The Weeping Empress


This is a list of how often and where the term 'Chiyo' appears in the book The Weeping Empress.

Search result for 'Chiyo' in The Weeping Empress

Chapter 1: Chapter 1
"...Chiyo opened her eyes and looked up at the crisp blue sky. There was a fluttering in front of it as the leaves of a sparsely foliaged tree waved lazily. The wispy tendril of a cirrus cloud floated into the periphery of her vision and then disappeared and was forgotten. ..."
"...In his right hand was a thin curved sword like Chiyo had seen in innumerable movies and museums. Unlike those shiny, clean swords, his was brown with the stains of congealing blood. It terrified her. She had never been so close to a killing implement before. She instinctively tried again to free herself but still wasn’t able to dislodge her ..."
"...The woman grimaced as she fell. She reached out to Chiyo for help Chiyo couldn’t give. The youth stepped on her neck and stabbed her to death. Chiyo was close enough to feel the warm spray of arterial blood and hear the sickening sound of flesh separating and the knocking of the death rattle as loose fluid accumulated in the ..."
"... throat. Chiyo screamed and renewed her struggles as she began to panic. She felt her loose fitting pants go warm as she wet herself, and her fight-or-flight reaction finally kicked in. She didn’t have the time to analyze or even come to terms with her inexplicable situation. “No!” ..."
"...She chanced a glance behind her and found he wasn’t following her. He was still cupping the bleeding remains of his broken nose. He wasn’t the only one bloody. There seemed to be blood everywhere. It painted the world red, and Chiyo’s mind couldn’t make sense of it. Her head whipped from side to side from the sky to the irrationally colored grasses. Her lack of focus made her head spin, and she grasped at her temples pitifully. She was crying, and the tears blurred her vision further. The filth from ..."
"...lengths of someone’s large intestines. She fell, coming face to face with the graying remains of their owner. She gasped, gagging on the smell. She tried to get up, slipped, and fell again onto the corpse. His eyes had been blue once, but now they were milky with death. Chiyo threw herself backward, landed on her backside, and crab-walked away from the body. ..."
" be two main groups: a group of variously dressed individuals with no apparent association and a group of uniformed men wearing brown leather pants with a sleeveless green tunic. The uniformed men were trying to herd the others into order and cutting down those who were particularly uncooperative. Chiyo noted the resistance centered around two main people. ..."
"...and they were failing miserably. The two rebels ducked and wove in and out of each other’s shadows, swords flashing red and blue. Each movement found a mark, and there was a swath of destruction around them. They were mesmerizing, and for a moment the sight even cut through Chiyo’s fear and revulsion, allowing her to release the breath she was holding. ..."
"...In a gaping manner she observed the two men working in a tightly choreographed manner. They fought around each other effortlessly. Her husband, whose boyhood love of samurai and adult appreciation of all things Kurosawa, would have been awed. Even Chiyo had to admit there was a deadly beauty to their movements. ..."
"... a deadly beauty to their movements. Chiyo’s humorless contemplation was disturbed by the approach of another uniformed individual. She noticed he was favoring his right leg and the left was bleeding profusely. He left smudged red footprints in his wake. If she had been watching the scene ..."
"... in his wake. If she had been watching the scene from afar, she could have detached as though on a giant film screen, but faced with it up close, fear gripped her again. Chiyo backed further into the wall. She shook her head and wished fervently to be somewhere else. “Who are you?” ..."
"...He sounded reasonable enough, but Chiyo remembered the old woman who had reached out for help and the cold efficient manner in which she had been killed. Chiyo remembered the field in which others were dying and noticed the firm grip he had on his sword and the number of uniformed dead on the ground. ..."
"...exhilaration rather than his natural hue. His hair was straight and dark brown and looked as if he had cut it with the very sword he had been swinging. It was shaggy, uneven, and hanging in his eyes, but those eyes were startling and frightening. Even from her distance Chiyo could tell that they were light in color. Unlike the joyous expression on his companion’s face, nothing reflected from behind them. He could have been walking down the street instead of calmly killing. ..."
"...Chiyo trembled. He was the most frighteningly beautiful thing she had ever seen. Surely Death himself would wear such a face to tempt his next victim. Chiyo sank to her knees. Those eyes had seemed to peel her layers away one at a time, leaving her bare and exposed. She ..."
"...Chiyo looked him over. As similar and practiced as their swordplay had been, the two men were dissimilar in appearance. The second was a good three inches taller and beefier than his companion was. There was a thick, bearlike quality to him, and he was broad in the back and ..."
"...His words roused the group of dazed and confused people. They stepped over or around their fallen companions and gathered quickly. They headed across a field toward the sparse forest. Chiyo observed that no one noticed her. The invitation—or had it been an order?—hadn’t been directed to anyone in particular, simply the group as a whole. With nowhere else to go and afraid of the soldiers’ return, Chiyo hurried to catch up. ..."
"...She considered the possibility that she was in a foreign country but quickly discarded it. She was pretty sure even starving Ethiopians were wearing secondhand Nikes these days. It was a manga come to life. Chiyo laughed. She knew it wasn’t a very smart or appropriate thing to do, but how could she not? She wanted to ask, “What would Kagome Higurashi do?” but there was no one who knew who Kagome Higurashi was or who could spare her a moment for conversation. ..."
"...and wrapped her arms across her chest. A small involuntary whimper escaped her. In the silence of the group, it echoed like a horse shout. A number of watery eyes turned her way, but they saw no cause for her embarrassment. Her lace edging brought no scintillating temptations as Chiyo had imagined since they knew nothing of clothing worn only in the private chamber. They saw only one more frightened face. ..."
"... saw only one more frightened face. Regaining her composure was a monumental task, but she succeeded eventually. Lightly tapping the shoulder of an elderly woman near her, Chiyo paused, “Um, hello…, ah—” She wasn’t sure where to begin. “Uhm—” “Andela,” the old lady replied. ..."
"... where to begin. “Uhm—” “Andela,” the old lady replied. “My name is Andela. What can I do for you?” “Um, Andela, what’s going on?” Chiyo finally managed to ask. The woman looked at her as if perhaps she had gone soft in the head. “Why, dearie, we’ve just been ..."
"... looked at her as if perhaps she had gone soft in the head. “Why, dearie, we’ve just been rescued.” Embarrassed, Chiyo ducked her head and said, “Well, yes, I can see that.” Though, in actuality, she couldn’t. She didn’t know the circumstances of the mayhem they’d just left. ..."
"... She paused, again uncertain how to continue. “But from what?” she prompted. The woman stopped and looked at Chiyo, causing the person behind her to bump and grumble. She quickly picked up her pace again. “From the emperor’s workhouse. Those villages that can’t fulfill the grain ..."
"... required to send people as substitute work instead. We were that tribute. How do you not know that?” Chiyo ignored the question and asked another of her own, “And who are they?” Lifting her chin toward the front of the line, Chiyo indicated the two men. It was almost a whisper. Her ..."
"...Lifting her chin toward the front of the line, Chiyo indicated the two men. It was almost a whisper. Her throat had closed on the words. She remembered the way the slender one had looked at her, like he could see all of her but also as though he hadn’t seen her at all. He acknowledged her in the ..."
"... of providence, my dear.” It was obvious that she knew; of course, she knew. She had looked at Chiyo’s strange blood-spattered clothing and thought better of disclosing too much. Chiyo couldn’t blame her and didn’t see much chance for further information. They walked late into the ..."
"...She thought of her bonny baby girl, and from dark emotional crevices she saw Hannah look out at her. She had the lost, pleading eyes of an abandoned child. In her mind Chiyo struggled to reach out to her, reassure her, and give her the safe, secure arms of her mother. The idea that Hannah might think that Chiyo had willingly left her broke Chiyo’s heart and strained her mind. ..."
"... “Chu, Chu, Chu, sweetie. Mommy’s here. Dry your eyes. You’re safe. I won’t let anyone hurt you. Please don’t cry,” she tried to say, but there was no voice in her throat. The words hung unspoken and painful. Chiyo watched as Hannah continued to cry for her mother, her red, swollen, tearful eyes desperate for any sign. The image stayed with Chiyo. She lay confused and hurt, thinking of home. She had to get back. She had to find a way to return to them no matter what. ..."
"...It occurred to her as well that they might be wondering other unknown lands, or she could find them over the next hill or around the next bend. Chiyo forced herself to discard those ideas and believe that she alone was lost. It was comforting to think that they were safe even though her absence from them pained her. Conversely, the thought that her beautiful Hannah could be endangered was one too many fears. She convinced herself that ..."
"... Three men sat with their heads lowered and close together for conversation. Their skin was tanned to the point of appearing leathered, and they all had the sinewed look of someone used to manual labor. They appeared comfortable in their environment, and Chiyo envied them for that. ..."
"...Chiyo followed his gaze as he indicated the woman she had spoken to earlier in the evening. The speaker flinched as a harmless clod of dirt hit him in the side of the head, and Andela made a withering face at him. Chiyo thought that Andela had been surprisingly quick ..."
"... The men grumbled, but Chiyo noticed that there was no more talk. The men hunkered into themselves. Their fear was almost palpable. She heard similar stories around her and always the names Muhjah and Senka were mentioned. These, she supposed, were their two intrepid rescuers. She was ..."
"... filled the space next to her. She gripped the short blade he had given her and raised it toward a surprised assailant. He didn’t know how to respond to a strangely clad woman, brandishing a sword. Chiyo used this momentary uncertainty and attacked. The battle was over before all of the ..."
"... attacked. The battle was over before all of the escapees even had time to realize they were in danger again. Their attackers had been a small, hastily gathered party, and Senka had already culled their ranks. Chiyo stood among the remains, looking at them in wonder. How am I here? “For some ..."
"...Chiyo looked over to find Andela standing beside her. She looked tired but otherwise unaffected by it all. Chiyo wished she could sink into Andela’s withered bosom like a child into a mother’s arms, but Andela was looking at her hard, trying to read something on her blank, blood-spattered face. ..."
"... that his name? I’m still piecing it all together.” “That’s his name, and he’ll want that back.” Chiyo looked down at the foreign object in her hand and nodded. “And what’s your name?” Andela asked. “Chiyo,” she replied. “Chiyo Alglaeca.” The old woman reached ..."
"... back.” Chiyo looked down at the foreign object in her hand and nodded. “And what’s your name?” Andela asked. Chiyo,” she replied. “Chiyo Alglaeca.” The old woman reached up and patted Chiyo’s cheek. “That’s a nice name. Try to get some sleep. The young never get ..."
"... in her hand and nodded. “And what’s your name?” Andela asked. “Chiyo,” she replied. “Chiyo Alglaeca.” The old woman reached up and patted Chiyo’s cheek. “That’s a nice name. Try to get some sleep. The young never get enough sleep.” Chiyo watched Andela walk away. I ..."
"...Chiyo watched Andela walk away. I could leave, just slip away into the night. No one would come after me. No one would even notice. She shivered as she thought about being alone in this awful place. She didn’t think what was left of her sanity could take that. She ..."
"... Andela had no fear of being on her own. Chiyo went to rejoin the group as they settled back down. She noticed that people had made an effort to sleep on the far side of the fire and away from the dead, but no one had suggested moving on before morning. The rest of the night passed without ..."
"...The rest of the night passed without incident, and despite her doubts, Chiyo did sleep a little. She dreamt of home and sorrowfully woke with the first light of dawn to find many already up and about. The small, smokeless fires had been relit, and miraculously, someone had made a thin gruel that was being passed around. It tasted fresh and wild, ..."
"... stern demeanor. He simply nodded his ascent and was gone without a backward glance. “How strange he is,” Chiyo said, putting on a false bravado that she hoped Muhjah wouldn’t see right through. “So says the fighting foreigner,” Muhjah teased, laughing at her braggadocio. She ..."
"... enter often.” “Except that I’ve never done either. I wasn’t born into any of this.” With her temper rising unexpectedly, Chiyo swept her arm wide to encompass their surroundings. “I don’t need a lecture on proper deportment,” she said. “What I need is to know where the ..."
"...Her voice was a little too loud. The people closest to them moved discretely away. A new and alien rage was waking in Chiyo. She gripped Muhjah’s beautifully sculpted and utterly foreign wakizashi as if she might crush it to dust. Her knuckles were white, her body tensed, and her face took on a faint bluish tint. ..."
"... down, … ” he said, but he had no name to personalize the soothing words and let the sentence hang unfinished. Chiyo,” she growled, unreasonably insulted. “Yes,” he responded. “Calm down, Chiyo. I really have no desire to kill you, but if you should be foolish enough to ..."
"... she growled, unreasonably insulted. “Yes,” he responded. “Calm down, Chiyo. I really have no desire to kill you, but if you should be foolish enough to raise my own blade against me, I will have no choice or regret in the matter.” His straight statement of facts made her ..."
"...The party moved out shortly thereafter. Chiyo watched as Senka took position at the front of the group, often sprinting out of sight unexpectedly and returning moments later. Muhjah took the rear, often sending a runner to report to Senka. They continued on like this for hours. Chiyo and the farmers walked in practical silence, but ..."
"...The group huddled close and waited. Chiyo sat among them and watched the two men creep forward like two lions in the bush. She sat; she watched; she waited—until she couldn’t stand it anymore. She sneaked out of the group and, as stealthily as she was able, followed. What she saw was like a well-rehearsed recital. ..."
"...But Chiyo didn’t have their stealth or their environmental awareness and was caught by surprise when a rough hand grabbed her from behind, pulled her viciously from the ground, and spun her around to face its owner. He was thirty-ish. His face no longer held the taut firmness of youth, and ..."
"...wrenched her arm back, trying to break his viselike grip, but his fingers dug painfully into her upper arm. She could feel the deep purple bruises springing to life unseen beneath his hand. It was no use. She was caught. The sword in his other hand rose ominously, and Chiyo froze, panic and fear coursing uselessly through her body. Then he grunted, and the hand on her arm tensed and then relaxed. Blood welled heavily along his lower lashes, like crimson teardrops, and she discovered a hiltless knife protruding prodigiously from where his left eye had been. Shocked, she ..."
"...Chiyo had to stomp with her bare feet on the fingers of the dead man to release his sword, but eventually she was able to take it and the smaller knife from his belt and throw herself headlong into what was left of the fight. I’m not going to sit ..."
"... There isn’t any time to think about that. Just focus. When his sword was given the opportunity to drench itself in the blood of the last fallen man, Senka wiped his blade on the frock of a corpse and turned his flat eyes onto Chiyo. “Why are you still alive?” he asked wearily. His voice ..."
"...The two men returned to the waiting farmers. Chiyo looked at the dead around her before following them. The corpses looked like fallen trees that were a part of the scenery. She wondered whose family heirloom she was taking, but then she decided she didn’t really care. That was when the smell hit her. She had heard of ..."
"...Chiyo experimented with different ways to carry her new weapon. She tried wedging it into her waistband as Senka and Muhjah did, but this put it uncomfortably inside her pants and in time it slipped out anyway. In the end she simply tied the cord, sageo (Muhjah had corrected her), ..."

Chapter 2: Chapter 2
"...Senka ignored him and looked out at the crowd, his eyes falling on Chiyo. She sat uncomfortable and cold amidst a group of farmers, who looked sidelong at her and avoided conversation. Her newfound sidearm jutted out awkwardly, and she was practically sitting on the hilt. She looked as out of place as she was. ..."
"... pillow, … a partner maybe.” Muhjah paused, considering the likelihood of his own assertion. They sat in silence for a while, each assessing Chiyo and then losing interest in favor of more pressing issues. When Muhjah resumed, he had changed the subject. “We have another problem ..."
"... ours is the only assistance available. Although the group as a whole was predictable, Senka knew Chiyo would be a problem. He suspected he wouldn’t be able to control her actions unless he told her the plan, so he reluctantly took her aside. “We’re likely to meet some resistance up ..."
"... to protest because she had started to consider herself part of the defense. He cut her off brusquely. “Swear it, Chiyo, or for the sake of the others, I’ll kill you where you stand.” His words were cold and emotionless. There wasn’t even enough passion in them to suggest ..."
"...Senka looked at her for another disconcerting moment before nodding and calling the group to order. Senka watched Muhjah and his group head off into the sparse woods, while he, Chiyo, and the remaining individuals continued on the road. It was some time before Senka started seeing signs of recent activity along their course and didn’t mention it to anyone. ..."
"...When a group of soldiers finally made themselves known, the women around Chiyo attempted to scatter and run. She found herself suddenly alone on the road. She had seen the danger approach, but it hadn’t occurred to her to run. In the end it didn’t matter. The group was quickly forced back as if nothing had happened. ..."
"... Senka made a show of resisting. Chiyo watched from the small group of mostly women. She could tell that Senka wasn’t fighting as skillfully as he could. Although his sword often found its mark, it didn’t inflict a single fatal blow. Many men stumbled and fell, but none died. She ..."
"... disarmed. The commander came forward and looked him over. “I’m Leoni Askil, and you’ve caused us a lot of freaking trouble. You know that?” He looked at Chiyo and the others and snorted, “All this over a bunch of nobodies.” He appeared to really want to slug Senka but thought ..."
"...Chiyo slipped the small knife she had taken off of the dead mercenary into the back of her knickers. The sword was another matter. She tried to hide it between herself and the skirts of the other women, shuffling awkwardly and keeping in the middle of the group. It was ..."
"...There were bags under his eyes, and she could tell he hadn’t shaved in days. The stubble was a shade lighter than his tumbled, oily hair, and he scratched at it uncomfortably. He smelled of dirt and sweat. Chiyo shifted her glance from him to the sword and passed it over with shaking hands. He took it from her as if it had been contaminated. ..."
"...Chiyo was startled by the initiation of conversation and slightly panicked. “I- I picked it up on the roadside,” she muttered, thinking fast. “I’ve lost everything in this, and I thought I might try and sell it when it was all over.” She looked abashed. “You know, to try to ..."
"...A surprising look of pity flitted across the soldier’s face. It frightened Chiyo. Are we truly in such a piteous state? Are we really seen as having no future? She’d understood their situation was dire, but she hadn’t yet rationally categorized it as hopeless. The realization shook her confidence, and desperation settled like a cold alien parasite, sapping her hopes and reason. ..."
"...Her face was blanched and slack as she and the women were led to a wooden corral. She noticed that Senka was bound and held separately. Chiyo could see him as she waited to enter the pen. A few men had taken the opportunity to use him to bruise their knuckles. Senka was surprisingly unruffled. He seemed as though he felt neither anxiety nor pain. ..."
"... eye contact and held hands as if to pray. “Spent too long in the outposts, I think. There could be trouble for you young ones,” observed an old woman, whom Chiyo would have been tempted to call a “crone” if she hadn’t appeared so hearty. Chiyo watched as the only two men in the ..."
"...Chiyo watched as the only two men in the group—elderly and of little help in a fight—silently positioned themselves dutifully between the women and the door, placing themselves between the women and danger. Even in this strange land, she noted, men exemplified the same behaviors from her world. ..."
"...The group of eight comprised primarily women beyond the age of childbearing. Other than Chiyo, only two were under thirty. One was a hunchback who had a pretty face, but she looked no one in the eye and often seemed to hunch over even more to stay unnoticed. The second was young but distinctly unattractive. Her features taken separately were no worse than an ..."
"... jarringly. This wasn’t a group of desirables. The group became familiar with the men who made a habit of passing and staring, and Chiyo watched them with a special intensity. She learned the rhythm of their approach and listened for it. An idea was brewing. She knew Muhjah was out there ..."
"...Chiyo could tell that no one present was very comfortable with her, and her behavior distanced her further. As fellow women, however, they didn’t want to see her go through with her shameful and ludicrous plan. (By comparison admitting to fear and backing out damaged one’s dignity far less.) Chiyo ..."
"...The camp was quiet. Those without reason to be awake had retired. When he opened the gate, the other women cowered in the corner. The men put themselves between him and the two younger women, but he only shushed them and motioned to Chiyo. She swallowed hard, shrank back, and then stepped forward. Acting frightened but determined was now a lot easier. He took her tightly by the wrist and dragged her out of the corral. Looking over his shoulder, he whisked her off to a nearby supply tent. ..."
"...Ultimately, Chiyo reappeared. It hadn’t been as easy as she thought. She had imagined the scenario numerous times throughout the evening and thought she would surprise him by slipping the knife in quickly before he had time to react and killing him without any sacrifice of her own. It wasn’t a ..."
"... lower lip. Senka accepted his sword without saying anything, and the two released the rest of the group. No one met Chiyo’s eyes as they passed. She accepted their scorn as expected but was confused to hear Andela say, “… And my flesh shall free the imprisoned masses.” 
Although it ..."
"... And my flesh shall free the imprisoned masses.” 
Although it was technically an accurate description of events, the statement seemed irrelevant and out of place. But Chiyo was too busy to dwell on it and quickly forgot about it. Thinking their captives were safely imprisoned, there ..."
"... of a tent. It took the group a number of hours, creeping blindly over pock-marked ground, to reach the river. Muhjah hadn’t arrived, but Senka appeared to have no doubt that Muhjah would come straight to the riverbank. Chiyo thought that the fire would provide enough of a sign. The group ..."
"...The group settled into a tense retirement and Chiyo slipped away and down to the water, where she could wash the filth from her skin and explore the bruises. The water was cold. It caused her to shiver and gasp, but its indubitable realness was a comfort. She bathed and then let herself float in the soft current, ..."
"...She would have liked to remain in the river’s deep unquestioning folds, but the cold eventually drove her back to the shore. When she arrived, Andela was there. She helped Chiyo back into her clothing, touching a bruise here and there. Chiyo had acquired a surprising number of them in the preceding three days. She took Chiyo’s head into her hands and brought it close to her own. ..."
"... three days. She took Chiyo’s head into her hands and brought it close to her own. “We won’t forget.” Chiyo recoiled. “No, forget! There’s nothing to remember. ” She wrapped her cold arms around her shivering body and thought, I’m not going to be seen as a victim or a ..."
"... ever needs to know. **** From the shadows Senka had watched Chiyo sink stiffly into the water. He had been able to tell by her movements that she hurt more than her bruises indicated. He’d watched her scrub vigorously at herself, disgust apparent in every move. He remembered seeing her ..."
"...seeing her primp and arrange herself carefully in Askil’s camp. He’d read her body language as well as any passing soldier, and admitted it had been artfully done, but it had been a stupid and dangerous risk to take. Why regret it now? he’d thought as he turned from Chiyo’s doleful visage to the small group of women gathering at the forest’s edge. ..."
"...He’d watched as Andela washed Chiyo’s clothing, and he’d wondered how they didn’t rip because the older woman rubbed with such force. He’d watched as she laid them on a nearby stone to dry, even a little, before Chiyo stepped back into them. He’d seen her converse quietly with Chiyo and had heard Chiyo’s stricken ..."
"...He knew that because he wasn’t a woman, he couldn’t fully grasp how this group felt about what Chiyo had done for their freedom. He was fairly certain she hadn’t intended it to have far-reaching effects. She had, no doubt, considered her own reaction to the task at hand, her chance of success, and how she would carry the memory of it. But she hadn’t known the ways ..."
"... could be a problem.” Senka’s keen eyes followed Andela’s as she watched Chiyo return to the firelight. The old woman took a small amulet out from under her dress, kissed it and then looked over at the velvety darkness that had held him from Chiyo’s view. “You can’t stop the ..."
"... group. Muhjah listened as Senka quietly related their escape. Muhjah grimaced and shook his head. He watched as Chiyo gladly accepted a bit of food and drink, but he also saw that her presence made the others uncomfortable. They didn’t know what to say or how to act in front of her. “Hmmm, ..."
"...Senka was watching Chiyo and didn’t see the shock register on Muhjah’s face. In all their years together, Muhjah could count on one hand the number of people Senka had expressed interest in; it was almost equal to the number of things Senka was interested in. His personal circle was very small, and ..."
"...Chiyo looked over the two samurai, as she had decided to call them. It seemed to fit. Certainly their weaponry was that of the East, or what she knew of it. Their blades were closer to katana than broadswords. They wore loose-fitting, silk clothing instead of leather or armor. They ..."
"... to the two men. “So I need some answers to what I am sure will seem like ridiculous questions.” “Where are we?” Muhjah offered. Chiyo nodded. “We really don’t know how you came to be here. We can be of no use to you there. As for where you are, this is the country of Dashkalil ..."
"... rule of Emperor Kenichi. We are Muhjah and Senka, just two troublemakers, nothing more.” Chiyo rubbed her eyes and rested her head on her drawn-up knees. She laughed a little in a dry humorless way. “That doesn’t help at all.” She looked out at the night. “You know, when I was very ..."
"... Maybe some clue will reveal itself.” He leaned back, happily rested his own head on a rough-looking tree root, and began snoring lightly shortly thereafter. Chiyo envied his easy transition into sleep as she tried unsuccessfully to fall asleep herself. The next morning Chiyo awoke to Muhjah ..."
"...The next morning Chiyo awoke to Muhjah and Senka shaking the group awake before dawn. They told her they anticipated one last attack at the border because they had had no trouble during the night. They had selected a route to avoid the army post, but they were betting the infantry had pushed ..."
"...Chiyo watched as Senka and Muhjah also looked out over the field. She could tell that neither of them noticed its whimsical splash of color. They were too busy considering their options after watching the creek bed that marked the border between Dashkalil and Albesq for some time. The patrols ..."
"...Muhjah went around the group creating pairs in a brisk, efficient manner. No one argued. They simply drifted toward their assigned partner, looking ill at ease. Chiyo was paired with an old man named Emiko. He was stooped and broken from years in the fields. He would be slow. He looked at Chiyo apologetically. ..."
"...Chiyo watched the group carefully. They had traveled together, eaten, and slept together during the four days that Chiyo had been with them. There had been quiet jests among them, and on more than one occasion, Chiyo had seen pairs discreetly separate themselves to pass the time together. Nevertheless, even ..."
"...Her eyes fell on the alert silhouette of Muhjah, and Chiyo was forced to reassess her previous appraisal. Four days. It had been a mere four days since she had joined this group, and although they remained strangers, she found herself reluctant to leave Muhjah and his silent friend. How can I anticipate missing someone that much after having known ..."
"...The group was on pins and needles. The first six groups had successfully crossed. Chiyo had decided to remain by Emiko’s side, and they were creeping along as quickly as he was able. Although this was partially altruistic, it was also a tactical decision. She had noticed that when a nimbler person left the elder behind, he or she increased the risk of both ..."
"... She didn’t have much of a plan: when the patrol again passed, she would sprint back across, turning the next group around and inform Muhjah of the situation. The patrol passed as predicted. They looked nowhere but straight ahead. Chiyo allowed herself the luxury of a deep sigh of relief. ..."
"... cunning tricks. It had been too easy to let their guard down so close to the goal. She started her return trip. **** Muhjah watched Chiyo’s silhouette stop at the ridgeline. “Stupid girl! What’s she doing?” he muttered aloud. When her form reappeared, he knew she had found something ..."
"...concern. Everyone was supposed to understand that. Having this girl return is problematic. But Senka noted a distinct lack of annoyance on his old friend’s face. He, too, sighed, and then he rose and slipped away. The eighth group was starting out as planned, and he needed to divert Chiyo and prevent her from disrupting those who remained. ..."
"...Chiyo was panting. She had never run so fast in her life. A flood of relief washed over her on seeing Senka, but he just looked down at her with his deadpan eyes, making her want to slink away. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by a ..."
"...They made little effort to hide as they crossed the river. Chiyo indicated the direction Emiko had gone, and the men followed. The glen they came to was small. There were flowers sneaking up among the grasses, and the trees were just starting to shed their leaves, rustling underfoot but still blocking the sky from view. It would have been a ..."
"...the coming darkness. The ground below was soft despite the lack of rain. The stench was unbearable, worse perhaps because it was from the blood, gut, and gore of those she had known, if only briefly. The bodies were gone, but there was evidence enough of what had occurred. Chiyo noted a discarded hand, gray and lifeless. It was missing two fingers, lost perhaps in a futile attempt to ward off the coming blow. ..."
"...Chiyo felt Senka and Muhjah watching her reaction closely and somehow wondered if it would affect her immediate future. She looked at the grass in front of her sway. The earth doesn’t seem to know that a tragedy has just occurred here, Chiyo thought. It might even consider the recent ..."
"...Chiyo looked up in surprise. Muhjah was looking down at her. She didn’t know what to make of his expression because she had become accustomed to his unflagging bemusement. Senka, as always, wore no expression at all. I wonder what my face looks like. She took her time rising to ..."
"...Then she saw the slight lift at the corner of Muhjah’s mouth, and her decision was made. She wouldn’t and didn’t want to survive alone. Everything—including who she was here— was foreign to her. She didn’t recognize the warrior woman who had briefly emerged from the Chiyo of old. She returned Muhjah’s smile. ..."

Chapter 3: Chapter 3
"...Andela was an old woman, comfortable in her anonymity. Even though she felt a little remorse for leaving the group and not discovering what would happen to Chiyo, that strange and contradictory woman, she also felt it was her duty to pass the information on to the Sisters of the Sacerdotisa before it was lost. Andela felt certain she was seeing the beginning of something great. ..."
"... to you. “Her name is Chiyo, and when there is a fight to be had, she seems unable to remain on the sidelines. Twice more she threw herself into a pitched battle in which she had no place. Twice more she emerged unscathed. Surely this could be nothing short of divine protection. “Muhjah ..."
"...“My tears were wasted, however. Once more that fate was averted. Chiyo sacrificed herself for us. She tempted one of the guards. There’s no way to know exactly what happened once he took her away. She was certainly not inclined to discuss it, but it isn’t hard to figure out. Her intent was obvious from the start, her disheveled state afterward ..."
"...She set off for Bestire almost immediately. She would have liked to send someone to meet this Chiyo, but Kranglin’s letter hadn’t included her location and it really was premature to bring Chiyo into the fold. In the meantime Valdis wanted to speak to Andela in person. She needed every ounce of information Andela had to offer. ..."
"...“We’re living in a time of darkness. Our people need hope, comfort, and a sense of spiritual support. This Chiyo that you speak of is the embodiment of these things. She will bring salvation to us all, but she needs time to mature and find her place on the Goddess’ path. In the meantime we have to till the fallow—prepare the way, so to speak. I want to herald ..."
"... Arm of the Goddess’ scribe, so to speak.” “I would be deeply honored. That you and the Goddess deem me worthy of even a small role is more than I could have ever dreamed. But you know that Chiyo will be extremely unhappy with this?” Valdis nodded. “I don’t doubt it. From your ..."
"... unhappy with this?” Valdis nodded. “I don’t doubt it. From your description she doesn’t seem the type who would welcome extra attention, but you must also understand that this isn’t entirely for Chiyo’s benefit that I ask you to do this.” “I do.” “If you’re careful not ..."

Chapter 4: Chapter 4
"...her away, but keeping up proved to be problematic. They seemed tireless, and neither the darkness, nor the uneven terrain slowed them down. They wanted to put as much distance as possible between the border, themselves, and the men Askil would send. By the time day began to break, Chiyo was reaching her limit. She was exhausted, sore, bruised, scraped, and utterly disoriented. ..."
"...Muhjah’s stopping announced the much-needed rest. Senka immediately started a small fire and, seemingly by magic, produced a small, handleless twelve-ounce pot. Muhjah, in turn, dug two small nesting cups from his deep pockets. Chiyo thought it epitomized what she had seen of them so far, each carrying half of the needed utensils and thinking nothing of combining them for use. ..."
"...Chiyo collapsed by the fire and fell asleep almost immediately. She fought it as long as she could because she didn’t want to appear weak and defenseless. Plus, she wasn’t altogether certain that they wouldn’t kill her in her sleep. It wouldn’t have made much sense to bring her along ..."
"...Four hours later Muhjah roughly shook her. She was confused, wondering where she was for a moment before it all came crashing back in on her. Chiyo assumed the two men had slept as well, but Muhjah looked neither disheveled from sleep, nor tired from the lack of it. He handed her his cup and invited her to drink. The tea was dark and bitter, but gratifyingly the caffeine coursed through her like lightning. Muhjah returned ..."
"... your own limitations is paramount, and we’ve already seen that you struggle with this.” Chiyo pursed her lips but nodded that she understood and couldn’t deny her shortcoming in this regard. Muhjah accepted her concession and continued, “I’ll make you a promise. As long as you ..."
"...Chiyo appreciated his blunt nature. She didn’t have to wonder where she stood, and, considering how uncertain she felt about almost everything else, it was refreshing. She was even starting to feel the same about Senka’s mysterious silence. It was enigmatic and threatening, but its predictability in this new, unpredictable ..."
"... to left and said, “Hidari chudan no kamae.” He looked to Chiyo, clearly inviting her to do the same. She did. After a little experimenting, she felt she had it, but she doubted that she looked as comfortable or well balanced as he did. Slowly drawing his own sword, Muhjah showed her a ..."
"...Returning to her side Muhjah demonstrated a basic kata, sliding his front foot back into a catlike stance while bringing his sword high over his head and then stepping forward while slicing downward in a basic strike. He did it a number of times and then observed and corrected Chiyo until she had decently replicated it. ..."
"...Chiyo did so. When she began to tire, she found a point on the horizon, forced herself to concentrate, and continued. Muhjah occasionally reminded her to keep her back straight or her elbows in. She generally tried to make such corrections without response, but they invariably broke her focus, and ..."
"...Senka returned with some berries and a small rabbit, which he quickly skinned and cooked. Despite her every effort to ignore him, Chiyo could feel his eyes on her. She wanted badly to appear to have improved in his estimation. He said nothing, however, and she continued—back, up, forward, and down—until Muhjah called her to come eat. ..."
"...Thus the days passed. At each break Chiyo was given something to practice—sometimes something new, sometimes something she had learned before. Mistakes were corrected, though not commented upon. The two men frequently sparred with each other but no blade crossed Chiyo’s. She was left to solo repetition. It was exhausting, but she didn’t complain—she still felt very ..."
"...During this time the three avoided enemies, and, with the exception of one stealthy visit to acquire shoes for Chiyo’s bleeding feet, they approached no town. Peace reigned, but Chiyo could tell that this wasn’t a normal state of affairs, because Senka became sullen and Muhjah appeared overly conciliatory. The realization that they were avoiding conflict for her benefit was astounding. It hadn’t occurred to her that they would ..."
"... near Nyim Marisha’s holdings and it would be a small matter to raid an outpost before moving on. That night Muhjah lit his pipe and looked meaningfully at Chiyo. She looked back and waited. “Do you feel ready?” he asked. The question surprised her. Does it matter? Nevertheless, Chiyo ..."
"...The question surprised her. Does it matter? Nevertheless, Chiyo took time to consider before answering. Do I feel ready? Somehow going to do something I have been preparing for is more nerve-wracking than leaping in cold had been. She felt around within herself and prodded the sleeping beast, her alter ego. It was ready. The past few peaceful ..."
"...The next morning Chiyo and Muhjah shared breakfast and watched Senka move slowly through his morning routine. Rain or shine, hot or cold didn’t matter; he stood shirtless and flowed through the motions. He started as slow as ice and then sped up incrementally until it was a frenzied maelstrom of whirls, kicks, ..."
"...Muhjah had noticed that Chiyo had often tried to copy him in a clumsy and ungraceful way. Senka had generally ignored her, of course, but sometimes in the evenings by a fire or over cup of tea, he would say something enigmatic or wrench her arm into a precise position and she would learn ..."
"... Chiyo stared at him because she had never heard him speak of such matters. His upbeat, jovial attitude generally discouraged serious conversations. She had shared many good jokes with Muhjah, but she had never been challenged to think deeply about their activities. “I’ll have ..."
"...It was a rather weak response, but it was a lot for Chiyo to think about. Her two companions seemed to live for nothing more than destruction. It was a revelation to her that this swath of death might have a higher cause, and she would have preferred to remain ignorant. She wasn’t certain she wanted to be part of creating anything ..."
" its measured conclusion. He stood still with his eyes closed, listening to the sounds around him. He heard the slight rustle of the leaves above him and the slight shuffle of a small animal in the leaves below. Too far away to hear the content of Muhjah and Chiyo’s conversation, he could make out Muhjah’s deep voice and Chiyo’s higher, airier responses. There was no threat there. ..."
"... The three spent the afternoon hours relaxing and enjoying themselves. Chiyo practiced the movements she expected to utilize that evening but was careful not to exhaust herself. She knew she would need her energy. This was her first time preparing for battle. She was on edge and excited. ..."
"...When the day waned, the three struck out boldly toward the grounds of Nyim Marisha. Senka and Muhjah went silently over the wall, leaving Chiyo to wait outside. The decision to leave Chiyo out of this initial phase was not made entirely for her own protection. Rather, no one believed she could get over the wall without destroying the element of surprise. Stealth still eluded her and this endangered everyone. ..."
"...Once they had dispatched the guard, the small door nearest to Chiyo opened and she was allowed to slip through. Senka shut it again behind her, leaving it unlocked. As always he appeared unfazed. If there hadn’t been a streak of arterial spray matting a shock of his hair, no one would have suspected he had just killed anyone. ..."
"...She was startled out of her thoughts as Muhjah thumped her on the back. He was heading further into the courtyard in search of the remaining soldiers. His clothing and disposition were in no more disarray than Senka’s had been. He was comfortable in his role. Chiyo hurried after her two silent companions. In the brief time it took her to catch up, they had thrown themselves headlong into the attack. On nimble feet they had snuck up on two men who had been chatting just outside the door of the barracks. They had been casually ..."
"...For just a moment Chiyo was able to watch the scene in mesmerized horror. She realized she had seen the two defend themselves in graceful collaboration before, but she had never truly seen them so ruthlessly attack. There was no effort to injure or incapacitate, only to kill, and they went about it in ..."
"...Senka grabbed her arm in passing and pulled her toward the exit. It was time to go. The courtyard was a sea of carnage. The dead lay about in pools of their own blood with their limbs splayed at unnatural angles. There were no moans from the dying, but Chiyo could hear shouts coming from afar. She rushed to keep up. ..."
"...The three slipped through the same door they had entered and into the waiting arms of the surrounding forest. Chiyo lumbered behind the two men. As the euphoria of her adrenaline rush faded, she again recognized the difference in skill between herself and her two companions. They slid between trees, under branches, and around bushes without making undue noise or leaving obvious evidence of their passing. Chiyo feared she ..."
"...However, when the group finally slowed to a walk that allowed for conversation, Muhjah had only encouraging words for her. He congratulated her on coming out alive and was pleased with what he deemed her “ferocious manner.” He thumped her on the back again, and Chiyo was surprised to find that this time it was excruciatingly painful. She winced, and he laughed, doing it again. ..."
"...They walked for another hour before finding a suitable clearing to camp in for the night. Pine trees primarily comprised the forest, and the needles could be easily collected to form a passable bed. There was a small trickle of water cutting through the northern edge. Chiyo knelt beside it and drank heartily. She splashed it on her face and felt refreshed as the sweat, dirt, and blood was washed away. ..."
"... A few yards away Muhjah and Senka watched Chiyo meticulously douse each scratch in a handful of cool water. Muhjah was pleased that she seemed little worse for wear. It meant things would remain interesting for a little while longer. His partner, however, appeared to still be unconvinced. ..."
"... the time—but I find I’m not wholly disappointed to have her with us a bit longer.” Muhjah laughed loudly, startling Chiyo, who almost fell into the stream, and causing Senka to tentatively smile. “Marvelous,” Muhjah declared in his customary jocular manner. “Things might just work ..."
"...Chiyo was exhausted from the physical exertion and emotionally drained from the adrenaline. She had felt godlike in the midst of the fight, and it was a long way to fall to find herself merely human again. It was a warm night, and there had been no need for a ..."
"...Muhjah reemerged from the tree line. Chiyo involuntarily looked toward his sleeping place as though he should still be there. He signaled that he had seen five armed men, but there were probably more out there. The three quickly kicked the pine needles into disarray and headed in the opposite direction, but it was too late. ..."
"...It would have been better to remain in the meadow; the forest wasn’t particularly conducive to pitched sword fights. Both Muhjah and Senka carried wakizashi for such situations. Being shorter—twenty inches compared to the katana’s twenty-four to twenty-nine inches—they allowed for greater movement. But Chiyo had no such weapon. Hers was too long for the confined space. Yet again she felt herself a hindrance to them. Senka silently traded blades with her. He made a sour face a he deftly tested its weight and balance. ..."
"... balance. Chiyo gasped at the weight of the weapon she had been handed. It was significantly heavier than the pilfered katana she had been using and heavier than Muhjah’s own wakizashi that she used outside of Danbire. That Senka wielded it with such ease was surely miraculous. The three ..."
"...The three fought back to back, confused about the origins of their enemy. Chiyo knew that there had been general arrest warrants out for Senka and Muhjah for years, but experience had taught them that no one was actively looking for them. Muhjah had once said that even if he was standing in front of his own wanted poster, it was unlikely anyone ..."
"... guards, but the number of dead we left in Marishana and the number of men out there now doesn’t add up. “These men aren’t Marisha’s.” Chiyo heard him say to Muhjah as they fought. Muhjah grunted to acknowledge that he had heard him. Their opponents had the advantage and darted in and ..."
"...Senka flowed behind her, always at her back. He struck low, keeping Chiyo’s katana below the branches and aiming primarily for the femoral artery. Chiyo vaguely noticed that his normal grand dancing style faded as he adjusted his movements to be small and tight and avoid entanglement. His attacks looked almost like beestings that left their victims lightheaded and confused at their ..."
"... lightheaded and confused at their sudden loss of blood. Chiyo was focused on staying alive, but she was also trying to locate the men’s leader. She could hear him shouting occasional instructions, but he moved around just like his men. “There,” she mutter. Whipping around she reached ..."
"...The men inquired after a room at the small local inn, which only had three rooms and one would not be vacant until the afternoon. Chiyo had to wait. Chiyo and her battered body followed a group of young priestesses into a modest church. She was tired and in need of rest. She wanted to go home. Her injured leg hurt, and she was still ashamed for allowing it to happen. The guys offered her ..."
"... tired. It’s enough already.” Chiyo looked around. The room was empty, but she was suddenly certain that she wasn’t alone. She saw no one. She heard no one. She smelled no one. No one touched her, but something told her there was another presence there. “Hello?” She called. Her ..."
"... Chiyo knew some people still loitering near the small chapel were beginning to stare, and a few had put their heads together to whisper in a concerned fashion. Chiyo pulled herself from the ground. She instinctively touched her wounded leg but made an effort to hide her limp. She found ..."

Chapter 5: Chapter 5
"... I love you. Do this, and I shall send myself to you. In time Chiyo, Muhjah and Senka adjusted to each other. The two men circled each other in an endless orbit as they always had, and she became a satellite, inescapably bound to them. Muhjah’s initial promise that she would always have ..."
"...Muhjah’s initial promise that she would always have ample opportunity to unleash her inner beast was kept. Chiyo became very familiar and comfortable with it. She envisioned it inside of her, considering different visages for it and comparing it to various animals. She tried to imagine it as a bear or a wolf but found the fur disturbing because it was too soft and there was nothing ..."
"...Chiyo felt the same way about combat. She avoided any thoughts of her lost family. Instead she fantasized about what she wanted most each day: the elation of physical domination and the slick sensual experience of thrusting her sword deep into the chest of a bested opponent. This had become ..."
"...Chiyo had never seen their penchant for violence cross paths with one for sex. It endeared them in her eyes and increased her own sense of deviance and guilt. In order to drive this and everything else away, she practiced kata every day, becoming strong and skilled. She challenged Muhjah ..."
"...To plague Emperor Kenichi’s men without attacking the empire itself, they limited their disruptions to outlaying posts and the establishments of high-ranking officials. Chiyo had come to understand that the group’s purpose was surprisingly noble. They knew that as a small group they were unlikely to ever effect permanent social change, but every supply train they delayed, official event they disrupted and representative of the empire they killed was a small protest against ..."
"...of events, they might meet and fight as a pair or trio, but usually they were able to spread the confusion more effectively by dispersing themselves. It made each raid risky. One could easily be outnumbered or, less easily, outskilled without assistance. This never bothered Senka or Muhjah, and Chiyo had come to depend on the adrenaline as firmly as a diabetic might their insulin. It was life sustaining. ..."
"...Chiyo was no longer aware of how long she had been living this new life. Sometimes it felt like forever, as if she had never lived any other way. She followed Muhjah’s every word and worshiped Senka as the god of death he was. She ate, slept, and fought alongside ..."
"...own devices as he went into town to seek female companionship and gather information. He thought professional women always knew the important matters of any town and experience had taught him that if treated well, such women were usually more than willing to share anything he wanted to know. Chiyo and Senka would eagerly await his return, fearing he might come back having learned nothing of interest and condemning them to another peaceful evening. ..."
"... they knew better than to rush him. Muhjah tried to ignore that Chiyo tapped her foot absently. Finally Senka rested his hand on her knee to calm it. Muhjah noted Senka left it there and Chiyo absentmindedly tapped her teeth with her fingernail instead. “I spent the night in the arms of a ..."
"...By now, he wasn’t paying any attention to Chiyo or Senka. His eyes were still seeing Jarmin’s small plump breasts and round hips. He fingered the stem of his pipe as he continued, “The fields around here are plentiful. The people are blessed with resources. The name Tilth even refers to the fertile nature of the soil. Then ..."
"...He looked up at his partners at last. It was, of course, another rhetorical question because he knew the answer already. Chiyo looked at Senka, and Senka’s eyes slid to meet hers. It didn’t matter what else Muhjah said. It was obvious that they would be shortly let off of the leash, and they were eager to begin. ..."
"...Once beyond the wall, the three of them went their separate ways. It didn’t take long before the night was split by the surprised yelps of dying residents. Chiyo smiled to herself as she listened. She was enjoying herself, and each echoing scream told her that her cohorts were too. She could easily imagine the looks of angelic joy on their faces. ..."
"...She forced herself to stop imagining Senka and Muhjah’s fights and concentrate on finding her own. It wasn’t difficult. Stas’s residence was not only opulent, but also surprisingly well garrisoned. The loose structure of Chiyo, Muhjah, and Senka’s attack pattern, while effective, had always been risky. It is part of the thrill. A sure fight is hardly worth fighting, she thought. ..."
"...Chiyo might have become strong and skilled, but the strong and the skilled aren’t always lucky. The path she was gleefully running along both continued ahead and was joined from below by a staircase. The men had crossed the ward and were trooping up to meet her. There were five ..."
"... irritation with their weapons drawn. One man glowered at her and growled, “There is no honor in this.” Chiyo spat to one side, showing her disdain. “What do I know of honor?” She forced herself to relax with both hands on her sword. She rose to a neutral position as if ready to parry ..."
"...She heard his weapon clatter to the floor before he fell, and she had already moved into the path of her next adversary. Their attack was tight and continuous. Chiyo fell into a rhythm of enter, block, pivot, and strike. As one man lunged for her, Chiyo entered into the path of his strike, blocked, and pivoted on the ball of her right foot. She struck him from behind, appropriately placing herself to face the assailant behind. ..."
"... She sank her sword deep into the chest of a middle-aged guard—a mistake. He instinctively grabbed at the blade in an attempt to remove it. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth as he died. Chiyo pushed hard, forcing him over the wall and allowing gravity to remove him from her weapon. ..."
"...lowered in front of a low-burning fire. Books were stacked on the tables closest to the tapers. Needlework lay discarded near the windows, awaiting daylight. The remains of a meal stood ready to be removed, but most notably, sitting in quite repose, were a number of calm, well-dressed women. Chiyo’s eyes slid over them, disinterested. ..."
"... ladies,” she said. No one responded. Chiyo only noticed that they weren’t armed and didn’t appear inclined to fight with her. They weren’t a threat, and she, therefore, dismissed them. Their eyes lingered on her, following her uncertain path toward the door. Chiyo hefted her ..."
"...Chiyo hefted her lightweight sword as if it weighed one hundred pounds and continued toward the door. She readied herself for the soldiers. She hoped they had come in such a hurry that they hadn’t had time to summon more support and that they had thought her more injured than ..."
"... and died. Chiyo could already hear more men in the hallway, but despite an epic effort, she felt her knees buckle. The room swam and went hazy as she passed out. Through the agonizing pain in her head, she despaired, but there was nothing she could do to prevent it. **** The quiet ..."
"...There were many in the castle who had secretly come to them for solace. Roshan, the youngest of the sisters, was sent to these individuals for help. Within an hour (the time it took the fighting to die down), the priestesses had washed Chiyo, dressed what wounds they could, painted her face the ritual white, and garbed her in the regal clothing of a high-ranking priestess. ..."
"...As evening fell and the confusion started to die down, the priestesses of the Goddess Kali lay Chiyo in the decorated carriage, with the sheer curtains drawn and lit from within to provide a seemingly ethereal glow, and walked into the courtyard. Many of the guards and staff were surprise. Some of the more devout or openly committed knelt as the procession passed, and more tried to ..."
"...edge of the fire’s light and waited to be invited in, as one might at the doorway of a home. Muhjah waved them in and rose to greet them. Senka, however, was disinterested in the group. He walked directly to the carriage and parted the curtains separating him from Chiyo. He lifted her—robes draping from her slim frame—and returned to the warmth of the fire. He laid her gently beside it and waited. ..."
"... annoy her as out of curiosity. “You know why.” They stood together ominously and watched Senka’s silent vigil, both praying in their own way and for their own reasons that Chiyo would awaken soon. Neither wished a world without her. Muhjah and Moran saw no change in Senka’s calm ..."
"...Muhjah and Moran saw no change in Senka’s calm countenance as the night wore on. If Muhjah had noticed something and suspected its meaning, even he couldn’t know how deeply Chiyo’s life was connected to Senka’s very humanity. Both Muhjah and Moran sensed that should she die, leaving him to just his well-honed violent tendencies, there would be no suppressing his unleashing of remorseless and widespread destruction. Even Muhjah would be helpless in the face of it. ..."
"...Moran and her ensemble only remained long enough to rest and share a meal. Muhjah knew they had a long way to go and much to report when they got there. Muhjah noticed that Moran gave Chiyo one last meaningful look before leaving camp, and he sensed that she knew something he didn’t. He wasn’t comforted by that. ..."
"... it. He knew that since Chiyo came into their lives, something about himself had been changing. He knew Muhjah was aware of it, too, even though Muhjah never teased him or asked him where he was going when he slipped into the night to follow her. It had just become an accepted norm. Senka ..."
"... that had occurred inside him. He reached out and swept the stray hair from Chiyo’s face. Her skin was cool and smooth under his fingers. He trailed them down the white expanse of her cheek and along the line of her jaw. She whimpered in her sleep. Muhjah had welcomed her into the ..."
"...Muhjah had welcomed her into the group, and Senka accepted her, too. What had started as an amusing game had matured into something more. Senka knew Muhjah’s perspective had changed because he felt that Chiyo was the key to something. Senka agreed, not because Muhjah told him so, but because he could see it as well. He didn’t yet know the end result, but he could see the pieces lining up around them and he felt that he fit snugly in place there, too. ..."
"...her and whatever she was part of. He had committed his life to the sword and the art of killing. Now he committed his sword and its deadly intent to her. He lived, fought and, one day, would die for her. She’d become the center of his world. That Chiyo didn’t know was irrelevant. Her willing participation wasn’t a necessary part of the equation. ..."
"... Waking, Chiyo looked up at the early dawn sky. She ached, and the pain was a very real reminder that she was alive. Leaning over her, she saw Muhjah smile down at her, genuine joy spreading across his dark features. He helped her sit up and offered her a cup of tea. As she reached ..."
"... lost, what where you?” he wondered aloud. Chiyo noticed he was looking carefully at her. He probably can’t imagine me as anything other than their reckless and ruthless compatriot. She had no response. How can he ask me this? I’m not ready. “You want me to tell you that I was a wife, ..."

Chapter 6: Chapter 6
"...Though painful, Chiyo’s wounds weren’t serious and would take little time to heal. The somber group moved out not long after day’s full grace. By early evening they had reached Brizion, a modest town consisting of little more than a small market, a restaurant, an inn, and a number of craftsmen’s shops. ..."
"...Chiyo had changed out of the elegant robes with an unexpected pang of sadness. They had been beautiful, and the girl in her still apparently appreciated such things. The thought made her laugh. She had washed her face in a passing creek but was still finding white paint behind her ..."
"...which a number of candles burned hospitably. It was a leftover of a finer time; evidence that once the people of Brizion had known wealth and affluence. The proprietors, a couple in their late sixties, greeted the sodden group at the door, the wife clucking at the sight of Chiyo’s matted hair and downtrodden state. ..."
"... hands, which she was wiping vigorously on her apron. Jainie gave her a curt nod and silently indicated the direction she wished the men to follow. Chiyo watched them go, held back by the proprietress’ maternal fluttering. “For you, my dear, it’s straight to a hot bath. You’ll ..."
"...It was exactly what Chiyo had wanted, and it was glorious. She sank low into it and heaved a deep, soul-cleansing sigh. She let herself float, free and weightless. She liked the feeling of her hair haloing around her and swaying with the ripples. She felt her previous calm descend, and she knew she ..."
"...Chiyo sank deeper into the large tub. She didn’t want to think about it, but now she had no choice. She had seen the devastation that the emperor’s greed was racking on the people. It is horrible, but that’s not my problem. These aren’t my people. What business is it ..."
"...was with reluctance that she left the bath behind, but it held no further charm for her. The inn was a veritable warren of hallways, and she had to ask a bug-eyed scullery maid for directions to the west blue room. The poor girl was trembling so severely that Chiyo could hear the plates she carried rattle. ..."
"... blue room. The poor girl was trembling so severely that Chiyo could hear the plates she carried rattle. When there was no audible response, Chiyo was reduced to asking, “This way?” The young girl shook her head and tilted it in the direction of the next hallway. “Thanks,” Chiyo ..."
"... asking, “This way?” The young girl shook her head and tilted it in the direction of the next hallway. “Thanks,” Chiyo quickly said and bid her goodnight with a wave. She knew the maid watched her go as she could hear the clattering dishes all the way down the strangely silent ..."
"...She knew the maid watched her go as she could hear the clattering dishes all the way down the strangely silent hall. After Jainie’s mute greeting at the entrance, Chiyo thought outside of her bath time experience, the cheerful decor of the inn was countered by a certain verbal austerity. She hated the idea that it was her presence that silenced people, but the sight of the rattled maid made her think it might be so. ..."
"... it might be so. Unlike the front of the house, their room was almost completely characterless, and when Chiyo arrived, the two men were facing each other but sitting on opposite sides of it. There was a stony silence between them as though Chiyo had carried it in with her. “What is it ..."
"...The night passed slowly, and there had been nothing to improve Chiyo’s dismal mood. They took no note of the peeling paint or the mix-matched bedding. They found no joy in the poor attempt at erotic art that would normally elicit a sarcastic remark from Muhjah and laughter from Chiyo and Senka. They simply waited, unwelcome guests to a party that ..."
"... for this,” Muhjah said in a sulking tone, followed by a deep disturbed sigh. “I don’t know,” Chiyo tossed back sarcastically, “seems you might feel right at home. Birth is a bloody business.” He narrowed his eyes and turned from her. Nothing further was said. It had been the ..."
"...He narrowed his eyes and turned from her. Nothing further was said. It had been the only other exchange since her return. She could tell he was tense and somewhat perplexed that there could be someone so desperate for rescue but whom he could not help. Chiyo annoyingly recognized the seemingly ubiquitous male tendency to try and solve all problems, theirs or another’s. ..."
"...a brief reprieve because the sepulchral silence fell and the tension began to mount again. It was this jarringly pendulous cycle that caused their current problem. To the men it was a call to action, but their gender-engendered discomfort of not being able to help was nothing compared to Chiyo’s bald-faced agony. She looked out at the two men with the eyes of a caged animal and any thought of continued conversation died a swift unnoticed death. ..."
"...didn’t needed Muhjah to tell her the origins of the regular deep-throated calls tapering into breathless whimpers or the meaning of the ever-decreasing silence between. It was a pattern almost any woman would recognize. It was the sound of life emerging into the world, and it was torturous to Chiyo. ..."
"...pants or wails of the mother, but the first enraged mew of their new family member. She wanted to jealously destroy that which had been denied her. While Muhjah and Senka sat, tense, skittish, and ready to leap into the battle they associated with such obvious cries of pain, Chiyo crouched motionless in the far corner. She had her arms wrapped over her head in an attempt to block the sound from her ears. ..."
"...Another high-pitched and useless cry rang through the room, but it was indicative of the approaching finale. Chiyo imagined a small bushy head emerging forcefully into the cool external air and knew with certainty bordering on delusion that at any moment she would hear a new baby’s small plaintive cry. It was more than she could bear. She leapt up with a speed that would have surprised ..."
"...good to finally strike someone. He felt that he had done everyone, including himself, a favor. He helped Muhjah move her, bloody and mercifully unconscious, to the futon under the drawings of the smiling, bent-over ladies and went back to listening for the small cry that had so broken Chiyo’s heart. ..."
"...By the time Chiyo pried her eyes open late the next morning, there was a bouncing baby boy sleeping comfortably in his mother’s exhausted arms. The rest of the inn’s residents had reverted to their former convivial selves, and in the clash and clatter of everyday life, Chiyo was able to breathe without ..."
"... in the room. It was no surprise to find that Muhjah was already out cavorting with the less savory inhabitants of Brizion. Chiyo didn’t expect to see him before nightfall. She was, however, surprised to find Senka missing because he didn’t usually go out and mix with society. Has he left ..."
"...She waited, but he didn’t return. By the time Muhjah came back to the room, Chiyo was worried about Senka. In all their time together he had never ventured away for any length of time and he had never gone anywhere without Muhjah. Muhjah seemed unconcerned though, so Chiyo continued to wait. She appreciated that Muhjah left her to her own devices and she focused ..."
"...Three days after their fight, Senka reappeared, striding through the door in his customary quiet way. He offered no explanation for his absence, but Chiyo was so glad to have him back that she didn’t push him on the subject. She knew they became a little edgy if they remained in one place for too long, and it would be a shame to loose the composure she just regained. ..."
"...The cheerful owners waved good-bye from the balcony as they left. Chiyo smiled genuinely as she waved back. As kind as they had been, she was glad to be leaving them. Their unspoken disapproval had hung heavy in the air. No respectable young woman was supposed to travel unchaperoned with two single men, and the situation had only worsened after she ..."
"... room as a battered mess. Chiyo didn’t care about their opinion, but she liked them and didn’t want to hurt their feelings by telling them to mind their own fucking business. That would have surely cleared up any misunderstanding about her respectability. The road felt good under her ..."
"...The road felt good under her well-rested feet, and life returned to normal. They trained—Chiyo under the watchful eyes of her teachers and the two men mercilessly against one another. They camped. They rented the occasional room in towns where they felt they would go unnoticed. They picked any fight that happened their way. ..."
"... evenings. Muhjah often told nonsensical stories or cracked lewd jokes at the expense of countless unknown whores across the country. Chiyo liked these times. On one such evening as she sank blissfully into repose, she asked Muhjah about his relationship with Senka. She had always been curious ..."
"...He sucked on his thin pipe but said no more. Chiyo was struck that his desire had been so close to her current one, but she hadn’t missed the inference that this had changed. She wondered if it was because he felt he had achieved that goal or because he felt that it had been misplaced. She could tell by ..."
"...She stoked the fire and looked between the two—one distractedly smoking a pipe, filling the air with the warm, rich smell of tobacco and the other meticulously cleaning blade after blade. Chiyo had watched Senka do it a hundred times. He had taught her the quiet concentration required to clean, polish, and even sharpen a weapon when stones were available, but when she watched, she always had the same ridiculous thought, Where does he keep them all? ..."
"...They seemed to multiply when exposed to the night air. Although his knives didn’t proliferate like amoeba, he did have a new srbosjek in the collection. It was a small gruesome-looking masterpiece of utilitarian cruelty. Chiyo looked at it confusedly, wondering from where it had come. Senka slipped his hand in and mimicked slitting a throat, and Chiyo shivered. ..."
"...Two months later the nomadic party wove through the countryside and back to the outskirts of Brizion. They approached a small smithy, billowing smoke industriously, and a spry old man came out to greet them. Chiyo noted that he seemed familiar with Muhjah and Senka but was surprisingly disinterested in them. He looked hard at Chiyo, and she fidgeted under his gaze. ..."
"...apprentices brought them in to practice tight assembly. He shooed one or two out, and the group settled to cups of tea and rice cakes. Trivial conversation ensued. Muhjah told Guibniu of their recent encounters, and Guibniu wished them many more safe returns. It all seemed very superficial, however. Chiyo’s gaze followed the small man’s eyes, as he was unable to stop himself from looking at a cloth-wrapped object on a far table. ..."
"...She had no doubt that the swordlike shape was just as it appeared. Her heart sped up a little bit. Could it really be that my newfound brothers have brought me here for a sword of my own? With few exceptions (Senka’s fanatical father being one of them), Chiyo knew a warrior received their own weapon once they had reached a late stage of training. She hadn’t imagined she had reached that point yet. Once the thought had occurred to her, she had trouble keeping her own gaze from the cloth. She tried to remind herself that her ..."
"... Once the tea was finished, there was an expectant silence. Guibniu cleared his throat and stood. Walking over to the table, he brought the covered item back and kneeled before Chiyo. Looking her directly in the eyes for the first time, he held her gaze and held the package out to her. ..."
"...Chiyo forced herself to leave her hands in her lap until she was certain she could hold them steady. Guibniu waited patiently. Finally Chiyo took a deep breath and held it in both hands, measuring the weight of it and feeling the hard spine beneath the silk. Untying the cord, ..."
"...The tsuba moved Chiyo beyond words. It was a tapestry of mournful symbolism. The tall lonesome branches of a cypress grew from a bed of marigolds and dandelions, and one small butterfly with a broken wing was forever falling. On the fuchi a preying mantis stalked a cricket, oblivious to the sparrow hunting ..."
"...She turned the sword so that it could be removed. She felt the slight tug of the habaki releasing and then the smooth, soundless escape of the blade itself. Looking down the length of deadly steel, the fine, undulating ayasugi grain, perfectly complementing the milky kikusui hamon, mesmerized Chiyo. It looked every bit like the chrysanthemum on water of its name. It was ruthlessly beautiful and left her senseless for a moment. ..."
"...Chiyo didn’t know how to respond. Who should I thank? She imagined she looked very childlike, but she didn’t care. She met Guibniu’s eyes. There was simply no way to express what she felt, but the group could readily see it. Guibniu gave a pleased grunt, and Chiyo finally broke ..."
"... Guibniu offered wine to celebrate, and everyone partook. The calm, content evening wore on quietly. Guibniu’s students found reason to peek in on them occasionally. Chiyo had wrapped her new weapon back in its silk sleeve but continued to trace the raised patterns evident beneath it. ..."
"...Chiyo had been correct in both her estimates. If she had been a normal student, she would not have been ready to receive a sword. But Chiyo wasn’t a normal student, and the package wasn’t just a sword. This was the finest sword the skilled and elderly swordsmith had ever ..."
"...Muhjah knew she was good for the people. She gave them hope and brought them back to life in the present, and so he’d set himself the task of subtly tending her growing legendary status. He had whispered tales of Chiyo on untold pillows, quickening the wide-eyed imagination of innumerable coquettes and frequently had been invited to repeat these stories to the loud bawdry patrons. He was a skilled speaker, and there were few who left such sessions without the name Chiyo on their lips. ..."
"... There had been nothing on which to unleash her pent-up energy. When opportunity arrived, it came unexpectedly. Outside of Heltanin Chiyo sensed an unusual tension in her companions. She looked between them expectantly. “We’re being followed,” Muhjah whispered even though they were ..."
"... “We’re being followed,” Muhjah whispered even though they were the only ones close enough to hear. Chiyo leaned close and quietly asked, “Are you sure?” Senka gave a silent nod. Chiyo broke into an eager grin. “Stay alert.” “Of course!” she retorted. Her ..."
"... even though they were the only ones close enough to hear. Chiyo leaned close and quietly asked, “Are you sure?” Senka gave a silent nod. Chiyo broke into an eager grin. “Stay alert.” “Of course!” she retorted. Her heart was racing, making her head throb. She wanted their ..."
"... and the fear and adrenaline wash everything from her mind. The three walked on, Senka and Muhjah calm in their confidence, knowledge, and skill and Chiyo fiercely imagining the battle to come. She was calm only on the outside. “We’ve been here before. Do you remember?” Muhjah asked. ..."
"... Chiyo’s senses were getting sharper. She imagined she could hear their overconfidence in the sound of their approach. It seemed to scream at her that they felt two samurai and a woman weren’t worth their time and they would finish this silly chore and return to their wives and whores. ..."
"...She and Muhjah let the soldiers enter the gully as Senka stood motionless in the middle of the road with his weapons drawn. Once their assailants committed, Chiyo and Muhjah cut off any escape route. The men, wearing the dark earthy colors of Nyim Cardinova, looked around startled, but quickly assessed the situation. ..."
"...From that moment it was clear the soldiers were the aggressors, sent to dispatch a burr from the emperor’s saddle. Chiyo and Muhjah wasted no time, unleashing a coordinated strike on their opponents, then returning to neutral ground and the protection of their comrade, and then striking again. The fight was still a challenge. As it became more of a melee, a man of stocky build six inches taller had ..."
"...Despite their difference in size, Chiyo never doubted her eventual success. She felt the same sense of elation, but there was also something more indefinable. The blood throbbed in her ears, and she felt each muscle perform to its fullest potential. There was no thought beyond the desire to kill the man before her. ..."
"...The two masters were glad for the opportunity to observe their student in action, undistracted by fights of their own. They stood amongst the bloodied foliage and watched as Chiyo, overpowered, undertrained, and lacking seventy-five pounds on her opponent, deftly delivered a deadly blow. The blade, sharp as flint, fatally slid through flesh, bone, and muscle with a noticeable lack of strain. However, what told them more than anything else about Chiyo’s state of mind was the look on ..."
"...They had often seen the beastlike rage surface in Chiyo, but it no longer had the wild uncontrolled look of a cornered animal. She had come into the fight as an eager hunter. Her attack wasn’t rushed or reactive; it was calculated. She had become significantly more skilled and had learned to anticipate her opponent’s tactics and maneuver herself ..."
"...Chiyo could feel Senka and Muhjah’s eyes on her and knew they were waiting to see how she responded. She had certainly killed before; it was unavoidable and the reason why she traveled with them. But something was different now. It had to do with Guibniu’s sword. It represented something, ..."
"...They then returned on their original course on the path that continued uphill. Chiyo wondered if it should have been better classified as a small mountain instead of a hill. The healthy greenery of below fell away, and the terrain became rocky. The only trees present were those rugged enough to hold on in the rough, shalelike soil. They jutted out unnaturally among ..."
"... They jutted out unnaturally among the boulders. Chiyo’s earlier elation had started to fade. With little warning she became emotionally stagnant like her surroundings. The warm fuzzy feeling had simply gone away, and nothing had replaced it. She stopped as the trail skirted a precipice’s ..."
"...looked out over the ledge. Her immediate surroundings were brittle and raw, but from the height she could see the tops of the leafier trees below and the horizon stretched long before her. It could have easily been interpreted as a symbol of endless possibility and hope, but to Chiyo it only appeared as something out of reach, abandoning her to the soulless stones of a diminutive mountain. Nothing beautiful was available to her. It only taunted her. ..."
"...That night in a small inn outside of a large town, Chiyo rubbed her right arm repeatedly. The large man’s blows still had been painful even when she had blocked them, and her new sword, though light for its size, was still heavier than the lower-quality swords she had been using. It made her ache. ..."
"...Although he faced outward, he was listening to Chiyo’s movements. He could tell by her silent fidgeting that she was bothered. He’d noticed her deteriorating mood as the evening wore on but hadn’t seen any reason to involve himself. He turned, reached up, wrapping his fingers around the upper window frame, and pulled himself to a standing position. ..."
"...He looked down at Chiyo, sitting cross-legged on the pallet and rubbing at her arm absentmindedly. She looks tired, he thought, and it’s only going to get worse if she doesn’t give up on the Chiyo of old. That pitiful creature is dead, and if she keeps clinging to its corpse it’ll only drain ..."
"...In two steps he crossed over to her, pulled her arm straight out, and, with his left hand, rolled her shoulder forward, effectively forcing her to lie face down. In a fight it would have been a perfect pin, but Chiyo didn’t resist him and grimaced as she felt his thumbs knead deeply into the sore, cramped muscles of her arm. It didn’t take long before he felt her relaxing despite the pain. ..."
"... he felt her relaxing despite the pain. He finished the right, and, for the sake of symmetry, began on the left. Chiyo was asleep before the final knot released. Senka then lay down beside her and stared at the ceiling until he too drifted off. **** The next morning they followed the ..."
"...The next morning they followed the river as the ground became steeper. They arrived at a small peaceful thatch-roofed dwelling that Chiyo could tell Muhjah had known was there. The sun laid lace patterns across it as it filtered through the trees. Chiyo took a long, deep breath and felt her body calm before she had even bent her knees to sit. ..."
"... producing drinkable tea. Chiyo watched as Senka removed his cleaning kit from the mysterious folds of his trousers. He carefully detached the mekugi, tsuka, tsuba, and seppa and began the ritual that was the care of his sword, which was an extension of his being. “There are times you must ..."
"; I don’t want to face it. Exhausted at last, she stopped, letting the night air chill her skin. Goosebumps prickled under the silk she was still unaccustomed to wearing. She noticed a light mist swept blissfully unaware over the slowly flowing river. Standing there limp and feeling beaten, Chiyo wished she could simply sink to the bottom, lie on the pebbly floor, and focus on nothing more than the utter lack of sound and the slight tug of the current. No guilt will find me there; no fear or sorrow will follow me. I could simply slowly turn ..."
"...thought of him alone forever hurt more, especially because she was fairly certain he would languish on his own. Like her, he would feel that loving another was a betrayal, but unlike her, his guilt over allowing someone he loved to be harmed would prohibit him from moving on. Chiyo could picture him raising their daughter on his own and dedicating himself completely to her safety and well-being. The thought pained her deeply. ..."
"...With his strange fluid grace, Senka rose and stood beside her. She was comfortable with him, like a favorite sweater. Passing under the heavy foliage of the forest, Chiyo considered him in a new light. He was a handsome man—pale from too many hours in the shadows he seemed to seek, dark-haired, and light-eyed. He was tall, slender, and lithe like a dancer. ..."
"...They returned to camp. Chiyo saw that Muhjah had collected Salvation’s discarded hardware and laid it neatly to the side. He passed her a steaming cup of tea and watched as she settled herself to the task at hand. She ran her fingers along the bonji as if she might touch its namesakes by ..."
"...Across the fire Senka took a sip of scalding tea. He felt his tongue go numb as his body addressed the minor injury. He ignored it and took another sip. His eyes were focused on Chiyo. She had told him more about herself in the last quarter-hour than she had in the entire time they had been together. He had tried to picture her as the person she said she had been. He tried, with difficulty, to imagine her happy, with no raging beast slumbering ..."

Chapter 7: Chapter 7
"...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 ..."
"...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 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. ..."
"...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. ..."
"...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 ..."
"...Chiyo knew he was never very far from her these days and frequently stalked her. Although she had come to depend on it as a comfort, the Thanatos of her early morning escapades drove her to try and slink away without him. In an attempt to compromise, he taught her ..."
"...Chiyo noticed that the men bore the situation as best they could. They had chosen to force her to face the loss of her previous life. It had been necessary, but it was unrealistic to expect her to accept it without time to arrange her feelings. She had buried it ..."
"...The emperor saw that they were scarred, pockmarked, and accustomed to taking orders without question. They waited as the emperor paced irritably. When he finally turned his attention to them, he was pleased. The commandant had chosen appropriate men for the task at hand. He passed the likeness of Chiyo to Filat, who looked at it and passed it to Havard. ..."
"...They tracked Chiyo for a number of weeks. Her trail wasn’t particularly hard to pick up. She left excitement, vague inspiration, and frequent bloodshed in her wake. Finding her whereabouts would also have been more difficult had her pursuers been less ruthless; Havard and Filat had been given carte blanche to do ..."
"...They followed the group at a significant distance, avoiding detection. They were very aware that Muhjah and Senka would easily spot any impingement on their rear flank. Once the trio was located, it was fairly easy to remain behind them. They found that Chiyo frequently traveled alone, which was a pleasant surprise. For almost a week they observed their target and bided their time. ..."
"...When the moment arrived it was a cool morning, the air condensed into clouds with each exhale, making it feel foggier that it was. Just short of freezing, the dew hung heavy on the leaves overhead and challenged the wax waterproofing of leather-clad feet on the grass. Filat watched Chiyo from the shadows as she finished the last slow, laborious stage of a complex kata. Her sleeves were rolled up despite the chill and her cheeks were flushed. She looks tired, he thought. I don’t think she’ll give us too much trouble. ..."
"...He followed her, slinking from bush to bush, until Havard stepped into her path. Havard wore no insignia or uniform, but he carried the sword of the emperor’s elite guard, and it was obvious that Chiyo recognized it and the danger it represented. The elite guards weren’t just professional soldiers; they were well-trained professional killers. ..."
"...Chiyo’s knees softened and her body took on the taut aggressive poise indicative of an impending fight. But Filat didn’t give her the opportunity. Before she could move, he lunged forward and struck her at the base of the skull with the blunt end of his sword. She crumpled anticlimactically ..."
"...Chiyo was treated dismissively but well. It took three days to reach Capital City by carriage. The men had hired two coachmen, who drove in shifts and stopped infrequently. While en route, her wrists and ankles were bound and Filat and Harvard sat on either side of her. She was ..."
"...Chiyo didn’t anticipate an opportunity for escape, but she didn’t stop looking for one either. She knew these weren’t the ill-trained castle guards she had encountered on innumerable raids. She sat quietly, speaking only when spoken to. She considered the unpleasant future. The emperor probably isn’t pleased to have his ..."
"... deserved. In all of the time Chiyo had traveled with, fought with, and learned from Senka and Muhjah, they had never approached the capital. The two figured they were safe if they concentrated on causing trouble for the emperor’s subordinates instead of commanding a direct attack. As they ..."
"... instead of commanding a direct attack. As they approached the city, Chiyo watched the impressive walls grow as they came closer. They were tall, garrisoned, and elaborately painted. However, passing through the gates brought a stark contrast. The whole city was built on the steep incline ..."
"...The whole city was built on the steep incline of a natural motte. The castle stood at its crest, silhouetted against the blue sky. It was architecturally different from any of the buildings Chiyo had seen in Dashkalil. In the northern regions where wood was scarce, the regular homes were often built of wattle-and-daub, while the wealthy nyims tended to build up in heavy lumbering stone. In the tree-rich southern regions, all of the houses tended to be wooden and spread generously along ..."
"...A small stable boy met them just inside the gate. He took the reigns from the exhausted coachmen and walked the horses the rest of the way to the entrance. Chiyo felt him stare, almost memorizing her features, as she stepped stiffly out of the vehicle. It was a curious sensation, being openly examined by one so young. She smiled at him. He smiled back. His wide and genuine grin was one of the last things she saw as she ..."
"... recall ever ordering a cell cleaned beyond the minimum requirements to control disease outbreaks. He pushed Chiyo between the shoulder blades, causing her to stumble forward. “Come on,” he snapped. “We can’t be standing here all day.” Catching her balance she looked back ..."
"... chains and his guards. **** Emperor Kenichi was notified of Chiyo’s arrival. Despite himself he was irked to find himself surprised at the ease by which she had been retrieved. Why should she have posed a problem? She was just one girl against two of my elite. He left her in the cell below ..."
"...Chiyo had spent the last two days trying not to think of what horrible things might be in store for her. Instead she dwelled on the one thing she had previously tried to avoid: her family. It was a torture of its own as she allowed herself, for the first ..."
"... that kept everyone awake at night, her first Christmas, taking her to the zoo for the first time, and the many other firsts. Chiyo simply sank away into them. Her reverie was interrupted when Kenichi called to have her delivered to him. A servant entered, instructing her to bathe first. It ..."
"...Chiyo watched his mouth move and even heard the cheery words he was saying, but nothing registered. Sensing that this encounter was important she tried to drag herself back to reality. In an attempt to focus, her eyes followed the pattern sewn into the collar of his robe. It reminded ..."
"...As the silence drew on, Chiyo was able to recenter herself. Having a conversation to focus on helped her to block out the recently invading memories. She looked the emperor over as well. This was the man whose rule Muhjah so opposed. He was taller than Chiyo, about five foot, eleven inches tall. His build ..."
"... about you. It seems no one knows too much about you.” He took a bite of wafer and made an impatient gesture with his free hand. He watched as the movement roused Chiyo a bit. She sighed and made a show of thinking over his statement. “I don’t see any reason why they should.” ..."
"... heard what they say about you: that you’re the Arm of the Goddess come to free her people, etc.” Chiyo looked at him blankly. He knew she had heard these things, but she had no response. Sensing that no answer would be forthcoming, Kenichi continued, “So, being the shepherd of the ..."
"... end here and now.” Chiyo’s expression didn’t change, but the emperor noted a slight tensing of her shoulders, which he interpreted as a good sign—that she understood and feared for her safety. He anticipated her acquiescence and was surprised when she spoke. “It’s threats ..."
"... annoyed. The guards saluted and turned to leave with Chiyo in tow. She made no overtures of resistance, but Kenichi recognized the look Durward had mentioned: a caged beast ready to break free with devastating results. Her eyes didn’t leave him until she actually exited the room. Kenichi ..."
"...Kenichi remained in the meeting room for a long time after Chiyo was taken away. There had been something amiss in the meeting. It had made him nervous, and these days very few things did. He chewed the hem of his sleeve as he tried to pinpoint what had bothered him. It was her lack of concern, he decided. Being held ..."
"...The Sacerdotisa had been a problem, but through his influence it was being handled. Chiyo was in his grasp, would soon be dead, and would be a problem no more. That just left her cohorts. He sent out a new order to eliminate Senka and Muhjah, who had legitimately broken the law. Once the three of them were out of the picture, the rumors ..."
"... The emperor’s orders hadn’t surprised Durward. He had been given them before many times and had, in fact, been anticipating this one. Because of that, he had taken pains to observe Chiyo while she had been in his care and what he saw worried him. Her demeanor was too calm, too detached. ..."
"...Chiyo had spent two full days in his dungeon prior to being called to the emperor. She had been relatively well treated because the emperor hadn’t dismissed the idea of accomplishing his goal in a reasonable manner. Nevertheless, two days in a cold stone cell should have shaken anyone, but ..."
" tidy. His knives, ropes, brands, and other gruesome implements of torture all hung in neat rows within easy reach of the raised platform that took up the majority of the room. He anticipated spending long hours in here in the days to come since he didn’t believe that Chiyo would break easily. ..."
"...its place, everything had an order. Five days wasn’t a very long time to accomplish what the emperor was demanding, but rushing would accomplish nothing. She needed time to think about her situation and fearfully anticipate what was coming. Since her audience with the emperor, Durward made sure that Chiyo had spent a further two days in her cell. This time she hadn’t been so well treated. He ordered her diet to be limited to just a little water. The guards’ handling of her had been turned rough, if not abusive, but Durward always had maintained a calmness and ..."
"...There were those who when given such illusions of self-determination felt good about choosing the easy path and giving in. But he knew Chiyo wasn’t such a person. He gave her the opportunity all the same because he had, at times, been surprised by people’s weaknesses. As expected, she snubbed his generosity and only glared at him menacingly. ..."
"... “No.” “Then sit,” he explained. “It’s going to be a long day.” He watched Chiyo look around. She was appraising the situation and her chances of escape or opposition. He knew she saw none. “Sit!” a gruff male voice barked. Durward signaled, and a guard hit the back ..."
"...Durward ran his hand along the tools of his trade. He knew Chiyo was watching him. He took his time in deciding which to use. He fingered a large sickle, but it was too early to bring it out. Everything has an order, he reminded himself and took a looped whip from the wall. It cut easily through the soft flesh of ..."
"...Twenty-six hours later, Durward had progressed through pinchers, pliers, and small blades and brands. Half of Chiyo’s fingernails had been peeled back but left attached to flap. The pads of her feet had been burned. Her shoulders had been dislocated. Straight, curved, and serrated blades had sliced her. She had been incontinent, though her reduced diet left little to void. Her body was a mish-mash of ..."
"... wouldn’t be able to pick any one from another. Chiyo, my lovely, you needn’t endure this. It’s not that much I’m asking of you, is it? A few kind words of support and a quick signature are all I need, and it could be over tonight.” Her eyes rolled toward the sound, unfocused and ..."

Chapter 8: Chapter 8
"... Muhjah understood his meaning. Chiyo’s recent behavior invited disaster. She was angry—at them, at her situation in general, and her inability to change it. She took it out on them. He had to respect her tenacity and congratulate himself for his patience, but it was approaching its limit. ..."
"...“And here I thought you would just be thinking of your stomach.” Muhjah said, trying to lighten the mood. He passed Senka a dough-covered meal bun he had purchased from a small stall, and they sat and watched the steady stream of passersby. It brought Senka back around to Chiyo and their current predicament. Any one of these people could know where she was, but it was unlikely. They were at a loss about where to go or what to do. ..."
"... “The moral, of course, is that those chosen by the Goddess must perform their duties one way or another. To deny it is to deny the Goddess herself. Surely you realize that you both and Chiyo find yourselves in just such a situation. You bear a responsibility of which you must be mindful.” ..."
"... and moved on quickly.” “They?” Chiyo and four men: two mean-looking individuals, initially thought to be the two of you, and two drivers. The men didn’t say much, but the drivers mentioned the capital. I imagine you’ll find her there.” Senka examined Andela closely. He saw no ..."
"...A whole conversation took place in the look that passed between the two men: the acknowledgment that they would have to go get Chiyo, the understanding that they might be too late, the unavoidable eventuality of making a permanent enemy of Emperor Kenichi, and the certainty that this began whatever endgame of which they had become part. There was nothing to be done but to begin. ..."

Chapter 9: Chapter 9
"...spent much time in the capital, nor knew a secret way past the guards or walls. They were sure that they were going to have to fight their way in and then out again with brute force, which was no small feat. But first they had to know where Chiyo was and then how to get to her. The situation was practically hopeless. ..."
"...well at the beginning, but something has changed because she hasn’t been fed in two days.” She paused, examining the two men, and then continued in a forced matter-of-fact tone. “It’s common practice to starve a prisoner before interrogation. It makes them weak and more forthcoming. We’re told that Chiyo’s questioning is to start in earnest tomorrow. The emperor wishes to force her into a statement of support. He wants her to say that she is the Arm of the Goddess, come to free the people by guiding them under the protective wing of the true ruler, the Emperor ..."
"... of the true ruler, the Emperor and Lord of the Land.” The two men hung their heads. They knew Chiyo couldn’t care less about who ruled the land, but she’d be damned if she would be forced into anything. They had to hurry. Muhjah snorted. “No one will believe it’s anything but ..."
"...“You misunderstand. It doesn’t matter if they do or not. Those with weak faith might well believe it. The true damage is to those who truly believe in Chiyo now and that their suffering might soon come to an end. The Goddess’s representative can’t be coercible or corruptible. To be such would invalidate her compact with Kali. If Chiyo signs such a wretched document, they’ll believe themselves deceived and be disappointed. They’ll return to hopelessness and be less ..."
"...Valdis rubbed her eyes and looked tired for a moment. She had slept little over the last few days. Andela had quickly sent word of Chiyo’s abduction, and the stable boy, Morah, confirmed her arrival, but it had taken no small effort to glean the additional information she had passed to these two men. She would have liked to have retrieved Chiyo without outside assistance, but there was nothing she or her sisters could do. ..."
"...“In exchange for our help, you must promise to deliver Chiyo, willing or not, to us for Trial. You’ll leave her in our care, allowing us to teach her the ways of the Goddess and fully initiate her into the Sacerdotisa. You may remain as our guest during this time, but Chiyo must stay in seclusion.” ..."
"...The inner workings of the cult were unknown to almost all outside of the order, and only those in the highest level of authority knew the rituals of Trial. Senka and Muhjah couldn’t truly know to what they were being asked to commit Chiyo. Even as they asked for details, they were met with vague answers. ..."
"...“The Trial is called such because it is just that,” she explained as honestly as she could. “It’s difficult, painful, and even possibly fatal. A supplicant must willingly expose herself before the Goddess, and the experience is different for everyone. I can’t promise Chiyo will be unharmed, but I can’t believe the Goddess would send us someone who wasn’t strong enough to endure. I have faith and so should you.” ..."
"...the heat of the iron. The manners in which torture could be administered were endless, and the endless stream of imaginings was causing Senka’s blood to boil. He needed to be doing something, not sitting here listening to Valdis tell him about an irrelevant trial. If they didn’t get Chiyo out soon, none of it would matter. ..."
"... it will be up to your voracity.” “Fortes fortuna juvat,” Senka muttered. “What?” “‘Fortune favors the brave.’ It’s something Chiyo says,” Muhjah said distractedly. Senka watched him wave his hand, dismissing the topic, and knew he wanted quiet time to think and ..."
"...Senka watched him wave his hand, dismissing the topic, and knew he wanted quiet time to think and fully mull over Valdis’s offer. It solved their primary problem of how to get into the palace and find Chiyo, but it presented a new dilemma. They would immediately lose her again. Admittedly the Sacerdotisa was the lesser evil, but Muhjah wasn’t happy about it and Chiyo wouldn’t be either. He needed time to look at the angles and weigh the pros and cons, but time was the one ..."
"...“The problem I see is this,” he finally said, “if you think Chiyo is your divine savior, this Arm of the Goddess, surely you’re willing to do anything to rescue her and if you could do it alone, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So, it seems to me that you’re going to help us whether we agree to this Trial or ..."
"... to anything?” “Because you’ve spent close to four years with her, and you know as well as I do that Chiyo is special and, frankly, your refusal would surely be a sign from Kali that it wasn’t to be, and I would, naturally, rescind our offer of assistance.” “You’re ..."
"... that it wasn’t to be, and I would, naturally, rescind our offer of assistance.” “You’re bluffing.” “Maybe. But are you willing to risk Chiyo to prove it?” The two looked at each other, each measuring the mettle of the other. Neither showed any inclination of folding, ..."
"... them. She eventually slowed, and they emerged in a small cavern below the sewer grate outside the dungeon. The air was expectedly foul, and they heard a number of people screaming profanities. However, fortunately and unfortunately, none of them sounded high pitched enough to be Chiyo. ..."
"... merciless. It left many guards dead or dying and wounded. Upon entering the actual holding area, the fighting continued. A group of guards remained behind a locked door. They had to be neutralized, and Chiyo still needed to be located. **** Durward and Chiyo had spent days together, and he ..."
"...Durward and Chiyo had spent days together, and he had begun to despair. She was no longer giving much resistance, but despite his best efforts, Chiyo still refused to cooperate. If he pushed her much farther, she would surely die, and he had been authorized to kill her only after she signed ..."
"... her. The prisoners were up in arms. His men were dying, and surely the emperor would hear of it soon. Chiyo’s confession was suddenly a minor problem. The emperor’s punishment for allowing a prisoner revolt would be terrifying. Durward dreaded the thought of even one escaping. He ..."
"...As Durward exited his study he saw one of Chiyo’s traveling mates opening door after door. The pale man was setting flea-bitten, bearded, criminally inclined men free. Durward howled. These were the condemned, decreed to never see light again. There was an order to all things, and it didn’t include freeing those whose deaths had been entrusted to him. ..."
"...disheartened by extended sentences, and unarmed, they fell on him with their bare hands. Durward struck a number of them down, but their numbers and passion overwhelmed him. The last sight of his dying eyes was Senka weaving through the chaos and slipping into his study. Durward died certain Chiyo would be successfully rescued and frightened that he might have missed the truth of her divinity. He might have truly been in the presence of the Goddess’s messenger and sullied her corporeal form. There was no other explanation for the unbelievable events unfolding before him. Punishment would surely follow, ..."
"...Senka finally located Chiyo in her dark dank cell. She was conscious but not particularly lucid. He descended to her from above. He kneeled beside her and roughly ran his hand over her body. She gritted her teeth and groaned painfully as he touched her right arm. There was a long gash running ..."
"... a time. Pulling Chiyo to a standing position, Senka prepared to re-enter the fray. Shouting to Muhjah, his voice gruff from so rarely being raised, he passed Chiyo up to him. She whimpered pitifully. The two men covered each other’s exit, hacking mercilessly at anyone in their path. There ..."
"... A few of the prisoners recognized Muhjah, Senka, and Chiyo as they passed. Senka saw wonder flit across the grime-covered faces and thought, If we survive, it will surely be one more notch in Chiyo’s belt of wonders. Escaping the emperor’s dungeon will appear nothing short of miraculous. ..."
"... They made it to the tunnel almost uncontested. Apologizing gruffly, Muhjah hefted Chiyo up and over his shoulder. She gave no resistance. He leapt through the hole, and Senka pulled the grate closed behind them. He dangled one handed to lock it before dropping silently beside his partners. It ..."
"...They traveled for well over an hour. They took two rights, simply to divert from the first tunnel. They had heard the unmistakable sound of an unorganized party early on, but nothing since. Senka called softly, and Muhjah slowed. He laid Chiyo gently on the ground. Feeling along the floor, Senka counted depressions. In the third one he located a torch and flint, just as promised. There was also, pleasantly, a small sealed jug of water. He lit the torch and returned to Muhjah and Chiyo. ..."
"...Breaking the seal of the jug, he took a sip and offered it to Muhjah, who also took a small sip, before lowering it to Chiyo. She slurped at it in a greedy, disoriented way as Senka ripped away the shreds of Chiyo’s sleeve to examine her arm. Her skin was flayed and raw. It looked as if something sharp had wrapped itself around and then been wrenched away, slicing the skin as it passed. ..."
"...Senka left the light with Muhjah and counted five more depressions up and back. He returned with another torch and more water. The two men washed the wound as best they could and examined the rest of Chiyo’s body for injuries. With a clinical intent, the two rubbed, probed, examined, and memorized every aspect of her body. Every injury was committed to memory to report to the Goddess’s healers and to exact revenge for. ..."
"... wanted to ask Muhjah. There wasn’t likely to be a time when he was less likely to be interrupted. “Muhjah, that day when Chiyo first showed up out of nowhere, what did you think of her?” Muhjah considered his answer. Life before Chiyo seemed so far away. “I saw a rabid, cornered ..."
"... be interrupted. “Muhjah, that day when Chiyo first showed up out of nowhere, what did you think of her?” Muhjah considered his answer. Life before Chiyo seemed so far away. “I saw a rabid, cornered animal,” he said. “She was lost, scared, confused, and dangerous, but underneath ..."
"...The two men looked at each other, each with something to say. Finally Senka sighed. He was protective of Chiyo. He didn’t wish any harm to befall her. However, he had dedicated himself, his skill, and his sword to her. It would be a waste for her to become someone’s wife or anything safe and unimportant. ..."
"... matter. The prophecy might or might not be true, but the position is available.” Muhjah smiled. He’d underestimated his old friend. He had let Chiyo complicate his evaluation. He should have known better. The two men were quiet after that. There was little more to say. Muhjah had made ..."
"...The two men were quiet after that. There was little more to say. Muhjah had made this same association long before and had been bolstering her reputation for just that reason. Senka knew it, but Muhjah had been almost as delicate with the subject around Senka as Senka had Chiyo. They were of the same opinion on the matter. ..."
"... of the same opinion on the matter. After that, Senka crouched near Chiyo, poised and alert, while Muhjah settled down to sleep for four hours. He would then switch with Senka. The future was uncertain. It might be the most rest either got for a while. **** Above ground the emperor had no ..."
"...In their own dark, subterranean passage Senka was worried and Muhjah’s furrowed brow suggested he was, too. Chiyo had been beaten, and the injury to her arm was substantial but appeared uninfected. She had been denied food, but they had given her water. There was no reason for her not to have regained composed consciousness. ..."
"...They could tell that Chiyo, for her part, inhabited a land where her old life was overlapping the new, and she couldn’t tell the difference anymore. People from one reality were killing those of the other. Muhjah and Senka thought it was as though the faces of those she loved had replaced the faces ..."
"...Kurihi had brought a minimal medical bag with her. She further cleaned Chiyo’s wounded arm and gave her a potent tonic to help combat any toxins in her system as well as a tab of charcoal to absorb anything left in her stomach. That would have to do until they could reach the surface and a real healer could see to her. ..."
"...Above, Senka watched as the slow-moving river pulled the blood from Muhjah’s clothes, leaving a faint streak of pink before fading away. It looked as if it too had bled for Chiyo’s freedom. He could feel any number of small cuts, scrapes, scratches, and bruises on his body, as well as the unmistakable ache of a swollen jaw, where he had been elbowed. He rubbed his chin, noticing the evidence of a day’s old stubble, which could continue to wait. ..."
"... been found. My name is Cassia.” Kurihi nodded to them and returned in the direction she had come. Cassia quickly extinguished the lamps and waited for Chiyo to be lifted. She flitted around trying to help until Muhjah signaled for her to move forward. They walked for almost six hours. It ..."
"...Muhjah and Senka noted that Cassia didn’t seem to notice. She trooped along oblivious to their discomfort and thrilled to be in the presence of the Goddess’ Arm, even if she was unconscious. It struck Muhjah that Cassia was somewhat simple and exceptionally faithful, harboring no doubt that Chiyo would wake and bring honor to the Sacerdotisa. ..."
"...a basin of water; and three large, thick, locked doors. A rope hung from a hole in the ceiling, and Cassia jumped high to grab it and used all of her slight mass to tug on the lengthy pull cord that ran to the bell. She then returned to Chiyo, attempting to make her comfortable. ..."
"...She looked at Chiyo, hanging limply between the two men, and sighed in disapproval. She motioned them into a small room adjacent to the door. There was no bed, but Chiyo was laid on a low-laying bench. As she tended to Chiyo, Chiyo muttered the names Michael and Hanna over and over. There ..."

Chapter 10: Chapter 10
" fetch the abbess, who entered quickly without appearing to rush or compromise her own gravitas. She had been waiting for them to arrive ever since she had received word that the capital complex was overrun with imperial soldiers. The soldiers had come to them as well, but as Chiyo and her friends had not yet arrived, the inhabitants of Kalinus Keep could truthfully say they weren’t there. Search as the soldiers might, no fugitives were found. The emperor hasn’t bothered calling on the local nyim’s men, she noted. It’s a sign he is angry and wants things settled ..."
"...the scene before her: the limp figure on the bench, the tense stance of her two companions, and the two sisters of the order standing respectfully to one side. Her jaw set strongly despite the pleasantness of her voice. She instructed the sisters to quickly fetch Relda and take Chiyo to the infirmary. ..."
"...In the infirmary a pleasantly plump woman named Ajuoga hovered over Chiyo. She was of late middle age, round, and meticulous. She listened to Chiyo’s labored breathing, muttering all the while. She neatly stitched the open wound on her patient’s arm. Muhjah was amused to notice that the overlapping stitches formed a symmetric pattern. It would scar, but leave it to ..."
"... The two men stood unaccustomedly swaddled, plastered, and salved as she explained that she had treated Chiyo for as many toxins as she safely could. She was fairly certain of what had been used and explained its purpose, but she also felt that there was reason to be only cautiously optimistic. ..."
"... her back to reality.” No one needed to be told that the alternative reality Chiyo was trapped in was an unpleasant one. She had quieted in the last few days, but her body still tensed, brow still furrowed, and tears regularly lined her eyelids. She still suffered. **** Chiyo was aware ..."
"...Chiyo was aware that her body had been damaged. She remembered the prison warden with his knives, hooks, ropes, whips, looks, and endless words. She remembered clearly that she had betrayed her family. She wasn’t superhuman, and between the pain and the drug-induced confusion she had kept nothing secret from ..."
"...The two of them rested so for a while. Eventually small noises from around the compound gave evidence of activity. Chiyo watched as even while sleeping, the semi-awareness of his surroundings created a tenseness in his body. It wasn’t very long after that that he opened his eyes to find Chiyo looking at him. A small, relieved smile creased his, otherwise, smooth face. It was the closest thing to pleasure ..."
"...She nodded and rolled her eyes. Sitting up, Chiyo ached. The days of rest had gone a long way toward healing her body. She looked significantly better, but deep wounds take time to heal. She ran her hand along the snakelike stitches. They hurt, but she liked the feel of them under her fingers. Flexing her bicep stretched ..."
"... Motioning toward the neatly folded stack of clothing on the chest at the foot of the bed, Chiyo communicated that she wished to get dressed. He brought them, helped her get her injured arm into a sleeve, and then turned away to allow her the dignity of struggling into the rest without being seen. ..."
"...When Muhjah arrived a while later, he found Chiyo propped in the chair and Senka sitting cross-legged on the chest. He turned and returned almost immediately with Ajuoga who scolded Chiyo on seeing her out of bed. Both men watched without interruption. They knew Chiyo wasn’t going to be coaxed back into a sick bed, but they also ..."
"... a sick bed, but they also had learned not to argue with the plump healer. It was a stalemate in the making. Once Ajuoga gave up and went to fetch Moran, Chiyo asked for a status report. “You spent five nights in the emperor’s custody with one lovely chap named Durward.” She shivered at ..."
"... information, but it had been shameful that she had given in to him. Her eyes shifted to the floor as the guilt washed over her. Chiyo was grateful that they ignored it. “He’s dead by the way,” Muhjah interjected. “Died at the hands of his own prisoners. It was very fitting. Anyway, after ..."
"... I know you’re not all that fond of them, but—” He stopped and looked at his hands intently. “I don’t dislike them or anything. They just kind of creep me out,” Chiyo prompted. Surprisingly, Senka continued, “A woman named Moran will be arriving soon. She’s probably on her ..."
"...Chiyo snorted. She wanted to argue, but memories of her recent nightmares stilled her tongue. She understood. The Sacerdotisa had helped her companions free her from the emperor so that she could be handed over to them. Indoctrination by the followers of the Goddess Kali might be interesting, and it ..."
"...Ajuoga returned. She shooed Muhjah and Senka away, claiming Chiyo needed to rest. Chiyo could see they were reluctant to leave now that she was awake, but she told them to go. However, as soon as Ajuoga shut the door behind them, the older woman scurried to the veranda and invited the abbess to enter. Chiyo could tell that ..."
"...“My sisters and I have been following your swath of destruction for some time. You have been aimless Chiyo, wandering in the wilderness. It’s time to finally find a path and envision a destination. We are but your directional marker—here to help you along as best we can, but we can’t travel with you.” ..."
"... nothing of any substance. Spit it out. What do you intend to ask of me?” Moran’s tone of self-importance annoyed Chiyo almost immediately. She didn’t care to be preached at for the made-up mystique of it all. “We aren’t asking anything of you. It is the Goddess who is demanding ..."
"... who is demanding everything of you.” Chiyo rolled her eyes, and her impatience was apparent in her tone. “I’m pretty sure I don’t like the sound of that. Did they give you a prewritten pompous script? Let’s cut the crap. What do you want?” **** Moran took a long, calming breath. ..."
"...Moran took a long, calming breath. Dealing with nonbelievers had always taxed her. She reminded herself that the prophecy stated that the Arm of the Goddess wouldn’t come from within their ranks. Chiyo is just as the Goddess wishes her to be, even if it irks the hell out of me, she chided herself. Chiyo will have to learn to better balance her femininity with her inner warrior. ..."
"... Surely you have heard this name whispered as you pass.” “It’s hardly in whispers anymore, but yes, I’ve heard the name in reference to myself, most recently by the emperor and his lovely inquisitor,” Chiyo responded. “It comes from a prophecy sent to the sisterhood by the ..."
"... I pictured in my girlhood. We simply have to trust the Goddess’ wisdom in her choice.” Moran could tell her vehement and harshly honest response had surprised Chiyo, and recomposed herself. “I tell myself that if your actions benefit our people,” Moran replied as she looked out the ..."
"... the light who saves ours.” **** Chiyo could imagine what it felt like to have a lifetime of dreams culminate in crushing disappointment. This woman might have preferred waiting and dying peacefully of old age without the arrival of the prophesied savior. “I don’t want to become ..."
"... savior. “I don’t want to become anyone’s celebrity,” Chiyo explained. “I don’t want the attention or the responsibility. It’s already bad enough. I’m not gonna go out and make speeches, spread the good word. I’m no evangelist. You can’t really think I would.” Moran ..."
"... “Odd,” Chiyo replied. “I don’t remember seeking her out. Seems she reached down and snatched me right out of my happy little life. Where’s my free will? Where’s my right to choose not to believe? What right does she have to choose me? One of her own wouldn’t do?” “I ..."
"...Chiyo couldn’t bring herself to address the loss of Hannah and her family. Their mere mention angered her. How dare this woman speak of them as if she understood anything? Chiyo’s passion was rising. The calm look on the priestess’s face told her that, like the warden, she didn’t grasp ..."
"...Moran watched as Chiyo contained her rising passions. There had been a frightening moment when she had recognized the familiar beast behind Chiyo’s eyes. Had Chiyo, injured or not, decided to let it reign, there would have been little Moran could have done to fend her off. However, the abbess also recognized that ..."
"... sanction you as the prophesied Arm of the Goddess, and we’ll ask that you not dispute it.” “That’s the same as claiming it myself as far as I can see,” Chiyo countered. “That might be true, and we would be thrilled to see you more vested in our cause. This is, in fact, ..."
"... convinced to live up to his potential. Moran truly wasn’t happy with the situation but had accepted it as gracefully as she could. “Fine, ” Chiyo replied. Moran stood and straightened the pleats of her simple but well-cut gown. “Preparations are still being made, and you still need ..."
"... We’ll let you know when it is time.” **** Moran and two aides came for Chiyo two days later. They knocked lightly on the door, startling Chiyo awake, before entering. She’d been resting, the dreams rising and falling in her mind. They were wearing white from head to toe. Pale veils ..."
"... rising and falling in her mind. They were wearing white from head to toe. Pale veils trailed behind them, like wings in a breeze. They dressed Chiyo similarly. The fabric was light and airy. She felt like an elfin princess and swallowed an inappropriate giggle. As she followed them down flight ..."
"...Eventually the downward slope flattened out. They proceeded down a thin hallway, just wide enough for two to walk abreast. It was like an amalgamation of a virginal wedding and a somber funeral. Chiyo walked alone watching the double row of veiled heads in front of her, keenly aware of the double row of veiled faces behind her. There was no way to escape should she try to do so. She felt the familiar sense of resignation settle in her chest. With it ..."
"...The line of women entered a large hall. The women at the head of the group took seats on a stone bench protruding from the far wall. Chiyo paused, unsure of what was expected. She noticed, as the women behind her began to seat themselves, that a space had been left. She settled herself into it, feeling the warm press of arms on either side. She watched as the last of the women entered and took their ..."
"...They sat quietly for a while, and it was disquieting how still they all were. There was no shuffling of feet, muffled coughs, or general restlessness. The line of women was statuelike, as if they were mere reliefs carved out of the wall. Chiyo surprised herself by beginning to settle as well. The erratic flicker of torchlight playing off of the white frocks of the priestesses was hypnotic. Chiyo breathed in deeply the spice of incense in the air and allowed her shoulders to relax. ..."
"...Chiyo watched, but no one entered. A few moments later it reached the zenith of its swing and then slowly began its pendulous return. She watched until it closed with a thud. Sighing she tucked her head back into the row of women and faced forward again. She found herself ..."
"... with apparent ease. With everyone around her as still as before, Chiyo stifled a cry that would have been deafening in the quiet cavern. She cursed her weaponless condition, pressed herself as close to the wall as possible, held her breath, and hoped it would move on. It swayed slightly, ..."
"... move on. It swayed slightly, flicking its tongue testily. It was looking at her, gauging and deciding. It finally lowered itself, and Chiyo was able to breathe easier. She felt it wrap itself around her ankles, weave between them, and then slither away. She exhaled in relief. She had seen ..."
"...The women continued to sit along the wall, but a low level excitement was rustling. There was no longer the ominous silence. It was being broken by frequent whispers, and Chiyo had caught more than one of them staring at her instead of directly ahead as before. She began to suspect some sort of test had just occurred. Had they all been holding their breath waiting to see if it bit me? ..."
"... bit me? At the end of the hall, the door opened again. This time, however, a wizened old woman stood on the other side of it. She wasted no time in locking gazes with Chiyo, whose blood seemed to simultaneously go cold and boil. Fear gripped her, knotting in her stomach like a cancer. Although ..."
"... in her stomach like a cancer. Although it was doubtful that this one small woman was the Goddess, Chiyo couldn’t doubt she was her mouthpiece on earth. A slim smile cracked Chiyo’s lips. Is this even earth? It had never occurred to her before to ask. Chiyo didn’t know how the woman ..."
"... ask. Chiyo didn’t know how the woman might have interpreted that slight uplifting of the corner of her mouth: challenge, bravado, or insanity, but she mirrored it all the same, displaying a mouth containing few teeth. The ones she did have seemed too big for her, too sharp and long. Silence ..."
"... The ones she did have seemed too big for her, too sharp and long. Silence reigned supreme in the hall again. Chiyo could feel the awe and fear. These priestesses both worshiped and feared this diminutive woman as a godhead. “We have waited a long time for your arrival. We have been ..."
"... what must be done.” Chiyo sat listening. She wasn’t certain if the woman was yelling or whispering. The hall seemed to echo with her every word, overlapping in a sonorous melody. But she seemed to display none of the effort it would take to yell. Chiyo did not at all like being ..."
"...Chiyo did not at all like being referred to as a “broken woman,” but she also couldn’t deny the truth of it. Her bizarre circumstances made her regularly question her reality. Her life had been shattered when she lost her family. The last of her self seemed to have been ..."
"... be reborn.” It wasn’t a request. Chiyo saw no escape from this fate. The old woman looked her in the eyes and stood waiting. Chiyo could feel dozens of eyes upon her. She had accepted this fate. There was nothing to be done but pass through the door to the other side. How many births ..."

Chapter 11: Chapter 11
"...Chiyo didn’t know how long it had been since she had seen daylight. The old woman, Relda was her name, had so much she wanted to impart to her. Relda threw information at her at such a terrible pace that Chiyo sometimes felt she wouldn’t be able to keep up. ..."
"...Chiyo couldn’t find a central theme to it all. The topics seemed random, whatever had popped into Relda’s head, but Chiyo didn’t believe that having waited as long as she had for the fulfillment of the prophecy, Relda would do anything in a haphazard way. There had to be a ..."
"...She learned no weaponry, new combat techniques, or fighting arts. Relda scoffed at the suggestion, informing Chiyo that it was the order’s position to direct modern events, not measly battles. Chiyo had Muhjah and Senka for that. Relda wasn’t going to waste her precious time on such trivialities. Chiyo tried to argue that remaining alive wasn’t a trivial matter, but Relda simply graced her with an ..."
"... icy stare, signaling the conversation was closed. She wasn’t above compromising, however, and two days later she presented Chiyo with five delicate, amber-colored balls. They were the size of a teaspoon and glistened when held to the light. “Nothing more than a hunter’s tool but as ..."
"... in them—just death, straight and to the point.” Chiyo grinned and accepted them gingerly. I can already see their usefulness and imagine five perfect deaths. Surely they are a gift from the Grim Reaper himself. She liked the thought. Chiyo had come into Relda’s care planning to ..."
"...Chiyo had come into Relda’s care planning to callously take in what information she could while fostering her hatred for the Goddess and all of the cult’s representatives. She wanted to maintain the face of cooperation while secretly finding the means to undermine and destroy the order. But as time ..."
"...Chiyo knew that the peace was but a brief reprieve from her life. She would grieve its passing when she returned to Senka, Muhjah, and war. Despite enjoying her time of education as one would a vacation, she missed her companions. Her body missed its physical exertion, and the beast ..."
"... tiresome. Muhjah was pleased to discover there was no vow of chastity among the priestesses, and this provided ample recompense. His bed was rarely cold, and it went a long way toward relaxing his road-weary bones and distracting him from the dark hole left by Chiyo’s absence. Senka ..."
" to a form of meditative asceticism. They regarded him as an anagami and kept a respectful distance. This suited him just fine. He slept. He performed his various uchikomi. He even frequented the temple library to distract himself, but nothing occupied him fully or long enough to remove Chiyo from his mind. ..."
"...He’d been warned when she descended into the Goddess’s chamber, that it would be quite some time before she returned, but the longer she was gone, the more he suspected there was a devious plot and that Chiyo was again trapped and in need of assistance. He took to skulking the various hallways, eavesdropping on conversations, and looking for evidence of skullduggery. ..."
"...filled to capacity, and then as if a drain had been released, the population density started to dwindle. The swordsmen realized that the women were beginning to depart in groups, a few each day. It quickened their hearts. A change was coming. They took it as a sign that Chiyo would soon return to them. ..."
"... soon return to them. **** One day—Chiyo had no way of knowing what time because the sun held no sway there—Relda approached Chiyo at the beginning of a session. She laid out tea and a few light snacks before inviting the younger woman to sit. “Let me tell you a story,” she ..."
"... of you.” Chiyo listened intently. It wasn’t the first time that Relda had related the old myths to her. The importance they held to the Sacerdotisa couldn’t be overemphasized, as they were the very basis of their existence, but today Relda seemed to have more to say. “The ..."
" for us is boundless, but no love is without pain, and we have caused her a great grievance. It is shameful, and it initially came to us through the snake’s love for her.” She paused and settled herself further into her chair. She took a deep breath, and Chiyo understood that despite it being late in the day, she had a lot to say and it would wait no longer. “When I was a young woman, I was visited by the Goddess. Not by the snake, who had always been seen as the Goddess’s mouthpiece but by the ..."
"...many things I didn’t understand: skepticism, jealousy, fear. I was just a young woman basking in the loving prescience of the Great Mother. What did I know of politics or judicious silence?” Her eyes became misty with memories of long ago. She gave a low chuckle at a memory Chiyo had no access to, then shook herself, and continued, “She came to me frequently. Oh Chiyo, she was beautiful, but what she told me was so sad. I was fifteen, but nothing more than a child in the face of it. I understood the tragedy of it all but ..."
"... They received no more guidance from their Goddess than anyone else did. Their prayers carried no more weight than hers. “So this is where I come in?” Chiyo replied. “Uh huh, it was foretold that the Goddess would provide the means of her own rebirth. Very few know of any of this. There ..."
"... the only one the Goddess has asked difficult tasks of,” Relda said. She suddenly seemed small and fragile as though there were at visible burden on her shoulders. Chiyo had never seen her look so enfeebled or beaten. “We were never expected to simply sit and wait. We had to make this ..."
"... all just sounds ridiculous.” Chiyo leaned back, arching sharply over the back of her chair. She pressed the meat of her palms into the depressions of her eyes. She rubbed at them dully. She was having trouble remaining calm in the face of this preposterousness. “So, are you going to tell me ..."
"... rubbed at them dully. She was having trouble remaining calm in the face of this preposterousness. “So, are you going to tell me the secret of time travel then?” Chiyo snapped sarcastically. “I don’t know exactly how they accomplished their task,” Relda responded as she took a deep ..."
"...“I don’t know exactly how they accomplished their task,” Relda responded as she took a deep breath. She paused and Chiyo noted that she seemed to be working through how to convey something important. “But I don’t believe it is exactly as you’ve said. Olwen and her girls intended to pass the task through each generation until you were located. Bringing you here probably required the intercession of the Goddess ..."
"...“Oh my god, it’s the classic grandfather paradox in reverse!” Chiyo exclaimed in exasperation, leaping to her feet. “If I go back in time and kill my grandfather I won’t be born, but if I’m not born I can’t go back in time and kill my grandfather. I’m here now so Olwen knows whom to look for, but it I ..."
"...Relda rose and headed for the kitchen, ostensibly to make more tea. Chiyo was glad she had a moment to reflect on what she had been told. She needed it. She was conflicted. Thinking about what had brought her here resurfaced all of her pain and loss, but clearing up some of the mystery surrounding it had calmed her a bit. On ..."
"... the upper echelon already did: Kali had abandoned them. Chiyo simply couldn’t bring her disparate emotions into line. She couldn’t figure out what to feel or do. Anger battled with unwanted sympathy, and confusion reigned supreme. Furthermore, somewhere out there were seven women who were ..."
"... the world. And what of Relda herself? She is the source of it all, isn’t she? It was on her word that this all began, but in their time together Chiyo had become fond of her. Now she had emerged as a personal enemy, it was a bitter pill to swallow, one more loss among so many. Chiyo hefted ..."
"...Chiyo hefted herself up. She felt her nails dig painfully into her palms, providing a certain modicum of emotional relief. She avoided passing through the kitchen and having to speak to Relda. She stumbled to her bed and threw herself onto it, closing her eyes and trying to block out ..."

Chapter 12: Chapter 12
"... Chiyo lay a on a hard but not uncomfortable sedan. The excitement of the women around her made the air spark, but Chiyo only watched one. Moran stood against a wall almost directly across from her and held a one-foot-by-one-foot woven box. Inside was the adder they intended to unleash on her. ..."
"... The six women fell quiet; the lack of sound was far more notable than the indistinct buzz of their previous utility. The basket-wielding Moran approached solemnly. Chiyo smiled grimly at her. (The priestesses would tell their codevotees that she had smiled while accepting the sacred rites.) ..."
"... that she had smiled while accepting the sacred rites.) The box seemed larger next to her. The lid was removed and inside it lay a small, surprisingly green snake. Chiyo sighed. Somehow its diminutive size made it easier to accept. She looked around at the six eager faces and said, ..."
"...They laid her back and brought the vile beast close. It continued to curl itself tightly around her arm and was moving upward. It sprang suddenly, and Chiyo didn’t have time to gasp. It sank its disproportionately long fangs into the flesh of her shoulder as if attempting to massage it. The pain was like lightning, bright and sharp, blighting her other senses and sending her whole right side into tight spasms. ..."
"...and longed for, slip under the edge of her T-shirt and trail along the hard round edge of her bulging pregnant belly. The baby inside, a girl, stirred as if quickened by her father’s nearness. The fingers, quick and alert, scurried over in time to feel the pronounced kick. Chiyo didn’t have to look behind her to know the owner of those adept fingers was smiling. ..."
"...Looking down all Chiyo could see was silk in every conceivable color. Some of it was embroidered, some brocade, some plain, some bright, and some dull. Every shade and hue seemed represented, and it clung to her, pulling her down and swaddling her so tightly she could barely breathe. It strangled her. She ..."
"... Experimentally, she forced herself to relax. She hung slack in her silken cage, and as if responding, the fabric loosened its death grip. Chiyo resigned to its soft embrace. Tense and it tightens, relax and it loosens, but never releases, she realized. She owned her movements but not her freedom. ..."
"...Seeing Chiyo awake and sitting up, one of the attendants came over and held a glass of cool water to her lips. The other slipped quietly out of the door, probably to report on her condition. Chiyo gripped her injured arm protectively and tried to stand. Nausea blurred her vision and ..."
"... you a little unsteady.” She looked embarrassed as she said it, and Chiyo realized she wasn’t speaking from experience and didn’t want to seem haughty. The Trial was reserved for those in the highest ranks, and this girl would likely never experience it. “You haven’t missed ..."
"... seem haughty. The Trial was reserved for those in the highest ranks, and this girl would likely never experience it. “You haven’t missed much,” Chiyo said sarcastically. The other woman looked puzzled, but blushed all the same. “This will need air now that the bleeding has ..."
"...Chiyo watched with growing fascination as the bandages were removed. Beginning at the fingernail of her ring finger was a mere thread of tattooed green, quickly thickening up to her first knuckle. It then wrapped twice around her finger before cutting broadly across the back of her hand and around ..."
"... the real snake. In all likelihood, it too would scar. Chiyo realized she must have been dreaming for a very long time. The image looking out at her would have been incredibly time-consuming to make, and the bloodied edges were already dry. Ajuoga slipped in, and Chiyo watched her clean the ..."
"...Ajuoga slipped in, and Chiyo watched her clean the masterpiece. Small amounts of ink leeched out with the blood, leaving red and green streaks, and Ajuoga wiped them away. She patted it dry and prodded it lightly, testing for inflammation. She seemed pleased with the results. She then applied a generous measure of a ..."
"... just capsaicin, honey. It should numb the skin and help with any swelling. You’re doing just fine,” she said. Chiyo wondered if she was talking just about her arm. Chiyo asked to be left alone for a little while, and the request was granted. She stood naked before a full-length ..."
"...Chiyo asked to be left alone for a little while, and the request was granted. She stood naked before a full-length mirror; something she hadn’t done in a long time. She locked eyes with her new reptilian companion and gave herself the satisfaction of a long appraisal. She was surprised ..."
"... anger again. The knock came softly. Chiyo rose as Moran entered. Relda had taught Chiyo that the proper deference shown an abbess was a bow. Chiyo lowered her head in mock respect, figuring Moran wasn’t her head priestess. The stately woman didn’t seem at all perturbed. “I trust ..."
"... violently, making the artist’s work difficult. I hope the experience wasn’t too troubling.” Chiyo knew she was trying to be reassuring, but it was truly a ridiculous thing to have said. “But here, ” she continued, “I’ve brought you something.” She stepped aside to allow an ..."
"... she continued, “I’ve brought you something.” She stepped aside to allow an acolyte to pass. To Chiyo’s shock, she carried Salvation. Chiyo thought it had been lost to her forever, as a new trinket in the emperor’s collection. “How did you manage to get it?” she asked in awe. ..."
"...Moran looked at Chiyo sideways and smiled slyly. Chiyo could tell she was quite pleased with herself and she probably deserved to be. Chiyo reached for it and paused, uncertain. The memory of its uselessness to her in the face of her grief passed over her like a wave. She willed herself to ..."
"...Chiyo followed Moran down a long hall and onto a loud dais. She was given a small nudge but nowhere near the preparation for what she saw. She thought surely she had spent her last several months at the bottom of this subterranean labyrinth, but as she approached the edge, ..."
"... many? She guessed a thousand women, young and old, looked up at her before breaking into a loud, chorused cheer. Moran stepped to the edge beside Chiyo, and the crowd fell quiet. “My patient daughters, long have we waited, hard have we toiled, and meek have we been. Standing before you is ..."
"...nest to follow the path set out for her by the Goddess and to accomplish the Goddess’s tasks in her stead. Should any sister pass her outside these walls, remember the hardship she endures, honor the burden she carries, and give of yourself that it might be eased. Again, Chiyo, we thank you!” ..."
"...With this the head priestess turned to her and bowed deeply. There was a rustle, like an old sheet being dusted off, and Chiyo saw the women below do the same. She looked out on a sea of backs, broad and slim. She stood there at the edge of the world, sword in hand, and scanned the humbled female crowd for two male faces. They were the only ones who mattered to her, ..."
"... alone, she thought. Moran rose and clapped, signaling the others to follow. They rippled as those in the front rose, signaling to those behind to do the same. She led Chiyo away from the dais and down to a large room, smelling sumptuously of roasted meat and baked sweets. “We’ll feast, and ..."
"... was looking.” Chiyo grinned at him stupidly. She was too glad to have them back to respond. She met Senka’s stare happily. He touched her right arm, and she knew he was assuring himself that she was uninjured. He relaxed. In the end he allowed himself a small smile. “Let’s eat,” ..."
"... right arm, and she knew he was assuring himself that she was uninjured. He relaxed. In the end he allowed himself a small smile. “Let’s eat,” Chiyo said. The three of them sat together and filled themselves. Chiyo was the subject of almost every discussion and often the focus of ..."
"...The three of them sat together and filled themselves. Chiyo was the subject of almost every discussion and often the focus of intense scrutiny, but she ignored them all. The feasting went late into the night. She and her tablemates separated and rejoined a number of times before it was finished, each keeping an eye on the others. ..."
"...Most of the visiting priestesses slept in the lower chambers. When she could ignore the attention no more, Chiyo was shown to her original room. In time Senka and Muhjah, with a slightly inebriated adept who couldn’t seem to stop giggling, returned to theirs as well. The girl’s voice echoed in the halls long after their doors were shut. ..."
"...Chiyo lay naked in her too large bed. Her arm ached. Her cloudlike dress hung delicately over the back of a nearby chair. She looked at it as if it was a foreign object with no conceivable use to her. Such accouterments no longer belonged in her world. Her world ..."
"... Senka lay lithely in the bed, tousled sheets strewn about him. They covered his right side to the waist. His left leg was bent and atop it. His arms were folded under his head, as he had been staring at the ceiling in thought. Chiyo wondered, What thoughts am I interrupting? He was ..."
"...He was looking at her now and had hardly moved—with just a slight turn of the head, ever the conserver of energy. Pushing herself from the door with an effort, Chiyo padded across the room and crawled into bed beside him. It was as if the long dress were the nightgown of a small child, who was creeping in to snuggle with a parent on a stormy night. ..."
"...The night passed slowly, and the morning light was long in coming. Chiyo had been awake for some time, watching the first pink rays peek over the hills in the distance. She was eager to be away from this place. The individual priestesses had been good to her, but they wanted much in return. Their Goddess had cleared a path for her, ..."
"...Chiyo would have hated to meet the vile man. Muhjah had been forced to watch these lessons and to treat the injuries afterward. The medicine woman in the village stopped charging him for the poultice and taught him how to make it instead. Senka’s presence might have disturbed people. Some ..."
"...Although romantic love might never come into the equation, Chiyo realized just how strong her attachment to these two strange men really was. She had become dependent on them, as if they were a part of her. She never questioned Muhjah’s decisions, and she saw Senka as a support. He was like a shadow, always there to rise up ..."

Chapter 13: Chapter 13
"... many times. Senka was bowed to respectfully. One lank lady whispered, “I hope you find the peace you seek.” Lastly, the now diminutive group bowed again to Chiyo. “We have given you a heavy load, and we thank you,” Moran said. Chiyo vacillated between wanting to thank them ..."
"...Chiyo vacillated between wanting to thank them for their kindness because they had been kind to her and kicking them. She still didn’t know exactly how, but these ladies with this “heavy burden,” were definitely responsible for this whole rotten situation. It was with great relief that she turned her ..."
"... not saying goodbye?” Moran asked the older woman. “I don’t really have a choice,” Relda explained. “This is the way it has to be. Chiyo and I will see each other again. There isn’t anything for you to worry about.” Moran looked at Relda’s small, rod-straight back and ..."
"... price to pay for long-lasting peace among the people. It is as the Goddess wishes it.” Moran nodded. “Like her, all things die in the end, but is that truly what we have asked of Chiyo, too?” Relda watched the small party finally fade into the distance. “No, I don’t think ..."
"... and then returned indoors. **** For the first few hours of the journey, Chiyo reveled in her return to freedom and forgot that she was trapped on her path. She enjoyed Muhjah’s light banter and Senka’s easy silence. They were a family again. But then her feet began to ache. The ..."
"... much longer. “Where are we going?” The two men looked toward Chiyo for an answer. She avoided their eyes uncomfortably. She was supposed to have an answer for them because the blessed Goddess was supposed to have told her what to do. Chiyo rubbed at her right arm. It ached from ..."
"...Chiyo rubbed at her right arm. It ached from where the new sleeve was beginning to rub. The leather was unbelievably soft and was shaped to fit her arm almost perfectly. Even though it was loose enough to allow her to move freely but tight enough not to flap about, ..."
"...Chiyo sat on the trunk of a fallen tree, picking at the seam of her new tunic miserably. She had no answer for them. Muhjah had always directed them. She and Senka had followed his sense of moral rightness with blind faith. She wasn’t prepared to become their leader. The ..."
"...Chiyo watched a slow frightful smile creep onto Senka’s face. She could tell their world had been far too peaceful for too long, and as usual, Muhjah had spoken Senka’s heart’s desire. Muhjah has been sent to Senka as surely as the two of them have been sent to me, ..."
"... to Senka as surely as the two of them have been sent to me, she thought. It’s simply the way things are. Chiyo nodded. The world is right again now that Muhjah is in the lead. Chiyo, Muhjah, and Senka traveled in a roundabout fashion, sticking to small trails and less-traveled roads. ..."
"...Chiyo, Muhjah, and Senka traveled in a roundabout fashion, sticking to small trails and less-traveled roads. They were wanted more than ever, and there was no reason to be easy targets. They attacked small outposts and disrupted the smooth running of any encountered imperial convoy but generally kept their heads ..."
"... a big score. As time passed the delays became burdensome. Tempers became short and brittle. Within days Chiyo was wound as tight as a spring and just as prone to snap violently. As comfortable as the three were together, the men began to regularly give Chiyo time to herself. They made ..."
"...Chiyo noted all of this with a certain sour contempt. The general revelry annoyed her. Muhjah had gone off on his own, and Senka had gone to the bathhouse. She was alone and irritable. In addition to her attitude, her appearance wasn’t generally one that invited companionship on the best ..."
"...In Mullenside, one such man caught sight of Chiyo, leaning alone at the edge of the market square. He smiled to himself and skirted the crowd to come up behind her. She felt his fingers trace the roundness of her bottom before sliding forward in an attempt to find further purchase. She felt his rank, rough breath on ..."
"...Chiyo reached behind her and took the hand of her merry assailant. He smiled hazily, easily mistaking her response for acceptance, and it took little to lead him into a nearby alley. He wasn’t one for sleazy conversation, which in all likelihood saved his life. Had Chiyo’s ears been assaulted ..."
"...tell that for a moment he wasn’t able to bring his expression in line with the new turn of events because it still wore the idiotic smile of the pleasantly inebriated. Then it became the easily recognizable anger of an entitled man. Unfortunately for him, that delay was all Chiyo needed to launch her next attack. As he lunged for her, she turned slightly and punched him deep in the gut, doubling him over. She raised her arms high, and using all of her might brought her elbow down at the base of his neck. It sent him sprawling, ..."
"...In the ensuing comfortable silence, Chiyo relived the incident. She savored the memory of the moment that her assailant became her victim. She was pleased with the lingering sting in her knuckles and the echoing crack of bone beneath her feet. If she were honest, he hadn’t struck her as a rapist and probably would ..."
"...Muhjah had returned by the time she woke the next morning. He snored lightly and was curled back to back with Senka in the neighboring bed. He had stripped down to the waist, and his dark skin clashed violently with Senka’s pale frame. Chiyo thought it might have reminded her of a yin-yang symbol if she hadn’t already known how little yin could be found between the two. She added little herself, despite being a woman. The thought made her chuckle, and Senka opened one eye to look at her. ..."
"...She was bathed in sunlight from the open window, but there was little warmth in the scene. Chiyo’s mood was dark. Dreams of the man in the alley had given way to dreams of Hannah in the early hours of the morning. These dreams haunted her. No matter how firmly closeted away from her waking thoughts, her beautiful daughter was always found in her dreams. ..."
"...The eyes that accosted the sleeping Chiyo now were the steely, hard eyes of hate. The Hannah of Chiyo’s dreams resented her mother’s absence. She no longer remembered the mother who sang to her when she cried or stayed awake at night, watching her small chest rise and fall. This Hannah never knew that Chiyo thought ..."
"...It pained Chiyo to see her daughter this way, but she was powerless to change the situation. She sighed, pushing thoughts of her family back into their allotted forgotten alcove. She made a drinking motion, raising a cupped hand to her mouth. Senka nodded his assent. Rewrapping her top to ensure she ..."
"...Senka eased out of bed, trying not to disturb Muhjah and lounged on Chiyo’s bed instead. He could still smell her on the sheets. There was so little of the feminine left in her that he often forgot she wasn’t male like he and Muhjah were, but her scent was still unmistakably that of a woman. It stoked a remote, unfamiliar fire in ..."
"...the relationship of the trio. Violence was still the most familiar passion amongst them, and they all still reveled unrestrained in it just as before. Some people might have channeled a part of this fervor into sex—perhaps even brought that same violence to bear in it—but neither he, nor Chiyo seemed inclined to do so. ..."
"... a good girl. I’ll have other things to focus on anyway.” He nodded and they were silent for a while. Chiyo tapped her fingernails on the rim of her cup and Senka saw her brow furrow as she watched Muhjah roll over in his sleep. “I’m afraid,” she finally said. Senka raised an ..."
"... Chiyo cringed. “Don’t say it that way. If I can I would like to avoid it, but I don’t even know what it is. ‘Free the people and redeem humanity in the eyes of the Goddess.’ What does that mean? Free the people from what? They can’t expect me to head up some coup d'état.” ..."
"... have expected you to either.” “Maybe not, but that’s a pretty thin difference, Chiyo. The emperor has always been our enemy. Why change that now? Would you avoid killing him on the off chance that it coincided with the Sacerdotisa’s wishes?” “No.” “The Arm’s mythos has ..."
"... may not completely diverge from that of Moran and company, it doesn’t kowtow to them either.” Chiyo’s face relaxed and Senka felt like he was watching her fear and uncertainty melt away. “If I can’t fight the priestesses’ plans for me, I should use their own momentum to surpass ..."
"... swung his legs over the edge of the bed. “I knew you’d think of something.” “Of course you did,” Chiyo responded and rolled her eyes. But her smile remained as she passed him a steaming cup of morning tea. ..."

Chapter 14: Chapter 14
"...Chiyo Alglaeca is everything that we ever hoped for: youngish, pretty, smart, cruel, angry, vengeful, and mentally unstable,” Relda said in an unhurried manner. “I seriously doubt she was to begin with, but she certainly is now. Can we even imagine what her life has been like the past few ..."
"... committed. Thus, neither woman ever took any other position. “Yes, but you’d know better than anyone just how necessary it is. Chiyo might never forgive us, but history and our blessed Mother will,” Valdis responded. Relda nodded. “Such solace soothes the mind but does so little ..."
"...It was a nervous question. They had considered the issue of what to tell Chiyo very carefully and hadn’t always been in agreement. Valdis was painfully aware that although they had come to a compromise, Relda had been alone with Chiyo and could easily have done whatever she had wanted. Valdis would have had no recourse then. ..."
"...Relda gave a quick little snort, remembering Chiyo’s utter lack of interest in the subject. Relda remembered how Chiyo considered it all, including her role, as human invention and, therefore, of little significance to her. She had listened and learned, just as asked, but her own retellings were always tinged with skepticism. There had been nothing of ..."
"...“I feel confident that as the Goddess has asked, Chiyo will remove us from the future. The Sacerdotisa won’t be remembered, however, even I have no way to know by what mechanism this might be accomplished. Perhaps she’ll simply slaughter us all. The most we can do is provide the infrastructure to support the people once we’ve been removed. ..."
"...“It’s an unexpected gift. Andela has proved surprisingly skilled at tracking Chiyo and her band. She also seems to have a talent for proselytizing. I simply needed a means of keeping abreast of what was happening beyond these walls, but she’s a true believer. She recounts her tales out of an innocent sense of love and commitment. She wants everyone to ..."

Chapter 15: Chapter 15
"...Crouching outside the well-coifed palace gate, the three sat like ghosts. None of them spoke of why they were there. Having already raised the emperor’s ire, they didn’t need to limit themselves to mere emissaries and supply trains anymore. Chiyo had also become convinced that killing the emperor constituted rebelling against the Sacerdotisa and was willing to disregard the obvious risks to do so. ..."
"... they had to locate and kill the emperor in the labyrinthlike palace, all without dying. Chiyo crept close. Both men started and reached to stop her, but she escaped their grasp and slithered forward. “Come hither, enemy of mine,” she whispered to no one there. She was speaking to ..."
"... Soon you shall die. Be not afraid. We shall remember you.” Chiyo’s voice carried, reaching the two guards on duty as little more than a mournful whisper on the wind. They shivered and looked at each other, frightened. “Who’s there?” one called. There was no ..."
"... Chiyo waited as the closest guard stumbled slightly and then slowly slumped onto the wall and then to the ground. She saw his partner’s eyes bulge with fear. He turned to retreat beyond the gate, but his knees buckled below him. He saw nothing as he sank down to join his partner. ..."
"... below him. He saw nothing as he sank down to join his partner. “You see, I did learn something useful from the priestesses.” Chiyo whispered cheerily. Turning to her comrades, she displayed four small amber balls. “I know theoretically how to make them, but because I was unlikely ..."
"...Chiyo wrapped the four remaining orbs in cloth and hid them away again. It wouldn’t do to have them break by accident. There would have been little left of the fifth. Chiyo crept back toward her brothers, and the three of them faded back into the shadowed streets of the ..."
"...Such passing of idle time lent itself to inane chatter. On one such occasion Chiyo’s last visit to the capital arose. She was lounging, prone on a stiff futon, in a small, clean rented room. She propped herself onto her elbows and craned to look out the window. The evening air was brisk and clear. The lodging house was high enough on the hill ..."
"... actually met the emperor?” Chiyo noticed that Senka, who had been meticulously shaving over a steaming bowl of soapy water, stopped and turned to listen. Their surprise surprised her. She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked between them. “Of course I did. He seemed to ..."
"... one. That’s a shame,” he said. He flumped back onto the floor in an exaggerated fashion. Senka lost interest and went back to shaving, and Chiyo examined the slumped figure across from her. “Say Muhjah,” she said. “Why do you hate him so much? I felt a little sorry for him. He ..."
"... “As a citizen, shouldn’t I?” Chiyo looked at him. She saw the way his gaze darted about like some drunken sailor, and she started to laugh. She laughed so hard her sides ached, she couldn’t catch her breath, and Muhjah became uncomfortable. “Muhjah, I gave you credit for ..."
"... way.” She wiped the tears from her somewhat maniacal eyes and giggled again. “Oh man, I really needed that,” Chiyo said. She felt like a weight had been lifted, as if laughter really could make her happy. She could tell Muhjah felt embarrassed, like some secret had been brought to ..."
"... I would remember making him a handy pawn.” He pushed Senka over, making room in the bed and turned his back on Chiyo and her laughter. Not long after she lay down, too. She curled against Muhjah’s warmth, and he drifted off to sleep. Chiyo wasn’t so lucky. She had hoped for a ..."
"... to sleep. Chiyo wasn’t so lucky. She had hoped for a dreamless sleep, but she dreamt of death and those left by the lives she had taken. The eyes of countless mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters looked at her and watched her. They waited. Their silent vigil spoke to her. “We may ..."
"... Death is but the sweet mistress that secrets them away—and now she shall be yours.” Their voices shook Chiyo to the bone, leaving her breathless and afraid. She woke to the gray dawn. **** For three days she, Senka, and Muhjah watched the city. They listened to the local ..."
"...Chiyo donned a dress to blend in while in Capital City. It wasn’t the wispy gossamer of the Goddess, but a coarse, white, loose-weave wool outfit. She carried no sword. Senka wore both his and hers. It left him looking a little over-armed but not particularly worthy of attention. He ..."
"...On the day of the two rulers’ expected arrival, the emperor arranged a military display of arms and the palace guard marched in their most glorious costumes. Bands played, and the people were amazed. What, after all, are such events about if not, in part, to dissuade future upheavals? Chiyo thought. Although the guard at the door was still heavy, the festivities left the halls and barracks virtually empty and most of the soldiers occupied. ..."
"...Because the main gate was utilized by the parade, all supplies to the palace were being diverted to the sally port, a small entrance near the kitchen. Chiyo, Senka, and Muhjah avoided the crowd of onlookers and slipped in among the dinner deliveries. They killed two sentries to enter beyond the courtyard. Then they hid, biding their time and preserving the surprise attack. ..."
"...They slept in shifts all throughout the first day. The next night they separated, responsible for their own safety after agreeing to converge on the second evening. Being without them seemed so odd to Chiyo, but a hiding place for three had been difficult to find. It was madness, they all agreed, and they each secretly expected to die. The folly of spending so much time in the palace risked their being caught, but because they were only three swordsmen, they had to substitute ..."
"...Chiyo waited and hid, creeping ever forward throughout the next day and night. She sat patient and quiet as a mouse, listening to the sounds from the house. She was amazed by what she heard. She listened as the crickets’ song gave way to that of the bird. She listened ..."
"... stirred within her. The first to fall was a poor, misplaced tea servant. She saw Chiyo and opened her mouth to scream. The yell was replaced by a wet, red gurgle. Her death made less of a commotion than the clatter of the tea service hitting the floor. Chiyo moved on. The guards approached ..."
"... The room was ridiculously bright. The emperor had ensured his guests could clearly see the richness of the colors in his delicate scrolls and detailed tapestries. They will also see just how red his blood is, Chiyo thought with a grim smile as she locked eyes on her prey. She was so very close. ..."
"... said as if it had only just occurred to him. Chiyo couldn’t help it. She laughed loudly, startling a nearby woman who screeched and then sank on trembling knees. She clasped her hand over her mouth to prevent further gaffes. Chiyo ignored her. “Tell me, sire. When was that last in ..."
"...The left flank of his guard, already thinned to make room for the protectors of his guests, staggered and fell. Detachedly, Chiyo recognized one of her kidnappers among them. The remaining group stepped over and around their fallen friends and spread themselves out to close the gap, but everyone in the room knew the coverage was too thin. ..."
"... the coverage was too thin. Chiyo watched the emperor look at the guards of his neighbors. They stood, weapons drawn, tightly around their masters but seemed unprepared to do battle for him. Without a mutual aid agreement, he was a fool they might be best rid of. The white of Chiyo’s dress ..."
"...The white of Chiyo’s dress was splattered in a complex array of blood. It clung to her as if she had been in the rain and what part wasn’t clinging to her rustled like the scales of the snake might. She tugged at it, annoyed. Why am I still wearing this? she asked ..."
"... had put his wealth on display in only the halls likely to be seen. He smiled, a terrifying sight to those he crossed swords with. He arrived in the bright room in time to see Chiyo’s relaxed stance prepare to lunge. Muhjah saw Senka come flying from his own hallway like a burst dam. He ..."
"...Chiyo broke through the thin ranks of the guard without looking back. She knew Senka and Muhjah would deal with them. The emperor shook, but his sword was raised and his stance correct. They circled each other, their swords tip to tip. No doubt he had years more training than ..."
"... Chiyo spun around as if she had been struck. She looked at the serious faces of her closest, most trusted friends and knew the faces of betrayal. The nyims looked uncertainly from one to the other because even though the emperor had no legitimate heir, there was protocol to be followed. ..."
"...Chiyo was panic-stricken. She felt as if she was suffocating. She looked at the people around her—the tops of the nyims’ heads and the neighboring rulers tapping the legs of soldiers and signaling for them to bend respectfully before the land’s new empress. She saw confusion, understanding, and then inevitable ..."

Chapter 16: Chapter 16
"...Muhjah demonstrated an apt proficiency in administration. In the weeks after their coup d’etat, he handled all of Chiyo’s affairs, from public announcements to what she wore. He understood the need to give Chiyo time and tried to be accommodating, but he could only give her so much. The coronation ceremony would be the end. Afterward, she would have to take an active role in the ruling of ..."
"... country. As the day of her coronation approached, Chiyo closed herself away. She had become like a jellyfish, beautiful to look at but startling and painful to those who came upon her unexpectedly. She had no volition of her own. She floated on the crest of a wave unaware. On the day ..."
"...On the day itself Chiyo stood before a mirror in a castle that was suddenly hers. A valet, she didn’t know, fussed about the heavy robes draping her foreign frame, tut-tutting softly to himself. The red and white fabric had been woven especially for the event as a tribute to the bloody, warriorlike means ..."
"...the last pleat flat, the valet gave his final approval, and she was escorted to the anteroom and then into the throne room itself. The walls of the hall were tall and cold, despite their lively decorations. The candles burned despite the sun streaming through windows. A breeze followed Chiyo in from the open door, rustling her hair. She walked slowly down the aisle, with the same care she had taken on her wedding day. But here the association was painful and she found she could barely lift her feet from the floor at all. Each step took enormous ..."
"...her were representatives of the most powerful families in the land, but she didn’t care to see any of them. To her, they were nothing more than links in her chains, grasping, selfish members of an aristocracy who sought nothing but self-gratification. She knew they saw further opportunity in Chiyo and her bloody reputation and expected little change in their opulent lifestyle. Chiyo hated them and had no desire to see to their comfort. She didn’t spare them even a glance.. ..."
"...Despite the crowd the hall was silent as ordered. Senka and Muhjah stood, elegantly attired but still unquestionably deadly, on either side of her throne—Muhjah on the left and Senka on the right. Both appeared solemn and aware of the importance of the moment. Chiyo noted that Muhjah watched the crowd for signs of trouble, but Senka’s eyes were only on her. She hoped he saw the strain in her face and the dead look in her eyes. ..."
"...Although she wished to close her eyes to the whole affair, she surveyed the room, forcing herself to take in the present faces. From her left a minister entered, caring a pillow and a small, jeweled crown. Kenichi had been renown for wearing towering gold monstrosities, but Chiyo was a warrior queen, and such frivolities would be impractical. ..."
"...wrapped from right to left in a detailed simulation of a flower stem. There were slight nodules and three oddly spaced leaves, lonely and out of place on the barren gold rim, but their solidarity served to accentuate the cluster of diamonds on the left. There were more than Chiyo could count, all marquise-cut and standing such that they leaned slightly forward and formed the ever-blooming head of a large flower. Three strands of small pearls were suspended so that they fell cleanly away. There also were smaller diamonds, swinging freely like forever-falling petals. ..."
"... backed away and bowed low. He took a deep breath and said, “The time of old has passed. The time of new has arrived. May it bring peace and prosperity to Dashkalil. All hail, the Empress, Right Arm of the Goddess, Savior of the People, Chiyo Alglacea!” The crowd behind him bowed and ..."
"...Over the heads of the bowing audience, Chiyo saw the wispy coverings of the Sacerdotisa. She remembered the feel of that fine fabric against her skin. It engendered memories of the peaceful time spent with Relda, but those memories had been a lie, lulling her into acceptance and leading her down the final path to this hell. ..."
"...From across the room, Chiyo made eye contact with Valdis. Both women smiled: Chiyo in a cold, bloodthirsty manner and Valdis in sad acceptance of what was to come. Chiyo knew now that she had been tricked. The Sacerdotisa had never wanted a mere symbolic rebel. Valdis and the upper echelon of the sisterhood ..."
"...As the audience raised their heads and was allowed to take their seats, Valdis and Relda entered the proceedings. As far as they were concerned, they had accomplished what they came for. Chiyo’s bloodlust was apparent, but they must officially declare the Sacerdotisa’s support of Chiyo’s rule. They took their time walking down the aisle, trying not to appear hurried or nervous. It was too early to seem weakened, and they knew one must possess authority in order to engender authority. ..."
"...They felt Chiyo’s eyes, or the beast behind them, watch their every step greedily. Valdis had long ago accepted her fate, but under that hungry stare, she felt real fear for the first time. It made her question the Goddess’s assertion that destruction was their only safe path. Could Relda have been ..."
"...but your servants, laid bare before you. We pray that through you, the Goddess is able to show her wisdom, right the errors of the past, and lead Dashkalil and the people of the world onto a path of righteousness. Let it be heard here today that her majesty, Chiyo Alglaeca, is hereby deemed Plenipotentiary of the Sect and given full rights to govern as she sees fit. ” ..."
"...They saw Chiyo shake as she watched them rise from the floor and back away. They didn’t turn around to leave until halfway down the aisle, nor did either woman take her eyes off of Chiyo. They saw her resigned indignation and impotent rage. As they passed through the tall slender doors ..."
"...Valdis glanced once more at the scene behind her. The shocked hush of the room was almost deafening. The people knew the Sacerdotisa had supported Chiyo’s ascension, but that they would submit themselves completely to her rule was unthinkable. She knew there was general discomfort among the aristocratic personage because they realized just how much power their new ruler was going to have, and many were seeking to insulate themselves from harm or take advantage ..."
"...At the conclusion of the ceremony, Chiyo was escorted to a balcony, teaming with people and overlooking a large courtyard. It reminded her of Moran and the subterranean dais. When Chiyo, newly crowned, appeared, a cheer arose. Chiyo waved to them, and a second chorus clashed with the remnants of the first. She paused in agitated ..."
"... that this was all scripted. Chiyo thought about Andela whose attempt at kindness had been of little comfort at the time but who truly had believed that her coming was predestined and miraculous. She, and others like her, would feel the sting of Chiyo’s betrayal. Yes, revenge can be mine. ..."
"... Chiyo’s betrayal. Yes, revenge can be mine. Chiyo looked out at the waiting crowd. She felt Senka’s and Muhjah’s solid presence behind her, both bitter and reassuring. She remembered the room full of scheming dignitaries, and she raged. She ripped Salvation from its saya with a ..."
"...Chiyo allowed it to run its course and then shouted, “I am Chiyo Alglacea, Empress of Dashkalil, Right Arm of the Goddess Kali, Bearer of Salvation, and the Savior of the People. I declare myself. I stand before you not as a woman but as the sole representative of you, ..."
"... The applause was deafening as the people, Chiyo’s people, roared in appreciation; the noise was earsplitting as church doors were thrown open and bell pulls swung upon like rope swings. Confetti floated on the turbulent air, and children ran in the streets, proclaiming the name of their savior. ..."

Chapter 17: Epilogue
"...It was painted in such detail it seemed to leap from the canvas. It was unmistakable. His father had designed it and had it made for his mother as a fiftieth anniversary present, replacing the modest ring she’d worn her whole life. He had used it to propose to Chiyo, and she had never been without it. ..."

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