“Loyalty” by Matt Dalen

Drip.  Drip.

 

The sound of the small water clock was magnified by the silence of the night until it filled the small room.

 

Drip.

 

The sound echoed in Bayushi Genjos mind, forming a counterpoint to the single word he could not let go of.

 

Drip.

Traitor.

 

Genjo ground his teeth.  This wasnt possible.  It could not be.  Yet, the evidence was right here, in his hand.  Written by his son.

 

Drip.

Traitor.

 

Bayushi Hikaru, once a soldier of the Imperial legions, now a traitor.  His son.  Where had things gone wrong?  Genjos thoughts were circling, always coming back to the same word.

 

Drip.

Traitor.

 

Had it been the exile?  Hikaru had been just a boy then.  It had been hard, crossing the Burning Sands.  The boy had almost died.  His mother had died.  Was that event the first step in the path he had taken?  Was that the reason he had betrayed the Scorpion, the Empire, to the Steel Chrysanthemum?

 

Drip.

Traitor.

 

The evidence was undeniable.  A note, written in Hikarus hand, to his lover, detailing every loyal Scorpion within the Hanteis army.  With this note, the Chrysanthemum would escape Beiden Pass, and the Empire would fall to even more turmoil.  Had it not been intercepted by a loyal servant, the spirits might have won.

 

Drip.

Traitor.

 

Silently, Genjo repeated the word.  Traitor.  His son.  His final purpose in life.  Hikaru had been his only success in a lifetime of failures.  And now, even that was wrenched from him.  What evil had he committed, that the Kami would curse him so?  He had always tried to honor them, even during their exile.  And this was how they repaid his devotion

 

Drip.

Traitor.

 

Hikaru would be here soon.  Soon, he would have to perform the task which he had been assigned.  It had fallen to him, the father, to right the wrongs of his line.  With one stroke, all would be forgiven.  It was his punishment for loyal service, his reward for raising his son.  Hikaru had been brought into the world by his hand, and now the fates had decreed that Hikaru must leave the world by his hand.  To avoid betraying one loyalty, he would betray another.

 

Drip.

Traitor.

 

Footsteps sounded in the corridor.  Hikaru would be here in seconds.   Silently, Genjo drew his sword, laying it across his lap at the ready.  With tears in his eyes, he stared at the door, waiting for it to open, for it to reveal his son.

 

Drip.

Traitor.

 

The door slid open.  The sword bit into flesh.  Genjo winced in pain, but did not stop.  Slowly, steadily, he drew the wakizashi across his stomach, then up towards his heart.  The agony was almost unbearable, but Genjo did not cry out.  In this, his final act, he would succeed.  He was a failure at life, but he would not fail in death.  Let someone else deal with Hikaru.  Genjos eyes locked with his sons, across the room.  As his blood soaked the floor, Genjo whispered one final sentence.

 

I… am… sorry.

 

The water clock had stopped.

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