The crowd dispersed and after a few polite goodbyes and discretely insincere requests for the kami to watch over various members of the court, Ikoma Jun took his leave from watching the monk leap from tall buildings. The night was young and there were things to do, plans to be made, and all manner of pretty women with which to distract himself.
The first stop was a dignified place, the Tranquil Cup. Not the highest quality tea house in the area but what it lacked in finery, it made up for in excellently prepared tea. You could tell what priorities the proprietor had, as the tables were solid but not particularly fine and the ornamentation on the walls was minimal and generally unassuming. There was virtually nothing to distract the patrons from the tea and each other. Taking what had become his usual place within, he sat and ordered from the pretty but unassuming serving girl. A meal of fish and rice accompanied by the house tea was set before him and another across the table as well. Jun spent a few moments in arranging the plates, bowls, and cups to his wishes, eyed the placement, then sat down and waited with his eyes closed till he heard soft footsteps approaching from the entrance after a few quietly exchanged words.
Opening his eyes, he stood gracefully and bowed, dipping slightly lower than protocol required and accepting her return bow before gesturing toward the table. The newcomer reminded him of porcelain, pale and beautiful, seemingly too delicate to handle by those of rough demeanors. Doji Ronshouko moved to sit in the place indicated and Jun stepped to his original place, sitting with considerably less grace than his guest.
The meal with the albino Crane went well, though with nothing remarkable happening. She was pretty and pleasant and Jun felt that they both came out of the meeting with a positive view of the other so it was worth the time spent if for no other reason than developing positive relations with a potentially powerful ally at the Iron Flower. She had noted his tutelage of the albino child, which worked in his favor with her but he knew would be something he had to defend with most of the other courtiers he encountered. So be it.
After his guest bowed and excused herself, Jun drained his cup and stood slowly, the pain in his knees making him feel older than he was. He knew that bushi trained in the more martial aspects of life for a greater time than he did, but he doubted they slammed themselves repeatedly into much larger men to develop their skill. Except maybe the Crab. With a sigh, he drug himself to his next destination and put on a different smile than the one he wore for Ronshouko. Not that it either was insincere, it was simply that the facet he presented here was definitely different. Expression firmly in place, he stepped through the entrance of the House of the Blooming Lotus and glanced around. Several regulars to this geisha house were already in place, a few of them members of the growing “Midnight Court.” Since Jun’s arrival, he had taken to staying up late, drinking and telling stories in the geisha houses around the Kyuden. He went to a different one each night, cycling through them so that he could mingle with all sorts and for other reasons of his own. A few had started to follow suit, playing games of Go, telling their own stories, and listening to what the others had to say and soon it had become a game in and of itself. Jun would never announce where he would be that night but would drop hints through the day and those clever enough to figure it out or rich enough to pay someone else to be clever would inevitably meet him there. The day’s court would inevitably be discussed but the mood was always light, any seriousness broken up by the constant telling of tales, games, and geisha. Even Ikoma Kazue had taken to showing up occasionally to listen and watch the antics. This was definitely not a time for the delicate natured as sake was liberally provided.
Jun mingled, and joked, and told tales. Some true, some made up, more than a few were comical fabrications about those in attendance around him which always made for a red face followed by ridiculous laughter that could be heard nowhere else without disgrace. Jun loved the atmosphere. After a couple hours of this, Jun excused himself and made his way home, his mind running rampant and wondering why he had hadn’t drank more sake to shut it up. Slipping into his room and out of his kimono, he took the tassel out of his obi and ran his fingers along the purple and white strings. Bringing it to his lips, he stared into the darkness and let his heart darken with the shadows that surrounded him. His father had taken her from him, just as the man had taken his hand. Spiteful, cruel, and a superstitious fanatic, Ikoma Jidai would pay for what he had done but not yet. Right now he could not hold on to that anger, though, the silken threads binding him to different memories. Lao-Kira had been a brief moment in his life but like a firework, she had been explosive and beautiful. Pure in her heart and honorable beyond even him, he had fallen for her but now she was gone. Jun missed her. He missed her passion for life and her lack of pretense. She was proof that he was not cursed. Until she was taken. A tear slipped down his cheek as sadness started to give way to the anger again, only to be startled completely out of him by a light touch on his shoulder.
Jun nearly jumped through the paper wall in his attempt to stand but fell short as he heard a soft, pure laughter that froze his heart and his limbs. He turned quickly, afraid that she would disappear before his saw her if he was not quick enough to respond. His recently attained balance gave way and he slumped to his knees as he saw her just as she was the night she professed her feelings. Her features were exquisite, the kimono simple but beautifully designed with clouds that were shaped into unicorns. And her smile. Sad, happy, and worried. When Jun’s own smile came through, the worry faded from Lao-Kira’s lips and she stepped close to extend her hand. Accepting her offered help, Jun stood and took in her radiance for the briefest of moments before she engulfed him in an embrace and the glow of her spiritual aura. A short eternity later, she pulled away and sat down on his pallet with Jun following suit.
“I do not understand, Lao-Kira-chan. Is it this place that draws you so powerfully?”
The former Shiotome shook her head and continued to smile. “No,” she said, “I heard your call and an old, scarred man bid me follow the pull of your voice. Kitsu said he was not surprised at your choice of who to call first.” Her smile turned embarrassed the illumination of the spirit aura only showed the blush of her cheeks in greater detail as she added, “I am not disappointed. However, I cannot remain here all night, there are limits to the strength of your call. Usually, the spirits in Yomi are not prone to answering your call without their own reasons. The spirits of Toshigoku, however, have little choice but to answer. I wanted to let you know that, since apparently this blessing is rarely offered outside of the your cousins.”
Jun nodded as he listened, returning, “It seems Kitsu-sama was very informative.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “It seems that he has been waiting for you to manifest this far. I do not know why he has such an interest in you, but I cannot say I am bothered.”
The next hour was spent in conversation between the two former loves, her explaining what had happened and conveying information Kitsu now deemed him necessary of knowing and pleasantries they had longed to share for two quiet years. Once the magic faded and Lao-Kira faded back into Yomi, Jun laid his head upon the pillow and tried to think on what he had learned but the left over warmth of her body drew him into sleep where he spent the rest of the evening before it was time to wake.