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In the Land of Silk and Steel

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In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Sun Aug 01, 2010 11:02 pm

Eremaki - Oriental nation of rice farms and silk weavers, of warrior pride and difficult labor. The capital city is Musashi, where the main Imperial palace stands. Buildings are made with rattan floors and rice paper walls held with bamboo. Rooftops are clay or stone. It is a nation in a state of flux and learning to deal with ideas and ideals which are painfully new and sometimes frightening.

Eremaki's Crystal had been sealed off from contact with the others for a long time, so long that many of those who lived in the Nation no longer understood what it was that they had lost with that sealing.

But some things can break through even the most terrible of barriers and the death of the Great Keeper was one of those things that even Eremaki felt, though those who sensed the shiver of sorrow from the crystalline depths might not have understood what it was that they felt. The shout, though, was unmistakable when the name of the next Great Keeper was sent ringing through the Crystals.

Nothing that those who had sought to seal off Eremaki had done could keep the Crystal from knowing about the naming of a new Great Keeper. And with the Great Keeper coming from a Nation so close to Eremaki itself . . . well, the news would be met with varying reactions.

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Mon Aug 02, 2010 8:20 pm

There was one who heard these things very clearly.

It was the secret of the Imperial Family. When the Genji Bakufu rose to power centuries earlier, they had seen fit to break apart the great beast Alexander, and seal away the Crystal of their homeland. But the link to the Crystal Line as not entirely severed. When Alexander was bound, a shard was cut from the Crystal. This shard has been carried by the Emperors ever since, forever binding them to the Crystal Line. And, within the chambers of Emperor Kakumei, the rightful Keeper conversed with a grisly effigy of the Shining Soldier.

"You are certain. Neorah?" Asked the young Keeper to the Soldier. The Soldier, enrobed in silks of brightest gold, nodded.

"Yes. What is more, I have conferred at length with my kin. Many of the Keepers have died, or are missing. The forces behind these events will try to control this 'Lei'Ahree'"

The young man who seemed to command the Soldier sat upon the throne. Truly, this was disquieting. Elves do not die of natural causes, so long as magic is present. It is the very reason he became suspicious of things when his father passed. Something was occurring in their little cluster of island-nations, and it was driven by those with purpose. Something that no child of the ancient Yamato Dynasty would stand for.

"Send word to Leviathan of our suspicions, have her raise a stormfront. I don't think we can stop the arrival of the instigators, but we can slow them down. Get in touch with Ichabod. He's in that area, as I recall. Perhaps he can reach her first."

Dismissing the creature, Masurao stood from his throne, straightening his various layers of kimono. Knowing how such events would likely go, he would be expected to entertain this "Lei'Ahree". And, he had an idea as to how.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Now, if you were to tell anyone that you saw the Emperor and his entourage milling about in a Hanamachi, you'd be looked at as if you were insane. A Hanamachi, you see, is a special district in Eremakian cities. They are not too entirely different from the concept of the "red-light district", although the appearance of the area, and the businesses therein, are far more tasteful than would be expected. And the Emperor, being tantamount to one of the ancient Kami, was considered to be too pure of spirit to even enter such a place.

Of course, the Emperors before were not THIS Emperor. He was one of the few Emperors to continue using his given name whilst ruling, and the first to keep a family name. He defied all the conventions laid down by his ancestors, yet still paid respect to them. It was the reason that he, by his people, was known as Kakumeika Tennou, meaning Revolutionary Emperor.

Still, to see Masurao in a Hanamachi was the very definition of surreal. Yet, there he was, his rather uncomfortable horde of retainers close on his tail. Of course, none would be surprised more than the Okaa-san of one very well-known Okiya. Masurao spoke before she had the chance to start up with the (sometimes excessive) reverence that most of the citizens gave.

"If you don't mind, miss, I would rather we conduct business without the need for extreme formality. When one spends enough time on a pedestal, looking down makes one ill, if you understand me."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Mon Aug 02, 2010 11:31 pm

Surprise was putting the reaction mildly. A Geisha was trained to be able to converse with anyone, the art of witty conversation being one of the foremost skills a Geisha was expected to master, and this proprietress of a Geisha House was as skilled at any of the arts as those who worked for her.

But even she was caught speechless at the sight of the Emperor himself standing at her door.

She recovered quickly enough, decades of training coming back to the fore to allow her to see to the comfort of her unexpected guests. If the matchless Emperor wished to dispense with the respect which was his due, who was she to argue with him? Still, there was formality and then there was formality.

Once she was certain that her guests were settled and comfortable she turned to face the Emperor, though it took every ounce of her training not to immediately make obeisance to him. "Tennou-sama, what is it which brings you to this humble House?"

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Tue Aug 03, 2010 7:22 am

Honestly, he wished they could call him by name. But that was a tree he'd stopped shaking years ago. He could tell, she was more than a little nervous, as were his retainers. He'd have to get right to business.

"Well, okaa-san, there is a momentous occasion upon us. A new Great Keeper has been chosen. I'm going to need as many geisha as you can get me, when she and her entourage arrive."

Giving her a soft smile, he continued.

"I simply figured, for such a big commitment, a bit of forewarning would be in order. Also, you'd probably want me to pay ahead, considering."

The retainers, of course, quickly produced the various wallets they'd been asked to carry, considering how much coin would be needed. It was obvious they had no desire to be here. Masurao gave a disgusted sigh.

"How on earth do the retainers become more stuck-up than the ruler they serve?" He asked the okaa-san, half-jokingly. Of course, he didn't want a scene to start, so, he got down to it.

"So, why don't you let me see the girls?"

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Tue Aug 03, 2010 8:33 am

The okaa-san bowed to her Emperor and then signaled to one of the younger girls she kept on hand for carrying messages through the House and began gathering some of her brightest stars.

Nothing less than the best would do for the Emperor and for a new Great Keeper. So she called into the room her best dancers and her best musicians and watched as the girls and young women hurried into the room as quickly as their ornate robes would allow them, to kneel and position themselves to be seen.

After a moment of consideration the okaa-san chose to call for a rather unusual Geisha of her house. Normally she would not consider this one for the presence of the Emperor, since he didn't seem like the sort to prefer her type, but this new Great Keeper was, apparently a woman and some women found the concept of someone like Tsukiko to be fascinating.

There really wasn't much to Tsukiko's appearance that would make her seem so out of place among the gathering of willows that was the cream of this Okiya, this Geisha House.

"Tennou-sama," the okaa-san said with a bow of her head, "these are the best of my daughters," she used the term rather symbolically since okaa-san literally meant Mother. "I trust that they find favor in your sight."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Fri Aug 06, 2010 9:41 am

Now, this was a nice little lineup.

Walking along the feminine wall that'd been assembled, Masurao nodded slowly in approval. ...Then he stopped, seeing the one that the okaa-san had been nervous about. Masurao gave this one a second look, but his gaze wasn't what it had been. Now, he was confused.

To the untrained eye (and even the trained eye), this young woman looked normal. But, this was the Emperor. Being as magically inclined as he was, he could see its signs. He could tell this one had been touched by magic. At first, he couldn't rightly tell, but then it hit him.

"Okaa-san, a moment?" He asked, beckoning her away from her daughters. ...And his retainers. He knew they'd use what he figured out as justification to depart. ...Why were people so stupid?

"I wasn't aware the use of shaping magic was common among Geisha."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Fri Aug 06, 2010 4:36 pm

The okaa-san nodded briefly. "It is not common, Tennou-sama, but that particular daughter of mine has been altered so that she is less objectionable." She took a deep breath. "Tsukiko came to us with her transformation already begun. I have seen to arranging for the alterations to her body." She coughed delicately. "I have left the transformation incomplete."

Of all her daughters, Tsukiko was the one in the most precarious position. It helped that she was very talented in all the Geisha arts, but being that she was simultaneously two very different things ... it made for some confusion and some opportunity.

For all the potential complication, though, the okaa-san believed herself lucky to have acquired Tsukiko as a child. If the Emperor took an interest in this most unusual Geisha ... a great many opportunities could arise.

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Thu Aug 19, 2010 9:00 pm

...Now, that just confused the hell out of Masurao. He wasn't sure what changes had been made, just that changes were made.

"...Perplexing..."

Looking them over again, something occurred to him. Gesturing for one of his retainers, the servant began setting up a fold-out table.

"I've no doubt each and every one of you is skilled in both song and dance. But one must also engage the mind, and, sometimes, conversation is not merely enough."

It became obvious what he was intending when the servant set a wide, shallow bowl on the table. "Beigoma". Originally a game played in costal cities by young boys, Koumei had the game made for countrywide production, to promote the growth of magic. Players cast tops of varying makes into shallow bowls and the like, and exerted pressure in the form of mana to control the tops mid-spin. The winner was whoever's top remained spinning in the arena. As magic was as important as anything else in Eremaki, the game was common enough, played by any, gender or age notwithstanding.

Besides forcing one to learn to control mana, it was a strategic exercise. The tops were usually made out of multiple segments, joined together by a screw and bolt. Strategy also had an effect as to how one controlled the top.

From a small box that another servant then produced, he pulled a gleaming, golden top, framed with a ring of crystal.

"Perhaps one of you could show me you sharp you are?"

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:10 pm

The okaa-san hid a smile at her Emperor's move to challenge one of her daughters to a game. As it so happened, this was one of the many things that Tsukiko excelled at. While the other girls hid their smiles and giggles behind their hands, she nodded to her changed daughter.

Tsukiko bowed deeply in response. "If it pleases you, Tennou-sama, if it is a game you wish, I can provide a challenge."

There were quiet whispers from the geisha as one of the little pages ran back to Tsukiko's room to retrieve her Beigoma tops. When the child returned with the cloth-covered box, Tsukiko thanked her and then carefully chose which of the four tops she wished to use.

Tsukiko was very good at this game, the best in the house.

And she gave her Emperor quite a challenge indeed.

Finally, though, the match had to be called as a draw, and that result brought a proud twinkle to the eye of the okaa-san.

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Sun Sep 26, 2010 11:11 am

...A draw, it was not.

Tsukiko was far more talented than she gave herself credit for. The Emperor was a gifted strategist in his own right, but Tsukiko was countering his every move. Which forced him to play his other skill in this game much harder: He had the sheer magical weight of the Crystal itself to throw around. Because of this, and those with similar power, a new rule had been made in the Imperial Court, one that would extend to the public, if the phenomenon became common enough.

"If you overcharge your Beigoma, you lose."

Now, usually, an Overcharged Beigoma would either slip its bolt, or the parts wpuld break under the strain. With as much power as Masurao put into it? ...His Beigoma outright EXPLODED. ...Which prompted him to so something that none there would ever forget.

Surely, they were hallucinating. He would NEVER humble himself before a Geisha. But, in a sign of deep respect, Masurao bowed low to the young woman.

"[Incredible. Never have I ever been bested at Beigoma."

Rising, he turned to the okaa-san.

"With your leave, I'd like Tsukiko to return with me. There is something... Different about her; I aim to find out what."

If he only knew.

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Sun Sep 26, 2010 12:02 pm

Tsukiko blushed at her Emperor's bow, and wondered if she should fall to her knees before him. It was not right for someone to stand taller than the Emperor. She did not know what to say without sounding improper.

"I am certain," she murmured softly, "that I would be extremely hard pressed to manage such a feat again. You are a very skilled player, Tennou-sama."

At his request, though, Tsukiko was forced to resort to hiding her face behind a fan to disguise the blush, and her okaa-san lifted a curious eyebrow. There was silence or outright soft giggles from the other geisha as they knew what their sister's secret was. Then again, the quality which fascinated their Emperor could be unrelated to that changed nature and more connected to the way she had unexpectedly pushed him into overcharging his Beigoma.

After a moment of consideration, the okaa-san nodded to Masurao. It was a matchless opportunity for her daughter, one which only Fate or Chance could have arranged. If he was not offended by her, and the okaa-san thought that it was unlikely for the Revolutionary Emperor to be that closed minded, then this could open a great many doors for Tsukiko. She turned to Tsukiko and nodded.

"Are you amenable to accompanying your Emperor?"

Tsukiko bowed to her okaa-san. "I am willing."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Sat Oct 30, 2010 1:41 am

After that, things moved rather quickly.

Before the young gesha knew it, she was into the large, servant-powered people-moved the Emperor was known to use. Not by his own choice, of course. Left to his own devices, he'd rather walk. But, sometimes, there was just no fighting tradition.

Laying out in the man-powered cart, Tsukiko in whatever position she was in, he spoke.

"I got to admit, what you did back there was nothing less than incredible. I don't think I could beat you. Not without a more sturdy beigoma, anyway."

As they slowly approached the palace, the Emperor's curiosity got the better of him. Sitting up, he looked the young lady over, and, stumped, he asked.

"Alright, I give. ...What were you before you were shaped? Because, honestly, I can't tell."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Sat Oct 30, 2010 2:34 am

Tsukiko chose to sit within the cart with as much propriety as she could manage, still stunned at the series of events which led her to this circumstance, one which she could not have imagined.

Her Emperor's praise, though, brought color to her cheeks and she reflexively bowed her head to him. "My Emperor is most kind and generous with his praise."

His open question, though, spoken in such a bluntly direct manner, caused her whole face to color beneath her Geisha paint such a bright red that she wondered how it was that her paint did not simply melt from her cheeks from the heat of it.

"My Emperor…" she paused, uncertain of whether it would be proper to protest his lack of decorum or if she would further shame them both by her words.

Finally she bowed her head low to him. "Forgive me, my Emperor, for the shame of my condition. Yes, the okaa-san in her mercy has seen to arrange the alteration of my body." She waved her hand in a sketchy motion indicating her chest. "I was not born with this in my future."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Sun Nov 28, 2010 12:26 am

...Now, this was confusing.

"Seems rather arbitrary. Looks aren't everything."

Of course, he should've know better. It wasn't uncommon for women to obsess over their appearance. Not to mention such augmentations made good, fiscal sense.

On top of all that, it seemed to have only improved what she, no doubt, had started with. He wasn't normally one to partake of such pleasures as the company of a geisha. But, one as beautiful as her, he may have to make an exception for.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The trip back hadn't taken long. And, of course, certain rituals had to be observed. A handful of priests read rights over her, as Masurao was dragged off.

By the time they saw eachother again, the kitchen staff was halfway done with dinner; the two were waiting at a small table, which had been situated in the gardens.

"So, Tsukiko... ...Why did you get into the game?"

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Wed Dec 01, 2010 11:06 pm

Tsukiko was at a loss for words when it became quickly apparent that the Emperor has misunderstood what she had been trying to tell him. It wasn't an enhancement of her figure which had been Shaped… it was the existence of the female appearance at all.

Unfortunately there wasn't time to correct the mistake, if correction were even possible. They had arrived at the Imperial Palace and they were taken on different paths through the artful labyrinth that was formal ritual.

When they finally were brought back together, Tsukiko was still struggling with how she could correct the misunderstanding in her Emperor's mind… or even if such a correction were necessary. If he thought her truly female, it would not make any difference in the world… unless he were to find out otherwise under less-than-ideal circumstances.

She didn't know why, but his knowing the truth of her form was important to her… probably out of a need to spare them both the embarrassment and shame of an unexpected revelation.

Her okaa-san usually saw to it that any interested clients knew well in advance about Tsukiko's unique nature. But how to explain the truth without shaming either of them?

Her thoughts were so chaotic that it took a few moments for her to realize that he had asked her a question, and when she realized that she was keeping him waiting, she blushed and looked down at her hands in embarrassment. At first she wasn't certain which game he was referring to… and then decided that his mind was probably still on the Beigoma.

"Of all my sisters… I am the best player. To offer you an opponent of lesser caliber would be an insult." She paused, "I am also, likely, the only player who would have challenged one of your stature. I find the challenge worthwhile. I enjoy the win, but I also enjoy the look of accomplishment on my opponent's face if I am defeated well."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Thu Dec 02, 2010 12:13 am

...Hmm...

Well, that didnt' work. Masurao was used to being able to speak in a more normal manner, when not in the public eye. Of course, Tsukiko wasn't trained to break the facade, ever. He really should have considered that.

"No, not Beigoma. I meant, how'd you end up a Geisha?"

The first course was brought out to them. Simple enough, it was a selection of fine sushi. Shrimp, tuna, and others, prepared in nearly as many ways as one could conceive of.

"I know some become Geisha out of a desire for the lifestyle. Some do it to survive. And some are made to."

Gingerly, Masurao took hold of one of the "rolls", popping it into his mouth, swallowing it before continuing.

"Tell me about Tsukiko."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Thu Dec 02, 2010 12:28 am

Tsukiko chose carefully from the offered selections, using the time it took to carefully eat her chosen morsel to consider how she would answer the question. She owed her Emperor the truth… but there was much she was too ashamed to speak.

"I was not given the choice, my Emperor. When I was nine years of age my mother gave me over to the okaa-san." She paused. "It was, perhaps, a mercy that she did. As I was… my options for a future were limited."

Tsukiko didn't like to think about her life as a child, didn't like to think of what she had to face each time she returned to that village to protect a small, defenseless child that was still trapped inside that household.

Her mother's madness had turned her into something she was not… and it was all she knew how to be anymore. But in honesty, the choice to leave her transformation incomplete… was as much her choice as that of the okaa-san. She didn't want to give up the last vestige of the person she was born to be… in favor of the person she was forced to be.

"I am glad, though, that I have found a place where I am useful even if in some minor way. I have skills I would not have had otherwise and I have the means to see to my own well-being and maybe that of another as well."

It was her dearest wish, that she could earn the money to repay her debt to the okaa-san so that she could set up her own residence and maybe, at that point, be able to retrieve the sister that had been left behind.

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Fri Mar 04, 2011 8:36 pm

...Masurao, enthralled, found himself rather quickly out of fish.

Not paying attention, he'd cleaned his rather large plate of sushi in short order, listening to her story. When a servant came with the main course, an elaborate miso soup, a vegetable medley over rice, and a seared filet of tuna, it didn't smack of anything odd.

...Not so of Masurao's dish.

He, too, had the vegetable medley over rice. But, the other? Was a meat Tsukiko would not be familiar with. It had a rich, dark color, even without the sweet soy glaze that covered it. ...It'd be about then that it would hit her... ...That was BEEF.

...Let me explain this one. Beef may be commonplace now, and, back in these times, it was as well, in most countries. ...Eremaki is not one of these countries. Nearly all beasts of burden were reserved for work purposes, and, until recently, slaughtering them for their meat was prohibited. A prohibition the imperial court lifted as soon as Masurao came to power. ...Mainly because most of the nobles didn't observe this rule. Even though, now, such a practice is not forbidden, beef in Eremaki is not a common man's go-to protein. Especially not the kind the Emperor was no doubt enjoying.

The servant still waited, with a plate much similar to Masurao's, in the event Tsukiko would wish to try the delicacy herself.

Masurao and the servant, though, both knew how unlikely this was. Stopping between bites, the Emperor inquired further.

"Another? There's someone special to you?"

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Fri Mar 04, 2011 9:22 pm

Tsukiko was stunned to see the beef serving given to her Emperor. Truly, if anyone had the right to be served whatever he should wish, it would be the Emperor... but still, for him to eat of beef...

Prohibitions might change, but prejudices are much slower in changing and many of the common people believed that there was something spiritually lacking in those who ate of red meats. But by definition there could be nothing lacking in the Emperor himself... so seeing him take such a delicacy to himself raised several questions in her mind... ones she wasn't certain she was ready to answer.

She briefly considered trying it herself, but decided that she was not quite so adventurous as that and satisfied herself with the tuna, which was excellent.

She nodded at the Emperor's question, though, acknowledging his curiosity. "A sibling, my Emperor. I have... I have a young sister and it is my sincere wish to make a home for both of us." She knew that if he asked further, she would answer... but there were some things she didn't wish to tell anyone, much less someone as great as the Emperor.

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Masurao on Mon Mar 14, 2011 11:49 pm

...Now, things were starting to fall into place.

She'd said that it was a mercy that she made her way into the world of the Geisha. And, now, he came to find she'd been made to leave a sister behind? ...Masurao's next question was almost inevitable. Finishing his steak, done in a teriyaki-style (as well as showing his remarkably swift way of eating), he asked.

"...It may not be my business to ask, and, please, tell me if it's not..."

The Emperor himself felt a slight trepidation. He didn't know what her answer would be. But, he knew he wasn't going to like it.

"But, what, exactly, is it that you were forced to leave behind?"

It was out there, now. He couldn't do a thing about it now.

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

Post by Celestria on Sun Mar 20, 2011 10:49 am

((Note: We are in the process of retconning a few rather pertinent details of Tsukiko's nature. Sometimes things don't become apparent until stuff happens.))

Tsukiko sighed softly and folded her hands in front of her, bowing her head to her Emperor, in embarrassment and no small amount of shame. He had asked. She owed him the honesty of an answer, however much she wished that she could remain silent forever.

"I am not the person I was born to become. When I was very small, my mother made the decision that I would become Tsukiko, no matter that nature had intended another path with a name I can no longer remember. It made... it made growing up in my village difficult."

She flushed slightly. "My mother could change my clothing, change my name, insist that I carry myself in another manner... present me as her daughter, but she could not change what nature had crafted in me... I was... I was wearing an ill-fitting mask..."

She could not bring herself to look up at the Emperor's expression, feared to see the regard he'd held earlier turn to disgust.

"When the okaa-san took me from my mother, she was able to see to some of the physical alterations required to make me more like my Geisha sisters and less like the neither-child that I was." She shivered almost imperceptibly, "When the time came for me to be presented as a Geisha... I tried... I did not wish to lose the last vestige of the person I was born to be. It was all that remained."

A tear fell down her face, streaking through her rice powder make up unheeded. "I had no choice. My mother's decision, made in madness... forced me to become something I was never supposed to be... the best I can hope for is to give my sister the chance to make her own choices. If I can... if I can give her a home with me, then maybe she will be able to choose to follow any path open to her, whether it be joining my Geisha sisters... or finding a husband and making a home with him and having children of her own. At least she will know that she has made the choice... and no one else."

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Re: In the Land of Silk and Steel

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