“Nellens Kiyura.” Sogei bowed deeply to the captive Dragon-Blood as he stepped into the tiny field tent where she was being kept. Snug enough with two people in it, Sogei’s entrance made it positively claustrophobic. He glanced at Sora, giving a small nod. Sora’s eyes flickered to the lacquered box in Sogeki’s hands, and he returned the nod, swiftly taking his leave.

Kiyura also looked to the box, her skin paling a bit. “Has the time come?”

Sogeki knelt before her, bringing his head level with hers. Her hands were bound behind her to one of the poles that kept the tent stable, but her shackles were more for show than function. She was a Dragon-Blood, and she could attempt to leave whenever she felt so inclined. It was only the presence of the Kirigasa family that kept her prisoner.

“I am afraid so.”

“You cannot kill me.” She lifted her chin haughtily. “I am Kiyura of House Nellens, scion of the Scarlet Empire and Prince of the Earth. Killing me would start a war between Lookshy and the rest of the Empire. This is a bluff.”

“I am afraid that is not the case, my lady. Aside from yourself, there are none who can prove our involvement, and we are deep in the East. Your body will never be found, and there will be no repercussions.”

“You ignorant barbarian!” She heaved herself forward, straining against her shackles, to spit in Sogeki’s face. “You are a worthless, stupid legionnaire! How dare you presume so?”

Kirigasa Sogeki sighed softly, patiently wiping away the spittle. “I wish I did not have to. I assure you, we will do our best to treat your body with respect. You will be buried, prayers said, and incense burnt.”

“Your companion will be very sad.” The woman straightened, feigning concern, but the slight tremor in her voice betrayed the truth; she was starting to understand that there was no way out. “Kirigasa Yukiko? She will never learn what she wanted to know from me.”

Sogeki nodded, opening the small box. Within, a lacquered bamboo syringe was nestled in folds of velvet and silk, with a small, leaden phial beside it. “Disappointment comes to us all, honorable one. We in Lookshy have come to understand that the wants of the individual must often be sacrificed for the needs of the many.”

She eyed the syringe warily. “I am a Wood Aspect. Toxins have little effect on me.”

Sogeki nodded again, lifting a hand to touch his own chest. “I understand. Like you, I have the dubious honor to be a Wood Aspect. I am well aware of our strengths… and our weaknesses.”

He lifted the phial, holding it between them. “This is a venom derived from the blue krait, a type of serpent native to the forests of the East. It is one of the deadliest serpents in Creation, outdone only by a ringed snake that lives in the waters off the coast of the Coral Archipelago. I have harvested it myself.”

“Will it be painful?”

Sogeki shook his head. “No. It will be quick.”

The prisoner sank back against the support pole, her head hanging down on her chest. “I never imagined… it would end like this.” When she lifted her eyes, they glistened with unshed tears. “Why you? Why did they choose you to kill me?”

“Does it matter?”

She laughed, bitterly. “Does anything? I am about to die, and you are about to kill me. I deserve to know something about my executioner.”

He began to measure out the proper dosage into the syringe. “I volunteered.”

“Why do you punish yourself so?”

For a moment, it was Sogeki’s turn to react, and he sat back on his heels. “I… apologize, honored one. I do not understand.”

“Why you?” She gestured toward the poison as best she could. “Why did you choose so onerous a task?”

He pondered silently for a moment. “I am best suited to the role. My cousins… their temperaments are not right. Cranesong and Kurenai are too emotional. Sora is too meek.”

“And Yukiko?”

“She has enough responsibility on her shoulders. She does not need more. It falls to me to do
what must be done, and let them sleep soundly knowing the stains are on my hands.”

“A fine justification.” She let her head fall back against the pole.

“It is sound reasoning.”

“It is cowardice.” Her gaze rose to challenge his. “You are deceitful, Kirigasa. I will be murdered by a worthless snake, who cannot even admit to himself why he takes on the most dishonorable duty of execution.”

Sogeki flushed, but made no other reply for several moments. His eyes fell to the prisoner’s stomach, and he gestured. “Forgive my rudeness, but… are you pregnant?”

She seemed startled by the non-sequitur, startled into a brief moment of honesty. “I… don’t know.”

“Given the crimes of which your lover stood accused, it is not unreasonable to think that you might be.”

“Crimes your government has yet to prove. And yet, though he abided by the terms of his exile, you assassinated him.”

Sogeki nodded, his composure regained. “Just so.” He gestured to her stomach again. “Do you want to know?”

She bit her lip, hesitation and fear warring on her features. “Will it matter?”

“As you said, honored one. Nothing matters, at this point.”

Now, her tears flowed, and her shoulders shuddered as she shook her head. “Then no. I do not wish to know. I will let my memories of him die with me, pure as my love for him and unsullied by your lies.”

Sogeki nodded and lifted a hand to tenderly brush the hair from her face. “Just so.”

When he left the tent several minutes later, all was silent within.


Exalted: Duty and Honor Octopoid