Yunomi’s Story-Book One

Part VIII Everything’s Zen

Yunomi and Reaper entered the drinking hall of the Tengu. She had explained to him the basic etiquette of a drinking bout. The hardest thing she had faced was telling him that the Tengu did not recognize him as the ruler of Dark Side. They kept to themselves, and most were unfamiliar with him. She was surprised that Reaper was unconcerned with this information. He ruled Dark Side very casually, and many beings were either unaware of him, or swore no allegiance.

Yunomi went first to her sensei, and introduced the Dark Lord to him. She and Reaper then took their places near the center of a long, low table. They sat on tatami mats, Yunomi close on the right hand of her Lord so she could translate and serve him. She introduced him to each of the Tengu, and the drinking began. Yunomi filled her Lord’s cup, and then her own. The Tengu began telling stories, catching Yunomi up on what had happened in her absence. She translated everything said for Reaper, and translated his answers to the Tengu’s questions. He laughed at their jokes, and the stories about the tricks they played. Occasionally, a drunken Tengu would rise and sing a song, to raucous laughter and taunting from his fellows. The sake flowed freely.

Yunomi was intrigued to see that Reaper had a pleasant buzz going. They had shared a few beers in the past, but she knew he seldom, if ever, got drunk. It was unseemly for a Lord, and he had too many enemies waiting to take advantage of any slip on his part. But he was apparently quite comfortable here. She smiled, and filled his cup again.

A young Tengu spoke slyly to Yunomi, and she blushed, answering him somewhat sharply. The other Tengu snickered, and her blush deepened. When she didn’t translate this exchange for Reaper, he asked about it. “He misunderstood our relationship,” she mumbled.
“Yours and mine?” Reaper asked. It was becoming clear to him that Yunomi had not translated everything that was said to her.
“Yes. They have a way of turning things around when they speak.” What Yunomi refused to consider was readily apparent to her Tengu mentors. She was deeply, irrevocably in love with her Lord.

Reaper regarded her thoughtfully. The way she looked at him, it’s the sake, he decided. She’s only showing me respect. It was near dawn, and the Tengu were either passing out or wandering off into the forest. Yunomi leaned over and whispered, “We should leave now.” She and Reaper rose, bowed to the sensei, and made their way towards the house they were staying in. Once out of the hall, Reaper put his arm around Yunomi, much to her surprise. “That was interesting.” he said. “Your friends throw a good party.”
“You’re buzzed, Lord.” she giggled.
“So are you.” He hugged her, a little. They entered the house, and Yunomi went to Reaper’s sleeping niche to turn down his bed. She discretely turned her back as he undressed and climbed under the blanket. He was asleep in seconds.

Yunomi sat watching him for a minute or two, then the sake got the best of her. She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. Reaper smiled in his sleep. “Umm, ‘Nomi..” he mumbled. She pulled back, using every ounce of self control she could muster to keep from climbing into bed with him. She went to her own bed across the room, and fell into a deep sleep.

Reaper awoke late that afternoon. Through half closed eyes, he could see Yunomi at the low table, drinking tea and eating something from a bowl with chopsticks. She seemed very content, unaware that he was watching her. She had opened the front doors of the house, and soft sunlight streamed in, illuminating her red-blond hair and pale skin. Reaper was struck by her easy grace, kneeling at the table serenely with her tea. The healer’s words came back to him-”treasure her as she treasures you”. He remembered her kiss; she had only thought he was sleeping, and he was somewhat disappointed that she hadn’t followed up on it. He stretched and sat up. Yunomi turned to him.
“Good day, Lord. Would you like some tea?” she smiled.
“That would be good. What are you eating?” He reached for his yukata, and she looked away as he donned it.
“Rice and vegetables. Taste mine, and if you like it, I’ll get you some.”

Reaper sat cross legged at the table, and Yunomi handed him a cup of tea, then passed her bowl and chopsticks over. “They’re pickled vegetables, it’s kind of an acquired taste. Do you like them?” She watched him taste her food.
“Well, it’s different.” He passed the bowl back to her. “I like the tea, it takes the edge off the morning.”
Yunomi smiled again. “It’s afternoon, Lord.”

Reaper shook his head and started to run his hands through his hair, but was confused to find it still partially tied back. Yunomi suppressed a laugh and moved around behind him. She untied his hair and began gently combing through it with her fingers. She was in a very good mood, and felt like sharing her contentment. “Would you like it braided, Lord, or loose?”
“Loose. But you can keep combing it.”

Yunomi took a wooden comb from a table by her bed. She surprised herself with her boldness. She had never touched her Lord in an affectionate way before. She began combing his long red hair, something she had longed to do since she met him. It’s so beautiful, she smiled to herself, ever so gently working through the tangles. Reaper surprised her, too, sitting quietly and sipping his tea as she worked.

He was deep in thought. Yunomi had been his acolyte for over a year now, not counting her time with the Tengu, and had never shown him anything other than respect and obedience. She was a mystery to him; he knew she wasn’t afraid of him, and she never argued or complained. This was the third time she had come close to death at Demon hands, but each survival made her stronger. Carnivean insisted she was to be feared. The Tengu healer said she loved her Lord. Reaper was confused, about his feelings toward Yunomi, and about hers toward him. It had been a very long time since anyone had touched him in an affectionate, non-sexual way. He had plenty of lovers, but thought that name was wrong. There was no love in his dealings with them, not on his part, anyway. Which brought up the memory of Yunomi’s kiss again. He had been sure that she would come to bed with him, and wondered why she had not. He had sensed her desire for him. He had desires of his own, and also wondered why he hadn’t been willing to act on them. He could have pulled her to him, shown her what he wanted. But for some reason it was important for her to make the first move. He truly did not understand.

Yunomi was equally confounded. Everyone seemed to assume that she was in love with her Lord, but she wasn’t at all sure that was the case. He was her Lord, she was his acolyte, and that defined their relationship. She admitted to desiring him, but he was exceptionally attractive. Her working relationship with him meant more to her than any lust she might feel. There was little room for affection in the world they shared. They were warriors, and not only was he her Lord, but her mentor and teacher as well. Yunomi roused from her thoughts to realize she had combed Reaper’s hair to a silken sheen. She laid down the comb. “There, Lord. How’s that?”

He ran his hands through his hair and flipped it back behind his shoulders. “Very nice, thank you.”
“I enjoyed it. You have beautiful hair, and I’ve wanted to touch it for a long time.”
Reaper looked at Yunomi curiously. She was being so open with him, so comfortable. He decided to share something with her. “How are you feeling?” he asked. “No after effects from the poison?”
“No, Lord, I feel good. But for a while there...I’ve never felt such pain. Thank you for bringing me here. I wouldn’t have made it.”
Reaper nodded. “When I was younger, I was bitten in a fight and received the Demon poison.” He rubbed his upper left arm unconsciously at the memory. Yunomi looked and saw that his tattoos covered a nasty scar there.
“But you survived, Lord.”
“Yes, barely. I crawled away to die. There was no one there to care for me, no one to help. I lived only by my own will to do so. You have that will, Yunomi. We are more alike than you know.”

The thought of her Lord alone, hiding, suffering the agonies of the Demon poison almost brought Yunomi to tears. When Reaper looked at her, he saw an expression of such empathy and compassion on her face that he was startled. She cares for me! he realized.
“Lord...” she put her hand on his, but could think of nothing else to say.
“Well,” he smiled, “we’re immune now. It can never happen again.”
Yunomi pulled her hand away. She felt she was getting too familiar with him. Reaper caught her hand, and held it. “Yunomi, we can be friends. It’s all right for you to show kindness toward me.”
“You are my Lord. I can’t forget that.” She looked away from him.

He sighed, and released her hand. “We need to return soon. You must seek your vengeance. Carnivean will have retreated to Hell, to escape me. We can’t reach him there. But the tavern keeper must be dealt with.”
Yunomi’s face hardened. “I’ll deal with him, Lord. He broke the laws of neutrality.” She had returned to her warrior acolyte aspect.
Reaper agreed. Yunomi had learned to be cruel under his tutelage, and he knew her vengeance would be terrible. “We’ll leave in the morning, then. Say your good-byes tonight.”

Later that evening, Yunomi sat having tea with her sensei. “Your Lord values you greatly, Yunomi. You have done well.”
“Thank you, sensei.”
“But you are troubled. Are you not happy in his service?”
“I’m very happy, sensei. But I’m troubled by my feelings toward him. Today he shared a story from his past with me, and asked me to be his friend. I wasn’t sure how to answer.”
“There is no dishonor in being friends with your Lord, but I think your feelings are much deeper than that. We know you, child. Your love for him is clear to us. It shines from your face like lightning in a storm.”
Yunomi shook her head. “It’s that apparent?”
“It is apparent only to us, Yunomi. Your Lord has no idea. But the healer thinks that he cares for you, as well. He was very attentive when you were in the throes of the Demon poison, showing great concern for you.”
Yunomi frowned. “It’s wrong, sensei. I should not feel this way. He is my Lord and teacher, I should have only respect for him.”
The sensei smiled. “You will find your own way, child. Your destiny lies with your Lord. Trust your feelings for him, Yunomi.”
“I’ll try, sensei, but he’s difficult to deal with sometimes. He hides himself from me.”
“Then you must look for him more closely, and be where he can find you.” They finished their tea in silence.

Yunomi took her leave, and returned to the guest house. Reaper was not there, so she undressed and went to bed. Hours later, he returned. He had been trying to decipher some of the healer’s texts. The partial memory of the Storm Child prophecy nagged at him. Seeing Yunomi asleep, he stopped and watched her for a moment, then went to his own bed.

The next morning, Reaper and Yunomi prepared to leave. Yunomi wore her tank top and drawstring pants with a hooded sweatshirt over them. They were going directly back to the tavern, and she didn’t want to be recognized immediately. Reaper was in his usual black jeans and sleeveless tee shirt, his hair pulled back in a single braid.

The sensei and the healer came to see them off. “You are welcome here any time, Dark Lord.” the sensei spoke. “And Yunomi will always have a home here. Take care of her, she is one of us.” They all bowed to one another, then Reaper and Yunomi vanished.
“You did not tell her about the prophecy.” the healer stated. “No. She is already too confused about her feelings. She’ll have to find out what she is for herself.” the sensei replied.

Part IX Sweet Revenge

Reaper and Yunomi appeared in the border town, a few blocks from the tavern. Yunomi pulled her sweatshirt hood up, partially obscuring her face. Her sword was slung over her back. She started walking purposefully towards the tavern. Reaper trailed behind, wanting to see what she’d do. He waited outside while Yunomi entered the tavern. It was early, and only a few patrons were inside. The tavern keeper looked up from behind the bar as Yunomi came in. He didn’t recognize her until she walked up to the bar and pushed back her hood. The taverner shrieked in terror and tried to duck down behind the bar, but Yunomi caught him by the shirt with both hands and hauled him over the bar and onto the tavern floor. The customers looked on with interest. This was neutral ground, there were few fights here.
“Please,” the taverner was begging, “Carnivean caused me to do it. I didn’t want to!”
“You’re a coward,” Yunomi hissed. “Carnivean had no power over you here.”
“Let me speak to your Lord. He’ll understand.” The terrified man had seen murder in Yunomi’s eyes.
“You didn’t poison my Lord, you poisoned me. This is no longer neutral ground, and I claim my vengeance.” She shoved the man to his knees and drew her sword. He shrieked again, and tried to crawl away, but Yunomi beheaded him with one easy stroke. She wiped her blade on the victim’s shirt, sheathed it, and picked up the severed head by the hair. Looking around at the patrons, she raised the head. “This is no longer neutral ground. I would leave, if I were you.”

Reaper had been leaning in the tavern door, watching events unfold. The patrons filed out quickly past him. Yunomi also came out, and hung the taverner’s head from the sign post.
“Feel better?” Reaper smirked at Yunomi.
“Yes, much, thank you.”
“I have my own message to send to Carnivean.” Reaper said as they walked away from the tavern. He turned suddenly, and sent a lightning bolt at the building, exploding it. All that was left was a pile of smoking debris, and the tavern sign on the post outside, the former owner’s head swaying underneath.
Yunomi nodded in satisfaction. “You’ll have to teach me that, Lord.”
“You’re not ready.” Reaper said darkly.

She accepted his answer without comment, and walked on. He caught up to her. “Yunomi, I have things to attend to that do not concern you. You’ve made your reputation here, and proven to me that you can take care of yourself. Your training is near an end. We’ll discuss your future when I return.” With that, he turned from her and vanished.

Yunomi stood alone on the street, astounded at what had just occurred. Her Lord had summarily dismissed her for an unknown length of time. She was on her own now. “Discuss my future?” she muttered to herself. “My future is with you, Lord.” She turned and walked to the nearest bar, and sat drinking beer into the afternoon.

“Yunomi?” It was late in the day, and Yunomi had a few. She spun around at the voice to find Sandia standing behind her. “Hey, girl, what’s up?”
“Sandia, good to see you. Have a seat. What’s going on?”
“You tell me. I heard you were dead, and Reaper had vanished. I came here to try and find out what happened.”
“Carnivean had me poisoned on neutral ground. Reaper took me to the Tengu and they were able to save me. We’ve been there for a few days.”
“So where’s Reaper now?” Sandia looked around.
“I have no idea. He said he’d be gone a while and I was on my own.”
Sandia snorted. “Yeah, he does that all the time. ‘Things that don’t concern you’, right?”
Yunomi nodded with a wry smile.
“I guess you guys did in the tavern, eh? That little weasel of a barkeep must have been the one who poisoned you. I never trusted that guy. Good work.”
“Thanks, it felt good.” Yunomi lowered her voice. “Have you ever gone through Demon poison?”
“No, I’ve managed to escape that. Demons usually reserve it for beings they fear greatly. I know Reaper supposedly lived through it a long time ago. Was it awful?”
“Oh, yeah. I wanted to die. It felt like something was inside me, eating it’s way out.”
“How did the Tengu save you?”
“They gave me a fever, and burned the poison out. It wasn’t pleasant.”
“Damn, girl! And Reaper stayed with you?”
“Yeah, that was weird. He was real mellow there. It was like he was really concerned about me.”
“Well, he doesn’t treat anyone else like he does you. In some ways he’s awfully tough on you, but he also cuts you a lot of slack. Can I ask what’s going on?”
“I wish I knew. He’s a mystery to me.” Yunomi finished her beer. “Well, I’m kind of at loose ends, now.”
“Let’s get out of this dump and go back to The City. We’ll think of something to keep you occupied. This is probably a test he thought up to see if you get fat and happy while he’s gone.” Sandia laughed at the expression on Yunomi’s face. Then Yunomi realized she was joking, and laughed too.
“All right , back to The City, then. I’d go nuts living out in the woods by myself anyway.”

Over the next few weeks Yunomi split her time between staying in The City with Sandia, working on repairing her own house, and hunting Demons. She soon learned that she did indeed have a reputation, and was easily recognized by her sword. Orcs in particular seemed offended by her, and she was constantly challenged. At first, Yunomi was reluctant to kill the Orcs, they were so slow and stupid. She settled for humiliating them, but found out quickly that humiliated Orcs always sought vengeance, and she wound up killing them anyway. She found a faded black duster and cut the sleeves off of it, then wore it to conceal her sword. She was not recognized nearly as often after that.

The Demon incursions into Dark Side had almost completely ceased. Yunomi had been afraid that with Reaper away, the Demons would come more frequently. This was one of the reasons she had continued hunting, but Demons were scarce now. The Dark Lord had been gone nearly three months. Yunomi had settled into her routine of watching for Demons, partying with Sandia, and returning to her house to rest now and again. She sometimes wondered if she would ever see her Lord again, but was content enough without him.

Reaper had attended to his own business in the Human Realm, then pursued some obscure sources of knowledge. He would sometimes become so engrossed in a new or unfamiliar source that he lost track of time. He also spent time meditating on what to do with Yunomi. She did not fear him, and that was troubling. Reaper had always ruled his minions through fear and intimidation, and consequently trusted no one. If Yunomi chose to be with him of her own free will, she could just as easily choose not to be. He just wasn’t sure how to deal with her.

He had also found a version of the Storm Child prophecy. As he understood it, a powerful woman would be his lover and companion some day. Was Yunomi the one? She had survived every trial, and grown stronger. But he wasn’t sure. He knew he missed her, but was reluctant to return to her. Although Yunomi never questioned him, and obeyed without hesitation, he felt a disturbing lack of control over her. He was not looking forward to the day she defied him. The more he thought about it, the longer he stayed away, but he knew the situation would have to be resolved eventually.

In her Lord’s absence, Yunomi had grown wild and fearsome. Most Darksiders gave her a lot of room, and she had no friends or alliances except Sandia. The two women would often cut a wide swath through the bars of The City, engaging in drunken brawls and wild chases through the streets. Soon even the Orcs avoided them.

Yunomi continued to hunt in the Borderlands. Her three near-deaths at the hands of Demons made her particularly sensitive to their presence, and she felt they were up to something. She looked very disreputable in her travels, wearing a sleeveless hooded sweatshirt under the tattered coat that hid her sword. She used her Ninja skills to make herself unnoticed, appearing as a shabby wanderer rather than a warrior acolyte. She had seen two beings she suspected were disguised Demons entering an out-of-the-way bar, and followed them discretely. The beings met two others, and the four of them sat at a corner table. Yunomi shuffled up to the bar and ordered a beer, then sat quietly trying to eavesdrop on the corner conversation. She caught enough to pique her curiosity further. Finishing her beer, she slammed her head to the bar with a loud bang. The four in the corner looked up, startled, but saw only a grubby bum passed out at the bar. They continued their conversation more openly, but Yunomi could still hear only bits and pieces.

“We don’t know where he is...”, “...not let his damned whore find out...”, “The Orcs are keeping her busy...”, “...bind him with it...”, “What? Just us two?”, “You’ll have help...”

Yunomi couldn’t catch everything, but figured out they were plotting against her Lord, and not speaking too kindly of her, either. The first two beings pushed a bag of something across the table to the other two. “Won’t it burn us?”, then more muttered instructions. Yunomi was annoyed at her inability to hear more.

The meeting broke up, and the disguised Demons went in different directions. Yunomi got up and staggered from the bar. Outside, she became Ninja again, unseen. She followed the two who had received the bag. They turned down an alley, and certain they were not followed, resumed their Demon aspects. Yunomi took a shortcut and stepped into the alley in front of them. “Hi, boys. Watcha got in the bag?”

“Something for you, whore!” one hissed, reaching into the bag. Yunomi drew her katana and advanced on the two. The Demon pulled something bright and shining out of the sack, and threw it at Yunomi. She dodged easily, and glanced at the object. It was a lasso, or noose of some kind, shining gold. The Demon held one end, and began pulling it back. Yunomi smiled wickedly. A rope! She sliced at it with her sword, but it did not cut. Puzzled, she grabbed at it. The golden rope seared her hand, and she dropped it quickly.
“Got burned, eh, whore? We’ll tie you up, and then your master!”

Yunomi shouted and launched across the space between her and the Demons. They went into instinctive defense, dropping the rope and putting up their claws. They fought fiercely, parrying Yunomi’s blows and holding their ground. Unexpectedly, the other two Demons appeared behind Yunomi and attacked. She went into a whirling defense, tomoe karasu, that she had learned from the Tengu. The Demon with the rope was trying to coil it for another throw. Yunomi pierced his throat with a quick stroke, then spun to slash at the two behind her. One raked it’s claws at her face, catching her with one just above the right eye. Blood poured into her eyes, momentarily blinding her. The three Demons used their advantage to try and tie her with the golden noose, but she managed to evade them, severing the arm of the one with the rope. The Demon howled, but came at her again, teeth bared. The other two grabbed at her, but Yunomi evaded them again. She found herself backed against the alley wall. The blood in her eyes was a continuing problem.

Feeling that Yunomi was cornered and tiring, the three regrouped for another try with the noose. Pushing off the wall, Yunomi leaped high and sailed over the attacking Demons, going into a forward flip to land on her feet behind them. She killed one before they realized what had happened. The maimed one had had enough, and vanished, leaving one to face Yunomi alone. She stood facing her adversary, katana ready. Her face and clothes were covered in blood, giving her a terrifying appearance. She shouted, took a sliding step towards the Demon, and it vanished.

Yunomi shook her head. She was not badly hurt, just bleeding a lot. The Demons had left the golden rope and it’s bag behind. She wiped her blade on her coat, then pressed her hand to the cut above her eye. It healed easily. She had other scratches on her arms and shoulders, but they were so minor she didn’t waste healing energy on them. She sheathed her sword, then used the Demon’s severed arm to push the rope back into the bag. It would make a nice gift for her Lord, assuming she ever saw him again.

She decided to go to Sandia’s to clean up. Sandia was in her usual state, lying on the couch with her headphones on, smoking a joint. “Damn, girl! What happened to you?” Sandia sat up.
“I’m okay, just a little fight.”
“Oh yeah? How many this time?”
“Four.” Yunomi threw herself on the couch.
“Orcs did this?” Sandia touched the fresh scar over Yunomi’s eye.
“No, Demons.”
“Four Demons! You are one tough bitch, girl! Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Later, Yunomi sat on the floor by the couch, sharing Sandia’s joint. She had learned the pleasure of being stoned from her friend. Sandia was combing out Yunomi’s wet hair. “Your hair is so long now. Doesn’t it get in your way?” she asked.
“Yeah, it did today, with all the blood in my eyes.”
“Let me fix it for you. I have an idea that would look great.”
“Okay, sure, just don’t cut it all off.”
“Never, trust me.” Sandia got out a box of colored twine and some beads Yunomi had made from the finger bones of Demons she’d killed. Combing the hair back from Yunomi’s face, she plaited it into seven small rows part way, then braided them the rest of the way. She wrapped the ends with colored twine, then put the finger bone beads at the end of each braid. The rest of Yunomi’s hair hung loose past her shoulders, and Sandia trimmed it evenly. Yunomi looked truly fierce. Her hair was out of her face now, and added to her warrior aspect.

“Oh yeah, that’s great, Sandia!” Yunomi was gazing happily into a mirror.
Sandia leaned back and lit another joint. “So what was in that bag you brought back?” It lay innocently on the coffee table. “I’m not sure, some kind of rope, or noose. It’s gold, and burned me when I touched it. But the Demons handled it all right. Here, look and tell me what you think.”
Yunomi handed the bag to Sandia. She opened the bag cautiously, and gasped. “Yunomi, this is an Angel’s noose! You have to get this to Reaper, it’s a dangerous weapon.”
“How dangerous? Can I keep it here for a while?”
“I don’t know how the Demons got a hold of this, but if the Angels find out you have it, they’ll come after you. Believe me, you don’t want that.”
“Sandia, I have no idea where Reaper is. I haven’t seen him in months.”
“What about your mind link?”
“He’s out of this plane. I guess I’ll know when he gets back, but there’s nothing yet. If you want me to keep it somewhere else, I will.”
Sandia sighed. “He’s never around when you need him. No, keep it here. I don’t think you should be carrying it around Dark Side with you.”
“Thanks, hon. I’ll start looking for Reaper after I get some sleep. If I can’t find him in the next few days, I’ll hide it somewhere else.”

Yunomi slept at Sandia’s for a while, then headed out into The City. She had sources of her own, but none of them knew where Reaper was. Some time later, she felt his presence in her mind. Reaper had returned to the Dark Side plane, and was probably somewhere in The City. Yunomi stepped up her search. Most Darksiders shied away from her, knowing her reputation. Some giggled wildly at her questions, fearing the Dark Lord more than her. Finally, she caught a grubber by the scruff of the neck and slammed it against a nearby wall. Grubbers knew everything; they haunted the alleys looking for discarded things, and few bits of news went unheard by them.
“I’m looking for my Lord. Where is he?” Yunomi growled. The grubber tried to wriggle away from her, but she held him fast. “Where?” she demanded again.
“Casino el Camino.” the grubber finally mumbled. Yunomi released him, and the frightened creature scrambled away. Yunomi knew el Camino well. It was the only place she and Sandia behaved themselves somewhat. The owners, Bob and Laura, were friends of the Dark Lord, and he kept a private table there. Yunomi went back to Sandia’s and got the bag with the noose in it, then quickly returned to el Camino.

She pushed open the heavy door and stepped into the cool darkness of the bar. The low red lights glinted off the shiny black walls with their strange paintings and fixtures. Few patrons were here at this time, and Yunomi walked straight back to Reaper’s table. He was sitting there with a pitcher of stout, eyeing the warrior woman approaching him with curiosity. Her hair was partially braided and hung with bone beads. She wore a black tank top, loose gray camo pants and Doc Martins, with a tattered sleeveless duster over all.
“Yunomi?” Reaper was surprised.
“Yes, Lord. I brought you a gift.” She dropped the bag on the table in front of him. Reaper stared at Yunomi. Her face was an unemotional mask, but her eyes were cold and cruel. This was not the elegantly simple samurai he had left months before, but a hardened Dark Side hunter. When Yunomi said nothing more, he cautiously opened the bag.
“Yunomi, where did you get this?” he demanded.
“I took it off a dead Demon.”
“Let me guess how it died.” Reaper grinned. “This is very important, Yunomi. You did well in bringing it to me. Thank you.”
She bowed slightly, then turned to leave.
“Yunomi, sit with me.” Reaper called after her. She turned and pulled out a chair, then removed her coat. Reaper saw that she had made a new sword sling from Demon skin and decorated it with over a dozen Orc tusks. “How have you been?” he asked, while motioning to Laura, the waitress, to come over.
“Good. I keep busy.”
“You’ve changed,” he stated. Laura came to the table and looked questioningly at Reaper. He nodded at Yunomi.
“Can I get a Harp, please?” she asked.
“Sure.” Laura went back to the bar and returned with Yunomi’s beer.
“Thanks, hon.” Yunomi took a long drink, then answered Reaper. “Yes, Lord, I’ve changed some.”
Reaper studied her carefully. She was very different, very hard. He had wanted to see if she could survive on her own, and he had his answer. “I’m pleased with your progress. Your training is at an end.” Yunomi inclined her head toward Reaper. “Your service to me is also at an end. I give you your freedom.”

Yunomi stared at Reaper, stunned. Freedom had never been an issue. She had thought she would be his acolyte for eternity. For an instant, Reaper thought he saw something in her eyes-sorrow? dismay? He wasn’t sure. Finally she spoke in a low, sad voice.
“Lord, how have I displeased you?”
He was surprised. “You haven’t displeased me, Yunomi. On the contrary, you’ve exceeded my every expectation. You’re strong enough not to need me anymore.”
Yunomi sat silently for a moment, her expression one of deep sadness. “Lord, you give me purpose and direction. I never wanted to be ronin. Please don’t send me away.”
Reaper heard the note of desperation in her voice, and came to a decision. If he wanted to know the truth, he’d have to ask. He reached out a hand to Yunomi, and she took it. “Yunomi, do you love me?”
Yunomi came to a decision also. If she didn’t answer truthfully, he’d never know. “Yes, Lord. Very much.”
He rose, still holding her hand. “Then come with me.”

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