--- Dance of Dragons ---
Court life was a headache of intimate gossip, shallow promises, and vicious political affairs. Ayamaro’s court was unusual in that half of it was uniquely isolated from vast outside influences, due to the main powerfront of his palace being hosted directly in the heart of a capital flagship, one of the very few remaining from the great wars some years past. Most of the servants had never so much as left the ship, many of the younger ones having been born and raised on the ship. Certain courtiers and ambassadors were of course more well traveled, but for the most part, things were a rich family’s isolated slice of heaven.
His son, Ukyo, spent a majority of time within the ground palace centered in the midst of a bustling city set in rings of walls. The further out from the center, the worse daily living conditions grew. The city of Armad Toth, so named after a legendary warrior that had supposedly founded the original fortress. Today’s fort was nothing like the simple, sturdy brick foundations of the past; pastel painted plaster walls and delicate gold filigree decorated every inch of the interior, hallways trimmed in exotic woods and floors polished to a healthy shine. The rooms had been furnished to father and son’s tastes; Ayamaro held a small study and a massive greeting room for political debate and courtesies, and enjoyed the luxury of spacious private quarters with several gardens and indoor koi ponds.
His son was more extravagant and tasteless, wasting space on passtime curiosities of hobbies he’d hold interest in for no longer than a week, and an entire wing of the fortress devoted to his most precious collection of rarities; harem beauties. Some came to him as gifts from other kingdoms, some were plucked directly from the town he lived in. A scant handful were forcibly adopted from servant families within the court itself, and still others were taken from their farms in the countryside.
He was altogether an unpopular figure in the eyes of the common folk, and detested quietly by other courts. Complaints were never raised, for all despite his appearances as a flippant and uneducated dunce, the boy had a chillingly cunning side to his mind when he put effort into it. Underneath the white makeup and soft violet eyes, a cruel determination and intelligence lay dormant, waiting for the opportune moments to strike. Mostly, though, he behaved as a bumbling fool prone to impulsive decisions and rash emotional tantrums.
And so it was with much inner resignation and disgust, that Kyuzo Mifune was tasked to guard the spoiled welp during Ayamaro’s visit to a neighboring kingdom for a week-long festival. No emotion was betrayed on his visage when the order was handed down from his Lord, but he privately cursed the logic that bade the most favored of the samurai guards be kept in the city of thieves and assassins to guard the sole heir. It was sound, though his Lord would be in similar danger, visiting a neighboring land surrounded by outsiders of unknown intentions.
However, the young prince’s logic followed a far more dishonorable and wretched path. With both of his favorite samurai carelessly leashed to his command, Hyugo and Kyuzo had become effective criminals bound by honor and oath, to break honor and morality. They did not even have the saving grace of Ayamaro designating a list of rules; in his haste to leave, he had assigned they to Ukyo for servitude, rather than assigning Ukyo to they for management.
It was obvious that Hyugo’s annoyance came from putting up with the prince’s antics, rather than the nature of the tasks they would be ordered to carry out. Kyuzo’s mind quietly went to work shutting down all barriers of emotional interest and locking away what pride he dared. The mental preparation had been in the works since yesterday morn.
He could not afford to let doubts encroach upon his thoughts; hesitations would cost him dearly.
They now sat in a small meeting room affixed with a tea steeping machine and cozy lacquered table. Soft square cushions were arranged around it. Kyuzo had chosen to seat himself in the customary corner beside the doorway, whilst Hyugo made no qualms of the break in normal routine to take a seat directly on the cushion to the right of the prince. The prince had a decided gleam in his eyes as he laid out the route for the trip through the city he intended to take, bothering to name an excuse for the journey as a visit to a popular smith to request his works.
“Now, then, we’ll take this road, which will lead us directly past the brothel…”
Kyuzo closed his eyes, listening without comment and spreading out his senses to focus on the environment beyond the suffocating atmosphere of the tiny room. It was the only form of escape he had.