Hell and Heaven are in the Hearts of Men
He thought he was protecting her from those damned monsters, but as he pulled his hand away from her mouth, it left an inky handprint over her lips and chin. The Dark Moto charged down the hill and… through him. He felt their darkness touch his heart and saw himself dragged away, reaching desperately for her as she was consumed by a shadow that spread over her face and down her body.
Makuushio felt himself shoved in the ribs and threw his arm out to fend off any subsequent blow.
“Kutabare! What the hell was that for?!”
He sat up, chest heaving and heart beating nearly out of his chest. The sight of his elder brother’s face came into his vision and he dropped his head.
“Please forgive me, oniisan. My nightmares…”
“Yes, yes, your nightmares. I swear to the Kami you’re more afraid of them than Jigoku itself. Well you’re making too much noise, I can’t sleep.”
Makuushio bent forward, inclining his head more.
“Stay awake if you have to, just don’t you dare wake me again! Or else I will tell that Kitsu you were moaning her name in the night.”
His heart skipped a beat and he whispered a promise to make no further noise that night.
Stepping out onto the balcony, Makuushio looked out over the Wall into the Shadowlands. Narrowing his eyes, he peered hard into the darkness, knowing there was nothing out there that he couldn’t face.
His companions had surprised him. Starting out, he had serious doubts that all of them would make it back. Heiwa, a Crane for crying out loud, had cut one of the Onikage in half! Granted he was now lying in the infirmary, recovering, but he hadn’t been afraid when it was time to fight. Huo had made a dark splotch out of one of them, a truly impressive feat. Even Hyun-Shik had proven himself with his convincing words. Jarringly enough it was Hanashiro, his brother Crab, who had faltered. Though Makuushio knew no one could blame any Crab for being the most honorable of samurai, he wondered why the Kuni had chosen to lie.
And that Kitsu girl. She was perplexing. Kawahime was touched by the Kami in a way he had never seen and had a hidden strength that amazed him. His mind wandered back to the moments they had shared in the Shadowlands. Her hands on his arm as she held him in a grip he could not break from, her prayers to the Kami that had healed him, her voice in his ear, his arm around her as they waited for the Dark Moto to pass them by. It was in that moment, he remembered, that he had felt a strength previously foreign to him. He had known strength of body and spirit, but this protective feeling, being so close to one of the samurai he protected every time he fought the creatures of the Shadowlands, reminded him that the Crab would never be forgotten for what they did for the Empire. And though he knew she would likely depart when the snows soaked into the earth, he knew he would never forget her or the duty she had reminded him of.
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