With other members of the guild disposing the remains of the dark champion which had guarded the inner sanctum, Shosuro was left alone to reflect on the past and the future, kneeling in silent meditation. She remembered the many sacrifices necessary to secure their success, and gave thanks to those who had fallen in the attempts to win back the keep. Their losses had been nearly catastrophic, a strong and talented company of warriors and spellcasters reduced to fewer than a dozen, but the push into the heart of the unexplored jungle had been worth it – a hidden base of operations was recovered, a secluded fortress from which they could strike at their bloodthirsty enemies.

Sunlight spread from natural quartz in the ceiling of the large underground cavern, a mottled pattern of bright rays and deep shadow on every surface. In your name we do this, she whispered, her words lost among the sounds of dripping water and cool cave air whistling through the expanse. In your name we succeed.

It was only by the grace of her training that she did not jump as she felt a gloved hand rest on her shoulder. You have done so well, a voice praised, masculine and almost musical in tone yet barely above a breath. When will you return?

There is much left to do, my lord, she whispered, her chin sinking to her chest. My task is not yet complete.

The gods have given you a great burden, he remarked tenderly. But you are strong enough to succeed. An unseen finger traced down her masked cheek.

I don’t serve the gods, my lord. I serve only you. Her voice, even quiet, betrayed her pain and longing.

Return to me, my child, successful and triumphant. This era without you is an agony. His voice was just behind her ear; she could feel the warmth of his breath and shivered.

I love you, Bayushi, his champion whispered through eyes rimmed with tears, shut tight against emotion.

I will wait for you, he replied assuredly, both for her benefit and his. I will wait.

As his presence left her she could no longer keep the tears inside and long, wracking sobs shook her body. Shosuro wept for her duty, for her responsibility, and for the love she left so long ago.

Long moments on the cold floor gave way to a calm determination. She stood slowly, brushing any dust from her clothing as she adjusted her mask – both the one she wore on her face and the one she showed in her eyes. Soon her loyal followers would reconvene, wishing further direction.

Her every thought turned toward the accomplishment of her goals, to that moment when she could begin the long journey home, as each thought had been for what seemed like full lifetimes, she walked purposefully toward the audience chamber, shoes clacking dully against the stone tile floor. The very picture of loyalty. The very picture of sacrifice.