Disclaimers: See Part 1
Additional Note:(Please Read): This tale is tied in with, The Conqueror & Ri: A Twist of Destiny. If you haven't read both stories' chapters preceding this one, you should do so now.
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Xena and Gabrielle,
A Turn of Fate,
Chapter 18: Choreographic Manipulation
Executing an amazing flip that wouldn't have been feasible for many people, Xena's war cry echoed inside the empty armory. The landing she completed gracefully would've also broke a leg or two if emulated. The Warrior Princess was in her element. Her mind focused on the regiment she obligated herself to every morning, while pondering if Gabrielle liked the gift that was given.
'Please, don't toss it overboard.' Xena ruminated, concerning the yin-yang chakram.
Even with that morose thought, Xena felt giddy. Though Gabrielle was most indubitably still mad at her, she was hopeful the bard would accept the weaponry. If not, then Kenji would be bringing it back to her. At the least, the circular disc could be sinking to the bottom of the sea.
'Maybe she'll speak with me again.' Xena mused, doing a triple-stance kick. 'I miss talking to her. I wonder how she is coping.'
The morning excercise's time was up. Xena sheathed her sword and had begun exiting the armory, returning to the second tier cabin that was her lodging. Today marked the Samurai's sparring and she hoped they were ready. This is what her inspections and instructions boiled down to; the strongest of the strong. Whoever lost would be cast out of Xena's mind for good and their training at an end with her. The four hundred that wins would go on to challenge each other, and the two-hundred Samurai whom acquired victory from that competition would be placed with Gabrielle. The remaining couple of hundreds would stay with Xena. The oddments could linger with the Shogun or anywhere on earth for all she cared.
Entering the cabin, Xena saw a tub of steaming water awaiting her and chuckled, thanking the overly persistent monk, 'You would do that, Kenji.'
She had let up on Kenji after a while and allowed him to bring her the morning basin of water. However, this was the first time he'd anticipated her requirement for a bath. Shutting her door, she spied a red kimono laid out on the cot, too. A note was attached to the robe and the dark-haired woman read the Japian alphabets that were written on it.
:Dear, Xena Sama,
This isn't a gift to you so you may go easy on us. It's a genuine thanks for all you have done and are willing to do for our country of Japa. We hope you accept this present with happiness, if not gratitude. Withal, you're not one of us, the great Samurai of the past wore magnificent kimonos and we believe it is fitting that you wear one as well.
From the first squad Samurai to you.:
Xena became filled with exultation. The men she'd tromped had took it upon themselves to honor her with a kimono. Further inspection of the silk robe, Xena surveyed that it had a golden, Greek-lettered X embroidered into the front and its back. A black, sheer cloth was used as a sash to tie the garment close.
Xena's appreciation grew by the second. Taking off her brass armor, gauntlets, and arm bracelets, she looked forward to not putting them on any time soon. Slipping out her leathers, Xena immersed her nude body into the hot tub, letting the liquid soak her frame. After washing and getting dressed, the Warrior Princess would traverse to the main deck.
'Then the contest begins.'
Gabrielle didn't know how much time passed by whilst she sat like a statue on her cot. When the door to the cabin opened and Kenji was posed to cross its threshold, she became aware.
"Get out!" The Amazon shouted.
Kenji immediately departed the room with trepidation. She wasn't in the most logical place in her head to be rueful. All she thought she'd known and possibly willing to give acceptance to was a lie based around deceit. Xena being the main progenitor of this choreographic manipulation, Gabrielle had no reason to think otherwise.
'Well cogitated, Xena! Using my feelings and emotions for you against me! I'm too fragile to handle the truth? So you'd chosen to lie to me! Hurt me! Damn near destroy me!'
The veracious reasoning behind Xena's endeavor weighed on the bard's heart.
"She don't trust me!" Gabrielle screamed, tears cascading from her aqua orbs, prior to stating quietly, "Xena doesn't trust me."
It made no sense to the trim female. Xena chose to surrender her life, but why? Gabrielle could grasp the purpose. It didn't take a philosopher to acknowledge it had everything to do with Yodoshi. Yet, many questions stayed un-answered.
The Shogun knew and said nothing.
Zicalus was aware also, and expounded nothing.
Conceivably every Samurai on the entire ship had knowledge and kept Gabrielle in ignorance.
"Why!" The petite blonde was flustered.
Rising from her bedding, Gabrielle walked straight to the bowl of stale water from yesterday. She wiped her face with the wet cloth, making an oath to herself not to shed any more tears. She was weary of it all now, and Xena didn't deserve to be cried over.
Gabrielle picked up the vessel, letting all of the insipid liquid spill out onto the floorboards and dropped it back on the table. Next, she stared at the ring she'd bequeathed to her soul mate, remembering her honest words directed at Xena while in proximity to the beautiful woman as they both stood naked in the stream.
'During the time when you absolutely needed me, I have not been my best. I have failed you sometimes as well. But I swear to you, Xena, from now till the end of my life. I'll be faithful to you, and you alone. I'll never put another above you. I will never abandon you. I'll be yours forever.'
Shaken fingers lifted the ring off the table and Gabrielle studied it like she hadn't ever seen it before. Closing her eyes, she placed it in her left hand and began to caress its texture with her right, feeling the smoothness of the golden circlet. With her forefinger, she felt the engraved letters that mapped the gold surface of the band; Gabrielle's proclamation of love.
My Soul My Life.
Opening her greenish-blue irises, the towhead wrapped the ring in the cloth she had recently used and deposited it in the empty basin. When Kenji stop by to replace it, the gold jewelry would be taken away, too.
"Good-bye, Xena." Gabrielle averred softly.
Gazing beside the window, the Amazon looked at the chakram that Xena had decided to pass on to her. Pulling the disc out of the wall, she admired it, evoking a decision to keep it, and tossed the round weapon on the cot. Adorned in her velvet, red attire, she added the sky blue kimono over top of it. Thereupon tying the sash and her boots, Gabrielle set the twin sais in its straps. Grabbing her katana that leaned on the side of the small bed and the yin-yang chakram, the new Samurai left her cabin.
Gabrielle was inclined to make a detour preceding going to the armory where she planned to meditate, and hopefully with God's aid, rebuild the mental wall from scratch.
The Samurai from the first squad assembled on the bottom deck, awaiting the arrival of their sensei. Some members from the few other squads watched from the upper platform, looking forward to viewing the action below whilst they mingled among themselves similar to what the warriors were doing below.
"Who do you think Xena-Sama will pair up?" Suzu asked.
"I don't know, but it'll be funny if it's you and I." Hiro answered.
"No, it wouldn't." Suzu frowned. "If we do, you would be ejected from her special class. I got a feeling that means no more training sessions."
"You're right. She is looking for the greatest." Hiro caught on to Suzu's insinuation. "Hey, what do you mean I'll be out? Don't trow that I'd be the one to lose in a duel between us."
"You would, because I'm-"
Suzu's declaration came to a halt once his sight discried Xena. Hiro noticed the countenance of his fellow companion and all the other men. Following their gazes, he saw her as well.
Xena strolled in their direction, her midnight-colored hair flowing in the wind. The marvelous kimono hugged her body like a second skin and the Sacred katana was sheathed on her right hip. Xena's feet were covered in sandals, in lieu of the dark-brownish footwear she usually wore. To the Japian fighters, setting aside her Greek heritage, she resembled what the sun goddess, Amaterasu, would appear to be if she pertained human form as Xena seemed to glide forward.
"Samurai!" She addressed, stopping her footsteps in front of them. "Thanks for the gift, it is much appreciated!"
Suzu and Hiro grinned at each other in glee, while the others pronounced, "You're welcome, Xena-Sama!"
"Today starts the beginning of y'alls trials in seeing who should be honored to move on to my special class of Samurai. If you are to lose this day, do not feel shameful, nor discouraged. Although you will no longer be a part of the first squad, you all are conversant in sword techniques and have proven to be a factor in helping to destroy Yodoshi, including his forces."
"Yeah!" They all yelled in a loud cheer.
When the shouts subsided, Xena continued, "Do not be disheartened by the outcome of your match. Whether you lose or win, we all are on the same side to fight against our enemies and to show perseverance in the face of opposition. With that predicated, this is a friendly contest. We are not to carry grudges towards one another. Let's enjoy ourselves and congratulate the victors whilst respecting the defeated. You are Samurai, I shouldn't have to go in details referencing honor and respect. If you cannot, for unknown reasons, bestow that honor amongst your friends and compatriots, you should leave now or face punishment from me."
Not one person moved from their spot.
"Excellent." Xena smiled, her tone still stringent. "Keep in mind once more, this is friendly competition, but don't let that cloud your fighting style with tenuity, nor hinder your tenacity for success. May the best Samurai prevail!"
"Yeah!" They roared again, and most commenced chanting, "Xena-Sama! Xena-Sama!"
Xena took a trip down memory lane, recalling when she was a warlord. How she felt elation from the chanter of men and women who fought for her, achieving rewards from the goddess, Nike, with victory after victory. Her ratiocination ended, and Xena noted something awry with the first group of Samurai. Then it dawned on her that there weren't two hundred men standing in front of her cheering.
One was missing.
'Damn that Neji. Now I'll have to recalculate the parings for this squad.' Xena griped, whereupon the chants and cheers muffled. "All of y'all won't see action. I will only be using one hundred of you today and the others will be paired up next time. Is that understandable?"
"Alright, first contestants will be Ryo verses Barochu. Begin." Xena announced.
The remnant Samurai moved backwards, allowing space as the two duelist faced off.
Xena observed the men, noticing that Harukata, Koska, the silent Moku, and that young sorry excuse for a Samurai, Zicalus, weren't on deck with her.
'At least I'll have peace of mind without a supervisor breathing down my neck.' Xena became jovial.
With awesome fights and brawls about to take place, her day couldn't get better than this.
"We have a serious problem in Higuchi." The Shogun expressed to the three elite Samurai whom sat in their respective seats inside his conference cabin, listening to him. "A carrier pigeon delivered a epistle from the Daimyo. Morimoto has come into contact with Yodoshi. Chances are, they're in conflict as I speak."
"The town village is lost." Koska responded calmly. "Higuchi will surely be destroyed. We should alter our course to Shinto instead."
Moku nodded his head in concurrence.
"There's a possibility the Daimyo is holding Yodoshi at bay. Perhaps we'll make it there in time to back him." Zicalus offered.
"Morimoto is likely good as dead." Koska countered. "Shinto is where Yodoshi will be planning his convergence next."
"The Daimyo and his Samurai are great archers. He can be a bulwark for Higuchi. We must have faith." Zicalus rebutted.
"I share Zicalus' belief that Morimoto can hold off Yodoshi's attacks." Harukata alighted his glum eyes on the youngest Samurai in the room. "But for how long, is the problem we must come to terms with."
"I know how well the Daimyo is skilled in combat, not excluding his talent with a yumi. He'll fight with all he has till the end." Koska defended Morimoto's expertise with a bow, howbeit reaffirming, "It just won't be enough. We are a great distance from Japa, let alone Higuchi. If they are in battle now, do we really deceive ourselves with lies? There's no way we can give aid to Morimoto. In a month, plus odd days at sea, he and his five thousand men will be dead. It's clear that we should return to Shinto."
"Shogun." Zicalus beseeched him. "You gave the Daimyo an order to protect Higuchi with his life and the lives of a contingent of Samurai. He is there defending it and its temple. Do we leave him to suffer this by himself? Did you not prepare for this very scenario? It's the intention of this warship, isn't it? To engage from the ports of Higuchi if need be."
"Yes, it was, Zicalus." Harukata acceded. "Notwithstanding, that was when I conjectured we'd be closer to Higuchi, and we aren't. Koska is factual; when we reach Higuchi's shores, it will all be for naught. With the time we have, heading to Shinto sounds like the best plan of action."
"I can't believe this." Zicalus was disappointed.
"Zicalus." Moku rasped, resting his hand on the rectangular table, garnering for his.
Zicalus clutched it and squeezed tightly. Out of every living person on the ship, the scarred facial features of Moku's was a testament that he had seen what Yodoshi can do, and was fortunate to be alive. His assent that they should leave Morimoto to his fate should've been enough for Zicalus.
"We can't desert him and his men, Moku. It's not right. They are Samurai, just like us. They're a part of our clan. To abandon them to slaughter is wrong. We won't simply lose our members, but the Korei-den temple also." Zicalus pulled his hand away. "To do nothing, we've truly failed."
Moku looked into his erstwhile pupil's light-green orbs deeply and remitted, "You are right, Zicalus."
Zicalus beamed to hear his mentor recant his choice.
"What?" Koska inquired incredulously. "The die has been cast. There's nothing we can do. You both are looking at the situation from a prospective that we are abandoning them in Higuchi. How can we leave someone when we aren't even there to begin with!"
"Enough, Koska." The Shogun voiced, moved by Zicalus' speech. "We continue onwards to Higuchi."
"Yes." Zicalus asserted.
"If we get to Higuchi and Yodoshi is already in Shinto, what then?" Koska prodded bitterly.
"Shinto does have twenty thousand Samurai protecting it. Higuchi doesn't. If we cannot make it in time to prevent Yodoshi from laying waste to the town, the least we can do is avenge them." Harukata elucidated. "I will commune with Amaterasu once we get nearer to Japa's territory. Until that time, we'll remain firm with our original objective. Our conference is over. Now go inform the other Samurai who isn't taking part in Xena's session."
Moku, Zicalus, and Koska had arisen with a bow, prior to their departure out of the cabin.
Traipsing from Harukata's room, Koska called out, "A moment, Zicalus."
"We will catch up, Moku." The dark-haired Samurai told him.
Moku hesitantly resumed his gait, looping the corner.
"Is this regarding aiding-" Zicalus' query ceased as he was roughly shoved against the interior's hull by Koska.
"Your little speech in there could easily jeopardize all the citizenry of Shinto. Do you know that?"
"It is the final judgment of the Shogun that dictates our choices. Not us." Zicalus espoused, failing to break Koska's grip on him.
Koska applied painful pressure on the younger man, causing him to grunt. "Be that as it may, we can persuade him as well. Don't try to slick talk me, half-breed. I've been in this clan longer than you. I seen more than you ever have. You seem so ready for war and death. If you are unlucky, there's a plausibility you'll receive both for yourself."
"Get off me, Koska." Zicalus growled. "I warn you."
"Or what?" Koska taunted, shoving him again. "I, like many others, was observant of your contention with Xena. You were pathetic. You walk around with your heart on your sleeves, too, boy. You're hoping to court Gabrielle-San."
Zicalus' astonished expression exposed him.
"You think you can woo her affections?" Koska laughed gratingly, proclaiming, "Get your head into what is happening in the real world and chase skirts in fantasy land after this is over."
He pushed off Zicalus, setting him free.
"If Higuchi falls before we get there, which I'm positive it will, and Yodoshi destroys Shinto because of our delay, the lives lost is on your hands." He glared intently. "Remember that, Zicalus."
The veteran Samurai quickly spun on his heels, stomping away, whereas Zicalus loitered in the same spot, dwelling on Koska's odium and harsh explication.
To Be Continued
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