Prompt #2: Bric-a-brac (Ravi)

The Bookman's private study was, and had been for some decades, the Black Order's favored repository for vast quantities of what could only be described as stuff, crammed floor to ceiling and in no order comprehensible to his several apprentices. (He never did get around to teaching any of them the innermost secrets of his unique filing system, and in that he was at least as perverse as as his own mentor and possibly every other Bookman from the dawn of time onward.) The Old Man could never bring himself to throw anything written away, no matter that a single reading inked it indelibly into his mind, not hideously purple penny-dreadfuls nor crumbling newspapers from the late 1800s, not file-boxes full of records belonging to Exorcists dead almost a century nor letters yellowed and faded almost to translucence. His apprentices, his successors, forced to clean the place out in the days following his funeral Mass, could at least understand that. The sacred nature of the written word was an article of faith for their particular calling. (Successors, in the plural. He could also never bring himself to choose just one of them, and so he'd dodged the choice and named them all as the heirs to his office. No one was more shocked than they.)

What the four newly minted owners of his chambers and their contents could not quite comprehend was why he'd kept all the other rubbish that had been foisted off on him. Books and records and documents were one thing, but the ancient grandfather clock sitting in the corner had never worked in their living memory, its dusty hands frozen permanently at 8 o'clock, taking up space that could have been used for another bookshelf. It took them three days to find someone willing to help them haul all the boxes of broken machinery down the steps to the rubbish room. Bits and pieces of random bric-a-brac kept turning up as they cleaned and sorted and debated what to keep: no less than six identical coffee mugs painted with a particularly disturbing cartoonish rabbit, most of them broken and laboriously pieced back together and glued; an assortment of the bulky old communications headsets and nonfunctional wireless golems curled up into little black golf ball sized navigation hazards, practically invisible once they hit the floor; a cedar box full of left-handed gloves in a variety of designs, most of which had seen better days; a velvet jeweler's case that held a braided length of ink-black hair tied together with a silken scarlet ribbon. Working diligently, it took them ten days to find the top of his desk and another three to clear out the space around it enough to start opening the drawers.

Inside the top center, they found three things. One was an elegantly carved rosewood box, in which rested a quantity of pulverized glass, a sliver of dark metal, and a dozen withered flower petals, translucent brown-golden with age, the ghost of fragrance still clinging to them. One was a letter, addressed to them. And one was a book, hand-bound, hand-written, hand-illuminated, that they sat and read together in the waning light of the autumn afternoon: the story of five friends, and the sixth, who carried the weight of their memory on his heart and mind all the days of his exceptionally long life.

For a long time after they finished, they sat quietly, surrounded by the scent of dust and machine oil and the ghosts of a past their teacher had never spoken of aloud.

"You know what this means, don't you?" The eldest of the new Bookmen finally said, breaking the somewhat damp around the eyes silence.

"What?" Asked the youngest, who was manfully pretending that it was only his dust allergy acting up.

"...We're going to have to haul it all back up."

Prompt #3: Casuistry (Kanda)

His life was, as he saw it, not a matter of choices but of principles learned and correctly applied as best he knew how.

The Way: It is bad when one thing becomes two. One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai. It is the same for anything that is called a Way. If one understands things in this manner, he should be able to hear about all ways and be more and more in accord with his own.

(He did not hate Allen Walker, not in his heart of hearts. In truth, he recognized that they were not so different beneath the skin. The beansprout had a warrior's steel in his soul, courage and conviction in equal measures, and wore a warrior's scars on his face for the world to see, curse-marks or not. It was the softness the boy embraced that he could not reconcile with the ferocity in battle, the gentle-compassionate weakness that ran through him like a hairline crack in an otherwise flawless blade. He recognized also that that weakness, that flaw, hammered together with the strength, the fearlessness, was what made him who he was and that what he was had not yet been tempered. Or broken.

He found that he did not want to see Allen Walker shattered, but could think of no way to help him avoid that fate without remaking him utterly. And so he waited, and promised himself that he would avenge the boy when he fell.)

Master: If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a samurai is, its basis lies first in seriously devoting one's body and soul to his master.

(It hung between them, an unspoken truth, from the moment he opened his eyes after his long season in hell, with the destiny the name and the unredeemed honor he claimed painted over his heart. His life was his own inasmuch as the breaths he took were his own, and the beating of his heart kept his body and his soul together, and his flesh required the nourishment and rest he gave to it. His life was not his own, for he had sworn the last of its breaths and the last of its blood and the last strength of his soul to the service of a purpose greater than himself, a purpose he would accept death and worse than death to see to fruition. A word from his master, from the man who had reared him from childhood, from the man who had learned how to use a sword the better to teach him, from the man who loved him as a son, whom he could not admit loving as a father without dishonoring the memory of the father he had never known, one word from that man, and he would willingly throw his life away.

General Theodore would not speak that word. Would never. He was not certain if he should be glad of that or not.)

Death is Life: The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.

(Ravi always tells him to be careful. What the idiot means is, don't die, but he is also wise enough not to say that out loud. It is a promise that neither can make to the other, no matter what other words might pass between them. He has accepted, as one of the foundations of his life, that when desire and duty come into conflict, duty must prevail or one's honor and one's life are equally worthless. The honor, battered as it is by generations of failure, is already somewhat debatable; he would prefer that his end have some meaning. He is not afraid to die, and this is something that the friend who has loved him in spite of himself has not yet accepted. Sometimes he thinks that Ravi will never accept it.

That is fine. There are, after all, some things that he will not, will never, accept. That the Bookman's idiot apprentice should go before him is one of them. But that is something he will never say aloud.)

Prompt #9: Ineluctable (Tyki)

In war, some things are inevitable.

In war, some are inevitably victims and some are inevitably executioners. And it is said that the difference between being a man and being a monster, between sanity and madness, is the choice not to be an executioner. All of his choices were taken from him long ago, when the blood in his veins first burned with the fever and the memories that weren't his own flayed his soul and his mind cracked from the pain and horror of it and the marks of the killer beloved of God split his skin. Sometimes, in war, one soul's fate is not a matter of personal choice, but of being chosen and living with the consequences.

He was not a victim, and his hands would never again be clean of the blood of those who were.

Prompt #18: Reprobate (Cross)

Sometimes, his reputation was absolutely not worth the effort he had to go to maintain it. Or the risks he had to take, for that matter.

He was aware, in a somewhat less than abstract manner, that Theo thought he was completely insane and possibly set on dragging the entire Order into madness with him. He was not, but telling Theo that had no appreciable effect; they'd known each other too long for a mere assertion of continued sanity to really qualify as reassurance. Theo, after all, remembered what he'd been like as a whisky-soaked engineering student at University to fully trust him now. Theo continued to be rather disturbingly wise and perceptive.

Preventing his apprentice becoming too attached to him had taken somewhat more effort than he liked to admit, but ultimately he'd accomplished even that. The drinking, the whoring, and the random departures in the middle of the night just ahead of pitchfork-and-torch wielding mobs of creditors had, ultimately, made the kid sensibly reluctant to put much faith in him. So had being made personally responsible for the mountain of debts accrued between Calais and Kalighat. That occasionally poked at his conscience just a bit, though he suspected that Allen's temper might be balmed by the enormity of the inheritance he'd eventually receive as a result of his hard labor.

Flirting outrageously with his own doom had been part and parcel of his personal eccentricities for more years than he could remember. He had, in his misspent youth, passed the dark portals of the Scholomance and emerged with his soul intact, if not his innocence, and his mind filled with truths only a handful of others had ever apprehended. He had supped with monsters and drawn the humanity back out of their blighted souls. He had accepted an irreplaceable gift from the hand of one of mankind's direst foes and buried the consequences of that unlooked-for mercy.

It was, however, a very rare occasion when his own doom flirted outrageously back at him, much less beat him at cards, got him drunk, and slipped into his bed. It was, to be sure, a very beautiful doom, all hot golden eyes and velvety dark skin and dark curls begging to be pulled and a body that welcomed him to lose himself in its mysteries. It lay in his arms even now, sheened with sweat and breathing raggedly, liquid fire eyes half-closed and a smile fighting not to be menacing curling its mouth. He rather suspected, in a few more minutes, it would be ready for another go.

Yes, sometimes the reputation wasn't worth working for. And sometimes it was.