Chapter Sixteen
 

[Three days later]
 

Maki hurried along the rough stones of the outer courtyard, looking up at the gathering rain clouds. Already, tears from the skies dotted the ground, and the chilly wind that had swept into the palace grounds was if anything proof of the impending storm. As he passed by the kitchen, he looked in and saw, across the room, on the opposite side facing the side gardens, a profile he had come to know as familiar.

Kogure. Thatís his name, isnít it?

He had never spoken to the man since the night he had come and called for help.

No. You were too busy with Sendoh.

Against his outwardly calm and detached demeanor, a flush darkened his skin. He was an esteemed captain of the king, a renowned swordsman, a proven general, but above all a man. And he knew he was of the sort who could tell his emotions frankly. He shifted his attention back from its inward focus to the slender man sitting casually, propped up against one of the large towering pillars that held the structure of the Garden Wing.

Sendoh spoke of Kogure like a brother. A dear friend. Yet everything about the older assassin spoke of coldness and death, of silence and foreboding. Even as he watched, Kogure shifted his gaze sharply and glanced out at the garden, looking at something that was there where it hadnít been a moment ago.

Shaking his head slightly, Maki resumed on his way, his fingers lightly grasping at the object he held wrapped in yellow paper as he strode towards the main courtyard.
 

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Kogure relaxed and shifted his fingers almost imperceptibly from his blades when he saw whom it was that stood on the threshold of the small gate.

"Kogure?" Sendoh called.

He got up smoothly in one fluid motion, the chain jingling slightly on his hip as he stepped down from the low platform where he had been sitting, landing softly on the grass. As he walked to the shaded corner of the garden where Sendoh stood, he unobtrusively surveyed his partner.

He had certainly healed well. The cuts and bruises had faded so that he could barely see them in the shadows of the cool evening, just the faintest lines of blue under the skin. He was wearing his black robes, but something seemed to be missing. What is it?

He had almost reached Sendoh now, but even as he took the one step that blocked view of his body from the main kitchen, an ominous feeling of dread and mistake shrouded him. In that split second, a mental weight bore down upon his being, rendering his fingers numb even as he tried to reach for the blade at his side.

The chain. The Haka chain.

It wasnít there.
 

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Sendoh lay quietly on the bed, breathing evenly and closing the meditation exercise just as the door swung open gently. He propped himself up carefully, blocking out the pain of the healing scar that slashed from his shoulder to his hip, and turned his head.

"Captain."

Maki laughed easily, a low baritone that echoed around the room and rang pleasantly in the younger manís ears. "Iíve told you not to call me that." He moved closer and sat down at the chair that had been placed beside the bed, before raising his eyes and looking the assassin over.

"Does it still hurt?"

Sendoh smiled softly, looking away. "Healing always does."

A hand gently cupped his chin, turning his face up. "I still think youíre beautiful, if that helps."

Laughter rippled through the room.
 

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The realization hit him even as an invisible force wrapped about his body, crushing his arms to his sides painfully.

This isnít Sendoh.