It was, truthfully, of little surprise that the Kujou Clan estate felt foreign to her now.
Not that it would change anything, of course. Sara proceeded with her duties as she always did—she still woke herself at 5:05AM on the dot, she still took her five laps around the courtyard, still proceeded with personal training and management of the standing army, now enjoying a ceasefire in these days leading up to the official scheduled peace talks with the Sangonomiya, not that it was any reason to let their guard down or turn to slothfulness. Although, for Sara, it was…difficult, in more ways than one. She worked hard to keep her outer appearance unchanged—composed and carrying a stance indicative only of dignity and strength—but underneath her clothes, she still had thick bandages wrapped around her waist that required changing day after day. She was getting to the point where it was not so painful to walk, but doing certain sudden actions would cause a sharp sting that was impossible to ignore, that even ran the risk of impairing her mental fortitude in the act. If she were to go into battle now…no, it still wouldn’t matter, either way she would fight to the best of her ability, even if that ability was lacking. She would do everything she must until her last dying breath, because that was what she had decided years ago to do—not just because it was her duty, but because it was her honor.
Still, she felt the sting of failure knowing that she allowed herself to be put in such a state. It only took one strike from Signora to incapacitate herself, the shard of ice that pierced her chest formed and struck in the span of less than a moment and leaving Sara unconscious and bleeding on the ground. Her last memory was looking up at the Almighty Shogun’s gaze, unshakingly passive…
It was her own fault. She let herself get caught up in the moment, feeling the need to be the one to tell her archon what was happening before another second passed by. It was uncouth of her to do such a thing without first requesting an audience. Although it was the Fatui Harbinger who struck her down, it was of little wonder that the Shogun did not come to her aid. It would have been beneath her to take any action for one rashly-acting mortal.
Sara was still grateful that her life was saved by the Raiden on that one day…the day she received her Vision, when she was but a child without a name, a weakling with torn wings. The Raiden Shogun saved her life once. She had no obligation to do it again.
Sara walked the grounds of the estate with a folder of papers in hand to present to Kujou Kamaji, all the while feeling very conscious of the gazes of her fellow clansmen—although perhaps, not as conscious now. She was…getting used to it, she thinks.
“I’m busy, no thanks to you,” the Vision-wielding healer employed by the clan turned her away coldly several days earlier. “You realize my energy is limited, right?” He was absolutely correct, too. There were…numerous injuries, following that fateful day when Sara confronted her adopted father and everything else happened all at once. Many of them were her own fault. She fought her own clansmen and Tenyrou Commission warriors when confronting her father and when making a path to the Shogun’s chamber. If there wasn’t time for her own injuries to be treated in full, she had only herself to blame.
It was fine. Her pain tolerance was still very high. She would gladly take responsibility for her actions. And…she didn’t regret it, either. But should she?
She saw Kamaji exiting the building she was about to enter to find him, so she ran up to meet him instead. “Acting Commissioner!” she called him by his new title. “Can we speak?”
Kujou Kamaji stopped in his tracks to greet her, but the action seemed sluggish. There were lines under his eyes, the telltale signs of little sleep that Sara unfortunately recognized in herself…but she would not embarrass him by pointing it out.
“My report from the front lines, sir.” She presented the documents to her adopted brother with formality. “We have been watching closely the movements of the Sangonomiya, should the peace talks be a guise for a future attack. We should—”
“I-I’m sorry, can we save this for later?” Kamaji stopped her in the middle of her spiel. “I have another meeting to attend with the Takatsukasa clan…I fear our relations are going to be rather…strained, from here on out. As for the front lines…maybe you’d be better off speaking with my brother? Besides, I doubt the Sangonomiya would be so quick to reopen conflict now that the Vision Hunt Decree is over. They’re not going to be the first of our priorities. But, I trust you to handle it if anything else should happen.”
And then he was gone. Sara felt that she should discuss, but…she understood. He was busy. He just went through a lot with his father as well.
His father…or theirs? She had been so used to the manner of speaking, she hardly paid attention to the fact that he referred to Masahito as his brother, but…she wasn’t complaining.
She just…always had a part of her that wished their father would look at her as he did to Kamaji.
“Shameful!” Takayuki barked at her coldly, his stern gaze boring into hers. Kujou Sara was eleven years old, and she granted this name two years earlier…but now, she failed the man who gave it to her. Who took her in when she was injured at the bottom of the cliff she fell from. What if he sent her away? What if he took the name away?
The other youth training in the army had invited her to play with them. Since they were done with training for the day, she didn’t think she was doing anything wrong…
Takayuki, however, did not see it that way. He was very disappointed in her, and he punished the other youth as well. “Not following military law and neglecting your training... I did not take you in just to have you do such pointless things.”
He was right…probably. But if he didn’t despise her as a disappointment then, surely he would think that way now.
Maybe the estate was always foreign to her. She never called it “home”…actually, she did once, but not after that day Takayuki caught her playing with other kids.
She wasn’t one of them. She was a tengu…no, that didn’t matter. She wasn’t here for her own gain. She didn’t ask for anything. She would work as long as she needed to work, endure pain as long as she needed to endure pain. This was her honor. This was her duty.
She reminded herself this, repeatedly, as she knelt before Sacred Sakura Tree at the Grand Narukami Shrine, still paying her respects, as she always did. She just found herself kneeling longer than usual—five minutes had passed, so she will consent to make it fifteen, or twenty-five—feeling some sort of dread in going back to her home, or whatever it was. Takayuki, the man who adopted her, betrayed the Shogunate. The Kujou Clan was in shambles. She thought he was teaching her to be noble and virtuous all this time…was that a lie? Was everything a lie?
“You can let go, I hope you realize.”
A familiar voice sounded, snapping Sara’s attention her way. She felt herself tense at the sight of Guuji Yae…not that she held any negative feelings towards her, necessarily, but their last conversation was…stressful, to say the least.
The Shrine was mostly empty at the time, Sara the only visitor still kneeling before the tree. She regarded the priestess with a suspicious curiosity as she stood back up to face her eye-to-eye. “Guuji Yae, we meet again.” She bowed her head respectfully. “With all due respect, whatever are you referring to?”
Yae looked at her with a sad smile, as if she were but a child who was lost. “There’s nothing keeping you there—in that clan, I mean. With everything that happened, no one would blame you if you left.”
The last word alone was enough to tear straight into Sara’s heart, startling in its sheer impossibility. Leave? “Why…would you suggest this?” Her eyes went wide with the shock. “I’ll have you know, I have a solemn duty to uphold, to the army,” (which might not need her as much as it did, now that the war might be over), “the Almighty Shogun” (the one who left her bleeding on the floor, as punishment for her foolishness), “as well as Inazuma!” (She promised. She promised she would protect them.)
Yae shook her head with half a shrug, arms crossed. “No reason for your so-called family to treat you like a slave.”
Sara stood dumbfounded, for just a moment. Why would now, of all times, Yae think to speak to Sara on such a…a personal level? Talk to her about her life? (Not that there was anyone else…Sara never spoke to anyone about this, because, there was never anyone to confide in.)
Sara took five deep breaths, and she looked the shrine priestess in the eye. “How dare you,” her words were cold and passionless, “even think to say such a thing?”
She walked out soon afterwards, without another word to anyone, Yae least of all. Yae didn’t understand her. She didn’t understand…kindness wasn’t something she was looking for from the Kujou. Freedom…was meaningless, to her.
Many years ago, Takayuki took in a small tengu child with broken wings and a new Vision, a promise of her future strength. He saw it as very good fortune, to take in a Vision-holder. Her wings would heal, over time. It was only…in other ways, that they stayed broken. And would keep breaking…day, after day, after day.