The Weeping Empress


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

Search result for 'Senka' in The Weeping Empress

Chapter 1: Chapter 1
"... 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 ..."
"... 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 ..."
"...her a wide berth after catching sight of it. She was anxious to give it back to him, but hadn’t been able to find him. She tried to convince herself that if she hadn’t found him by the time the group was ready to move out, she would ask Senka. But the thought of walking up and speaking to him and giving him cause to turn those pale eyes on her scared her as much as any of the uniforms had. ..."
"... of our concern.” She watched him confer with his partner afterward. He looked very serious and spoke firmly. The situation must be dire, but Senka appeared unruffled by Muhjah’s stern demeanor. He simply nodded his ascent and was gone without a backward glance. “How strange he is,” ..."
"...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 handfuls of dried ..."
"... magically appear in a tentative sharing hand. Eventually, Senka signaled a stop. Muhjah’s runner came forward for an update. There were men ahead, hiding in the underbrush. The nyim, broadening his net, had sent out a warrant and hired them. The group huddled close and waited. Chiyo sat ..."
", followed. What she saw was like a well-rehearsed recital. Neither man looked for the other, but they remained close at each other’s backs. They formed an all-but-impenetrable shield of blade and body. Hard-rippled muscles showed through thin, silken fabrics. The sun shown on Muhjah’s radiant, childlike joy and Senka’s placid, deceptive innocence. The appeal of such undeniable masculinity was primal and terrifying. She found herself swaying to the hypnotic and powerful rhythm of it. ..."
"...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 spun around to find Senka looking right at her and not the surroundings, including her. Chiyo wasn’t able to read anything in his expression, but she guessed it was probably annoyance. Suddenly, Muhjah’s words came back to her. ..."
"...thought. She awakened the hatchling savage within her and fed it its fill of loss, fear, and anger. She gave it a target and let it carry her where she had not been before. She knew she was a hindrance to the other two’s fluid grace, but Muhjah and Senka closed ranks around her. They allowed her full participation while ensuring that she wasn’t cut down in the fray. ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... their pay, but even they are better than that.” She narrowed her eyes. “Are you suggesting something?” Muhjah approached and leaned comfortably on Senka’s shoulder. “Those are more words than he’s strung together all year. Relax. If he really thought you were a spy, you’d ..."
"... protection. She chose to stare at her feet as she said, “I don’t know about gods, but I do have you two.” Muhjah laughed heartily, and even Senka seemed to smile a little. “Well, there is that,” the bigger man said as he held a long sword out toward her. “Here, bandits, ..."
"... continued. “Really comforting,” she responded, but she did smile. His upbeat, jocose manner had a contagious, calming effect. He slapped Senka on the back. “Come on then. Let’s get this over with. I’m tired of walking.” The two men returned to the waiting farmers. Chiyo looked ..."
"...decided she didn’t really care. That was when the smell hit her. She had heard of the stench of battle, but she had never expected to understand or experience its sharp and pungent aroma. She wrinkled her nose and felt her stomach churn unpleasantly. Sighing, she followed Muhjah and Senka back to the group and fell in line. It was a long time until sundown and rest. ..."
"...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), around her waist and let the sword hang. It still wasn’t comfortable, tapping her leg with each step ..."
"...She forced her attention back to Senka and his accoutrements. As she watched him, she realized the complicated attachment wasn’t the only reason that his sword didn’t slip. He walked with such an ethereal grace that nothing about him—not even his shaggy hair that hung in his eyes—swayed or jostled. He seemed to glide. Every muscle ..."

Chapter 2: Chapter 2
"... Senka and Muhjah sat under an overhanging tree, avoiding the rain and shared a piece of scavenged fruit. Muhjah looked around at the bedraggled group. “This really is a fine mess. ‘Get in, break up the caravan, cause ..."
"...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 ..."
"... your sense of careful mastery, but she somehow manages to stay alive.” Senka raised an eyebrow in amused agreement, and Muhjah went on in a tone of mock excitement, his words tumbling out fast and breathless. “She’s a little crazy—no doubt about that. You can see it in her eyes. ..."
"... you are. You practically lectured her today, and that’s not like you. If she’s smart enough, she might even ask for a lesson.” Senka rolled his eyes. “A lesson from Senka,” Muhjah concluded. “Now there’s something I never thought I’d see.” Senka looked at his friend ..."
"... you. If she’s smart enough, she might even ask for a lesson.” Senka rolled his eyes. “A lesson from Senka,” Muhjah concluded. “Now there’s something I never thought I’d see.” Senka looked at his friend from under lowered lashes and spit a seed to the side. He is right; ..."
"... I’d see.” Senka looked at his friend from under lowered lashes and spit a seed to the side. He is right; he always is. They had been together so long they could read each other like signposts. There is something about this strange young woman that is worth taking note of. Muhjah ..."
"...Muhjah continued, carrying the conversation for both of them. It meant he was working something out, trying to see all sides of it, and he didn’t need Senka to actually say a response. He knew what Senka would have said but sometimes had to hear it aloud. Senka sat and listened to how wise his own words, voiced through Muhjah, could be. ..."
"... of more pressing issues. When Muhjah resumed, he had changed the subject. “We have another problem though,” he said. Senka nodded. He’d noticed it, too. Muhjah wiped juice from his chin and said, “The nyim is pretty ticked and probably worried that word will get to the emperor ..."
"... to make examples of is a good career move, you know. We’ll meet up with you around midnight at the river.” Senka nodded. It was as good a plan as they were going to get. “Take the pup with you. It’ll be a good lesson for her,” Muhjah added as he stood up to go. Senka went ..."
"...Senka went back to examining Muhjah’s pet project. She was devouring a piece of fruit in remarkably unladylike haste, but the way she held it with just her fingertips and cringed at the sticky residue left between her fingers indicated a comparatively prim upbringing. She was pretty, though not in ..."
"...All of this is irrelevant at the moment, Senka reminded himself. Muhjah’s plan was good enough, but Senka knew neither he, nor Muhjah felt there was a reason to explain the details to anyone. They both understood that they led twenty scared sheep, who weren’t interested in details and would do as they were told. That was why ..."
"... 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 ..."
"...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 ..."
"... 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 ..."
"...She thought Senka and Muhjah had been very clever to separate the men from the women. A group of flustered women usually incited compassion if captured, and the men’s escape preserved the possibility of a rescue. Senka’s restraint by not killing any of their unit lessened the likelihood of angry retribution, and ..."
"... and keeping her tucked safely into the crowd prevented her from screwing it up. Having lowered and sheathed his sword, Senka was cautiously 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 ..."
"... at Chiyo and the others and snorted, “All this over a bunch of nobodies.” He appeared to really want to slug Senka but thought better of it. Senka simply looked at him blankly. Askil ground his teeth irritably. Chiyo slipped the small knife she had taken off of the dead mercenary into the ..."
"...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. ..."
"...She came to Senka first, cutting his hands free and proudly presenting him his sword and the dizzying array of knives she’d found with it. It had been an unexpected windfall that her paramour had chosen to partake in his vile activities in the same tent in which their weapons were stored. Her ..."
"... 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 ..."
"...Thinking their captives were safely imprisoned, there weren’t many guards. The night seemed to accept Senka into its shadowy embrace like a familiar lover, and he dispatched them with ease. Nonetheless, everyone held their breath until they were well beyond the confines of the camp. As they left, Senka paused to spark a light under the edge of a tent. ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... 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 in the twentieth year of the supreme rule of Emperor Kenichi. We are Muhjah and Senka, just two troublemakers, nothing more.” Chiyo rubbed ..."
"...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 on and spread out along ..."
"...This wasn’t the first time he’d encountered Senka and Muhjah. He knew firsthand how destructive they could be. He gained his most recent promotion when his predecessor, who had been a good enough leader, had died at their hands in an attack that had been petty and pointless. It had caused a supply train to be four ..."
"...Askil gritted his teeth and looked out over the stargrass. It grew in clusters of yellow, white, and blue, as if one color couldn’t associate with the other—just like the feckless, Muhjah and Senka shouldn’t be allowed to mix with more respectable members of the empire. They were scourges, and he wasn’t going to let them be a festering, pus-filled blister on his career. ..."
"...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 were regular and ..."
"...Senka watched his old friend’s expression closely. In the face of no intervention, they both anticipated that there was a trap over that ridge, but they only had promised to get the group to Albesq. What happened on the other side of the border was none of their concern. Everyone ..."
"...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 heavy strike across her cheek. It sent her sprawling to the ground. He bent down, his nose an inch from her ..."
"...Some time later Muhjah and Senka returned to her. They looked disappointed. She understood. Everyone was supposed to cross the border and leave them alone, but here she was all the same. After her encounter with Senka, she hadn’t expected them to come back. She assumed she was on her own. Looking up at that ..."
"...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 events nourishing. ..."
"...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 her feet, giving herself a moment to gather her thoughts. Do I want to continue on with them knowing what I do? We’re standing in Albesq, and I can ..."

Chapter 3: Chapter 3
"...“Muhjah and, one of the Goddess’ own children, Senka, descended like a pair of demons bent on utter destruction. The nyim and Danbire’s warden lost a number of men. They left death behind as casually as footprints, but that isn’t the important part of my story; it’s merely an interesting aside. When the trouble started, I put myself ..."
"...“Muhjah and Senka gave us little opportunity to rest, but we still didn’t manage to get far enough. The group split in two, and some of us ended up being caught by Nyim Cardinova’s men, where we were rounded up like common cattle. I imagine there was a plan of some sort, ..."

Chapter 4: Chapter 4
"...Muhjah and Senka were true to their word in not sending 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 ..."
"...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 ..."
"... fire he had rebuilt, feeding it kindling. “Drink up. Then go do whatever you need to do. We’ll move on as soon as we’ve eaten. Senka’s out hunting. He likes the challenge, and he’s better with small knives than I am anyway.” “Senka, huh? It matches him, that name. ..."
"... out hunting. He likes the challenge, and he’s better with small knives than I am anyway.” Senka, huh? It matches him, that name. Somehow soft and sharp at the same time.” “I wouldn’t let him hear you say that. Before he gets back, we should do a little bit about your ..."
"...Muhjah accepted her concession and continued, “I’ll make you a promise. As long as you travel with Senka and me, you’ll never lack an opportunity to do battle, kill, or be killed, but we aren’t your keepers. We’ll never try to stop you, but if you jump into a fight you can’t finish on your own, there’s no guarantee we’ll come to your rescue either.” ..."
"...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 world was also somehow reassuring. ..."
"... He did it a number of times and then observed and corrected Chiyo until she had decently replicated it. “Better,” he said, curtly. “Now keep that up until Senka returns.” Chiyo did so. When she began to tire, she found a point on the horizon, forced herself to concentrate, 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 ..."
"...the dead, which was a blessing. Anything less than the deepest sleep left her susceptible to horrible nightmares. She was defenseless against them at the uncontested mercy of her imagination and memory. She feared the day when her body didn’t collapse beneath her, the day when, like Muhjah and Senka, she had the physical endurance to keep up and then fall into a natural slumber. ..."
"...To avoid this she sought extra activities. First, she asked to contribute to making camp, thinking she might help gather food while Senka hunted, but she was rebuffed. Muhjah responded that practice was more important. So she did, throwing herself into it with renewed gusto to compensate for not providing food. ..."
"...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 change their behavior due to her presence. It conflicted starkly with her perception of her position in the group. ..."
"...He looked at her for a long time. She seemed calm. Certainly her form had improved. She rarely needed correction in her kata anymore. She could flow from one strike to another with apparent ease. At Senka’s insistence she hadn’t used any of her practice with an opponent, however. He had said, if she couldn’t make the transition from skill to practice unassisted, she wouldn’t be able to learn enough this late in the game to continue to survive. Muhjah had been surprised to find that ..."
"...He nodded to her, ending the brief exchange and turned toward Senka and the fire. Senka sat as quietly as if in meditation. He had bathed in a near stream, and his hair was still damp. Muhjah could just barely detect the slight tension in his shoulders, only apparent when life had been too calm for too long. Muhjah always unconsciously ..."
"...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, ducks, and strikes. He was like a ..."
"...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 something. It was obvious that she always watched with a sense of awe. ..."
"...Muhjah smiled at her a little sadly. “I suppose he is in his own way.” He was quiet for a few moments as he looked through Senka and out into the distance. A mental shadow fluttered across his face as he decided how to continue. It had been a long time since he attempted to convey a meaningful idea to someone who didn’t know his every thought. ..."
"...“War is a vile, dirty business. Never do yourself the disservice of forgetting that. Despite how Senka looks—graceful, fluid, alive—he’s a killer. He’s been called ‘Death Incarnate,’ shunned as if stained by the blood he’s spilled and denied many of life’s kindnesses. It’s been that way for so long I don’t think he remembers anything else. He’s incredibly honest, our Senka. He asks so little from ..."
"...“I don’t think you’ve yet realized that this is war and war is nothing more than killing. Death is its only legacy, and few know it better than we do. Senka and I—we’re contradictory because we know how meaningless it really is but still wage this war of ours. No leader has bid us wear a shield and sword to march in defense of our land, but it’s a small personal war waged for that same love of our homeland. ..."
"...Senka glistened as a cloud moved aside to allow the sun to reach his pale, sweat-streaked skin. He brought the exercise to 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 ..."
"...The outpost nearby was little more than a small toll bridge with half a dozen civilians rotating shifts at the toll and the remains of a small garrison. There was no evidence of any large force or military training. Senka estimated perhaps an additional twenty soldiers. It would be short work—maybe an hour—to burn the bridge and provoke the guards. They would head to the surrounding forest soon thereafter and go far enough in to permanently evade detection an hour afterward. That is, if there was anyone left to ..."
"...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. Senka and Muhjah headed to the outer guardhouse, where the night guards were lounging about because the outer gate had already been closed for the evening. Caught by surprise, they all died without raising any further alarm. Once they had dispatched the guard, ..."
"...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 ..."
"...It wasn’t wise to allow distraction. She, too, was a trespasser and a threat. She gave Muhjah and Senka no more thought as she fended off the frenetic blows of a confused guard. Even though most of the fighting focused around Muhjah and Senka, she was never without an opponent and was outclassed each time. Staying alive proved to be a challenge. ..."
"...She was just coming to terms with her emotional high when 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 ..."
"... rushed to keep up. The goal had been to kill Nyim Marisha’s soldiers without involving the civilians. What challenge would a toll man be after all? However, neither Muhjah, nor Senka would have any qualms about killing them if they stood between them and their escape. The three slipped ..."
"... 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. ..."
"... appeared to still be unconvinced. “Come on now,” Muhjah teased. “Don’t sulk.” “Who’s sulking?” Senka’s tone was petulant, but Muhjah knew there was no real ill intent behind it. Little emotion ever showed itself in Senka, but Muhjah recognized the disquietude as Senka ..."
"... real ill intent behind it. Little emotion ever showed itself in Senka, but Muhjah recognized the disquietude as Senka took his time to settle down after a fight. It wasn’t anxiety so much as a continued need to exert himself and disappointment that it was over. Tonight, however, there was ..."
"... and it would return to just us?” Muhjah queried. Senka looked up, began to nod his head, and then paused. Hidden under the disarray of dark hair, his brow furrowed. He settled back on his haunches and mentally examined himself for a moment. “I expected to. I expected her to die earlier ..."
"... 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 ..."
"...It was only an hour or two before she felt Senka’s deceptively frail hand grip her shoulder. She bolted up ready to defend herself. As quick as lightning he was behind her with one hand around her waist and the other across her mouth. She could feel his hard body against her marginally softer one. ..."
"...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. ..."
"... 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 would notice. Generally he was just one more characterless face in ..."
"... attempt, she thought. Senka visited the fort, even going so far as crossing the toll bridge and entering the grounds. He said he didn’t actually count the number of 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 ..."
"...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 ..."
"...Whipping around she reached for Senka’s stash of shurikens. She knew he wore them against his skin so that they were hidden from sight but easily accessible. She threw one and missed by a mile. She heard the man’s laughter as he circled around them again. Senka followed her lob with one of his own. ..."
"... to hide her limp. She found Muhjah and Senka sipping lukewarm tea in a café across from the inn. A third cup sat untouched and waiting for her return. She sank gratefully into the empty chair, took it up, and joined them in silently observing the passing villagers. ..."

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 ..."
"...wanted the woman on the outside to be as fierce and frightening as the beast within. She wanted to someday be one, with both sides indistinguishable from the other. She made this desire her whole world. She allowed herself no thoughts of home or loved ones. Outside of Muhjah, Senka, and her internal rage, she allowed herself nothing that elicited an emotional response. ..."
"...This disturbed her rational self, but it was another thing over which she had no control, especially because she saw no such inclination in her killing partners. Senka seemed to have no such passion at all, and Muhjah found a frequent outlet in the brothels of the small towns, which he preferred to the larger, fancier ones in the cities. He said the women were always more appreciative of the business. ..."
"...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 regularly and Senka occasionally—whenever she saw the rare signs that he would be willing. Senka was strict and unforgiving as ever, but Chiyo never lacked a sense of profound accomplishment at the end. ..."
"...Occasionally in the course 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 them. When it was cold, they shared body heat, and when it was hot, they stripped to only the essentials with neither fear, nor embarrassment. ..."
"...This was her life, and she accepted it. Like Senka she began to dislike the quiet times. She, too, was always eager for the next strike. Muhjah often left them to their 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 ..."
"... 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 there’s the ..."
"...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. ..."
"...Muhjah always wears his excitement on his face, she remembered. You never have to wonder about Muhjah’s mood. He’ll be grinning ear to ear, and without Senka’s calming influence, he’ll fight in big exuberant strikes. His sword will gleam in the moonlight, and the blood will fly from its tip as he whips it from foe to foe. Like a frenzy. ..."
"...In the time she had been with the two men she also had learned to read the small signs in Senka. As she ran along the top of the wall, she could imagine him in his relaxed elegance. His sword will dart out and back as he turns and circles, never presenting enough of a target to his opponent. His breath will be slow and measured, following the course of ..."
"...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 ..."
"...Muhjah and Senka made camp a few miles away. Senka had seen her jump but didn’t know anything beyond that. They agreed that if she had been found dead, there would have been a commotion in the guard ranks that one of them would have noticed. But even still, they weren’t sure, ..."
"...Muhjah and Senka noticed a small group of woman approaching cautiously. They paused at the 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 ..."
"... but still committed to nothing. Moran eyed him. “There are many who would have mourned her passing,” she prodded and then looked at Senka, “but I think this one would have unleashed chaos the likes of which we have never seen.” “Hmm, she does seem to have filled some needed ..."
"...Muhjah had known this for a while. Senka’s small world had broadened just a little. Muhjah had considered being jealous but found only pleasure at the prospect. People with small worlds, however, tend to be overly protective of them, and there were few as ferocious as Senka when protecting what was his. ..."
"... 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 ..."
"...Senka, who rarely spoke, wasn’t without thought. It was a mistake many made. They assumed he was some sort of mute idiot savant that Muhjah exploited. That assumption suited him just fine because it meant they generally didn’t bother with him. He was aware that in many ways he was ..."
"... Senka knew that somewhere along the way a strong dedication to her had bloomed. It wasn’t love. He was as incapable of that as ever, but she was family, just like Muhjah was. As long as he could remember, the only thing he ever feared was loosing Muhjah. Now that fear had been doubled. His ..."
"...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 ..."
"...the kimono she wore covered her fingers. She couldn’t make sense of its presence, and she simply gaped at the beautifully embroidered complex patterns weaving in and out of themselves. The colors were deep, and the figures vivid. It was strikingly out of place in the warriors’ small camp. Senka removed his sageo, laying his katana gently aside, and used it as a tasuki—tieing her sleeves back. ..."
"...His words were measured and gentle, but they stung her all the same. Of all the things he might have said, she hadn’t expected this. In all their time together, they had never discussed her lost past. As one of their few true kindnesses, Muhjah and Senka sensed it was a delicate subject and had allowed her these secrets. ..."
"...The tea no longer had any flavor; the sky was nothing but gray. The grass below her was dry and prickled her uncomfortably. She tipped her cup over and watched as the steeped liquid soaked into the soil. She lay back down and turned her back to Muhjah and Senka in his inevitable shadow. She willed the pain away and urged her heart to numb. ..."
"... shadow. She willed the pain away and urged her heart to numb. She felt Muhjah and Senka watch her slim shoulders shutter inside the beautiful swath of fabric. The subject was closed for conversation and wouldn’t be reopened. ..."

Chapter 6: Chapter 6
" 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 owed Muhjah and Senka an apology, but for what she wasn’t exactly sure. ..."
" 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 of mine? I don’t want to get involved. She laughed at herself. What did I think Muhjah, Senka, and I were doing? Had Muhjah not made this clear before we crossed Marisha’s toll bridge? Whether I like it or not, I’m already involved. ..."
"...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 they didn’t wish to attend. Many in the inn that night felt the same way. ..."
", no palpable sense of anticipatory joy sneaking up on the eagerly waiting family—who strained to hear, not the 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. ..."
"...As she rushed in a jealous rage, toward the door, Senka grabbed her ankle. It caused her to fall forward, flat on the floor. She caught herself and, therefore, avoided smashing her nose into it. She whipped about, thrashing with her one free foot and preparing to pound him into releasing her, but he struck first, sinking his fist savagely ..."
"...Senka could have hit her fewer times, pinned her and held her until she calmed down, or put her in a sleeper hold until she passed out. He knew his violence was gratuitous, but he had his own frustrations to contend with, and it felt good to finally strike someone. ..."
"... she might shatter. She gently touched at her bruised face and moaned. The throbbing was excruciating but not as painful to her as the memory of its cause. She had a few sharp words for Senka, the last of which were thank you, but she found herself alone in the room. It was no surprise to ..."
"... 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 on stuffing back her ..."
"...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 ..."
"...On one such evening as she sank blissfully into repose, she asked Muhjah about his relationship with Senka. She had always been curious because she had seen it misunderstood many times. He took his time because he had to think about how to make someone else understand something he had never thought to define to himself. ..."
"...“There is neither Muhjah, nor Senka,” he began. “We’re but half-men, kindly carrying what remains of the other. There was a time when I had wanted to be a demon, powerful and unafraid. Even as a child, Senka was the man I wanted to be. But all he wanted was to be a simple human, ..."
"...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. ..."
"...been a social call, however. Guibniu was a kaji, a maker of superb swords. He was renowned for the beauty, durability, quality, and detailed nature of his blades. He was now an old man with a few select apprentices who rarely crafted blades for sale, but he had known Senka’s father, Nukpana, and had watched Senka grow from afar. ..."
"...Nukpana had come to him when his small son needed a sword, and every few years Senka had returned. Guibniu understood Senka’s quiet ways, and Senka was comfortable with him. He had a great respect for the craftsman as a master of his trade and, even though he was generally unaware of it, a vague disdain for all weapons not bearing Guibniu’s mei. ..."
"...Senka had observed Guibniu watching him. Years ago, Guibniu had commented on the loose confidence of Senka’s stride and that it made him identifiable before the old man could make out his features. When Senka arrived, the elderly tradesman looked the younger man over and invited him into the house ..."
"... he had come on business. They drank the scalding tea in silence as Guibniu waited for him to speak. Senka balanced his empty cup precariously on his knee and looked at the older man. He had aged since last he visited—perhaps five years ago or more. “I need a sword,” he finally ..."
"... “Seems you have a very nice one there at the door,” Guibniu pointed out. Senka nodded. “This one needs to be shorter, twenty-five inches, with a reduced tang, easily gripped by a woman’s small hand.” Guibniu raised an eyebrow at the unusual request. Senka didn’t explain. The ..."
"... needs to be shorter, twenty-five inches, with a reduced tang, easily gripped by a woman’s small hand.” Guibniu raised an eyebrow at the unusual request. Senka didn’t explain. The two spent the evening discussing the details. Guibniu had acquired his reputation by making high-quality, ..."
"... eyes. Their steel might remain firm, but their soul died. They needed blood to remain vital. Senka could tell he was drawn to the idea of producing a beautiful blade that would be steeped in the dirt, grime, and blood of battle. When the discussion was over, Guibniu looked at the sketches. ..."
"... blade that would be steeped in the dirt, grime, and blood of battle. When the discussion was over, Guibniu looked at the sketches. He looked long at Senka’s impassive face and knew no information would come freely. “No son of Nukpana would use such an elaborate sword. It’s too showy, ..."
"... equally ruthless men, and for some time he had suspected the identity of her companions. The silence that followed stretched endlessly. It was only broken by the small sounds of Senka’s rising to leave. “You’ll bring her with you to retrieve it?” Guibniu hurried to add. The slight ..."
"...The slight pause in Senka’s stride might have been missed by anyone who hadn’t known him as long as the aged swordmaker had. It was answer enough. Senka noted that Guibniu’s hands shook as he picked the sketches from the mat because the old man sensed the overwhelming honor Senka was bestowing on him. ..."
"...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. ..."
"...She was curious. She had never been introduced to any of Senka’s or Muhjah’s acquaintances. This man was short, bronzed, and wrinkled, but wiry muscles rippled when he moved. His gray hair curled up around the edges of his sweat-stained kerchief, and he looked at her with deep, startlingly alert blue eyes. ..."
"...Senka introduced him by name, and they followed him into the small adjacent cottage. Even here there were weapons in various stages of completion on almost every surface. Guibniu explained that his apprentices brought them in to practice tight assembly. He shooed one or two out, and the group settled ..."
"...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. ..."
"...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 produced. Muhjah, Senka, and Guibniu felt she needed a sword to match her growing reputation, a visual symbol of the strength she could lend the nation. ..."
"... 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. ..."
"...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. ..."
"...Senka and Muhjah considered their opponents no real threat. They had defeated better fighters dozens of times before. They leapt and dodged effortlessly. Often as they returned to their practiced back-to-back formation, neither noticed the slight bounce of the other. First one opponent went down in a spray of blood, ..."
"...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, and now, having ..."
"...Senka sat propped in their second-story window. Muhjah had gone out some time earlier, and from his perch, Senka had watched him tease a young woman in his good-natured way that somehow never produced ill will. She had laughed and slapped him playfully on the arm before moving along. Since ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... 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 ..."
" this strange land, she had considered almost everyone she had met a potential threat and, therefore, felt no need to regret their deaths. After so much time and so many deaths, she understood that she should feel remorse and the fact that she didn’t was the abnormality. Now Senka’s words provided an explanation. ..."
"...She continued to watch him. He was slow, meticulously aware of each concise movement. Senka had a way of making such tasks beautiful. When he had finished, she took her own sword and his tools to the river. It might have only encountered one battle, she thought, but it couldn’t hurt to polish it just a little. Then I’ll bathe. ..."
"... only encountered one battle, she thought, but it couldn’t hurt to polish it just a little. Then I’ll bathe. **** Senka watched her go and looked expectantly at Muhjah. “There’s nothing to do now but wait,” the larger man said through the stem of his smoking pipe. **** As evening ..."
"...As evening fell, she chose a shallow bank near the water’s edge and settled into the rhythmic ritual. Following the same process as Senka, she disassembled the sword. Setting the hardware safely aside, she began on the opposite end. She wiped the blade gently with a soft cloth. Turning the blade carefully over, she began again—and then froze. ..."
"... from gripping hard, and the pain was unbearable. Running back to camp, she found Senka and Muhjah sitting quietly. They were waiting. Slowing her pace but not the force of her approach, she presented the sword to Muhjah and then to Senka. “What does it mean?” she demanded. There was a ..."
"... away to nothing. Taking a slow, deep breath she said, “You’re there, aren’t you?” Behind her she heard a slight rustle as Senka stepped out of whatever shadow he had found in the moonlight. “You’re always there,” she continued. “I’m not sure when I realized that. I’ve ..."
"...Sitting down on the grassy bank, she could feel the dark, grounding presence of the forest behind her. She slowed down her ragged breathing until her breaths were coming smoothly. Senka, sitting as silently as ever beside her, laid the cruel item between them. It seemed to have a life of its own, a certain eminence, which caused her breath to catch again. To take it up was to accept the life she was building here, and that meant giving ..."
"...saw no sign that she would be allowed to return home. In fact, she felt strongly that it was lost to her forever. What choice do I have? This is my life now. My husband and daughter are pleasant memories of a life I once lived. She looked at Senka. It’s a strange world into which I’ve been reborn, but I seem to have found a place in it. It’s time to accept it through more than simply blighting the old from my mind. I think that I have become strong enough to carry both lives with me. What ..."
"... said bitterly. The night was still: no soft rustling of leaves, small scuttling of vermin in the undergrowth, or lap of wave on the shore as Senka sat beside her. She felt cut off and alone in the world. She sighed. Closing her eyes, she took the blade in her hand and stood up. “Let’s ..."
"...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 ..."
"...Muhjah once had told her sword-fighting was like dancing. It had seemed a strange comparison at the time because hacking at an opponent, as she tended to do, was jarring, brutal, and without grace. But she understood as she watched Senka walk silently through the undergrowth, disturb nothing, and leave no evidence of his presence. She might lack or never develop grace, but these men, who grew up with the sword, first learned the steps of battle as children and were as practiced at the art of death as any ..."
"...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 ..."

Chapter 7: Chapter 7
"...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. ..."
" touch her clothing or be seen by the eyes of the Goddess. They bowed, held babies out for blessings, and muttered prayers Chiyo couldn’t understand. One particularly bold girl had grabbed Chiyo in her excitement. Already overly tense, Chiyo had responded with conditioned violence. It had been only Senka’s quick movements that saved the child’s life. He had deftly placed himself between the two, blocking Chiyo’s ability to further draw her sword and sharply bringing her back to her senses. ..."
" had encountered many who had wished to bask in her growing fame as her bloody companion. The most disturbing, however, were those who wished to get close enough to turn her in to the authorities and collect the substantial reward. Many of these died quiet, inconspicuous deaths at Senka’s hands. ..."
"...had buried it deep, and reluctantly had allowed it to resurface so that she could put it behind her and move on. But she found her resolution often failed her, and she was forced to renew her commitment to live the life before her. She liked that Muhjah and Senka were unable to protect her during the process and they were angry about that. Let them be punished for forcing this on me, she thought. They deserve it. ..."
"...“I want you to find this woman. She’s traveling in the company of these two men.” He passed the warrant and descriptions of Senka and Muhjah to Filat. “They were last seen traveling south outside of Nespe. They don’t stay in one place for long, and I wouldn’t expect much help. Use whatever means you need to but bring the scheming djinn—that ifritah to me. Understood?” ..."
"...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. ..."
"...She took the time available to her to steal her nerves, making her look deceptively stoic. By the time they neared the city, her hands no longer shook, her voice was steady, and her mind was far away. She smiled in perverse pleasure as she imagined Muhjah and Senka’s worry and annoyance. It was no less than they deserved. ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... act,” Filat, the smarter of the two, countered. Kenichi was also inclined to agree that it was unlikely a simpleton could evade the nyims’ efforts for so long even if supported by Muhjah and Senka, who had avoided capture for years. These reports, and what little truth was in the ..."
"...Senka was the only son of an old and well-respected warrior family. His father was known to produce dedicated and skilled swordsmen. He was also known for an extremism that could resemble cruelty. His mother had been the youngest daughter of an equally old, though less respectable, family. She had ..."
"...Senka had always been quiet, and people tended to avoid his company because it was uncomfortable. His youth was marked by little distinction, because as Nukpana’s son, he would never have been allowed to compete in the frequent skill competitions. It would have been considered beneath the family’s dignity. His ..."
"... display it for anyone’s entertainment. Both parents were now dead. The family homestead and the land it sat on belonged to Senka, but it remained abandoned and in disrepair. He seemed to have no urge to return home and continue his father’s legacy. Muhjah had been born in the same village ..."
"...Muhjah had been born in the same village as Senka’s family. His father was a low-level guardsman, who had worked hard and honestly. The father was killed in the service of his nyim not long after Muhjah was born. His mother inherited a small monthly stipend, and Muhjah inherited his father’s sword. It wasn’t well made or of any ..."
"...When he was twelve, he presented himself to Nukpana and asked to be properly trained. He had been rebuffed and sent away. However, he and Senka, who was four years younger, seemed to develop a quiet understanding. In the evenings Muhjah snuck onto the lot, and he and Senka practiced kata together. After six weeks, Nukpana had accepted Muhjah as a student on the condition that he and Senka remained together. Muhjah had functioned as ..."
"...The locals referred to them as “Stone” and “Water.” Senka was as hard and silent as stone, and Muhjah was as bending to his will as water, but just as water forms the shape of the stone, so the two grew together. They were rarely seen apart. Muhjah spoke when Senka had something to say, and Senka made Muhjah ..."
"... and was surprised when she spoke. “It’s threats then?” she asked flatly and then chuckled. “I would advise you to dispose of me quickly then, because no good will come to those with my blood on their hands once Senka finds out.” Kenichi was appalled as he realized his ..."
"...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 and any prophecy-related social upheaval would die. ..."

Chapter 8: Chapter 8
"... and fends off the enemy of the faithful. Back at the campsite, Muhjah and Senka awoke and found her place by the fire empty. Muhjah groaned. It wasn’t unusual. They were pretty used to her morning constitutionals, but he still didn’t like it. “I heard her leave about an hour ago.” ..."
"... wasn’t unusual. They were pretty used to her morning constitutionals, but he still didn’t like it. “I heard her leave about an hour ago.” Senka said without opening his eyes. “You didn’t go after her?” Senka shook his head and stretched his lean frame to its full length. ..."
"...Senka shook his head and stretched his lean frame to its full length. He pressed the bulging thenar of his left hand dully into the sunken recesses of his eyes before sitting up. He looked tired and drawn. Muhjah could tell that staying behind had required a tour de force ..."
"...Muhjah raised an unseen eyebrow and stoked the fire back into life. Hunger usually drove her back by breakfast, and there was no better way to pass the time than with tea. Senka joined him glumly. They ate a sparse meal, waited for her, and, when she didn’t return, started searching in an irritated huff, but annoyance turned to concern when they found no evidence of her. ..."
"... days, or mere wishful thinking. He was looking at nothing that helped them, and said so. Senka agreed. He rolled a pebble thoughtfully underfoot and asked, “You think it’s finally found her?” Muhjah understood his meaning. Chiyo’s recent behavior invited disaster. She was ..."
"... her … repeatedly.” He dusted off his knees and scratched at his scalp vigorously, a habit he only practiced when he was particularly vexed. Senka hadn’t seen it in a number of years, showcasing more of his friend’s thoughts than his cavalier words. “Goddess, I almost hope ..."
"...Senka cracked a slim, empathetic smile. Although it went unspoken, both men believed that things would continue until she was finally cornered and hurt. That point meant they had been punished enough. She would forgive their intervention, and it would never be spoken of again. Both looked forward to that ..."
"... Both looked forward to that day. “What are you thinking?” Muhjah asked in a calmer voice. “She would have traveled south. You know how she hates backtracking,” Senka responded. He looked up and down the road for evidence to support this, but there was none. He turned to ..."
"...busy ebullience to the place that in other political climates would have invited joyous participation of all. From their position at the roadside, the two men could just hear the Sacerdotisa’s chant drift up from the grove. The sound was too faint at first to make out words, but Senka recognized the familiar singsong pattern: the long declarative thrust of authority and the clipped emotional cries of the faithful. ..."
"...Although a stand of trees blocked the sisters from view, Senka knew that they were on their knees, radiant in their reverence as all women were at such times. It was a prayer of joy to send blessings and unobstructed love to the Goddess. When it was finished, there would be dancing. It wouldn’t do to cloud the message with ..."
"... past. “I like it,” Muhjah concluded. “It makes me remember intended joy at least.” Senka nodded his agreement but said dejectedly, “It’s good that she expects such from her peoples.” He felt Muhjah watch him closely. It was a persona Senka frequently affected when confronted ..."
"... agreement but said dejectedly, “It’s good that she expects such from her peoples.” He felt Muhjah watch him closely. It was a persona Senka frequently affected when confronted with the Sacerdotisa. “It has nothing to do with us,” Senka continued, turning away. Their years together ..."
"... felt Muhjah watch him closely. It was a persona Senka frequently affected when confronted with the Sacerdotisa. “It has nothing to do with us,” Senka continued, turning away. Their years together had taught Muhjah that although Senka encountered difficulties formulating concrete ideas on ..."
"...Their years together had taught Muhjah that although Senka encountered difficulties formulating concrete ideas on the subject, he believed in the interconnectedness of all things and the existence of a corporal, if impassive, deity. He appreciated the Sacerdotisa’s attempts to be a joyous impetus and had always treated them with a certain passive respect, but he also believed ..."
"...stalked by her, but most of the time he simply had accepted her in the same way he had accepted the passing breeze or the hard-packed earth beneath his feet, all of which was said to be her anyway. She was the anthropomorphic fabric of the universe. She was Senka, Muhjah, the emperor, spores, soil, and everything else. She simply was. He saw no reason to belabor the point. ..."
"... came after him, catching up easily. “Tell me what you’re thinking.” Senka furrowed his brow. He didn’t like being asked to divulge his inner thoughts, and it was territory Muhjah rarely infringed on. “Well, I suppose I was thinking of how Kali is supposed to be the epitome of ..."
"... left in the minds of men. They’re in decline, for sure.” Senka nodded. “There are few who don’t see it, and, I think fewer still who feel no sadness at the prospect. The world will be a colder place without them.” “Thank the emperor. ‘Progress requires sacrifice,’” Muhjah ..."
"...“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 ..."
"... where she was, but it was unlikely. They were at a loss about where to go or what to do. Muhjah elbowed him. “Hey Senka, you notice we seem to be getting a lot of attention?” “Uh huh.” “You think it’s my handsome face?” “Pfft, probably not.” “Nawh, you’re right. ..."
"... frail features.” Senka cut his eyes at Muhjah’s poor joke, but he was right. There did seem to be a lot more people looking at them than there had been an hour earlier. He watched a slender elderly woman cross the street. She was vaguely familiar, which puzzled him. “Mind if I join ..."
"... don’t remember me. No offense taken. My name’s Andela.” “I know that I know you.” Senka felt Muhjah stiffen beside him. He leaned around Senka to take a good look at the slim lady. “Ah!” he exclaimed. “The Danbire debacle—didn’t realize anyone had survived.” “How ..."
"... precisely to your satisfaction.” Senka watched as she looked off, past the bustle of the faithful. He figured she was picturing through the thin haze of memory, the faces of those whose fate she narrowly had avoided. She shivered and then shook herself. “But I’m not here about that. ..."
"... just such a situation. You bear a responsibility of which you must be mindful.” Beside Senka, Muhjah’s shoulders shook as he tensed his muscles. He scratched again at his hairline in a clearly agitated manner. “I don’t like to be told what I must to. It makes me itch and makes my hands ..."
"... 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 indications of deceit. “Is it just a coincidence that you’re here?” he asked. “No, but there’s not any reason to worry yourself ..."

Chapter 9: Chapter 9
"...Senka and Muhjah reached Capital City in good time. They had little trouble entering the city itself. Commerce regularly occurred within its walls, and swordsmen were often brought along as extra muscle, protection, and persuasion. Once there, they were again at a loss about what to do next. They needed ..."
"...They were sitting at a table outside of a small café, looking up at the citadel. Senka tapped Muhjah with his foot and gestured subtly across the street. A lone Sacerdotisa stood there, odd in her individuality. They almost never traveled alone. The community of the order was one of their best-known attributes. ..."
"... a few moments. The head of the Order of the Sacerdotisa sighed and introduced herself. “Valdis.” “Muhjah, Senka,” Muhjah said, thumping himself and then Senka on the chest. “Welcome to Capital City.” “Not really a visit we were planning on.” “I understand,” she ..."
"...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. They needed Muhjah and Senka’s strength and vicious, worldly fearlessness to bring Chiyo out from under the eye of the emperor himself. ..."
"...Both men looked up sharply. Valdis looked Senka directly in the eyes, something almost no one did. She wanted to see and assess his reaction. The order knew a way into the castle, and they were willing to escort them as far as they could. They were willing to provide medical attention, if needed, afterward and hide ..."
"...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. ..."
"... you.” **** Senka listened as carefully as he could. Although as little as ever passed his placid face, his clenched fists trembled. He felt Muhjah reach across and lay a brotherly hand on his knee. He calmed minimally. It was clear this would be a trial for him as well. Senka’s ..."
"...Senka’s imagination was cruel. He envisioned the hands of some faceless imperial guard, slipping under her tightly wrapped tunic and forcing their way between her muscled legs. He heard her shoulders pop as her arms were wrenched back by another to prevent her from struggling. He could smell the sweat ..."
"... many, but not all, of them. We can get you as far as the dungeon entrance. After that 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 ..."
"...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. ..."
"... risk Chiyo to prove it?” The two looked at each other, each measuring the mettle of the other. Neither showed any inclination of folding, and the stalemate stretched on, one silent moment at a time. Senka shifted his weight impatiently, and Muhjah conceded. **** Once the deal was ..."
"...Once the deal was struck, there was little reason to delay. Muhjah and Senka were given the opportunity to bathe and eat while Valdis arranged for their guide, Sanyue. They left as soon as she arrived, red-faced from her rush to respond to Valdis’s page. She looked at Muhjah and Senka in wide-eyed wonder. ..."
"... into the dark. “Whose house was that?” Muhjah asked. The dark was oppressive, and the silence only seemed to enhance the sensation. It made him edgy and oversensitive. He could tell Senka was feeling the same way. “It used to be mine. When this was discovered and sealed, I was ..."
"...Muhjah eased himself up and out of the subterranean passage and then reached down, pulling the lighter Senka quickly up behind him. They listened. There seemed to be a lot of foot traffic. They didn’t mind encountering and killing the guards, but they didn’t want to risk being seen before they could eliminate their discoverer. They needed the escape route to remain secret and clear. ..."
"...In his anger he only had eyes for Senka and stopping his liberating activities, but his bloodthirsty actions brought him to the riotous attention of the dirtied masses. Although they were weakened from poor diet, disheartened by extended sentences, and unarmed, they fell on him with their bare hands. Durward struck a number of them down, but their ..."
"...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 ..."
"... 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 ..."
"...Their guide, true to her word, was already gone. Muhjah and Senka plunged into the darkness. There was no time to consider options, and there was nothing to trip over, so Senka placed his shoulder to the wall to ensure direction, and they ran on. They wanted to be far enough into the darkness before they lit a torch to be ..."
"...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 ..."
"...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. She flinched violently when it was touched, but he was pleased ..."
"...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, ..."
"... come for them. Senka figured they had spent an hour in the prison and hadn’t been more than two hours in the tunnels. No one would be coming soon, and there was something he wanted to ask Muhjah. There wasn’t likely to be a time when he was less likely to be interrupted. “Muhjah, that ..."
"...Senka nodded. His first impression had been similar, and on more than one occasion he had seen that same icy calm descend. He had never worried about her when she had had that look. It had been missing since the incident by the river, and he often worried about her. ..."
"...Muhjah leaned his head against the wall. He stared out into the darkness beyond their small globe of light. It was a dangerous question Senka was asking. Considering his new protective nature, he was unlikely to like any honest answer Muhjah provided, but in all their years together he had never lied to Senka. Senka had a transparent, reflective quality about him that made it difficult to be anything but honest with him. ..."
"...The silence dragged on, and Senka knew Muhjah was trying to decide how to break something he wouldn’t like to him. Senka considered the answers available to Muhjah and knew he was likely trying to find a way around a hurtful answer. Senka knew better than most that you can care for a person and ..."
"...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. ..."
"...Senka grunted. He had borne that stigma all his life. He wasn’t going to argue about it now. Truthfully, he had no qualm with it. It reminded him of his mother, and he valued his few memories of her. She, like most people, had been too weak to stand up ..."
"...“Your father, he doesn’t understand, Senka, so you must forgive him. Pity him if you have to, but don’t let his fear and anger corrupt you. He’s extra stern because he’s afraid that people won’t accord you proper respect. You’ve heard the village gossips talk about you. You’ve heard them say that she never abandons ..."
"... child.” She was wracked by a coughing fit after that. Senka thought she had had more to say, but she had sent him away. Now, he understood as an adult what he hadn’t as a child. She had been dying. She had paid a heavy price to bring him into the world, and he felt loved for it. He turned ..."
"...She had given his father too much credit. She had credited him with reasonable actions, where none had existed. Perhaps she had needed to believe that to live with the man. Perhaps he really had been a better man once. It didn’t matter now. What mattered to Senka were the few memories of her and the two people currently huddling in the darkness with him. ..."
"...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 of the men she had killed in battle, leaving her shattered as she watched her own hands kill them over and over in her mind. They watched and waited. ..."
"... the darkness of the tunnel. They heard the sound of a throat clearing and relaxed. A matronly older woman emerged from the darkness’s cloak just a short distance away from where Senka and Muhjah were standing. “My name is Kurihi, and I have been caring for this passage for thirty years ..."
"...Senka and Muhjah relaxed with her news. Their competent guide led them down unknown corridors. However, Senka was fairly certain they were heading downhill, which surprised him. Eventually the resonance of their footfalls changed, and they emerged into a large cavern. They were on an upper tier, one of many. ..."
"...Kurihi took one of their torches and lit an oil burner, which fed a series of them. There was a slight whoosh and then a warm glowing light. Senka could see that this was an oft-frequented locale. There was detritus about: books, cups, articles of clothing, and such lay about in neat but obviously discarded piles. ..."
"...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 ..."
"...Muhjah returned some time later, his appearance much improved. He had washed out his clothing and scrubbed the filth of battle from his skin. He nodded to Senka, who rose to do the same. Senka had just returned when an earnest-looking young woman with cinnamon skin and deep-set dark eyes rushed in. She doubled over in an attempt to catch her breath. She was smiling broadly. ..."
"...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 ..."

Chapter 10: Chapter 10
"...Two days passed. The men rested comfortably and paced irritatingly. They acquiesced begrudgingly to the same plump healer who insisted that they be tended to in turn. It was discomforting. Senka couldn’t remember anyone but Muhjah ever tending a wound. He sat tense and jumpy until she finally heaved a sigh and poked a bruise viciously, causing Senka to start. ..."
"...She remembered Senka coming for her. She hadn’t been able to place him beyond familiarity. He had seemed to melt in and out of the darkness around him, making her wonder if he had really been there or was, perhaps, some otherworldly being come to taunt her. His intensity had frightened her. ..."
"...She looked blankly at the white, unadorned ceiling above her. Turning to her left, she let her eyes rest on Senka sleeping upright in a chair against the wall. She had never seen him sleep so deeply. Even when she had sneaked past him to make her frequent escapes, he had seemed poised and alert. Here, in the safety of unknown walls, leaving sentry duty to Muhjah, and sitting comfortably ..."
"...her fingers. Flexing her bicep stretched the skin around them, causing it to sting. No doubt I will be strictly instructed not to, she thought as she looked around. Where are we? What’s going on? She knew that it was best to wait for Muhjah if she wanted answers. Senka had spoken a sentence already, and it likely would be his only one of the day. ..."
"...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 had learned not to argue with ..."
"... 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 way now. We’re going to have to spend some time here.” “What Senka means is that you’re going to have to stay here, ..."
"... “What Senka means is that you’re going to have to stay here, and we’ll stay with you. You’re going to be ‘inaugurated into the arms of the blessed Goddess.’ That’s how they described it to us,” he said as if he had memorized a script or repeated it endlessly already. She ..."
"... they described it to us,” he said as if he had memorized a script or repeated it endlessly already. She looked from the morose Muhjah to the expressionless Senka. Neither met her eyes. “Didn’t anyone think to ask me what I might have thought of this plan?” The two men looked at ..."
"...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 ..."

Chapter 11: Chapter 11
"...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. ..."
"...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 within her was starving for blood, endorphins, and battle. She was still haunted by nightmares and longed to return to the oblivion ..."
"...For their parts Senka and Muhjah tried to enjoy the deceptively slow pace of the abbey. Their time there allowed them to note the bustle of activity to which the pilgrims, visiting merchants, spies, and gawkers weren’t privy. To the outside world, the priestesses appeared serene, leisurely, and jovial. They tended small garden ..."
"... amiss. Behind the walls, however, there was a bevy of secret activity. Muhjah and Senka were noticing an increase in traffic. The priestesses were gathering. The two were often called on to dine or share a cup of tea with a recently arrived superior from afar. It was tiresome. Muhjah was ..."
"...Senka wasn’t fairing as well. His silent demeanor was a damper at meals and made some uncomfortable. He hardly noticed. Awkward atmospheres and chilly stares were nothing new. What had been odd were those who ascribed it to a form of meditative asceticism. They regarded him as an anagami and ..."

Chapter 12: Chapter 12
"...She smelled the familiar scent of Muhjah’s pipe and sensed the ever-present gaze of Senka. They were near but no comfort to her now. She shivered and cringed, afraid. They weren’t coming to her rescue. Instinct told her to hide, but her silk prison wouldn’t allow it. She couldn’t do anything but struggle vainly and eventually concede defeat. ..."
"... meat and baked sweets. “We’ll feast, and then I believe your friends are eager to be rid of our hospitality.” There they were at last, Muhjah and Senka. “Wow, the new look is something else!” Muhjah said before crushing her in a hug. “That was quite the display back there. ..."
"... 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,” ..."
"...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. ..."
"... 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 ..."
"...We really would be ideal partners, she told herself, my heart only has room for one man and he is lost to me. To love another would be a betrayal I can’t broach and Senka is simply incapable of love. An emotion so heavy with implication would wither and die within him. He would have no use for it. It would be an unnecessary complication. ..."
"...Senka roused when she rose. He was lying on his stomach with his face turned away from her. There was a long scar running the length of his back, wrapping around his right hip and just up to his left shoulder. She had seen it many times before. Traveling as ..."
"...His father, master, and teacher had given it to him. He had believed pain would make his son strong, often leaving the child as a bleeding mass of lesions in the dust. He was relentless in his quest to make Senka the strongest. In one sense, he had been right. As he aged, Senka stopped what little crying out he had ever done and simply went away in his mind. His father hit him harder, but it never had mattered. He no longer felt it or much of anything else. ..."
"...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 had believed him blessed, but most had whispered that he had been damned and wished he would leave. His father’s sadistic nature had made him into a monster that had once been human. Some thought this worse, even as they smiled and greeted ..."
"...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 from his own darkness and catch her. ..."

Chapter 13: Chapter 13
"... a steaming cup of morning tea. The priestesses gathered in the courtyard to see them off. Muhjah was kissed many times. Senka was bowed to respectfully. One lank lady whispered, “I hope you find the peace you seek.” Lastly, the ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... was clear that something heavy, unbidden, and unspoken was being carried between them. It was Senka who broached the uninvited subject first. It was a question that couldn’t be ignored much longer. “Where are we going?” The two men looked toward Chiyo for an answer. She avoided ..."
"...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 awkward silence seemed to drag on. ..."
"...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, she thought. It’s simply the way things are. ..."
"...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 down and looked ..."
"...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 days. Her features had become too sharp, and her expression was one of perpetual challenge. Most found little welcoming about her, but occasionally ..."
"... She was washing her hands when Senka returned. She noted his raised eyebrow at the bowl of red water and that he took a closer look as he passed her his damp towel to pat them dry. He said nothing. She watched as he settled down for the evening, reading a tatty book left by a previous guest. ..."
"...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 ..."
"...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 was completely covered, she tiptoed past their bed and downstairs to get some tea. ..."
"...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 ..."
"...He was still considering his own feelings when she returned. He watched her ease the door closed while balancing the tea tray one-handed. She gave Muhjah a quick glance as she passed. He didn’t stir. Passing the tray to Senka, she crawled onto the bed and sat cross-legged. They sat, tray between them, sipping the steaming, soul-calming amber liquid. She looked to Senka like a child at a tea party, except that the company she surrounded herself with was neither soft, nor elegant; it was all claws and fangs ..."
"... soft, nor elegant; it was all claws and fangs just like her. She leaned against the wall and curled both hands around her teacup, pressing it to her chest. Senka reached out and stroked the swollen scabbed knuckles of her right hand. “This type of thing will bring attention to us. It’s ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... Muhjah roll over in his sleep. “I’m afraid,” she finally said. Senka raised an eyebrow. Fear was something they all acknowledged as necessary to survival, but it was not something they easily admitted to. “I’m supposed to have a plan,” she went on. “Muhjah’s waiting for ..."
"... them.” Her head snapped back. “You must be joking!” Senka shrugged. “Well, we’re already taking the fight practically to Kenichi’s door. We’ll be within a day of the capital by tomorrow evening. What would you call it?” “Revenge, I wasn’t going to pretend there was some ..."
"... 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 ..."

Chapter 15: Chapter 15
"...Outside of the palace she sensed Senka’s eager anticipation, and she reveled mentally in the obliteration sure to come. It gripped her like a drug, the fix so close she could almost taste its metallic tang. She imagined it and played it out in her mind. Her pulse quickened as if the hand of a nimble ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... good, but that’s not it is it? The emperor’s just convenient.” Another peal of laughter broke free, and she doubled over with the force of it. Senka dried his face, sat down next to her, and beat her on the back. “I’m okay. I’m okay,” she said, waving him off. “Oh god, my ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... breathless and afraid. She woke to the gray dawn. **** For three days she, Senka, and Muhjah watched the city. They listened to the local gossip and learned. Each night they watched the castle, and she dreamt of women in mourning. Only once more had she been able to slip a small resin ball ..."
"...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 remained always at her side. ..."
"...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. ..."
"... to detail. Stepping around the fallen guard, she rushed on to meet his comrades, leaping headlong into their tightly packed ranks. She thought little after that—she just unleashed a pure, instinctive, rage-driven battle. She hoped Senka was lucky enough to have found the same. They ..."
"... prepare to lunge. Muhjah saw Senka come flying from his own hallway like a burst dam. He was radiantly alive. He was in rare form, and Muhjah was blessed to watch as he flowed, like water, from one red uniform to the next, leaving nothing but streaming blood in his wake. Can we really all ..."
"...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 she did, but she didn’t think of that. She saw only the edge of ..."
"...confused faces of the nyims and the scheming faces of the country’s neighboring rulers. It wasn’t exactly a plan, he thought to himself. How could I have even imagined such a thing as this? Never one to miss an opportunity, he knew he must be quick. He looked at Senka and saw his own thoughts mirrored there. ..."
"... heir, there was protocol to be followed. “This is unheard of,” one muttered. Senka put a knife in his throat. The rest bowed low with their foreheads to the floor in a respectful Goshu-zarei. Chiyo was panic-stricken. She felt as if she was suffocating. She looked at the people ..."

Chapter 16: Chapter 16
"...enthronement spread like a wildfire. It was generally received well with only a few minor uprisings in the capital by those in support of Emperor Kenichi’s three-year-old nephew’s right to rule with his father acting as proxy. All were easily quelled by the guard or a well-placed assassination by Senka. Everyone saw his or her opportunity to profit or prosper by the change in the regime. ..."
"... many lives will I be forced to lose? The silk could hide more than one type of scar, and she had so many. The only thing that kept her going was anger. At least there really is nothing left to me to lose. Even Senka and Muhjah are traitors to me now. Shortly she would officially take the ..."
"...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 ..."
"... 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 ..."
"... standing closest to her instinctively inched away, unaware of what exactly they suddenly feared. She didn’t see him, but behind her Senka was smiling, knowing he would have plenty to do. ..."

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