Synopsis: Shun Miyamoto is the prodigal son of one of the Emperor's staunchest supporters on modernizing Japan as the Feudal Era draws a close. As both a scholar and a warrior, the young man believes that the key to Japan's success is through cooperation with the Western world: a notion that made him a target for assassination. But instead of killing Shun, the assassin fell in love with him, abandoning her duty as a killer to become the honorary daughter-in-law of the Miyamoto house. But in order for the two of them to be wed, Shun must subjugate her former clan: the fearsome "Black Sun" whose ranks can only be described as superhuman. Not only that, but Shun must also contend with the infamous Oliver "Loverman" Lacey, a vicious gunslinging outlaw from America, who shares a common history with the young Miyamoto: both of them have the same kiss-shaped scar branded on their body...
Combining romance, action, samurai fiction, westerns, and fantasy, "Blade in the Snow" promises to excite, intrigue, and plunge the reader into a world where the old ways of swordfights and magic transition into the world of guns and science, as well as a young couple's quest to find happiness even when circumstances try to tear them apart.
Chapter 1: The Web of Promises
In the winter of 1867, Japan was about to enter a culture war that would determine who would control power in the country: the young emperor who spoke of modernizing the nation to meet the same standards set by the Western world, or the long-reigning Tokugawa Shogunate who hoped to cling onto what power it still had.
This is the tale of two star-crossed lovers who met during this volatile time, each on opposing sides of the opposition. It is the tale of relics of the past being opposed by the innovations of the future. It is the tale of a young man's path to adulthood, and a young woman's struggle for independence.
It is the tale of a man's blade cutting through evil so that he can create a bright future for his lady of the snow…
"Lord Miyamoto…he has returned."
Nodding his head quietly, Naofumi slowly stood up and slid open the door to his room to step outside. There was a part of him that had been concerned for his son's safety, given that Edo was going through difficult times and bearing the unpopular Miyamoto name would make him a possible target, but it seemed that all of his worries had been for naught. His son had returned safely home, and now Naofumi would get to see him again after a week of absence.
Walking to the entrance of the Miyamoto grounds, Naofumi watched the servants of the house bow before him, as per the customs of the nation he had protected for so many years, and allowed himself a smile before moving on. This world is changing…too fast for me to keep up like I could when I was only fighting samurai and bandits, Naofumi thought as he looked towards the forest to see the carriage that his son left Edo in escape the cover of the trees. My thankfulness for Shun returning isn't just for my sake…it is for the sake of this country who need thinkers like him to lead them into the new age.
The long peace that the Tokugawa Shogunate gave the people of Japan when they took power over 200 years before gave the citizens plenty of time to focus less on war and more on literature and philosophy. While there was still an occasional uprising that had to be suppressed, for the most part the concerns of the country did not fall upon peace. It gave Japan a chance to step back and look at the legacy they had created: a legacy that included art and religion as well as war and combat.
But when Commodore Perry arrived on the shores of Japan to initiate the Convention of Kanagawa, the time of recollection ended and instead the people of Japan started looking towards the future. The philosophy of seclusion had ruled the country for 200 years, and now that the seclusion had ended with the opening of Japan's shores, the people were realizing the Tokugawa's long rule over the country for what it was: a militaristic usurpation of power where the true ruler of Japan was nothing but a figurehead. Naofumi Miyamoto, long considered one of the greatest warriors the Shogunate had to offer, was one of those who believed that power should reside with the Emperor, and as such lost favor with the Tokugawa.
As the horse-driven carriage finally came to a stop, Naofumi approached the door of the carriage and waited for it to open, looking forward to seeing how the week away from home had changed his son. Whereas Naofumi had been trained to be a warrior all of his life and was only recently delving into the world of politics, his son Shun was renowned as a bright youth. Shun immediately realized the potential that the opening of Japan had to offer, and how modernizing Japan would pave the way for an alliance with all the nations in the world. To that end, he put his studies first and his sword second, recognizing the importance of diplomatic relations over warfare in this new age.
As the door opened, the brown-haired heir of the Miyamoto stepped out of the carriage with a smile on his handsome face. With his purple lotus-print kimono and hakama, Shun's unconventional thinking made him a bit of eccentric, so there was a part of Naofumi that worried if Shun's quizzical personality would get him into trouble in Edo, but it was too late to worry about that now. Shun was home safely, and that was all that mattered.
"Welcome home, my son," the dark-haired Naofumi said with a smile as he put his strong hands on Shun's shoulders. "Though it has only been a week, your aura has changed. There is an air of responsibility to you now."
"It is for good reason, father," Shun said with a smile of his own before turning to the carriage. "I did not return from Edo empty-handed."
Opening the door of the carriage, Shun leaned inside and whispered something too quiet for Naofumi to hear…before reaching inside with his hand and leading out a complete stranger to the head to the Miyamoto. Wearing a white kimono with colorful flowers printed all over it, the stranger took Shun's hand and carefully stepped out of the carriage so that Naofumi could take a glimpse at his guest. To say that this young lady was beautiful was no understatement: her long black hair seemed like it was made of silk, and her serene face and soft lips seemed to glow as if calling out for someone to kiss them.
Looking at the young lady's icy blue eyes, and then back to the lustful gaze on his son's face, Naofumi didn't have to be a scholar to realize who this woman was to Shun, and why he had brought her back with him. While normally, bringing home such a woman would be a happy occasion, Naofumi's smile disappeared once he put two and two together. "My son," Naofumi said sternly, snapping Shun out of his lovesick daze while the woman reached inside the carriage to pull out a blue umbrella, "what is the meaning of this?"
"I-isn't it obvious, father?" Shun said with a stammer, taken off guard that Naofumi was speaking to him the same way he would speak to one of the several enemies he had accumulated in his long career as a warrior. "I met this woman in Edo and she stole my heart at first sight. As soon as we met eyes, I knew that there was no way I could possibly leave her in Edo."
"I did not send you to Edo in my place to consort with women, Shun," Naofumi replied harshly.
"Do you have so little faith in me that you would think I would abandon my duties in the clan, father?" Shun turned away from his father's piercing gaze and towards the woman, who was staring off into the forest as if she didn't even realize Naofumi and Shun were talking about her. "Look at her, father…why would anyone want to flirt with other women when a goddess like her exists? I would not have brought her here if I wasn't sure that she was my destiny."
"'Your destiny,' you say?" Naofumi said with a scowl before approaching the woman and getting a better look at her. Shun had only recently reached adulthood, and it was only natural that he would be smitten with someone as beautiful as this girl. She seemed to be about the same age as his son, as well…but what was she like as a person? Shun was not someone to be attracted by looks alone…unless this woman was bewitching him? It was a real possibility given Shun's place in the rapidly changing political climate of Japan.
"Young lady, what is your name?" Naofumi asked curtly.
But the woman did not respond, still looking out into the forest as if some unseen force was mesmerizing her. Annoyed with the lady's impudence, Naofumi put his hand on her thin shoulder and forcefully turned her around to face him. "I asked you a question, woman," Naofumi growled with the same fury that earned him the moniker "the Raging Demon" when he was a general in the Shogunate army. "What is your name? What family are you from?"
Still no answer…and not even a tinge of fear, either. It was like this woman was nothing more than a doll and not a human being, at all. Perhaps Naofumi misjudged his son and his being enamored with this stranger was a strictly superficial thing. Leaning in to whisper harshly into the woman's ear, Naofumi was beginning to get a strong dislike for this woman. "You will answer me now or I will make you pay for seducing my son…"
Though he couldn't quite hear what his father was saying to her, Shun could tell from his body language that something very bad was going to happen unless he intervened. "Stop bullying her, father," Shun protested as he forcefully pushed Naofumi away from the woman. "Her name is Harumi: her parents died long ago so she has been without a family for years. She was working as a musician for the court at Edo, and that's how we met."
"Then she can tell me that herself," Naofumi grumbled.
"She's mute, father."
At that moment, the anger and resentment Naofumi felt towards the woman that had taken Shun's heart hostage turned into guilt for the innocent young lady that he had wrongfully mistreated. Looking into the woman's mystifying blue eyes again, Naofumi waited for them to spark with some kind of gratification that Shun had made a fool of him…but there was none. The only kind of emotion Naofumi could detect in the woman's eyes was a sense of boredom, no doubt coming from how he had needlessly threatened her while being ignorant to her condition.
"…bring her into the guest room," Naofumi ordered his servants that had been watching the scene unfold very carefully. With a bow, three of the servants stood at Harumi's side as she gently rest her umbrella against her shoulder and slowly started walking towards the estate. Even the way she walks has a mysterious grace to it, the man mused as he tucked in his brown kimono which had been ruffled by his anger. Perhaps that is why Shun is attracted to her: she is just another puzzle for him to solve.
Turning back to Shun, Naofumi did his best to regain his composure and talk to his son about the true reason he was went to Edo. Naofumi felt ashamed of himself for getting so upset over Harumi: Shun's intellect was second to none, and Naofumi normally trusted Shun's advice moreso than he would his own political advisors. If Shun believed that Harumi was a good woman, then that should have been good enough: Shun was not reckless enough to let lust get in the way of his better judgment.
"How did the meeting with the Emperor go in Edo?" Naofumi finally asked.
"Poorly, father," Shun said dejectedly as the two walked back to the estate. "The Shogunate wants to cling to power even when the people cry out for them to be disbanded. His Excellence was hoping to convince them that they would hold seats in his court should they cooperate, but they think he is too young to properly execute this 'Meiji Restoration' he has planned." Shun clenched his fist in frustration as he continued. "Why do they think that His Excellence's age has anything to do with his wisdom? He might be young, but the Emperor knows that now that Japan has opened its shores, it will stagnate unless our technology and knowledge are at the same level as the Western world that we so blindly ignored for so long…"
"Both you are the Emperor were fortunate enough to be young enough not to remember what it was like before the convention of Kanagawa," Naofumi assured his son. "I was only slightly older than you when I watched Commodore Perry sign the treaty that opened our shores, and like you I believed that Japan must change with the times if it wants to retain its pride. But you have to remember that most of those in power in the Tokugawa are old men, and they do not adapt to change as readily as you or the Emperor would. You need to be patient or-"
Suddenly cutting off his father's words of comfort, Shun turned westward with his expression becoming as stern and battle-ready as his father's. The young man reached for his katana sitting at his hip and very slowly unsheathed it while walking to the west. Something had obviously caught the young man's attention, and if it was enough to force him to pull out his sword, it must have been something very bad. Another reason Naofumi trusted Shun's judgment so much is that he seemed to be able to immediately detect bad intentions of those around him, even when they could not be seen.
"…what is wrong, my son?" Naofumi said quietly.
"…something wicked is moving closer," Shun whispered as his eyes followed the unseen enemy. "It's heading towards…oh, no…"
Suddenly taking off towards the estate, Shun left his father in the dust as sprinted away towards what appeared to be the guest room. Damn…maybe I was right about not trusting this woman, after all, Naofumi thought to himself bitterly as he too rushed back towards the estate even though he wasn't quite as agile as his son. Already she has brought bad fortune to our clan!
"Right this way, Lady Harumi," the servant slid open the door for the guest room and motioned for her to come inside.
Silently complying with the servant's request, Harumi stepped into the spacey guest room and inspected it. There was a wooden floor lined with mats and a vase sitting in the corner of the room: it was what she expected a guest room of a minor vassal lord's estate to look like…except for a large object that caught her eye. On the far right wall of the room was a large black table with white keys jutting out from the edge. She had seen the instrument before, but seeing it in an estate such as this caused her body to tense in excitement for just an instant.
Sensing her surprise, the servant turned towards the piano and smiled. "It's called a piano: it's a musical instrument that an American envoy gave our lord as a gift for being so crucial in assisting the Emperor in foreign relations," the man said as he walked over to the piano and sat down at the bench in front of it. Waiting for Harumi to come over to where he was sitting, the servant started pressing keys and created a simple tune. "…this is all I can do right now, but in the next couple of days another ambassador is coming to meet with our lord. Perhaps he can teach us how to-"
To the servant's surprise, Harumi sat down next to him on the bench and, rather than let him continue to show her how to use this "foreign object," she placed her slender fingers on her half of the piano and started playing a tune of her own: one that was much more complex and impressive than his. The tune was different from what the servant was used to hearing from those who came across the instrument, or at least different from those who were from Japan.
The musical motif and level of skill made the servant think that she was specifically trained to play the instrument, particularly by someone outside the country. "…it is unfortunate that you cannot speak, Lady Harumi," the servant said with a thin smile as he stood up from the bench and let her play the piano in full. "I imagine the children in town would enjoy you teaching them how to play the pia-ACK!"
Harumi jumped up slightly as the servant's sudden cry startled her from her playing, causing her to hit a sour note. Turning to the servant that had been kind of her, Harumi's eyes widened when she saw that something was jutting out of his head: a long white rope that was threatening to pull his head right off of his body. Before she could stand up, the servant was forcefully pulled backwards and towards the door…where he was impaled by the pike of a short man dressed entirely in black, with only dark red eyes and furry brown skin being revealed to her.
The stranger's victim convulsed for a second before falling limp, the points of the pike having pierced his heart. Pulling the pike out of the corpse before quietly laying him down, the stranger crawled into the room on all fours before scaling the walls like an insect and looking down at Harumi. "…why do you stare at me with such fear, my comrade?" the stranger croaked as he pointed his pike in the young woman's direction. "I've come to take you home…do you fear home?"
Harumi said nothing as her blue eyes met the intruder's red eyes. Whereas her eyes were gentle and carried a quiet serenity, the intruder's eyes flashed with bloodlust and violence and carried a demonic fire that only a cold-blooded killer could possess. Reaching for her umbrella and holding it to her side, the young woman gulped as the intruder skittered across the ceiling. "Did you forget your mission, my comrade?" the intruder squawked quietly and he pointed the pike in Harumi's direction. "You were supposed to return three days ago…with the head of the boy. Why is the boy still alive, my comrade? Why are you here playing music with the boy still alive, my comrade?"
Hopping down from the ceiling and landing in a hunched position, the intruder prepared to pounce as Harumi's free arm started to reach for the handle of her umbrella. "Why have you betrayed us…my comrade?"
The intruder did indeed pounce…but it wasn't towards Harumi like he might have originally wanted. Instead, he jumped straight into the air and performed a half-flip to instead perch himself upside-down on the ceiling like he had earlier. The reason being: he had avoided a fatal sneak attack from Shun, who had tried to impale the intruder from behind with his katana. "Stay away from her, devil," Shun growled as he looked up to see the intruder staring down at him with those crimson eyes. "Otherwise, I'll have no choice but to cut you down where you stand!"
"Standing…kekeke," the strange murderer chuckled eerily as he watched Shun slowly move to where Harumi was standing and put himself between her and his enemy. "Look at me, boy…do you think that I am standing, like a man? Am I not clinging to the ceiling as easily as you walk on the floor? I am up here, and you are down there…what can you hope to do from down there?"
"I don't know," Shun replied as he readied his weapon for an attack while the intruder did the same, "but whatever you're doing, you've killed members of the Miyamoto house and are threatening my bride-to-be. You're lucky I'm giving you the option of escaping at all!" Turning to Harumi, Shun pointed towards another door. "Harumi, get out of here. Leave this to me!"
But no sooner had Shun finished saying that, the masked intruder peeled off his hood and revealed his true face: a face that made Shun calling him a devil not too far off. Instead of having a nose and lips, the intruder instead had sticky mandibles and fangs, as well as six dots on his bulbous forehead that moved around like eyes. Shocked at the monstrous creature's true face, Shun was paralyzed for just a moment: long enough for the intruder to spit out a large ball of webbing that exploded upon impact and surrounding the door in sticky webs, blocking any kind of escape.
"W…what are you?" Shun whispered as the creature hopped back down to the ground and stood upright with his two-pronged pike at the ready.
"My name is Kumogen, boy," the intruder said as he lunged forward for a killing thrust. Snapping out of his shock, Shun quickly lifted his sword and caught the pike with his blade. Planting his feet and using all of his strength, Shun let out a shout and pushed the pike away while Kumogen altered his hold so that he wouldn't be pushed over. "I have come on behalf of the Black Sun to reclaim my comrade!"
Seeing Harumi tried to go for the other door, Kumogen again spat out a batch of webbing from his deformed mouth and created a wall of sticky mess to prevent her from escaping. "The only way I'm going to let you get your hands on her, demon, is if I'm dead," Shun growled as he lunged towards Kumogen and attempted to deliver a forward stab of his own. Lifting his pike to catch the blade, the spider-like intruder chuckled again at Shun's bravado before kicking him away with both feet and causing him to bounce against a wall.
Skittering away from Shun until they were on opposite sides of the room, Kumogen spat out more webbing, only this time it was a thick rope, and attempted to hit Shun's head. Fortunately for the young man, he regained enough of his senses just in time to duck under the strand and avoid getting a face full of webbing. With a mighty chop, Shun cut the web strand and caused Kumogen to topple over from tugging at nothing, giving Shun the opening to attack.
Jumping into the air, Shun pointed his blade downward just as Kumogen had moved onto all fours, watching the intruder look at him with those eight eyes of the spider. But not only did he have the head of a spider, he also had the dexterity of one as well. Skittering backwards on all fours, Kumogen narrowly avoided Shun's stab and punished the young swordsman's failure with a forward flip kick. As a result, Kumogen's heel came crashing down on Shun's head to stun the swordsman momentarily.
"Your problem, my boy, is that you fight like a human," Kumogen clicked as he readied his pike to skewer the boy. Standing upright and lunging forward, the freakish warrior rushed to Shun with the intent to run him through like a knight at a joust. Sadly for him, such recklessness was rewarded with Shun falling onto his back to avoid the pike yet again, and then slash at Kumogen's legs. This time, Kumogen wasn't quick enough for the blade to become lodged into his right ankle, causing him to shout out in pain with an inhuman shrill.
Rolling to the side and pulling the blade out, Shun readied his katana for the next exchange while Kumogen leapt into the air and perched himself onto the ceiling. "And your problem, devil, is that you fight like an animal," the young man retorted as the creature's black blood dripped from the wound and onto the floor. "Raw aggression isn't the only aspect of the art of war. A true warrior must be able to analyze the situation and react accordingly."
"Bah! Humans always talk about tripe like logic and reasoning, but in the heat of battle, all one truly needs is power," Kumogen scoffed before spitting out a web at his pike and pulling it up to the ceiling with him. "Humans can only fight other humans because they are all on equal ground. Walking on two feet, using two arms: that is the limit of human anatomy that humans must accept…"
"…and I take it that you're not human?" Shun asked as Kumogen slowly crawled across the ceiling waiting for a chance to strike.
"I am a Black Sun ninja, boy," Kumogen growled before pouncing off the ceiling to fly towards Shun with his pike in front. Unable to parry an attack coming at him so quickly, Shun instead evaded the attack by rolling to the side. However, not all of him was able to completely dodge, as a piece of his kimono was caught on the pike. With the cloth tearing from his body as he dodged, Shun looked up to see Kumogen picking up the scrap and dangling it in front of him to mock the young man. "We are beyond human limitations, and as such we are beyond your feeble swordplay!"
Spinning his pike around, Kumogen let out a beastly grunt before charging Shun again, this time rapidly thrusting his pike forward hoping to skewer Shun with at least one thrust. He's not just throwing those stabs at random, Shun thought nervously as he weaved his head and body to and fro to sway past the stabs. Each one of these thrusts could pierce me if they hit, and I'm not sure how long I can play defense…
…so I guess it's time for me to attack!
Letting out a shout, Shun rolled forward under Kumogen's tenth stab and rose up for a thrust of his own: a kneeling stab that struck Kumogen in his abdomen and, for a very brief moment, Shun could feel the blade pierce through the man-spider's thick skin. Once again, Kumogen let out a shrill howl as he rapidly backed away before the blade could be plunged deeper. But the damage had been done: Kumogen was now bleeding from both his foot and his stomach, and Shun only had a scratch on his back from where Kumogen had caught his kimono.
"This is your last chance, demon," Shun said sternly as he lifted his katana upwards so that it was pointing parallel to his line of sight. "Whatever Harumi was to you before, she's not anymore. She is now a member of the house of Miyamoto, and anyone who says otherwise will answer to me." Watching Kumogen once again leap up to the ceiling, Shun lifted his head and narrowed his eyes. "You can tell that to whoever it is you work for!"
"How do you know…that my comrade WANTS to be your bride, my boy?" Kumogen said between strained breaths. Turning his head towards the young woman, who had remained standing next to the piano during the ordeal, Kumogen's maw twisted to form as best of a deranged smile as he could manage, given his obvious facial limitations. "My comrade's mission was to kill you in Edo, and yet you took her into your home? What makes you think that she will not kill you later, and my being here is nothing but a ruse?"
"Because I trust her," Shun said with a smile as he turned to Harumi and waited for his icy blue eyes to meet his own. "I don't know what she did before we met in Edo, and I don't know what the future holds…but the night we met had to have been destiny." Turning back to Kumogen as he again tried to impale Shun with his pike, this time straight from the ceiling, Shun parried the pike and pushed it aside before thrusting his blade directly up and scratching Kumogen in the arm. "We have already acted upon our passions, demon: I know what lies in her heart, and it's not murder!"
"'Acted on your passions,' eh?" Kumogen squawked as he turned towards Harumi again. "My comrade…it would seem that this boy has confused you and seduced you. The Black Sun sent you to Edo so that you could use your wiles to get close enough to slay him…but it seems the deception has become reality." Pointing his pike towards Harumi, Kumogen's red eyes flashed with murderous intent before rearing back for a lunge. "If that is the case, my comrade…then you are nothing but a rogue agent, and you'll have to die alongside your seducer!"
Between Kumogen's killing intent, his hideous appearance, and very dangerous weapon, anyone else might have frozen in terror and allowed themselves to die at the man-spider's hand…but all Harumi had to do was casually move her head to the size, and the danger from the pike was avoided completely. As a result, instead of piercing Harumi's soft flesh, the prongs of the pike instead broke through the top of the piano sitting in the room and lodged itself to a point where Kumogen could not easily pull it out.
Seeing his opportunity, Shun lifted his katana and, with a swift cut, completely severed Kumogen's forearm that was still outstretched from trying to pull out his pike. Black blood squirted from the wound and stained the floor as Kumogen fell to the ground and thrashed about madly from the pain he was in. With the severed hand still gripping tightly on the pike that was now acting as an unusual ornament for the Miyamoto's piano, Shun rushed over to Harumi's side and was about to ask if she was OK…only to see that her facial expression showed that she wasn't.
Whereas she robotically moved her head to the side to avoid Kumogen's stab, her eyes were now wide with shock as Kumogen's black blood was now staining her kimono, and she was doing her best to stifle a scream even with her silent disposition. Poor Harumi…she didn't have to see that, Shun thought bitterly before wrapping his arms around Harumi in an attempt to comfort her. "Please forgive me, Harumi," he whispered as he held her close, feeling her heart racing. "I didn't mean to scare you like that…"
Shutting out Kumogen's screams of pain, Shun focused on calming his future wife, feeling guilty about startling her and staining her with foul blood. Thought it seemed like forever, only a few seconds passed before Harumi's heart stopped racing and she returned Shun's embrace. "I'm so sorry about that, Harumi," Shun apologized again as the two lovers held each other even as Kumogen continued shrieking. "I should have been more thoughtful of your feelings before doing that. Next time I'll try to be more careful."
Kumogen screamed with such ferocity that Shun was forced to break his hold from Harumi and turn back towards his quarry. Pointing his katana at the monster that was stumbling back to his feet, Shun shouted back. "The fight is mine, demon! Get out of my house and never back come back, or I'll make it so that you'll lose something other than your arm!"
"It's easy to talk like that…when you have a weapon, my boy," Kumogen hissed before rearing back his head to fire off more webs. "I wonder if you'll be so brave…when the tables are turned!"
A thick strand of webbed rope raced towards Shun, but instead of aiming for his head like last time, Kumogen instead latched onto the hilt of his katana, causing Shun to pull back as hard as he could as Kumogen's thread tugged at it like a rope. "You're smug, my boy…I hate that," Kumogen grunted as he tugged on his web, threatening to pull Shun's weapon from him. "When I get your weapon, I'll cut you to ribbons and then I'll finish what I started with my ex-comrade! What do you say to THAT, eh?"
As soon as Shun quietly uttered those two words, Kumogen immediately understood what Shun's plan was, but it was already too late. Letting go of his katana, Shun let the blade go flying towards Kumogen with the force of a sling. As a result, the blade lodged itself into Kumogen's head, going through his mouth and out of the back of his neck. A terrible gurgling sound came from the creature as his arms flailed wildly and more black blood squirted from the wound.
Until finally, Kumogen went limp and fell onto his back in death, slain by his own aggressiveness.
There was a long, uneasy silence as Shun stared at the creature he had just defeated. Though his father had given him considerable training in swordplay, sparring with a blade and fighting with it were two very different things. Somehow, Shun had survived his first fight to the death with a foe that couldn't be considered human. But there was a bittersweet truth to Shun's victory that didn't come until he played back Kumogen's words in his head.
Harumi was once a part of that monstrous clan, and now that he had slain one of their own, there would likely be more to come.
Finally breaking the silence was the sound of someone pounding on the web-covered doors of the room, snapping Shun out of his trance and causing him to turn back to Harumi. The young woman seemed to have a distant look on her face, no doubt worrying about the same things Shun was worrying about. Shun didn't particularly blame Harumi for wanting to separate herself from this "Black Sun" sect if monsters like Kumogen were a part of it, but he wasn't going to stand for them trying to pull her back into their world of murder and mayhem.
Unless…that's what Harumi would have wanted.
"…Harumi," Shun finally said as he walked over to Harumi and sat down next to her on the piano bench. "Believe it or not, that was the first time I killed someone, and if I had my way I'd never have to do it again…but if it means protecting you, I'll do what I have to make sure that you're happy." Putting his hands on Harumi's shoulders, Shun watched her lift her head to face him before continuing. "But I need to know something…is being here with me what you want? Are you OK with marrying me even with all of this hanging over our heads?"
To that, Harumi smiled gently at Shun: a thin smile that warmed Shun's heart even though he had just taken his first life. It was the sort of sincere smile that convinced him a week before that Harumi was indeed his destined woman, and it was the sort of smile that convinced Shun that he would go through any trial if it meant seeing it again. Even if it meant that he had to put his life on the line to make her happy enough to see it again.
"…then I won't disappoint you, Harumi," Shun said with a smile of his own before watching the guards break through the webbing. Reaching over to pull his katana out of Kumogen's corpse, Shun shook the fresh blood off with a single swipe before putting it back into the sheath on his hip. "I'll do whatever it takes to make sure that we can live happily…no matter the cost."