"Nothing left" by GreatMarta

Sunaomi knows he is being controlled. His teachers at the Terayama temple are watching his every step, studying his behavior, analyzing his language, ready to temper him down whenever they spot any signs of hatred. For Sunaomi is not allowed to hate. He was deprived of his noble name, deprived of the inheritance, deprived of family and everything he held dear. Yet, he is not allowed to hate the people who took it away from him.

Sunaomi's life is in the hands of Saga Hideki, the ruler of the Three Countries. That man forced his parents to take their lives away and sentenced him and his brother to live in Terayama. Sometimes Sunaomi wishes Lord Saga hadn't spared them. The dishonor of being made casteless is worse than death. And the pain of being labeled "a traitors' son" is worse than the pain of a ritual suicide.

But that is not how people around him see it.

"You were given a chance to redeem your family" Lady Shigeko told him and his brother "Your parents could not see past their own ambitions. They let their hatred destroy them. But the two of you are not bound to follow the same path. You can choose the way of the Houou and contribute to maintaining peace in the Three Countries. I know you love our homeland just as I do and I believe you share my dream of preserving it for the future generations. Sunaomi, Chikara, my dearest cousins: the Three Countries need you. I need you. Will you stand by my side and work for our homeland?"

They told her: "Yes". Any other answer might've lead to their doom.

Sunaomi respects Lady Maruyama Shigeko, who rules the Three Countries with her husband Lord Saga Hideki as an equal co-ruler. Shigeko is wise and good, and her cousins know they can trust her. But her words are not much of help for Sunaomi. He devoted his life to the path of Houou, but it wasn't his choice. It was an order.

Sunaomi has always been a good student. Since he was a son of a noble family, he was taught to do obey his superiors and carry out his duties with humility. He always put effort into studying, regardless of his feelings concerning the subject. It was a trait that the teachers valued in him.

"I've always known you were going to be an excellent student" master Eikan told him. He often praises Sunaomi's intelligence and preciseness, using him as an example for the other students. On one hand the boy is glad, for his training is bringing results. On the other, he fears that if he becomes too good, Lord Saga might consider him a threat and dispose of him. Either way, he cannot feel safe.

Chikara, Sunaomi's brother, seems to believe in the way of Houou and for that reason alone Sunaomi did not take his life away. He has to be there for Chikara. He has to keep walking the path that was forced upon them, to make sure his brother finds happiness they were deprived of. In the end, the shame he had to bear could not be compared with the pain of leaving Chikara alone in this cruel world.

Over the years the two brothers grew attached to their teachers and even made some friends. They were especially fond of Kikuta Hisao, who started his education at Terayama about the same time as they did. Hisao was much older than them, but he needed guidance and care even more than they did. For Hisao had a special talent: he could communicate with ghosts. This unique ability proved to be a great burden, source of all sorts of pain. Hisao suffered from headaches, at times he even lost his sight. Nobody knew how to help him, but the teachers at Terayama taught him meditation and relaxation techniques, so he could free his mind. It seemed that acceptation and attention was what the gifted boy needed. Eventually, he learned to communicate with ghosts and became capable of walking freely between the worlds.

Sunaomi and Chikara asked Hisao if he could communicate with their parents. He gave it a try.

"Your ancestors have great faith in you" he said "They want you to be remembered as good men. You may not be members of the warrior caste anymore, but it doesn't mean you can forget your honor. Work hard and serve the Three Countries well, and your family will be redeemed. That is the wish of your ancestors, and my wish as well"

Chikara believed Hisao. Sunaomi wondered if his friend could've deceived them if their teachers told him to do so. Hisao might've been more powerful than all of them, but he longed for peace and harmony, just like Shigeko. Which was surprising, considering he was raised to kill.

"Do you really believe you can leave your past behind?" Sunaomi asked Hisao "Do you believe it's possible?"

"I want to believe so" Hisao replied "Before I came here my life had been an endless struggle. To impress the man whom I believed to be my father, to live up to the Tribe's expectations, to survive. I forced myself to believe I belonged to that world, the world of assassins and spies. I had to, or else I'd have gone mad. But now I see I've been trying to fool myself for far too long. I don't have the spirit of a warrior. I don't want to kill and I hope I will never have to do so anymore. You have no idea what a great relief it is to be here and study the way of the Houou with you"

Sunaomi smiled, not wanting to hurt his friend, but he couldn't help but envy him. For Hisao, coming to Terayama was like making a dream come true. Sunaomi's dream lay in the past, buried with his family's former glory and wealth.

Part of the family glory was preserved within a certain woman: Muto Shizuka, Sunaomi and Chikara's paternal grandmother. The boys don't get to see her very often, for she always has matters to attend. The elderly woman has become the first female master of the Tribe, which made her one of the most powerful people in the Three Countries, maybe even more powerful than Lady Maruyama and Lord Saga. The grandchildren are proud of her. It is a relief for them to know that not all of their ancestors were labeled traitors.

Sometimes Sunaomi wonders how would his life look like if he had inherited his grandmother's talents. Would he still have to live in Terayama? Or would he be allowed to join the Tribe and redeem his family by working for it instead? He asks himself those questions every time his grandmother comes to visit, especially since she usually brings Miki with.

Right, Miki. She is always present in Sunaomi's thoughts.

Otori Miki, his cousin, was a noblewoman from birth. She however decided to leave her caste and join the Tribe, for many reasons. First of all, she had a little chance to ever find a husband within the warrior caste. No man would accept a twin and a witch as his wife, even if the other twin was already dead. Furthermore, the Kikuta clan was in need of a new master and Miki seemed to be the most suitable candidate. Her only true rival could've been Hisao, but he stepped down, knowing he has no talents expected of a master. So, upon receiving a blessing from Lady Shigeko, Miki took the name of Kikuta Miki and begun to study under Shizuka, who remained in charge of the Kikuta clan until the young mistress was ready to rule it on her own.

Sunaomi envies Miki, for the same reason he envies Hisao. But he never admits it. That girl is his source of knowledge, the link between him and the outside world.

When Miki comes to Terayama, she often brings letters from Lady Shigeko to Sugita Hiroshi – one of Sunaomi's teachers, known to be a close friend of Lady Maruyama's – and latest rumors.

"Kenta's adoption is almost official now" Miki told her cousins "He will be married to Tori this year and I bet the two of you will be invited to the wedding"

"That is wonderful news" Chikara replied "Kenta worked very hard to impress Lord Sonoda. He deserves to be his successor more than anybody"

Muto Kenta is Sunaomi and Chikara's cousin. They know that his father had been murdered upon the order from their father, and can't stand to think of it. Sunaomi could justify all of his father's crimes, including betraying the Three Countries, but not this. A man who sentences his own brother to death cannot be forgiven.

Sad as it is, Kenta benefited from his father's tragedy. Lady Shigeko appreciated Muto Taku's sacrifice and proposed that his son should be adopted by Sonoda Mitsuru, who ruled the city of Inuyama and didn't have sons of his own. Lord Sonoda agreed to take the boy into his custody and provide him with the necessary education. If Kenta proved to be worthy, he was to marry one of Sonoda's daughters and become his heir. It seems now that was successful.

Sunaomi is happy for Kenta, especially knowing he really likes Sonoda Tori – his betrothed. But still, he can't help but envy him – for the same reason he envies Hisao and Miki, but not only.

Sunaomi is now fifteen – almost a man – and cannot pretend he doesn't have his male needs. He dreams of a female body next to his. He longs to find consolation in the gentle arms of a woman. But he knows Lord Saga is against him and Chikara getting married – sons of traitors could conceive more traitors. Sunaomi can satisfy his needs with the help of other boys from the temple, but that only makes him long for a woman more. And hate Lord Saga even more.

Lady Shigeko has borne her husband two children: a daughter – Hiroko – who will become the next Lady Maruyama, and a son – Takeru – who will become the next ruler of the Three Countries. Apart from those two, Lord Saga had eleven children from his previous marriages. Fortunately, he was in charge of much more lands than just the Three Countries, and could divide them between all of his sons. There was no risk of little Takeru's half-brothers trying to overthrow him.

Surprisingly to himself, Sunaomi wishes the best to little Takeru. He wants the boy to grow into a ruler to be proud of, and he is ready to defend him. Perhaps Lady Shigeko and the teachers have managed to plant the love for peace into him after all? Or maybe he simply hopes to be rewarded for his loyalty and service? He honestly cannot tell. But he will be there for the young Lord.

Sunaomi asked Miki to keep him informed on whatever happens to Lady Shigeko's children. She was happy to fulfill this request.

"My sister will appreciate your concern for her family's well being" she assured.

Sunaomi knows Miki is responsible for assessing his and Chikara's progress. She often asks them for opinions on various matters and spars with them. Sunaomi enjoys those activities greatly, despite knowing Miki uses them to gather information she would later report to Lady Shigeko. To be able to talk to a woman, to be able to smell her sweat, those pleasures are a low price for being controlled.

Sunaomi wonders if Miki would accept him as her lover.

Chikara and Hisao don't fail to notice his feelings.

"You should talk to Miki sincerely" Chikara advised him "If she has feelings for you too, I'm sure she'll be able to obtain Lady Shigeko's approval for your marriage"

"As a mistress of the Kikuta, Miki should choose her husband wisely" Hisao cut in "The clan will disapprove of her marrying an outsider"

"But we are the grandsons of Muto Shizuka" Chikara reminded "And our late brother had Kikuta palms. That means we may be able to pass the tribal talents down to our children"

"True" Hisao agreed "But I'm afraid your reasoning won't be enough to convince Lord Saga"

"Lord Saga doesn't have to know" Sunaomi said, irritated "Since when do masters of the Tribe need the warlords' approval to get married? If Miki wants me, nobody, not even the emperor can stop her from being with me"

"Miki will not go against Lady Shigeko's will" Chikara noticed "The stability of the Three Countries comes first"

"Lady Shigeko doesn't have to know either" Sunaomi replied "It would be our secret"

"I would be your mistake" Hisao claimed "And your problem, if anybody found out. If you really care for Miki, you will not make her risk so much for your sake. Well, unless all you care for is satisfying your needs"

Sunaomi lowered his head in shame. What was it that he wanted, really? What were his feelings? Was it just desire, or maybe something more? Honestly, he couldn't tell. How could he know, if he only became aware of those feelings recently?

He didn't answer Hisao. He couldn't answer himself. He got up and left without a word. He spend the rest of the day and half of the night practicing kata. He needed to focus on doing something he knew how to do. And he needed to do it until his legs hurt too much to carry him back to his room.

Surprisingly, when his muscles refused to work and his eyelids became heavy, his mind was still holding tight to the thought of Miki. A thought so strong and so intense that Sunaomi almost believed the woman was by his side. Caressing his hair. Kissing his lips. Filling him with the warmth he was longing for. Taking away the anger and sorrow he pretended not to have. Untying his robes…

But Sunaomi knows it was just a dream. A one that will never come true. For his life does not belong to him. He is a traitor's son and shall be paying for his father's crimes until the last drop of the dishonored blood dies with him.

Still, Sunaomi will cherish that dream. For apart from dreams he really has nothing left.