"My Lady!" A servant crashed into Lady Ishikawa no Amaya's room. Despite her hastiness, the servant quickly launched herself into a kneeling position in form of greeting. Lady Amaya turned from her loom, startled.
"My Lord has been captured and is being held in the prison of General Fujiwara," the servant rushed.
Lady Amaya immediately barked, "Yuriko, my miko's robes. You, saddle a horse and inform Satoshi-san that he is to be in charge until My Lord's return."
"Yes, my Lady." The servant bowed and hurried away.
"My Lady, are you certain this is the right course of action?" Yuriko asked. She helped Lady Amaya into her old miko's clothing, then wrapped a wide red obi around Lady Amaya's waist.
"Yes, I swore to myself that I would protect the one who protected me. Lord Kiba has done that and I owe a debt," Lady Amaya replied solemnly. She drew her hair back into a pony tail and then twisted into a bun. "I love Lord Kiba, and I would be damned if he died and I didn't try to save him," Lady Amaya said with more feeling. She turned, eyes set in deep determination and a spark of anger flitted through her eyes.
"Yes, Madam," Yuriko murmured.
There was a knock and the servant bowed at the door. "Your horse is ready, my Lady."
"Thank you." Lady Amaya bowed to the servant and to Yuriko before striding out of the room and into the arms of fate.
Sssshhhh. A sound like rustling cloth permeated the forest, yet Lady Amaya knew it was the sound of time running out for her. She spurred her horse onward, faster. Her horse was panting and she was panting; the former from exertion and the latter from fear. Up ahead, she spied a banner displaying crossed swords on a field of red flapping in the wind. She growled at the sight of the bloody flags. Reaching behind her, hand met hilt and she unleashed a trusted friend.
Just as she reached the edges of General Fujiwara's camp, Lady Amaya quickly halted her horse and dismounted quietly. She stroked the forelock and murmured soothing noises. Giving her horse one last pat on its neck, she slapped its rump and sent it straight back home. Lady Amaya sighed and prepared herself. She had a feeling that she wouldn't be making it out of this situation alive.
Lady Amaya had made her way through almost half of the camp when she overheard a few soldiers whispering in one of the nearby tents.
"D'ja really think General Fujiwara will 'ave Lord Ishikawa killed?"
"'Course. General Fujiwara has his eyes set on tha' lady tha' Lord Ishikawa married. Why wouldn' he die?"
Lady Amaya didn't stay long enough to listen the rest of the conversation. She had heard enough from those two. She kept to the shadows of the tents; her sights were set upon the brightest and highest tent in the middle of the camp. Mentally, Lady Amaya laughed. It was only fitting that the "great General Fujiwara who was named after the great shogun that granted the bakufu land" would lie in the most extravagant lodgings. With this in mind and the distance between her and her target being so small, she practically raced to the shadowed tent opening of General Fujiwara no Yorimoto. She took a fleeting look around, found the vicinity empty, then darted her eyes into the tent, smiling at the knowledge that only General Fujiwara resided within, with his back towards the entrance.
Lady Amaya crept her way inside the tent, sliding the flap closed behind her. As soon as she was within a few feet of the General, she pulled a dagger from under her sleeve and lunged, holding the dagger at his throat.
"Ah, my Lady Amaya, what a delightful surprise. I was expecting you," General Fujiwara guffawed and snapped his fingers. At once, soldiers poured into the tent, surrounding their general and his assailant. Lady Amaya didn't flinch when swords were drawn and their points held at her throat.
"I was wondering why there was so little resistance during my trip," Lady Amaya whispered into his ear. "We need to have a little chat, you and I."
"Yes, of course." General Fujiwara waved off his soldiers, a large smile decorated his face, no fear. One by one, the soldiers lowered their weapons, but not until Lady Amaya had lowered hers did they leave.
"Lady Amaya, you are wondering why I have Lord Kiba in my stronghold's prison," General Fujiwara noted as he poured two cups of tea. Lady Amaya accepted hers politely and took a hesitant sip.
"All my life, everything I wanted, craved, I have gotten. That is, until I met you." He drained his cup and poured another. "You enticed me the first day I saw your eyes with such coy mystery. I just had to have you." Another cup. "But Lord Kiba had gotten to you first."
"I have heard such gossip," she said, deadpan.
He smiled. "Yes, of course you have. My Lady, you are ever so resourceful." Here he paused, taking his time with his drink.
"Where is my husband?" Lady Amaya snarled, slamming her cup down upon the table with emphasis.
General Fujiwara smirked. He reached into his armor and pulled out two letters. "Do you know what these are?" He fanned them in front of her face. "Lord Ishikawa no Kiba has been arrested under the suspicion of conspiracy. These here are the letters that will ensure his execution."
"Lies, all lies," she seethed.
"Forged, of course. Lord Ishikawa is much too noble for that. But if a certain lady were to agree to become my concubine, these letters might just slip out of my hand and fall into the fire," he trailed off.
Lady Amaya reeled back, stunned. Blackmail. A small thought, a whisper of a plan, tickled her mind. Maybe she could work this situation to her advantage. "I will only agree to this idea if you give me time to see my husband."
General Fujiwara suddenly frowned. "You are giving up too easily."
She shook her head. "I am only admitting defeat as a last alternative. You allow me to see my husband for an hour, and you may keep him prisoner as well as having me as your concubine."
He grinned again. "You are too easy to control, but perhaps you are just saving your energies for our wedding night."
Lady Amaya shuddered, hoping that she had not overestimated her opponent.
"My Lady, we have arrived."
Lady Amaya climbed out of her traveling compartment and was immediately met by General Fujiwara.
"My husband, General," she firmly reminded him.
"Your late husband," he corrected just as firmly. He linked his arm with hers and led her into his fortress.
Lady Amaya shuddered at the contiguity of their bodies. General Fujiwara misinterpreted her shudders as shivers, and patted her arm soothingly.
Down, the couple went, into the very lowest levels of the Fujiwara Estate. The air was damp and the stench of dung and rot permeated the air. Lady Amaya gagged when the rank scent swamped her, then started focusing on breathing through her mouth.
"Lord Kiba, may I introduce the newest addition to my harem. I believe you know her." General Fujiwara's voice cut through her concentration. She looked up and gasped. Lord Ishikawa hung by his arms on a cold stone wall. His clothes and hair were caked with dirt and dried blood. His once bright eyes, now muted by the dank enclosure, showed hurt.
"May I have time alone, General?" Lady Amaya asked, eyes fixed upon her husband's.
"One hour, my Lady," the general insisted and left.
As soon as Lady Amaya was certain the general had left listening distance, she rushed forward, throwing her arms around her husband, but not putting pressure on his shoulders. She stepped back and wiped a bit of dirt off his face.
"My Lady," he nodded.
"Kiba, I have no intention of marrying that man," Lady Amaya immediately explained. "It was the only way I could think of to get close to you."
He coughed. "I'm not healthy enough to make it out. You shouldn't have come."
"No." Lady Amaya shook her head. "And left you to die alone?"
"Never alone," Lord Kiba corrected.
"Yes, never alone." Lady Amaya pulled out two small vials from under the obi. She untied it and then secured one of her arms to the one of the chains imprisoning her Lord. They gave each other a fleeting look, but one full of love and understanding. He nodded with encouragement. She popped open both vials and held one to his lips. Immediately after the liquid passed into his mouth, she downed the liquid in her vial. She knew the affects of this certain poison and had only a few seconds before it would take full affect. She used this time to give her husband a brief, yet passionate kiss.
Just as she pulled away, Lady Amaya felt herself relaxing, and surrendered herself to the darkness. She knew she wouldn't be alone; Lord Kiba was there with her, always.
In the white clouds shifting above the Fujiwara Estate, two bright spheres of white light spun around each other. One slowly changed to a rich yellow color and expanded into the shape of a fox. The other became a bright red-orange and burst into a phoenix.
"Such a tragedy," the Phoenix whispered. In her wings she cradled a pulsing faint ball of purple light.
"They deserve another chance," the Kitsune wisely growled out. He nudged an extremely dim ball of orange light.
The Phoenix nodded and grasped the soul of Lady Ishikawa no Amaya in her beak and flew off into the horizon. The Kitsune swallowed the spirit of Lord Ishikawa no Kiba and chased after the great fire bird.
At the edge of the world, a great green flash lit up the night sky.