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A Shrouded Heart-to-Heart [Attn: Steel, Closed]


Windwright
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The night was dark, and full of secrets. Well, full of ninjas anyway, creeping along the rafters outside of the private bedchamber of the Empress of Long Guo.  The masked figure was fairly sure there were other observers as well, hiding unseen in the eaves, but Sī Jīn was reasonably certain that any who could see her plying her art both deserved to and knew who she was anyway. She dropped, all but silent, onto Yu Yuè's balcony and glanced through the ornamental window, making sure the Empress was in the room before she slipped inside and closed the doors behind her.

"Empress Yuè." she announced, inclining her head and removing her mask in the same motion. "It's time for my weekly report." she finished. This was, of course, true, but it was also a bit of a formality that the two had only really paid lip service to. Most weeks, the 'report' was superfluous, since the Imperial Watch would have informed the empress of any major issues that warranted her attention, aside from the odd attack, political or literal, on Lián. But this week it was even more of a pretense than usual. All but nothing had actually happened with regards to the prince, which meant that Sī Jīn's paranoia and anxiety had had no real outlets except to key her up about their favorite backup subject.

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  • Windwright changed the title to A Shrouded Heart-to-Heart [Attn: Steel, Closed]

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The Empress checked the time. Was it time? It was time. Time for the weekly report. She had to remind herself it was an important and official report that was invaluable to the Empress and the stations that she had to keep and not a visit from a friend that she was always excited to see again. In her line of work that seemed to come up a lot. She was raised at such a level and surrounded by lifetime servants and such high quality individuals dedicated to her service that it was hard to not become friends with them. She was mindful of the problems that could create. What if she had to order them to do something incredibly dangerous? Or unseemly? She didn't think either would happen, or at least happen easily, but it was something she had to be mindful of all the same.

 

That only got a little easier when it was roles that they willingly chose, whether that be guards or...well, ninjas in this case. The Imperial Holdings were chock full of security of one type or another. It was honestly very excessive when compared to the amount of real threats the royal family faced, but it was part of the charade. The security helped everypony feel as though the royal family was secure from threats foreign and domestic, which increased public ease. Not all deception was disagreeable, the Royal Rule that she had learned early and often.

 

Despite all that, her overriding feeling when the time came was excitement. She had prepared snacks and refreshment. The royal prerogative for a good time trumped her austere royal bearing in official matters. This time at least. She was sitting at a table not far from the balcony, staring out a nearby window into the beautiful sky. There were two chairs, a tea pot, two cups, and nice tableware. And a plate of cookies. royal prerogative
"Sī Jīn, please have a seat," she said as she motioned to the other seat. "Take a break before the report."

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Protocols between Yu Yuè and Sī Jīn had always been a little lax, but this was unusual even between them. Still, the ninja was never one to refuse a kind gesture just because it was unusual. Watch with deep suspicion, maybe, but never refuse. She took a seat at the table and tucked her mask between the folds of her gi, inclined her head politely and said "Thank you, Yuè." She hadn't realized these snacks were for Yuè or she'd have been more paranoid about them, but she trusted most of the kitchen staff, and they theoretically had no way of knowing who the treats were for either. Still, her ninja training all but compelled Sī Jīn to sample a little of everything. Just in case. Between nibbles, she adhered to protocol enough to mention "I don't have much to report this week, anyway."

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Sī Jīn seemed somewhat reluctant, but that was part and parcel of her role. Everything her and her kin in service did was shrouded in mystery and layered with thought. Until they leapt into action, where they moved and struck like lightning bottled for too long, she often observed even smaller questions being answered by an awkward moment's consideration. It always took time to shave those moments off, but the young Empress knew better than to dull that sensation too broadly. It had its security qualities and in Jīn's line of work it could be fatal to breed that thoughtfulness out of her. "You're welcome. Really, it is my pleasure. I rarely get to thank you, as well as the others that devote themselves to my protection, as much as you all deserve," she said as she took a sip herself. Following that, she was silent as Jīn took a nibble or sip of everything else they had to offer. Well, you could pull the security mare in for a briefing but you could never pull the security out of the more. After Jīn announced she had nothing to report, the Empress allowed a moment to breathe. "Well, officially at least. Anything to report off the record?"

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The kunoichi sipped her tea during that quiet moment, and was about to think about her words again after the Empress spoke, but her training was a hard thing to buck, and Yu Yuè had asked for a report. "Off the record? Frankly the security around you is too good at protecting the wrong things. It's hard to keep up the Sī Jīn facade and still do my job when every second guard is trying to keep the provincial doll on Liàn's arm and out of the places where work is done for the household. The mask has its uses, but it feels like there are more eyes on the kitchen and the throne room than you, sometimes." she said, frowning. It was an observation she'd had mulling in her head for a while, having cut her statecraft teeth by learning the inner workings of the shogunate.

 

She glanced out the window again and sighed, reining in her emotions before she continued. "There's something else, though. Those things are important but certainly things you already know." she said, preparing to move on to her suspicions collected between overheard gossip and tactical knowledge. She knew the Empress probably suspected there were more than a few conspiracies around the palace, but it wouldn't hurt to make sure. That wasn't really what had been bothering her most lately, but there was no way she could just come out and say what she wanted to about her relationship to the prince, "There are rumors about 'a stallion thinking more about wuxia than his station'."

Sī Jīn blinked and covered her muzzle in embarrassment. She hadn't let her thoughts slip out outside of Liàn's presence since she was a filly. Kami preserve, that stallion flustered her.

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It was very difficult to not tell Sī Jīn that she preferred fewer eyes on her. She was already often lost in the mire of the mask of the Empress, already felt small in the presence of so many. Every pair of eyes turned away from her was a relief, not a point of concern. Of course she understood logically that it was likely unwise. Personal comfort came after the station and never before, as much as she often raged internally against it. "I guess that is the price of having had such good security for so long. There are so few real threats placed against the throne that it makes sense that security would start looking elsewhere to find issues," she said as she looked outside and sighed theatrically before turning back in. "What do you propose?"

 

She started to drink when the topic of stallions acting above their station and being all manner of dramatic came up, which caused her to momentarily choke. Who had spoken? Who? When? The Gardeners! Damn the gardeners and their gossip. Were they spies? The guards needed to- no! No then they'd know too! Damn gardeners! She didn't allow it to infiltrate her face, this crumbling realization, as she wiped her mouth.  "Wha-! Wuxia, you say? Well, well! I'd, I'd certainly hope these rumors aren't well-founded. I expect all of us to have our attentions turned to what is best and proper, not what strikes the heart with passions."

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