Wisps of steam curled up from the delicate tea cup Ikoma Illya had set upon the low table before her into the cool air of the morning. The year was growing pregnant with the threat of winter, and soon Toturi the Black lion would seek shelter for his army of cast off samurai and other allies. “Perhaps Toturi will call them back…perhaps…he will return to my arms…”
Feeling her face flush with evidence of visible emotion, the historian picked up her courtier’s fan from the stand it occupied next to her and used it to indicate her cup for the attendant kneeling in the corner to fill. The servant quickly moved forward averting her eyes discreetly so as not to suggest attention to her mistress’ indiscretion. Illya quickly brought the fragile vessel to her lips and let it linger momentarily, the fresh warm vapors of the oolong tea providing a cover for her cherry blossomed cheeks.
Recovering her composure as the attendant returned submissively to her corner of the tent, the influence of her longing brought Illya’s gaze to…the box.
Tajiri had left it for her as he departed with the rest of the Shiroi Hayabusa-The Black Falcons-on a mission he could not, or would not, speak of. Immobile in the grasp of the memory of that morning, the swirls of vapor from the cup still held to her mouth drifted up and into her eyes, surely forcing the waters that began to fill them…
“I leave this for you, my love.” Tajiri whispered into her ear as he lay beside her, and rolled to one side.
She raised herself upon one elbow, peering over his muscled shoulder inked with the blood of a dragon into an image of swirling clouds. Following the gaze of his eyes peering from between the claws of the scorpion tattooed upon his face, Illya saw a lacquered box resting on the ground next to their bed. Its surface was intricately carved on all sides as well as the lid with images…a Scorpion bushi, swirling shadowy tendrils, a falcon and several others. Five symbols…each one of the sacred elements…stood out however, in baas relief. The symbol of the Void held the position on the lid, while Fire, Earth, Air and Water each claimed one of the sides.
Gently grazing her lover’s shoulder with her lips, the Lion bard cascaded her discerning gaze across the object, noting the conspicuous absence of hinges, hasp, or even seams.
Tajiri reached up to his elbow where her delicate fingers rested and pulled her arm around him. Illya’s lips escaped the monk’s clouds and she rested her chin upon them instead, her bright eyes still fixed upon the box as her dark black hair chased strands of itself across his chest and neck as it fell.
“I see no way to open it, my wise and canny lord…”Illya said, a warm and happy smile upon her lips as she mischievously traced the tattooed swirls of air currents from one clouded shoulder to the other with her now-free hand.
Tajiri’s fingers found their way from her hand to wind through the tousled ebon locks upon him
“Solve the puzzles, the riddles of the elements, and you will find inside a gift I have made for you. When the time is right, you will know what to do with it.”
With that statement, the ise zumi rose abruptly from their tatami mat bed, the covers falling from his lean but strong frame. He stood with his back to Illya, a large tattoo of a spider between his shoulder blades, two legs extending up the sides of his neck, two across his ribs, and two each across the backs of his arms and legs. The monk’s departure from their bed left Illya’s own body exposed…small perfect breasts now hidden by long black hair that hung down to a narrow waist attached to shapely hips only partially hidden by the scattered blankets. Startled by this strange move, Illya stared, almost hurt inwardly by the abandonment, as she slowly pulled the edge of the blanket up over her bosom…her eyes fixed on Tajiri’s rigid form.
Illya’s question was silenced by the rush of wind in the room as Tajiri suddenly acted. The clouds on his shoulders swirled, and the lines of wind between them roiled. With movements as precise as they were swift, the monk dressed himself and had gathered his satchel across his bear chest. Before her hair had settled, Tajiri stood before his love’s startled face.
“Your name is Illya Ikoma, and I love you.”
With that, Tajiri cupped her face with his hands and kissed her long and deeply. As he pulled his lips away, a chill from Tajiri’s right hand…the one transformed into purest crystal…invaded her blood and carried that coldness straight to her heart. Closing her eyes, she knew that he was gone as the air recoiled from his movements, the sounds of papers fluttering to the floor from her records…
A long moment passed before she opened her eyes, and in that interim the chill in her heart had not faded.
Confused and saddened, she could only punctuate Tajiri’s absence by whispering to nothing…
Illya’s reverie was broken by the movements of her attendant. She still held the steaming cup to her lips in both hands.Kneeling, head down, the young girl offered a clean linen raised above her head to Illya. At first confused, the historian then realized her face had grown wet.
“The dew from my lady’s cup has gathered upon her face.” The attendant said.
A weak smile came to Illya’s round face. Her servant’s discretion would be rewarded.
“You may take leave to pursue your personal affairs for the hour.” Illya said as she took the silken linen and began to dab her face.
“Hai! My lady!” the attendant said as she touched her forehead to the ground and quickly rose and moved out the door of the tent.
Setting her cup down and clutching linen and fan in one hand, Illya moved before the box and kneeled before it. Each morning she devoted one hour to its mysteries. Most mornings met with frustration and disappointment. Even if one symbol was unlocked, a mistake made in the solving of the next would reset the previous symbols and all would have to begin again. On this morning, Illya began with four victories…Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Only Void remained unchallenged. Illya sat and merely stared at the raised symbol for nearly the entire hour. Finally it occurred to her…This was the symbol of Void. The solution to solving it simply required…
As the last minute of the hour passed into forever ago, Illya had done…nothing.
Ikoma Illya smiled as the soft sound of a click came to her ears…