Chapter 5 [TFHB]

Chapter 05: Sparks

Inside, the courtyard was bustling with activity as people wandered about doing their chores. There was a far-off sound of swords clanging that Mikazuki assumed came from the knights of the Touken Danshi who were probably busy practicing with their blades. As they trotted in on their horses, more than once, they received curious glances from the others.

“What are they staring at?” Yasusada whispered in a low voice to Tsurumaru, feeling a little self-conscious to be on the receiving end of so much attention.

Tsurumaru smiled. “We hardly ever get visitors here, much less new recruits. They’re probably just really interested in the both of you. After all, it is unprecedented to have new blood at this time of the year.”

“I see. Recruitment usually takes place in the fall I believe. Am I right?”

Tsurumaru nodded. “Yes, this is quite unusual.”

“But this is a rather large keep for just the Touken Danshi,” Mikazuki mused as he inspected the citadel, letting his gaze wander across the stonework.

“It’s because we have normal troops here as well. Part of our duties is to train with them to improve their skill with the sword,” Tsurumaru explained. While the Touken Danshi were mainly responsible for hunting demons, the normal troops were there to ensure that order was kept within the lands. They were stationed near the border as well in the event of war or conflict with other neighbouring kingdoms.

“They should be practicing in the field by now.” Tsurumaru added. “It’s at the back of the citadel.”

As they approached the centre of the courtyard, the horses cantered to a halt and they dismounted. Tsurumaru tossed his reins casually to a stable boy standing nearby and beckoned them to follow suit. They hurried after him even as their horses were being led away.

Tsurumaru walked in long strides and led them through an archway which protruded from the keep. They entered a hall of sorts – it was a cavernous space with high ceilings and several stone arches. The only illumination they got was from the sunlight filtering through the open-air balconies and the candles that were lit against the wall. Even so it gave off a warm, comforting and homey feeling, putting Mikazuki at ease immediately.

Tsurumaru grabbed a candle from the wall and turned to the left where a spiral stairway was built before ascending the flight of steps.

“I’ll be taking you to see the vice-captain first and he’ll explain the details of your stay and the duties expected from you as one of the Touken Danshi. After that, I’ll bring the both of you to one of the sparring rooms where you would have a duel with captain Kokaji.” He smiled brightly at them. “You could say it’s an initiation of sorts.”

Mikazuki and Yasusada both nodded their heads in understanding as they followed closely after Tsurumaru, not wanting to be left behind and chance losing their way within the citadel. They climbed up a few more flights of stairs and it was perhaps the fourth, or fifth floor, before Tsurumaru stopped to head down a long corridor.

They paused before a wooden door three rooms down on their right and Tsurumaru knocked lightly. He waited until he heard a man saying “Come in,” from inside before turning the knob smoothly and entering with Mikazuki and Yasusada in tow.

Mikazuki blinked a few times as he entered to allow his eyes to adjust to the sudden light which flooded the entire room. A broad-shouldered man was sitting behind a large oak desk, bent over a thick stack of papers. He had long, flowing black hair which cascaded down his back and on his shoulder he bore the insignia of a vice-captain.

Tsurumaru stopped to salute him. “Vice-captain.”

“At ease,” he said as he glanced up to study the two newcomers. He addressed them next. “Welcome. I am the vice-captain of the First Regiment of the Touken Danshi, Izuminokami Kanesada.” He continued to place them under his scrutiny, that sharp gaze not missing a single detail. His eyes lingered on Mikazuki’s fine silk robes and the tears in their clothing from the previous day’s scuffle with the thugs. “And how may I address the both of you?”

They both murmured their replies respectfully, and out of habit, left off their last names.

The man frowned. “Just ‘Mikazuki’ and ‘Yasusada’?”

Mikazuki had a moment to experience a flash of panic even as Yasusada stuttered out a weak reply.

“No, that’s not… Ah…” he stammered.

This was bad. They couldn’t know his real name or it would be exposed that he was the prince and the game would be up even before it had a chance to begin. Mikazuki cut in and took the opportunity to fake both their names, praying fervently that the vice-captain would accept it.

“And what were your professions before this?”

“Our fathers are wealthy merchants,” Mikazuki said, the lie sliding smoothly off his tongue. “We accompanied them on their travels before this and met one another on one of those voyages.”

“I see.”

They were subjected to another one of Izuminokami’s long, intense stares and Mikazuki tried to hold his powerful gaze, hoping the man would let them pass. At last he gave a sigh and nodded.

“They’ll do for now,” he told Tsurumaru.  “Bring them to the sparring room. I believe the captain is already waiting there.”

Tsurumaru grinned at them, his eyes full of mirth, while Mikazuki and Yasusada tried not to looked too relieved at this proclamation. That was a close shave. Mikazuki was almost certain that the vice-captain would call him out on his bluff. The man definitely did not look terribly convinced with their cover story. He was glad that they had gotten that part over with at least.

“Well let’s go then,” Tsurumaru said and they excused themselves before heading for the sparring room.

The sparring room, Tsurumaru told them, was situated near the South wing of the citadel. It was not actually a part of the keep, but rather a smaller building right next to it. Knights from the Touken Danshi would often use it to keep in shape and keep their swords sharp as they tested their skills against one another.

It was quite a distance from their current location in the Centre of the citadel to the sparring room which Tsurumaru also called a dojo. They practically flew down the steps in their haste to reach the dojo for their upcoming trial. As they wandered through the keep, Tsurumaru gave them a brief tour of it.

The second floor consisted mainly of the dining hall and the infirmary while rooms on the third and fourth floors were dedicated as private offices for the Commander, captains and vice-captains. A number of rooms were reserved as well and used as conference rooms to hold war councils. The upper floors held a library and a meditation room while the rest were assigned as guest rooms for visiting dignitaries.

The armoury and barracks were built on the north eastern part of the citadel’s grounds, right next to a natural underground hot spring where the soldiers would bathe. Other important sites such as the stables, the forge and the granary were scattered on various parts of the grounds. It only emphasized how huge the keep actually was. Mikazuki had no doubt that they would easily get lost within this massive structure without Tsurumaru acting as their guide.

As if sensing that they could not quite keep up, Tsurumaru laughed. “Don’t worry. Once you’ve been confirmed as an official part of the Touken Danshi, or rather the First Regiment, you’ll be assigned a guide.”

“Of course we’ll get in,” Mikazuki said confidently. “Or do you doubt our abilities?” he asked, sending a challenging look toward Tsurumaru. He took pride in his swordsmanship, as did Yasusada and he would not have their skills belittled. Not even by Tsurumaru whom he had grown quite fond of.

“I do not doubt the both of you at all,” Tsurumaru said soothingly, his hands held out in a placating gesture. “This is more a formality and an initiation if you will.”

“You speak of this person whom we would be testing our skills against with high regard,” Yasusada observed. “You must respect him a lot.”

“That I do. I hold him in high esteem. We all do.” Tsurumaru replied simply. He went on to mention a long list of his captain’s achievements, awe and admiration colouring his tone. As he listened, Mikazuki could feel interest and a strong desire to win the upcoming match against this unknown figure stirring in his chest. His heart was beating rapidly and his blood thrummed loudly in his veins. Swordplay was one of the things which he loved wholeheartedly and practiced relentlessly with single-minded devotion. In this aspect, he refused to lose to any other.

As they conversed, they gradually grew closer to the dojo until finally, it was right before them.

The dojo was a large, traditional, single-storied structure standing in the midst of a garden. It was made up of teak and rosewood that was covered with a beautiful finish, protecting it from the elements and giving it a glossy texture. The lovely maple trees provided a good complement to the dojo while the koi pond by the edge of the building finished it off perfectly. The quiet, dignified air of the place was all at once soothing and comforting, and Mikazuki fell in love with it immediately.

One of the sliding doors was left slightly ajar, revealing the traditional tatami mats which were carefully laid out on the floor of the dojo. By its side lay a pair of white outdoor shoes placed neatly atop the wooden deck, resting just outside the door.

The captain.

His interest stirred once more, Mikazuki ran ahead of Tsurumaru and Yasusada, leaving them to their conversation. His feet skipped elegantly over the trail of pebbles leading to the dojo and his shoes were hastily cast aside before the door was flung open and he was finally through.

There was someone training inside with a wooden practice sword, his back toward Mikazuki. It seemed that he had not sensed Mikazuki’s presence yet, so focused was he on executing his sword moves.

He was silent as he studied the man. He looked strangely familiar, though Mikazuki could not quite identify him. He did not look purely human, having what appeared to be two furry ears resting atop a tangle of pure white hair that swished through the air as he moved. His hair was unrestrained and free, tumbling over his broad shoulders and lean, muscled back before coming to rest lightly at the tip of his tailbone. Mikazuki’s fingers twitched slightly as he was filled with a sudden urge to run his hands through that thick mane. He had only a moment more to admire that perfectly sculpted body before the man’s back muscles tensed, his furry ears twitching slightly.

Then he turned.

And Mikazuki’s world stopped.

Crimson eyes met his gaze and held it strongly, not wavering in the slightest. Blood rushed through his veins and he could feel his heart fluttering in his chest, hearing his own pulse as it beat rapidly. There was a shocked intake of breath, startlingly loud in the silence.

For he knew him.

Though it had only been for a moment and through the barest of glimpses, the memory of the male was still etched deeply in his mind. He remembered clearly golden skin over lean muscle, a broad chest and sweeping back, spread nude across silken bedsheets. Though he was now clothed in loose yellow robes, Mikazuki could still see a hint of that finely muscled body hiding beneath its folds.

He was as devastatingly gorgeous in the daylight as he was the night Mikazuki first saw him in the rooms of the Celestial Garden, if not more so. Everything about him screamed of passion and wildness, that tensile body hinting at fierce, untold strength. He was the embodiment of everything that Mikazuki had ever wanted in a man.

That handsome face was also staring back at him intently, those magnetic eyes holding a flicker of something… It was an almost smouldering look.

Was that interest?

All Mikazuki knew was that he was falling into that ruby-eyed gaze, further and further into its depths, and he would have willingly followed and surrendered himself to it. To this man. To the heat that was flaring between them.

It felt like one moment and a thousand years later when he returned to himself once more and the spell was broken. The sounds of Tsurumaru and Yasusada’s footsteps heralded their arrival and woke Mikazuki from his daze. He would have been more concerned about this sudden, strange attraction to this man if he had not been too busy trying to compose himself. It was almost as if he was held in thrall to him.

“Captain!” Tsurumaru cried out, a delighted smile on his face and seemingly oblivious to what had just transpired. Yasusada looked equally ignorant of what happened and he was glad for that. It would save him the trouble of explaining something which he was not quite sure of yet either.

“I brought the new recruits for their test. I see you’ve already met Mika-chan and here is Yasu-chan!”

“… What did I say about adding ‘-chan’ to other people’s names, Tsurumaru?” the man asked in a smooth, deep voice, like velvet and chocolate over honey. There was an indulgent smile on his face as he said this, indicating that he was not actually angry about it.

Tsurumaru gave a slight pout before he smiled once more. “Yes, captain.” He then proceeded to make introductions. “That is Mikazuki and this is Yasusada.”

The captain looked first at Mikazuki then at Yasusada, before settling his warm amber gaze back onto him once again. “Welcome,” he said. “I am captain Kokaji, the captain of the First Regiment of the Touken Danshi.”

Kokaji. Mikazuki tested it out on his tongue and the name rolled off smoothly. It was a good name. His gaze drifted upward and fixed onto the two furry ears once more – it certainly fits him, he mused. He shook himself internally and focused on the present. The captain, no, Kokaji, was saying something.

“I’m sure the both of you have been informed of this test beforehand. You are required to spar with me, the captain, and I would assess your skills to determine if you are suitable to become a part of our regiment.”

At that, Mikazuki felt a great stir in him and the desire to prove himself to this opponent, to this man, came rushing up to the fore. He forced himself to relax and continue to hear what he had to say. The fight would come soon enough and he would be able to go all out then. Grudging as it was, Mikazuki admitted to himself that Kokaji was strong – as he had known on first glance – and would definitely be a worthy sparring partner. More than worthy actually, if he was being honest. Kokaji might very well overwhelm him instead.

Mikazuki felt curious glances thrown his way and realized that he had been staring at Kokaji and that the male had paused midway through his speech to give him a long, assessing look. Whatever Kokaji had seen in Mikazuki must have reassured him, for he continued where he left off.

“Should you meet my expectations, you would officially be accepted into our ranks as a member of the First Regiment, and I would be your captain. However,” he warned, “I have high standards. And I only granted the both of you a trial at this time of the year because Tsurumaru sensed great potential in you and persuaded me to give you this chance.”

Those eyes pinned them with a penetrating look and Kokaji did not bother concealing the fire flowing through him, his blood likely heating up at the prospect of battle. “Now, who will go first?”

“I will.” Mikazuki said as he glided forward, head held high, meeting stare for stare.

The sparks of heat which had cooled off between them when Tsurumaru and Yasusada arrived flared once more like a gust of wind rousing the dying embers of a flame. Their fire was kindled again, this time with a touch of something more: battle lust.

Kokaji shot him a heated look and Mikazuki returned one of his own. Whatever objections Yasusada had died on his lips when he saw the look on Mikazuki’s face. The steely determination, the strong will and the almost wild, incandescent joy. He had never looked more alive than he did in this moment.


Author’s Note:
As we’re nearing the end of the chapters that I had originally written, I want to clarify some things that I feel were not fleshed out clearly.

1. Time. It is late spring/ early summer at this point of the story. It’s not a particularly important point to make but I just wanted to make it clearer for readers. Mikazuki’s marriage will take place in the summer of next year.

2. Kokaji. His name is supposed to mean “little fox” or something along those lines if memory serves me right. In case you’re wondering.


Chapter 4Chapter 6


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