Chapter 1: prologue
i've seen very little Ghost of Tsushima content on here and on tumblr and it makes me v sad!! the game and its characters deserve so much love and attention, so this is my contribution! i hope you enjoy :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Nothing had ever felt like looking in her eyes did.
To have something grow in him each time,
wild and sacred,
quiet violence burrowing deep,
Vines of sensation lacing through his veins,
working to take root, working to stay.
Always to stay.
i listened to 'The Way of the Ghost' from the Ghost of Tsushima soundtrack while writing all of this!! i def suggest giving it a listen, it'll move your soul xx
The beach is awash with red.
Blood stains the swollen midnight tide that does its best to lick the wounds of the dead lying within its reach. The field of corpses are gilded silver under the full moon, as glimpses of armor and weapons shine like buried treasure admist the gore. Fallen banners hang limp and torn under a still sky full of mourning stars, the wind having abandoned the sea as the souls of the slain claim it instead. Yuna takes care with where she places her paws as she makes her way as respectfully as she can through the battlefield, being sure to keep her tails lifted so they don't drag in the wet paste that used to be sand, hunting for anything that could be of use. She pauses at every sound, her tall pointed ears adjusting to listen to identify the source, before continuing on. The overlaying scents that accompany death are enough to make her head spin, even to a human this beach would smell putrid, but she's much stronger in her true shape. And right now strength is what is necessary.
Glassy eyes stare up at her as she picks her way over to a saddle that's somehow managed to stay secured to the body of a samurai mount that's lost its head. A long clean cut at the base of the neck, the work of a Mongolian bladed spear. Yuna bows her head, blesses the brave creature's soul, and proceeds to rummage through the saddle bags. She noses around and finds nothing but a few unopened letters and some personal effects. Just as she blows a sharp breath out through her wet nose, the breeze suddenly picks up. It startles Yuna as its been unnaturally still since she arrived, but what's even more out of the ordinary are the red maple leaves drifting with purpose further down the battlefield towards a bend in the cliffs that hug the beach line. A spark lights in her chest as she recognizes this as a gesture given by someone from behind the veil. There are no maple trees nearby. She follows, like a moth to a flame, unable to ignore the presence of the divine, and is led to a samurai who lies face down with what she assumes to be his katana sticking straight up in the sand, standing guard over his prone form.
He's quiet unremarkable to Yuna at first glance, no different than any of the other warriors she's come across so far. He has two arrows in his back and through her power, Yuna can sense that he has two and a half broken ribs, eight severed nerves, four torn tendons, and about seven fractured bones. If she were to bestow him her favor, none of his injuries would be fatal. Curious now as the touch of the wind against his temples seems to rouse him enough out of his unconsciousness, that he clenches one of his hands into a first, she bends her head to sniff him. He's definitely alive. Another sniff. He's in a great deal of emotional and physical pain. One last whiff --
Yuna jerks her head back up, her hind legs tensing as if to push her into a sprint.
There is no mistaking it, Inari holds guardianship over this human.
A knot of chaos swells in the back of her throat making it hard to breathe. I've been human too long, Yuna scolds herself, these sensations humans call emotions shouldn't effect me so much.
But they do. And it hurts.
I can't leave him to die.
With a slightly helpless sigh of frustration, she packs away about half of herself, letting the transformation happen on a controlled inhale. The transition feels a little stiff, as she doesn't spend a lot of time shifting back and forth these days, but allows her tails, talons, and ears to remain while the rest of her features she gives over to her human shape. Yuna doesn't allow herself to think about what she's getting into, the implications and subsequent consequences of taking one of Inari's blessed under her own guardianship. She just scoops the man up bridal style, making sure to grab his sword, and tries not to look down at him limp in her arms as she steals him away from what would have been his grave.
The man bares Inari's favor well.
Yuna can't help but notice this as she gets a good look at his face, at the whisper of the divine in each of his labored breaths, at how nature seems to bend to him -- probably even bend for him if he bothered to ask it to, when she carries him from the beach. This human has a touch of destiny to him, which is a very dangerous affliction for a human to have, despite what their stories and legends claim. Yuna has Taka to worry about, getting involved with this human would only bring her trouble. But his will to live that burns like an ember that refuses to go out in the very center of his being, stares her down and waits, watches...ready to pass judgement upon her should she abandon him. Gritting her teeth, Yuna begins the process of removing the arrows from his back and all but cracks him out of his armor that's caked with so much blood and dried sea salt, that it's become more like a cocoon. She gently attempts to peel away the soiled under clothes that cover his greatest injuries. The material is fine, but thoroughly ruined. It sticks to his open wounds, pulls at them as the blood has dried, but she tries her best to be patient despite the panic she can hear happening outside. The small fishing village she'd brought him too has views of the massacre on the beach. Most folk have fled, especially the families with small children. After assessing the complete extent of his injuries, Yuna recognizes that she can indeed help the man heal his gravest wounds, but he'll need human things like food and medicine to fully recover.
With her brow furrowing in determination, she leaves his side and hesitates a beat before grabbing his katana. Trading the dying man's sword for supplies is what Taka would do, though Yuna fights the urge to just steal the supplies and be done with it.
I hate when you steal.
Yuna releases a harsh sigh and snatches the katana, not sure how she feels about being ruled by Taka's wishes even when he's not present. Before making her way out of the abandoned hut, Yuna makes sure she's fully settled in her human shape. To her surprise she easily acquires all the food and medicine she needs, the trader nearly offering all he had for the sword. Yuna never much paid attention to human social hierarchy, though other yokai have said its because she's still so young (she's only just gotten her second tail), but the sword held importance and status. A great clan's heirloom the merchant said, having taken it from her with careful gnarled hands. She noted his awe but swiftly left with her bounty in case the merchant changed his mind. So much for just a sword? Her fallen samurai must be a lord of great significance.
Typical, Inari likes the old samurai families. Yuna's surprised he doesn't have a kitsune guardian already, the noble families usually are given one under Inari's grace.
Just as she's about to cross the road, she hears the thunder of hooves. The riders, Mongolian by the sound it, as their steeds have a different gait than those of samuari mounts, are about a mile off. They're coming from the beach. Yuna rushes back to the hut, knowing she needs to move the man somewhere safer if she is to heal him. There is a split second where she considers leaving him, just running for the fort where they have Taka and fighting her way through backed by the strength of all her power. In order to do that she'd have to be at least partly transformed. While she has no issue with terrifying the Mongols, she does worry that she'd terrify Taka. And there's a part of her that she knew would collapse and never recover if Taka looked at her like a monster.
"Shit," Yuna curses as she pulls the man up from the mat he lays on and maneuvers him to her back.
Though she has the strength, even in her human shape, to carry him in her arms, the people of the village would notice it to be odd for a woman of her stature. Best not to stir any suspicion. Once he's securely draped on her back with his face tucked into the side of her neck -- his large mass and weight understandable for a warrior of his caliber, she starts her trek uphill. If she were truly human this process would be grueling, but she only acts afflicted by his burden until she clears the village and any wandering eyes. Yuna easily jumps up rock ledges, pushes him then squeezes herself through cracks in fallen slabs of rock, and finds a sheltered natural alcove to settle him in. She makes a second trip back to the village for a goza mat, the supplies, and a wooden pale of fresh water from the well. It's quite a hassle considering she technically could have made just one trip, but acting human is always taxing work.
Yuna immediately sets to work on tending him once she has all she needs. Completely removing his clothes at one point in order to wash him, she redresses him and begins to cleanse him with her power, mending his broken body in a way that no human could. It takes more out of her than she expected but it doesn't exhaust her by any means. Once again Inari's grace makes itself known in him as he takes to her healing as easily as if he was slipping into warm water. Some human bodies and minds completely reject divine or supernatural assistance, let alone take it in stride. A lucky bastard. After she's finished bestowing him her favor, she tends to him as the humans would. It's only when she hears the Mongolian riders finally make it to the village and the screams start, that she pulls herself from his side. Taka would want her to do what she could for the people in the village. Yuna's yokai soul shivers at the thought of leaving the man alone and so vulnerable, but she descends from the alcove with her bow and arrow drawn, ready to fight.
Jin struggles to put on what remains of his armor.
It usually takes at least one other person to help dawn the armor when its intact, but with it so thoroughly shattered he manages. Sand and dried blood crust in the creases of the metal work, grating on his skin where his underclothes are ripped or torn. He disciplines himself against the uncomfortable feeling, reminding himself he's lucky he's not dead and that the extent of his injuries are freshly stitched clean wounds, and sharp deep aches where he assumes his body was battered. He hopes nothing is broken or permanently damaged.
A cry of terror suddenly rings into the night from outside the hut he'd snuck into. His attention resets to all the innocent people being tormented by the Mongols and with resolute determination, he sets his shoulders, takes two steadying steps towards the door, and reaches to slide it open. Jin manages to take a step out into the fray just in time to see a Mongol bring his sword down on a peasant begging on their knees, cleaving through the villager's collarbone with a sickening crunch. Fury over takes Jin in a swift wave, he's just about to throw himself into the fight, swordless or not, when a woman comes rushing from around the corner and right in to him.
"Back inside! Now!" She hisses, forcing him back in the hut as she moves into his space. She puts a hand on his shoulder and gives a single push when he doesn't budge, before closing the door behind them once he shuffles back a step.
"How are your wounds?" The woman asks on an exhale, then quickly after, "Can you run?"
She doesn't wait for his answer as she turns her back to him and faces the door, catching her breath as she tries to make sense of the shadows flickering across the canvas.
All Jin can manage is a soft yet utterly confused, "I...I think so."
A beat and then Jin remembers what he was looking for.
"Where's my sword?"
The woman turns back to face him at that, her eyes open wide but not in fear. More like in surprise Jin notes.
"Not here --," She starts but is promptly interrupted by a shout outside, it sounded like Mongolian.
Jin makes to move past her, to fight, to protect, but the woman once again thwarts him.
"I'll take care of this, please, hide!" She begs him when Jin remains where he is, not about to abandon the person who nursed him back to health to defend for herself.
There is something dangerous in her eyes as the Mongolian soldier stomps closer to the door behind her, its the only thing that convinces him to obey her. In the last moments before the invader enters the home, Jin does as the woman says and hides behind a wall a step or two away. There is silence for a beat, nothing but the woman taking a steadying inhale. Something about her control, about the severity of her clam in the face of such impending danger, makes goosebumps rise on the back of Jin's neck.
Just as the Mongolian soldier bursts into the hut, the woman wails, begging to be spared. Jin hears her voice waver like she's been crying for hours, hears her kneel as the soldier grabs her by the arm and yells broken Japanese at her, demanding to know where she keeps the rice. Through her sobs Jin assumes she points the soldier to a corner of the house because the soldier tosses her to the ground and makes his way over to where he was directed. The foreigner takes a knee with a great thunk to rummage through something just on the other side of the wall Jin hides behind. Unable to stop himself, Jin inches forward, risking a peek from around the corner preparing to intervene. What he sees sends the blood rushing from of his head and his limbs to arrest in place. The woman silently rises from where she'd been thrown, focused wholly on the Mongolian's back. Her gaze is...predatory, like that of a wild leopard cat. It turns her dark eyes almost gold, they practically glow as she anticipates her next move. Jin chalks it up to the flickering fire light from outside glinting off the Mongolian soldier's armor, and reflecting in her eyes. But the confident steps she takes as she stalks up behind the soldier and without hesitation drives a sizable curved dagger into the back of his neck, reveals a darkness to her Jin isn't convinced is wholly human. She yanks the dagger out as the soldier gurgles on his blood, hovering over him with chilling patience as she waits for him to fall. Once the soldier lands in a heap on his back, the woman brings the talon dagger back down to drive into his chest.
Jin fully emerges from his place behind the wall as she stabs the Mongolian soldier twice more, indulging in unnecessary violence as the invader had already perished. She takes a few moments to recover, appraising her kill as she completely lets go of her performance as a terrified helpless woman, then unceremoniously drops her weapon to the floor beside her in order to pat down the soldier, looking for something to take that might be useful. Jin attempts to sort through everything he's witnessing as efficiently as he can, packing many thoughts away for later and only focusing on what he needs to address in order to get through the present situation. After another moment of silence between them, Jin asks,
"Who are you?" He hopes his face isn't as revealing as he thinks it is.
Luckily she remains looking down at the dead Mongolian as she answers him in a surprisingly gentle tone of voice considering her recent actions,
Yuna allows another moment to churn by before she recovers her weapon and stands to her full height, finally looking Jin in the eye from across the room.
"You want your sword?" She prompts, something unyielding and unapologetic hardening her expression, "Follow me."
And Jin does.
hi all! let me know what you think if you would like down in the comments below :) also a disclaimer: i'm obviously not an expert on Japanese mythology (tho i did do research before writing) so pls feel free to inform me of stipulations concerning kitsune and stuff if you know about it!
"How long was I out?" The samurai asks.
"Long enough for the Mongols to conquer half the island." Yuna relents, leading him to a shattered window at the back of the hut and hopping effortlessly out of it.
She slows her gait a little in case he needs help clearing the ledge, but he manages just fine. Yuna sinks into a crouch as she rounds the corner, having heard the Mongolian soldiers patrolling the village and already planning their route. At this point it's second nature to think like a human would, living with and looking after Taka has tamed her a little, rewired a lot of her yokai instincts. Instead of moving through the shadows of the world like a predator she moves through it like prey.
"Yuna --," The man starts.
"Shh! Not now." Yuna promptly interrupts, ignoring how the way he says her name makes a significant part of her want to just...pause.
"Shit, get down." She instructs as she motions for him to follow her lead.
He does without further protest and copies her, getting low to the ground and sticking to her like tree sap as she maneuvers them through the Mongol soldiers. Eventually Yuna halts them as they reach a ledge with a view of a villager -- a woman, crying with her arms stretched up pleading for mercy as a Mongol swings his sword down and ends her life. Yuna hears the man behind her attempt to control his emotions with an angry intake of breath.
"There's nothing we can do for her." Yuna tries to console, though that's not entirely true. But doing something to help the woman would endanger the still very much wounded samurai behind her, and she needed him if she was going to free Taka without using any of her power.
"But I can save the others." He retorts in a tone of such unwavering surety that it once again takes her aback.
She lets his words ring quietly between them unchallenged, not sure what to say to that anyway, and leads them onward once the Mongolian soldier turns his back. They are silent until she leads them round the back of a hut and under a store house.
"Lord Shimura was with me on the battlefield," He whispers as they both crawl through the mud.
"The Jito?" Yuna says, attempting to keep the scoff out of her voice, "Forget him."
Once they come up from under the store house and move to crouch behind a few barrels, the man stops her with an urgent hush,
He said her name again. Yuna tries not to think about why it feels like getting struck by lightning.
She obliges him and pauses, assuming he needs to catch his breath, and surveys the alley she'll lead them through next. It's not until the samurai admits that Lord Shimura is his uncle that Yuna turns to face him. She feels her eyebrows raise and really takes in his face, his features.
She may not know much about the intricacies of human social classes, but she knows who the Jito and his immediate family are. Her fallen samurai isn't just some lord, he's royalty.
"You're Jin Sakai," Yuna murmurs, pieces starting to fall into place, "The Jito's nephew?"
"I have to know," The lord of clan Sakai says, glancing down at his feet in an attempt to try and collect himself. He fails though, as his eyebrows pinch up in the center when he finally raises his gaze, facing his fear, "Did he survive?"
Not entirely sure of the Jito's fate, Yuna supplies Lord Sakai with a simple, "I think so."
It's not a lie, because she did spot the Mongols escorting a samurai in clan Shimura's colors off the beach when she first arrived on the scene.
"The Mongols took him prisoner." She chooses to reveal, unsure why she feels the need to provide him unconfirmed information. It feels dangerously like she's trying to comfort him, give him hope. She doesn't owe him that.
Yuna looks away to hide any turmoil that might slip onto her face, though she feels Lord Sakai staring holes into the back of her head.
"Where did they take him?"
Something about the way he asks that makes Yuna feel like he's testing her.
"East," Yuna says, turning back to him so he can see her eyes, "Along the coast."
Most humans lack the instinct that warns them not to trust someone who won't look them in the eye. Lord Sakai misses nothing, revealing that he expects to be treated as an equal -- to look him in the eye when speaking to him so he may do the same back. Respectful. Honorable. There's a quiet sharpness to him that's rare among his kind, it impresses her.
Lord Sakai seems satisfied with both her answer and her eye contact, and releases her from his gaze as he thinks out loud.
"Toward Castle Kaneda...they must be holding him inside, celebrating their victory."
Sakai continues to surprise Yuna as he repositions himself closer to her side, regaining her full attention as he proposes his plan to her, completely lost in his hope and forgetting that they are currently in a time sensitive situation that could get them caught at any moment.
"I could take them by surprise," He begins.
"You'll be killed." Yuna immediately shoots down with a firm shake of her head.
"Or I'll rescue Lord Shimura," Sakai continues unphased, "Then help him drive the Mongols into the sea." He takes Yuna's stunned silence as encouragement to keep going, "He could contact the Shogun, call for reinforcements --,"
Lord Sakai's unwavering faith in his Uncle makes Yuna uncomfortable. Humans and their willingness to trust so thoroughly that they lose their reason is a trait she could never understand.
"I didn't nurse you back to health to watch you throw your life away." She scolds instead of addressing his half-cooked plans, noting that his heart is still very much on that beach. As if the tide of the war could still be so swiftly turned.
As she once again looks away to listen and check that there aren't any soldiers lumbering near them, Sakai poses a question that does make her freeze for a moment.
"Why did you save me?"
She lets his question draw her gaze back to him, but this time its her that glances at the ground trying to collect herself.
"I couldn't leave you to die." Yuna moves slightly away from him instead of facing him, despite knowing he'd want her to look at him with respect for this next bit, "I need your help."
Without missing a beat Lord Sakai replies with, "Lord Shimura can help our whole island."
Before Yuna can comment on that, he follows his statement up with, "And, he's the only family I have left."
Oh, Yuna thinks.
A shout that sounds too close to them to be safe bursts the bubble they'd been in, and its Sakai this time who urges them onward. There are a couple times where Yuna has to hold Sakai back from taking action, but once she leads him to climb up onto a roof he cautiously makes a few observations.
"You climb roofs, scavenge battlefields...you're a thief."
Yuna tries not to let mirth color her response, she had never heard someone so respectfully call her a criminal.
"When I need something," She says as they continue to make their way across the roof, "I take it."
"Like my katana." He phrases it like a statement but it comes out with that same cautious tone, once again attempting to respectfully accuse her of criminal behavior.
"I traded it for food and medicine."
"You what?" He exclaims quite sharply.
It almost makes her laugh that he's so miffed at that. Almost.
"Don't worry, we'll find the buyer and get your sword back." She assures him and continues to lead in renewed silence.
Once they make it to the merchant's hut, Yuna breaks their quiet.
"The man I traded your sword to lives just up ahead."
The merchant, Taro, lies dead slumped against the wall of his hut under the window he probably tried to escape out of. Its then that Lord Sakai instructs her to guard the house as he searches for his sword inside. Yuna allows him a moment alone to collect his belongings and his mind. When she hears fighting in the house a minute or two later, she rushes through the window but only comes across the aftermath. A Mongol raider lies freshly slain and bleeding at Lord Sakai's feet, the soldier's weapon -- a spear, rests at an odd angle across the room. The invader was thoroughly disarmed. The fight was won practically before it even started. Yuna watches Lord Sakai flip the blood off his blade with ease. He seems different with his sword in hand, he's...more.
"Good," Yuna starts, trying not to stare as he secures his full daisho to his waist, "You found your sword."
"Where can I find a horse?" He asks.
"The stables aren't far," Yuna says without missing a beat, "This way."
She leads them out of the hut but ends up stopping before descending down into the lower courtyard where the stables are. Mongols control the area, multiple raiders pace in place awaiting orders. Too many to fight at once.
"We can get close," Yuna suggests as the pair crouch behind a large rock for cover, "Slit their throats, and kill them without a sound."
Jin is once again stunned at how merciless she is. How violent.
"Without honor." He states, not a question. Jin would not consent to such a plan, "I will not break my code."
Yuna levels him with a look he can't decipher before he stands, and in the way his Uncle taught him, walks before his enemies in plain sight and challenges them with honor. There are only three soldiers, and he deals with them easily enough. They aren't nearly as skilled as he expected. These Mongol raiders are more like dogs than soldiers. A man yells and a baby cries nearby and everything in Jin zeros in on the direction it came from.
"That's close," He murmurs more to himself, but Yuna reminds him she's still there by retorting in warning.
"We can't save everyone!"
We haven't saved anyone, Jin thinks in contrast.
"I'm done running and I can finally help!" He barks at her before breaking into a dead sprint towards those in need of protection.
He faintly hears Yuna curse behind him as he runs up an incline to see a burning house. A villager holding a newborn baby to his chest sobbing to be spared comes into view just as Jin spots a few Mongolian invaders who are moments away from killing them --
Not this time.
"More guards!" Yuna calls to him over the sound of a Mongolian horn being blown, signaling for reinforcements.
"Don't let anyone escape!" Jin orders instead of answering her as he slices into the first Mongolian, killing him clean in one movement.
The fight doesn't last long as Jin makes quick work of the raiders, a fire burning in him so hot he fears it'll harm the innocents at his back. Once the Mongols are dead and Jin has wiped away their blood from his blade, he faces the peasant. As he sheathes his father's sword the villager begins stumbling over himself to thank Jin.
"Th-Thank you, my lord," And like he was meeting one of the kami themselves, continues with, "They said all of the samurai were dead!"
Jin remains silent, letting the man catch his breath and calm his mind before speaking.
"Do you have somewhere to hide?"
It takes the man a moment to collect his thoughts, the adrenaline from the fear still coursing through his system Jin hazards.
"I heard Golden Temple might be safe."
Jin takes a step closer to him once he's sure the man is steady enough to be able to remember what he's about to tell him,
"Go. Stay off the roads and guard your son with your life."
Without another word the villager turns and runs, making his way out of the village towards the surrounding forest. Jin watches him go until his figure disappears into the treeline.
"You risked your life for them."
Yuna's words bring Jin back to the present. He turns to face her and finds that she's staring at him with that undecipherable look again. It puts him on edge, makes him feel like he's being...measured. Though her words strike him as odd.
Who wouldn't risk their life to save an innocent man and a child? A newborn?
Feeling a little lost Jin replies, "They couldn't defend themselves and I, I can't let more of our people die."
Yuna's mind is running a mile a minute but she doesn't let this opportunity pass her by. Getting Lord Sakai to assist her in freeing her brother won't be as difficult as she originally thought. He seems to throw himself at anyone in need of help, Inari blessed indeed. Though better safe than sorry.
"They're not the only ones who need you," Yuna begins as she takes a step forward, locking his gaze with her's as she prepares to manipulate him into helping her by any means necessary.
She watches his features, sees his eyes take note of her posturing but remain carefully blank, cautious now.
"My brother," Yuna finally admits, "The Mongols took him."
Something that looks like recognition sweeps across Sakai's face,
"That's why you saved me."
Anticipating this, Yuna then hits him with the same sentiment he voiced earlier.
"Taka is my only family."
This makes Sakai shift on his feet, lean slightly away -- yielding.
"And Lord Shimura is mine." He retorts, though Yuna knows it to be a weak defense, not with how she's seen him handle saving the innocent.
Yuna smells his sympathy for her, compassion always being one of the easiest things to detect in humans, and presses further.
"Please," She takes another step closer, choosing to let a bit of real concern for her brother into her voice -- admitting a weakness, humans are all about give and take, "I just want my brother back."
Sakai is quiet as he takes her in. Yuna knows he's looking for insincerity and makes sure that the worry stays present on her face. It's not hard, Taka being so far from her and in danger has been a bomb of emotions she has not allowed to go off. It's clear when he deems her worthy of his help. Yuna doesn't know why it makes her feel honored.
"I'll help you find him," Sakai pauses, making sure he has her full attention, "After I save my Uncle."
Yuna trusts nothing less than the word of a human, but when Sakai says, "I promise." She feels inclined to believe him.
"I'm coming with you." She states instead of a thank you, agreeing to his terms only if she can remain by his side for insurance, "Let's get to the horses."
The ride to Castle Kaneda is hard and silent. Sakai set the pace and leads the way this time. He rides gracefully, even at a full gallop, despite still recovering from his injuries. Yuna notes this but stores the knowledge away for later. Once Taka is rescued and safe then she could put her full impression of Lord Sakai together.
When they reach the castle Sakai insists on marching straight in, no tactics or forethought. It makes Yuna second guess his intelligence. She accompanies him half way anyway, watching him fight as they gain ground. He's good, brilliant even. Though she guesses if he was at full strength and was willing to fight in more ways than that of a samurai, he'd be a force of nature. Once they clear the road that leads to the bridge linking the bailey to the main keep, Yuna refuses to continue. Risking her life, risks Taka's, because if she doesn't live no one will rescue her brother.
She wonders if Sakai is on a suicide mission instead of a rescue mission, wishing to die along with his Uncle like the rest of the samurai because a single man couldn't fight the whole Mongol invasion. He commands her to retreat for the horses, ride for the forest if he takes too long, dismissing her attempts to caution him. Yuna lets herself be ignored and as she retreats, begins to think of how she can rescue Taka alone. To her, Lord Sakai is already dead as she watches him make his way deeper into the castle broken armor and all.
Yuna settles with their mounts a good ways from the entrance that they came in through originally, waiting far longer than she should have for him to come running out with Lord Shimura in tow. But just as she predicted he doesn't. She should just leave, not wait in the forest like he'd said. He's surely dead, and waiting for him would be a waste of time but somehow she finds herself in the forest, mounts groomed, fed, watered, and rested, ready to run if Lord Sakai shows. She waits all night.
And at day break, against all reason, all odds...the wind picks up.
It brushes cool fingers through Yuna's hair, sways the grass around her feet, and makes the horses raise their heads to take in the scents being carried to them. Yuna does the same and lifts her face in the direction the wind is coming from. The breeze smells of salt and brine, which means it came from the sea. The shore line isn't far from the part of the forest she's chosen to wait in, but the wind currents on this part of the coast blows into the ocean, not out from it. Her eyebrows knit as the air banks over the gentle cresting hill that runs down to the beach, leading what looks to be a man. And as he stumbles after the wind, Yuna recognizes him. Impossibly, its Jin Sakai.
And to further confirm this, he calls her name,
"Yuna?" Lightning in her veins, "Yuna!"
As he halts to a stop in front of her, struggling to catch his breath with his dark hair a damp mess in it's bun, she says his name.
His eyes hold a sea of turmoil in them, but in that moment all of it clears away and he sees her -- really truly sees her, for what seems like the first time. Yuna lets him, gives him a moment to take her in as he recovers his breath. She looks at him right back though, watches how a bead of sweat rolls down one of his temples, how a couple loose strands of his hair stick to his forehead, how his brows hold a somber vigil over his eyes, and how the stubble growing in on his face frames the shape of his jaw and full lips. Twin markings on each of his eyes catch her notice as well as a scar, old by the looks of it, that stretches the length of his left cheekbone. There's also something kind about the way he holds his mouth, kind and gentle but private. It makes her want to know all his secrets.
Thick hair frames her face and tangles a little with her lashes, high cheekbones present her eyes -- two umbras in their own right -- like an offering atop a shrine, skin that despite the humidity and heat appears soft and clean. The sun falls through the emerald gossamer leaves of the forest canopy, dappling her in light and shadow as the wind picks up again and casts the fabric of her clothes floating around her lean figure. Jin can't help it when his gaze falls to her mouth, tense but lovely all the same, as she parts her lips to speak.
"What happened?" She asks, taking a step towards him, arms outstretched as if to touch him.
Jin prudently ignores how a part of him deflates that she doesn't.
As he digests her words though, the moment is shattered and his sense of urgency returns to overwhelm him once more.
"I found Lord Shimura." Jin tries to hold her eyes, to give her his respect, but his shame is too great and like a coward he looks down as he admits his folly, "I could have saved him, but the Khan was there. I failed my uncle."
He expects her to judge him, to agree, but instead she says, sounding slightly exasperated,
"At least you're in one piece."
Jin can't stand her generosity, wishing she'd just acknowledge his failure in the open so they could move on.
"I swore to protect this island with my life," He tries again, hoping she understands what he wants from her this time, "But now the Mongols have stolen our home, killed our samurai."
Instead of understanding his plight, she surprises him. Again.
"You forgot what it's like to fight someone stronger than you, to feel weak," The way her eyes bore into his -- knowing, like she's lived a hundred life times, makes something in his chest twist, "Sometimes, when you're staring death in the face you have to do whatever it takes to survive."
Jin lets her sentiments role around in his mind for a moment, mulling over how her perspective is vastly different than his, but is quickly proving to be invaluable.
"The Khan expects to fight a war against the samurai, he will anticipate our every move," He begins, and then Jin makes his choice, "Unless we find new ways to surprise him. That's how we'll save Lord Shimura and retake our home."
Without realizing it, Jin finds he's looking Yuna in the eye now, his shame no longer weighing his gaze down. Yuna appraises him with a measured look,
"You'll need some help --," She starts but the increasingly familiar sound of the Mongolian war horn blasts through the forest.
"Riders!" Jin declares, rallying himself as he prepares to fight, "The Khan's attack dogs!"
"There's too many of them!" Jin isn't sure how she knows this, he can't see a thing yet, "Hide! In the grass!"
Before he knows what he's doing, he's following her into a bed of pampas grass, head low and heart racing. Eventually he spots the riders and Yuna was right, there are maybe twenty or more of them, too many to fight. He still isn't sure how she saw them before he did though. They wait in tense silence as the riders make their way past them, cantering off in the direction of the beach -- where Jin had come from.
"They must be searching for you." Yuna says, rising from the grass with all the grace of a doe only to break the illusion by cursing, "Bastards! They scared off the horses!"
With his chest puffed out and his chin raised a bit, Jin informs her, "They're samurai mounts, trained to return to their masters."
Jin pretends not to notice Yuna's eyes falling to his mouth as he peruses his lips, and lets out a low whistle. When the steeds come galloping back Yuna's mount stops a respectful distance from her, while Jin's dappled mare Sora comes right up to him and playfully mouths at his bun with a delighted whinny.
Yuna giggles. She giggles, and concedes, "Nice trick."
Jin is surprised that he finds the sound so sweet. But the moment is short lived, because Yuna takes a step towards him and all her lightheartedness is suddenly lost.
"The Mongols must be hunting you."
Can't put her in danger.
"We should split up." The words come tumbling out of Jin's mouth before he can think. He blinks at his own impulsiveness but barrels on, "I'll draw their attention while you escape."
"I'm not leaving your side until we've saved my brother." A clear warning. Jin receives it with grace.
"First I need to find more allies, trained warriors, like Sensei Ishikawa and Lady Masako Adachi. They can help --,"
"My brother can help too!" Jin can't help but recognize that she's doing the same thing she did back at the fishing village -- trying so hard to convince him to save her brother, like he doesn't owe her his life and would do this for her regardless of the circumstances. But she takes his silence as indecision and pushes harder, "Once we save him, you'll have the island's best blacksmith in your debt. He'll make whatever tool you need to save your uncle."
He wonders what she's been through that the idea of him willingly helping without being manipulated into it, isn't something that's crossed her mind. Out of kindness he indulges in her system of give and take,
"Something to scale the castle walls?"
"You dream it? Taka can make it." There's genuine pride and absolute confidence in her as she speaks of her brother's skill. It warms Jin's heart.
"Where are they holding him?" He asks, adding the mental prep for this rescue mission to the one for his uncle.
"He was captured near Kechi."
"Ride there and ask around, I'll join you soon."
Jin turns to walk away then, imbued with a renewed sense of urgency, no time to lose. The faster they rescue both of their family the better, but Yuna must take it as him being dismissive and he allows her to stop him.
"Taka won't last long in a Mongol cage." Another warning.
"Yuna," Jin turns his whole body to face her, making his expression as transparent as possible -- she still doesn't trust him, "We will save your brother." A promise.
After a moment of her searching his face, she nods, "And your uncle." Her promise.
phew lots of dialogue in this chapter lol! i promise that this fic wont just be the game script word for word, but i felt that i needed to detail jin and yuna interacting for the first time to establish chemistry and stuff! let me know what you think down below if you would like :) thank you for the support and kind words!! xx
Chapter 4: oil and water
thank you for all the support and kind words on the previous chapters! enjoy :) xxx
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Avoiding the main roads to Kechi, Yuna makes her way through a forest following her instinctual sense of direction and memory of the fishing village's location. It's a relief to feel grass sway around her ankles and flatten under her bare feet again. She forwent shoes once she was deep enough in the trees, taking full advantage of the lack of humans around. Being alone feels odd now when before it had felt like the only natural way to live. A soft snort sounds behind her, reminding Yuna that she isn't completely alone. The samurai mount she'd taken when fleeing with Sakai follows loyally behind her as she moves under the fluttering green canopy. The horse, a dark bay stallion she hasn't bothered naming (naming things is another human practice she doesn't really understand), maintains a careful distance at her back, as it is prey and through instinct knows Yuna is anything but. She purposefully doesn't ride him for that reason, as it would only make him uneasy. Plus she prefers walking, it would frustrate her to no end to lumber along on a horse's back, she can't fathom why humans love it so much. The sigh of the breeze against her cheeks and the earth cool and soft under her heels, coaxes more complex thoughts to the forefront of her mind.
Yuna doesn't know exactly what to make of Jin Sakai. In lue of her suspended judgment she figures she should decide how she wants to address him before he meets up with her. Sakai calls her by her first name, but that's because it's the only name she gave him. Yuna doesn't like that calling him Lord Sakai could possibly give him power over her in their partnership, as calling him Lord would assume a class gap, so making up her mind she settles on just Jin. Power or not, she doesn't know why he feels more like Jin to her than Lord Sakai, doesn't know why that difference is so important, but it is. Its significant.
As she's half transformed, Yuna allows her tails to rub together a little as she thinks this over -- an old habit. The release of energy forces her horse's mane to stand up as static zings through the air, while also subsequently sending all the forest animals within a mile radius skittering away from her in a desperate scramble. She hadn't truly created lightning, but almost. Yuna desperately misses working a storm, the kind that reminds humans that they aren't the worst that's out there, and instills trepidation in other yokai warning them not to cross her. She misses having her own territory, a century earlier she was as wild as yokai come, fierce and alive and free. Not evil not good, just simply apart of nature. Storms followed in her wake where ever she went, the lightning she would create so brilliant, so dangerous, it made every living thing stop to take it in whether in fear or awe or both. For a decade or two she had been so inclined to designing storms, that she claimed an entire mountain as her own and covered the area in unending perpetual storm. Her storms brewed so low and thick over the peak that you never could manage to see the top. The humans that lived in a village at the foothills of her mountain had erected a shrine to her, praying for rain and protection. She had been even younger then than she is now, more simple, and she'd been flattered -- pleased that the humans properly recognized her might and hoped to fall in her favor.
Yuna had always loved maintaining a territory, or more so protecting those who fell within it whether they be human, lower yokai, or creature. There was something so natural about it, so instinctual that she couldn't put it to words even if she tried. Throughout her years, she'd always chosen a village or two to hold guardianship over, until Taka. Taka is the first human to have her undivided singular protection. Loyalty isn't just a human trait, but for yokai it means so much more. Yuna sighs, though it comes out more like a whine as she's suddenly hit with an overwhelming feeling of longing. She yearns for Taka -- for her pack. His absence strikes her so keenly it aches.
It takes her only an hour to reach Kechi from where she left Jin in the forest by Castle Kaneda. She'd run at a quarter of her true speed, limiting herself in an attempt to spare her mount who had struggled to keep up. She would set the poor beast free if she could, but in order to keep up appearances she'd have to deal with the inconvenience. Though it's something she's grown used over the years spent protecting Taka, in all honesty she's not felt like true yokai since she'd accepted guardianship over him. As she makes her way into the village proper, having paused before remounting her horse to retake her human shape and also slip her shoes back on, Yuna notices that something is off. The collection of dilapidated huts harbor humans that reek of fear.
"Hello?" Yuna makes herself known as she slows to stop before the first hut. She softens her voice to sound less threatening and gives herself an accent that she remembers the people in this prefecture have in order to make herself more trustworthy, make her seem like one of them.
"I mean no harm! I am only looking for someone, my brother!"
There's a couple more beats of silence before villagers start emerging from their homes. They observe her wearily at first, suspicious, fearful eyes watching her dismount. She lets them approach her at their own leisure, best not to scare them off. Like coaxing a rabbit into her den, she remains still and patient.
"Your brother?" A man asks coming forward in front of the rest. Yuna remembers him as the headman of the village, he offered to trade supplies with Taka and her when they passed through before the Mongols attacked.
"Yes," Yuna says, giving a small bow of respect, "He was taken by Mongols a day ago, if you remember, me and my brother passed through here to trade."
The headman gives her a once over and she watches as recognition fills his eyes.
"I remember. They took some of our people as well." He gravely informs.
A woman standing in the gathered crowd behind the headman collapses to the ground in tears. An elderly man to the woman's right sinks to the ground beside her, attempting to quietly console her.
"I'm sorry for your losses," Yuna murmurs unsure how to react (as human emotion was always such a puzzle to her), but knows what she can offer these people, "I plan on rescuing my brother, I can rescue the people who were taken from you as well."
"What makes you think you alone can do this?" The headman despairs, not unwilling to tell her what she wants to know but simply lost on how she could manage this.
"I have a," What is Jin? A friend? A partner? "I have a samurai, one of the only to survive. He owes me his life, he will help me."
The headman and villagers standing behind him all look mystified at this, like the idea of a living samurai is something of myth and legend. Now that all the samurai are dead, Yuna supposes he kind of is.
"He is going to meet me here soon, but we will only have a chance if we know all you know."
And with that they begin to provide her with all the information that they have.
After maneuvering cautiously around a Mongol outpost he reminds himself to deal with after meeting up with Yuna, Jin hears screaming through the trees. He urges Sora into a full gallop, fearing that the sounds were coming from where he is meant to meet up with Yuna. When he recognizes Yuna's voice among those of the distressed he pushes Sora harder. He comes racing into a clearing, Kechi village a knot of chaos in the swaying forest that surrounds it, and watches as Yuna sinks her katana deep into the neck of what looks to be a Mongol scout. There are two more dead Mongols at her feet and as the third slides off the length of her blade, his body adds to the pile.
"Yuna!" Jin calls as he dismounts a still moving Sora, quickly making his way over to Yuna and the huddle of villagers cowering behind her.
"Jin!" Yuna freezes a beat when she notices him, "You found me!"
Something about the way she acknowledges his presence feels...significant, somehow. Though Jin doesn't know why.
"You handled that well." Jin praises unnecessarily as he comes to a halt before the bodies at her feet. Yuna levels a look at him in response and Jin can't help how a corner of his mouth ticks up at her expression. She looks less then impressed.
Dismissing his comment with a flick of her bangs she admits,
"I should've heard them coming, I let myself get distracted."
The quiet sobs from the villagers a few feet to their left give away Yuna's 'distraction'. Jin is glad she was here to protect them, a bit surprised though since she was so against assisting people back when they escaped the fishing village near Komoda.
"These people saw Mongols marching prisoners upriver, they had a blacksmith with them." Yuna informs him.
"Sounds like it. They were taking him to a camp near the Kaneda inlet."
"I know the place." Jin notices that Yuna is speaking differently than she had when they first met. She's gained an accent of some kind. Did he just not notice before?
A man approaches them and Yuna introduces him as the headman of the village who helped in providing the knowledge she just shared. Jin thanks the man, ignoring how the entire village gawks at him like he has wings or something.
"This is the samurai you mentioned?" The headman asks, and Jin automatically picks up that the headman has the same accent Yuna has.
It's a very distinct dialect, he surely wouldn't have mistaken it if Yuna had spoken with it before.
"Yes, he will help in saving your people and my brother." Yuna confirms though she seems a little anxious to leave now that they know where to find her brother.
Suddenly bowing deeply, the headman and the villagers give Jin their respect. Jin returns it with a generous bow back. Offhandedly he wonders if Yuna was born here? In this prefecture?
As they prepare to leave, Yuna asks,
"Did you find any samurai to free your uncle?"
Jin pauses with his foot in his stirrup as Yuna mounts up beside him. Yuna's accent is gone. She's speaking now how he remembers she did. Jin notes that the villagers are all a fair distance away, wouldn't be in hearing range. He easily pulls himself up and places his weight in the saddle, everything in Jin sharpening in quiet alarm at the realization that she must have adopted the accent in order to more easily get the villagers to speak to her. Her accent was so flawless it had fooled the native villagers. He doesn't quite now how to feel about that; a talent employed harmlessly in this instance sure, but the possibilities for deceit? Endless. The budding trust he had been nurturing towards her diminishes completely as he formulates a response.
"Not yet, but I'm still searching."
"I'm sure you'll find someone soon." She says as she clicks her horse into a trot.
Jin doesn't respond. They ride for sometime in silence, but Yuna must sense a shift in Jin -- already too aware of Jin's patterns than he's comfortable with, because she then subtly reminds him why she and her brother are worth his time.
"Taka can help you," Jin doesn't miss the attuned intelligence in her tone, "After we save him."
When Jin only nods at her in response she tries something else.
"Hard to believe I might see him soon." She attempts to appeal to his compassion, maybe hoping to garner sympathy.
It's not that Jin believes her intentions to save her brother to be ingenuine, in fact he finds it admirable of her. He just doesn't trust her. Jin figures he can not trust her and still have civil conversation though.
"He's lucky to have you." Jin indulges her, meaning what he says despite his reservations.
"He might disagree." Yuna breathes out on a laugh.
"That's what siblings are for."
After a pause, just the sound of their horses trotting below them filling the air between them, Yuna picks at the first of his many layers of privacy.
"What about you? Any brothers or sisters?"
Jin quickly mulls over the pros and cons of sharing personal information with her, and ultimately ends up deciding to tell her information she already knows.
"Lord Shimura is my only family."
Undeterred she presses on,
"What will you do when he's free?"
He wonders what she's trying to do. In any other instance he'd simply see it as her trying to know his character better. But with what he recently witnessed, he finds himself second guessing her every action. She hadn't even tried to hide her change in accent, hadn't even bothered to address it. It meant she either didn't think he noticed, or she didn't care if he did. Jin had a feeling it was the latter, which made him even more unsure of her. So he answers her question with something vague, something he's already shared, but not a lie.
"Take a breath because then I'll know there's hope for our island."
"You feel that strongly?" She sounds slightly stricken.
"I've watched him win victory against impossible odds." Before she can ask him something else, he turns the questions on her, "And after your brother is free? What then?"
"Honestly," Jin glances at her from the corner of his eye when she pauses. Unable to read her tone of voice he tries to chance a peak at her expression, "I haven't had time to think about it."
A non answer, about what Jin expected.
"You're riding well, how are your wounds?" She changes the topic while also cleverly reminding him that she saved his life.
Jin wonders if he is reading too much into things but he can't help it. He was raised to always be honest and honorable, she really has set him off balance.
"Mostly healed," Jin answers, "Your bandages did the trick."
Jin remembers his time in a natural spring he'd found on the way to Kechi, how he spent the bathing session admiring the neat perfect stitches, the lack of infected wounds, and most oddly how even his oldest scars seemed a touch softer, some having disappeared altogether. His body held no lingering pain, not even chronic injuries he'd had since childhood -- a tweak in his left knee, a sensitivity in his right collarbone as it hadn't healed right after breaking it, an ache in his lower back whenever it rained, and many more -- had all melted away too. Jin should have had injuries added to his person after Komoda, not have pain old and new alike negated entirely! He had two arrows lodged in his spine for Inari's sake, not to mention almost dying three separate times. It had confounded Jin that he got away essentially scot-free, just a few of his worst scars would remain after the bruises faded. It made him hate himself a little, that he managed to survive intact from that beach while all the samurai in Tsushima had choked on ash, blood, and sea water. What made him worthy enough to out live them?
"You don't share much about how you feel, do you?" Yuna's observation wrenches Jin out of his thoughts.
"I suppose you're right," And reciting the ideals on which he was raised, "My uncle taught me that a samurai masters his emotions, like you master a horse or a blade."
"That's a hard way to live." Says the thief.
"It's not supposed to be easy." Says the samurai.
The two eventually reach an outcropping on a cliff that overlooks the inlet where a Mongol outpost has been erected. Dismounting their steeds, they crouch low behind a fallen tree to observe the hastily built walls of the outpost. Jin is a little reluctant to admit that Yuna's knowledge combined with his own makes them quite the pair. Their ability to pick apart the weaknesses of the outpost may come from different experiences and upbringings, but their knowledge is equal in value. Their skills compliment each other, like yin and yang. Jin doesn't know how he feels about that.
"If something goes wrong they'll kill the prisoners," Yuna warns, and before Jin can protest she adds with a firm shake of her head, "I've seen them do it."
Jin wonders how she knows this, if she has attempted a rescue on her own or watched one fail.
Leaning in to gain Jin's full attention Yuna emphasizes, "We have to go in quietly."
"Like thieves." Jin accuses honestly, tone gentle but unyielding.
He takes care in watching her as she processes this. Her keen features reveal nothing, but as she tilts her head in a way that kind of reminds him of a curious cat -- no more like a fox, Yuna rebuffs him with,
"What's wrong with that?"
This time its Jin who has to guard his expression as he continues to slave over his efforts in trying to understand her. How is it she keeps stumping him? Each time Jin thinks he finally has a grasp on who she is, finally has put her in a neat box ready for judgment, she changes the rules on him. Jin knows she loves her brother, but she also dishonors the fallen by scavenging battlefields. She refused to worry about saving people in the village where they first met and escaped from, yet she saved the people of Kechi. She deceives so easily, and yet is undeniably earnest. Yuna is a walking paradox and Jin fears he won't ever truly understand her. His Uncle always told him to never put his trust in people he doesn't understand.
Unable to come up with a direct response, Jin decides to fall back on what he knows. His code is unchanging, a mantra, a safety net -- something to cling to.
"Before the samurai this island was ruled by criminals. We changed that by creating order and delivering justice in the open. We live by a code of honor, and sometimes we die by it. Warriors like my father who just wanted to give us a safer home --,"
"I want the same thing," Yuna interjects, her face empty of judgment but full of something that looked startlingly similar to pity, "But we have to fight back."
Jin stares at her, skin itching and head spinning at what it is she's asking of him.
"I, I promised my Uncle I'd never break our code." Jin insists, trying not to look away, fighting against the uncertainty and turmoil roiling in his gut. He knows who he is. He knows his code. He knows. He is samurai.
But as she's made a habit of doing, Yuna surprises him once again.
"Then bend it. To save my family and what's left of yours."
Jin can't bare to look her in the eye any longer. Those eyes threatened to...to do something, and Jin didn't want to figure out what. Simply being near her felt like the very matter of his being was being shifted, rearranged to her fancy. He'd never felt so unearthed, so far removed from his own control before in his life. He is Lord Jin Sakai of Clan Sakai, he'd never been second-guessed in his life. No one had ever questioned his code like this before, perhaps that's all this is. All this shock is only a natural reaction to her audacity.
"Let's get a closer look, see what we're up against." He manages to say after a beat, making to move down the incline closer to the outpost.
"We should wait until it gets darker." Yuna's logic hits him like a thunder clap. Of course they should wait for cover of darkness, but the fact that this is second nature to her only serves to aggravate Jin more.
Honor and codes -- typical samurai nonsense, Yuna scoffs internally as Jin and her sit a few feet apart from each other, waiting impatiently for the sun to fully set, if an opponent decides not to play by the samurai's rules then the samurai are well and truly fucked, no wonder they were so easily overtaken at Komoda.
She resists the urge to roll her eyes at the folly of man. Pride and ego is all that their precious honor consists of, each new century humans disguise it as something different but its all the same. Yuna would be bitter about it if she cared more, but fortunately she doesn't. It's times like these she thanks the gods she's yokai. Humans are so prone to self-sabotage its sickening.
Yuna expects Jin to start becoming increasingly restless as time rolls slowly on, as most humans don't do well with remaining still for extended periods of time. Especially warriors. But to Yuna's mild surprise Jin impresses her with his patience and self control. Maybe for once a human actually practices what they preach, all that talk of mastering his emotions earlier making an appearance now. Jin sits with his long legs crossed and his forearms resting gently on his knees. His eyes lay closed and he breathes in a decidedly practiced manner. Maybe its part of some sort of samurai meditation ritual. Yuna leaves him be, listening to his heart beat as she sharpens her dagger and makes a few more arrows from the kit she has in her satchel.
Outwardly Jin seems to be at peace, but the stench of overwhelming human emotion wafts off of him like smoke from a fire. There's too much there for Yuna to pick apart, wolf and inu yokai have the noses for that kind of thing not kitsune. It only frustrates her as she sits and works on her arrows, grateful for something to do so she doesn't snap and end up knocking him out cold so her nose can go back to being unassaulted.
"Your accent," Yuna tenses when Sakai breaks the silence, "In Kechi,"
Yuna waits for him to continue but he doesn't. Keeping her hands steady she continues working, not taking her eyes off of the feathers she's splitting. His words shutter between them like one of the quivering feathers in her fingers, she lets them resonate in the air another beat before responding.
"What of it?"
Sakai pauses, takes a measured breath, "I was unsure if I had mistaken it."
As Jin's eyes are still closed, she allows herself a small self-indulgent smirk. Clever samurai, he's just as observant as she thought. Making his suspicions known like this is definitely meant as a clear warning though.
"You hadn't mistaken it." Yuna confirms simply.
She feels Jin fight against the urge to stiffen beside her. It makes her smile wider.
"I see. What a unique talent."
"It is useful yes."
"Useful..." Jin trails off.
Yuna hears the cords of genuine alarm strum under the tenor of his voice and she reminds herself she shouldn't play with him too much. This isn't Taka, Sakai doesn't know her. Yuna internally laughs at the idea that Sakai could ever truly understand her, his code wouldn't allow him to.
"Jin, look at me," She says and wipes the mirth clean off her face.
It takes Sakai a moment but he does comply, although cautiously. He may be sitting next to her, but in that moment he feels miles away. Once she grabs hold of his gaze, she doesn't let him look away. Yuna thinks of what this lifetime has held for her and lays it before him as earnestly as she can manage.
"I do not have the luxury of wealth and status like you, I have to fight to live -- to survive. Anything that gives Taka and me a better chance? I don't hesitate a second to do it." Jin's eyes hop between her own, no doubt scrambling for a foothold so Yuna gives him one, "Trade prices are cheaper if they believe you're from the region. That's why I can speak with different accents."
"So not only do you steal but you deceive at will as well?"
"There's no room for honor in survival." Yuna rebukes firmly, still not allowing him to look away from her, completely unafraid of Sakai's judgment.
She watches as, oddly, panic appears and sweeps like a brush fire across the twin mirrors of his eyes. Her eyebrows knit a tick in confusion at such torment.
"I survived Komoda." Jin hushes to neither of them in particular -- a confession to the universe, his expression a disjointed mix of emptiness and horror.
It clicks after a moment (and only because she's spent a significant time with humans in the past few decades) and Yuna understands. Despite everything though, she finds herself fighting against the instinct to comfort him, to assure him he's still the same man, that honor hasn't yet abandoned him. But Yuna doesn't know Jin Sakai, not well enough to say those things to him and know them to be true. So she doesn't speak at all, only watches Sakai crumble into himself and struggle to get a hold of his emotions. It's like observing two bears wrestle for territory, each opponent evenly matched.
Yuna wonders which will win out in the end.
She takes mercy on him and turns her attention back to her arrows, giving him the illusion of privacy. His heart beats like a hummingbird's in his chest, the desperate sound echoing in her ears coaxes genuine concern out of the little stash she has for humans that aren't Taka. She can almost hear Taka scolding her for just sitting there and not saying something, but Yuna would rather be silent than lie. Her brain sort of splits in two as she considers the happenings of the afternoon. One the one hand she knows Sakai's more mentally vulnerable now and therefore easier to manipulate, but on the other hand the thought of taking advantage of him doesn't please her. In fact it straight up irritates her to consider it. Now, more than a little peeved at the way this whole thing is going, Yuna is relieved when the sun sinks all the way past the horizon.
"It's time." She urges as she packs up her arrow kit and prepares to make the trip down into the inlet.
For some frustratingly unknown reason, Yuna finds herself resolutely put out by Sakai's silence beside her. He can't even look her in the eye. Normally Yuna considers it luck when humans have the restraint to keep their mouths shut and their eyes down, but the quiet in Jin is making the hair on the back of her neck rise. It's heavy with pain and sorrow and confusion. What would a human do to comfort another human? What would comfort Taka?
"Taka," Yuna begins uncertainly, not quite sure where she's going with this or what she aims to accomplish, but she presses forward as Sakai begins to lead them down the incline, "He's been through a lot, even before the invasion,"
"But you took care of him." Sakai whispers as they shuffle down the hill, both dropped in low crouches as they slowly approach the outpost walls.
His words, even spoken as softly as they were, ring like bass bells in Yuna's ears. She watches the broad muscles in his back shift as he moves and can't look away from the casual display of physical prowess -- the yokai in her recognizing power.
"Someone had to," Yuna hopes that whatever complicated human sentiment she is trying to emulate is getting through to him, yokai speak with their bodies not their words, "He hated when I stole but it was that or starve, I didn't have a choice."
"I didn't choose to be a samurai either." Sakai responds without missing a beat.
This rebuttal slightly confuses Yuna. It feels a bit like they're speaking different languages, its how Yuna always feels when trying to connect with humans -- even Taka sometimes. She wishes humans weren't so reliant on the spoken word, it's such a primitive tool of communication! Why limit yourself to sound when you have sight, smell, touch, and taste at your disposal? Plus she is at a further disadvantage as a kitsune, who are easily confused by words. Trying to understand Jin Sakai is made impossible by the oratory puzzles he keeps putting in front of his emotional will. Luckily Yuna regains her footing in the conversation when Sakai continues,
"Going against my instincts, my code --,"
"It's better than getting wiped out by the Mongols. We have to fight back, any way we can."
Sakai remains quiet after that, unable to argue with her logic. Though Yuna wonders why she turned Sakai's 'I', into a 'we'. Since when did she plan to fight back against the Mongols past rescuing Taka? She hears his heart beat increase as they approach the wall along with all the sounds of the base. Yuna is about to direct Sakai to a small space in the logs of the wall to squeeze through as its dark and humans struggle to see at night, but he impresses her by catching sight of it on his own.
"Through here," He hushes as he weaves himself silently through.
Yuna is suddenly reminded how much of her favor Sakai holds, she pushed quite a lot of her power into him -- through him, in order to save him. Some of her life force lives within him now, its how he was able to heal so inhumanly fast. Healing was her intended gift, now it seems improved eyesight has manifested too. While it makes sense that a human cannot remain unaltered after having that much yoki touch their soul, Yuna finds it curious that these abilities are appearing seemingly without Sakai's notice and deliberate cultivation. What other gifts might manifest in him from her favor? Many older kitsune warned her of giving away too much favor if she ever chose to bestow any in the first place, because once you give the power away you can't ever take it back. For when the power leaves the body, leaves her control, and is put into another, it becomes their power. Only the strongest and purest human souls are able to retain the yoki that flowed through them when yokai favor is initially granted, let alone cultivate abilities from it.
It strikes something new in Yuna, makes Jin Sakai even more of an anomaly than he already is. She's apart of him now, whether he knows it or not, and Jin is apart of her. Yuna wants to sink her claws into something as the sensation that rolls through her body then makes her feel like she's inbetween shapes -- completely untethered. Unsure what she's feeling and more importantly what it means, she opts to deliberately ignore it, attempting to not be alarmed that its not human emotion she's struggling with this time but her own yokai instincts. Yuna tries to let it sluice off of her like water as she gracefully steps through the wall after her samurai. Once they're both inside Sakai leads them to the nearest cover which happens to be a large pile of stacked timber. Settling momentarily, the pair are alerted to their first target as a Mongolian guard a yard or two away scuffles a few pebbles under his foot.
The Mongolian has his back to them.
Yuna immediately knows what has to be done, and at the same time figures she'll have to take care of it herself considering how well convincing Sakai to be stealthy went last time.
"If they see us, they'll kill the prisoners," Jin hushes under his breath to her, his eyes never leaving the guard's back.
Yuna figures he's telling her this more for his benefit than her's, but she feels like being patient with him considering her recent thoughts.
"Then we'd better stay quiet," She murmurs back and as Yuna quietly unsheathes her dagger, Jin finally turns to look her in the eye, "And open their throats."
His eyes scream at her once their gazes meet, scream of things too messy and too scattered to identify while his face remains a stone mask. Sakai's scent shifts back to the noxious cloud of emotion it had been on the cliff side earlier.
He is part of me.
Yuna shuffles closer to him at the coded display of distress.
He is mine to guide.
She lets his eyes ravage the calm between them, lets him work through his conflict. He has no choice, and watching him fight that realization makes Yuna want to ease his turmoil. She can't, but she wants to, and she wants that to bother her...but it doesn't. In one deliberate, smooth motion Sakai grasps the hilt of his tanto and unsheathes it. His calloused fingers adjust around the soft leather of the tsuka as he steels himself for what must be done. To her surprise Jin turns to look at her again, his eyes searching her's though Yuna doesn't exactly know what for. On instinct she gentles her expression and simply nods her head in encouragement. Yuna is slightly stricken when he nods back, shamelessly taking any comfort from her that she's willing to give. Yuna's glad the moment only lasts a second because as Jin sets out from their cover and towards the unsuspecting Mongolian soldier, her instincts decide to go all queasy on her again.
This time her heart beat rises in tempo with Sakai's as he gets closer and closer to the guard. They throb together in the night -- separate halves of a twisted whole, and Yuna swears she feels Sakai's anguish as he proceeds to gracelessly stab the Mongolian solider in the back of the neck. The kill is messy, uncoordinated, and frantic. Sakai keeps sliding his blade into non lethal places on the guard's body, and at first Yuna wonders if he is doing this on purpose but the thought quickly dissipates as her samurai wrestles the dying soldier to the ground in a pathetic jerking heap, desperately trying to end his life. Once the Mongolian is dead, Sakai pushes the heavy corpse off him and lies on his back with his face to the sky unable to stand. When he closes his eyes in utter defeat, Yuna finds that nothing short of death could have stopped her from going to his side.
alright a little bit more insight into jin and yuna's heads this chapter, I hope it wasn't confusing! Lemme know what you think if you would like down in the comments :) I'll be posting the next chapter as soon as I'm able! xxx