

A good thing that resulted from the long journey was that we learned to communicate more effective with Chiharu through a language we developed around various hand signs. With its aid, she slowly began to open up about her past and the reason she wore the bandages around her neck. Ten months ago, Chiharu's village was attacked by a group of rogue bandits. They burned and pillaged ruthlessly, taking whatever they desired of the people. During the assault, Chiharu was captured by the bandits. They proceeded to rape and beat her repeatedly, over the course of several days. When they finally grew tired of her, they slit her throat and left her for dead.

Fortunately, my brother's men came upon the village, not long after that happened and drove the bandits away. Horrified by what had occurred there, Kagetora ordered his medics to care for the wounded and the remains of the dead to be disposed of properly. No one expected Chiharu to survive her injuries since they were so brutal and savage. However, luck and the Gods favored her because she slowly did heal. As she recovered, it became apparent that the bandits left her with more than the physical and mental pain.

--

Just before midday of the fourth morning, we were nearing the border with Kai. It was then we experienced our first signs of trouble. As we worked our way through a narrow valley pass in the mountains, a trio of mounted bandits charged down at us from the hills above. We could hear them coming long before we could see them, but there was nowhere for us to run. So we took the only available option, Wataru and I drew our katanas in preparation to fight while the others retreated to a safer position.

With tremendous speed, the men burst from the trees and surrounded us in a tight circle. Reflexively, I held my katana close and locked my legs into the stirrups of my saddle. The enemy ronin move around us slowly and I feel their eyes attempting to peer into our souls. Finally, they reigned in their mounts and their leader spoke. "What is your business here?"

Wataru cleared his throat and responded loudly, "We are just passing through on our way home. We are not here to cause trouble."

I sensed their disbelief and suspicion from tense forms. For a long time, none of them spoke while a deep foreboding gripped my soul. I wish I could take my son and flee, but I dared not reveal my gender and certainly not my identity. My heart hammered wildly in an effort to escape my body and my mare shifted uneasily beneath me. I tighten my grip on the reigns in time to hear the leader speak again. "Who do you serve?"

"We serve Lord Uesugi Kenshin." I reply sharply.

My anger covered the feminine quality of my voice. Its power commanded their attention upon me. I expected anger or respect, but not unbridled laughter! Their raucous mirth comes forth easily and filled the air. For the next few minutes they were consumed by it. Unnerved, Wataru moves himself so close that our horses' rears bumped together. For a brief moment, our eyes met. The bandit leader spoke again and we turn to listen.

"You are the biggest, damnable fools I've ever met." He cruelly mocked.

He drew his katana from its sheath and the other two did the same. Wataru moved himself so that he stood between me and two of the enemy ronin. Determined to get us out of this predicament, I faced the remaining one. I gripped my katana tightly and narrowed my eyes behind the slits of my mask. The opposing ronin aimed his weapon at my throat and prepared to charge.


Author's Notes:

First and foremost, I do not own Evangelion. If I did, why would I be posting this here? However, I do own the world and all original characters of mine so NO TOUCHIE!

Sesshy has returned at last! She appologizes that this chapter took so long but reminds those who are angry of how long it was. There is actually a good reason for it, it's time for Shinji and Asuka to be reunited at ! Let the fireworks begin!

Now, before you leave, please leave a review. I love them all and Rah has so many more then me... :(...

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Sorry guys. None this time. *Hands cyber cookie* Please, forgive Sesshy.