Chapter 8: Rin Kagamine
FaoLing Monastery, Aweiqinna, 6th of October, 2017
The High Knight stood infront of Sebastien, a woman shorter than him with a bit more leader build. Yet she had bested him multiple times with her blades in various spars. It was a cold, it was harsh, it was nothing like he’s seen before.
“I’ve told you that I did not need to get myself a weapon,” said the High Knight, as she pointed the swords at his neck “I’ll take your blades from you once you were through with them.”
The rest of the guardians stood silently around the entire proceeding. Watching Sebastien continuously being defeated again and again by the high knight, Sebastien was much larger and stronger, but crude, The high knight was weaker, smaller but quicker and more precise.
“Your hardware is of the highest quality, mister Lister.” said the High Knight, lowering her swords, “but your software is one of the worst I’ve ever seen, it has method, but it’s crude. It’d be difficult to teach you from scratch with our usual techniques.”
“I am prepared to do anything,” said Lister. “I can’t go back, I can’t go back.”
“…Your spirit is wild, mister Lister. Your state has to be calm, free of anger, irritation, fear, self-pity, delusion, and pride.” said the High Knight, “You are is much well suited to learn the combats of your own country, the Izaakian Krav Maga or the Karnetvorian Systema, but first, you must throw away all that’s within your spirit that imbalances you so.”
“These are necessary in order for you to learn the true way of the guardians, 夭護犧.” Said The High Knight, “To protect and sacrifice for the sky, once known, your entire body will be a weapon, a weapon to protect the, the sky, to protect the Peocracy, and her Peony.”
“If taught, I will learn it.” Said Lister, bowing to the ground “I will serve The Peony of Huawan.”
The High Knight gave a nod, she knew that Sebastien Lister was a difficult person to train as a Royal Guardian. Yet she persisted, her instructors would certainly mould him to be ideal.
“Very well, we shall impart upon you the teachings of the guardians.” said the High Knight.
[b]The Peony’s Manor, Lian, 17th of March, 2019
“The High Knight of The Peonic Royal Guardians, its a position made for the leader of the royal guardians. A position was given to The Peony’s most trusted confidant.” said Sebastien, “I think the honorable high commodore Zheng He once held this position for The Peony’s grandmother, The Peony Lingxin Yan.”
“And I assume the high knight is your superior?” Asked Aran.
“In a way, she’s more to the leading guardian in every operation to protect The Peony. She’s not exactly the strongest out of all of us, but there is more to the royal guardians than strength alone.” Explained Sebastien, “it’s also interesting to note that the high knight is The Peony’s own sister.”
“Really? I didn’t know the Peony has another sister.” Aran remembered what happened in the Spring Festival Ball this year, when The Peony’s older sister has finally reconciled with her older sister. It was a scandal for an entire month in the news, one that was discussed constantly for a week after the festivals.
“Yes, well she’s not exactly the most famous royal. Unlike some of your cousins or other royal members in the region, honorable prince,” said Sebastien.
“I understand.” Aran said, “Sebastien, if I may ask. What is Miss Kagamine like?”
“Why are you inquiring about The Peony’s sister, honorable prince?” Asked Sebastien.
“…Now it makes sense,” said Aran, he tried to contain his surprise, living in The Peonic manor, able to go in and out of the kitchen. The lot. It continued to dawn upon him of the facts. “So… the honorable princess Rin Kagamine is the head of the Peonic Royal Guardians?”
“Chosen by The Peony herself and her mother, the honorable princess had her service in the Peonic Field Army as a soldier, before being promoted to the Peonic Air Service, rising to the rank of Captain First Class. She’s also the Wushu gold olympian in the country, I believe she’ll soon be a Wushu grandmaster.”
“What is she like?” Asked Aran, the thought just came to his mind, and it blurbed out right away. “personality-wise.”
Sebastien was interested in gossip, he gazed left and right to ensure no one was listening in, even though it’s a closed room and they’re the only ones there. Anything to break the boredom.
“Strict, disciplined, and austere when she’s active. She’s one of the most dedicated people I’ve ever seen dedicate themselves to something, and it shows on the field.” said Sebastien, “I’ve not known her as much, but I am satisfied in being a trusted person for her. At times with her friends, she can play around or joke around and there’s a feeling that she’s a bit more opened or relaxed than The Peony, even though she still has royal conduct to think about.”
“I see, she does strike me that way.” said Aran, nodding. “she’s a very interesting character indeed, loyal and always up for a challenge. She is such a delight to talk to if you get to know her.”
“More of a pain in the ass at times,” said Sebastien, chuckling, “as much as I adore the high knight, she is a bit abrasive and controlling. We understood that she needs to be objective especially with the task at hand, but she’s rather impatient and inconsiderate with the other guardians.”
“I suppose that years in service did cause her to be vain and judgemental with her platoon,” agreed Aran, remembering the things that he noticed in his own service back in the Frost navy. “Nevertheless I see her controlling nature is her being determined and practicality to ensure The Peony remains safe and secure. She’s very impressionable, despite being reserved and esoteric compared to the big picture.”
The door was knocked and brought the two men back from their locker room talk. As Sebastien tried to return his composure, Aran straightened up his posture.
The door swung open, and Rin entered with her usual composure and discipline, she walked slowly but with precision. Wearing her wushu garments under a long pink hijab and an embroidered necklace. Similar to an abbess of a Peonic daoist monastery. Looking at Rin, Sebastien knew that Rin is still inactive, yet there are some responsibilities that she is unable to shake off.
“Honorable prince Aran, I am instructed by The Peony to inform you that lunch has been served, and she asks that you join for lunch.” informed Rin as she gave a bow.
“Yes, I shall join her in a couple of minutes.” responded Aran.
Rin then gave a light sigh before facing the two again. “I also do not appreciate any conversations behind my back, honorable prince, I find it distasteful and absolutely shallow that you did so.” Said Rin, trying to keep her composure, she turned to Sebastien. “You as well, mister Lister, I look forward to see you tomorrow.”
Rin then gave a bow, before turning and walking away. Lightly slamming the door behind her. She was extremely angry, and as Sebastien gulped on the punishment he’ll receive from Rin, Aran felt that he just squandered a golden chance.
The Peony’s Manor, Lian, 17th of March, 2019
Aran Koigataki finished his notes and turned off his tablet. He was finished categorizing the collection and he’s looking forward to making the report. Correction, he’s looking forward to having his assistants make the report with him overlooking their every moves. It’s something that he needs to have, after the events of today.
The lunch with The Peony had an atmosphere so thick you can cut it with a knife, Rin was being cordial and silent as The Peony carried the conversation with Aran regarding his research. There were times that he managed to ignore Rin’s silent wrath, staring daggers at him as she stabbed the dumplings to eat. They’re, however, few and far between. Aran lost his appetite that lunch, not only from Rin’s absolute yet justified hostility but his guilt of how he got the curiosity the better of him. Nevertheless, he tried to eat the appropriate amount as a guest should, wouldn’t want to insult The Peony of Huawan in addition to her sister as well.
Sebastien Lister had less of a problematic time, yet he was annoyed why time was ticking much slower after Rin caught the two. Did the woman have the power to slow downtime? How he wishes that Rin was gracious enough to lend her power when he had exams to write or school reports overdue. He realized that Rin’s punishment will be harsh, steadfast and severe. Yet he remained austere in front of Aran, continuing to use his titular name despite the latter urging him not to. It’s the best way to ensure that the punishments don’t add up when served.
The two remained silent in that room, occasionally having one of the matrons entering with some tea for Aran to have. As the tea finished out, so did Aran’s research. It was in the afternoon, and the fall made everything a bit more breezy. He yawned, and looked at Sebastien Lister, realizing that there was an apology due.
“I’m sorry that I managed to get you in trouble, mister Lister. It’s certainly not my intention for you to do so, and I understand that there will be a lot for you to endure later on,” said Aran, looking at Sebastien Lister as he packed up his things. Sebastien bowed and smiled.
“Pay no heed of it, honourable prince. It was my fault that I was indulgent with our discussion that I broke conduct, it is improper for a Peonic guardian to do so.” said Sebastien, “I am also sorry that I responded to your curiosity, knowing that the information I said was a bit too sensitive.”
“I’ll try to say something to Rin, hopefully, she’ll be forgiving to… our situation,” said Aran, although he doubts what he just said will ever come true.
“If I may ask, honourable prince.” said Sebastien, “why are you inquiring about the high knight?”
“she…piques my interest. Mister Lister,” said Aran, truthfully, he answered the question without a pause. The answer, under normal circumstances, by his peers, would be taken as another of Aran’s curiosity for knowing the inner workings of something. However, Sebastien Lister was not a “peer”, and he took it some other way that most might take.
“…So honourable prince, you failed to court The Peony of Huawan, so now you’re trying to date her sister instead?” Asked Sebastien Lister, being blunt whilst holding a chuckle.
Aran certainly gave a thought to his response, he looked at Sebastien with a glare, and he can’t help but wonder whether to scold Sebastien or to laugh with him at the sheer weirdness of the situation. Aran stood up with his belongings and approached Sebastien.
“You’re a good man, Mister Lister.” Said Aran as he slipped his card into Sebastien’s pocket, “let me buy you sake or rice wine at your immediate availability, a sign of goodwill.”
Sebastien chuckled and slapped Aran’s arm in goodwill.
“Likewise, mister Koigataki.” said Sebastien, smiling.
As Aran went out of the room with Sebastien in tow, he saw The Peony trying to read a book near the windowsill overlooking the gardens. Hot chocolate in a mug with whipped cream, burnt marshmallow and cinnamon, with a generous amount of tissue to wipe any excess she might have on her lips. She also had a glass of water, which she took instead to clean her palette.
They both stopped a bit to gaze at The Peony, the beauty of an empress, a woman both men had the grace to become a meaning for her. Sitting down with her two legs on the chair, with orange checkered pyjamas and hair tied. The two found the entire thing serendipitous, two years ago Aran and Sebastien were “rivals” for The Peony’s heart, now the both of them are in her close vicinity, but yet farther than they’d both expect. Aran bowed to The Peony, and Sebastien soon followed with a deeper bow.
The Peony did notice the air and saw the two as she took another sip of water. She gave them a very warm smile as she closed her book.
“Hello Aran! I take it you’ve finished exploring my father’s collection?” asked The Peony with great interest.
“I believe so,” said Aran, “although would you be against it if I drop by to review these textiles once more?”
“My manor is open to her humble excellent guests, Aran.” responded The Peony, smiling. “Do let me know when you’re dropping by once more.”
“Please, your generosity in having me as your guest is flattering, my Nuwang,” said Aran, trying to be humble.
“Pay no heed.” Said The Peony, she then gazed at Sebastien, standing behind Aran. “Ah Mister Lister, I was going to summon you. I’m currently trying to read an article that had some Transsunerian scripts. Would you please help me decipher these words?”
Sebastien then took a step around his newfound friend and knelt before his empress. “I will do my best, my Nuwang.”
“Excellent,” said The Peony, as she invited Sebastien to sit down next to her. “I will have another person escort you out, Aran…Rin!”
Rin, who came out behind the screen divider, stood up and walked to The Peony. She kept a straight face while she saw the two men. She bowed to her sister, who had equally already changed to her pyjamas as the sun was setting.
“Yes, my Nuwang.” asked Rin, summoned.
“I am sorry to trouble you, especially during your break, but would you please escort Aran out?” Said The Peony, “Also, would you please get some muttabaq from the usual place?”
“The usual flavour, my Nuwang?” Asked Rin, knowing what The Peony meant from her request, it was sweet black sticky rice flavour.
“Yes. Please.” said The Peony, smiling, she gazed Aran once more, before giving a nod. “Thank you for your visit. Aran. Goodbye!”
Aran gave a bow, before meeting another bow from Rin. Rin then signalled Aran to move in front of her to lead. Of which Aran followed. Sebastien took a chair next to The Peony, not before sneaking a gaze at The Peony herself before she sat down. The Peony opened her fan as she looked at Aran and Rin, hiding a smile under it. Sebastien paid no heed, apart from silently complimenting The Peony for being such a sly fox.
The two continued to walk past the courtyard and into the stone bridge. It seems Rin wanted to go through the clinic rather than the usual entrance. Aran noticed that Rin had changed her hijab, and she wore a modest and simple dress instead of her wushu uniform. She too was going to prepare to end the day, as the sun sets ever more quickly than usual. The sounds of the pond critters began to be more soulful, and the lanterns in the bridge were already lit up.
Aran wondered what to say to the woman behind him, something to break the tension and save his skin. Should he try to apologize? Should he try to strike up another conversation? He was wondering what he should do in the situation, and asked what his siblings would do. He realized that it would be a long time until The Peony would allow him to visit again, and even so, it’s unlikely that Rin would be available. He promised, however, to try something, and so he did, he stopped, before turning and looking at Rin
“Honorable Princess Kagamine,” said Aran, trying to use Rin’s honorifics instead of her nickname, “if I may confide in you about what you saw. Please do not punish mister Lister, I was the one who asked him, and it was understandably rude for him to ignore me.”
Rin stared a bit at Aran, blankly, before closing her eyes and nodding her head down.
“Mister Lister was in no position to break his conduct and answer you regarding such matters, honorable prince.” said Rin, “he will still be punished accordingly as the guardians see fit.”
“I suppose there’s no other way to convince you otherwise, princess Kagamine?” asked Aran, curious. This led to Rin stopping to gather her thoughts, she gazed back and around. They were alone, most of the matrons were sent home and the other guardians are currently in rotation.
“…Let me get this straight. At my embarrassing and sensitive point, you decided that the best way to understand me is through asking an active royal guardian of The Peony, to gossip about The Peony’s own sister. Within the walls of The Peonic manor, inside a room filled with our father’s prized collection of traditional textiles, cloths and artefacts.” Explained Rin, visibly angry, “now you have the audacity, to ask me, the person you gossiped about so liberally, forgiveness for her own subordinate which went out of line at your own volition and hubris?”
Aran stood silent, it’s been such a long time since he’s got an angry verbal reprimand like such. Rin was shorter, though muscular, smaller. Aran himself was a prince of The Frost Empire, he is, on paper, on par with Rin. One might also argue that Rin, not being related to the Yan bloodline, is lesser of a princess than Aran is. “So why is it” Aran wondered, “that I found her anger very palpable?”
Rin was one that rarely breaks conduct apart from those she fully trusts. Her anger or disapproval was sharp but calm, she rarely resorts to increased volume nor provide physical action. Her words were sharper, and her soft power has never made her stoop lower to prove her point or get a win. In her elegance, power and discipline, much that was taught to her by her mother. Aran could only give a bow, a low bow that the Frosts do to give their sincerest apologies.
“I am sorry to have done that, honourable princess.” Said Aran, continuing to bow, he said nothing more.
Rin saw him, she realized he meant it. There was nothing else she could do or say in this situation, despite the feelings inside her. She found it inefficient and unnecessary in saying more, and so, she didn’t.
“…I will try to reconsider mister Lister’s punishment, honourable prince.” Said Rin as she grabbed Aran’s shoulder to relieve him from his bow. Before moving away and giving a bow herself. “I will forgo this transgression between us, let us just agree that this day never happened.”
“I am sorry, Rin.” Responded Aran, braving himself. He realized that if he didn’t say anything now, he might not have the opportunity later, “I am afraid I could not forget this day to not happen.”
“Are you trying to start something, Aran?” Asked Rin, annoyed.
“No such thing, Rin.” Aran said, “I am merely curious, about my tea today when I was studying.”
Rin grew silent afterwards, and looked away. “What about, your tea?” asked Rin.
“It was cold, intentionally cold. Chilled with milk and sugar within.” Responded Aran, as he looked at Rin, “I wonder why is that.”
Rin threw her gaze away at the pond. Her blush was hidden, but from under the lanterns, one could see it clearly. Aran waited for her answer with anticipation, yet Rin did not say anything. Instead, she guided Aran to continue to the exit. Passing by the changing royal guardians, into The Peony’s empty clinic, before exiting themselves to the alley. With lights and lanterns lit, but themselves alone. Rin wore her mask before going outside, where she led Aran out.
As Aran gave a silent bow to Rin, and Rin reciprocating one back. They were to part ways then, for maybe how long until they’re going to see each other again.
Yet, something came up to Rin, a tingle in her body, a feeling that she kept within her. Something that mindlessly made the man before him sweet pulled milk tea, something only the two would know to be a language of their close intimacy. She was still angry at his pride and hubris, yet there was something else that made her want to know more about this man before her.
She didn’t spend much time dawdling as his figure dissipates from her view. She took some quick steps, and into that empty ancient alleyway. She wrapped her arms around Aran, and rested her head behind his back. Aran was stopped dead in his tracks, feeling a strong yet kind on his torso. The hold he knew all too well today, a hold she gave to him before, and now. She was unwilling to let go.
“Do you feel the same way, Aran?” Rin whispered, her voice and face resting on Aran’s pectoral. It was soft but he heard the words too well, he was hoping to hear it later, maybe in a few months or years, but never today, certainly never from her.
“…I do, Rin.” Responded Aran, mindful of what he was about to say, “if you’d give me another chance.”
“,Next week, lunch, at the Liuwei Tea House in the Eastern Gardens, do not be late.” Said Rin, as she took off her hands from Aran. She didn’t want to bite more than she can chew today, and she decided to walk quickly from the scene to get The Peony’s dessert. As she walked, she squeezed her two cheeks together trying to realize what she did. Aran continued to stare upon Rin as her image slowly dissipates from his view, when it was fully gone, he began to wonder what he just did.
His bag of documents and notes in his grasp, he looked at the sky when the sun was coming down. He gave a massive sigh, and gave a smirk. He wanted to tell the world, he wanted to tell everyone, he was happy.
Aran wanted to cheer, but he just found himself silently pumping his hands to the air in the middle of an empty alleyway. On that day when the sun sets, and the fall was starting to brown the leaves with beauty.