Miko/Therka (Part 4)

Miko met Shojo’s gaze, and found herself confounded at how full of life the eyes of a dead man could be. The blue light emitting him basked her face as he levitated in front of her, and for a moment she seemed to be looking heavenwards. She met several false starts in attempting to say something to the ghost. Finally, she found the words she had wanted and said, “I knew that, eventually, you would come for me, either to haunt me or to drag me to my punishment.”

Shojo’s arms, which had been crossed over his chest, flopped to his sides. His head, and eyes, rolled back in irritation. “Miko…”

“Either way, I’m prepared.” Miko continued; if she had heard her name, she didn’t acknowledge it. “I’ve been prepared all these months.”

“Miko.”

“I freely acknowledge my crimes. Upon my shoulders lies the blood of the people of my city and of its ruler, and-“

“Miko, will you shut up?” Despite the casual tone, a sense of authority pervaded through the statement. “I’m not here to haunt you, and you’re not dead.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I told you already.” Miko watched as Shojo floated past her. “I’m here to talk.” Shojo turned back to face the woman, a glass of wine having appeared in his hand.

Miko felt her limbs go stiff as she watched the wall behind Shojo shimmer like a mirage, a ripple running through it as it expanded, the brown wood turning a deep shade of blue. Miko looked slowly from one side to the other as the walls exploded outward. Candelabras flickered to life on the newly-christened walls of the room, a chandelier dropping from the ceiling and swinging violently before coming to settle. Bringing her gaze back around to Shojo, she saw he now sat in his throne, still cleft from where her sword had struck. The sapphire, too, was gone.

“Take a seat.” Shojo said congenially, pointing towards the disheveled woman. Miko let out a small breath of surprise as she found herself lifted off the ground into a wooden chair. She gripped the armrests tightly as she looked back at the smiling ghost of her lord. She knew that if she kept allowing herself to degrade, she’d hit insanity. She had thought she’d welcome it. She thought that, when it came, she wouldn’t be aware she was even insane at all. But now, seeing that she’d have to live every single moment of it in perfect clarity, she was terrified. It was the second most horrifying moment in her entire life.

Throat dry, she asked, “Can I…?”

A glass of water was in her hand. She looked down and swirled the glass, watching the edges of the water and glass kiss. She could feel a small bead tip over the edge and run down her hand. It was real. This was happening.

With a speed she thought she had lost, she raised the glass to the ceiling and then sent it crashing to the floor. The glass cracked to pieces like a meteorite dislodging earth, a pool of water forming at the center of the spot she hit. She found she was breathing heavily, panting, as she stared at the water.

“Well, that’ll certainly teach me to offer you something to drink.” Shojo said, smacking his lips after taking a drain from his own glass.

“You are not real.” Miko whirled to face the speaker, pointing towards him. “You’re a construct of my mind, here to torment me.”

“Miko, if I was your imagination, I would have been here to torture you, and wouldn’t have denied it, would I?” Shojo looked lazily into his glass as he waited for the paladin’s reply. “Subtlety, whether from others or yourself, is lost on you.”

“You torture me anyway.” Miko replied. But he was right. If he had been imaginary, he wouldn’t be quite so…cordial to her. Pausing, she asked, “It’s really you, then? I’m not crazy?”

“Does it matter?” Shojo returned his gaze to her as he stood up in front of his throne. “As for being crazy, I hope not. I’ve already had to appear to one crazy person for Mr. Scruffy’s sake. I’d hate to be hitting 2-0 for appearing before the insane.”

“What could you want to talk to me about?” Miko’s voice became quieter as she spoke, and she found it harder to direct her gaze at the man she had slain.

“Personal matters.” Shojo took another sip. Miko noticed that no matter how much he drank, the wine never seemed to drain. “Specifically, your current state.”

“Are you displeased?” Miko felt smaller each second under Shojo’s gaze. What a stupid question.

“Of course I am.” Miko let out a sigh mixed with relief and fear; that was the answer she had been expecting. The next part, however, wasn’t. “You’re wasting your opportunity to redeem yourself.”

“Why?” Miko’s voice was shrill as it rang throughout the room as she slammed a fist down on one of her armrests. She buried her face in the other hand. She could feel tears, hot and angry, gathering in her eyes and wanted to keep them from being seen.

“You have a chance that very few are ever offered. To waste it would be stupid.”

“The Twelve Gods themselves have abandoned me. There’s no power that could possibly redeem me.”

Shaking his head, a small smile began to peak on Shojo’s lips. “That’s not true.” He seemed amused for reasons Miko couldn’t comprehend. “There are powers even the gods have to bow to.”

“That’s blasphemy.” Miko replied, her voice a hiss. As they talked, she found the emotions she had been trying so hard to discard come bubbling forth, all directed at her deceased master. Fear. Sadness. Hatred. Admiration. Love.

Miko shook slightly as she felt a hand cup under her chin and pulled her head up to look at her lord. “And you committed treason.” Miko could feel a tear roll down her cheek, struck not just by the man’s words but by the gentle tone of voice he said them with. She tried to struggle out a reply and found she couldn’t. She sat there looking at him, ashamed, as he wiped her tear away with a finger. “No one’s perfect.”

“How can you say that?” her voice struggled to return to its stronger tone. She stood up to match her victim and found to her surprise she only came up to his waist. Her voice, too, had taken on a higher pitch, one she hadn’t for years. “Of all people, how can you forgive me?”

“You can still be angry with someone, and want to forgive them.” Shojo got on a knee to readjust to Miko’s new stature. “Hell, you can be downright furious with them and the actions they take, and still care for them. That’s something you need to understand; emotions aren’t like alignments. You can’t divide and classify them in specific ways.” Shojo stood up again, patting Miko’s head softly as he did. He paused for a moment as he looked down at her before saying, “You have two choices. You either continue to condemn yourself and wait to die, or you can actually try to rebuild. Maybe this time, you could even reach a bit of the paragon you thought you were.”

“How?” Miko’s voice cracked as she tried to return to stability.

“Well, the fact that you feel guilt is a good sign, for one.” Shojo took her hand and led her towards a door that had manifested along with the new dimensions of the room. “Thing is, you have to learn to reconcile with your guilt. If you don’t, then you will eventually go crazy. If you don’t starve to death from your fasting or drop dead from exhaustion first, that is. How long have you been up this time, Miko?”

“Six days, Lord Shojo.” The words seemed oddly natural coming from her now pre-pubescent voice. She came to doubt that she wasn’t mad already, and this was simply her conscious mind’s death throws. “But the dream Soon Kim sent me-“

“Was intended to show you that you could change.” Shojo replied slowly as they reached the door. Placing his hand on it, he asked, “Did you really think Soon Kim, of all people, would send you a parable to tell you to kill yourself? The very nature of things can change, from good, to bad, to good again. But they cannot change alone.”

Shojo pushed the door open, and Miko recoiled from the bright light coming from it. Cracking her eyes openly slowly to let them adjust, she peered through the door. Her nails bit into the palms of her hands. Through the door lay the entrance to the monastery she had grown up in. It had been tucked in the hills close to the city, and the forest that surrounded it looked as serene as she remembered it. Lord Shojo was no longer by her side, but sitting on a log near the entrance. Cautiously, Miko walked through the door.

“I can remember the day I first saw you. Do you?”

“Of course.” Miko replied, walking to stand beside Shojo. Pointing to the other side of the field, she said, “I had been going through my morning prayers when your carriage arrived. The monks had told us that your nephew was going to begin his religious training.” Many of the nobility had taken up the practice of leaving their children in the care of one of the monasteries for a few years to be given more training in their religion in culture. Many times, this was to make it easier for the child to join the Sapphire Guard. A house that found itself with a member of its household entering the ranks of the Guard tend to find its authority and prestige increased dramatically.

Miko had already made up her mind as a child that she would become not only a member of the Guard, but its greatest member aside from Soon Kim himself. She had seen how weak, both in will and body, so many of the noble children who went through their training were, and that many of them were still able to enter the Guard. If those who were so poor in piety could attain a position, she had no doubt that she would as well. She knew it, in fact; the Gods had a plan in store for her.

She believed that the Gods had a plan for her still, but it was far different than she had once thought.

“Do you remember what I first said to you while you were praying?” Shojo inquired as he stood up.

Miko paused for a moment. “You didn’t say anything, Lord Shojo.” She replied cautiously. “You and Hinjo went straight from the carriage to the entrance of the monastery, where the other children were playing.” She had never been invited to play with the other children, nor had she wanted to. She was content with living as the monks and nuns did, and built up a reputation among them by doing so. Miko almost pitied the other children for participating in such frivolities.

“Are you certain?” There was that smile again. It seemed to come and go from Shojo’s expression like a ghost, to the point where you were uncertain it had been there at all.

“Positive, Lord Shojo.” Miko replied. She wouldn’t be swayed. She’d come to learn there were several ideas she had held that had been proven wrong, but she wouldn’t believe that her own memory was faulty. That, at least, she knew she could trust.

Shojo’s smile grew, the bottom room of his teeth showing. “I’m afraid, then, you aren’t going to like this.” He said to the girl. Raising his arm in a flourish, Shojo snapped his fingers.

Miko felt like she was being punched by the creature that the bearer of the Crimson Mantle and the lich had been keeping all over again. She could see the past version of herself kneeling on the ground where she had specified, lost in prayer. She could see herself and yet couldn’t see anything, her eyes closed in prayer. She could keep up with her current thoughts, yet also found herself reciting her morning prayer at the same time. She could feel her legs were dry. She could feel her legs wet with dew on the grass. Miko fought the urge to scream as her current conscious state found itself entwined with that of her past self, experience the present at the same time she experienced the past.

What is this? What’s happening to me?

“You know, when most children are sad, they go to the park and play with friends.” She

didn’t

hear Shojo say. She could

n’t

see the ruler of Azure City, side by side with his young nephew, walking up the path to the monastery. “Or go to the zoo. Or eat themselves silly with sweets.” His voice trembled between humor and seriousness. “You? You want to go into religious training.”

“I want to understand some things.” Hinjo responded. His voice, even at such a young age, exuded the charm he’d have in adulthood, as well as underpinnings of sheepishness.

she couldn’t tell she was busy praying

Hesitantly, he added, “And I want my parents to be proud of me.”

“Your parents are proud of you.” Shojo implored. “If they were here with you, they’d want you to think about this more. To wait a few more years.

I ask Dragon to give me strength and will power to go through the trials of my day she prayed And I ask Snake to give me wisdom and forethought in all my actions

You have no clue how hard the life of a paladin is, Hinjo.” Shojo said sternly. The two had stopped walking towards the door, merely looking at one another.

I’m still right he hasn’t talked to me yet. He lied to me in life, could he also not lie to me in death? The real question is the purpose of the lie.

“Yeah, but the paladins are so cool.” Hinjo replied, his free hand outstretched and waving in the air. “I don’t think anyone can help people the way paladins can.”

“Try being a politician.” Shojo murmured under his breath.

and I ask Ram to show me the way to compassion the sun is warm and she thinks for a moment before praying And I thank all Twelve Gods for such a beautiful day it is the third time she has thanked them but she knows she can never give enough thanks

The lord began to walk towards the entrance with his nephew again, resigned to letting the boy get his way. That was when he noticed Miko.

He won’t say anything. I know my memories.

Pointing towards the girl, Shojo said, “But look, Hinjo, at how harsh they can be! You have to pray

I ask that Rabbit show me the way of elegance there was some weird buzzing sound near her and it was beginning to annoy her it must be a fly Twelve Gods I ask that if it be your will you make this fly go away

Day in and day out!”

“Uncle…” Hinjo chided. Sometimes, he wondered if his uncle had ever grown up.

“Morning, noon, and night!” Shojo thumped his fist in an open palm. “Are you hungry? Pray first. Sleepy? Make sure to pray. Need to use the bathroom? You better believe you need to pray for that.”

That’s talking about me, not to me.

Hinjo crossed his arms along his chest, a skeptical stare fixed on his uncle. “Don’t believe me?” Shojo asked conspiratorially. “Watch. I’ll get evidence myself.”

No you won’t you’ll head into the monastery.

Shojo broke from his nephew as he walked towards the strange, mediating girl on the grass. “Hello, young lady.

No…I…

please give me patience Ox she frowned slightly as she prayed and I know you are busy O Gods but I ask that you possibly hurry in getting rid of these insects as they are distracting me from my prayers

Tell me, how often do they have you pray?” After a moment of no response, Shojo turned back to his nephew. “You see, Hinjo? They’re forced to pray so much that they don’t even know what’s going on around them.”

Hinjo looked ready to chide his uncle yet again. He never got the chance as the front door opened. Stepping out of the monastery was a lean man in his late 30s, his brown hair and beard trimmed neatly, and his priest robes billowed around him. Behind him followed two boys of Hinjo’s age. The first was stout with red-dyed hair; he walked exactly beside the priest. The other, a scrawny boy perhaps a little older and a bit taller than the other, followed a few purposeful steps behind. “Good morning, Lord Shojo.” The priest cried out in a strong baritone. “I’m glad to see you still in such good health.”

“Good morning, Kitsawa!” Shojo called out to the priest, waving one arm in the air. “I didn’t know you had returned from trying to spread the word of the Gods.” He shook his head as he extended an arm towards Miko. “I was warning Hinjo about the dangers of becoming involved with religion, as has beset this poor girl.”

I couldn’t even notice people around me.

Monkey I ask that you might help me solve the problem of these insects around me you see I asked for less insects and it seems that You in all your wisdom have given me more I do not understand this but I will strive to

What kind of person let’s the world pass them like that? Had I always been this self-centered?

“Not a necessary warning, I assure you, Lord Shojo.” Kitsawa chided respectfully. “And I see you have met Miko.”

Hinjo tilted his head quizzically as the red-haired boy and his companion approached him. “Hello.” The boy’s voice was soft, almost as if he were singing in a light tone, but it exuded self-confidence. “My name is Kenji Namuru.” Pointing behind him, he said, “And this is my cousin Shinio Iori.” The other boy, always remaining a few feet behind, bowed slightly.

“Indeed, I have met Miko.” Shojo rested a hand on Miko’s shoulder.

Oh look Twelve Gods one gentle rests on me if that is what it wants please make it go away soon

Pick your head up. Stop praying for a moment and look to your side.

“She’s fantastic conversation.”

“Hello.” Hinjo said. He was quiet pleased to see his uncle was wrong and that there were lively children in the monastery as well. For a few brief moments, he entertained the idea that Shojo might have been right. “My name is-“

“Perhaps not with you, but she is with the Gods.” Kitsawa replied. “The monks have taken to calling her “The Dragon’s Little Servant”. Urehana has even been instructing her in their combat style.”

“You’re Hinjo, Lord Shojo’s nephew, yes?” Kenji interrupted, flashing a toothy smile. “Shinio and I are nobility as well.”

“Indeed?” Shojo sounded impressed. Resting his chin in his palm, he asked, “Tell me, does she get along well with others?”

“Oh?” Hinjo replied. Whether or not someone was royalty was a matter that Hinjo didn’t particularly care about.

Dog remind me of what is right and wrong that I might not erupt into violence and slap these gnats away from me for they are here because you want them here O Gods

Ox, if you still hear me, give ME patience to not go over and strangle myself.

“It depends on who you want to classify as others.” Kitsawa replied. “She gets along fantastically with the monks and nuns. With the other children, however…”

“Like should mix with like, should it not?” Kenji’s smile was soft, innocent. He put a hand on Hinjo’s shoulder. “No point in diluting by mixing with a different type.”

Shojo simply looked at the girl for a moment. “Do you feel, Kitsawa, that she would make a good paladin?”

I pray to you each and to you all O Gods to help me and rid me of these pests but to most of all rid me of my older self who constantly forgets who she is

…You can hear what I’m thinking?

Hinjo brushed the boy’s hand off of his shoulder, taking a step back from him. “I think you’re wrong.” Hinjo replied, assured but not stern. “There are things that can be made much better when you mix one with another.”

Kitsawa sighed. “I feel that…given enough time, she could make a fine paladin. Maybe exemplar, even.”

But you didn’t did you the little praying girl asked Miko while still praying Instead you killed your own lord and helped sacrifice the people of your city

It…it was a mistake. I was wrong.

Kenji simply stared at Hinjo for a moment, his smile slowly turning into a frown. “Well, have it your way.” Kenji replied as he turned and headed back towards the monastery. His cousin waited until he had passed him before following.

It was not just a mistake the little girl replied angrily You broke your vows to protect your lord and were rejected yourself

But…I can fix it. Lord Shojo has told me-

Shojo’s smile creeped on to his lips yet again. “Very well. I believe that this night she shall come to my palace to begin training.”

Lord Shojo is a liar and you know it he lied in life he lies in death he lies in bed he lies in ruin

Stop it.

The Gods favored a liar above you above me truly I am accursed by the Gods the only plan they had for me was to become a murderer and a coward and a fool

Shut up.

“Do you think she’s heard a single word we’ve said?” Shojo asked as he peered down at the girl.

“Probably not.” Kitsawa replied, smiling slightly at Miko. “She’s lost in conversation with a higher power.”

And you know and I know that when this is all over you will be cast down into the pits in with the demons and the murderers and the adulterers and

“Shut up!” Miko cried out. Wrapping her arms around herself, she fell to her knees, body quivering violently. The world around her faded into nothingness; the monastery and the forest and the people melted into each other and swirled away, leaving a formless void behind. She whipped her head around as she felt Shojo’s hand rest on her shoulder. “Why did you show this to me?” Her voice broke as she spoke, and she found herself ashamed at her inability to keep her tears from flowing like two small streams. “To show me that I was always wrong? That my entire life was a waste?” She laughed bitterly. “What is there to even build back up?”

“Your life wasn’t a waste, Miko.” Shojo answered, his voice soft. “You stumbled, but everyone does. I just need you to realize your main fault.”

“What? That I’m delusional?”

“No, that you’re self-centered.” Shojo’s voice slowly became stern; he wouldn’t allow the woman to find some way to get out of learning what she needed, not after all the effort and divine favor it took to create the image he just did. “You don’t pay attention to other people, and you never have. I noticed that immediately when I first found you.” Pausing, he finished, “That’s why I had wanted you in Sapphire Guard.”

Her tears stopped as suddenly as if they’d been controlled by a faucet. Eyes narrowing, she replied astonished, “What?”

“I could tell by the amount of effort you put into doing whatever you were set on doing, you were capable of great things.” Placing his hands under her arms, Shojo helped Miko to her feet, and she found she was her full height again. “But you can’t accomplish great things alone, Miko. At least, nothing of lasting worth. Every painter needs his muse . Every bard, his legendary hero to sing of. I’d hoped that by putting you in the Guard you’d be able to integrate with a group of people similar to yourself. That you’d come to accept others and reach your full potential.” Smiling sadly, Shojo finished, “I suppose, in the end, it just enabled that self-centered little girl to keep control, instead of letting you grow up.”

Sniffling a bit as her breathing returned to normal, Miko looked to her lord, waiting for him to continue. Sighing, Shojo answered by saying, “You need to learn to empathize, Miko. To not push others away. It’s not starvation or exhaustion that’ll kill you if you keep going down this path; it’s loneliness.”

“What do I do?” Miko asked. That she now realized she honestly had no clue how to communicate with others struck her hard. “How do I start?”

“Try listening for once, to begin with.” Shojo smiled to try and keep her from becoming too upset at his words. “Don’t immediately assume everyone is lying to you, either. Actual give them a chance for once. Once you actually understand others, you’ll be able to reconcile yourself with your guilt. That’s when you’ll finally be able to find forgiveness.”

“I’ll try.” Miko replied weakly. Taking deep breath, she said, “Thank you, Lord Shojo. For speaking with me.”

Shojo simply gave her one of his impenetrable little smiles, his form starting to fade into the void. “Before I go, I must admit: I do have a slight feeling of schadenfreude for when you finally go to trial. The nobles had a pool going on how I was going to die. In the off chance one of them didn’t guess correctly, they decided they’d give the money away to the people as a joke.” He suppressed a small chuckle as he finished. “Guess what circumstance none of them picked.”

He was gone as suddenly as he came. The void boomeranged back into Miko’s cabin room, and Miko felt herself fall to the floor in a sitting position beside her tree. She looked wildly from side to side to make sure she was really back in her room. Was it a dream? She shuddered. She could still feel the clashing sensations that surrounded her.

She stood up quickly to turn to face the cabin door as it opened, and nearly lost her balance. While she had been with Shojo, her lack of sleep and hunger hadn’t bothered her. Now it struck her with full force. Clutching her forehead for a minute, she steadied her gaze at the door.

It was Therkla, a plate of food in her hands. “Are you alright?” Therkla asked, concern edging into her voice. She hadn’t meant to startle the paladin, and was somewhat surprised something had even been able to get as lively a reaction from her as she had.

“Y-yes.” Miko stammered slightly. She found herself fighting embarrassment as well as the demands of her body. She turned away from the ninja, hunching her shoulders as if trying to hide herself. Even after how she had treated her, the half-orc had returned.

“Oh, alright.” Therkla answered. She stood in the doorway for a moment longer before entering, kicking the door closed as she did. “I thought that maybe you’d like someone to have breakfast with you.”

“That would be nice.” Miko answered. She cursed herself for not knowing what tone to use, not knowing how to interact with the other woman.

A silence fell over the room as the samurai and the ninja stood across from one another. Finally, both broke the silence with a conjoined, “Listen, I-“ before going silent again.

It was Therkla who broke the silence next. “Look, I’m sorry how I reacted.” She said, fidgeting with her chopsticks. “It’s been awhile since I’ve done the whole expressing myself to another thing. Really, it’s only been recently that I’ve seen that side of me come back up.” When you were a ninja in a noble’s employ, you didn’t have the time to worry about connecting with others. Sighing, she continued, “I…we’re probably going to be in this room together for awhile. I just want us to be able to get along.” Suddenly, she blurted out, “I want to help you.” She cringed; that was too much.

“I thank you.” Miko replied as she turned her head to face her. Therkla let out a small, shivering sigh of relief; something had happened to the paladin in the short time she’d been gone to, if not put her in a better mood, make her more responsive. “And I…apologize for my behavior. I’ve never understood how to be with others, I suppose.” She cast her gaze to the floor. “I’d believed that, whatever it was that needed to be done, I could do it myself.”

“Yeah. It’s not a fun realization, figuring out what you believe is wrong.” Therkla replied. She frowned as she saw that Miko’s own plate had yet to be touched. “You need to eat.” She implored as she loaded food on to her own set of chopsticks.

“I…in a bit, perhaps.” Miko kept her gaze stuck to the floorboards. She’d have to eat eventually; if her lord had taken the time to appear before her, she was obligated to make it so that the trip hadn’t been in vain. Yet, she still couldn’t convince herself that she was worthy of eating again yet, of having any of her needs cared for. Bringing her gaze up to meet the half-orcs, she continued, “I’m just not-“

Her eyes widened as Therkla thrust her chopsticks into her open mouth half statement, cutting her off. “Sneak attack.” Therkla said, her tone playful. With equal speed she retracted the now empty chopsticks from Miko’s mouth.

For a brief moment Miko struggled to spit the food out on the floor, but it was too late. Having been deprived for so long, she impulsively began to chew it. Each burst of flavor was almost painful, and her body quivered at finally getting to eat again. She closed her eyes, chewing the food into a fine mash before swallowing. Her stomach growled as the food hit it, her hunger fully awakened. Therkla held her plate out to her.

“Take it.” Therkla said.

“I can’t.” Miko replied, fighting the urge to grab the plate immediately.

“Take it.” Therkla implored. She fought off desperation in her voice; she had hoped the paladin wouldn’t fight her as hard on eating after she forced the first bite. “I can get more.”

Hands quivering, Miko took the plate from her roommate, a small thank you escaping her lips. Sitting on the floor, Miko attacked the plate with a new found fury, making short work of it before moving on to her own.

A small current passed through Therkla’s back, like a light electric shock. It wasn’t an uncomfortable sensation; in fact, it was rather pleasant. She smiled down at the ravenous woman, and even simply seeing the result of her deed brought another jolt of pleasure down her spine.

Squatting beside the paladin, Therkla said in a soft voice. “I know you may not believe it, but I can understand where you’re coming from. I was orphaned too.”

She stopped to look over at Miko; the paladin had slowed her eating, casting a sideways glance at the half-orc. “My dad had run a tavern, which, as it turns out, is one of the most dangerous jobs a NPC can have. When I was about thirteen, he got killed in a brawl between a group of adventurers. Disintegrated, to be specific.” She paused for a minute before continuing. “We didn’t have the money to raise him and my mother was…unaccustomed to living in the city alone.” Therkla found herself uncomfortable talking about her mother; best to move on before saying too much. “Since my mom couldn’t hold a job, I took to stealing. Eventually, I got so good in the slums, I became famous. That’s how I met Lord Kubota.” Taking a breath, Therkla finished, “He offered not only to put me through Ninja School, but to take me on as one of his assistants. With the money I made while going through school, I was able to provide for my mother. I thought I’d get the chance to raise dad after I began working with Kubota.” She smiled sadly as she looked at the ground. “My mom died a week after my graduation. I didn’t see the point in raising dad anymore. I thought it would just be better to leave he and mom be.”

“After that, I guess I started to look to Kubota as a surrogate father.” She didn’t like this subject either; she had thought at one point that she had found someone who understood her in her employer. A small smile rose to her lips as she turned to Miko and said, “We must be the two unluckiest girls in the world, to have gotten orphaned twice.”

Her smile faded as she saw the paladin put her plate on the floor and grasp her mouth. Therkla’s worry turned to alarm as Miko began to make a small, strangling noise behind her hand. She had upset her. It seemed that no matter how hard she tried, she and the paladin were just going to go upsetting one another. Reaching out a hand to put on her shoulder, Therkla asked cautiously, “Are…are you okay?”

Therkla’s hand jerked back as Miko’s head shot up, mouth no longer muffled. Loud peals of laughter echoed through the room. Not the fake laughter Therkla had been accustomed to hearing from the paladin; genuine, pure laughter. And infectious as well, Therkla’s own laughter joining with Miko’s. Low at first, but quickly rising to the pitch of the paladin’s.

Body wracked with laughter, Miko leaned against Therkla’s shoulder, trying to calm herself down. She couldn’t place exactly why it was so funny, but that word…it was perfect. All these months she had been looking for a way to describe her situation, and couldn’t think of even a single word to do so. Now here it was, given to her utterly out of the blue.

Unlucky. She was unlucky.

The food began to sit heavily on her stomach, satiating her hunger. The feeling of contentment, however, aroused her exhaustion, and Miko found herself fighting to keep her eyes open. Laying her head against Therkla’s shoulder, she muttered out, “I think…think I’ll talk with Hinjo later. About atoning.”

Therkla’s ears pricked up at the paladin’s statement. “What was that?” She asked, trying to keep from sounding too eager. She was doing it; she was actually succeeding on getting Miko back on track.

“Atone.” Miko murmured. She could feel the comforting darkness of sleep starting to engulf her. “Become a paladin again.” She sighed the last words before closing her eyes. Sleep overtook her at once, pleasant and dreamless.

Therkla simply sat there a moment, pleased. After all the years of backstabbing and assassination and secrecy, it felt good to interact with others again. She said a small thank you to Elan; even if the bard didn’t return her love for her, he had awakened a part that she had thought long dead.

Picking the paladin up from the floor, she was alarmed by just how light Miko was. Carefully, she took the woman over to her bed and laid her down, wiping a few strands of Miko’s hair away from her face.

Therkla simply watched the woman sleep for a while, smiling, before leaving the cabin to get her own breakfast.

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