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Naoji had not been permitted to attend the funeral for Kagen Clan's fallen, but that was to be expected. Despite his Bond to their upcoming Queen, he held no formal, official attachments to the clan and he hadn't personally known any of the three who had perished, so even if it had been merely in support of Yumi, it would have been inappropriate.

The last thing he would've ever dreamed of doing was bringing such dishonor to his Queen or to Ureshi-sa, so he had accepted the news graciously and instead remained in Ito to oversee the okiya for the day while Ryuuen (and Zhihao) attended the processions. There was a heaviness in his heart not only for those who had passed, but at the mere notion that his Yumi would be facing it alone. Not truly alone, obviously; surrounded by her family, her other Bonded and her clan, but Naoji felt that his presence would have added an additional comfort for the duration of an otherwise somber event and he lamented that he was unable to provide such this day.

It mattered not, in the end, as he'd already made plans to go visit with his beautiful Queen during the following days and offer what support he could then. In the meanwhile, the Warlord simply did what he did best and channeled his flurry of emotions into his art. More specifically, a memorial shrine for one of Ureshi-sa's own fallen geisha: Shun. He'd been a Dagger for Ishiyo no Izayoi and had been among those that she'd slain in her rage.

Everyone had been fond of the man as well as his exceptional skill with daggers on a martial level, so it was a melancholy day within the okiya as well while Naoji worked. The other geisha had retired for the evening but he remained awake and continued his efforts, determined to have it completed by the time Ryuuen returned, determined to make him proud.

There was a plaque in the center of the memorial, upon which a death poem of Naoji's own creation was inscribed, sitting upright next to a more recent picture of Shun. Candles surrounded the plaque and the photo, though they were to remain unlit until the morrow. In the very front rested one of Shun's most beloved daggers, the blade having been polished until it shone good as new, and next to that a music sphere imbued with the man's favorite song during his lifetime (a composition of old that was played exclusively on the shamisen). The poem had perhaps taken the longest as it had come from the recesses of his mind, and then of course to find someone who could permanently etch it upon the plaque on such short notice had been a task, but ultimately one that he'd succeeded in.

It was perfect, at least in Naoji's opinion.

Cross-legged and carefully arranging the items more to his liking, Naoji had been concentrating on his thoughts to the point that he didn't notice the approach of another and would've been caught rather unaware were they to make themselves known.
Tacea / Re: The boldest measures are the safest
« Last post by Seung Corro on Today at 02:40:20 AM »
Had Seung been a woman, he was sure that Zhihao wouldn't have taken the liberty of seating himself. Honestly, Seung didn't have the energy to be bothered; it was just another one of those odd things that he was noticing as his new position spread. As a Steward, he was still a male standing service to a Queen. Now, as the Regent, he served no one. There wasn't a woman to chain back his nature as a Warlord Prince, the viciousness and violence that were part and parcel of his soul. It made the elders nervous, so they'd only agreed on the terms that Hinata no Kagen act as a limiting force and political advisor.

"This room is warded," said Seung in the politest tone he could muster. "You may speak plainly." As if Zhihao wasn't already dispensing with many of the social niceties. "Thank you for bringing up dinner. It will spare us the interruption of service." The last thing anyone wanted to deal with was a servant hearing that which they oughtn't.

Seung took another of the boxes and assumed a more formal position. This was not two males serving the same Queen talking in a social manner; he was in this office, making this offer, as the Regent of Tacea, a man already referred to as the Dragon Father among malcontents. "To your health," he said, lifting the box of food in a gesture of gratitude. That was the last informal moment.

Many Blood had a Court face and a personal face, at least in Tacea. These faces concealed thoughts and feelings which would be impolitic to share and were therefore necessary to hide to protect the honor of the family name. Seung's two faces were not so very different; one simply looked more alert than the other. It was with this newly-alert expression that he said, "Prince An, I asked you here to take the position of the Interregnum Spymaster. This role will likely carry over into the service of the new Dragon Queen, when she is found, until she chooses a spymaster or mistress of her own. Of course, due to the sensitivity of the role, a different explanation will be found for your presence at and maintenance of an office within the Dragon Court; I've recommended that you serve as Hinata's primary Court Escort, but if there is another position which you feel will serve the Interregnum better, then we'll negotiate it."

He paused, politely, and then asked, "Would you like tea with your meal, Prince?"
Tacea / Re: The boldest measures are the safest
« Last post by Zhihao An on Today at 02:25:30 AM »
Zhihao An arrived precisely on time, a basket looped over his arm. "Prince Corro," he said, bowing from the doorway. He remembered this suite of rooms well from when Hinata sat on the dragon throne. The office had belonged to Satomi then, despite Zhihao's jealousy. His own office had faced the other way, away from the river, and the light had never been as good.

"I always liked this view," said Zhihao, nodding to the wide window behind Seung, and then stepped into the room, opening the basket and setting it on the desk. "I did us the liberty of fetching dinner. I hope you don't mind," he continued, setting out a set of waxed-paper boxes from a restaurant near the court, filled with steaming portions of rice and vegetables and fish.

He set the empty basket down on the floor and took a seat. Though Seung had been vague in his summons, Zhihao was reasonably confident that he knew what this discussion was to be about. Though his position in Hinata's court had always been a matter of secrecy (a necessity, to increase his efficacy as spymaster), Seung Corro almost certainly knew the extent of it now, after several days of hushed discussion with the Dowager Dragon.

"Thank you for having me. Now, correct me if I'm wrong," said Zhihao, picking up one of the boxes, "but it's my understanding that you're in need of some of my more specialized talents. Is that right?"

He'd known this was coming since the moment Hinata had elected to serve by Seung Corro's side. The two of them were a package deal: Queen and spymaster.
Tacea / Re: it's easy to say it's for the best
« Last post by Hinata no Kagen on Today at 02:16:47 AM »
"That’s actually part of why I came here today."

That surprised Hinata a couple degrees, but she didn't allow it to throw off her pace of movement or the pleasant expression she offered her darling grandson. Though it did shift somewhat more to curiosity rather than the concern from moments before while she waited patiently to see what it was that he was getting at. Isamu seemed to fall into several moments of thought after that, so very rare that he looked so contemplative it was almost a little alarming for the older woman, but she didn't interrupt.

She could feel the subtle shift of his emotions as he worked through whatever it was in his head and while she wished she could just vanish the hurt and the outrage that plagued outright, it would've been a foolish thought. He was a Warlord Prince and one that had been deeply hurt on an emotional level, but he was also a man grown and needed to process those things in a manner befitting that. He couldn't if she was constantly babying him, words she recalled from serious discussions (never arguments, she wouldn't classify them as such) she'd had with Shin.

What Isamu eventually revealed in his explanation was further shocking, but in a more positive way as he looked at her with such determination. There was no offense in her gaze, only understanding when she brought up her free hand and touched his cheek momentarily. "I think that's an excellent idea and I am incredibly proud of you for arriving at such a decision. Tacea would be incredibly fortunate to have you in its defense."

"It was a disagreement that your father and I occasionally had, if I'm being honest at this point," Hinata admitted as she turned her gaze forward once again while they walked. She had no path in mind specifically, maybe the gardens, she was undecided. Though she did decide she liked the manner in which the halls were slowly filling back up. They've been eerily devoid of life for the past couple of weeks, but now with the interregnum in place people were filtering back in.

"He was far too respectful to outright say I was holding you back from seeking your own path, your own Queen or court service, but the notion was more or less implied. Naturally, I never saw it that way, you still received the proper training and tools to serve another, and you were absolutely free to pursue such things had you ever said anything."

She paused, recent conversations with Shiro and Toyani both replaying in her head for some, fleeting moments before she spoke anew. Aimi had always been the harsher sibling between Hinata and herself, the Black Widow's children (some, anyway) claiming that same harsh, controlling manner and she'd always dismissed it as too much. Maybe she herself hadn't been quite rigid enough raising her own family?

"Though perhaps in a sense I was doing just that, however unintentionally. I never wanted any of my children or grandchildren to feel forced into doing anything they didn't wish to, so I never pushed, never insisted upon anything stringent. But maybe in avoiding that I've done you a disservice in some manner?" Hinata shook her head of the musing shortly after. It was neither here nor there and he didn't need to be privy to her own, distant doubts on the subject - he wanted her advice and she would give it happily.

"Point being, we both know I'm hardly immortal, I won't live forever and you simply can't just wander aimlessly after I'm gone. So I think such an endeavor would be good for you. You could exert your natural energy and showcase the things you've learned over the years. It'll give you purpose and a reputation forged of your own accord and merit rather than shadowing me all these years.

Prince Corro isn't allowed to have a Master of the Guard, as per the terms of the contract he signed, but as a workaround to that he came up with the notion of instating a Territory-wide guard of sorts. A large group of martially-skilled men and women to police matters and keep the peace - he fancies calling it the Thousand Swords. They'll provide structure, training and we have plans to see to it that the members are all taught how to read and write properly. Does that sound like something that matches up with what you have in mind for yourself?"
Tacea / The boldest measures are the safest
« Last post by Seung Corro on Today at 01:54:35 AM »
Seung and Hinata had agreed that her Dagger, An Zhihao, was their best bet for a spymaster. While the Territory Guard stomped around and visibly investigated, her Summer Sky Prince could put out more subtle inquiries. Agents could be dispersed to the courts of the Clan Queens to protect them even as the candidates for the throne of Tacea were watched and escorted by the Territory Guard. It wasn't the most elegant solution, but Seung's interests lay in other directions. There were other concerns, and greater ones, that he was better able to assess.

Prince An, though, he was experienced in spying on Taceans. He likely still maintained a sizable network, since Hinata had indicated that the man watched over the current Kagen Clan Queen--a young woman named Yumi--and that wouldn't be easy for a single old man to work. Seung needed eyes inside the Territory to make sure that nothing further went on than the horrors that had already struck: three Queens, two of them Clan Queens, dead or absent from the Territory permanently, when Tacea could hardly spare them.

Now he just needed Zhihao to agree.

The meeting would take place in the evening, in Seung's office as the Steward. He'd had no reason to move from the suite of rooms on the fourth floor of the Dragon Court; he liked the view of the Ama as it flowed before the horizon, the lights of the city glowing against the darkening sky. It was peaceful. Hopefully this meeting would be just as calm, but he was never sure when it came to interacting with mainland males. He was so different to them--the Hanwa had become used to him, all of them making his acquaintance at some point--though he was closer to a geisha than a mainland male. It was more than his race that set him apart.

He folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. There was a lot to do, but he could take this one last moment. Prince An, and his duties, would come soon enough.
Dena Nehele / Re: my memories and dreams upon those wings
« Last post by Liana Volkov on Today at 01:18:37 AM »
Li heard her sister well before the Hearth Witch even entered her peripheral vision, her voice ringing clear from the entrance to the bar to the stool on which she was seated presently. A grin instantly split across her features, though she didn't bother turning around quite yet, instead mentally counting down from some-odd seconds before she knew she'd feel the inevitable hug that was coming. She'd have never labeled her whirlwind of a sister as predictable, but the pair of them in tandem did have some habits that never changed.

Hugs were one of these habits. Fucking fight them about it, as Liana herself would've surely put it oh-so-eloquently if anyone had dared to question it.

Said hug was returned with an equally enthusiastic 'I missed you too.' before she turned to face her younger sister after Auri had claimed her seat on one side of her. Only to, as expected, have the point of the conversation immediately come up before literally any other pleasantries could be exchanged.

"First of all, she's not only just a Queen, as I unexpectedly fucking found out. She's also a Black Widow. Nobody ever heard anything about her all this time because she's been in Chaillot for however many years. Obvious reasons there, better than probably getting offed here when she was like five or something. But, very big but," a pause for additional (and very likely dramatic) effect, "not fucking brainwashed with all their crazy, lock up all the dark-jeweled Blood bullshit that they have going on there. So that's a plus. She seems pretty qualified, we talked a bit. I get good vibes from her and she seems really intent on doing a good job. So I'm pretty sure we can trust her to not fuck up home."

"She's also wildly good-looking." Because obviously that was a detail that bore so much importance during this conversation. Not. "Then, y'know, there was the whole 'oh, you're apparently Mine' thing, which led to the Steward thing, and now here we fucking are."

It wasn't so much unenthused as it was rather blunt and casual in her relaying of the information (but that was generally how Liana spoke of most things anyway). So while she waited and continued to smirk expectantly to see if Auri was satisfied or if she had further demands for info, the witch waved the bartender over and barely had to verbally place the order as the man dealt with them enough that he knew what they tended to drink the most.
Dena Nehele / Re: Survivalism
« Last post by Lyoshka no Ariake on Today at 01:11:31 AM »
Distracted as he was, Lyoshka's attention jolted back onto Garen when the Prince's hand slipped up against his skin, stroking the seam between gold and flesh. It was uncomfortably intimate, the kind of grasp that could become a strangle with even the least amount of effort from Garen. As far as attention-grabbing tactics went, it was a solid one. Lyoshka couldn't help but listen to the horrifying things that Garen was saying to him. His body was all he had but Garen controlled that, too, in the end, didn't he? His mind was safe, but was it really? He hadn't expected to snap that way when faced with Gheorghe and his presumed crime.

The fact that L'Voide could tell when Lyoshka was using Craft was a worrying one. His half-formed plan to make his Offering alone, somehow, that had to be set aside. Garen would know. Would he risk ending his own chances to have a Black-Jeweled Healer in his possession if Lyoshka attempted his Offering outside his master's supervision? Petra was a Priestess, and though she was at least moderately trustworthy, Lyoshka needed a chance to keep at least part of his Black if he was going to get those rings off Garen's fingers.

He managed to resist the urge to step back and away from Garen's looming face, but only just; his gaze slid away from his master, off towards the flowers he could just barely see out of the corner of his eye. Anything was better than listening to his. Than listening to--How your body got close to getting off on it.

Lyoshka didn't resist Garen's pull, but he held rigidly still, arms still wrapped around himself. The choice on offer was a terrible one. Go back to his chores, when the Red still tingled up his arms, when he could still feel the depths of his inner abyss like the salt-breeze on his face at home? Or go back to the chores that he didn't really mind, but without his Jewels. All he had to do to have his Red back in his hands was. Was.

He wanted the Red. He wanted to go to Bidea and check on patients, he wanted to do something useful, but he'd never... Lyoshka dug his fingernails into the soft skin of his arms. Garen could be lying, he told himself. He could turn and go do his chores, at least maintain a little bit of his dignity. But the Red.

In the end, it wasn't really a choice. He needed Garen to give him more freedom of movement if he was going to succeed at Jolie's assignment, if he was going to ever be free. Even if Garen didn't intend to keep his word, wouldn't it be better, easier, to be obedient? Lyoshka sank to his knees in the grass, tipped his chin up to look at the man who held his control ring. His hands threatened to shake as he raised them to the man's belt, and he paused a moment, trying to steady them. He never shook when he was healing, and this was... similarly transactional. It had to be. Suck Garen off and win a charade of freedom.

He undid Garen's belt and, not looking, worked by touch to expose his cock. The flesh was responsive beneath his fingertips, and Lyoshka bit back a shudder. What he had to do was intellectually so simple. It relied wholly on reflexes and things the body did naturally, once he got past the ick factor.

It wasn't, he thought, as though he'd never seen a man before. He'd seen plenty of men in clinical contexts. This could be clinical. It was a procedure. A procedure using his mouth. Like sucking poison.

He looked at Garen's cock, half-hard between his fingers. Exactly like sucking poison. So why couldn't he make himself just lean in and do it?
Pruul / Re: The Gift of the Spider
« Last post by Kazim al-Latifh on Today at 01:06:48 AM »
Kazim’s head jerked back at her sharp refusal at his offer, his nostrils flaring momentarily taking in the scent of her fear and pain and felt his pulse rise.  Danger, danger to his Queen, his heart.  He forced back the beast within that was still too raw to recognize a physical danger to a danger he could not strike at with fist or weapon or craft.

Her switch from voice to psychic thread told him exactly how much she feared this precious knowledge leaking out.  Despite his constant shielding of her tent against intruders of any measure, she was still so cautious.  Perhaps she hadn’t realized what he was doing but now was not the time to dismiss her worries.  His hand gently held her own and even though his fingers were lightly resting against the back of her hand and wrist, he could feel the heat of her ring finger in the air.  She must be in so much pain, and he felt a wince of sympathy for her and a huff of frustration at being unable to take this trial away from her.

*I know,* he replied.  In truth he had been feeling the growing change in her, especially with the shift of her scent from Queen to more, a heated spice that enticed him and still warned that primal part of himself that this change could bring danger and needed caution.  No, he did not fear his Queen but he was a wise man to recognize that a Black Widow was in no way a creature to be underestimated, even new and untrained.  More than that, the man had become acutely aware of the heat of her, a pulse that grew in his presence and the feelings of need and arousal that had permeated her tent when he came to see her in the early hours before duty pulled them both away. 

*No, even shielded beneath my Sapphire, it would raise suspicions.  The sentry this evening is more favorable to your First Escort* - he refused to acknowledge the back-stabbing weasel as being her blood - *and would certainly report immediately anything that seemed out of the ordinary in your behavior or mine, and having my Sapphire shields up for any reason would be cause for alarm.*  He shifted up to sit beside her on the bed, not seeking her permission for the first time and placing his arm around her shoulders comfortingly.  Her request soothed the anger inside, here they would protect, here they could serve.  Being given a task, a goal helped distract the beast’s frustration at not having an enemy to tear into.

*I will go Lady,* he said, *and bring her strapped across my saddle if she won’t come willingly.*  Though he didn’t quite understand how he could pull that off without causing a bigger issue.  *Feign your headache, I know your maid will support this deception.  I will leave immediately and bring Lady Zenja to you.  I have a cousin who serves among the Sayyadina and have not been to see him since my arrival.  If things are questioned, I can simply say I used my free day to visit my kin and while I was there, the Lady requested my escort back.*  That was a plausible enough reason for him to bring back a Black Widow from his morning ride and he did really have a cousin who served the Black Widows, but Kazim would never spend his free hours to visit him.  He hated the man, who had been an arrogant prick as a child and only became more insufferable as an adult.  It hadn’t helped he was already jealous that his runt cousin was born a higher caste, but he had almost chewed his face when he heard Kazim had received an Opal for his Birthright, where he had been gifted with a White.

Kazim leaned in and brushed her cheek with his mouth, a gentle soothing kiss.  *Rest, meditate, try to seek a different state and push away the pain from your mind.  It clouds your scent and will only attract the attention of those you wish not to know of your learning.*  As he moved back, his tongue traced his lips, savoring the flavor of her and memorizing it as he rose.

*I shall be like the Wind* he said, bowing to her before pulling a sight shield over himself and slipping from her tent.  He found Zar lazily chewing on some grains in his stall and threw his saddle onto his back without much ceremony.  The horse blinked at him but didn’t move, well trained and used to a little hurried rough treatment.  Kazim led him from the enclosure and pulled himself up on his back before leaning down to pet his neck and whisper in his ear.

“Our Queen needs your swiftest feet my friend,” he said as he pushed his heels into Zar’s side and the stallion took off in a leap towards the edge of the encampment and the desert.

An hour later, as the heat of the morning sun was beginning to turn the sand to a shimmering path, Kazim pulled Zar to a slow pace and finally to a walk as he reached the outer walls of the Sayyadina residence.  A guard approached, looked warily at him, weapon at the ready.

“I am Kazim al-Latifh, Bonded to the Queen of the Tabur with an urgent message for the Lady Zenja from my Queen.”   The guard paused, obviously relaying his words to someone else judging by the look on his face before his weapon was lowered and he stepped aside.   “Leave your horse, someone will give him water.  The Lady will see you there,” he said, pointing to a doorway.  Kazim slid from Zar’s back and walked swiftly towards the gestured doorway.
Pruul / Re: The Spider's Caress
« Last post by Kazim al-Latifh on Today at 01:06:17 AM »
Her hand stopped his movements, he could almost feel her hand on his chest holding him back.  He watched her, concern and caution in his eyes.  Was she regretting the night of the Rains?  She had certainly enjoyed herself and the experience, he would stake his life on that assumption.  He thought she might return to her shyness, after all she had been drawn up in the power of the night, the craft that had brought water from the sky, but this was almost….rejection?

No, he decided after a moment, watching her expression as she too battled with something internal.  It wasn’t rejection but some other strong emotion that was suffocating her.  So he took a slow, half-step backwards to give her a little more room to breathe without seeming that he was retreating from her either.

As her hesitant words finally flowed, he relaxed a little further.  Ah, so that is what had been troubling her.  Not regret over what they had done but worry about what she might still do, what she wanted to do.  He resisted the urge to smile, if only because she might think he was laughing at her. 

She was so amazing, this Queen that the Darkness had given him.  All his years of dreading the day when a woman would lay claim to his soul and he had no choice but to bend his will and his life to her whim, he had never imagined such a precious gift.  It wasn’t the Bond that brought these feelings, it was her.  Her spirit and her heart, how now - knowing what he offered and could offer and would always offer, she refused to accept obedient service over willingness.  She worried that he felt compelled to bed her, simply because of their connection.

Holding her gaze, he stepped forward.  One slow step at a time until he stood before her.   Sinking slowly to one knee, he took her hands in his and kissed her palms, much as he did the first day they met.  “Lady, oh my Queen,” he said warmly, his dark eyes locked on hers even as his lips nipped at the mounds on her hand.  “I swore to you my service, my sword and my shields were always at your beck and call.  I never swore my spear.  That I give freely and willingly to you.”  His eyes glimmered with warm mischief as he turned her hands and brought her knuckles to his mouth.  Letting his voice drop into a treble that was part husk and part seriousness he continued.

“Protect, serve and obey.  Those are the laws that are driven into every blood male from the time we are first aware of words.  They are the code that I have always strove to live by and I will always do so.   My first duty is to protect you, in body and spirit.”  He nipped at her finger playfully.  “There is nothing dark about desire, nothing wrong about the body’s need for physical contact.  Lust and arousal are nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to fear.  I enjoy sex, immensely.”  He let his own hunger rise into his eyes, unleashing it enough so his scent shifted.  Male, adult, aroused.  “I enjoy sex with you even more.  I dream nightly of the day you ask me to your bed again and hope it will not take another miracle for you to do so.”

“Dinah,” he whispered, needing to make sure she understood him very carefully, “If you called me to your bed, you would not be using me.  I come willingly, a man to the woman he desires, a woman he adores.  Not a Warlord Prince to his Queen.   If I did not wish it, even our Bond would not compel me.  You cannot make me do anything that I don’t wish to do every night, every minute of every day since the Rains.”  He licked his lips, feeling his mouth dry slightly.  He could smell the change in her scent, the arousal that was making his head fogged and his cock heavy.   He looked up at her, waiting for her response, hoping that he got through so many years of self-doubt and restraint.
Tacea / Re: it's easy to say it's for the best
« Last post by Isamu no Kagen on Today at 12:56:27 AM »
Isamu nodded at his grandmother’s progress report as they walked along, arm in arm. Her Touch flowed into him and through him, allowing him to reclaim a fraction of the peace of mind that had eluded him in recent times. She was not his bonded Queen and Isamu would always regret that on some level. He could not think of another woman that he would trust to hold his leash or help him become the man that he was meant to be. Isamu had wanted to serve Hinata no Kagen since he was a small boy and that desire only increased over time.

She said that his pain would grow easier to bear and he believed her. Later, when he was alone or with Mei, it would be harder to remember the peace that he’d found in these small moments. Therefore, Isamu soaked it in completely.

I’m glad that you and Prince Corro are working together so well. That’s actually part of why I came here today.” Isamu said. He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts because he wanted to present himself as a man seeking the aid of an honored elder and not just a boy asking his grandmother for help. She would not look down on him for the latter, but Isamu had spent time in deep thought since the funeral. Hours and days of self-reflection had lead him to an inescapable conclusion:

Father was right.

My last conversation with Father was an argument. I can never change that. What you said just now about honoring his memory, and Emiko’s, mirrors what I’ve been thinking about lately. Father wanted me to live my life and to serve. He felt that I was clinging to a childhood dream, of serving you, rather than living in the present. Now, though, those paths have converged. This Interregnum needs people to serve and the people responsible for what happened to Naruko, Father, and Emiko must be found and they must pay a Price.” Isamu said.

I would like to serve in the Territory Court, Obaasan, in any capacity that you will have me. I want to defend the Tacea that you built.” he said, looking into her eyes. He meant every word and he needed her to know that. This felt like the right path, the best path for his life.

It was the only way to make his father proud of him.
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