The Lady and Her Knight

Comital Precinct, Tianjing

The House Suzuki estate was eerily quiet and empty. It was little surprise as most everyone here had been killed in the attack by House Feng. When Masako returned to the Capital, she was given a skeleton crew of about twenty servants to tend to the place until she could replace the lost staff. Some the servants had been serving her family for generations, ever since the Celestials first came to the planet. There really wasn't a replacement for history like that.
Some of Masako's extended family survived either because they were at the family's floating city or because they had married into other families. Presumably they would've been next on the chopping block if the Feng weren't stopped.
While Masako was away at court, Batista was left at the estate. While he had special permission to be there, he wasn't allowed to leave the estate and explore the rest of the Capital. There were two servants whose only job was to wait on him, both of them Zhao, a boy and a girl. The girl was rather plain-looking and clumsy. Batista couldn't help thinking she was deliberately chosen by Masako.
Though still huge by the standards of the surface, these Capital estates weren't all that big when compared to the floating cities. Of course, you had estates of all the noble families and any related facilities crammed into a space about the size of just one of those cities. What this meant was that there wasn't much in particular to see or do. In theory at least, they were finally out of danger, but Batista couldn't help feeling restless. He'd wander the empty corridors of the estate looking for something to do.
He found a door with a panel like the door to the Red Lion pod back in Pino Alto. He hadn't seen any others like it, but he knew there was no getting in, so he never spent any time on it before. Only today he noticed a sliver of light creeping out through a crack in the door. With nothing better to do, he let curiosity get the better of him.
He was able to work his fingers into the crack and pry the door open. It wasn't that difficult. It was like there wasn't any power to it or else it probably would've put up more of a fuss. Once he had opened the door enough to get in, he found himself in some kind of garden filled with these weird stunted trees arranged in three tiers. He'd never seen anything like it, but that wasn't too surprising. Most things in the Celestials' world was unlike anything on the surface.
"This was my father's garden," a woman's voice said.
Batista jumped a little. The last thing he expected was for Masako to get the drop on him.
"I see the lock has not been fixed yet," she said. "Normally this garden would be forbidden to anyone but my father and I." She paused. "It was here that he was killed..."
"Oh, uh, sorry, princess," Batista said. "I shouldna come without askin'."
"It is fine," she said. "You are perhaps the one person I would want to see this garden."
Changing the topic, Batista asked her, "How'd it go?"
"Count Feng has been arrested," Masako said, not sounding particularly happy about it. "He and Lord Hisatada will go to trial, but they will not face judgment for years. Their guilt has already been decided, but there is much love of theater in the courts of law. This case shall provide them with much entertainment."
Batista didn't want to ask her what would've happened if they didn't think Count Feng and Viscount Hasegawa could entertain them. Of course, they were only the tip of the iceberg.
"What 'bout all the others?" he asked. "It was a big-ass conspiracy, wadn't it?"
Masako shook her head.
"The other lords rushed to make plea bargains in exchange for clemency. They will retain a third of their holdings and take a reduction in rank. A third of the penalty goes to the Emperor, of course, and the other third will be divided between their replacements and myself."
Batista had no idea how much that was or how many lords were caught up in the net, but he knew it had to be a lot.
"Whoa, that'd make ya rich, wouldn't it?"
"I am already sufficiently wealthy," she said. "But, yes, now I have more than doubled my family's holdings, not that it counts for much in this desolate house."
"Not much comfort ta ya, is it?"
"No," she said, "but I can think of what would comfort me. I must rebuild my house from the ground up, as they say. I need people close to me I trust, people I can rely upon."
Here she was going back to that again.
"Now, princess, you're not sayin' what I think you're sayin'."
Masako turned to him and took his hand in hers. He really never thought about how small those hands of hers were. But even if she did seem small and fragile, there was some toughness to her and you could really tell it from the resolve in her eyes.
"You said we could not decide what path our future takes. Well, I am deciding now and I am asking you to decide as well."
Now, Batista had made all the arguments why this couldn't happen, why it was a bad idea to even try, but the more he thought about it, the more he didn't want to leave her. He had been fighting it hard up until now, but with the offer sitting on the table right in front of him, he couldn't find it in him to keep saying no, so instead he pushed the burden onto her.
"You're sure 'bout this?" he asked.
Masako smiled and gave his hand a squeeze.
"There is nothing I have been so certain about, Batista-xiansheng. I want you by my side, no matter how infuriating you can be."
He had to try one more time, for both their sakes.
"Now, c'mon, princess, look 'round us. Ya know I ain't fit for a life like this."
"You can learn," she insisted, "just as I had to learn how to be among the Infernals--no, the paisanos."
You'd never hear a Celestial using the Infernals' own name for themselves. Where did she even pick it up? Whatever the case, that may well have been what won him over. If she could change, he could change, and if the two of them could change, maybe there was a chance.
Batista grinned.
"It'll be hell on both a' us."
Masako was undeterred.
"I have been through hell with you before and so long as you are with me, I can continue doing so."
"I don't know if this is a good idea or not..."
She moved in closer and told him, "We can find out the answer to that, Batista-xiansheng... together."
That was good enough for him.
"Alright, princess, come hell or high water, I'm yours."