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An Unexpected Change (Finished)

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Sure enough the prince slept soundly. Lian was a quiet and peaceful sleeper, picturesque some would say. Though he was also a fairly heavy sleeper and at times was as difficult to wake up as a hibernating Long. This day however was not one of those days. The soft rustling of the curtain and the faint beam of light that slipped through coupled with the curious scent of flowers stirred the qilin awake with a soft yawn and a looooong stretch. Through the curtains of his bed he saw the familiar figure of Si Jin. Likely with breakfast, but was she wearing perfume? He didn't take for for the type.


Rubbing the sand from his eyes, Lian exhaled and the curtains around his bed parted. "Ahhh. Good morning!~"


The hoofmaiden's head jerks up quickly. "Aiya! Oh! Good morning, my prince. S-several matters await your attention after breakfast." she says, tucking the scroll behind her back and cursing her decision not to wear a robe yet. Her mane was already in the tight bun she used before she'd gotten her armor and clothing on, but she had neither as she'd intended to get dressed while Lian did. Ancestors take the timing of it all! The one morning Lian slept lightly. "I trust you slept well?"


Lian gave a little nod and a smile as he grabed a brush from his bedside stand and began to comb. "Like a babe. But something is on your mind." he replied as he glanced over at his friend. "You don't usually jump even when I surprise you."


The mare blushed a little and, not for the first time, wished she could use her Pearl to store or summon things for her own benefit rather than only for another's. "Some late mail is all, my prince." She said, regaining her composure. "I was not expecting it and it caught me off guard." Not technically untrue.



"Oh? Well I certainly hope it was good news! I won't pry into your private matters though." Lian sniffed at the air once more and smiled. "I take it the smell in the air has something to do with the letter as well?"


"It was perfumed, yes." She answers, distracted again but more at ease now that she knew Lian wasn't in a teasing mood. She wasn't sure she could handle that just now. Nor how much of Chiyo's inner workings were safe to reveal to him. Well, the clan's inner workings anyway, her own were hardly a mystery.


"My waking thought was to ask when you started wearing perfume." he said with a coy little grin. "But I figured better to hold off on that." The prince finished with his mane and rose from his bed with another hardy streeeeetch!


"I usually do wear perfume, you just prefer subtle scents. It's easy to lose it in the palace, my prince, with so many lovely mares trying to get your attention." She casts a glance at him from the corner of her eyes and nodded to herself, internally. She'd chosen a poor stallion to fall for, but she'd chosen a good stallion to fall for.


The qilin chuckled. "Well should you change your mind on subtle, I'd not argue with a scent like this." Lian grinned as he sat about towards the washroom to brush his teeth and continue his morning routine.


Si Jin sighed and wiped the sweat off her brow. She took the opprotunity while Lian was seeing to his ablutions to get herself dressed and the letter tucked away...in...seriously, what DID this thing mean..? She understood the message, but why now? And why was she being REWARDED for breaching the contract? She sat in front of Lian's uneaten tray and stared at the letter.


It wasn't long before Lian returned. He always had this bad habit of forgetting his meal, brushing his teeth then having to eat and just repeat the process. "One of these days I swear I'll get this." he said with a laugh as he bit into the toast. He was silent for a few moments as he chewed and afterwards as well. "There's something more to that letter. Isn't there?"


Si Jin shook her head and sat the letter on the empty tray. "Sorry, prince Lian. It's complicated and I'm not sure I understand, but it bothers me. The letter is from...well, who is not important, but they have the authority to reassign me. Which they have. I think they found out about your sister's...manuever."


The prince let his toast clatter to the plate as he looked up at Si Jin. "You're not. Ahem, that is. Your reassignment. It's not taking you far, is it?"


The hoofmaid frowns and gestures at the letter, explicitly granting permission for the princec to at least attempt to decipher it. She waits until he starts reading it, then says "The code should be simpler to understand knowing that it's a code. And that the inks are different colors."


The prince reads over the letter, studying it quietly. Knowing there's a code does indeed help, but it takes him a few moments to decipher the meaning in his head. When he does though he breathes a sigh of relief. "If I read this right, you've been reassigned to me?"


Si Jin nods and smiles , then frowns as she takes the letter back "It...shouldn't have happened though. My...employers don't work that way. It's important to know my original contract was for ten years, not five. That bit of code is a Kachinonai...well it's like an exile, I suppose. I'm not welcome in their village, even if your business should carry you there. That is...light, compared to what others would have received for not reporting a mission's outcome."


Lian frowned and stayed quiet for a few moments. Si Jin had her secrets, and the prince was polite enough to never pry deeper than he felt the need. This was one of those times it was best to not ask too much. For now though, the qilin did something he hadn't ever really done before, and embraced Si Jin in a hug. "I am truly sorry if I am the cause of your exile..."


Si Jin leaned into the embrace. This was one of the many things in which she was trained that she was more than happy to do with Lian even if she hadn't been. "No, it was a difficult situation, and it was my fault. I should have immediately reported the fact that the Empress had her own bodyguards and...and allowed myself to be reassigned. However things were not so simple as that and I let m- I acted with a complete disregard for the customs of my people."


"You and my sister are alike in some ways you know. She too tends to disregard that she is a pony first and a figurehead second." the prince sighed softly. "This is one of those situations where I wish I knew more, but I respect you enough to not ask. Despite really wanting to ask. Regardless though. You are your own pony first and foremost."


"Lian, there may come a day when you will know everything there is to know of Clan Chiyo, I truly wish that were today. What I can't tell you would fill an entire library of burned scrolls." Si Jin mumbled to herself, forgetting her inside-the-head voice for a moment.


The prince chuckled softly and pulled back from the hug slowly, gently brushing a strand of mane out from Si Jin's face. "Prehaps another day then."


She'd said that out loud. Ancestors preserve, she'd said that out loud. She pulled away and scanned the room quickly, straining her ears. "I'm...I'm sorry, that was-That was wholly inappropriate, and you shouldn't have heard that." she said, straightening herself up and glancing out the window as if she expected a kunai to come back through it.


"Heard what?" he asked with an innocent face as he continued eating his breakfast finally. "The last thing was said was just me saying that you are your own pony." Lian smiled and drank his juice.


There was a long, pregnant pause in the air while Si Jin calmed herself down. She wasn't used to being out of sorts like this. She was a Shinobi. Kunoichi of the Chiyo clan. She'd been trained to maim and kill with the barest of efforts and nerves of steel. And here this stallion was, able to waltz through her nerve and her defenses like she was the vapid little courtier she pretended to be. Kami blast her she even thought like them more often than not!


"Hitomi." This was not tradition. This was not what "Chiyo, Hitomi." was trained for. But if she was going to really do this, she had to trust him sometime...right? "The new silk screens you ordered. They will need to go back, someone will have slashed a hole in one by the time it arrives. It will have been ugly anyway. And you have a poetry reading with your half-brother."


"A lovely name." he said with a nod after finishing his drink. "That's a shame, they looked so delightful in the catalogue. But I suppose pictures can't do some things justice then. I've always loved those poetry readings you know? I've never been good at writing them as he has, but it's always a good time to just...relax and unwind and forget about the world even if just for a few moments."


"Just a mare from a tiny diving village." Si Jin responded, cagily. Then she shook her head, "He does it to show off you know. 'See how much more creative and cultured I am than these pretenders?' Did we ever figure out if he was behind the bees or if that was your cousin?"


"I'm sure she's more than that." he said as he sat about brushing his teeth again. "He does, yes. But it's a mask to hide insecurity. As for the bees? I'm unsure. I believe it was my cousin, but there's no proof one way or the other."


"If there was  we'd need to keep an eye on one fewer Feng..." Ahem,  not counting Yu Yue's 'secret' suitor. "Regardless, you'll be there most of the day, which is when I'll address the woefully damaged screen. A shame someone ruined the poison."


Lian looked up quickly, toothbrush hanging in his mouth. "Poison?" he questioned before rinse-spitting.


Si Jin waggled a hoof. "I don't know who, and I think it would have just made you sick, unless they switched the poison. My...supplier mentioned that someone had bought out all of their stock. I was able to follow it to the silk workshop who's handling the screen. If it turns out the poison was used somewhere else I'll let them go through."


The stallion arched a brow and shook his head. "I'll never understand why ponies feel like trying to poison me will avail them anything."


"They want to hurt Yue. I don't let them find out about failed poisoning attempts so that they think no one else has ever tried. So everyone thinks they came up with the idea first, makes thwarting it easier."


"Makes sense." the prince sighed. "I sometimes wish her and I had stayed with mother...This whole...royalty thing is so much more difficult than needs be."


Si Jin blushed and stared out a window. "There...are some perks." she says, thinking about the idea of never having met the two of them. She'd certainly be less conflicted, at least. "Regardless, you don't need to worry about this attempt. Or any other if I do my job."


"True, I'd not have met you." Lian rubbed his chin as he looked in the mirror. "Hmm, mane up or mane down today?"


"Up, you're going to need to change outfits several times." she says, pulling out the spare set of armor she hid under Lian's armoire's base and setting about equipping it.


"Joy, Dress-Up Lian, everyone's favourite." he said with a chuckle, pulling up his mane as he hummed to himself.


"What is it the Prench say? Noblisse Obligé?" She pulled on the last of her armor and slipped a yukata on over it, silk and steel once more. "Besides, think of it as being one area where brother dearest can't hope to keep up with you: Style."


"Oooh that is so so true. And his hoofmaiden isn't nearly as beautiful and deadly." he said with a nod as he finished his mane. "I think that eats at him just as badly."


"Pfft. The fewer who know I'm not just a pretty pearl on your arm the better. It makes my job easier." she replies, bringing out a simple happi coat and hachimaki headband. "Dockworkers' guild first."


"Well at the same time, if everyone knew, I'm sure no one would try." Lian replied as he got dressed to impress, while still remaining appropriate for the location.


"I'm not immortal, my prince." Si Jin answered, making a couple of adjustments to the set of the coat. "I must sleep, and eat, and I can't be in two places at once. Some of us didn't get THAT talent." Her tone was somber, but not rebuking or reproachful. "And there ARE shinobi more skilled than I am. There are rules that can protect you, but only while I live, and only if I'm in the good graces of my mentors, which I remind you I am not."


"Fair enough. But at the very least, were someone to try and harm you, let me remind you that I'm certainly not harmless myself, and would do my best to defend you, should the need arise."


"I know, I just worry." she replies offhoof. She had to admit to herself it probably didn't sound like a professional concern, but her tones were always neutral and guarded, so it might pass for that. "I likely have more knowledge of electricity than any Kirin or Ryuma ought to thanks to your training sessions. We need to restart those soon, by the way, but the Watchers seem to have discovered our previous dojo." It was an empty quarry, Hitomi, don't act like it was in Longri-La.


"It's hard not to be discovered when bolts of lightning shoot out from 'nowhere'." he said shaking his head. "I don't understand why they cannot just let us train in peace..."


"Well, from their perspective, you vanish for hours at a time, doing dangerous exercises. And their job is to keep you and the palace safe. They just aren't as good at it as I am."


"Dangerous perhaps to them or my siblings. But I didn't spend years at the Monastary making tea cozies..."


"Another thing to consider, then. Their duties also require they protect your siblings." the ninja said, picking a loose thread off the shoulder.


"Well it's not as though I go out of my way to harrass my siblings. On the contrary, I try to play nice with them to the best of my ability."


"No, but politics being what it is..." Si Jin sighs and shakes her head. "I don't think there's anything else I can do for now. I'll have a few spare outfits for you through the day."


"It's alright, thank you for everything. I'll do my best to stay out of trouble today." The prince said with a wink...pausing on his way out to give his friend a kiss on the cheek before making his exit.


Si Jin stood still for a few moments with a hoof on her cheek, then hurried after Lian, summoning a fan from somewhere on her person to cover the blush. Today was shaping up to be a good day for an unexpected change.

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