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"Noritsune! Hey! Noritsune!"
The voice that called his name was strong and determined, and Noritsune suddenly looked up.
"What do you want, Shigehira?"
"You finally notice me? I've been calling your name for ages."
Shigehira glared at Noritsune, his face contorted with frustration.
They were in the room of the Heike estate where Noritsune lived. The room was empty and bare.
"I was just thinking."
"You? Thinking? That's a first, I thought all you could do is wield a sword. Is Shanao's escape still bothering you?"
"It's all anyone will talk about. You lost to Shanao twice, and now he's completely disappeared."
Noritsune remained silent. It was true that he had lost his duel to Shanao, and that even all the power of the Heike failed to capture him. This was indeed a giant mistake. Under normal circumstances he would have been overcome with shame and would have searched for some way to redeem himself. However, on this occasion, it was Noritsune who had let Shanao escape.
The memory of the previous night's encounter with Shanao came flooding back to him.
"I don't want this! I don't want this name, Genji! I don't want to live as a child of Genji. I want to live as me - as Shanao!"
It was in the clear night air that Shanao had confessed that to him. He was staring straight at Noritsune when he said it. It was the first time their eyes had met, and he was surprised how filled with fear, anger, and sadness Shanao's eyes were. And yet within those eyes there was a will strong enough to overcome any obstacle...
"Why did I let Shanao escape?" Noritsune thought. Not even he understood his reasoning. All he knew was that he didn't want their story to end there, in that place. He wanted to fight Shanao, that was true, but one on one, not with some massive army at his back.
He felt as though his mind had been captured by Shanao. He wanted to beat him in combat because Shanao was a child of Genji, and the two were matched in age and strength... And yet at this moment, both Heike and Genji seemed like a hindrance to their ability to test their skills against one another.
"I wish I hadn't been born a Heike."
"I can't live as I want, can't train as I want, can't fight as I want. This name is just an obstacle."
"What are you talking about?"
Shigehira frowned, unable to understand Noritsune's incoherent mutterings. Surely no one else in the Heike clan had such strange delusions. To be born to the Heike meant to be born to the family that rules the world. It meant to have the finest of clothes, food, and drink at your very command... Why would he want to give all that up? Isn't that what Shanao was attempting to do, by fleeing Kyoto?
Noritsune's mind raced with how to meet Shanao again, not as a Heike, but as himself, and only himself. To cross swords with him as an equal... Shigehira watched Noritsune with fading interest.
"I've had enough of this."
Shigehira stood up with a sigh.
"My father has called us back to the estate, it's best you come right away. He's very upset about what happened last night, so be ready to get an earful from him."
"What are you going to do if he doesn't forgive you? What if he kicks you out of the family?!"
Kiyomori was always kind to his family, showering them with positions of power and influence. However, he was also a very prideful man, and was ruthless to those who impugned the power and prestige of the Heike. There was no telling how he'd react to Noritsune, and Shigehira grinned at the punishment Noritsune was bound to receive.
"That may be for the best."
If Kiyomori kicked him out of the family he'd lose everything...but that would also mean he'd be free to live as he pleased. He'd be free to live as himself and pursue Shanao as his own man.
Noritsune had begun to change and grow, but no one yet knew the consequences of the man he was to become...