This is a preview to the chapter Chapter 7 from the book The Weeping Empress by Sadie S Forsythe.
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Despite her resolution to accept the loss of her previous life, Chiyo found herself thinking of her family more often. Sleep became another pleasant memory as she found that she dreamt of little else. In her dreams they called to her. Their pain was real and merged with her own. She often found herself waking in a cold sweat and unable to go back to sleep. It had been so much easier to simply keep them safely locked away.
In those early dawn hours, she found refuge in exhaustion. She often left camp to swim, if near the river; run; climb; or do anything. Feeling the steady pulse of her heart, the smooth, tight contraction of her muscles, the acrid burn of lactic acid, the thump of her foot on the hard packed road, and the rhythmic tap of the sword strapped across her back became essential at such times. She could go until exhaustion washed everything from her mind again.
Her new habit drove Muhjah to distraction. He told her it was asinine, irrational, and dangerous, but that didn’t keep her in camp. She’d found no other behavior that staved off the memories or helped her sleep, so she ignored him and his diplomatic attempts at reason.
It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate his efforts. Chiyo understood that she was putting herself in needless danger by going off on her own. Her sole objective of exhausting herself compromised her ability to defend herself if the need ever arose. She also understood that as her reputation continued to grow, she became more of a target for the emperor’s forces.
The group practiced constant vigilance; it was second nature to them. Even before Chiyo’s arrival, Senka and Muhjah had made many enemies and had been frequently waylaid. Experience told them that an attack could come from any quarter in any form at any moment. They remained on the lookout for trouble at all times.
The men had considered their identities safely anonymous. In most crowds they were almost invisible, just one more pair of rogue swordsmen. Chiyo’s presence, however, rarely went unnoticed recently; there was often a low hum of recognition as they walked the street. They could no longer blend into a crowd, and it made entering populated areas problematic.
Most nights the group camped off of the roadside, but they couldn’t avoid people altogether. Supplies had to be bought, hot baths needed to be taken occasionally, and Muhjah’s amusements must be seen to. Judicious planning was required prior to such occurrences.
They found that the people from smaller, more rural areas were safer. They maintained a stronger faith in the Great Goddess, and although they paid Chiyo more attention, there was far less risk of exposure. These people held a stronger contempt for the emperor and his subordinates and were, therefore, less likely to betray them.
However, for the sake of information, they were occasionally forced into the larger towns. When this happened, everyone was on edge. The majority of people understood that overt attention was unwanted, but many still stopped to stare, some were even unaware that they were doing so.
A few less prudent individuals tried getting close to Chiyo. Some were avid believers, who had become too zealous when faced with the physical embodiment of their faith. They only wished to touch her clothing or be seen by the eyes of the Goddess. They bowed, held babies out for blessings, and muttered prayers Chiyo couldn’t understand. One particularly bold girl had grabbed Chiyo in her excitement. Already overly tense, Chiyo had responded with conditioned violence. It had been only Senka’s quick movements that saved the child’s life. He had deftly placed himself between the two, blocking Chiyo’s ability to further draw her sword and sharply bringing her back to her senses.
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