Exalted: Duty and Honor
Chosen of Hesiesh
On his sixteenth birthday, Kirigasa Kurenai decided to sneak into a brothel. Like most of his impulsive, ill-thought out plans, this one went down in flames.
At first he had thought his victory was assured. He had stolen one of his sister’s more elaborate kimonos and somehow made it all the way to the women’s dressing quarters without question.. He even managed to charm all the oiran gathered, who were immediately amused by the novelty of a cross-dressing boy. They giggled and kissed his cheeks and fussed with his hair, and he allowed them to further his charade by arranging his long, red hair up in the traditional style of an oiran. He even let them apply the ceremonial makeup – his face painted white, his lips stained dark red – convinced that his patience would be rewarded by an invitation into one or more of their beds.
Kurenai had never thought there was a disadvantage to being beautiful. He quickly discovered, however, the consequence of being the most beautiful oiran among those that were assembled when one of the regular clients walked in and immediately demanded the lovely young new girl for the night. It was when the client ignored Kurenai’s strained refusal and begin to imploringly try to sneak a hand up the boy’s kimono did things ends poorly – Kurenai remembers a scuffle, and screaming, and nearly killing the man with his own sword as it was suddenly revealed that the breathtaking young oiran was not really a girl after all, but one of the sons of Gens Kirigasa.
He doesn’t know how much his father had to pay to quell the brothel owner’s outrage, or what Yasuhiro had to sacrifice to keep the offended client from murdering Kurenai over his offended honor. No, what he remembers is Yasuhiro quietly commanding him to sit on the front porch of their house after he dragged him home by the scruff of his kimono, still dressed like a oiran. His father then disappeared into his study, and returned with a large piece of parchment and his calligraphy brushes. In the detestable calm that followed, he watched his father’s tranquil strokes as he wrote in bold letters on the paper, “I LIKE TO DRESS LIKE A PROSTITUTE”. Yasuhiro then handed it to his son and ordered it to hold it, facing the busy road that other members of Gens Kirigasa often travelled, and to not move until he was told to do so. When Cranesong and Yuhi learned of his punishment and came to join him, he suspected his father only allowed it because their mockery deepened his shame.
He wished his father would have screamed at him instead, or even beaten him half to death. For even more hateful than the makeup itching his skin, or Cranesong’s wild, mocking laughter, or the stares of all who passed who made him flush with embarrassment was the horrible, wretched fate of having to sit still.
“Shut up, ugly duckling! You’re only jealous because I am prettier than you!,” Kurenai hissed at Cranesong. "People are only staring because they want me!”
Cranesong’s laughing only intensified in response as she declared it to be the best day in her life. Kurenai decided it was the worst birthday ever.
“Of course, Kurenai,” Yuhi said soothingly. “Surely, you must be the most beautiful oiran ever.”
Kurenai’s hands trembled on the parchment, and suddenly he became unbearably aware of his surroundings. Despite Cranesong’s musical laughter, he could too clearly hear the quiet murmuring of the nearby pond, the soft hush of his father folding paper cranes in the study behind him, the whispers of those who passed by. It was all smothering. He felt a frenetic energy bubbling up from within him, he felt as if he were choking, wishing for something, anything to break the damnable, unbearable stillness -
Yuhi leaped away from him with a sudden yelp of surprise as a bright anima of flame consumed Kurenai. Right behind them in his study, Yasuhiro sighed as one by one, his origami creations were incinerated by flying sparks. The servants began to rush around, screaming as other items nearby spontaneously combusted. Kurenai remembers cackling from the wondrous noises of chaos as the roaring inferno from within consumed all other sound.
When he came to his senses again he found his father firmly holding him in the middle of the koi pond. Kurenai had never before seen the man’s expression look so proud or so exasperated. Seeing that his son was more in control of his himself, he patted Kurenai on the shoulder with one of his large, steady hands.
“Your mother will want me to inform her immediately,” he said. “You may go find your friends.”
Kurenai ran barefoot across the lawn, arms outstretched as he laughed, exultant. He decided it was the best birthday ever. The glowing of the fireflies seemed to echo the feeling of power that pulsed in the blood of his veins, now awakened. Though he was drenched, with makeup smeared across his face and his hair a disaster, he didn’t mind the stares he drew. Stare all you want, he thought. Though I may look like a half-drowned prostitute, I am now one of the Dragon-Blooded.
He found his friends sitting on the porch of Cranesong’s home as she held Yuhi’s hand, fussing over him as she applied ointment to a burn that ran halfway up his arm. When Kurenai skidded to a stop in front of them, grinning like a madman, she gave him a withering, accusatory glare.
Before she could unleash whatever verbal reprimand she had been preparing, Kurenai struck a dramatic pose and declared, “I am Fire-Aspected!” as if they both had not been present for the messy conflagration he had just caused.
His statement of the obvious enraged her so deeply that she simply stared at him as if wishing she could kill him with her eyes. Yuhi smiled gently, and thought he looked truly pleased for his friend, when he spoke there was something wistful in his voice.
“Congratulations, Kurenai,” he said.