Seven Devils

Gatac 2016-05-29 07:45:38
The further intricacies of the steam boat's controls go mostly unexplored as Takao and RZA, happy with having gotten the dinghy to move at all, collectively decide against further trial-and-error fiddling and focus on steering the boat through the dark tunnel heading out of the underground lair. And by golly, it is dark, and their injuries from being in a burning mansion just minutes before don't make any part of it easier. By the time the entrance-disguising moss-mounting mat slaps across the bow of the boat and smacks Takao in the tenderized portions of his face, he's about ready to be done with this night. The boat chugs out onto the vast lake between them and the city, and the night sky casts its serene light over them. This would be a nice ride, if not for, well, everything else.

A distant bang draws their attention to what lies behind, as two flare rockets rise up from the inferno at Shira mansion and burst their colors into the sky.

"Coppers," RZA says. "Right, that's that sorted, then."

Not one to yield the competition to some measly fireworks, the night sky over the city ahead of them lights up rather more spectacularly with a thin, fiery arc, the likes of which could have only come from the Blue Oni's armor and the mystical flames its boots expel for flight. Still, that is flamboyant, even for him.

"Bloody hells," RZA adds.

This may call for VORWĂ„RTS HALB.


Ueki has slept for a total of three hours in the last - wait, what day is it again? Since he got here, basically. The Gungnir, magnificent as she is, won't fix up herself, much less upgrade herself, and although Copperhead's gadgetry has helped out quite a bit, the ninja's too busy with his other projects to help out much. So it is that Ueki, covered in grease and sawdust, sits bowed over on the forecastle of the Gungnir, hammering in place deck reinforcements for his latest scheme. The real trick's gonna be getting the centerpiece of said scheme out of the cargo hold when the mounts are ready, but, well, there's nothing to be done about that until the cast parts for the new crane installation arrive from the Forge.

Accordingly, as the lagoon waters softly rock the Gungnir from side to side, Ueki is the first to hear the tuk-tuk-tuk noise of the steam boat approaching the factory. Rising to his feet is an agonizing affair as his stiff back and legs protests every movement, but finally he's up and sways his way across the deck and climbs the stairs leading to the poopdeck, where he spots the approaching vessel.

"Ah, crap," he mutters. Looks like he's gonna be bothering Copperhead again.


"Careful," Yu admonishes as Copperhead and Ueki help her with unloading Yoshi from the boat and onto a stretcher, while RZA and Takao make it off the boat (mostly) under their own power. "He needs immediate treatment."
"Right you are, luv," RZA says, clapping Takao on an unburnt patch of skin on his shoulder. "You sew up the geezer while the bastard and I lay into a bottle of plonk. We've bloody well earned it."
"This is neither time nor place for alcohol, yellow," Copperhead retorts.
"Well pardon my disagreement!" RZA says. "The whole barmy empire wants me shanked and brown bread, my mates beat me silly and left me to roast, and now some Shadowwatch cunt is pouring nonsense into my King Lears. Makes a man thirsty."
Gatac 2016-06-10 14:24:11
Few words are exchanged on the way to the swamps, for the grim necessity of what is to come weighs heavily on everyone's minds. Only when the outliers of the swamp come into view an hour later and fog begins to roll along the ground do the murmurs and short prayers become louder, until finally Lady Ishikawa's horse rears up along the way and refuses to be convinced that it must go on, an unease that quickly spreads to the remaining horses.

"Can't say I blame her," Ishikawa comments, then turns to Kirika. "How much further is it?"
"We've got a ways to go, but it's on foot," Kirika says.
"Alright," Ishikawa comments. "Let's see that hideout, then."
" careful," Kirika says. "If you...hear anything, even if you think we hear it, say something. Just in case. Takao mentioned that there might be...well...yokai."
"Yokai," Ishikawa repeats flatly.
"Yokai," Kirika confirms.
"Did he mention how to fight them, then?" Ishikawa adds.
"No," Kirika says. "He said Nikochi ran and hid."
"Capital," Ishikawa comments.

Winding their way through the swamps takes a while, and many a foot gets wet as the group steps into bogwater, ambushes which seemingly cannot be avoided even by the sighted. All around the group, there is a chittering noise that might be mistaken for the calls of unfamiliar animals. Lady Ishikawa seems more and more agitated as time passes - it can't be easy dealing with the humidity under her mask.

"Heavens above," she mutters. "How much further?"
"...what was that?" Ishikawa says, her hands reaching for her holstered weapons.
"That..." Kirika says, Crane's Dance gripped tightly in her hands, "is probably a yokai."
"Of course," Ishikawa says.

Yukio reaches for her own sword, while Shira slides Ryusei just half an inch from its scabbard, somehow reflecting a flint off the exposed blade even without sunlight to pierce the fog.

"We're coming here...because Ikishi will not," Kirika says. She looks around into the darkness just outside their torches. "We can hurt her, we are very close. But we need a place take care of someone." She takes a few steps closer to the dark. "We are not here to hurt you."

"I can't see anything in this fog," Ishikawa mutters.
"He's not here," Kirika replies. "I don't like him very much, so he wasn't invited."

Kirika smirks, and lets one hand off her sword. "Kind of hard to if we can't talk beforehand," she replies. "If you don't want us here, we'll go - but Nikochi spoke of how Ikishi hurt you, took something from you. We're...well, we're going to stop her. Ruin her plans. I figure that's something you might appreciate."
"Is there anything else that would be safe here?" Kirika asks.

"Charming," Ishikawa mutters.
"Not a problem," Kirika says. "Consider it done."

Before Ishikawa can make another comment, the darkness seems to recede from the edges of the fog, giving you a better glimpse of the path ahead - and the hut in the distance. That is...Kirika's not sure, but that's not how far into the swamp she thought it was.
"Of course," Kirika says. "Come on, everyone, let's get out of this water."

It's only a short walk to the hut and the clearing (?) it sits on, where the fog smells faintly sweet. The hut, though weathered, seems immune to the ravages of the rot around it, and its door creaks open when pushed against, revealing the spartan interior - a table, some bedding in a corner, a box of wooden masks, a stack of journals. It seems hard to imagine anyone has spent any appreciable time actually living here. The closed door reveals an intricate pattern of natural stains and paint, presumably a complex ward against the swamp's mystical forces.

"Probably should take those with us," Kirika says, looking at the journals. "Yu?" Kirika asks.
"Out here!" comes Yu's voice, and Yukio opens the door just quickly enough to catch a glimpse of a shadow darting away from Yu - Kagemaru, presumably. The mainlander priestess steadies herself on her staff as she walks across the clearing, her skin seeming to almost glitter against the oppressive gloom outside.
"I'm liking this less and less," Ishikawa mutters, but Shira steps forward to extend a hand.
"Yu," he says, but she doesn't reciprocate the gesture.
"Sit down," she says. "I'll take a look."
"How long have you known?" Kirika asks as Shira sits down on the floor.
"Suspected, for a long time," Yu says. "Seen with my own eyes, never. Ikishi would never let me treat her...lover."
"I am no longer who you think I am," Shira says.
"Maybe," Yu admits, touching her fingers to Shira's chest and closing her eyes.

Kirika's hand grips a staff leaning against the wall tightly - just in case.

"What is it?" Himiko asks. "Please, tell me, what do you see?"
"Are you sure you wish to hear this?" Yu asks, but Himiko only has to nod. "Your father...your father is dead," Yu says.
"" Shira asks.
Yu traces the scar along his chest. "Felled by this mighty blow," she explains. "Ikishi's sorcery replaced the life that fled from you that day."
"Dead..." Himiko whispers.
"It need not be the end," Yu says. "But...I am not sure how to heal this."
"Right now?" Kirika says. "We don't."
"What would you have me do, then?" Yu asks.
"Find Ikishi's control over him, and sever it if you can," Kirika says. "If us keep him safe from himself until Ikishi is dealt with."
Yu nods. "I can...put you to sleep," she says. "A dreamless sleep none may rouse you from save myself...and Ikishi, but it would require her to touch you."
"That sounds terrible," Himiko says.
"Which is why we will try to fix him first," Kirika says.
"Another reason to revisit Ikishi's hideout," Yu says.
"Okay," Ishikawa weighs in. "I'm hearing a lot of crazy things here, but what I'm taking away from all this is that you've got a big problem. How can I help?"
"I'm not sure, yet," Kirika says. "Yu, how does he...become someone else? He says he does not remember holding Hiro hostage, or trying to kill me."
"I have a theory," Yu says. "It is not truly Shira or a part of him that did these things. His mind was put to sleep, and someone else...another soul was within him, controlling his actions, seeing through his eyes and commanding his hands. I could never figure out how he changed his voice...but perhaps that was never his in those times."
" do we stop that?" Kirika asks.
"For every ear that listens, there must be a mouth that speaks," Yu says. "The stone within - it must have a counterpart. How it can be commanded once within our grasp, I cannot say without having seen it, but I am...quite certain that Lady Ikishi does not carry it around with her, whatever 'it' is."
"That is, if it isn't her own," Kirika replies. She sighs. "Okay, we know what it is, roughly how it works, and what to look for. Lord, I think it might be best if you were to wait at the Hall of Justice, under involuntary arrest."
"Indeed," Shira says. "Does this find your agreement, then, Ishikawa-dono?"
"Naturally," Ishikawa says. "It would be my good honor you and Himiko for as long as needed."
"What's the difference between that and an arrest?" Shira asks.
"The manacles are studded with jade," Ishikawa answers without missing a beat, and Shira chuckles.
"I am in no position to ask for more," he says. "Very well. This shall be our course. You will continue to pursue the matter of Sumiko's control over my body, Kamura?"
"Of course, Lord," Kirika replies. "However...I insist that Himiko stay on the other side of the bars from you. In case Ikishi takes over and uses her as a hostage."
"You may use my quarters, Himiko, they're as safe as any other place in the Hall's inner bastion," Ishikawa says. "I'll sleep in my office. Not much of a change for me."
"...thank you...Fukuo," Himiko says, bowing to her.
Kirika nods. "Thank you, Lady. And you as well, Yu. Now, we have just one more piece of business to attend to. Kagemaru, if you wouldn't mind grabbing Nikochi's journals?"

She takes the torch from Yukio's hand, using it to get one last good look at the inside of the hut. Probably years of secrets in this wood - and once it goes up, one pissed off High Lord. The flame flickers as a shadow rushes through the hut with a short gust of wind, gathering up the journals.

"Got it," Kagemaru says, from nowhere in particular.
"Am I the only one who can't see your friend?" Ishikawa asks.
"You don't want to see me," Kagemaru echoes.
"I'll take your word for it," Ishikawa replies.
Kirika tosses the torch at the base of a particularly flammable-looking set of shelves. The shelves go up in bright green flame as if someone had lovingly soaked them in flammable oils for years on end. "We should go," Kirika adds, concern playing over her face as the flames leap from shelf to wall to ceiling in seconds.
"Let's," Yukio agrees, and with that it's out of the hut.

With the wards broken from inside, the sturdy wood that seemed to make up the hut seems to crumble into a fine dry sawdust at the slightest provocation; the group can only stand and stare as the structure turns first into a cloud, then into a bright fireball that screams up into the air, scattering dust all around. When the spectacle is over, all traces of the hut are gone, and where it stood an emptiness now roars to those who can hear it.

"Uh, guys," Kagemaru says from the shade of a nearby tree, "not sure what you were planning, but...I don't think I can get us out of here. I can't see beyond the swamp."
"Hrm," Yu says, knocking the base of her staff against the uncertain ground. As if in response, the cries of startled animals from all around the group echo through the clearing. "Back the way you came, then. Stick close to me."
Gatac 2016-06-10 14:51:01
It's a good flight, Toshiba thinks. Nice night for it. Pretty fireworks. There's some zigging and some zagging, making sure to dip down on occasion to make the trail of fire hazy and difficult to follow without ever letting it quite disappear, and by the time Toshiba makes his landing after a ten-block ride just barely above the rooftops of the capital's old quarters, he's pretty sure the police forces are twisted into a proverbial knot trying to pick up his trail.

Now for the nice evening stroll back to base. Easy enough. Just grab some discarded linen to fashion a cloak. Stick to the shadows. Try to act a little bit surprised when quiet footsteps approach you from the side.

"Toshiba?" comes the voice of Nagani - ex-Ayami faithful, now on the run from her former clan thanks to a certain someone sparing her life. "It''s you in that armor still, isn't it?"

A look to the side reveals neither the haughty ninja who linked up with you in Kargbeck, nor the woman who soared like a leaf when she left the Ayami redoubt for good. Dressed as a peasant, with her hair grown out and her eyes softened, Nagani could escape anyone's notice - but this does not seem to be a thing she is interested in now, approaching as she does when every instinct must tell her to stay well clear of anything that would jeopardize her seclusion.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-06-10 15:44:48
Toshiba freezes even as his mind races through a forest of paranoia.

Was this luck? No such thing. Flight was too obvious - she could've tracked me here once she saw the fire. Not a chance meeting, then.

She left the Ayami as I did, or so it seemed from my perspective. Could Sinan bring her back to the fold to use against me? Were his words about the Ayami withering true or just a farce for my ears, to get me to drop my guard?

Fool. You have worn this armor too long. Everything is not about you. If there are blades in these next moments, there will simply be blades.

Toshiba removes the helm and smiles at Nagani. "It is still me. Have you a new name, or will your old suffice?"
Gatac 2016-06-11 02:55:34
Nagani just nods as her eyes mist up; with a suddenness that betrays her ninja training, she lunges at Toshiba, wrapping him in an embrace.

"I'm so glad that you're here," she whispers to him between sobs. "I...I saw you fly above the city days ago, but I wasn't sure I should...should come out of hiding. It''s terrible here." She releases the embrace, but keeps hold of Toshiba's armored shoulders and meets his eyes with her own. "Come with me, please. You need to see..." For a moment, she reads Toshiba's hesitation in his expression, and her head sinks as she processes that. ", no. Don't say it, I know, don't trust me. It's too dangerous. I'll...I'll get a message to you with a meeting place, and you can scout it out and do your homework. Okay?" She meets his eyes again. "It's okay if you say no."
MikeS 2016-06-19 14:47:03
Takao follows the Oni's fiery path across the sky, then points near the possible impact.

"Head over there then, I guess? I wonder what VOLLE FAHRT VORAUS means," he muses as he inspects the lever with the Hanse writing on it.
Gatac 2016-06-19 15:42:32
"Count me out," RZA says, not even slowing down his shambling towards what his sixth sense must be telling him is the nearest bottle of sake. "I need to go get some medicine, straight away," he adds, as if that needed to be said.

This, then, is Hiro Homi's cue to enter the scene and find out what all the fuss is about. He does everyone the courtesy of actually walking up on the pier instead of speaking up from an uncomfortably nearby hiding spot.

"If you don't mind, Takao," he says, "I'll come with you."

Then he climbs into the boat, because clearly the only important part was the second half of what he said. With few means to remove the wizened elder ninja from the vehicle, Takao fires up the boat again, and swiftly brings them underway to the network of canals that crisscross the city proper.

"There's a question I need to put to you," Homi says over the reciprocating rumble of the steam engine. "How much do you know about the Ayami ninja clan? Besides our friends."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-06-20 11:59:19

She meets his eyes again. "It's okay if you say no."

"No," Toshiba replies.

"It is not okay. Let us go and see now."
Gatac 2016-06-20 12:42:23
Nagani blinks at Toshiba's little joke and forces herself to chuckle just a bit to be polite, but her face carries too much weight to let her laugh at it. With a nod to the Blue Oni, she leads the way, recapping her journey as they walk.

"My brother and I have been on the run ever since we left," she said. "We don't sleep in the same place twice. We -" She pauses for a moment. "- we barely go out during the day. I buy what we need, Sadatsugu steals to keep us in coin. Right now we're trying to save up for passage on a ship to San'in. And from there - somewhere else."

"So, all those years, after you left, did you ever...fear the clan's reach?" she asks. "Obviously nobody can touch you now, but..."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-06-20 14:52:58
"I lived in the woods," Toshiba says. "Fearing retribution that never came. I was a wretched hermit. Oh, it did not seem so bad then, but I think that perhaps I had convinced myself living in hiding was still a life worth living. Perhaps my companions have rubbed off on me, but I've found that you have to live for more."
Gatac 2016-06-25 13:04:09
"You're part of a good team," Nagani says, leading the two of them further east - towards the docks. "I...I thought I was, too. Master Sinan always speaks of the good of the clan, but he...he has lost sight of the meaning of our lives many years ago. No sacrifice he would not make for his precious clan, as long as others pay the price. Were we not taught that the Ayami were better? That we were pure spies and assassins, not mere mercenaries or bandits hiding behind colors and a fancy name? But these days I see little difference between the clans - and little reason to suffer their continued existence. If I had the power to help the others..." She trails off.


"Your silence is answer enough," Hiro Homi says, as Takao keeps staring ahead.

"It may seem difficult to believe now, but once upon a time, there were rules," he says. "The clans were brought to heel by the Shadowwatch, and made to understand that their existence could be ended in a moment, but for their use in service to the empire - and as recruiting grounds for our own operatives. For generations Shadowwatch sought out their best and brightest to invite them into our ranks. It kept the clans under our control - their most precious students in our hand - and for a while it worked. Until the Ayami came under the sway of Sinan. He...he saw the game behind the game. And he launched an audacious plan."


It's a long, and somewhat quietly dour walk out of the swamp and ride back into the city; at least the blaze at Shira's estate now seems under control, if only because there's nothing left to burn. Lady Ishikawa seems quite busy talking to Himiko to help her keep it together, while Shira quite deliberately rides with his horse tethered to Ishikawa's horse and his sword handed off to her, too. Yukio and Kirika share some glances at the arrangement, but it doesn't seem to be the time to talk about it. What does draw conversation is the police checkpoint hastily established at the western bridge crossing, where the few travelers still intent on leaving town tonight are having their wagons searched.

"Report," Ishikawa demands as she rides up; the police men instantly straighten up at the sound of their boss's voice.
"We have ninja assassins in the city, Milady!" the ranking officer at the checkpoint replies. "There was an altercation at an amusement parlor downtown that ended with a corpse and some property damage. They evaded our pursuit, but we're locking down all exits out of the city for the night. The assailant is...he's the Blue Oni, Milady."
Ishikawa glances over to Kirika and Yukio, but says nothing. "I see," Ishikawa says. "Continue, then."
"Milady," the officer says, then lets you pass into the city.

Kirika's eyes flick towards the skies at the mention of "Blue Oni" and trouble, looking for a particular hawk-eagle. Perhaps worryingly, there is no sign of Konoko, either to guide them to Toshiba's location or to carry an explanation for this latest mess. "Hmph," Kirika said, sounding annoyed, but her hand reaches for Yukio's for reassurance regardless. Yukio returns the squeeze, though her face looks rather less reassuring. As the ride takes you out of the checkpoint's earshot, Ishikawa speaks up again.

"Do you have an explanation?" she asks.
"I do not, my Lady," Kirika replies. "And it does not seem like one is forthcoming."
"Does this have anything to do with the baker's dozen of dead Killer Bees we scraped off the scenery around Merchant Mura's offices?" Ishikawa adds. Himiko casts her face down; hearing her mentor speak so casually of such brutalities is clearly not what she wanted to hear.
"That, I also do not know," Kirika replies. "But it's possible."
"This," Ishikawa says. "This is exactly the kind of - cover your ears, dear." Himiko covers her ears, then Ishikawa continues. "The kind of fucked-up bullshit I did not want in my city."
"Have any of my associates acted objectionable manner without provocation or otherwise to prevent harm to others?" Kirika asks.
"That greater good line is getting harder and harder to defend," Ishikawa says. "Look, I'm pretty sure there's an explanation, I'll give your friends that much credit. There's probably even a good explanation. But whatever the explanation is, I can't use it to calm things down with the other Lords. And this chaos? This blatant flouting of the laws, getting in chases with my officers, killing people in public? This is the slippery slope I was worried about, and it's going to make it very hard to justify me staying out of your way."
"I didn't say the greater good, my Lady," Kirika replies. "I said without provocation or to prevent harm. Have we acted in a way that would be any different if one of your own investigators were present?"
"I wouldn't know," Ishikawa says. "You and Yukio and Takao, yes, I trust you. But I've only met one of your ninja friends just now, by the barest of technicalities. And he is, as far as I can ascertain, literally an abomination woven of pure shadow. This does not, to any extent, put me at ease when I think about what they're doing in my city - apparently without your knowledge, too."
"I trust them," Kirika says. "Kagemaru might a unique situation, but his heart is still in the right place."
"Well, that's nice," Ishikawa says, then finally sighs. "Damn it all."
"It becomes much easier when you accept that the world is both stranger and more complex than whatever you can imagine, and that it is still the familiar world in which you have lived your entire life," Kirika says.
"Just go with the flow, my Lady," Yukio finishes.

"Oh, I will go with the flow," Ishikawa says. "I will go with the flow the exact moment after I stand before the gathering of High Lords and tell them of my resignation, because I am a complete and utter failure, and a fraud on top, and that my efforts to bring a new kind of law and order to the empire have been brought to nought and undermined by my decision to cooperate with you, which was the only moral decision I could make for reasons I cannot explain to anyone outside our small circle of conspirators." She takes a deep breath. "What you don't understand - what you don't seem willing to understand - is that I've been on the wrong path ever since I grudgingly gave you the first inch. My belief in the necessity of helping you is unbroken, but for a while I thought I could square this betrayal of the ideals I once honestly proclaimed with continuing my efforts to bring the empire away from corruption and deals made in the shadows. I now see this for the folly it is."
"What is corrupting about this, my Lady?" Kirika asks. "If you want me to testify in the open of what has transpired, I will do so at a moment's notice. You have acted, with us, to save dozens of lives already, stopped numerous small tyrants and sufferings, and set so many wrongs right. What about any of this is a corruption of your ideals?"
"We broke the rules!" Ishikawa hisses. "We...we broke the rules. We broke the rules set by the High Lady of me. From the first day I took office, I swore that there would be one justice under one heaven. And look what it has come to. Exception upon contingency upon extenuating circumstance. If we have done the right thing...if we made the right choices, but only by breaking the law, repeatedly and blatantly, then...then my entire campaign for reform is a sham. The empire continues to be run and policed from the shadows. And what I sought to build...what I sought to accomplish...maybe it was never to be..." The following silence grows more uncomfortable by the second from the muffled sounds of Lady Ishikawa sniffing and choking underneath her mask.

"I - we - you have done the best you can, my Lady," Kirika says, letting her horse wander over a little closer to Ishikawa's. "Are your officers not merely empowered, but compelled to act if a crime is being committed? If they see those under their protection suffering as a result of others? To do what they must to protect the public?"
"The best we can..." Ishikawa says. "Perhaps." She looks around, finding the road into the city center quiet and deserted around you, then adds another deep sigh. "What is funny is that...that the first thing I did as High Lady Ishikawa, the reformer, the principled noblewoman...I told a lie. And when it became clear that somebody had learned of it, I spent a dear amount of silver to hire an amoral mercenary who would go to the house of secrets and destroy all proof of that lie. So, really, I should have known better, and I...I should not have acted so high and mighty."
"Believe me, my Lady, we are all doing the best we can in an imperfect world," Kirika says. "Like I said before, the stumble isn't what's important, it's how you recover."
"I suppose," Ishikawa says. "I suggest we pick up the pace, then, and get to the Hall of Justice, so we can figure out how to...recover...from this."
"Let's," Kirika says. She hesitates for a moment, then gives Ishikawa a pat on the shoulder. "We will find a way out of this, together - and the right way."
Ishikawa's little smile is visible, even through the mask. "Truly, Kamura-kensei, you are your father's daughter," she says. "Thank you."
MikeS 2016-06-26 11:07:03
"Truthfully, I know very little about ninja, even the ones I've met," Takao replies without looking over, instead focusing on where they are going.

"But why tell me all this now, Homi-sama? Are we about to see Sinan's plan come to fruition? We've only seen Killer Bees lately, and no Ayami."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-06-27 14:40:49
"Which others?" Toshiba asks. "The Ayami? Or the clans in general? And help how? What is coming, Nagani?"
Gatac 2016-06-27 15:52:07
Homi is quiet for a moment.

"Sinan's plan came to fruition long ago," he says. "His first plan, that is. You see, it was never intended that a clan should want its best and brightest taken away from them to serve in the Watch. They were hostages - guarantees against a clan ever betraying the Shadowguard. But Sinan saw potential, and he saw the cold numbers behind Shadowwatch's posturing. We had a quota to fill, and at the end of the day there were only so many potential recruits. And obviously, we wanted the best. All Sinan had to do to nudge things towards the Ayami was to...thin the competition. Not with direct warfare between the clans, but by investing most of the Ayami silver in proxy contracts - lures for the other clans. And he found ways to stage...accidents, or bandit raids. Often through the Killer Bees, which is why their resurgence here is steering my thoughts to a possible connection. But where was I? The campaign of sabotage Sinan waged against the other clans, yes? Well, they either faced the dishonor of failing to fulfil their contracts, or lost their most promising potentials in foolhardy actions. And so, year by year, the Shadowwatch asked more of the Ayami, who were so clearly the most skillful ninjas. Sinan accepted that this was weakening their operation at home, their ability to operate at all - because he knew that with Shadowwatch sanctioning the clans, there would be no wars fought between the clans, not in the old way. The clan weathered the lean years, still believing Sinan's tales that excessive Shadowwatch interference was crushing them. But he got what he really wanted - a loyal cabal within Shadowwatch."


"The others," Nagani says. "The ones back at the fortress, the ones who still...believe in the Ayami cause. They are trapped up there with a madman. You know what he does. He risks our lives, all in the name of the Ayami clan's greater glory, and the second you betray to him that you care for anything more than his command..." She shakes her head. "I failed the clan in Kargbeck by going to rescue my brother. And I was willing to go home and be punished. But Sinan had no interest in punishing me, or reforming me. I valued my brother above him, and in that moment I became utterly worthless to him. Worse, a liability. He could have killed me where I stood - if he was thinking clearly about all this, I'm sure he would have. But no. I had to do it. I had to see things as he did. I had to come to see how wrong I was and kill myself in despair. He thought he was doing me a kindness, giving me a chance to realize how wrong I was. So I knew my only chance to survive was to tempt him with the idea that you...that you could be brought to see things as he did, too. Don't imagine for a second that he does not crave the power your armor grants. But he's afraid of what might happen if he tried to take it by force. He doesn't know how powerful you really are, in either direction. And I think that scares him."

The waves lap at the stone wharf ahead as the two of them approach a moored ship.


The steam boat runs swiftly through one of the many canals leading from downtown to the sea port while Homi continues his tale.

"They were Sinan's handpicked candidates, of course," Homi says. "And while the recruits from the other clans were either eager for the honor of serving the throne, or eager to gain their own glory, Sinan's chosen gravitated towards the infiltration units, the support division - any place where there was less scrutiny and more time to dig themselves in and organize things." Homi sighs. "I talk at length about this because we found out eventually. It took years, but we found out. And when we did - well, what choice did we have but to arrest them all and interrogate them? Except we underestimated them still. Several killed themselves on the spot. Others fought and either died in battle or killed themselves in captivity before we could gain any useful insight. The few that were in a position to run...also made sure that when we caught up with them, they would not be taken alive. Within a week, between the purge of Ayami recruits and the others killed in the struggle, Shadowwatch had lost half its strength - and never recovered it. I couldn't know it then, but this was the weakness that allowed Ikishi's schemes the room to grow."


Nagani leads the way onto the moored ship, which seems utterly deserted by any sign of a crew - still, somebody has to be paying the berthing fees. There is little time to break into the harbormaster's offices, though; Nagani softly knocks a pattern against a loading hatch over the cargo hold, and it gets unbarred from inside a few seconds later. Climbing down inside, the air is thick with the soot of a small gas lamp, casting meager light on the meager improvised camp of the two siblings - Sadatsugu looks even thinner than he did back when he was near death in Kargbeck, but at least he's standing and walking around these days, giving Toshiba a wordless shake of the hand. There's something else in the air that Toshiba is also intimately familiar with - the stench of decay.

"While we were scouting ships for our escape," Nagani explains, "we found this one. The Soft Breeze. It's been moored here for a long time, nobody seems to know who the Captain is. Nobody's seen any crew in daylight, but up until a week ago, there was movement in the dark - people figured the sailors were working at night and sleeping it off during the day. But they weren't sailors."


Takao's fairly certain that they've passed the last place Toshiba would have touched down, but figuring that the ninja wouldn't have left much of a trail to follow anyway, continuing down the canal to the port has as much of a chance of picking up the scent as going any other way.

"And needless to say," Homi says, "this little bloodbath cost us what credibility we had with the clans. Sinan cried bloody murder, and the other clans threatened open rebellion if we came down on the Ayami any further. The best I could do was to pronounce that we would simply never work with them again...but that did no good either. None of the major clans were willing to send any more recruits to us. I had to leave the matter be, or risk all-out war. Sinan declared the Ayami fortress off-limits to all outside the clan. Whatever insight into his plans we might have still had died that day." He shakes his head. "You could say everybody lost in this gamble. The Ayami certainly invested a lot and seemed to get nothing out of it at the end. But I cannot believe that a man who could plan all this did not also plan for such an eventuality. I had hoped to gain a new insight into his schemes when I saw several Ayami ninja among Prince Toshiro's retinue...but it has become obvious that Sinan's ultimate goal is his own, and unknown to anyone I might reach. Not that we have the time or resources to even consider pursuing him, given our struggles with Ikishi occupy all our attention now. I dare not think the moves he is making while nobody is watching."


Sadatsugu carries the gas lamp with him deeper into the cargo hold, finally pulling aside a dusty tarp. Hidden underneath is a literal pile of bodies - men, women, most still in the clothes they were wearing when they were killed. Toshiba's less than surprised to see that at least one of them wears the Shadowwatch braid on his obi. Still not saying a word, Sadatsugu pulls the tarp back a bit more, then reaches underneath and - with a grunt - pulls out the knife stuck between some poor woman's ribs. He holds it out for Toshiba to look at, and even in the dim gas light, it doesn't take the Oni's helmet to see exactly what the handle looks like.

Ayami purple.

"I don't know what happened here," Nagani says. "But it's not good."
Gatac 2016-07-02 11:56:18
With newly spurred horses, it's on to the Hall of Justice, through two more police checkpoints and some very concerned citizens at the same, demanding answers the cops don't have - yet. But as your horses trot to a stop at the plaza in front of the Hall, it seems clear that they're doing everything they can to get some answers. One of the Lieutenants is loudly organizing crews of policemen - some obviously fresh out of bed and recalled to duty - for a manhunt across the city. And they're not the only ones who have been dragged from their beds to join the party - you spot Judge Omo in the crowd, and he quickly approaches as you dismount.

"Lord, Ladies," he begins, not bothering to try to sort out everyone's titles. "I came as quickly as I could. I assure you, the court will be ready to swiftly bring to judgement any and all miscreants you may arrest tonight."
"Your support is appreciated, Chief Justice," Ishikawa says. "Have you been briefed on the events here? I'm afraid we were quite busy dealing with the fire at Lord Shira's estate."
"I see that you cannot spare one of your lieutenants to cease their work for explanations, so I shall attempt a summary," Omo says. "The altercation you have no doubt heard of took place just hours ago at Madame Kiki's Tea House, an establishment that the court has become quite familiar with. The victim was one Runo Kusanagi, a notorious bandit also known as 'Firebolt'. One for whom an arrest warrant was written and distributed, I must add. The perpetrators were the Blue Oni and another man armed with what credible witnesses describe as twin gonnes of unusual construction."
"Unusual how?" Ishikawa asks. "And they are certain it was the Blue Oni?"
"Considering he wore the armor and - I find this difficult to believe still, despite having witnessed the results for myself - fled into the night by way of flying up into the air on a fiery trail, his identitiy seems quite certain. As for the unusual gonnes, the witnesses understandably were in no position to note much detail, they merely said it looked like no handgonne they were familiar with - and given the crowd at Madame Kiki's, I do believe they are familiar with a rather broad assortment of gonnes."
"Has a clear picture of what transpired emerged yet?" Kirika asks.
"Blue Oni and the other men entered the establishment just minutes prior to the deed," Omo says. "They were seen to one of the public booths, but expressed to the server that they were there to meet with Firebolt. The server testified that she found it...plausible that a rogue such as the Blue Oni would have dealings with Firebolt, who is apparently an infrequent visitor to the establishment. She showed them to his booth, and two witnesses there describe Firebolt as intoxicated and surly in his dealings with the Oni and his partner, though they were sent away by Firebolt before the actual altercation happened. Whatever happened was fast, and ended with the Oni's partner shooting Firebolt, killing him on the spot. The two then attempted to abscond with Firebolt's body, but were stopped by the Tea House's security. When police was sent for, the two of them busted through the nearest window onto the crowded street outside, where they stole a horse-drawn cart and got into a brief chase with your men, inflicting further chaos and property damage. The Heavens were watching, and nobody else got seriously injured. The chase was brief because the Oni jumped onto the police cart, sabotaged it - leading to a crash of that same cart - and then disappeared before your pursuers could continue the hunt. By the time your men were able to follow, there was no trace of the stolen cart to be found, and though the fiery trails shone bright in the night sky, the Oni's speed and trickery was such that nobody got even close to apprehending him. His partner has not been found, either. This is where we stand now, to the best of my recollection."

It's very difficult to be relieved and extremely annoyed at the same two people at the same time, but Kirika manages. "...good."

"Assuredly, nobody in my office weeps for poor Runo Kusanagi," Omo says, "but murder, property damage, theft, evading arrest and reckless public endangerment...these are serious charges." He grunts. "We will have to add another page to the Oni's heavy list of crimes, I suppose. Our particular interest is more in his partner, who actually killed Firebolt. I think he might be the key to unlocking the reasons behind this incident."
"Yes, I too would like to question this particular man," Kirika says.
"Your men will take reasonable steps to take him in alive, then?" Omo asks Ishikawa.
"Naturally," Ishikawa answers.
"Very well," Omo says. "Are you ready to share information about the events at Lord Shira's estate?"
Ishikawa looks to Shira, who nods, then turns to Kirika. "I'm a late arrival to the scene," she says. "Kamura-kensei witnessed things first-hand."
"We arrived as the fire was already well under way, from a riverside dock," Kirika says. "Lord Shira went inside to find his daughter and save what he could, but it was already too dangerous inside the house, so we made our leave. The Killer Bee arsonist, we disabled and captured as he tried to escape."
"Killer Bees," Omo says, deep in thought. "Hm. Well, when you are finished talking to him, I would quite like a word with the man."
"I shall send for you when he is ready to talk," Ishikawa says.
"Excellent," Omo replies - then extends his hand, distributing shakes all around. "These are trying times," he says. "But your men seem to have the situation in hand as well as can be expected. I look forward to the results of your efforts."
"As do I," Ishikawa says. "A good night, Chief Justice."
"What remains of it," Omo replies.

Kirika watches Justice Omo walk off, then turns to Shira. "We should get you to your protection, High Lord," she says.
"Indeed we should," Shira says. "Lady Ishikawa, if you would honor me..."
"Right this way, Lord Shira," Ishikawa says, taking him by the arm and leading him away - but not before he places his hand on Himiko's shoulder one last time. "Good night for now, Himiko," he says. "...good night, father," she whispers, standing still while he is led away.
"I...I think we might want to eat something," Yukio suggests. "Somewhere away from all this."
Kirika doesn't reply, unable to take her eyes off of Shira and Himiko.
"What do you want to eat, dearest?" Yukio tries again. "Or perhaps a drink? I could stand to drink a cup or two after today."

She hears Yukio, but the only thing capable of holding Kirika's attention at the moment is the tired, resigned, but most of all sad expression on Himiko's face as she watches her father being led away.

"Yes," Himiko finally says. "I think I would quite like a drink, too."
MikeS 2016-07-04 02:04:01
Takao just nods at the old ninja's explanation.

"FOrgive my directness, Homi-sama, but is this story purely informational, or will it be followed by a new set of directions? We've lost the Oni; he should have been over there" - Takao points - "but the trail goes cold from there."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-07-05 10:56:37
Toshiba's frown can't deepen any further by the time Nagani pulls the Ayami knife from the corpse pile. "Thank you both for trusting me. I believe I know some people who can help, but it is folly to approach Sinan in the manner of shinobi. Even if we were able to assassinate him - and only him - the rest of Ayami would turn on us and create a cycle of retribution. We must strip his power over the others, and only knowledge can do that."

There is also the small matter of this coming at exactly the wrong time, Toshiba thinks. And I will eat this blue helm if that Ayami knife isn't a plant. 'Oh no, the Ayami turned on the Shadowwatch! There are Ayami within the Shadowwatch now! Let's all turn on each other! This has Ikishi's stink all over it.

He whistles for Konoko and scrawls a message onto some parchment. "Find Takao, Konoko. Fly swiftly." The message is unusually devoid of subterfuge this time. Ninja have slaughtered ninja at the docks. Bring this to Homi, gather whoever else you think necessary.

"I often find the answer to 'ninja' is 'samurai'," Toshiba says as the hawk-eagle takes flight. "We need someone who wasn't ever part of this world to see this."
Gatac 2016-07-05 13:30:51
Leaving behind the bustle of the plaza, the trio of Himiko, Yukio and Kirika makes their way through some side alleys to a bar signed as "River's Gentle Bends". The smell inside isn't that gentle, but the atmosphere seems relaxed enough, and sitting down at a table, the matronly server gets you three cups and a bottle of sake without too much fuss. Yukio pours, then hands one cup to Himiko, who sniffs it and immediately makes a face.

"I don't think they have the really good stuff here," Yukio says, but Himiko shakes her head.
"It's not that," she says. "I just...I don't imbibe...not usually." She sighs. "It's just another thing I'm supposed to be doing now."

Kirika sighs, and looks out the window. The vague glow of gaslamps shines through the somewhat milky glass of the window, and a patrol of cops marches past on the street, no doubt heading out for the manhunt.

"We're one step closer," Yukio says. "No matter what, we're...we're one step closer to stopping all this."
Kirika hears the conversation, sees the officers walking past, and sighs again. She grabs one of the rice puffs from the table and puts it on the windowsill.
"What are you doing?" Himiko asks. "You're not drinking."
"You're not drinking," Yukio says.
"Well, yes," she admits, "but you''re adventurers! You' go to taverns and you drink. Don't you?"
"Tonight's not really a night for drinking," Kirika replies. "I think we're going to need clear heads." She looks out the window again, and seeing nothing, scowls, and puts a few more rice puffs out.
"You think she's going to come?" Yukio asks. "It's not exactly a cake."
"If they had cakes, I would put them out," Kirika replies. She grabs her cup of sake - and Yukio's - and puts it out on the windowsill.
"I don't think birds -"
"Oh, how I love being wrong," Yukio mutters.

Out of the night sky, Konoko comes fluttering down. Her clawed feet kick the rice puffs away and to the floor, but she does - literally - wet her beak in the sake. She looks at Kirika and tilts her head. "Kiii?"

Konoko looks...tired. And after a moment of staring at Kirika, she dips into the cup again, this time for longer.
"This can't be good for -" Yukio tries.
"KIIIII!" Konoko screeches, so much so that the rest of the tavern falls silent.
"Okay, okay," Yukio says.
"Kii," Konoko replies, then tip-toes forward along the windowsill, jumps - with a brief flutter - onto the table and starts, reluctantly, to peck at the rice puffs, them being there and edible and all.
"You look like you've had a busy night," Kirika says, waving away the nice woman attending tables. "Are Toshiba and Sidewinder all right?"
"Kii," Konoko says. Her calmness is a reassuring, but not particularly enthusiastic.
"Well, that's one positive, at least," Kirika replies. "Is it safe for us to go to them?"
"Kiiiiiiii!" Konoko cries. Then she shudders, which might be taken for a bird way to shake her head. Or maybe it's the alcohol.
"...why is there a bird on our table," Himoko says, "and why are you asking it questions?"
"How impolite of me," Kirika says. "Konoko, this is Himiko. Himiko, Konoko."
"Ki," Konoko says, dipping her beak in Himiko's cup.
"Uh...hello," Himiko says. Her hand reaches out, and Konoko moves a bit to position herself under it. After a gentle touch to start with, Himiko starts stroking the bird's head.
"Kiiiiiiiiii," Konoko says.

Kirika waits for Konoko to withdraw her head before continuing. "So, do you have any way for us to find them, or..."
"Kiii," Konoko says, shaking herself again. Grabbing a rice puff, she tears it until only a longish strip is left, then throws it into one of the cups, making it float on top.
Kirika stares at it for a moment before she gets it. "A boat? Can we get to them now?"
"Kiiiiiiiii!" Konoko cries, shaking even more violently - and knocking the cup over as she spreads her wings. After she calms down again, she presents her leg to Kirika, with the empty message capsule strapped to it.
Kirika pulls out a strip of paper and writes a quick message - S contained, waiting for your return - rolls it up, and slides it into the capsule. She gives the obviously inebriated bird a bemused look. "Don't get too turned around up there, hmm?"
"Ki," Konoko replies, then sways a bit, hops onto the windowsill and clambers outside before launching back into the sky.

"So," the waitress speaks up, having snuck up on your table. "Can you pay for this mess, or do you prefer mopping up after yourselves?"
"Apologies," Kirika replies. "We'll straighten up before we go, and..." She digs into her coin purse and pulls out five silver. "And here's something for your trouble."
"Right," the waitress says. As she walks away, she mutters "Gonna need a darn 'no birds' sign now..."


Takao's question seems to find no answer from Homi, and momentarily, the old master seems put out that he's gotten lost in old tales in lieu of helping Takao track down Toshiba. Then Konoko kiiiiis overhead, tracing a somewhat...inebriated...path through the night sky on her way to the docks.

"I think we follow the bird," Homi says.


Nagani and Sadatsugu share a glance as Toshiba...thanks them? Sadatsugu actually smiles back at him, though, and before long even Nagani can't help but let her lips curve upwards a bit, despite the direness of the situation.

"Thank you, Toshiba," Nagani says. "It is good to hear you speak such calm wisdom. In truth, for all my vaunted rank I might have had within the clan, I will not soon possess the likes of your experience - or compassion."

Konoko is whistled for, and like so often, appears as if summoned from thin air - though not without, as Toshiba notes, a whiff of strong alcohol about her. Sooner or later he shall have to have words with Kamura-kensei and her deplorable habit of spoiling his bird absolutely rotten. Kirika's message is brief, but seems to tell that she has her end of things in hand - just as well, then, for this scene here might require some tact to explain to the others. His own message to Takao secured, Toshiba sends away Konoko once more.

"That bird," Nagani says. "I'm sure I've seen it before, years ago."

Probably while Konoko was still doing the bidding of the previous Blue Oni. But this is maybe not the time to discuss such trivia.


To Homi's surprise, Konoko returns to circle above them as the steam boat exits the twisted canals and putters into the harbor basin. Takao gently throttles back as the bird descends and lands on the boat, making a bit of a show of flaring out its wings just before landing. Hardly paying any attention to the bemused Homi, Konoko hops up to the control panel and stretches out her leg for Takao to inspect, insistently Kii!-ing at him all the while.

"What news does the bird - " "KIIIIII!" "Pardon me. What news does Konoko bring?" Homi asks.
MikeS 2016-07-22 14:27:31
"Yes, yes, I got it," Takao says to the bird in a calming tone while he gingerly reaches for the message on Konoko's leg. It never hurt to remember that Konoko was a lot of sharp claws and beak and shared a sense of humor with her master.

He swiftly unrolls the message and scans it, then passes it wordlessly to Homi and reaches for the throttle. "Take us to the Oni, Konoko."

"Anybody else you want to bring?" he asks Homi as the bird takes of and the boat accelerates.
Gatac 2016-07-26 13:43:34
"I think that, considering the situation, we ought to minimize the circle of trust," Homi says while Konoko takes flight again. "Let us inspect the scene first, then decide who we should involve."


At the ship, Nagani and Sadatsugu give a respectful nod to Takao, while staying well clear of Hiro Homi. Nothing is said, for the moment - Takao's sharp eyes are called upon to examine the scene of the crime.

(Takao's Investigate: 1d20+18 = 30)

Twelve victims in all. Multiple Ayami weapons, appear authentic - source? Slit throats and discolorations of the skin indicate victims were deliberately bled from the neck while hanging from their feet. Exsanguination is likely cause of death - the wounds inflicted by the Ayami weapons found in the pile were postmortem. Faint chemical smell. No signs of decomposition. No discernible livor mortis. No rigor mortis, either.

Takao's sharp eyes narrow a bit further as his brow furrows.

This shouldn't be possible. Even if they were killed immediately prior to being bled, washed and transported here, even if the pile was left just as Nagani and Sadatsugu came here, even if Nagani ran right into Toshiba afterwards...impossible. Given the warm arm and humidity of the season, rigor mortis should have already occurred. And without decomposition, there is no way it could have passed.

Takao and Toshiba share a glance and a nod. Always good to have someone else with sharp eyes double-checking your work.

"What have you found?" Homi asks.