— NEW —
A bright, red sunset shone on the Mount Kurama temple where the youngest child of Genji lived.
"Nothing today either, huh?"
"Mm. I just can't seem to find him, he must be really well hidden."
Shanao sighed, her face darkening slightly as she thought of the challenge from Noritsune Taira.
Instead of a direct conflict between them, Noritsune had suggested the two of them work to catch the monk Musashibo Benkei, who had been causing trouble in the capital. Shanao had been searching everywhere for him to no avail.
"Don't look so down Shana, there's still time to find Benkei."
"But the deadline is the next full moon. If we don't find him..."
"I know it's not just Noritsune's game that you're worried about... You're worried about the future too..."
Shungen cast his gaze to the ground as he finished speaking. Since birth, Shanao had been living here, in the temple at Mount Kurama, her identity as an heir to the Genji name kept secret. But now that Noritsune had found her, there's no telling what would happen.
"If we don't find Benkei and beat Noritsune at his stupid game, I don't know what will happen to the temple..."
"That's no reason to panic, that's not going to help anything. "
"I know you're right, but..."
Shanao nodded in agreement, but her face remained troubled.
"Jeez...you're much too serious sometimes, Shana."
Shungen grinned, and quickly changed the topic.
"I heard an interesting story in town today." "Oh?"
Shanao tilted her head slightly.
"The capital is awash with stray dogs apparently. But despite the fact that they're strays, they seem to be very helpful. Carrying things on their backs, acting as guard dogs for the people of the city..."
"Though the situation in the capital has been rather dreadful as of late, it seems the appearance of these dogs has brough some joy back to the people of Kyoto."
Shungen's expression was soft, and he seemed to be staring off into the distance as he spoke. As she watched him, a gentle smile graced Shanao's face.
"Hehe, well that's good, isn't it?"
"I should think so. One appeared as I was talking to one of the shopkeepers, he seemed quite clever, almost as though he could understand we were talking about him. "
"Mm. He was so trusting when I went to pet him too."
"That sounds nice..."
The words came tumbling absent mindedly out of Shanao's mouth, and Shungen laughed when he heard her.
"Haha! Did you want to pet him too?"
"N-not really, but...I don't know... That sounds kind of nice..."
"Hahah. Tell you what, next time we go into town we can take one back here with us."
"Hahah! But instead of a dog, how about a puppy?!"
"Yeah, but we'll have to make sure he hasn't been housebroken! Lord Kakunichi would absolutely love that! "
The two of them laughed heartily picturing the monks of Kurama Temple training a mischievous puppy.
"Thank you, Shungen..."
"You told me that story to cheer me up, didn't you?"
Their situation hadn't changed, but the laughter had made Shanao feel as though a massive weight had been lifted from her chest.
Shungen didn't answer, he merely smiled in the fading light of dusk.
"Let's continue to work hard and search for Benkei, that's all we can do."
"That's right, and don't forget Shana, I'll be here for you no matter what. You don't have to do this alone."
"Shanao nodded in agreement. Together, they would find a way out of this situation. They always managed to find a way out together."
"I think that's enough training for today. How about some studying?"
"Sounds good to me!"
Shungen nodded but his face suddenly became very serious.
"But don't go overboard, you need your rest."
Shungen's gaze, filled with genuine concern, made Shanao smile, and then burst into laughter.
"Typical Shungen, and you think I'm the one who's too serious?!"
But his concern made her smile. It had always been like this, ever since they were kids, Shungen had always looked after her.
"It's only natural, we're in this life together Shana."
"Hehe, that's right. We worry, we face our fears together, and we overcome. That's just what we do."
Before they knew it, the sun had fallen, and the moon began rise in the deep blue sky. Looking at the stars high above them, they stood up quietly and made their way home.