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Scars of Victoria[]

Prologue Chapter 3[]

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Part 2 – Ironheart Abbey (Aianhāto shūdōin)[]

Nijunen desert plateau - Luthien, Draconis Combine -08/24/3047

“This forest is endless. Min.” Ryuun slashed idly at the verdant undergrowth with his machete as Minoru paused to listen to the lack of forest sounds.
“I’d quit doing that if I were you, Ryu.”
“Because we are being followed.”
“How can you tell?”
“It’s quiet except for your slashes.”
“How long?”
“Five, ten minutes maybe.”

They paused to listen to the wind whistling through the forest canopy rising above the mossy shrubbery. He raised his blade into a defensive position as Minoru readied their rifle. “They know we are coming, right?”

His eyes looked toward the branches above and undergrowth all around them. “I don’t like my odds of making it out of a Pillarine forest ambush.”

A whispered voice came from the undergrowth followed by a group of young women dressed in moss green Hanten jackets, brown hakama, and wearing basket packs revealed themselves. Each had stout short spears cradled in their arms and their face was painted for camouflage. “Illuminatus Yuzuki didn’t expect you to arrive so quickly. Prince Minoru.”

Minoru put the rifle butt down and shrugged off a coil of rope. “Ryuun and I brought rope and took a short cut over some cliffs. Illuminatus Himari put us through the gauntlet in the desert. Your forest almost seemed easy by comparison although I imagine the Abbey will be a different story.”
“It certainly will be.”
“So, what are you ladies doing out here? Surely you weren’t hunting us with spears.”

Each of them looked toward one another then shuffled forward. With their forest garments and spears it was easy to forget most were just teenage girls. “We are sick of fish! So, we are looking for a boar.”

They pointed to both of them, “We thought we found one at first.” their shoulder slumped, “But, it was just boys.”

Ryuun gave a disapproving mark to them, sheathed the machete, then relaxed into his normally jovial manner. “Hey! I don’t appreciate the comparison, but I am delicious. Why spears, and the wrong kind too? Don’t you have guns?”

One of them stomped the volcanic rock below, “Yuzuki keeps them locked up in her office.”
“She always makes us do things the hard way. Says it builds 'character.'”
“Won’t even let us use nets or weirs to catch the fish. We have to use spears and bows, or our hands. And they’re so slippery!”
“Despite having a perfectly fine water pump but have to draw with buckets from the well.”
“And she only turns the heat on if its freezing…Except in her office.”

They looked around before drawing near, “But don’t tell her we told you that. She’ll find some new cruelty to inflict upon us.”

Ryuun and Minoru bowed slightly, “Your comments are safe with us ladies.”
“You sure know how to pick them Minoru. This Yuzuki sounds like a tough character.”
“She comes highly recommended by the Order.”

The girls nodded, “She’s a great teacher, but that doesn’t make her less of a Subeta.”

Minoru readied his rifle once more, “Ladies as you can see, I do in fact have a rifle. Now if I were to hypothetically shoot a wild boar on my own, with no help from say,“ he winked at them, “locals. Would Ryuun and I get in trouble with the Illuminatus?”
“It would be rude for Illuminatus Yuzuki to refuse such a generous gift from a Prince of the Draconis Combine to the sisters of Ironheart Abbey. Particularly after he journeyed so far.”
“A grave disrespect for certain. So, you ladies wouldn’t happen to have gathered something from the forest that might compliment such an unexpected gift, would you?”

Each of them shrugged off the baskets on their backs which we partially filled with green onions, ginger, shitake, and garlic among other forage that made everyone’s mouth water. “Coincidentally we just so happened to.”

Everyone nodded in unison, “What good fortune we happen to possess today.”

Ryuun and Minoru walked into the training ground where the Pillarines were waiting for them. “Our good fortune has passed, Minoru. Now the future brings only pain.”
“We’ll survive, Ryuun.”
“At least I will.” Ryuun lifted Minoru’s arms which showed definition, but nothing compared to his own, Franklin ran a tight ship and fitness was key. “but you are going to have a hard time of it Minnow. Some of these girls are bigger than you, in multiple ways no less.”

“I sought it out.”
“And you were crazy to do so, your Highness.”

They each chose a Chi ishi ‘stone mallets’ from the racks. Minoru looked over to the immense stone at the end of Ryuun’s mallet, “Your stick is way bigger than mine.”
The imposing ex-gangster flexed his biceps. “Get used to it. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“We shared a bathroom on the dropship.
I’ve seen more than I’d care to admit.”

Ryuun and Minoru grunted as they lifted heavy chi ishi ‘power stones’ over his head before taking paired kicks from Neophyte sisters to their torso. They said “We are sorry about this. Last night’s dinner was great,” but they didn’t hold back on their leg kicks. Sharp cracks from their kicks and associated Kiai shouts rang out over the dry-stone walls of Ironheart Abbey’s training yard. Minoru looked over to Ryuun, “I guess this makes us both nuts then.”
“Are you kidding. I’ve paid for this treatment at Ukiyo-e.”

Minoru’s mind was suddenly filled with unpleasant images, “I didn’t need to know that.” “To late. Let it sink into your previously innocent mind.”

The trainees put down the power stone as the sister and donned heavy bracelets from the stack. Minoru pressed his shoulders back forming an ‘iron ring’ despite his arms being weighed down. His training partner took up her position to his right with her back to the rising sun. “Tsubasa-san, it seems like no good deed goes unpunished here.”

A slight smile came to her, softening their otherwise harsh situation. “It is called Ironheart for a reason, it’s not Yuzuki, but she does try to live up to it. There’s a Star League vintage Spartan at its core, one of only eighteen left in the Inner Sphere. That we know about at least. Maybe COMSTAR has more.”

He tried to conceal his discomfort at the casual mention of COMSTAR and Tsubasa didn’t seem to notice. “Wow! That’s amazing.”
He returned her slight smile, “Maybe you can show me later. After the beatings of course.”

“Certainly, Prince Minoru,” she tapped the coarse rope covered surface of a kitae bo in her palms, “if that’s what you desire.” Tsubasa’s voice seemed almost joyful, “Now, more conditioning.”

There was a slight hesitation as Minoru’s bare torso strained under the weights. “So, Tsu how long are we going to be conditioning today? It’s a rough opening act.”

She paused for a second as her sisters wailed on Ryuun’s abdomen. “You hit like little girls. Bring it on sisters.” They looked across at one another put another hand around the bat, and accepted Ryuun’s explicit challenge with newfound vigor.

Something about Franklin’s obsessions with abs seemed to track with his crew.
“I’ll get tired eventually,” a solid strike hit Minoru in the chest who despite exhaling on impact flinched slightly, “but I have been doing this for a long time.”
“I see. Well, If this is how it must be. Feel free to proceed.”
“With pleasure.”

Their day proceeded in a stream of torment only interrupted by a bland but nutritious dinner of fish, steamed vegetables, and white rice. Accompanied by water pulled painfully overhand from the well in wooden buckets while an electric pump lay idle beside it. Minoru whispered to Tsu in the quiet moments spent cleaning up and massaging bruised limbs. “So why won’t Yuzuki let you use this perfectly serviceable and powered pump?”
“Pulling up buckets of water and carrying them is part of our training. This pump is only for the baths.”
“The baths?”
“Yes, hygiene is very important. We have dedicated baths for guests and the sisters.”
“So, I’m not sharing one?”
“It’s only for you and Ryuun.”
Minoru seemed immediately deflated, ‘It’s just like the dropship all over again.’
“That’s great, hygiene is important, and so is privacy.”
“I’m so glad you understand!”

“So, these wouldn’t happen to be adjacent, would they?”
“Oh, that’s right! We got started so early and got in so late yesterday. I completely forgot to give you a tour.”

His legs felt almost ready to collapse after the iron body conditioning and rigo

inoru’s felt the cool sea breeze on his bare torso, his feet gripped the coarse black sand holding him firmly against an incoming tide from behind which reached to his ankles, hands were wrapped to protect the knuckles while providing enough dexterity from throws. Three opponents gathered opposite him, Tsubasa, his preferred training partner in the prime ‘closer’ position where she could coach or direct the two other Neophytes before her. Further afield Ryuun faced down the Abbey’s trainers, experienced O5P Adepts on sabbatical from their DCMS responsibilities.

Tsubasa shouted over the lulling waves, “Minoru, did you put your back to the ocean because you are afraid of us, or because you wanted to get us wet?”

“I really just wanted to take advantage of height and upper body while keeping my feet cool.” Five months of hard training and growth had made a difference and he was now taller and stronger than before. Due to the heat the girls were wearing the crop top and shorts they wore under their outfits.
“But now that you mention it. I think I will favor Jujitsu to take full advantage of that.”

“Prince or not, you are going down, Minoru.”
“Yeah, let’s get him!”

He beckoned them with his outstretched hand, “Come and get it then girls!”

They charged forward executing perfect punches that still fell short due to the calf high and rising water robbing them of reach. Minoru blocked with forearms hardened by hours of grueling conditioning while keeping his core stance and them off balance. The girls had the same conditioning, but he saw signs of discomfort in their attacks as they started to favor unbruised arms.

Sensing an advantage, he glided in, and Anette was unable to get out of his way as he grabbed her thigh, lifted her up, and threw her into the crashing surf with a great splash. She rose to her hands and knees soaking wet and coughing up saltwater. Mojdeh followed close behind with a powerful reap that left her stunned long enough that Minoru checked on her.

With Mojdeh safe Minoru spun around to duck a spinning backfist from Tsubasa, “Its just you and me again Min, and I know all your moves.”

They exchanged a series of punches while she hopped forward aiming for vital points only for Minoru to pull back into a high boxing stance. His counterattacks forced her back to mi-ai while they caught their breath and the tide rose. “and I know all of yours, Tsu. Unless you have been holding out on me.”

She moved in a loose arc avoiding Minoru’s longer reach while keeping herself in shallower water. “A girl has to keep some secrets to herself. Can’t give it all away for free to every guy she meets.”

“I think I’ve earned a little extra after what we’ve been through.”

The others gathered around them as dusk’s shadows lengthened and a DCA sailboat made landfall nearby. Ryuun’s shouts drowned out the others, “Kick his ass, Tsu. You can do it!”

“Ryu, just whose side are you on!”
“The one that gets me dinner faster!”

“That guy, where’s the support?” He muttered to himself as he kept an eye on his agile opponent thinking about how to set up the finishing combo.

Minoru rushed forward with a off-hand straight to draw Tsubasa’s eyes to it while his other arm wrapped around her waist attempting to set up a throw. She snaked around the straight putting her hands under his shoulder trapping it to her own while turning into the throw and lowering herself into him. With her full might she lifted his left leg up and kicked off into a cartwheel with a release. Each of them crashed into the surf with a break fall.

Tsubasa recovered faster. Her back was turned to the shore, knees at Minoru’s shoulders, and leaned forward. He tilted his head out of the water, coughed up some water, and winced. “I guess we both ended up getting wet today.
Tsu, have I told you how much you impress me lately?”

She laughed and smiled at him. “You’re pretty impressive too, Prince Minoru.”

“Thanks for the practice.”

With a look toward the shore, “One last lesson,” she leaned in for a kiss which Minoru accepted. The taste was sweet and salty, but he went too far and they bumped heads. Tsu leaned back, putting a hand to her forehead, “Ow.”

He twisted away to stand up, “I’m sorry, Tsu.” He offered her his hand to help her stand which she accepted, “It’s too bad. I’ll have to find a new partner to practice with. I hate to leave you disappointed like that.”

Her attempts to hide her blush failed miserably, “It’s not against the rules if you want to try later. I haven’t taken any oaths yet and won’t for some time.”
“I won’t forget you.”
“You better not!” She jabbed him in the side as they walked back to the others, “I put a lot of work into you. There are a bunch of scars right here to remember me by.” Her fingers moved between them in a ticklish fashion, “You could get a constellation tattooed into these.”

Firelight danced on Minoru, Ryuun, and the DCA Sailors while Illuminatus Yuzuki and her Pillarines stood in silhouette against the forest. Minoru and Ryuun bowed deeply, “Domo arigato gozaimashita Aianhāto shūdōin and Illuminatus Yuzuki-sama. I will tell Lady Tomoe everything was as expected.”

The Pillarines returned the gesture, “Arigato Prince Minoru and Sugawara-san. I am pleased that you found my humble demesne and pupils so accommodating. Tell her a full report will be incoming.”

Minoru choked on nothing, ‘A full report…on everything. How much does she know?’
“I will, in my next HPG message to Luthien.”

Yuzuki dipped slightly, respect? Minoru wasn’t sure, he hadn’t seen any before from her. “Anzen'na ryokō Minoru-san.”

DCA Sailors gave a mighty shove to the sailing yacht to push it back into the water before hopping aboard to man the rigging. A firm breeze filled creaking canvas as Minoru and Ryuun leaned against the gunwales looking aft. “So, where’s our next adventure, Minoru?”
“I hear they have some great Ukiyos, if you have the money, and Franklin did.”
“Not for vacation. We are going to the Sixth Ring.”
“Jump School?”
“Crush School.”
“That sounds significantly worse than here.”
“Yeah, and then on to Capella.”

Laughter and shouts of “gGive me my top back” rang across the beach as they went out of easy visual range. “Hey Ryuun,” Minoru looked over to Ryuun peering through binoculars at figures running about the fires, he jumped up to grab them, but his hand was batted away, “give me those!”

“Get your own. This is a ship, they got some. You should have been prepared.”

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