Choice: An Original Short

Well, I recently finished the book I had been writing and was all happy. And then I sat down at my computer the next night and was all like “oh crap I have nothing to write.” So to alleviate boredom, and partly because this concept had been bouncing around in my head for a while now, I wrote this original short story, Choice.

What is it about? The story of a young woman whose life is turned upside down in a shocking series of events (etc.) set in a rich and fulfulling fantasy background (as rich and fulfilling as a short story’s background can be -_-). I won’t be posting the whole thing at once, since it’s too long, but I’ll put it up in sections. Please please please comment and/or criticize as you see fit. I put stuff here so you all can read it and then give me feedback. It’s part of improving my writing style and flow.

A brief note before commencing the story: this is set in a Japanese-type environment, and so many of the characters address each other using Japanese honorifics. You ask why, and I reply that the honorifics impart a good sense of context and relationship between the characters. If you’ve never heard of these, the format is {character’s name}-honorific. Here’s a brief rundown of the honorifics implemented in Choice.

kun - Modernly used by male students or people who grew up together to address one another as a display of affection, but this functionality is not used in Choice. The other meaning, the one that is used in this story, is superior-to-inferior - a commanding officer would address his subordinate using kun, for example.

san - The Japanese equivlanet of the English Mr., Mrs. Ms., etc. It’s used much more extensively in Japanese than Mr. and the like is used in English, though, and even enemies can be addressed with san. In Choice, it is used in the context that though it does not really imply equality between the user of the honorific and the one being addressed, it does not indicate superior-to-inferior, deference, etc., so it is used in the sense that equals address one another as san.

sama - This is the respectful equivlanet of san, and is used when addressing someone of much higher rank than you are. In the commanding-officer-talking-to-the-subordinate example, the subordinate would probably address his commander as sama. It can also be used to address someone you have a crush on.

dono - Very respectful, even moreso than san, the effect in Japanese conversation is “Milord {character’s name}.” It can also be used to indicate deep respect and humility.

Now without further ado…

An Original Short Story by Mengde

Dramatis Personae
Janus, disciple of the Order of Vision (unknown age, male)
Toyame, priestess of her Master’s shrine (twenty years of age, female)
Toshimichi Ukina, foremost warrior of the kingdom (forty-four years of age, male)
Kosuke Masahige, seventy-fourth Emperor of Creation (seventy-six years of age, male)
Tenkan, initiate of the Order of Vision (twenty-two years of age, male)
Okita, leader of the Order of Vision (forty-one years of age, male)
Heigöro, military scientist of the kingdom (fifty-three years of age, male)

Lit by the full moon, the sky cast a steady white glow down upon the holy shrine. Priestess Toyame placed the last of the night’s wards and retired to her room. It was not her night to lie with the Master; the honor was held tonight by Priestess Muhaya. Her keen intellect told Toyame that she should experience jealousy at Muhaya reveling with the Master, but just as it always had, the presence calmed her and told her it was of no consequence.

Toyame had neither mother nor a father. She had been born of their union, certainly, but she did not recognize either as a guiding figure in her life. Whatever village had seen her born in it had been razed to the ground when she was still too young to remember any details of it. It had been the Master that had saved her, the Master that had brought her to the shrine and raised her. She did not feel as though the Master was a parent so much as a constant companion in her life.

Oftentimes her awareness would detect the signs of jealousy at her beauty in the other girls at the shrine, repressed by the presence. She was tale and pale, with a flawless complexion and deep blue eyes. Her body was perfect, every feature seemingly unearthly in its beauty. Her long black hair descended to the small of her back, and light skittered over it as if it was too afraid to touch it lest it tarnish it. The other girls could not boast that they compared with her.

The presence did not suppress pride so much as it did jealousy, but it did suppress arrogance, so Toyame went about in a mixed kind of superiority, feeling better than the other girls at the shrine but unable to lord it over them. She would be self-centered and something of a vixen should she not be under the guidance of the presence, so if it allowed her to be vexed then her situation would have vexed her in the extreme. Still, the presence was there, ever watchful and ever guiding. She thanked it daily, but at the same time there was a hollowness in her thanks, one that she could not expunge no matter what purification she underwent or how many times she lay with the Master.

Visitors often came to the shrine seeking shelter or companionship. None came seeking worship. Toyame often wondered why. Did they not know of the great God that governed them all? Could it be that their belief was not universally shared, as the Master assured them it was? But when these questions came to mind, the presence would always soothe her, and reassure her that these were silly things to worry herself over.

Toyame lay down upon the sleeping mat in her room and tried to compose herself. The presence always told her that if she was beautiful enough while she slept and had no dreams she could remember, it would please the master and she might lie with him the next day. Every night she composed herself thus and tried her hardest not to remember her dreams. It was difficult, though. Of late she had been having strange vision-dreams, the sort that were not easily or wisely forgotten. She could never lie to the Master nor conceal anything from the Master, so when the Master inquired as to what dreams she had been having, Toyame came straight out with her vision-dreams. She spoke of a one-eyed man in black, though how she knew he had only one eye she was uncertain, as she never saw his face. The Master’s face became serious, and Toyame was afraid she had upset the Master. The Master did not inquire as to what dreams she had been having after that, and the presence reassured Toyame it was for the best.

Sighing ever so slightly, she settled beneath the light blanket, placed her hands upon her breast, and closed her eyes. I shall be perfect for the Master.

“Indeed, many would say you are perfect.”

Toyame started and sat bolt upright, staring at the figure that had come into her room.

He was dressed in a black robe that covered him from navel to ankles. His feet were wrapped in grey bandages to protect them from the elements. His hair, which was at least as long as Toyame’s, was a dark grey. He was sitting with his back against the far wall, right leg stretched out, left leg pulled up so the knee was level with his shoulder. His left hand, with its long, delicate fingers, was placed against the floor; his right rested upon the long, curved sheath of his sword. It was a katana, the iron silver-inlaid hilt touching against the wall next to his head, the tip of the lacquered black sheath balanced against the floor. His face was hard-set, handsome in a cruel fashion.

Toyame stared into his eyes.

His left eye was cold, a light shade of blue. A few shades lighter and it would be the eye of a madman; as it was, it showed a degree of intensity that was not so much unpleasant as it was frightening.

His right eye socket did not possess a human eye. Rather, it held a metal one forged from silver. It had no iris or pupil, but where the two would be there was a glyph burned into the metal. Toyame’s training as a priestess told her it was the glyph of Vision, forbidden arcana that involved the past, the future, and how the two interacted with one another. She perceived that the glyph was also inlaid in silver upon the hilt of the man’s katana.

“Who –”

“I say that you are fatally flawed,” he cut her off. His voice was deep, slicing through the chill air like a blade. “You seek perfection for the wrong reasons. What is gold if it is cast into a dagger for use in a demon’s ritual? What is the diamond that is left in the rock? It is fruitless, wasted.”

“What do you go on about?” Toyame asked shrilly. Her rich, velvet voice sounded strained and pathetic in her own ears.

The man’s left eye looked around the room, drinking in every detail, but his right eye stayed fixated upon Toyame, its unblinking gaze staring balefully at her. She felt naked before it, so intense was its effect.

“What might have been,” he went on, “is not what is happening now. That much is clear, though I would wish differently. Cast your last prayers, woman. This place burns tonight.”

Toyame sprang to her feet and grabbed her staff, which was leaning against the wall opposite the man. It was fine mahogany, layered with a seal to prevent it from ever being broken and to aid in fighting demons. “I will insist that you leave, sir.”

A grin spread across the man’s features. “The night is only just beginning, little priestess. I will insist that I stay.” He rose to his feet in an almost languid fashion, but there was a power in his movements that belied the loose, soft way in which he carried them out. His grip upon the hilt of his sword tightened ever so slightly as he raised it so that its guard was level with his eyes, the sheath pointing straight down towards the floor. He placed his thumb against the glyph of Vision upon the blade’s hilt, and it began to glow an ominous red. The glyph on his right eye, too, began to glow, and a similar glow seemed to emanate from his chest, almost invisible through his black robes.

“I would not want to see you injured, sir,” Toyame warned him, trying to control her wavering voice.

By way of reply, the man launched himself at her in a motion so swift she was unsure whether she had seen it properly or not. The runes stopped glowing as the sword, which was a moment before straight out in front of him, fell behind him in his charge. He held it in a reverse grip, so that the sheathed blade protruded outwards in his wake while the hilt preceded him by the barest distance. Toyame swung her staff in a downwards arc that would have cracked him upon the dome of his head, but he dodged with uncanny speed, and, having come within range, delivered her a blow to the abdomen with his sword’s hilt. She collapsed, stunned, to the floor. The presence screamed at her to get to her feet and defend the shrine and the Master, but she found herself unable to obey.

“You will be able to move again shortly. I would not see you perish. When the flames I set purify this place, do not go the front entrance, for falling timbre will block your way. Rather, go to the shrine pagoda, climb it, and use your height there to leap over the compound fence. Waste no time in ascending the pagoda, for it is sentenced to destruction the moment you set foot upon its roof.”

Toyame tried to speak, but found herself unable to manage even that.

“I will be waiting for you when you emerge from the ashes,” the man concluded. Without another word, he slid open the door to the hall leading to the Master’s chambers.

It took several minutes for Toyame to recover from the blow she had been dealt. As soon as she could move, she grabbed her staff from upon the ground where it had fallen from nerveless fingers and made for the Master’s chambers. The presence told here there was nothing less she could do for the Master than sacrifice herself in his defense. Doubt flooded her mind. Would such an effort prove to be enough, enabling the Master to strike down his opponent or at least get away?

Surprise took her as the presence lashed out at her for such disobedient thoughts. Pain shot through her breast as her heart was squeezed by some invisible force, warning her that she should not question the presence.

The presence has never hurt me before. Why now? When she stopped for even a moment to reflect on her situation, Toyame realized that she was not only thinking disobedient thoughts, but her mind was flooded with emotions the presence normally suppressed. Could it be losing its power?

Another wave of pain struck her, and the presence reprimanded her again.

She arrived at her master’s outer chamber to see the entrance door closed. Sliding it open, Toyame nearly fainted at what she beheld within.

Her sisters were scattered throughout the room, all dead. Some had been decapitated, others simply drawn in half. Uniformly, the wounds showed no blood. Upon closer inspection, Toyame saw that they had been cauterized at the same instant they had been inflicted. That told her the stranger’s blade had a heat enchantment upon it. The Master had told her that heat enchantments were specifically designed to allow infliction of wounds without drawing blood. They were a favorite amongst assassins that preferred to leave not a trace of their handiwork. Those dark figures would kill their targets and then secret the bodies away, to be buried or fully cremated. Making an enemy disappear became much easier when there was no blood to identify that they had been murdered.

Is this stranger an assassin like the ones the Master told me about? What does he want here?

Toyame flew to the door leading to the Master’s inner chamber, where the Master and whoever was chosen to lie with the Master reveled and did as they pleased.

Praying that the Master would not banish her for opening the inner chamber door without explicit permission, Toyame slid it open, brandishing her staff.

Muhaya lay dead at her feet, a long slash from right shoulder to left hip having spelled the end of her. The stranger was standing before the Master, who was clothed in the traditional robes of God. The Master’s open, softly beautiful features contrasted strongly with the sharp, handsome ones of the stranger. Her enemy now held his sword in his left hand by the sheath. His right hung at his side.

Upon seeing her, the Master’s eyes grew worried, and the Master told her, “Flee! This man means to kill me and you as well!”

The stranger spat contemptuously upon the ground. Toyame clenched her teeth in rage against the desecration of the Master’s holy inner chamber.

“Heathen priest,” the stranger rasped.

“How dare you address the Master as such!” Toyame cried. “The Master is no heathen!”

The man looked over his shoulder at her. His dual gazes bored into her skull, and his mouth widened in a maniacal grin. “Is he not?”

“You defile the Master!” Toyame shrieked. “You address the Master with a common pronoun!”

The grin widened even more. “We will see how you view your precious Master once his influence over you is dead and gone.” He turned back to the Master. “Heathen priest. I shall give you a moment to pray to your forsaken God before stating your crimes and delivering your punishment.”

“God is with me always,” the Master retorted. “I need no time to pray, for he is here, witnessing this butchery.”

“Then let him know that you are guilty of harboring this girl for your own purposes, keeping her under the influence of magics damned by the Emperor, and refuting her right to Choice. For these crimes I sentence you to death.”

Toyame screamed and lunged with her staff. The Master simultaneously reached into his sleeve for one of the protection sutras he kept there.

The stranger was faster than both of them. In one fluid movement he loosed his sword from its sheath. A harsh red glow lit the air as the blade came free, its smoldering metal glowing a deep orange. Before the Master could cry out or ward off the attack, the Master was sliced through the chest by the stranger. Cleaved in twain, the Master fell to the ground, killed instantly.

As the sword exited the Master’s already-dead body, the stranger spun on the balls of his feet and brought his weapon around in an arc that connected with the tip of Toyame’s staff. The tough mahogany, strengthened even further by the seals the Master had placed upon it, proved no match for the weapon it faced. Toyame’s eyes widened as the smoldering blade of her foe slashed into the wood and swept clean through. The enemy struck with such force that his blade not truly connecting with her weapon was of no consequence. Her attack deflected, Toyame tumbled to the ground, her coordination momentarily gone.

She looked up from her position upon the floor to see the stranger press his weapon’s smoldering blade into the opulent blankets of the Master’s bed, setting them ablaze. Involuntarily, her gaze flicked to the Master. He lay there, dead, his wounds not even bleeding.


Toyame had done the unthinkable. She had referred to him – no, the Master – using a common pronoun. Such an act indicated the utmost disrespect.

“You are beginning to feel his hold on you weaken, no?” The stranger barked a harsh laugh. “Remember what I told you. Climb the pagoda. The main gate offers nothing but death.”

He sheathed his sword and moved swiftly out of the room. By the time Toyame picked herself up, he was gone.

Toyame felt no sadness at the loss of the Master. Why she did not she was unsure. Perhaps it had to do with the way he had treated her and the rest of her sisters – mere objects, pawns, stairs that he might ascend to a goal. She had long known of some of his darker ambitions, but never had she questioned them, for the presence would always soothe her and tell her that the Master would never do any of the things about which he murmured in his sleep.

Now the presence was silent, possibly dead. Could it have really been the Master’s way of keeping her and the rest of her sisters in line? Toyame had never thought about it.

No, that was wrong. She had thought about it a great deal, but always the presence would reassure her and tell her that such thoughts were merely fancy, things of no consequence.

Has this man done me a good turn?

Aflutter and choked by the fumes of the blaze that had already spread to the outer courtyard, Toyame forgot what the stranger had told her and made for the main gate. A moment before she ran through it, she recalled the stranger’s words and stopped at once. No sooner had she done so than did the gate collapse in a tumbling wave of flame and wood. If she had taken two more steps she would be pinned beneath the rubble and would certainly burn to death.

Turning about, she fled the main gate and ran to the shrine pagoda. The only stone structure in the entire compound, it alone stood against the blaze. It was two stories, with a small door set in the ceiling of the second story that led to the roof, to be used in case of a fire. Toyame did not bother to reflect that the door was about to serve its intended purpose, but instead applied her intellect to calculation. She would have to leap with a good amount of power at a precise angle in order to clear the high walls of the compound. The compound itself stood upon the summit of a large, gently sloping hill, so if she rolled when she landed she would be all right.

Entering the pagoda, Toyame ran pell-mell up the flight of stairs to the upper level. She felt the air grow hot as the flames shot through the dry summer grass surrounding the building.

Opening the door, Toyame scrambled onto the sloped surface of the roof and found her footing, clasping her staff for balance. Looking down, she saw that she was surrounded by a sea of flame that would devour her if she made the slightest mistake in her jump.

Again Toyame had forgotten the warning of the stranger, but she remembered it again in time to save her life. Waste no time in ascending the pagoda, for it is sentenced to destruction the moment you set foot upon its roof.

Toyame heard a horrible creaking sound. Turning her head to locate the source, she observed with no small amount of fear that one of the great trees in the rear courtyard had been eaten through by the flames and was falling. It was high enough that it would impact the pagoda as it fell and crush Toyame to jelly if she did not jump.

Jump she did. In two strides she arrived at the edge of the roof. With the third she planted her foot firmly against the edge and pushed off with all her strength.

Toyame could not remember the jump. All she could recall was falling, seeing that she had cleared the fence but would hit the ground head-first.

Two feet from having her skull crushed by the impact, Toyame came to a sudden halt.

The stranger had been waiting for her, just as he had said he would be. He had caught her as she fell and had saved her life.

He set her gently down upon the ground. Clasping his hand to his weapon’s hilt, he again placed his palm against the glyph there. It began to glow that same red again, as did the glyph upon his right eye.

For a moment he stood silent, and the next he removed his hand from his weapon and took in its grip Toyame’s hand. “We leave now,” he said brusquely. “The demons inhabiting the nearby hills will gather to see where the flames have come from, and I would rather not have to fight some of the more powerful specimens I saw.” He looked her in the eye, but he did so with his left eye, not his right. “I see many questions in your eyes, but you must keep them in check until we are at a place where we can talk safely. This is not such a place.”

Toyame did not stop to consider the implications of the night’s happenings. It was beyond her how things could change so dramatically in less than an hour. All that remained was for her to react and to survive. Taking preemptive action now was useless.

She let the stranger pull her to her feet and ran with him as they fled the shrine.

More later. As I said, I’m posting this up for your enjoyment and so I can get suggestions for improvement. With this story, I’m experimenting with a stiffer, more formal kind of language, and the characters are supposed to be very serious, so there aren’t many contractions to be found, especially in their speech. Until next time.

Intense. Reminds me of something I heard in history class. The shogun, Toyayomi Hideoshi i think, ordered the massacre of the Christian Daimiyos and their followers. Is this story based on that?

It’s not strictly based off of anything historical. It does have a few historical elements scattered here and there, but no real Japanese history. Pretty much fiction all the way. This killing of the Shrine priestesses and their Master just starts out the story.

Interesting. Very interesting, indeed. I’d very much like to see the rest.

Update time!

An indeterminate amount of time later, Toyame and the stranger arrived at a small dwelling built in the shadow of a large tree. The old couple was more than willing to let the two of them spend the night. Oddly enough, they were unfazed by the stranger’s silver eye and weapon.

“I suppose you have lodged here before?” Toyame asked.

The stranger nodded. “Yes. They know me better than most. I am the one who married them.”

Toyame looked with no small amount of surprise at the stranger. “Pardon my asking, but how old are you?”

Her question received a shrug. “I stopped counting a very long time ago. I believe I was fifty when I ceased caring how much time had passed since the day of my birth.”

“How old were these two people when you married them?”

“Grandpa Yusuke was twenty. Grandma Shouta was seventeen.”

Looking back at the old couple, both of whom were now asleep on their mats, Toyame estimated their ages to be about fifty or sixty.

“How old were you when you married them?”


Eyeing the stranger, Toyame hazarded, “So you are about seventy or eighty years old. You do not look it.”

“I do not look a great many things.”

“Do you have a name?”

“I have a name, but nobody has used it in so long I have forgotten it. I go by the monicker Janus.”

Toyame frowned. “It is not a name I am familiar with. What does it reference?”

“Janus is a god with two faces, who looks back along the road Time has taken and forward along the path it has yet to take. I am similar to him in that, so I use his name in lieu of my own. He is not a god of our country, but rather a foreign god from the West.” Janus looked at Toyame with an expression of mild surprise. “My speaking of other gods does not faze you? You, who have spent your life in a shrine dedicated to a false god invented by a mad priest?”

“I am… unsure. It is clear to me now that the Master had us under some sway, but to what end I am ignorant.”

Janus waved a hand dismissively. “He was a damned fool. He kept a collection of girls in what he dared to call a shrine, using a potent mixture of demonic sorcery, false religion, and sexual allure to keep them docile and to assure that they would see to his needs. There is no great end there. What you heard while lying at his side, what he murmured unknowingly about conquest and glory, was mere fantasy, the fevered dreams of an addled and weak mind.”

Toyame resisted a strong urge to leap to her feet, to get away from this man. “How is it you know so much?”

Janus looked at her with his cold right eye, another one of his manic smiles creeping across his face. “Toyame, did I not explain it? I see what has been and what will come to be. It is my gift and my curse, that which is bestowed upon me by my discipline of Vision.”

I never told him my name.

“It is always there, in my mind, the great stream of Time. I see its eddies and flows, the permutations as it adapts to Choice.”

Slowly, Toyame forced herself to sit again. Inhaling and exhaling slowly to calm herself, she regained her composure and sat silently for a few moments. As calm returned to her, she asked, “Why did you do all this? Why did you slaughter everyone in the shrine but me? Why did you save me?”

“You recall my mentioning Time’s adaptation to Choice.”

“I do.”

“You comprehend what I mean by that?”

“I am afraid I do not.”

Janus leaned forward, as if to impart a sense of closeness or secrecy. “I perceive the stream of Time, Toyame. I see every way it can go. Every Choice that is made causes a split in the stream of Time and makes it go in a different direction. I comprehend all directions in which Time can possibly take, and thereby I comprehend all Choice which can possibly be made.” His manic smile widened, and Toyame noted with some uneasiness that the man’s left eye had fogged over and become unfocused, as if he had fallen asleep or been hypnotized. She was not at all sure Janus was mentally stable. From the way he described his power, Toyame inferred that its power was such that it put great stress upon his mind. He has, as he has told me, lived a very long time. All those years of carrying this burden may be weighing down on him in more ways than one.

“When I found your Master’s abominable shrine, I focused. I called the vision of the stream of Time to me and noted to what extent those who lived in the shrine exerted Choice upon the stream. I perceived that every girl there save one had fallen victim to your Master’s wiles and had put all thought of leaving or even deviating from what their Master desired of them from their minds. I saw that your Master was sunk in vice and dissipation and would continue his vile ways until his very death. You were the sole being in the shrine that had some measure of Choice left, and the heathen priest was robbing it from you. I destroyed him and all the others because they were of no use, and thereby allowed your exertion of Choice free reign.”

“You saved my right to choose?” Toyame asked confusedly.

“Dear child, you are born with the right to choose. What had been taken from you was the ability. I liberated it and returned it to you from those who would hold it hostage.”

“But still the question remains as to why you did it.”

Janus’ left eye suddenly unclouded and focused so intensely upon Toyame that she felt as if she would break out in perspiration.

“It is a strange thing, Choice,” he murmured. “So many exercise it every day, yet so few make a difference. You, dear Toyame, are one of the few who can make that difference. You see…” He idly ran his fingers across his right eye. “I keep my consciousness separate from the stream of Time because my identity is concrete, unchangeable in a base sense. The stream of Time veers and twists and is in a sense unpredictable. It is as clay in the hands of a potter. Suppose that all Choice ceases and the stream becomes concrete and unchangeable, running a fixed course that none can alter.” He laughed. “I would go quite insane.”

The expression on his face and the way in which he uttered that last sentence had a profoundly unnerving effect upon Toyame. She instinctively recoiled, crawling almost backwards for a moment before she regained control of herself.

“I do not blame you, Toyame. I realize what an… unsettling person I can be,” Janus said, having seen the expression of fear on her face. “Do not worry. I am in control of myself more than most people can boast of being. This level of control is necessary in order for me to keep the Oath of Vision.”

“Oath of Vision?” Toyame asked.

Janus shook his head. “Not tonight. I am tired, and I sense you are as well. Tomorrow we set out, and I will be able to answer more of your questions.”

Toyame blinked in surprise. “Set out for where?”

“For the Emperor’s palace in the capital, of course.”

“But what business would you or I have there?”

“I am a servant of the Emperor. I am empowered to do what I do in His name.”

“And myself?”

“You are coming because you have a Choice to make there.”

Toyame paused, and then asked, “A Choice?”

“No more questions. Go to sleep.”

With that said, Janus laid his head down on his mat and closed his eyes. Seemingly without effort, he was asleep instantly.

Toyame woke to the sight of Janus looking down at her.

She started and he chuckled. “Good, you are awake. We need to be off.”

Getting herself to her feet, Toyame looked out the window at the pre-dawn light. “The sun is not even visible yet and you insist we need to be off! How far can the Emperor’s palace be?”

“Your Master kept his shrine exactly two hundred and forty-seven leagues from the capital. Grandpa Yusuke’s and Grandma Shouta’s dwelling that they have so graciously let us spend the night in is two hundred and forty-five leagues from our destination. I saw in the night that we would be waylaid two times upon the road there. If we are to arrive in time to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, we must leave now.”

“Can you not simply devise a way to prevent these ambushes from taking place?” Toyame asked. “If you have foreseen them, why can you not avoid them?”

Janus sighed. “Last night I mentioned the Oath of Vision. Shall I recite it to you?”


Slowly, Janus reached up to his right eye. Gently, almost tentatively, he placed the forefinger and middle finger of his right hand upon his silver eye. It began to glow the same ominous red as it had the previous night when he saved her.

Through this power I have gained foresight. Through this power I have gained knowledge. For this power I abjure my right to Choose. For this power I undertake the burden of finding those who have lost their ability to Choose and restoring it to them. May I never exert my influence upon that which I now perceive. May I always uphold the right of those who would be denied what is theirs by default.” He paused for a moment and stared hard at Toyame with his left eye. “May those who would use this power for their own ends perish.

A cold chill ran down Toyame’s spine.

“So, do not think of asking me when and where these ambushes will take place so that you may avoid them of your own choice. The document that an initiate of Vision signs in blood is very specific as to how violators of the last precept of the Oath are dealt with.”

Her gaze wandering to Janus’ enchanted sword, Toyame licked her abruptly dry lips and said hoarsely, “I understand.”

A terse moment of silence came and went, quickly broken by Janus. “Let us be off,” he exclaimed. “After all, it is going to rain soon and I would like to be on the cobble road when that happens.”

“Your power is such that you can read what the weather will be?”

Roughly, Janus grabbed Toyame’s staff and tossed it to her. “Do not be an imbecile, Toyame. Did you bother to observe the sky? It is cloudy, and the clouds are those that herald rain. The wind, as I can feel through the window, is coming towards us, blowing the clouds our way.”

Sheepishly, Toyame bowed her head in apology. “I am sorry. I only saw that it was dark.”

“Yes, because you allowed your emotions to color your vision. You had been, by your tender standards, rudely awoken at an unseemly hour. You let this blind you to the obvious when you did something so simple and commonplace as looking out a window.”

“I apologize for my error,” she said stiffly.

“I am harsh with you because such failings will be unacceptable when we reach the Emperor’s palace.”

The genuine shade of worry coloring his tone caused Toyame to soften. “What do you mean, Janus?” She realized moments after she uttered his name that it was the first time she had done so.

“I am bringing you to the palace for a very specific reason. It will become clear in due course, but I must warn you now to never let your guard down while you are in the palace. Things are not well within the government. I represent a considerable threat to the enemies of the state, both those within it and without, and any I travel or associate with are unconditionally deemed my allies and are sentenced by these enemies to death.”

“Who would these enemies be?” Toyame asked.

Another of Janus’ unstable smiles split his face. Toyame could finally identify the quality of them that unnerved her so much; his left eye smiled when his mouth did, but his right eye did not smile or change. It remained staring, an emotionless observer that testified to some horror Janus had gone through.

“You will find out in time. They will reveal themselves to you. Do not be caught off guard.”

With that, he turned and walked out of the house.

Toyame hurriedly gathered herself together, thanked Grandpa Yusuke and Grandma Shouta for allowing her to stay, and followed Janus.

They made good progress. Janus walked along at a steady pace, never faltering nor ever speeding up. Toyame did not have to try to keep up with him, but she did have to try not to fall behind. It was a curious thing that she toyed with internally for some time before coming to the realization that they were being followed.

“Finally you wake from your daydreaming,” Janus murmured.

Toyame stared at him.

“Oh, yes, Toyame, I knew those four men have been following us. I read their footprints.”

“How can you read their footprints when they are following us?”

Janus ran a finger idly along his right eye. “This eye perceives Time, Toyame. The other perceives the physical world. I can fit the physical world into Time and see how a certain visible area of it shall change as Time passes. See that slightly muddy spot, there, near that bush. The third man will step in it by mistake and slip somewhat, leaving a longer footprint than he normally would. I can see the footprint there, plain as day.” He turned to her. “I can see their footsteps on the ground beneath your feet. They will follow us for a while longer.”

“Do you think they pose a threat?” Toyame asked.

“I do not believe so. Look there.” Janus pointed at a section of road about half a league away. “There, even from this distance, I can perceive signs of a fight. There are two corpses directly upon the path. The third man, the one you hit on the head with your staff, crawled some distance before expiring, and lies about thirty strides to the east of the sortie. The fourth is nowhere to be seen, but I perceive footprints leading this way. I adjust my view…” His right eye glowed faintly for just a moment and then faded again. “Ah, yes. I perceive here more footprints.”

“Pardon my asking,” Toyame said timidly. “Is it forbidden to question the mechanics of your power?”

“No such thing is forbidden by the Oath. If you have a question regarding how I perceive Time, you may ask it.”

“You said you needed to adjust your view in order to see the retreating footprints right next to us, while you could see the advancing footprints and even corpses as far as half a league away. Is your perception of Time affected somehow by distance?”

Janus shook his head negatively. “A good insight, but an incorrect one. You see, I perceived the advancing footprints, the signs of a fight, the corpses, and some of the retreating footprints in one instant of time. In that instant, the retreating footprints near us had not yet been made. I had to adjust my vision so that I perceived a moment further ahead in time.”

“Can you not view events as they take place, just as I perceive you walking? Could you not see how our battle will take shape?”

“Time is fluid. Were I to try to comprehend it as you see the world every day and then overlay it upon the physical plane, I would see nothing but chaos. There are many thousands of possible permutations in the flow of Time from the point we are at now to the point when those men attack us. I select one instant of time to perceive so as to avoid confusion. Only when I cannot view the physical world – that is, when I close my left eye – can I see Time as you see the world.”

“Could you not do so here?”

“It is not a matter of simply closing one’s eye and being able to see clearly. One must order one’s mind first. Time is harder to comprehend than you can know. It requires a meditative trance, which in turn requires perfect stillness. We have no time to waste, after all.”

He glanced down at the ground and a small expression of surprise flitted across his face. “Interesting.”

“What is?”

“My first impulse is to start my sentence with, ‘See, here, these tracks,’ but I am unable, as you cannot see. I shall endeavor to describe it to you as best I can. Our four friends have had distinctive footprints thus far. The first’s are wide, the second’s are small, the third’s are long, and the fourth’s are not particularly interesting save for the fact that they are deeper than those of his three companions. We have just passed the point where the fourth man will transfer a weight of some sort from his person to the persons of his companions, as his footprints become shallower while his comrades’ deepen. I can only assume that this means the fourth is the pack-mule, who carries whatever weapons these marauders use. Either he is stronger than the rest of them or ill-used. If it is the former, be on your guard. If it is the latter, then he will be the one to flee.”


Toyame heard no sound come from Janus’ lips, but she could see them moving. He was counting down.


Toyame heard the footsteps of the men behind them quicken.


“You two there! Halt!”


“We said halt –”

A horrible grin lit Janus’ features. He turned to face the attackers, his right eye seeming to glow of its own accord. The blood red light washed across his face, casting it into a panorama of light and shadow. Toyame saw that the glyph upon his sword was glowing as well, and there was again red light emanating from beneath his robes. She wondered at the third source for a moment, but decided her attention was best focused upon the situation at hand.

The men stopped in their tracks when they saw Janus turn about and face them. He laid a hand on his sword and raised the other to point, very deliberately, at the first man.


An involuntary jerk of fear shook the man.

“I will list your crimes and carry out your sentence.”

The fourth man, who seemed to fit Janus’ theory of being stronger than his companions, glared. “Who do you think you are? Kill him! Don’t touch the woman!”

All of them drew weapons. The first two men drew katanas, the third drew a cudgel, and the fourth pulled a spear from his back. With a cry, they charged.

Janus charged as well, his hand still on his sheathed sword.

“For the burning of your neighbor’s home in envy of his wife and for murdering your brother for his money, I sentence you to death.”

The naked shock written on the man’s features stayed there even as Janus whipped out his blade and cleaved him through at the waist. Air shimmered as Janus turned the momentum of his charge into a twist to bring his sword around to strike at the second man.

“For adultery in the grip of lust and for theft of your own family’s prized heirloom, I sentence you to wander sightless.”

This time Janus’ target did not have time to assume an expression of shock. The searing blade sailed across the man’s left eye, broke through his nose, and sent the right eye flying away in flaming pieces.

Janus did not turn to the third man, who had rushed Toyame in an effort to bring her down. She pulled her staff from her back, twirled it above her head to gain momentum, and brought her weapon down in a crushing blow to her adversary’s skull.

Seeing his comrades dispatched with such stunning ease, the fourth man gave a strangled scream, turned, and ran.

Giving only a small grunt, Janus returned his sword to its sheath. He turned his back as the second man, screaming incoherently, sliced his own stomach open and fell dead to the ground.

“Maggot,” Janus growled. “You were unable to even live with the relatively lenient sentence I gave you.”

“Why did you sentence them?” Toyame asked. “Do you see yourself as some kind of agent of divine punishment? Is it your place to decide the fate of these men?”

Janus spat. “Divinity,” he said, “has nothing to do with this. Do not talk to me of divinity. It is a lengthy subject which we can discuss later. For the meantime, know that it is my place. I am, as people in long-past times have put it, judge, jury, and executioner. I determine guilt and innocence, pass sentence, and carry out sentence. You will learn more later.”

Toyame gave a bereaved sigh. “Always with you is the ‘not now’ or ‘later.’ It wearies me.”

“It wearies me that you should demonstrate such impatience,” Janus thundered. “I take comfort in the fact that I can see you learning to wait in the near future. It will be for the best.” With a final tch of disgust, he turned and set out again.

Cowed somewhat, Toyame slung her staff back onto her back and followed somewhat timidly.

That’ll be all for tonight. Incidentally, I’ve left off at the seven-page mark or so, but right in the middle of the total scene. Through its entire length of 42 or so pages, Choice has maybe 4 or 5 scene transitions, so I have to try to keep updates down to a readable level while accounting for the reader being able to pick up where he left off with ease. Hope you enjoyed this update.

Update time.

They traveled until late afternoon in silence. It was only when the road ceased to be dirt and became cobblestones that Janus spoke again.

“We will be at the capital soon.” He pulled his sword from his side and unsheathed a small portion of the blade, inspecting it. The heat enchantment did nothing to hide the blade’s perfectly reflective surface.

Sliding the blade fully back into its sheath, Janus did the unexpected and handed it to Toyame. She nearly dropped it in surprise; it was much heavier than it looked.

“Take a look behind us,” Janus said. “Do as I did.”

Nodding, Toyame unsheathed the same amount of steel as Janus had. She looked into it and saw twenty or thirty men following them. Standing among the throng was the strong fellow that had attacked and then fled that same morning.

Toyame handed the sword back to Janus. “There certainly are a lot of them.”

A small smile flickered across Janus’ face. His right eye glowed for a brief moment, and then he gave a small bark of a laugh.

“So enemy will sally forth to save my life. How very kind of him.” His eye glowed again. “Continue walking. Those men will be upon us shortly, but the tide will turn on them before they know it. I think it should be a good lesson for you to witness the kind of power our enemy wields.”

“Pardon, but you said this man was your enemy. I fail to see why you changed your view a moment later and said he was our enemy.”

“He is my personal foe, but the two of us together will find more challenge from a different opponent. Now be silent in the meantime and clear your mind.”

Silence was, in Toyame’s eyes, more unpleasant than forced chitchat. She could hear the faint tromp of the men’s feet as they marched in a ragged sort of order. Blades clinked in their sheaths and a barely audible muttering emanated from the crowd. Toyame caught wind of several choice phrases no civilized man would ever utter while in the presence of a lady.

Shooting a brief glance at Janus, she saw again that he was noiselessly counting down.


The pace of the men behind them increased.


Toyame felt sweat break out on her forehead.


A rasping of metal on metal sounded as blades were drawn from their sheaths.


The mass of men chasing Janus and Toyame let up a cry. “For our comrades!”


It seemed the ground would tremble with the beating of the men’s feet upon it.


Toyame’s instincts flared. They were being closed in upon in an encirclement formation.


A chilling observation was that there were no cries of “don’t touch the woman!” this time.


Her hand strayed to her staff, but Janus lightly reached out his own hand and placed it upon hers.


“Giving up? Not going to fight? It won’t get you off so easily!”


The final number was uttered by a newcomer. He stood in Janus’ and Toyame’s path and had seemed to appear from nowhere. He stood at an imposing six feet four inches tall. Features that were best described as cruelly handsome, much like those of Janus, were framed by long black hair that drifted down to his waist. His eyes were deep black. His frame was not lean, but instead heavily muscled. He wore a light blue traveling robe outlined in darker blue. A long katana hung at his side and extended out behind him for some three feet, marking it as a blade much longer than Janus’. Its sheath was black lacquered metal trimmed in gold dragon ornament.

No expression appeared on his face as he withdrew his sword.

Toyame held back a gasp when she saw the blade. She recognized the enchantment it bore, but it was the first she had ever seen. The steel glowed a black, negative light. If you so much as touched that sword with the very tip of your finger your life would be shortened by five years for every second that you maintained contact with the cursed steel. A direct hit from it that pierced the flesh, however small a wound it might be, would kill.


The man wasted no time. He charged.

Several foolhardy marauders laughed and charged as well. The man was past them in a second, his blade flickering with the slightest movement. All those who had attacked turned about in his wake, confused, and there was abruptly blood oozing from minor wounds on all of them.

They all laughed. One of them started to shout at the man. “A mere scratch! Is that all you –”

He stopped in mid-sentence, his words stuck in his throat. His eyes rolled up into his head as his wound, which had been merely a pinprick oozing the smallest drops of blood, exploded into a storming crimson mist. Though Toyame’s master had been a heathen priest, he had known about the arts and had trained her well. She saw the man’s vital essence leave his body in the hematogenous eruption caused by the life-sapper enchantment of the stranger’s blade.

The others who had charged had all been struck a moment after the man who died first. They cried out as they saw their fate before their own eyes, but as they turned to flee they too stiffened and great geysers of blood gushed from miniscule wounds.

By the time they had fallen dead to the ground, the stranger had pierced the flesh of the rest of the marauders.

Janus gently laid a hand on Toyame’s shoulder and turned her away from the sight.

The stranger, this horrid work done, walked up to them with an air of casual familiarity. A smile lit his features. “Janus-kun. It has been a while.”

Janus offered no smile in return. “Ukina-dono. It has indeed been a while.”

“I hope this incident has not hindered your journey.”

“It has not.”

The man called Ukina patted Janus on the shoulder. Toyame wondered why Janus did not take offense at such an act, but kept her thoughts to herself.

“I have business a little ways down the road, but I will be back in the capital by nightfall. I look forward to being able to converse at length with you, Janus-kun.”

“Until then, Ukina-dono.”

Toyame curtsied in return to the short bow Ukina gave. She watched him walk down the road until she was sure he was out of earshot.

“Janus,” she asked. “Who was that man Ukina?”

Janus laughed aloud. “Ask that in public once we reach the capital and you will make it very clear just how much of an outsider you are. He is Toshimichi Ukina, the realm’s greatest warrior. His skills, as anyone will tell you, are unmatched.”

“And you say that this man, this Toshimichi Ukina, is your personal nemesis.”

“Yes. I bear the heat enchantment upon my blade because it is the only thing that will enable me to have a fighting chance when our final battle comes.”

Toyame’s brow furrowed. “Why is that?”

“As you can imagine from my already advanced age, my power of Vision mitigates aging and the chances of natural death. If he manages to touch me with that blade and not break my skin, thirty or forty years taken off my lifespan will not affect me much. If he manages to draw blood, I can lay my blade to my wound and cauterize it. The enchantment was created with the loophole of a wound needing to be able to bleed for my life force to be drawn from it.”

“Why place such a limit upon its power?”

“It was not intended as a limit, but rather insurance that the enchantment would not be used upon those who gave birth to it. The life-sapper is a demonic enchantment, and those demons that conceived it have no blood with which to bleed. Thus, they are immune to the most dangerous effect.” One of his slightly unstable smiles settled upon his features. “Naturally, they were all exterminated.”

Whirling about, he resumed his brisk pace and manner. “Now, no more time for idle chatter. We will arrive at the capital shortly. I will requisition room and board for you.”

“Where are we to be staying?” Toyame inquired.

“In my chambers in the Emperor’s palace.”

“You live in the Emperor’s palace?” Toyame blurted. The possible interpretations of the two of them sharing a chamber were for the moment lost upon her.

“Indeed I do. I have an outer room, so you and I need not share a bed. I cannot provide that kind of companionship for you yet.”

Toyame blinked. “Yet? Are you implying something?”

Janus chuckled. “Soon it will be clear.”

The capital was best described using a phrase consisting of several different adjectives used to indicate a noun’s relatively large size.

After entering the city through a massive stone gate guarded by veteran samurai, one was immediately awed by the sheer scale of the city. It stretched out for miles, buildings both plain and lavish standing higher than the most massive ogre demons.

Toyame’s gaze alighted upon the Emperor’s palace. It was an enormous structure, towering hundreds of feet above the roofs of the city’s tallest buildings. Its windows and doorways were myriad.

Janus saw Toyame staring dumbstruck at the Palace. A smile, a true smile that conveyed no instability or sadism, quirked slightly at the edges of his mouth.

He raised an arm and pointed. “The Tower of Ivory,” he identified the Palace’s largest tower. “Four thousand elephant demons were killed to supply the ivory for its construction.” He shifted his focus. “The Gold Bridge.” It was an enormous golden walkway, suspended out in the open air that connected the Tower of Ivory and a somewhat smaller, silver tower.

“What tower is that it leads to?” Toyame asked.

“That is the Tower of Vision.”

Toyame turned her head to look at Janus. “Your home?”

“No. I reside in one of the higher levels of the Tower of the Emperor. You will as well.”

“I assume the Emperor’s chambers are in that tower?”


“Anyone else I should know about?”

“Ukina makes his home there, too.”

Toyame frowned. “Tell me something, Janus. Why did Ukina address you with kun when you addressed him with dono? Would you not have used sama?”

Janus’ expression darkened. “Toshimichi Ukina has no rank that exceeds mine. He uses kun to remind me of the fact that he is of noble blood, while I am of common birth.”

This revelation was startling to Toyame, to say the least.

“I, meanwhile, use dono to convince him of his supposed superiority and to let him think I am possessed of no caliber of ambition.”

“Do you address everyone as such?”

“My enemies, yes.”

“What of your allies?”

Janus shrugged easily. “Their addresses vary. I address no one save the Emperor using sama, however.”

“So when you address someone with dono I will know they are an enemy.”

“Precisely. But I observe the sun setting. We must press on and reach the Palace before that.”

Toyame did not point out there was still an hour left before sunset. She was becoming somewhat inured to Janus’ wild shifts in the timestream.

They again set out and the sun set as they reached the steps of the palace. Demon-masked imperial guards dropped to their knees and kowtowed as they saw Janus approach.

“Janus-sama,” they intoned in one voice. “Is your companion to be permitted within?”

“She is,” Janus replied calmly. Toyame found six-foot-tall armored guards kneeling before her somewhat thrilling.

The two of them walked through the archway and entered the palace grounds.

“You looked somewhat giddy when Koshie and Soutai kowtowed. Do not let it go to your head,” Janus said sternly.

“I apologize,” Toyame replied, chastised.

They entered the grand hall. The ceiling arched high above their heads. Marble floor was inscribed with the epic poem of the Squire and the Empress. More demon-masked guards lined the hall, and all dropped to their knees and kowtowed as Janus entered.

“Janus-sama,” they roared.

“Rise and resume your duties,” Janus ordered. “Anji, go to the official of Palace Defense and request a reward for the capture of a male thief. He will appear in the hall at the first watch. Be mindful.”

Hai, Janus-sama,” one of the guards thanked him.

“Someone would be stupid enough to attempt a robbery?” Toyame asked disbelievingly. “When the palace has these armored giants as guards?”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Janus said as they walked towards a stairwell. “In Egypt, peasants would rob the tombs of kings for money.”


“Pay it no mind.”

Toyame and Janus began to ascend the stairs. With a jolt, the gold-encrusted steps began moving beneath their feet. Toyame gave a cry of surprise and stumbled backwards, but Janus reached out a hand and steadied her.

Up they went, and the stairs began moving faster and faster. Toyame saw there were windows in the wall every three feet or so that afforded a panoramic view of the palace and the city. Soon the stairs were conveying them at such a rate that the windows flashed by faster than one could blink. One could no longer discern the walls but could only see the city. Toyame was dizzied and felt her stomach lurch.

“Janus,” she whispered hoarsely. “How much longer does this go on?”

“Another minute before we slow,” Janus replied. “This, the Golden River Stairway, winds round the entire palace before letting us arrive at our destination. I wonder, though, if you realize there have been no walls for the past four minutes.”

He reached out a hand and Toyame saw his arm stretched beyond the stairway’s width. Her vision blurred and she felt as though she would fall.

“Be glad we are not assassins,” Janus laughed. “If we were, the stairway would throw us off.”

At last, walls mercifully enclosed them. Toyame began to draw breath again.

The stairway came to a halt. “Now, Toyame,” Janus said, “we will ascend to the Tower of the Emperor.”

Toyame blinked. “This stairway leads directly to the Tower of the Emperor?”

“It leads to wherever you wish to go. I directed it to take us here.”

They ascended the stairway, which Toyame felt only tolerated being stepped upon because that was its duty. More than once she could have sworn it was watching her.

“When you appear before the Emperor, do not speak. Kowtow and do not raise your head until given leave to do so. I have considerable influence in the palace, but I cannot save you from execution if you are impudent.”

“I understand,” Toyame said gravely.

They emerged from the stairway into the Emperor’s reception chamber. Walking through it, they entered the throne room.

It was massive. A great emerald carpet ran its five-hundred-foot length, leading to the dragon throne. Jade sentinels lined the hall, clad in armor and armed with heaven-piercing halberds. Fire-red tapestries hung from the vaulted ceiling, which itself boasted a giant mural of the first Emperor descending from Heaven.

Toyame instantly dropped to her knees and touched her head to the floor. She did not dare look up to steal a glance at the imperial countenance.

Janus spoke aloud. “Masahige-sama.” He did not kneel or kowtow.

“Janus-san,” the Emperor replied. His voice was deep, but age had tempered it with frailty.

San! Toyame thought, shocked. He used san!

“Your companion may look upon the imperial visage,” the Emperor said.

Toyame hesitantly raised her head.

The Emperor was clothed in royal dragon robes of fire red and gold. His throne was forged of gold and encrusted with one hundred and forty-four red rubies and seventy-two sapphires.

When Toyame saw his face, she swallowed a gasp. The Emperor had a stern mouth, strong jaw, high cheekbones, a small nose, and long grey hair. None of this surprised her.

His eyes, however, were covered by a blindfold of finest moth-demon silk, bearing in crimson upon the white material the glyph of Sight.

“My honored guest is surprised,” the Emperor commented. “I give her leave to speak.”

“Your Majesty is blind?” Toyame asked.

“We of the Kosuke line have ever been without the gift of sight, child. Only he who cannot view the world sees clearly.” He waved his hand. “You may stand. Approach the throne with Janus-san."

Toyame kowtowed again and then stood up. She trailed a step behind Janus as he approached the throne.

“Janus-san, send the lady forward. I wish to see her face.”

“Go,” Janus said quietly.

Toyame nodded jerkily and stepped within arm’s length of Kosuke Masahige, seventy-fourth Emperor of Creation.

He gingerly stretched out a hand and slowly ran his fingers down her face.

“Lovely,” he murmured. “You’ve confirmed it, then, Janus-san?”

“Yes, Masahige-sama,” Janus replied. “I present to you Kosuke Toyame, first heir of the Kosuke line to be born with her vision intact.”

Toyame could not restrain herself. She whirled about to face Janus. “I beg pardon?”

A thin, controlled smile flickered about Janus’ mouth. “You are Masahige-sama’s daughter, Toyame. Or perhaps I should address you as Toyame-dono?”

“Indeed,” the Emperor laughed. Toyame did not share the man’s amusement. Is it possible?

Then another thing occurred to her. She recalled her own words.

So when you address someone with dono, I will know they are an enemy.

Toyame frowned at Janus.

He smiled one of his insane smiles, his left eye smiling with his mouth while his right continued to stare.

Am I now your enemy too, Janus?

His eye glowed red briefly, fell dull, and glowed again.


The tiniest perceptible shake of the head was her confirmation.

Even with so limited a motion, Janus did not escape the Emperor’s notice.

“Something wrong, Janus-san?” he asked idly.

“A slight shake, nothing more,” Janus replied. “It has been a long journey to see you,” and at this he stared hard at Toyame, “Masahige-sama.”

Of course. He can’t address the Emperor as “dono,” after all.

“Then I should see to it that you get some rest,” the Emperor said. “I shall see that my daughter is given proper accommodations.”

“Beg pardon, Masahige-sama, but Toyame and I have pledged to wed one another.”

The shock was such that Toyame felt herself go rigid. The Emperor apparently did not sense this, or if he did he put it down to excitement.

“Then I will leave her care in your hands,” the old man said briskly. “It is nightfall. You may retire.”

Janus bowed at the waist.

As the two of them left to take the Golden River Stairway up to Janus’ chambers, Toyame held her anger in check until the stairway was set in motion. So furious was she that she did not suffer recurring symptoms of the moving stairway sickness, as it was commonly known.

No expression showed on Janus’ face as Toyame slapped him hard enough to make her hand protest.

“How dare you presume this!” she hissed. “What idiocy! You expect me to –”

Janus turned his right eye’s baleful glowing gaze on her. “I EXPECT YOU TO KNOW YOUR PLACE,” he thundered. “If you prove this hotheaded in the future it will herald the death knell of the kingdom! If you intend to act this pigheaded later, inform me now so I can kill you swiftly and save you unnecessary agony.”

Toyame stepped back in shock. “You would kill me?”

“It would be doing you a favor,” Janus growled. “Tomorrow we will be married. You will have to share my bed. Whether we act as husband and wife in that circumstance is at your discretion, but in all others I will require you to treat me as your husband.”

“Why? What have you to gain?”

“I gain nothing. You and the kingdom gain everything. If you insist that I kill you, it will be the other way around.”

Toyame resisted the urge to draw back, for fear she would fall off the stairs.

“Do you understand, Toyame?”

She felt herself nod.

The Golden River Stairway stopped, and they walked into Janus’ chambers. To say that they were as well-furnished as any prince’s rooms would be an understatement.

There were four rooms in all: the outer chamber, the inner chamber, the room containing the bath and the lavatory, and a study.

The outer chamber was the larger of the two chambers. Its ceiling was about fifty feet high, with a marble pillar in each corner of the room. The walls were a dark grey, and were mostly bare. There were no personal memoirs or odds and ends to be found upon them. The floor was black stone, cold and smooth to the touch. In the center of it was the glyph of Vision in silver. Arranged in a circular fashion around the glyph were ten odd accoutrements. They possessed four legs of wood that supported a cushioned base, and this base in turn sported a sort of back. Toyame had not seen anything like them before.

Janus strolled over to one and sat upon the base, resting his back upon the base’s back. He looked extremely comfortable.

“Care to join me? These are called chairs, a curious Western invention.”

“You say these are Western, and you say Janus is a Western god. What do you mean when you say Western? There is nothing of note in the west.”

“So says one who has only been for three days at best outside for three days at best of the shrine she was ensconced in,” Janus countered amusedly. “But you are right, there is nothing of note in the west. Nothing now, anyway. There used to be flourishing civilization there, but…” He shrugged. “It has been near a thousand years since Bismarck united Germany and Hitler tried for world domination.”

“Hitler? A curious name.”

“Not as curious as the man. What an insatiable warmonger he was. I often debate what drove him to do such horrible things…” After a moment, he sighed a little. “Ah, well. Debating with oneself is something of an exercise in futility.”

Toyame frowned as she searched for the meaning of what Janus said, then her frown became more of a pitying expression. “You cannot debate this thing with others because nobody but you knows of him.”

Janus looked at Toyame with an expression of surprise written on his face. “Are you really that thickheaded, Toyame? You do realize I am a disciple of the Order of Vision. I am not the only one with this power.”

She felt at a loss for words. She could not believe she had made such an oversight.

“Hah! You silly girl. You are too distracted to think clearly.” Janus rose from his chair, stretched slightly, and headed towards the inner chamber door. As he did so, he abruptly removed his tunic, leaving his chest bare.

Toyame blanched and stared to stutter something out, but Janus gave her a strange look over his shoulder. “Is there something the matter?”

“You disrobed in front of me!”

“Really? I see that I am still covered from the waist down.”

“That is not the point!”

Janus turned around, an eyebrow cocked in disbelief. Toyame gasped when she saw the front of him.

He had a muscular physique that was not unattractive, but that did not cause her surprise. Seared into the flesh of his chest was the glyph of Vision, many times larger than the one on his eye or the one on his sword.

For a moment he stood, unsure as to what she was surprised at, then looked down at his chest and gave a laugh.

“This surprises you?”

“To state the obvious, yes!”


“You have the glyph of Vision burned into your flesh. That strikes me as somewhat odd.”

“So this supercedes the oddness of my ‘disrobing’ in front of you.”

Toyame glared at him. “You are clouding the issue.”

Janus’ face darkened. “I fail to see the issue, Toyame. My privacy is not a concern here, and I cannot see how your sensibilities are so tender that this offends you. Your aptly named Master first made love to you when you were fifteen years old. Obviously you have much experience in such affairs.”

She fell silent, cowed somewhat.

“Well? Where is your issue now?”

After searching for a moment, Toyame finally said, “It was rude of you to do so without first asking.” Even her ears it sounded pathetic.

Janus literally guffawed. He doubled over laughing, then got control of himself and straightened up, wiping a tear from his eye. “Rude? Rude? You endear yourself to me, Toyame. That you would think that one such as I, who has seen the face of Time, would consider proper mannerisms to be important is simply preposterous. One cannot help but adore such a level of naiveté.”

“Why does your having seen Time remove from you the need for propriety in the presence of a lady?” Toyame asked, somewhat miffed.

“Manners are an invention of society, an invention created to engender trust and avoid conflict. Those who are excessively polite, obsequiously so, are as such because they fear the consequences if they are not. I, who have seen every consequence there can ever be, do not fear any of them.”

Toyame though of bringing up the fact that Janus addressed his foes as dono, but dismissed it as a point he would crush easily. Even she saw the obvious fact that he employed good mannerisms there not as a shield against negative consequences but as a useful and possibly lethal tool. In hands as capable and knowledgeable as his, even such routines as please and thank you could be used manipulatively.

“I see comprehension in your eyes.”

“You see correctly.”

“Good.” Janus slung his tunic over his shoulder. “I am going to take a bath. You may amuse yourself in whatever way you please.”

That’ll be all for tonight. Damn me for not putting in enough scene changes. I had to leave off in the middle of a scene again.

That first fight scene was very Kill Bill of you. Nicely done.

As for the rest of it…I have no idea what to expect next, but I eagarly await to see how it resolves.


Thank you. Incidentally, I’ve never seen Kill Bill. I could never get past the idea of a middle-aged white blonde woman being a master of kenjutsu. Ah whatever. Now… update. Three cheers everyone! I’ll start it off with a line from the previous update so things flow better. Not… enough… scene… changes…

“Good.” Janus slung his tunic over his shoulder. “I am going to take a bath. You may amuse yourself in whatever way you please.”

The look of anticipation on his face was such that Toyame had to inquire about it. “Why do you look as though you are about to embark upon some wonderful journey?”

Janus started for a second, then laughed aloud again. “I do seem that way, do I not? Well, in my previous life – that is, back when I knew my name – I had a close friend. Incidentally, I do not recall his name any more, either. We had a wager on something, which I of course cannot remember any more. The loser would have to swear that as long as he retained his identity, he would never again take a bath.”

“A childish wager,” Toyame laughed.

“I, of course, was the loser. I took my first bath in years after I first forgot my name, and I must say it was extremely satisfying. Ever since then I have enjoyed my baths a good deal more than the average person. You are free to take one after I am done.”

Toyame nodded, then felt a guilty streak shoot through her. “Janus, let me apologize for striking you on the stairway,” she said suddenly.

“No apology is required,” Janus replied. “I understand your situation and sympathize with it. I think I would have done much the same in your position.”

Without another word, he opened the door to the inner chamber, slipped inside, and closed it behind him.

Toyame sat in one of the chairs. It was comfortable, though she was more used to kneeling on a floor mat. The only thing she knew of that might compare to the function of a chair was the dragon throne of the Emperor, though it was not a chair itself, but rather a metal dragon upon which the Emperor seated himself.

Eventually she rose and entered the study. It was filled with manuscripts of all sorts, along with various scribbles and musings that Janus must have written. Another chair was in here, but it was unlike the soft, comfortable ones in the outer chamber; it was hard and angular, with a stiff back and a wooden base. Evidently, Janus did not like to be comfortable when hard at work. There was also the extra bed that Janus had mentioned earlier, against the far wall in an inconspicuous spot.

Toyame sat in the chair and gazed upon the papers that were arrayed on a large, rectangular pedestal that stood on four legs. Whether by accident or design, the chair could be tucked between the widely spaced legs of the pedestal, so Toyame could be close enough to the papers to read them easily.

They were nothing of any particular value. They made little sense to her, and seemed mostly to be polite letters to various people. The only thing of note was that more than half the intended recipients were addressed with dono, meaning that Janus had a lot of enemies indeed.

Toyame got up and began to look through the manuscripts in the room. They were all written in Janus’ peculiar flowing style, but none were of any interest to her.

Then she came upon a thin volume of perhaps fifty pages bound in lizard demon leather. It was titled Toyame.

With some suspicion, Toyame opened it.

The first twenty pages were extensive descriptions of her. By the time she was finished with them, she knew more about her personality and personal habits than she had before she started. How does he know all this? Is this power of Vision that he possesses so piercing?

The last thirty pages made little sense. They were random scribblings, many crossed out or written over. One variation of a line kept repeating over and over, though.

[i]She may be the one.

Is she the one?

Could I have located the one I need?

There is a distinct possibility of the one being this girl.[/i]

Toyame wondered what kind of one she was supposed to be. What could Janus be thinking? What was her purpose in these schemes of his? Was she some pawn, to be used and then discarded? And then her thoughts turned back this affair of them supposedly having pledged to wed one another. What was he thinking?

“Well, it seems Janus has a woman now.”

The voice was thin, high, and had a leering aspect to it that immediately struck Toyame as belonging to a villain. She turned round to be confronted with a repulsive little man. He stood about five feet tall, with piggy little eyes and an upturned lip. At his sides were two large bodyguards, both of which looked as strong as they were stupid.

“Who are you?” Toyame snapped. “On what grounds do you presume to enter Janus’ chambers without his permission?”

“Tell me,” the man said, ignoring her question, “where is Janus now?”

“You answer my questions first,” Toyame said quietly.

One of the bodyguards stepped forward and hit her with such speed that when she was thrown to the floor it felt like being slammed into a wall. It took her a moment to realize what had happened.

“Impudent little bitch,” the man growled. “Do as you like with her until she talks.”

Grins broke out on the faces of the two bodyguards. They started to advance on Toyame when all the lights abruptly went out. The windows in the outer chamber and the study were shut.

“What is this?” the leering little voice cried shrilly in the dark.

“Get away from her,” Janus said coldly.

The room was lit with a harsh red glow. In the outer chamber Janus stood upon the glyph of Vision on the floor. It glowed red, just as did his right eye, the glyph on his chest, and the glyph upon his weapon, which he now held bared. Being lit from beneath his feet cast Janus’ hard, wiry frame into a mixture of light and shadow, and he looked nothing if not imposing. More menacing still was his narrowed left eye, reflecting in its gaze the flickering light of his heat-enchanted weapon.

“Stop this at once, Janus,” the little man snarled.

“You enter my chambers, have your former comrades strike Toyame, and interrupt my bath. I should kill you for this, Heigöro.”

“Former comrades?” the man called Heigöro asked, a sign of fear flashing through his eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“Heigöro, you think too little of me. Look at them.”

Toyame realized the men that had been looming over her were no longer standing. Both were lying upon the floor of the study, their skulls crushed in. Even in the dim light, Toyame could see that Janus had done the deed with his bare hands.

Heigöro gave a short, strangled scream when he saw the fate of his bodyguards. “You… you…” He reached for something within his robes.

“Summon more, if you like. They’ll all be dead before they take two steps into my chambers.”

“You kill my guards over this woman! You pathetic little –”

“Stop there, Heigöro. Count yourself lucky I am not in a vindictive mood. That woman your friend struck across the face is none other than Kosuke Toyame, daughter of Emperor Masahige.”

At this, Heigöro turned very pale, so much so that it was evident even when his features were cast in the blood red light of the Vision glyph.

“I sentenced them to death. The charge was assaulting the daughter of the Emperor within the context of subduing her to exert carnal influence upon her.” Janus smiled, but this time his left eye did not smile, just as his right did. The effect was unnerving even to Toyame, who was not the subject of its ire.

Heigöro broke out in a cold sweat.

“Leave now, Heigöro. Justice will be lenient this time.”

The little man screamed and fled from the room, slamming the door behind him.

Janus relaxed his posture and sheathed his sword. The various glyphs of Vision ceased to glow, and the windows opened again. A look of concern washed across his face.

“Are you all right, Toyame?”

“I am fine, thank you. Who was that man?”

“Musama Heigöro, head military scientist of the kingdom. He is an insane little man who wants my right eye very badly.”


“He is of the mistaken opinion that by studying this implement of mine he will be able to design similar ones and even equip troops with them. As if being able to see how time may flow would be of even the slightest advantage in close combat.” He laughed. “Heigöro is a little weasel. I do not even bother to address him as dono.”

“What do you think he came in here for?”

“I do not keep it secret that I enjoy my baths. Most everyone in the palace knows that when I return from a long journey the first thing I usually do is take a bath. Heigöro most likely thought that I remove my right eye when I bathe, for whatever reason. My eye does not rust, nor fall out when it gets wet. It is a most perfect fit, and so it will remain where it is until I desire otherwise.”

“Can you not report him for entering your chambers without your permission?”

“It would do little good. He has the ear of the Emperor, something even that I cannot change. Were it as simple a matter as you make it out to be, I would see to it that Heigöro have spent the time he has devoted to harassing me in a shallow, unmarked grave.”

Working up some measure of courage, Toyame ventured a remark that she had dreaded and wanted to put forth at the same time. “Janus,” she asked, “why is the glyph of Vision burned into your torso?”

“It is one of the three things necessary to make a Choice. You must have vision, hence the glyph upon my eye, a weapon, hence the glyph upon my sword, and a body, hence the glyph upon my chest. Whether you take these things literally or metaphorically, they are that which is required to Choose.”

“What do you regard them as?”

“Vision is intelligence – the ability to comprehend, to judge and to weigh one thing against another. The weapon is the force behind the Choice – if you Choose to do something, you must go through with it, not sit about thinking about it. The body is the most debatable, but it is commonly settled upon that it is what houses the intelligence and the weapon – it is what transports the two and enables the wielder of these things to find Choices to make.”

“Yet your Oath of Vision prohibits you from making a Choice.”

“Precisely. We possess these three things necessary to Choose, but we do not utilize them. It is a constant reminder of our place. The trinity also allows us to see Time in the frame of Choice. You see, Toyame, Time is as much inscrutable to the wandering eye as is philosophy to a child. To comprehend philosophy the child must secure his own place in the world first and form definitive understandings, so that he may have a framework in which to view the philosophy to comprehend it better. In order to see Time as it is affected by Choice, we must be able to place it within Choice’s framework. When you look at Time as many series of events triggered and divided by Choice, you perceive these divisions and deviations, whereas if you try to comprehend it as an entirety it is impossible. You will see nothing but unorganized chaos.”

“In other words, it is the mindset in which you view the thing that determines how you perceive it.”

“Precisely. Have you ever seen a rainbow, Toyame?”

She stumbled for a brief moment over this unexpected question, then nodded. “Yes, several times.”

“How do you perceive the rainbow?”

“Do you mean my reaction to it?”

“Yes, but what is your base perception? When you see the rainbow, what instantly crosses your mind?”

“I think that it is a thing of beauty.”

“Why? What provokes this perception of beauty?”

Toyame hesitated a second. “Its colors are pleasing,” she decided. “It is also a rare thing. You do not see one every day.”

Janus nodded. “That is true. What if you were to see one every day, Toyame? Would it become less pleasing?”

“I cannot say for sure. I do not think it would be less pleasing. I would just not notice it as much.”

“Now, let us act upon the assumption that you see a rainbow every day. What if one day you look up and you see no rainbow?”

“I would be surprised at its absence.”

“Would you be shocked? Dismayed? You have been deprived of a pleasing thing, a thing of beauty.”

“I do not think I would be shocked or dismayed. It is a thing of beauty, yes, but I would not feel deprived. I saw one every day.”

“So you say it would not be less pleasing if you saw one every day, yet if it vanished one day you would not miss it. Toyame, how do you react when you see a rainbow and then it vanishes?”

“I am disappointed.”

“Yes. Why are you disappointed?”

Toyame could not fathom the purpose of the conversation, but she played along. “I would say I am disappointed because a thing of beauty has vanished.”

“So, you are disappointed when the rainbow you see only once in a long time vanishes, yet you are nonchalant when the rainbow you see every day disappears. Could it be that seeing a thing every day diminishes its beauty? Or perhaps it is your feelings for it that are diminished? Or perhaps it is not a thing of diminishment at all, but rather a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. Perhaps by not seeing a rainbow every day, it becomes more beautiful to you, and when you do see it you appreciate it more.”

“Those are good theories, yes. Pardon me if I fail to see what relevance they have to the goings-on of the Emperor’s palace.”

Janus pinned Toyame with a stare. “What will your reaction be when I am gone, Toyame?”

This took her aback. “What do you mean?”

“When I am gone, how will you take it? Will it be as the rainbow you see every day vanishing, or will you react as though the rainbow you see once in a great while has vanished?”

Toyame was at a loss for words. She finally managed, “I do not know.”

“You do not know yet. I think you will soon make that Choice for yourself.”

“I really cannot compare you, a person, vanishing, to a rainbow vanishing. There is simply a base difference in your natures that I am unable to overcome.”

Janus sighed. “You miss the point I am making, Toyame. Enough talk for today. I will finish my bath, and we will have no more interruptions from Heigöro or his ilk.” He began to walk back towards the inner chamber, then paused for a second. “Oh, yes. When a man named Tenkan knocks at the door and requests your presence in the Tower of Vision, do follow him. I believe my order wishes to have an interview with you.” With that said, he turned and reentered his inner chamber, closing the door behind him.

No sooner had he done so than when a knock sounded upon the door.

“Who is it?” Toyame asked.

“The name is Tenkan,” a deep voice said from behind the door. “The Order of Vision requests your presence in the Tower, Lady Toyame.”

Toyame opened the door to be confronted with a man straight out of the dreams she had that were so wild the presence had done nothing to try to restrain them. He stood just slightly higher than she did. His brown shoulder-length hair was tied back in a ponytail and pulled back from his forehead, which was smooth. His face was handsome and thoughtful, with deep green eyes, a perfect nose, and full lips. His frame was broad and powerful, not heavily muscled like Ukina’s or wiry like Janus’ but a blend of the two that she found very attractive. He bore the glyph of Vision tattooed on the back of each of his hands and on his forehead.

“Janus-san has given permission for you to accompany me, yes?” he asked. His voice was deeper and more vibrant when there was no door separating the two of them.

“He did. Please lead the way.”

Tenkan nodded, bowed her out of the room, and closed the door behind them. He regulated his long stride perfectly so that he was always just a tiny bit ahead of Toyame, so she could follow his lead without feeling that he was leaving her side. It was a protective attitude, and Toyame would be lying if she said she was not flattered.

Turning her attention to the glyphs of Vision on his hands, she ventured a guess. “Would I be mistaken in assuming both your ‘body’ and your ‘weapon’ are your fists?”

He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and nodded approvingly. “I am a hand-to-hand fighter, Lady Toyame. I go where I am needed, and were I to make a Choice that is how I would come upon it.”

“And the glyph of Vision upon your forehead… Janus has his inscribed upon his right eye. Is there a difference?”

Tenkan nodded again. “Janus-san’s gifts are unusual, and he is, pardon my uncultured language, my lady, something of a maverick in the Order. Most of us only view Time in the meditative trance. Janus-san is the only one of us at present who can view the physical world and place it within a certain point in Time. It is uncertain whether this gift comes from the fact that he does not have physical vision in his right eye, the fact that he uses a glyph inscribed upon an eye, the fact that he treats the thing in his socket that bears the glyph as an eye… As I believe Janus-san said to you, things change depending on your point of view.”

“What is your personal opinion of the matter, Tenkan-sama?”

“You unkindly flatter me, my Lady. I am but an oaf who would do well to keep his opinions to himself.”

“I would be pleased to hear your views.”

The two of them stepped onto the Golden River Stairway and it began to convey them to the Tower of Vision.

“If it pleases my Lady, then I should be happy to present my opinion. I do not believe Janus-san’s unique power has anything to do with his not having a true eye, or the glyph being inscribed upon that which he uses as a replacement. I believe Janus-san can do this because he sees more clearly than most of us do.” He turned his full gaze on Toyame. “When I look at you, my Lady, I experience elation. You are very beautiful, as you are no doubt well aware.”

Toyame could not hold back a small smile. “Thank you.”

“It is not my place to accept thanks, my Lady. As I said, you are beautiful to behold. I must confess I was quite overcome when you greeted me at the doorway of Janus-san’s chambers. However, I believe that when Janus-san looks at you he does not place much importance upon the physical. I think for him it is the intangible that is important, the soul or the essence, so much that the physical becomes the intangible and the intangible becomes the physical for him. He sees you not as a person, but a soul housed in a body. He can read this soul that he sees and view how it acts upon Time, and so in his dual perception of the soul and of that which is of this world, he may combine the two.”

“It is an interesting theory. Have you spoken to him about it?”

“I have not. It is merely a theory, after all, and corroborating it is too much to ask of Janus-san. Revealing the inner workings of one’s technique to a potential foe is almost beyond him.”

“A potential foe? You are of the same Order.”

“As I said, if my theory is indeed true, or at least accurate to a degree, then Janus-san sees your naked soul. Its good and its bad are exposed to him, as easy for him to read as you read my expression. For someone who sees all the potential evil in people, even when it is placed alongside the potential good, trust does not come easily.”

The Golden River Stairway came to a halt and Tenkan said, “We have arrived.”

Toyame looked up at the Tower of Vision. Up close it seemed much more massive, its silver precipice rising up and seeming to pierce the sky. There was no telling what lay inside; there were no windows from which to look in upon, only the one door that stood before her.

“Let us proceed,” Tenkan suggested. “The Order is patient, but Time is limited, as we well know. Pray step inside, my lady.”

The door opened before her.

Without another word, Toyame walked into the Tower of Vision.

Omg I actually left off at a scene change this time. Thank the Lord that I included one there. pant That’s all folks!

Update tonight! Yay!

Darkness was the first thing that came to her.

Toyame blinked to try to clear her vision, but the darkness remained. Only then did she realize there was a blindfold over her eyes.

As her senses slowly reported in, she became aware she was in a kneeling position, with her torso upright. Her hands and feet were bound, but she was otherwise untouched.

She recalled being struck when she stepped through the door of the Tower of Vision. Tenkan? Did he strike me?

Toyame heard the man’s deep, resonant tones raised in protest. “This is unjust! The Order is not supposed to –”

A high, angry voice belonging to another man cut Tenkan off. “Quiet! The days of the Order sitting locked in this tower and doing nothing are over. It is as we have seen it. You may retire now.” The last sentence rung with the sound of a command.

Tenkan tried again. “She is the daughter of Kosuke Masahige, seventy-fourth Emperor of Creation! How can you ill-treat her this way?”

The sound of a blow rang out, and Toyame could not help but wince. “You know your place, Tenkan-kun. Remove yourself to your room and remain there until sent for.”

There was a loud moment of silence, then the angry voice calmed itself and turned its attention to Toyame. “I can see that you are awake. Pardon me if I do not welcome you to our Tower.”

“You dare injure me and then take me as your captive?” Toyame snarled, trying to muster outraged dignity. “I should kill you!”

“However, it is most clear that you are at present unable to kill me. I am quite flattered that you would turn your most holy wrath on me, but I fear I have other business to attend to.”

Toyame stiffened. “I will not be ignored! When Janus finds me missing –”

“I was wondering where you were, Toyame,” a dry, mocking voice rang out in the darkness.


“It seems, Okita-san, that you have had the Order move faster than you initially indicated to me,” Janus said nonchalantly, as if Toyame was not even in the room.

“I assumed you could remain with us. You are, after all, an unusual man,” responded the man whose name was apparently Okita.

“You flatter me, Okita-san,” Janus laughed.

Toyame finally found her voice. “Janus! What are you doing?”

Even blindfolded, she felt his right eye turn to gaze at her. “Exactly what I have been planning, Toyame-dono.”

Her stomach lurched. “You have deceived me this entire time?”

“I am afraid I have. It is for the protection of the kingdom, after all. I am sure you will understand.”

“Unlikely,” Toyame spat. “Is your Order attempting a takeover of the government?”

“We are saving the government,” Okita broke in. “It is our place as its protectors.”

“What do you need me for?”

“You bear great resemblance to the Emperor’s late daughter. The old man is senile enough now that we could probably use Janus-san to fool him. We had Janus-san tell the Emperor of your supposed marriage, then arranged your disappearance. The dissident factions within the government will of course be blamed for this. We will isolate them and wipe them out, recovering you in the process, after which you will be wed to Janus-san. He will become the new Emperor, and you will be Empress. A good execution, if somewhat primitive.”

Toyame listened to this in disbelief. “You are not the protectors of the government! You are the ‘dissident factions’ you speak so lightly of!”

“We are protecting the kingdom against what will come in the future, Toyame-dono,” Janus said. “With a weak old Emperor like Masahige on the throne, the kingdom will not face the trials to come. We of the Order of Vision possess the foresight and the knowledge to be in a position to keep this kingdom alive and well. All we need is a foot in the door, so to speak, of the royal lineage.”

“What of your precious Oath?” Toyame hissed. “What happened to never taking advantage of your power?”

“We are not taking advantage of our power, but rather utilizing it to best serve the kingdom,” Okita snarled. “You dare insult us and imply that we break the Oath? Were you not key to our plans I would kill you.”

“I will not cooperate with you,” Toyame swore.

“Indeed?” Janus asked. She heard his footsteps cross the room lightly in four or five strides. A sudden heat told her he had drawn his blade.

“It is amazing, some of the uses for a heat enchantment,” Janus said nonchalantly. “Do you know the other reason certain persons have heat enchantments applied to weapons?”

Toyame remained silent.

Janus leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I think you will find this enlightening.”

White-hot pain slashed across Toyame’s stomach. She screamed, squeezing her blindfolded eyes shut at the pain.

“I can inflict most any kind of wound on you and it is instantly cauterized,” Janus said. Toyame could see in her mind’s eye his insane smile. “There is little to no risk of you dying from my ministrations due to blood loss. And there are such wonderful techniques…”

Toyame screamed again as he drew the glyph of Vision into her back.

“The wedding robes, after all, hide everything but your face,” Okita said. “That gives Janus-san plenty to work on. By the time he is done with you, you will be willing to do anything for us. I have seen it happen many a time. He truly works miracles with that sword of his.” A pause. “Before you entertain yourself, Janus-san, shouldn’t you go meet with the dissidents? If you are late to a meeting they may suspect you.”

Tears stirred in Toyame’s eyes as Janus lazily traced the tip of his smoldering blade along the backs of her shoulders and down her right arm. “It is about that time, yes,” Janus agreed. “I shall be on my way.”

“I will see to Tenkan. He is still youthful and impulsive, and I will not have him acting against us. I doubt his commitment to the Oath is weak enough for him to break it and Choose to fight with the dissidents, but there is always a chance. I have seen the possibilities.”

“Until we meet again, Okita-san.”

Toyame heard Okita walk out of the room. When he was gone, she felt the ambient temperature drop as Janus sheathed his blade. He stepped behind her, and she braced herself for a blow.

Instead, he took hold of her wrists and pulled them apart with such force her bindings snapped. A moment later he did the same for her feet.

She blinked at the light flooding her vision as Janus removed her blindfold.

“What are you doing this for?” Toyame asked bitterly.

Janus walked around to the front of her and met her gaze. His face was stony, unexpressive.

Abruptly, he dropped to his knees and pressed his head to the floor. He looked up at her and said, “I hope you can find it within you to forgive me for what I just did.”

Toyame felt her head spin. “You… are actually a dissident?”

“Yes. I am the only one in the Order with the exception of Tenkan who has not fallen prey to corruption. I see that he has removed himself from the Tower, and Okita will see that he is nowhere to be found.” He rose and took Toyame by the hand. “We must hurry. We cannot be late.”

“Wait a moment. Tenkan chose to do something? He broke the Oath?”

Janus grimaced. “By even existing in our current state, Toyame, we all break the Oath. It is a discussion for another time. We must move on to the meeting.” He began to hurry her down a flight of stairs.

“What do you dissidents plan to do?”

“We are not dissidents. We are the loyal servants of the Emperor, seeking to eradicate the enemy in our midst and preserve the kingdom.”

“Who is in on this?”

“Myself, Ukina, Tenkan, the imperial guards, the Emperor, and now you.”

Toyame was surprised. “So those you supposedly called your enemies…”

“Are my allies. I told you that the state of affairs here is twisted. I had to measure your trustworthiness, and you passed my test inside the Tower when you refused to cooperate. I know you will not divulge our secret.”

“Will my miraculous escape not cast suspicion on you? You were the last person to be in the room with me.”

“I am above suspicion within the Order. They will assume that Tenkan freed you after I left the room. There are many pathways through the Tower of Vision, and Okita could easily have missed a renegade on his way to Tenkan’s room.”

They arrived at the Golden River Stairway, the door to the Tower of Vision closing behind them. Toyame, worn from her ordeal, instinctively leaned on Janus for support.

“Thank you, Janus.”

“Thank me when I have seen you through this. We are not out of danger yet.”

The Golden River Stairway bore them to the Tower of Ivory. They entered it and ascended a staircase. At the top they entered a room.

It was circular, with a low domed ceiling and a round table placed in the center of the floor. The table came up to Toyame’s waist, and she was not what she considered to be a very tall person. More of the peculiar chairs were placed around the table.

Seated in these chairs were Ukina, Tenkan, several imperial guards, and the Emperor.

As they came in, the Emperor rose to his feet. “Janus-san,” he said. “Is Toyame-san injured?”

“She is. I had to pretend to give her a preliminary torturing to placate Okita.”

San?” Toyame whispered. “You know I am not your daughter, your Highness?”

“Of course I do,” the Emperor replied as he moved to Toyame. “My daughter died years ago. I was a broken man, and my wife died as well. With my daughter gone, there was nobody I count could on to rule the kingdom with a gracious hand after I was gone. Left alone, I despaired of finding a suitable heir, until Janus-san approached me with this plan.”

Janus elaborated, “After I gave Masahige-sama my plan to find a girl who resembled his daughter, one that was kind-hearted and unspoiled, Okita asked me what I had told the Emperor. I at once saw that he and the rest of the Order – with the exception of Tenkan here – were eager to use whatever method for finding an heir I had suggested to the Emperor to their own advantage. To keep my position so I could use it against them later, I revealed the plan to them. They instructed me to carry it out, and then they would arrange for you to be married to me. When I informed Masahige-sama, Ukina-san, Tenkan-kun, and the legion of loyal imperial guards of this development, we banded together to form an unofficial counterforce to combat the Order. Unfortunately, our existence did not remain secret for long, taking into account the kind of foe we were facing. The only one of us whose cooperation was not suspected was Masahige-sama. Okita confronted me with my part in the counter-plan, so I devised a ruse, saying I had gone undercover for the Order. To make them assured of my position with them, I suggested the abduction scheme – that is, to make you disappear and blame it on the ‘dissidents.’ We would scatter this dissident faction, recover you, and blame your abduction on them, effectively reassuring my position as future Emperor.”

Toyame took this in with some measure of surprise, though by this point she was fairly inured to astonishment.

“Hold still, if you please,” the Emperor murmured. He lightly placed the tips of his fingers against Toyame’s back, upon the glyph of Vision that Janus had carved into her flesh. There was a white glow, and Toyame sighed as she felt a cooling sensation wash over the wound and mend it, making it whole again. The Emperor walked around to Toyame’s front and repeated the process with the wound on her stomach, then with the laceration burned into her shoulders and right arm.

“Thank you,” she said.

“The trials ahead will call for you to be whole,” the Emperor replied. “It is nothing.”

“So, Janus,” Toyame murmured, turning to face him. “Your plan was to find someone who resembled the Emperor’s daughter and was an unspoiled, kind-hearted girl. I fit your criteria, so you took me from where I was ensconced and killed the man who was keeping me there to ensure that his hold over me was negated. Did you really execute him because he denied me my ability to Choose?”

“I had to keep in character,” Janus replied. “That is why I destroyed your former Master, and why I sentenced those bandits on the road to death rather than simply killing them. That is why Ukina-san addressed me as kun on the road, and I addressed him as dono. This room,” he motioned at their surroundings, “is the only place that the power of Vision cannot pierce. The Tower of Ivory once had a different name, one that has been lost to many, even those in the Order.”

“Namely,” Ukina said, “the Tower of Secrecy.”

“How it is a Tower of Secrecy?” Toyame asked.

Tenkan answered her. “This tower is not made of demon elephant ivory for the sake of, pardon my vulgarity, an architectural fetish, my Lady. Such material is highly resistant to temporal magic, which is what the power of Vision uses. Such a power works on sources both inside and out, so while we are in this room Janus-san and I are virtually blind. Demon elephant ivory also stops sound from traveling through it, meaning any room created from it is soundproof.”

“This is the most secure location in the entire kingdom,” Ukina added. “It is only here that we can drop our guises and revert to our true natures.”

“Naturally, however, we are all seen by the Order going into the Tower of Ivory before we vanish from their sight, so repeated meetings put us all under suspicion,” Janus said. “The reason Masahige-sama is the only one among us that is not suspected is because he comes to the Tower to meditate in the uppermost chamber every day.”

“It is an acoustically dead, soundproofed room,” the Emperor sighed. “Total silence… We of the Kosuke line have very sensitive hearing, as you can tell, Toyame. Sound presses in on us, never ceasing its assault, as we rely on it in lieu of sight. Utter silence is a treasured commodity, which is why I prize the Tower of Ivory so highly.”

“On to business,” Ukina said. “Heigöro seems about ready to make his move.”

“Heigöro is going to move? How?” Toyame inquired.

“He is the head military scientist of the kingdom,” Tenkan replied. “For many years he has been developing great weapons, powerful ones, but Masahige-sama’s reign is a peaceful one and as a result Heigöro cannot utilize any of his prized weapons. The idea of a change in the balance of power through force intrigues him, so naturally he has allied himself with the Order of Vision.”

“Pardon my interruption,” said one of the imperial guards, “but I have heard strange and horrible rumors running throughout the troops about Heigöro’s weapons. I know not where they originate from, but the rumors are to the effect of Heigöro having an army of unlimited size at his personal disposal.”

“That would prove dangerous indeed,” the Emperor exclaimed gravely. “Such a little man with so narrow a comprehension, a position of such vast power… it is not a good mix.”

“I agree,” Janus spoke up. “If Heigöro is ready to strike, then he will pressure the Order into acting, as well. I think the best course is to let Heigöro try to get to you, Masahige-sama. When we defeat him and are about to kill him, we pry from him his confession of being spurred on by the Order. We take the opportunity to go in and rid the kingdom of that cancer once and for all.”

“A good plan,” the Emperor agreed. “We are all in concordance with this?”

“What if it should fail and Heigöro assaults you?” Toyame asked. “How would we deal with the situation then?”

The Emperor gave a small smile, but the outline of his eyes beneath his blindfold hardened. “I am not so defenseless that I cannot fend off a worm like Heigöro,” he said calmly.

“In that case, please place yourself in your throne room, then, and await our return,” Janus told the Emperor. “We will tell you when we have pacified the enemy.”

Kosuke Masahige nodded. “It will be my pleasure to receive your favorable report, Janus-san.”

Janus bowed his head for a moment, then straightened it again. “Now, the rest of you. You guards, rally your fellows. Take the normal stairways into the Tower of the Emperor and secure the throne room. Protect Masahige-sama. Ukina-san, Tenkan-kun, the two of you and myself will break Heigöro and whatever weapons he has.” Janus turned his gaze on Toyame. “Toyame, I feel that I may ask too much of you, but my confidence in you outweighs my doubt. I require a certain object in my inner chamber for the fight with Okita. Take the Golden River Stairway to the level of the Tower of the Emperor which my chambers are on. Retrieve the object and bring it to me. I will await you at the entrance to the throne room.”

Toyame nodded. She knew that if Janus did not bother to mention what he required, it would be instantly obvious to her.

“Let us depart, then,” the Emperor said.

All of them rose from the table and headed towards the entrance. Only when they descended the stairs did they realize that the Golden River Stairway was gone.

“Heigöro,” Janus growled. “He has obviously decided to make his move now. Too soon, too soon. If we call the Golden River Stairway back to us, he will know exactly where we are and will be able to seal off all avenues of escape. To avoid him and give us a fighting chance, we will have to descend the normal stairways in this tower, move through the palace proper, and ascend to the Tower of the Emperor to secure the throne room.” Looking at the imperial guards, Janus instructed them, “When we get to the point where you can split off from us and regroup with your comrades, do so. Take the alternate means into the Tower of the Emperor. You know the way.” The guards nodded. Janus turned to Toyame. “Toyame, there is a place just after the spot the guards will leave us that you can call the Golden River Stairway. We will proceed to the throne room. You take the Stairway to my chambers and retrieve the object. I have no doubt you will arrive just in time.”

These instructions issued, the party set out at a quick pace. Janus and Ukina took the lead, with Toyame and Tenkan flanking the Emperor in the middle of the formation, while the imperial guards brought up the rear. They descended a long stairway until they reached its end, where it opened up into a large hallway.

“To the right,” Ukina said. “That will take us towards our destination.”

They had no sooner started in that direction than Heigöro stepped out around a bend in the corridor.

“Heigöro!” Janus snarled. He had his smoldering blade out, poised to strike. Ukina had also drawn his life-sapper blade. Tenkan had smoothly relaxed into a fighting stance. The two guards were both equipped with long spears and a blade. One drew his long spear, while the other handed his polearm to Toyame to use and drew his blade instead. The weapon was not unfamiliar to Toyame, as her Master had trained her in staff combat; it was actually lighter than her old staff, which she suspected had been destroyed by the Order.

“Janus,” Heigöro acknowledged him. “Ukina. Tenkan. Your Highness.” His gaze drifted to Toyame. “Bitch.”

Tenkan snarled. “Know your place, worm. For every insult you burden Lady Toyame with, I will break ten of your bones.”

Heigöro chuckled. “A bold statement. Considering you are facing my finest creation, it may prove to be more than you can accomplish.” He held out a hand, and in it was a pile of seeds.

“Seeds?” Ukina laughed. “You plan to assault us with tiny seeds? Perhaps they will sprout plants in our skin! A weapon such as this would strike fear in any enemy of the kingdom!” He guffawed.

The insidious smile that washed over Heigöro’s face was not that of annoyance or anger. It was a smile of supreme confidence.

“Let us see how you fare against the homunculi,” he laughed.

His hand turned palm-down, and the seeds dropped to the ground. He breathed a word, and they began to sprout.

Horror and disgust rose from deep inside Toyame. With awful shrieks, fully mature humanoids emerged from the seeds, growing at a terribly unnatural rate. Every vein and artery stood out on their skin, every muscle flexed and spasmed at once.

They differed from a normal human in the fact that they were much larger and more muscular. They had claws instead of nails, and fangs instead of normal teeth; they did not possess any reproductive organs, either. Glowering at Toyame and her allies, the humanoids stood there, tensed and ready to spring.

“Homunculi?” Toyame croaked. “What are these abominations?”

“Long, long ago, it was the belief that life was spontaneously generated,” Janus said quietly. “People would observe maggots in rotting food when the day before there were none and assume that the rotting food gave rise to the little creatures. And when the discovery of the sperm was made, it was believed that a fully formed, tiny human existed in one, ready to sprout and grow. These miniature humans were called homunculi.” He motioned disgustedly at the creatures that stood before them. “These beasts are a polymerization of the two beliefs, a sinful union of two wrongs. And Heigöro could not stop at that; he had to improve the creatures.”

“Impressive, no?” Heigöro laughed proudly. “A disposable army of perfectly willing drones, ready to fight and die at your command. Any one of them can be replaced with ten more. This is indeed my greatest accomplishment, one that is unrivaled in its majesty.”

“Unrivaled in its abhorrence is the fairer term,” the Emperor said sternly. “I cannot see these homunculi, but I heard their hideous births. I hear the air scraping against their skin as they sway where they stand. I see in my mind’s eye the humanoid form, with its claws and fangs. You disgust me, Heigöro. How you came to be the kingdom’s military scientist is far beyond me.”

Heigöro laughed. “There is no time for regrets now, old man. My army is waiting for you. Try and get past them. You will never succeed.” With that, the little man turned on his heel and disappeared back around the bend.

The homunculi uttered an ululating, ear-piercing scream and charged, foaming at the mouths. Janus sliced clean through the skulls of two of them with one sweep, but the others were undeterred. Ukina darted back and forth among them, not bothering with finesse but instead concentrating on inflicting wounds so the life-sapper could do its work. A moment later half the group screamed as their lifeblood poured forth in crimson fountains from their lacerations.

The other half charged past Janus and went for Toyame, Tenkan, and the Emperor.

Tenkan gave a battle shout and smashed in the skull of the closest enemy. He moved into a whirling kick, breaking the necks of three more his foot connected with. Toyame twirled her spear about her, hacking off limbs with the sharp head and breaking bones with the metal pole.

One of the homunculi managed to get within range of the Emperor. It hissed with glee and went for his throat.

Kosuke Masahige laughed and slammed his open palm against the homunculi’s forehead, stopping the creature’s charge cold. “I am not so easily taken,” the seventy-fourth Emperor of Creation said in a calm, deadly voice. “I hereby exorcise your filth from my kingdom.”

A light flared beneath the aged man’s outstretched hand, and the homunculi’s head disintegrated in a blast of energy. The headless torso shuddered and spasmed for a moment before falling lifeless to the ground.

“Does this change anything?” Ukina asked as he nonchalantly wiped his blade with the hem of his robe, careful not to touch the cursed steel with his bare hands.

“No,” Janus replied. “We go to the throne room and secure it. Toyame still goes and procures the object. Nothing is changed.”

“Very well,” the Emperor said. The frailty that tempered his voice when Toyame first heard him speak was gone. His tone was razor-sharp, deadly quiet and laced with power. “We will proceed to the throne room.”

They moved down the hallway, killing the homunculi that accosted them. The creatures were not a great threat individually, but they came in groups, and these groups came at the party in waves. It was not long before Toyame’s arms had gone numb from swinging the spear she had been given.

As they dispatched another group of homunculi, Janus said, “You guards, go quickly. Rally your comrades and have them proceed to the throne room through the secret passage behind the dragon throne. Toyame, the place where you can summon the Golden River Stairway is just ahead.”

Toyame ran up to the summoning point. It was a large archway in the wall that opened up into thin air. “Hurry!” Janus told her, and then he and the rest of the party rounded a band and were gone.

As to those who are wondering where I got the term homunculi (and as to those who are saying “OMGWTF STOLED FROM FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST”), I heard the word on FMA and wondered what it meant. So I did a little research and found the results to be very interesting. I had been debating what to give our resident mad scientist as a weapon, so I figured these things would be a good place to start. Thus, the homunculi attack.

The final update’s coming tomorrow. Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion and stuff!

I’ve never seen FMA, but the term itself is ancient, as far as I know.

That said, your plot has got more twists than a pretzel factory. I likes. :hahaha;

And now ladies and gentlemen… the final update. Again I’ll start with a line from the previous update because of the gross lack of scene changes.

Toyame ran up to the summoning point. It was a large archway in the wall that opened up into thin air. “Hurry!” Janus told her, and then he and the rest of the party rounded a bend and were gone.

Belatedly, Toyame realized that she had no idea how to call the Stairway.

Reverting to instinct, she cupped her hands to her mouth and screamed, “Stairway! I need you to come to me!”

Not four seconds later, the Golden River Stairway shot up to the archway and then stopped so she could get on.

“I need you to take me to Janus’ chambers,” she said to it. “I… understand you may be dissatisfied with your station in life, but…”

She could have sworn the Stairway laughed.

Without much warning, it took off, flying through the air at top speed. It was only when Toyame could see the open, darkening sky that she realized there were homunculi in her way. And they had wings.

Huge, bony, bat-like wings sprouted from their shoulder blades. They screeched and angled in for an attack.

They’ll pluck me off the Stairway and I’ll fall to my death, Toyame thought desperately.

As the first homunculi swooped in at her, the Stairway served away, so the beast dove short of Toyame and caved in its skull against the Stairway’s side.

More attacked, and the Stairway dodged and weaved with graceful fluidity. Toyame quickly gathered her wits and began spearing the ones that were not bludgeoned to death by the Stairway.

The Stairway neared the entrance to Janus’ chambers, and it gave off a strong impression of “get ready.” Toyame nodded and braced herself. With a buck and a quick, powerful spasm, the Golden River Stairway catapulted Toyame through the open air, landing her on the stairs up to Janus’ chambers. The Stairway remained behind, waiting for her and smacking homunculi out of the air.

Toyame raced up the steps three at a time, burst into Janus’ outer chamber, and then entered his inner chamber for the first time.

It was much smaller than the outer chamber. The ceiling was lower. A large bed dominated the floor. Above the bed, carved out of the wall, was a bas-relief of a man with two faces, one facing to the left and the other to the right.

That must be the god Janus, Toyame thought. Then she saw the object Janus had sent her to procure.

Set into a groove in the wall above the Janus bas-relief was a wakizashi. Its sheath was made of oak and its hilt was iron.

Toyame got on the bed, stood on tiptoe, and removed the wakizashi. She got back down to the ground, then, on an impulse, she unsheathed the blade.

It was rather unremarkable at first glance, bearing no enchantments, but upon closer inspection one could discern that it was superbly forged.

Near the base of the blade, there was a name marked into the steel that made the hair on the back of Toyame’s neck rise.

So that is who Janus really is.

Without a word, Toyame replaced the wakizashi in its sheath and exited Janus’ chambers. She ran back down to where the Golden River Stairway was waiting for her. Leaping aboard, she said, “Please take me to the stairway that leads to the Emperor’s throne room.”

Evidently, Toyame’s politeness pleased the Stairway, for it did a little midair prance before rocketing up towards the top of the Tower of the Emperor.

It deposited her at the stairway leading up to the reception chamber. Toyame started to run up the stairs, stopped, turn about, and thanked the Stairway. Then she continued her ascent.

She ran into the reception room just in time to see Heigöro sweep a covering sheet off of something monstrous.

It was a large, metal cylinder mounted upon a wooden base. At the front of the cylinder was a series of holes. At the rear was a large rectangular slot into which a very long link was being fed. The link was composed of small, pointed metal darts chained in rows. Heigöro’s hand rested on a crank that protruded from the side of the device.

“What do you think?” Heigöro asked gleefully. “I was given the idea by the Order of Vision. It is called a machine gun. I turn this crank, and the gun propels this little darts, called bullets, out at a velocity sufficient to crush bone. It fires two hundred bullets a second. Amazing, no?”

He turned the crank, and the gun roared, spitting fire. Janus pushed everyone out of the way, and the bullets thudded into the wall, sending stone shrapnel flying.

“Toyame!” Janus yelled. “Give me it!”

Toyame threw him the wakizashi. He caught it in a reverse grip.

“One blade, two, it doesn’t make a difference!” Heigöro shouted with manic glee. “You’re all going to die!”

“IMBECILE!” Janus roared. He charged through the stream of bullets, moving so fast even Ukina started with surprise.

The sheaths of both his blades, katana and wakizashi, clattered to the ground in his wake.

“Niten Ichi Ryū secret technique,” Janus intoned as his blades closed in on the little man standing behind the fearsome machine. “Sōryūsen Ikazuchi!

His swords flashed, there was a scream, and the machine gun fell silent.

Janus stood frozen, wakizashi and katana bared. Heigöro also stood frozen, but only for a moment.

Then half his skull fell off, the wound cauterized. Blood spurted form his chest, and then the upper half of his torso tipped off the rest of his body. The other half of his now-dead form collapsed to the floor.

As Janus straightened up, Tenkan stood stunned.

“The reverse hold on the wakizashi, the Niten Ichi Ryū style, the Twin-Dragon Lightning secret technique…” he whispered.

Ukina and the Emperor were unsurprised.

“Your Highness Masahige,” Ukina said, “I present to you Miyamoto Musashi, the greatest warrior to ever live in this kingdom.”

“Miyamoto Musashi…” Toyame said disbelievingly. “The name on your wakizashi. I assumed it had simply belonged to the great legend and that you were now in possession of it, but I never suspected that you could be him! How old are you?”

“More than two thousand years old,” replied Musashi.

“How have you managed to live this long?” Tenkan asked.

“I do not know. Destiny, I assume. I have been called upon to be this nation’s protector, and this is a role I have served for many years.”

“Well, Heigöro is dead,” said the Emperor. “Time to resume the plan.” He walked to the entrance of the throne room, threw open the door, and entered.

The rest of them were about to follow him to make sure the room was secure when Musashi abruptly slammed the door shut.

“What are you doing?” Toyame asked. “We need to ensure that the throne room is safe!”

“Oh, it is,” Musashi replied with an unstable grin. “After all, we would not want the Emperor dying before the Order arrives.”

A creeping suspicion entered Toyame’s mind at the same time that it entered the minds of Ukina and Tenkan.

“Jan- Musashi-sama,” Tenkan corrected himself. “Is there something you are not telling us?”

The unstable grin widened. “I would think that you could reason out the fact that you have been deceived on your own. I seem to be mistaken.”

“So you reveal your true colors,” Ukina growled. “Protector of the nation! I spit on your supposed devotion.” He drew his life-sapper blade. “I may not have a chance against you, but I will never allow this regicide. Prepare yourself, Musashi.”

“Hold!” Toyame commanded him. In spite of himself, Ukina obeyed.

“Musashi,” Toyame said. “I think that before the Order comes to claim the prize you have so artfully prepared for them, you owe me a few answers.”

“Perhaps I do. Give me your questions.”

“You said that the Oath of Vision was impossible to keep. Why is that?”

“The Oath requires us to swear that we will never make a Choice, that we will only let ourselves be moved by the Choices of others. This is impossible.”


“It is impossible because you must make a Choice not to make a Choice! To not do, you must Choose not to do! Can you not see this, Toyame? Free will is only free in that we see ourselves as its masters. We are its slaves. Just as the animal cannot make a Choice because it is not self-aware, we cannot not make a choice because we are self-aware. Every action is precipitated by a Choice to perform the action, and every non-action is precipitated by a Choice not to perform the action. If the action in question is the making of a Choice, you must first Choose whether to make it or whether not to! And supposing we continue down this line, you must Choose whether or not to make the Choice to make a Choice or not to!”

“I see,” Toyame said. “If that is the case, why did the Order of Vision even come up with that Oath, knowing full well its fraudulence? Did it imbue them with some sense of righteousness?”

“It was a propaganda tool, nothing more. The people of the kingdom would never tolerate an all-seeing sect that could directly influence their lives. We had to distance ourselves from them, so they would not perceive us as a threat. Our hard work and careful planning has finally culminated in this day.” Musashi laughed. “The Order will take the kingdom. It is inevitable. We will be fair rulers, and will give the kingdom security such as it has never seen before.”

“You will not,” Toyame stated.

Musashi blinked. “Pardon?”

“You will not take this kingdom. I will not allow it. A reign consisting of those who can see Time would be disastrous. You yourself said, Musashi, that if Time were to become concrete and centered like your personality, you would go quite insane. If the Order takes the nation, they will steer it down one path, the path they deem the best, the most expedient and secure. In doing so they will overstep their boundaries, and because of their destruction of Choice they will do to Time what you fear the most, and they will lose themselves in it. It would be a horrible tragedy.”

Musashi’s grin vanished from his face, to be replaced with a look of deadly calm. “You see clearly,” he said. “One could say you had the power of Vision, you are so accurate. Most remarkable. Nevertheless, you would pose a threat if you were left alive. I am afraid I will have to destroy you.”

Toyame felt her mind go numb with shock. She thought that if only she made clear the facts of what would happen if the Order ruled, Musashi would abandon this cause of his, become Janus again, and all would be well.

In her heart, the bitter truth of her naiveté flooded her being with despair.

“Are you ready, Toyame? Are you ready to face him?” Tenkan asked her quietly. He turned his gaze on her, his eyes soft with worry for her. “There stands the greatest warrior this nation has ever seen, Miyamoto Musashi. And behind him… stands Death.”

Toyame tried to nod, tried to give Tenkan some assurance, but found herself frozen, unable to move. Her body quivered.

Is it Miyamoto Musashi that frightens me so?

Realization came to her as Ukina and Tenkan attacked.

No!” she shouted, too late.

Ukina’s horizontal slash at Musashi’s chest was parried with the wakizashi held in the reverse grip. A split second later the katana sliced across his chest with such force that he was blown backwards and slammed into a wall. He slid down to the floor, stunned. At the same moment, Tenkan’s strike at Musashi’s head missed as the warrior ducked underneath it and delivered a hammer kick to Tenkan’s stomach. The young man flew backwards until he too slammed into a wall, though he managed to keep his footing.

Miyamoto Musashi straightened from his combat crouch, and Toyame looked upon his face.

It wore an expression that chilled her blood. His right eye remained cold and emotionless, but his left eye burned with a rage like she had never seen.

No?” he snarled. “NO? I am the one thing that stands between your preserving the kingdom and losing it and you try to stop your comrades from attacking me? I am the only obstacle you face, yet you willingly attempt to avoid me rather than taking me head-on? What is going through your mind?”

Toyame felt her anger rise to meet Musashi’s. “I do not know you, Miyamoto Musashi,” she said angrily. “I do know the man whose body you are in possession of. I will not see Janus die with you.”

Musashi’s gaze darkened. “You speak nonsense.”

“I speak truth. In some dark recess of your mind, there is Janus, pushed away by Musashi. I cannot see him die because I killed you. His nature is not like that of the rainbow I see only once in a great while, nor that of the rainbow I see every day. He is a human being, and I cannot take losing him so callously.” Looking Musashi in the eye, she said, “I will die before I cause the death of a man who deserved better, whether the kingdom is at stake or not. I will not compromise my principles for the sake of a greater cause, as you do. I will not stoop to your level.” She turned about, leaving him at her back. “Do what you must.”

She heard a sharp intake of breath, and then the entrance to the reception chamber opened and the entire Order of Vision walked through.

The words “Niten Ichi Ryū ultimate technique” broke the Order’s triumphant silence. Okita’s smug smile died on his lips as a blur wielding two flashing blades shot towards him, pronouncing his doom. “Amakakeru Ryū no Hirameki.

In one fell swoop, the entire Order of Vision was wiped out to a man. Bodies flew in the force of the Dragon Flight of Heaven attack. Okita’s head was blown clear off his body, disintegrated by the power of the technique.

Time slowed, as though it were mired in tar. Toyame saw the bodies falling to the ground, expressions of shock and horror plastered on the faces of those who still had heads.

And behind all of them, braking to a stop in front of the entrance of the reception hall, was Janus.

Time returned to normal, and Janus stood up, still holding the wakizashi in the reverse grip. He looked over his shoulder at Toyame, and the slightest hint of a smile played over his face.

“You pass, Toyame.”

Moments later, the four of them were standing in the throne room.

“I assume that Toyame passed the test,” the Emperor said.

“She did,” Janus replied.

Toyame was still dazed. “Test?” she asked. “What test did I pass?”

“The test to determine whether you would be Masahige-sama’s heir. You passed beautifully, Toyame,” Janus told her.

“You mean that all of this was a test? You staged it?”

Janus laughed. “Of course not. The rebellion was entirely real. None of this was staged. It could have ended very differently had you made a different Choice.”

His statement struck a chord within Toyame. His words flooded back to her. She had just asked him why they were going to the capital.

You are coming because you have a Choice to make there.

“That was the Choice I had to make,” Toyame said, the epiphany dawning on her. “I had to decide whether to resist you and set aside your right to Choose, or to preserve it and be prepared to die. Through all of this, I have not actively Chosen, only reacted to the Choices of others. This was the first true Choice I have made here.”

“Correction,” Janus broke in. “This was the first true Choice you have ever made. I must say, for a first Choice, it is an extremely good one. You are, however, correct about the Choice you made. You had to decide whether to respect my innate right to Choose, to let me live to make more Choices, or to kill me, deny me my right, and hope that good would come of it. In the end, though many would argue otherwise, I would say you Chose correctly.”

“But… putting the value of an individual before the value of an entire kingdom…” Toyame trailed off. “To me, it seems I was being extremely foolish.”

“Ah, but you see, you demonstrated to me you understood the individual. You know how precious the individual is. And what is a kingdom to rule over if there are none inhabiting it? Preservation of the individual is what leads to preservation of the kingdom. Sacrifices must be made in due course, but this is the basic law. You cannot have people to make these sacrifices unless you first have a person.” Janus smiled. “I think you understand that now.”

“I shall see you confirmed as my heir tomorrow,” the Emperor said. “I believe a marriage to Tenkan-kun would please you?”

Toyame started. “But I thought I was to marry Janus.”

“No,” Ukina said with a slightly sarcastic smile. “Tenkan is the better match for you.”

“You do Janus-sama a disservice,” Tenkan laughed.

Janus laughed as well, then quieted. His smile faded, and his face became very serious.

“Toyame, when I was Miyamoto Musashi, I was followed constantly by those who wanted to challenge me. I grew weary of the endless challenges and the duels. History says I died. Legend, which is in this case far more accurate, says I vanished. I did indeed vanish. I ceased carrying my wakizashi with me. I secreted it away where I could find it again if need be. My life prolonged by whatever force drove me to be this nation’s ward, I went about helping where I could. This went on for hundreds of years, and people forgot Miyamoto Musashi. I forgot Miyamoto Musashi.

“Then came the day when this nation, this kingdom, required a protector with an identity, with a position of power in the government. Masahige-sama had been left without an heir, and the leadership of the kingdom could not be passed down to just anybody. I was certain of that. I joined the Order of Vision, took Janus as my name, worked my way up through the ranks, and presented Masahige-sama with my plan. This led to where we stand now – a kingdom that no longer needs an heir, an heir that no longer needs a purpose, and a protector that no longer needs an identity.”

Toyame, shocked as she was, nodded. “You said that the kingdom and I would gain everything if I did as you asked,” she exclaimed. “Now you have fulfilled your declaration.”

Janus nodded. “Exactly. Now what the kingdom needs is no longer a protector with the force of arms and official power behind him, but rather a protector that can come and go as he is needed, one that is not limited by other responsibilities. Janus, I fear, is no more.”

“How will you do this?” Toyame asked, her voice quavering with disbelief. “Moreover, how can you leave me? I have known you but three days!”

“I do not intend to leave you without a memoir of me. Whenever you need guidance, in any aspect of your life, simply look to it and what I would do will come to you. Now…”

Janus turned around, so his back was facing Toyame and she could not see his face.

“The last time I disappeared, it was by leaving a piece of my identity behind. I abandoned my wakizashi, to retrieve it only when needed. Now, none remember the wakizashi and the katana, but many remember that which I will leave behind.”

He raised his hand to his face, gave a swift tug, and turned about.

Toyame could not restrain her gasp. Janus had removed his right eye. His right lid finally closed over the empty socket, something she suspected it had not done in a very long time.

He walked over to her, holding his eye in the palm of his hand. “It is very clean, so do not worry,” he assured her. “I have made sure of that.”

“You will leave your eye with me?” Toyame asked. “How can you do this? Will it not rob you of your power of Vision?”

Janus nodded. “It will. But did I ever ask for the power of Vision, Toyame? Or did I merely undertake what burden was necessary to achieve my goal?”

He handed the eye to her, then bowed to the Emperor, Tenkan, and Ukina. “Masahige-sama. Tenkan-kun. Ukina-san. It has been an honor.”

“May we see you again someday, Janus-san,” the Emperor said.

“Do not become a stranger to us, Janus-sama,” Tenkan added. “I would not have you forgetting us.”

“Take care of yourself, Janus-san,” Ukina said. “Don’t die on me.”

“Thank you,” Janus told them. He turned back to Toyame. “If you ever are in distress, Toyame, if the nation ever requires Janus to protect it again, I will come.”

Toyame nodded, blinking back tears and unable to speak.

The man that was no longer Musashi and no longer Janus took Toyame into a comforting embrace, then, almost hesitantly, kissed her, very lightly.

“Until we meet again,” he called as he left the throne room.

Toyame watched him leave, then felt her knees give out. She began to weep, impulsively, unable to stop. Tenkan laid a hand on her shoulder, but remained silent. He too was sad. Ukina and the Emperor displayed less emotion, but the both of them were withdrawn, distant. Even with them, their sorrow was obvious.

After a time, Toyame managed to quell her tears. She got to her feet, and remembered she was holding the silver eye.

The glyph of Vision was displayed upon one side, but upon the other, the side that was previously hidden in the eye socket, was a short message.

It read, For Toyame.

Well, there you have it. That is Choice, ladies and gentlemen, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Opinions on the overall work would be greatly appreciated. The only thing I dislike is the fact that Janus switches allegiances a little too fast, but I didn’t feel the story was complete without it.

Incidentally, for those of you who really know your manga (or are just freaks), the Sōryūsen Ikazuchi and Amakakeru Ryū no Hirameki moves aren’t mine. They’re lifted straight out of the Rurouni Kenshin manga, because I liked the way they sounded. The amount of Japanese I know could be inscribed on a ball bearing. =P Good night everybody.

I thought it was appropriate that he switched like that. Janus is a two-faced god, after all.

Still better than me. The only japanese I know well enough to use is “kawaii” and “baka”.

Miyamoto Musashi…wow. This was a good story, and you’re a great writer. I really hope you get something published someday. If you do, send me a signed copy.

Me too.

Haha, that I will. Incidentally, Lex, you’re the first person to pick up on my idea of having two faces not simply meaning that you see in two directions. I still wish he could have switched around a bit less, but hey, you liked it. ^^

Musashi is also a usable Hero in a Warcraft III map that I play, and I posted this story up on the map’s forum boards too, so it’s sort of a cameo for the people who read it over there.

I was thinking about that, but didn’t want to mention it. :wink: