Seven Devils

Gatac 2016-12-21 13:26:10
As Toshiba and Takao plunge towards the ship, Toshiba notes with faint detachment that it's moving at quite the speed despite its sails hardly flapping - the midday breeze is not strong enough to drive anything of note. Smoke rises from the stern - probably one of those fire engines you've seen used in both Lord Shira's little boat and the Devilfish. As if that wasn't enough of a show of the ship's technical virtues, you can make out faint shouting and running about on the deck, and just as Toshiba wonders if the sailors are pointing up at him the first gonne shots echo and bullets whizz by. (Fun History Fact: the first weapon specifically designed to bring down flying objects was the Krupp Ballonabwehrkanone of 1870.) Momentary ineffectiveness of the fire nonewithstanding, this could make for a bit of a hot landing, then. Still, it's good news - kind of? - that Ikishi's men now think enough of you that they're willing to brazenly and openly violate Lady Ishikawa's weapons ban rather than be caught flat-footed again. Too bad about the soft breeze, then: none of the harbor guard ships stand a chance of catching the ship to bring the crew to justice.


Downtown is in pre-lunch rush, which is to say that even the most drunk of drunkards are now stumbling their way out of the taverns and public houses, making way for the crowds that want to avoid the crowds that always form when there’s lunch and why is it so hard to get a nice quiet table in a decent place anyway, do you have to be a scholar’s cousin or something? Fortunately, social strata are of less concern in the Noodle Shack, a truly fine example of egalitarian eating where carriage drivers rub elbows with the people who run this city. What brings them all together is the savory smell of modan-yaki, cabbage and batter and noodles and whatever toppings you want. There's no line at the counter, but even if there was, Tsukareta would be stepping up directly into first place. It's good to be a High Lord.

"Hey," he says by way of greeting, cutting off the "Welcome to Noodle Shack, can I take your order?" shpiel halfway through 'Welcome'. "Yes," he adds, "can I get two to go with extra seaweed and ginger?"
"Certainly, High Lord," the counter girl replies. Tsukareta nods quietly, then drops some coins on the counter. Exact change, of course.
"Lord!" Kirika says, stepping up behind Tsukareta and bowing deeply. "I was on my way to your road test facility to see it for myself, but, well, here you are! What brings you out today?"
"Oh, Lady Kamura!" Tsukareta blurts out, giving her a cursory bow, but more from surprise than impoliteness. "I was...I am going to the road test, too, actually. You know, we poured some new liquid stone mix yesterday, I have to go see how it has cured overnight. I would have preferred checking earlier before the sunlight had a chance to heat it up and distort it, but I had some very persistent petitioners this morning.” He's saying all that slightly too fast, like you'd expect from someone who's running way behind his own demanding schedule and knows it.
"Something new!" Kirika says. "We should get this to go and head out there together!" She looks over his head to the counter. "Extra pepper flakes, please!"
"Certainly, Milady," the counter girl replies, repeating the order to the cook, who quickly adds two dashes of red flakes to half of the mass on the metal griddle before him, then takes his spatula and quickly cuts the mass into four squares, sliding two each into separate waxed paper satchels that the counter girl takes from him and hands over to Tsukareta and you. "Thank you for your custom!" she chirps, bowing deeply to both of you.
"And thank you!" Kirika replies in an equally chipper tone.

While Tsukareta busies himself trying to pick up his double order, she leans over and looks out to Tsukareta's carriage - and Copperhead standing next to it. Deadpan and seemingly utterly unconcerned with his appearance out in the open, Copperhead holds up a...tool? It's a bit hard to tell at a distance, especially once he fades back into the shadows, leaving no trace of him having been there a moment ago.

"Yes, ah," Tsukareta says as they walk outside. "I'm afraid we don't have any signs put up yet for the test site, and the road is a little rough, so if you'd just follow my carriage..."

It's a good thing Kirika's standing behind him as he tries to climb into his carriage, because as soon as he puts his whole weight onto it, the front left wheel shears off with a mighty BWARP! Kirika catches Tsukareta as he all but jumps backward to clear the carriage, and after a brief moment of straightening himself out, he wordlessly hands his food order to her and walks over to the damaged carriage.

"Hmm," he mutters, inspecting the damage. “Ah!”
"Well, that's...surprising!" Kirika says. "My carriage is parked around back, we could ride together. You need to hurry to make your inspection, after all."
"Yes, yes," Tsukareta says. "Yes, take a look at this!" He waves her over enthusiastically, and Kirika has little choice but to approach and bow down to look at what he's looking at. "I knew this would happen!" he says, beaming proudly. "We need to get some better ore or we'll never catch up with Hanse metallurgy."

Kirika takes a good look at the damage. A metal mounting bracket has sheared off at the point where it’s bolted to the wooden frame, compromising the wheel mount. The weight and sudden shift of it then further damaged the wheel’s hub and bent the axle. This carriage is going nowhere fast. (Fun History Fact: Research into material fatigue has been ongoing since at least 1837!)
"Oh my. That is unfortunate." She loops her free arm under his and leads him inside. "My carriage is this way!"

"Yes, ah, of course!" Tsukareta babbles, clearly used to being dragged hither and thither. "I am, um, quite embarrassed, Lady Kamura," he adds. "I was hoping to get at least ten more days out of that bracket, to be quite honest. But the failure mode is exactly as I predicted. I really do wish we had the time to dissemble it." He settles down a bit as he climbs into Kirika's carriage with her, feeling every bit of the momentary jolt as it starts moving. "Yes, see, that's exactly it," he comments. "Standard suspension is so rough. If we could alter the geometry and make bigger, softer springs..."
"You could have a gentler ride, and we could more easily enjoy our lunch and have some tea?" Kirika says. She gestures to Sidewinder, sitting next to her and opposite Tsukareta in her sumptuous - and borrowed from Hetechi - carriage. "And this is my personal valet."
"Oh, we could indeed," Tsukareta says, nodding to Sidewinder. "Ah, uh, hello," he blurts out. "Didn't quite...see you there."
"Happens," Sidewinder replies.
"Um," Tsukareta says, looking first at Sidewinder, then at Kirika. "Maybe I should...tell your driver where to go, exactly?"
"He knows the way, I told him about your test facility after the party," Kirika replies, and nods to the driver - the same Shadowwatch rickshaw driver from before. "You know the way, yes?"
"I got it, Ma'am," the driver says.
"I...I see," Tsukareta says, clutching his lunch a little tighter. "If you...if you don't mind me saying so, Lady Kamura, you seem...quite prepared for this trip."
"I was very excited to see your facilities," Kirika replies. "And, well..." She smiles and looks away a bit. "I tend to obsess and over-prepare for things that interest me."
"I see," Tsukareta says, then takes a deep breath, as if to cleanse himself of the previous topic. "So, uh, while we’re here and have nothing better to do, I was wondering: what's your favorite road?" He affects a smile. “You can tell a lot about a person by their favorite road, I find.”
"Oh..." Kirika says, thinking quickly. "Well, there's one that leads to one of my family's properties. It's not as grand or proper as anything you have, has the advantage of age. It's maintained well, and travels some challenging terrain, but the wagons never slip. You know every stretch, every tree along it."
"Hm, yes, aesthetic value," Tsukareta says. "but I do not believe in 'challenging terrain'. All too often it is a simple excuse for laziness or lack of engineering. Oh, there was a hill, we had to go around it - nonsense!" He scoffs audibly and deliberately. "You're not a disciple of that ghastly mainlander Fei Chung and his ‘Natural Path’ dogma, are you?"
"No, no, more an admirer of the ingenuity of those seeking to surmount a challenge that they lacked the equipment to overcome through sheer brute force, and were forced to use their minds and creativity instead," Kirika replies.
"Hm," Tsukareta says, unpacking his lunch and taking in the smell for a moment. "Lady Kamura, I...freely admit I'm not as comfortable around people as I am around machines, but even I can tell that your interest is not in the roads I build. So I am forced to ask...what is your interest in me?"
"You are a very, very talented man," Kirika replies. "One that will doubtlessly improve the Empire in many ways. My interest is in the improvement of the Empire, Lord Tsukareta - an interest I think we both share."
"That depends on your definition of 'Empire' and 'improvement'," Tsukareta replies cautiously.
"I agree," Kirika replies, and looks him in the eyes. "What are yours?"
"Improvement means a goodbye to the inefficiencies of our current age," Tsukareta says. "Millions toil for their own bare sustenance only. Effort is duplicated thousandfold where it would be better concentrated in a few places. What we have right now is not Empire, it is a mingle-mangle of regions, islands and cities that mouth the same pledges and trade the same coin. I want to bring all these people together so that everyone will experience the abundance we are creating in the capital. A rising tide lifts all ships. And then the Empire will be whatever places we may reach with our ships and our roads, as the people everywhere will realize that to join us is to know what it means to be rich."
"A noble goal - although I would ask if wealth and happiness are the same thing," Kirika replies.
"That's..." Tsukareta says, taking a deep breath. "Pardon my Hanse, but that is töricht," he says. "That is a question I expect from a first-year scribe whose dedication to women and sake is stronger than his desire to think about more than simple-minded platitudes. I've heard enough well-taught philosophers chew my ear off about the honesty and dignity of hard labor, but I haven't seen any of them at my construction sites digging ditches. Sentimentality like that has no place in sound economic planning. I can’t tell you what makes anyone happy, but I can tell you that toiling all day and starving all the while leaves little room for happiness. Making people wealthier gives them the freedom to pursue whatever they decide makes them happy."
"I never said that they weren't closely related, my Lord," Kirika replies with a smile. "But I know a few people that are very wealthy but not exactly happy. Some of them might be very troubled about something indeed." She raises an eyebrow at him. "Wouldn't you say?"
MikeS 2016-12-27 13:39:31
"Drop me off when we get close enough," Takao calls to the Oni.

"Either right into their lines, or right behind them. Maybe do a flyby first and let them fire a volley. Even a skilled gonneman takes a long time to reload his weapons, and I'm not seeing much firing discipline down there right now."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2016-12-29 15:00:49
Toshiba sees the gouts of smoke and feels more than hears the balls whip past. He nods to Takao and banks for his approach from the bow - the vessel's speed plus his own combine to provide the shortest possible window for someone to get lucky and shoot him, plus the rear ranks are going to shoot through the front ranks' blackpowder smoke as it's blown off the stern. Toshiba flares hard at the last second, groaning with the strain, and lets Takao go.

"Take it inside as quickly as you can! Their gonnes will lose their advantage!"
Gatac 2017-01-18 08:04:37
(Toshiba's Acrobatics: Roll 1: 1d20+15: 1d20(2) 15(15) = 17 NOT THREADING THE NEEDLE
Ominous Die of Ominousness: Roll 1: 1d20+1: 1d20(19) 1(1) = 20 TOUGH ENOUGH)

Toshiba darts through the gonnefire and towards the hard deck, lead whizzing past his helmet as he gets eyes on wood grain and the white in the eyes of the terrified sailors, and feels that gentle voice in the back of his head telling that, maybe, it is time to PULL UP. (Fun History Fact: Ground Proximity Warning Systems are mandated for all commercial aircraft by the FAA since 1974.) This aeronautical feat is greatly decomplicated by deploying his payload (read: Takao) into the festivities, and as he arches his back and the fire boots push him into a climb, it looks like everything -

Well, everything looks like the main sail, really.

Toshiba's going a bit too fast to avoid it, but the lack of commitment to hitting it full speed cuts the flame and sees him land in the sail, flailing for the rigging as his ds/dt on the y-axis briefly becomes negative. He hits the deck in a tangle of ropes and patches of fabric, just in time to see an officer in Hanse-inspired finery lead a charge of six sailors with sabers against our heroes.

(Toshiba is considered Entangled: -2 to attack rolls, -4 to Dex-based skill checks, speed halved, may not Refresh or Run. He can fight like this, or spend a Full Action freeing himself to end the impairment. And I guess at this stage it is time for


Toshiba: Roll 1: 2d20.hi+20: 2d20.hi(15,7) 20(20) = 35
Takao: Roll 1: 2d20.hi+14: 2d20.hi(6,15) 14(14) = 29
Mooks: Roll 1: 1d20+10: 1d20(12) 10(10) = 22
The Captain: Roll 1: 1d20+14: 1d20(2) 14(14) = 16)


Kirika's barb is a pointed question, and it finds its mark in Tsukareta, who turns away and instead glances outside. "This is not the way, Lady Kamura,” he says. “Should I consider this a kidnapping?”
Kirika shrugs, and takes a bite of her lunch. "This is excellent, Lord. I see why you favor it."
Tsukareta pauses for a moment to take in Kirika’s nonchalance, but finally seems to figure out that there’s not a whole lot he can do about it, so he turns back to his lunch. "It reminds me of my childhood," he says quietly, chowing down on his own portion.
"How so?" Kirika asks.
"We used to have them on special occasions," he explains. "My mother would never skimp on the ingredients. We could have had them more often if only she'd stretched the batter, or not insisted on the seaweed...we saved for that seaweed. But she never skimped, and so we always looked forward to them. It made us feel like rich people." He looks to Kirika. "I support them now, you know. They can afford to have it whenever they want, but she only makes it when I come visit. They don't want to forget who they are, they tell me. I don't argue with them. I just think of all the times we could have had it, all the mothers that go to bed hungry to feed their children. All the ways in which we have let the people down by avoiding changes, whether out of laziness or personal interest or hidebound infatuation with tradition. I want to build a better Empire, Lady Kamura. Because if this was a better Empire, my parents would not feel the need to remember this hunger."
Kirika nods. "That, I agree with. You will find no argument from me."
"What is your argument, then?" Tsukareta asks.
“At what point does the cost of change grow too great?” Kirka asks. “Is an Empire enriched in wealth but gained at the cost of great suffering truly wealthy?"
“And what great suffering is that?” Tsukareta says, full of conviction. "My work will benefit millions of people.”
"I'm sure it will," Kirika replies. She leaves the "but" unsaid.
"It is certain," Tsukareta affirms. "The numbers don't lie, Lady Kamura. With rice harvests as bad as they are, we must increase our productivity quickly by whatever means necessary."
"No matter what," Kirika replies dispassionately, eyes on her food.
“No matter what nostalgic infatuation you might hold for pastoral fantasies,” he says.
"No matter what - or who - is in the way," Kirika replies, and takes a bite.
"People like you are in the way, and we’ve been...we've been more than reasonable about it," Tsukareta says. "We've paid fair prices for every piece of land. We've offered well-paid jobs. We've explained, over and over, how this will benefit everyone. I am...I am not fond of force, Lady Kamura, but eventually stubbornness must yield to reason, and if it does not, it must be made to."
"Because you are making their lives better," Kirika replies, and looks out the window. "At least, the ones that are left."
“I know I am," Tsukareta says, holding back both grief and anger. "I've seen you. I've heard all about you, how you''ve only just gotten here, and turned the others to your side with...with sweet words, talk of honor and justice and goodness. But I won't....I won't be turned. I won't be...weak, like them. I don't need a parade or a statue, I'll settle for knowing that I tried to set a broken bone, no matter how much it hurt."

As the argument rages, the carriage slows its pace, and the bumps on the road soften. Kirika looks back inside. "An Empire is not a body to be healed, Lord - and people are not an obstacle to be paved over." She looks towards the door as the carriage pulls to a stop. "We're here. If you would, Lord." She gestures towards the door.

Tsukareta silently finishes his meal, then puts the remains aside and climbs out of the carriage. They stand before what seems like an abandoned farm - the implements that were light enough have long been carried away, while a heavy wooden plow is still stuck in the soil. Tsukareta scans the scene before him with obvious unease, but his voice betrays little of his inner world. "And what now, Lady Kamura?" he asks. “Is this what you wished to show me? A poor farmer’s home, abandoned for a better life elsewhere?”
"Now, I have some people that wish to speak with you," Kirika replies, and holds the door to the plain farmer’s house open. Positioned on the edge of the Capital, it's out of the way enough that no one would suspect much of anything.

Tsukareta looks at the house. Considers how likely it is that this kidnapping is a pretext for killing him somewhere out of the way where nobody will ever find his body. But he’s watched enough of those ninja stage shows to know that, of all the places they could have gone, this is not a particularly good one for a murder. After a moment's thought, Tsukareta sighs. "I'm not getting out of here until I've gone into that shack, am I?" He meets Kirika's eyes. "So, who exactly wants to see me, then?"
"The broken leg," Kirika says, and gestures for him to walk back towards the shack - but doesn't lay a hand on him.
"I already regret this metaphor," Tsukareta mutters, but finally walks back to the shack, past Sidewinder and into the building.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-01-18 13:27:43
"Could have gone better," Toshiba growls, cutting free of the sails and rope just as the mob of crew reaches him.

(let's burn the full-round action to get free)
MikeS 2017-01-19 00:30:17

Acrobatics: d20+6 = 19 good enough, I'd say)

Takao the Payload lands with an elegant roll, and a bunch of sailors are about to have a really bad time!

Mizu leaves its saya in a flash as Takao ends his roll standing, and the symphony of slaughter begins.


Takao will Quick Draw his blade, use Think Ahead to boost his attack roll to +27, then use All-Out Attack to drop the to-hit bonus to +23 and add +8 to damage, as well as half the margin he hits by, for a total of +13 damage, for the first six or so attacks, then it goes down to +15 to hit and +5 to damage , +0.5 times the margin. He also has Cleave and Charge, and does not pay to activate crits. I will use AD for any misses. Let me know where he stops.)
Gatac 2017-01-25 13:08:02
(Okay, Toshiba spends a full action to free himself. He's good to go now.)

There's a lot of ropes to be caught up in when it comes to the rigging of a sailing ship, and Toshiba ought to know, as he spends a few seconds cutting what seems damn near all of them to untangle himself. As he rises to his feet, blade in hand, the mainsail flaps perilously loose above him, only a gust away from sweeping across the deck or wrapping around the mast, neither of which would do much for the ship's forward speed or crew comfort.

(Takao can't really miss with his first six attacks, but let's roll this out...actually the only reason I'm even bothering to roll attacks is to see if they crit so I don't have to roll damage saves.

Attack #1:
Attack Roll: Roll 1: 1d20+23: 1d20(1) 23(23) = 24 and I bet you're glad FantasyCraft doesn't have an automatic miss on a 1...
Damage: 1d10+13 = 18
Damage Save vs DC 19: 1d20+6 = 16 GAK!


Attack #2:
Attack Roll: Roll 1: 1d20+23: 1d20(4) 23(23) = 27
Damage: 1d10+13 = 22
Damage Save vs DC 21: 1d20+6 = 21 Barely!

And thus, Takao's second half action attack begins.

Attack #3:
Attack Roll: Roll 1: 1d20+23: 1d20(20) 23(23) = 43 GET REKT


Attack #4:
Attack Roll: Roll 1: 1d20+23: 1d20(4) 23(23) = 27
Damage: 1d10+13 = 17
Damage Save vs DC 18: 1d20+6 = 19 Scraped by!)

That's two mooks down and a third fucked up real good.)

Mizu drinks deep of its first victim despite the hasty, sloppy cut, taking him out of the fight in a single stroke. That's gonna leave a scar, if he can keep his guts in long enough to get sewn up. Victim #2 loses his left hand in the first strike and before he can wonder if chicks dig hook hands, Takao twirls the sword into a return stroke that takes his goddamn head off. Pretty sure they don't make prosthetics for that. It's gotten so bloody that by the time Takao sinks his blade into the shoulder of Unlucky Contestant #3, the sailor's considered lucky that he's still standing and screaming.

(And now the mooks each draw their weapons - let's go with the equivalent of machetes because I think it's a better fit for what a cutlass is supposed to do than the stats in the book. Weapons drawn, they each get one attack, so two are gonna go for Takao and two for Toshiba.

Mook Attacks:
Roll 1: 1d20+12: 1d20(12) 12(12) = 24. Roll 2: 1d20+12: 1d20(4) 12(12) = 16. Roll 3: 1d20+12: 1d20(5) 12(12) = 17. Roll 4: 1d20+12: 1d20(15) 12(12) = 27

One guy actually manages to hit Toshiba! oh noes)

Mr. Sword-in-Shoulder flails at Takao with his own saber, accomplishing nothing of note. It's only Takao's needed efforts to free the stuck blade that let the next sailor off easy as he runs shouting at Takao, eyes closed and cutlass swinging through nothing but thin air. The contingent that broke off to face Toshiba doesn't seem much more competent, with one of them swinging at Toshiba and only hitting mast, but then one lucky son of a bitch sneaking up on Toshiba from behind raises his saber and brings down a mighty blow, aimed squarely at the ninja's spine!)

(Mook Damage: 1d8 = 8 oh NOES!

And it's AP 2, too! oh my GAWD...


...actually, no, fuck you, mook. Still not enough to overcome Toshiba's DR.)

Let's clarify some things. One, this isn't some wimpy mass-produced pig-iron Saturday Night Special "katana" that would blunt on bamboo and shatter against a shoji; this is good hard Hanse steel, a heavy utility blade made for chopping through fools. And the aim is true, too. There's no faulting the aim, that's right where you want the blade if you're the kinda guy who hacks through other people's spines. Rude, but effective.

And yet, there's a clang and a spark and then nothing. Toshiba hardly even felt that, and the sailor looks dumbfounded at the pristine armor before him and then at the burred edge on his own sword. Then he realizes that Toshiba not only rode into this battle on feet of fire, but he's also wearing armor that laughs off the best damn sword blow this dude has ever managed in his life.

It's time for some brown pants.

(And finally, the Captain - the good Captain - uses a full action to enact a Battle Plan: "Crush them!", for a +2 bonus to every mook's melee attack rolls.)

"What are you standing around for!?" the Captain bellows, swinging his big fuck-off saber over his Nice Hat as he tries to rally the ship's crew. "Keep attacking!"


Three different groups of stunned and scared faces meet Tsukareta - one, tanned and weathered by the sun, clothed in garments stained by dirt, the next, the robes of those that attend to shrines and temples, and the last, the threadbare and hard-worn clothes of the Burakmin. "Oh gods," one of them gasps, but all of them quickly stand and bow deeply. "Lord Tsukareta," they say.
"...hello, everyone," Tsukarata replies, returning the bow. "You may be seated." He looks to Kirika. "I have been...invited to listen to your grievances." He adds a muttered "Apparently."
"Oh, no, no, Lord," one of the Burakumin says. "We...we simply want a place to live again, Lord. Ever since we were made to leave, we have been sleeping in alleys and under the docks."
"Well, there are plenty of other houses in the city," Tsukareta responds. "What of your compensation? You were paid for your properties, were you not? Where did you spend that coin?"
"...we were only given 50 silver each, Lord," the Burakumin says. "It was all we were told our homes were worth."
"Hrm," Tsukareta responds. "That was the market assessment at the time, wasn't it - I will agree that it is not much money. Still, we cannot simply order the owners of other houses to lower their prices." He thinks for a moment. "And while I can conceive of a certain...public need for dwellings that you can afford, we have no land to build them on within the city."
"Not anymore," Kirika says behind him.
"These lands are urgently needed for infrastructure improvements," Tsukareta counters. "They were the cheapest property in a suitable location. I'm sorry for your plight, but I cannot simply will more land into being. What would you have me do, carve islands out of mountains?"
“Of course not, Lord,” the man says, bows again, and sits back down.
“What can you really take from someone that has so little, I suppose,” Kirika says, and nods to the temple caretakers. "What do you hope for?" she asks.

One of the caretakers stands up and crisply bows to Tsukareta again. "If the lake could be lowered, Lord, that would..." One of the other caretakers breaks into tears, but the woman next to her steadies her. "That would be good. Just...maybe thirty feet."
"That would defeat the entire point of building the dam," Tsukareta counters. "The dam is urgently needed to control the river's flooding downstream. Your valley is simply not suitable for a village, so close to the riverbed. Your temple was thrice flooded in living memory already, each time you labored mightily to restore it, and for what? Surely you must see that it would be better to rebuild it in a safer, more convenient location. Our infrastructure development program has finally granted you the coin to do so. Who will care in a few years that it is not exactly the same temple? You cannot pray wading through water."
"Yes, of course, Lord, but we cannot rebuild the temple without travelers, and with the temple not just flooded but entirely gone, they have stopped coming," the caretaker says. "I know you promised business, Lord, but...we did not expect the lake to take the temple from us."
"People will come to see the lake and the dam!" Tsukareta counters. "It will require years of further work and geological study to ensure that it works properly. Who will house the workers and scholars and visitors? You stand to profit from this! Your future is assured, you only have to grasp the opportunity."
"We...we are on the other side of the lake, Lord," the caretaker says. "What few come stay near the dam."
"Then it would be wise for you to move," Tsukareta says.
" where, Lord?" the caretaker asks.
"Closer to the dam," Tsukareta says. "Just...just come to my office and we'll find a suitable parcel. I'll even trade you in kind for the same area in your current village. If you act swiftly, you can still find good land and help shape the settlement there before others do."
"...but the temple, Lord," the caretaker says. "We cannot leave it."
"It will be underwater!" Tsukareta snaps. "What part of this do you not understand? Your temple is not more important than the good of the Empire! I'm sorry if this sounds harsh to you, but it is the truth."
"...yes, Lord," the caretaker says, and takes a seat.

Tsukareta snorts as he turns to the farmers. "And I suppose you wish to tell me of your historic rice paddies?"

The farmers simply sit, too terrified to stand or speak, and keep their heads bowed.

Tsukareta turns to Kirika, by now in full swing. "Is this what you meant to show me? All I see is denial and despair. I cannot help these people if they will not help themselves."
"And how would they do that?" Kirika asks, and walks over to the farmers. "They have had everything taken from them." She takes a knee next to two of the older farmers. "Go ahead," she says, putting a hand on the old man's shoulder. "Don't be afraid."
The old man stands up slowly, but still manages a firm bow. "A thousand apologies, Lord. Kumiko and I...we only need a small plot of land. For our son."
"And a house and tools and an oxen and a wife and kids to help the labors that will chain him to that small plot of land for the rest of his life," Tsukareta counters. "Your son is better off working in a factory."
The old man's face turns confused. "He is dead, Lord. Your samurai..." He clenches his hands as his eyes moisten, but he does not move from his respectful stance. "He tried to keep them out of our house."

For the first time, Tsukareta is at a genuine loss for words, his expression blank as he tries to process what he's being told against what he knows is...what he thought was true. “He...he was killed?” he mutters.
"We simply ask to bury him before our land is covered by your road, and then..." the old man turns away to hide his momentary lapse from stoicism. He wipes his eyes, and then returns to his upright posture. "Then we will move on."
"," Tsukareta says, fighting a tear. "No. There will be...there will be no road that covers his grave." He looks away. "I am...I am sorry for your loss." He struggles to wipe his eye, briefly turns back towards the room to continue, but after a moment, he simply blurts out "Excuse me", bows and then makes for the door.

Kirika bows to the confused crowd. "Thank you. Thank you very much, all of you," she says, and follows Tsukareta out.
Gatac 2017-02-11 11:21:51

Toshiba uses Shank! to dispose of Mook #6 before him, then moves towards the Captain.)

Brown Pants still looks shocked to his core when Toshiba's hand seems to fill itself with a knife, and before the sailor can dodge it, Toshiba shoves the blade through the sailor's eye socket. His latest nuisance disposed of, Toshiba power strides towards the Captain, drawing a new knife.

(Takao continues his blender impression best as he can. Also, I just realized I forgot to add 0.5 the margin of success to Takao's damage rolls, so...uh...Mook Three, you're dead.


You're dead. Fall over.)

Takao sets foot against Mook #3 to free Mizu and get another strike in, but the first thing they teach you in medical school is to never pull out the blade - it might be blocking a severed blood vessel. And in this case, it's not just a "might be" - if you thought the arterial spray from the wound was bad before, brother, you ain't seen nothing yet. Fighting his way forward through the literal red haze, Takao slips past the collapsing sailor to his comrade.


Attack #5: Roll 1: 1d20+23: 1d20(7) 23(23) = 30 HIT!
Damage: Roll 1: 1d10+13+5: 1d10(3) 13(13) 5(5) = 21
Damage Save vs DC 20: Roll 1: 1d20+6: 1d20(20) 6(6) = 26 OH COME ON

Okay, these mooks seem to not want to die. Second half action:

Attack #6:Roll 1: 1d20+23: 1d20(12) 23(23) = 35 HIT!
Damage: Roll 1: 1d10+13+7: 1d10(3) 13(13) 7(7) = 23
Damage Save vs DC...uh, 32: Roll 1: 1d20+6: 1d20(12) 6(6) = 18 NOPE

Mook #4 is deader than disco.


Attack #7, no longer thinking ahead: Roll 1: 1d20+15: 1d20(7) 15(15) = 22 HIT!
Damage: Roll 1: 1d10+5+1: 1d10(4) 5(5) 1(1) = 10
Damage Save vs DC 15: Roll 1: 1d20+6: 1d20(14) 6(6) = 20 SURVIVOR!)

Chop! That's a chunk out of his arm, and then Chop! there's a chunk out of his guts, and #4 is no more, either. With blood on his face and the powder smoke of more gonnefire drifting over the deck, Takao's carefully orchestrated dance of destruction slows down, 'only' managing to take two fingers from the next unlucky contestant with the rebound swing.

(One remaining mook, who can only desperately swing twice at Takao:

Mook Attacks: Roll 1: 1d20+12: 1d20(5) 12(12) = 17. Roll 2: 1d20+12: 1d20(14) 12(12) = 26 ONE HIT!

Grr, forgot the +2 from Crush Them!...but it makes no difference.

Mook Damage: Roll 1: 1d8: 1d8(4) = 4

Soaked by Takao's DR. Suck it, mook!)

Mr. 8 Fingers figures that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and roars into action, taking two wild swings with his good Hanse Entermesser. The first goes wild, the second barely scrapes over Takao's shoulder armor. Let us reflect on this moment, then, and conclude that today is just not a very good day to be a sailor.

(The Captain draws his own sword and then tries to threaten our heroes. As he has the Menacing Threat quality, his attempt targets both Toshiba and Takao.

Captain's Intimidate: Roll 1: 1d20+23: 1d20(16) 23(23) = 39 OOH MAMA

Honestly, I won't roll Resolve - Toshiba has no ranks, even Takao has no chance to resist a roll that high.

HERE COMES THE STRESS DAMAGE: Roll 1: 1d6: 1d6(2) = 2 (sad trombone)

Toshiba's Will Save vs DC 11: Roll 1: 1d20+8: 1d20(11) 8(8) = 19 NOT FAZED!
Takao's Will Save vs DC 11: Roll 1: 1d20+14: 1d20(15) 14(14) = 29 WHY DID I EVEN ROLL THIS

In conclusion: the Captain wasted a half action inflicting two points of Stress damage on you, neither of which really did anything because you easily made your Will saves. And this, kids, is why you don't use Threaten.)

"SUCH BOUNDLESS SLAUGHTER!" the Captain bellows, drawing his own sword at Toshiba's approach, and is that a smile on his face? Okay, that's a bit freaky. But considering what Takao and Toshiba have already gone through, "a bit freaky" hardly registers anymore. All that matters is finishing the fight.


Outside, Tsukareta is pacing back and forth, arms crossed in front of his chest, furiously talking to himself about his plans. When his eyes fall upon Kirika, he stomps up to her, tears of anger on his cheeks. "How many?" he asks her. "How many dead?"
"I honestly don't know," Kirika replies. "Many of them know others that lost someone when they were forced out, if they did not lose someone themselves." She fixes him with a stern look. "Did you honestly expect that forcing people out of their homes would not result in lives lost?"
"Shira assured me it would all would all be orderly and above board! We calculated the values, we counted out the money at the treasury, we…he never told me what he had his people do here! All I heard was that everything had been settled. I did not fully believe him even then, but...who would...who would stand before a samurai and beg to die rather than follow a lawful order?"

He doesn't wait for Kirika's answer, stomping off to go back and forth again. "This doesn't make any sense," he mutters to himself, over and over. "We had it all planned...everything was going to plan..."
"Whose plan?" Kirika asks. "Yours, or Ikishi's?"
"Mine!" Tsukareta screams into the noon sky. "My plan! I made the plan! I only...I had to involve Shira for the legwork in clearing the land, but..." He turns to Kirika. "I never wanted anyone to be killed. I...people die, they...die every day. But I never wanted...I never wanted anyone's blood on a sword with my name on it."
"Would your parents have given up their land at the tip of a sword?" Kirika asks. "You said yourself, it was all they had. Take that away, and what then?"
"You can..." Tsukareta mutters. "You can...start over? Can't you? You can change. You can take the money and go somewhere else and do something better than..." He trails off. "No matter. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter why. Something wrong was done here, more than I intended, more than I thought...more than I wanted to believe." He wipes the tears off his face. "If you would please see me to the council chambers now, Lady Kamura, I have a few things I need to say."
"Of course, Lord," Kirika says. She knocks on the door and waits for Sidewinder.

The hatted ninja exits the shack, glancing to Tsukareta brooding in the distance before turning to Kirika.

"Every man's got a line, I guess, even if it's a weird one," Sidewinder says. "Ain't it convenient when you can sleep sound on the cries of the poor, s'long as nobody's spilling actual blood."
"He never had to see what he was doing," Kirika replies. "And denial goes a long way. Make sure they are taken care of, please. I have to take the High Lord to his council meeting."
"Got it," Sidewinder says. "And if you don't mind me sayin' so, the prince ought to know about this. Looks like we got us one more High Lord to replace when the dust settles."
“I hope the White-Sashed Swordsman is responsible for this, not Lord Shira,” Kirika mutters. “We will have to ask him when we return to the city - we need to know where else Ikishi had people removed.”
“Well, he don’t remember the Swordsman stuff so good, I heard,” Sidewinder says. “But then I don’t got a problem believing he’d order a shakedown like this even just being himself.” He spits on the ground. "Samurai gonna samurai. No offense."
“Let’s hope Takao’s assessment of the High Lord is correct,” Kirika says. “If not, he will have some explaining to do.”
"Reckon he does," Sidewinder says. "Well, you best get going before the smart fella digs his own grave with that pacin'. I'll catch you back at base when I've got everyone inside taken care of."
"Stay safe, Sidewinder," Kirika says, and turns back to Tsukareta. "Your carriage awaits, my Lord."
MikeS 2017-02-25 11:22:02
Takao stabbed and slashed his way through the sailors. Slash the arm in the forward thrust, cut the neck in the reverse, cross-cut abdomen in the upswing, sever the head on the down stroke. Like all styles, the Seishin Dageki Ryu did not assume that the opponent would fall to the first attack, and added economic follow-ups, but Takao usually did not need them. The foreign sailors were not moving rationally, and never quite were where they were supposed to be.

No matter. Having disrupted the group of gonnemen, Takao drew his own gonne and set sights on the captain. What did Ueki call this? A 'sparrow'? He pulled the trigger and filled the air with lead.
Gatac 2017-03-26 07:16:03

Toshiba grapples the Captain to try to take him out of the fight before he can pull out any other tricks:

Toshiba's Athletics: 1d20+14 = 31
Captain's Athletics: 1d20+6 = 21 CAUGHT!)

Toshiba doesn't have time to figure out what the hell the Captain's deal is, but he does know that he's probably their best chance to get someone who knows what the hells this ship was sailing for, and in any event Kirika will probably want to talk to him and try to turn him and Toshiba has even less time for trying to explain why he shanked the most important source of intel on this ship, so less lethal it is. He tackles the Captain to the ground and uses his advanced ninjutsu training to straddle him and punch him in the nose. You know, as a proper "how do you do" between two sailors.

(Takao uses Quick Draw to draw the Sparrow gonne and gets to work on the Captain:

Takao's Attack #1: 1d20+12 = 14 MISS!
Takao's Attack #2: 1d20+12 = 26 HIT!
Takao's Damage: 3d6 = 9

Captain's Damage Save vs DC 14: 1d20+7 = 23 Resisted!)

Takao's becoming cognizant of the limits of swordsmanship - he's over here, and there's a dude with a big knife trying to hack at him, but what he really wants to do is put some hurt on the Captain. Firearms to the rescue, then, as Takao draws Ueki's fancy-named repeating handgonne and, between blows, tries to draw a bead on the Captain. Sadly, the flintlock design has just enough lock time that between him pulling the trigger and the gonne actually going off, Toshiba rushes in from the side and pushes the Captain out of the path of the bullet.

The phrase "Stop helping me" comes to mind.

But Takao's difficult to discourage, and in any event it is time to test whether Ueki's fanciful claims about the "repeating" nature of this weapon are true. So Takao pulls the trigger again, and what do you know, the damn thing spins by itself, the flint carrier locks back and then slams forward again, and the gonne fires a second shot, this one right into the Captain's leg.

(The last remaining mook keeps attacking Takao:

Mook Attack #1: 1d20+12+2 = 21 MISS!
Mook Attack #2: 1d20+12+2 = 25 HIT!

Mook Damage: 1d8 = 6 Soaked by Takao's DR)

Speaking of the dude with the big knife, well, bless his heart, he just keeps trying. Takao brushes his first strike aside, but the second comes just after his shot - and glances off his armor. The dude with the big knife steps back after that, and Takao can see in his eyes that the man is seriously questioning a) what he's doing and b) whether he should be here at all.

(The Captain tries to free himself:

Captain's Athletics: 1d20+6 = 9 SAD!
Toshiba's Athletics: 1d20+14 = 26 RAD!

Toshiba chooses the Injure benefit.

Toshiba's Damage: 1d6+1+1d4 = 5

Captain's Damage Save vs DC 17: 1d20+7 = 26 Resisted!)

"UNHAND ME, MISCREANT!" the Captain bellows, trying to push Toshiba off him - an effort which only marginally shifts their relative positions, but does get him a fresh new cut on his arm as Toshiba strikes to disable.

Toshiba chances a look around; the distant gonne-fighters of the crew are no longer preparing to shoot at Takao and him, mostly because they're running to take shelter from -

BAM! Chainshot thunders overhead as the coastal defense artillery starts its efforts to stop the ship before it gets out of range. Insofar as the ship doesn't really need its masts because it's not sailing so much as steaming right now, this is annoying, but not really germane to the fight. However, insofar as a chainshot hit could topple said masts onto the deck and crush anyone beneath them, things have just gotten a bit more exciting.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-03-27 11:41:02
"Parley?" Toshiba growls to the captain. "We all get out of range of those honorless bushwhackers upon yonder shore, then we get back to killing each other?"
MikeS 2017-03-27 17:38:11
"You've got him, right?" Takao calls over to the Oni, deflecting the persistent sailor's next blow and then shooting him in the face.

"Why don't we just abandon ship, then? He'll think twice about struggling when we're up in the air. Wait, I'll be right over."
Gatac 2017-03-29 11:50:27

Toshiba keeps grappling the Captain:

Toshiba's Athletics: 1d20+14 = 31
Captain's Athletics: 1d20+6 = 11 whomp-whomp

Toshiba inflicts damage again.

Toshiba's Damage: 1d6+1+1d4 = 11

Captain's Damage Save vs DC 22: 1d20+7 = 24 RESISTED!)

"PARLEY WITH BRIGANDS? I SAY THEE NAY!" the Captain bellows mockingly, which earns him a stab in the shoulder as Toshiba wrestles to get the unruly mountain beneath him to surrender. He's gonna pass out from blood loss...soon. Any second now. Yup.

(Takao attacks the last remaining mook:

Takao's Attack #1: 1d20+12 = 23 HIT!
Takao's Damage: 3d6 = 12

Mook's Damage Save vs DC 21: 1d20+6 = 14 SPLAT!

Figuring that Takao would attempt to pay back Toshiba's 'help' by shooting the Captain again:

Takao's Attack #2: 1d20+12 = 13 JAMMED!

The Sparrow seizes up.)

It's appropriate that you're on a ship because Takao swats aside the last futile flailing of Mr. 8 Fingers and then turns the man's head into a canoe. The newly de-head-ed sailor tips over backwards, and Takao takes a moment to deeply appreciate the firepower in his hands. Truly, Ueki wasn't bragging - well, wasn't bragging too much with his advertising for this repeating sidearm. That might actually catch on! It's certainly making Takao reconsider his position on blackpowder and -

"I MUST CRUSH YOU!" the Captain shouts, and Takao looks around to see that the Captain has somehow gotten on top of Toshiba - who still has his weapon arm in a brutal-looking armbar, though. Seeing his chance to end this little adventure, Takao whips his Sparrow on target and pulls the trigger as quickly as he can manage -

- at which point the sound the Sparrow makes is not a reassuring BANG!, but more the quiet little snap of some delicate little metal part inside breaking. The weapon's cylinder immediately seizes halfway through its movement, and within moments a pretty good gonne has been turned into a paperweight.


(The Captain tries to free himself:

Captain's Athletics: 1d20+6 = 12
Toshiba's Athletics: 1d20+14 = 24

Toshiba chooses the Injure benefit.

Toshiba's Damage: 1d6+1+1d4 = 9

Captain's Damage Save vs DC 27: 1d20+7 = 16 SCHOOLED!)

"UN...HAND ME!" the Captain shouts, but Toshiba's leverage on his arm doesn't let up; in fact, Toshiba keeps an iron grip on the captured wrist while his legs strain to hyperextend the Captain's shoulder and dislocate the arm, while the Captain struggles to get to his feet and then maybe ram Toshiba against a mast or something to shake him loose. This backfires on him, however, when Toshiba stabs his knife into the crook of the Captain's elbow. That does the trick; in a flash all the tension the Captain was trying to build against Toshiba's superior leverage is gone, and the stored energy of Toshiba's body acts like a spring slamming the Captain's face onto the wooden deck.


The cessation of on-deck hostilities occurs just as the off-deck hostilities reach a new level of heat. Toshiba is still wrapped around the Captain's wrecked arm sighing in relief when the next chainshot round hits its mark and cuts right through the main mast above. And because the Heavens like making ninja work for their victories, the mast quickly topples Toshiba's way!

(Toshiba's Reflex Save: 1d20+15 = 22)

No time to get up! Toshiba just holds on to the Captain and fires up his flying boots, shooting clear across the deck, through some barrels and then skips across the gunwale into the drink. Takao runs after him, reaching the edge of the deck just soon enough to see Toshiba and the Captain tumbling in flight just across the sea, punching through a shallow wave or two before Toshiba pulls up and flies away into the wild blue yonder.

Takao sighs. What fool he was to judge an untested pistol; what more fool to rely on getting about by riding the back of an immortal flying armor suit. No, this will have to be done the old-fashioned way. Takao's eyes fall on a boat dangling precariously over the side of the deck from two derricks - it seems like a smaller version of the steam-boat he's now well familiar with, so without further hesitation and spurred on by more cannonballs laying into the ship's stern, he jumps aboard the boat, expertly severs both ropes holding it with one stroke from his blade and then - literally - takes the plunge. As the boat crashes down on the sea below, Takao ducks to soak the impact, which is good because another cannonball punches straight through the ship's hull just a foot or so above him. Whatever virtues Ikishi's fast ships have, their armor is no match for coastal defenses at this short range. By the time Takao gets the boat's little engine started, the ship's larger machine is already groaning its last, the delicate piping having taken an indirect but still devastating hit. No time to waste; Takao throttles all the way forward and speeds the boat towards the quieter end of the port, wedging his free arm under a structural brace in the vague hope that that'll keep the boat from bucking him straight into the drink when it hits the next wave.

Behind him, the ship's powder magazine takes a hit, which is easy to discern just by listening because the whole damn thing goes up like the fireworks at the Emperor's birthday celebration. Takao doesn't look, though.


Kirika’s journey back to the capital’s outskirts isn’t exactly a happy one - it’s be hard for anyone to feel good after what just happened - but the business of saving an empire doesn’t leave much time for unsettled feelings, and neither does her run back into town to catch a rickshaw. Upon her arrival back at the group’s bayside base, Kirika hears the now-familiar sounds of hammers, bellows, and Ueki shouting instructions - it seems that the young engineer is conscious again and back to working on his floating bomb thrower contraption, and the factory’s workers are all back to work after some much needed rest.

That’s not why Kirika came back, however. Her eyes spot Himiko taking a walk outside, grasped onto Copperhead’s arm as he gently guides her along, and she jogs over. “How are you, Himiko?”
“Oh!” Himiko says, a bit startled. “Oh, I’m...I’m fine, Lady Kamura.” She pauses for a moment, then smiles. “Thank you for giving me a place to spend the night. After...yesterday, I was a bit out of sorts. Your friend here has been very patient with helping me get around. I missed you at breakfast, though - is everything in order?”
“Just busy,” Kirika replies. “But things are going well - but now I must speak to your father.”
“Would you mind terribly if I accompany you?” Himiko asks. “I think it would be good for him to see me, and for me to hear his voice.”
“Well…” Kirika says. “I also need to speak to the White-Sashed Swordsman.”
“Oh,” Himiko says, clutching a bit tighter to Copperhead’s arm. “I...well, why don’t I just come with you, and if it should prove too much or you require the benefit of privacy, I can wait outside. I know my way around the Hall of Justice, after all.”
“That is fine by me,” Kirika says. “I need to speak to Yu and Nikochi about this as well, but has there been any progress made on...helping Lord Shira?”
“That is a question best put to them,” Copperhead answers, sounding...surprisingly not as abrasively direct as usual, probably for Himiko’s benefit. “I haven’t had the time to contribute to their efforts.”
“Oh!” Himiko says. “Oh, my, I have kept you busy all morning walking me here and there, haven’t I? If there’s anything you can do to help my father -”
“I am but a dilettante in such matters,” Copperhead says. “I would be more hindrance than help to the real experts. Lady Yu Lee and Nikochi-sama are best qualified to treat your father’s condition.”
“But you must have better things to do than being with me,” Himiko says.

Copperhead gives Kirika a “Tell anyone I’m being nice and I will find a way to hurt you” look from under the brim of his head.

“Perish the thought,” Copperhead says. “Our friends have everything well in hand, and it would not do to see you left behind without company. Please accept my help as freely as it is given; it is no bother at all, milady.”
“Oh!” Himiko says, giggling a bit. “Your friend is such a sweetheart, Lady Kamura.”
Kirika smirks and nods - to Copperhead. “He certainly can be. Well, I should go speak to them, then.” She nods to Copperhead, her smile turning into a grin. “Have a good morning, both of you.”
“Oh, we will!” Himiko says.
“We will...wait for you to join us,” Copperhead adds.
Kirika nods. “Good day, both of you,” she says, and turns to find Yu and Nikochi.


Which she does fairly easily, by following the interesting-sounding moans and grunts coming from one of the side sheds of the factory. Inside, Yu is bent over one of the muscle-enhanced guards inserting another of what looks like a dozen needles into him, while Nikochi is rambling quietly to himself while lashed by his waist to one of the poles holding the roof up.

Kirika pauses at the doorway, trying to figure out which inexplicable thing to address first before giving up and just turning to Yu. “What is...going on in here?”
“I’m experimenting, and Nikochi is experimenting,” Yu says, not looking up from her delicate needlework. “Can I help you with something?”
“I was going to ask if either of you had any insight or progress on what has been done to Lord Shira, but now I’m much more curious about what you are both working on right now,” Kirika says.
“These men have been twisted from their natural forms by alchemical witchcraft, no doubt Lady Ikishi’s design,” Yu says. “I hope that by treating them, I can gain more insight into her methods. As for Nikochi, he said something about tracing the spirit tracks throughout the city.” She scoffs. “If it were up to me, we would sanctify this whole place and drive out whatever malevolent devils lurk here, but Nikochi insists that they’ll tell him whispered secrets or such. I think he’s let one too many spirits possess him, if you catch my meaning.”
“How much do you believe him about...the spirits?” Kirika asks. Her hands nervously rub her tattoos subconsciously.
“Oh, I believe in spirits all right,” Yu says. “Properly bound and summoned...not that there are many people who do it properly. But Nikochi’s dealing with wild spirits, and I know better than to let those close to me.”
“Mhmm,” Kirika says. “Not all spirits, though?”

“Are we finally talking about your family’s enchantment?” Yu asks. After a moment, she sighs and looks at Kirika. “I’m...sorry. That was more forward than I wanted it to be. It’s just that the Kamura family legacy is not difficult to spot, and if I don’t miss my guess you’ve been feeling your skin crawl being too close to me. That doesn’t mean I want to harm you or your ancestors. I’m just ritually warded against possession. That would perturb any spirit close to me.”
“Well, the tattoos do give it away,” Kirika says, trying to make a joke. “But yes, that is true.” There’s an awkward pause as Yu goes back to her needles and Kirika continues rubbing her tattoos with her thumbs. “ it? What has happened to me?”
“That depends on your point of view,” Yu says. “The fact of the matter is that you are a spiritual anchor, drawing the spirits of your ancestors to you - and drawing from the remnants of their chi to bolster your own. The technicalities of the binding are beyond me, but it is one of the more stable ones I’ve seen. Someone down the line must have been a skilled practitioner. You’re bursting with life, simply put. That’s why you grew so large, that’s why you feel everything so intensely, that’s why you can’t seem to sit down and be still.”
“The second one...that’s probably not the magic, just how Kamuras are,” Kirika admits.
“I can’t feel much of anything, so it’s hard for me tell that,” Yu says. “In any event, if your question is whether this is dangerous to you...not in an immediate sense, no.”
“I don’t care if it is dangerous,” Kirika blurts out, then gathers herself. “I want to know if Nikochi - or anyone else - can make good on his threat to take them away. They...they are my family. If I have to choose between whatever harm might come of this, and no longer feeling them at my back and hearing them in my ears, I will take the harm without hesitation.”
“Spirits can be forced away from a place,” Yu says. “If I wanted to, I could scatter them from you in a moment - but they would just return to you naturally. As far as I know, there is no way to destroy a spirit...but I’ve seen some strange things in my life, and I say this with full awareness of how that may sound coming from someone like me. As long as you live, the anchor should remain...but apparently it is passed down in your family, somehow? It would seem logical that it cannot be shared between two people at the same time, but that is only speculation.” She shakes her head. “I can offer no ironclad assurances, but I observe that this legacy of yours has apparently endured a few hundred years already, and the Kamura family has gotten into all kinds of scraps, have they not? I think you can be confident that it will not be broken on your watch, either.”

Kirika smiles. “Okay, good.” She looks over to Nikochi for a moment. “You really feel nothing?”
“I feel enough that I can tell when I am hurt,” Yu says, then points to her mouth and the still gnarly remnants of the wounds from where Ikishi stitched her lips together. “This was a bit unpleasant. But I could put my fist through the wall behind us without complaint. My youth was...a challenging path. And I’ve come to prefer healing people to showing off my fighting prowess.”
Kirika nods. “And have you learned anything from Himiko and this poor man?”
“Many things,” Yu says. “But not quite what I believe we’re both looking for.”
“I’ll take anything you have,” Kirika says. “It never hurts to know more about what your opponent can do.”
“Ikishi’s alchemy mirrors many of the effects I could produce with needles,” Yu says. “The advantage being that she does not need to be there to administer the treatment herself, but can have her proxies carry out the deed. But almost everything she does inhibits the will of the victim in one way or another. I’m not sure if this is merely Ikishi’s favorite side effect, or a fundamental limitation of her technique...not without more insight into how she creates these substances. If we could find our way into her study...but that seems beyond our reach at the moment. As it is, I can counter many of the effects, but it is not a particularly fast or efficient process.” She pauses. “I find myself saying ‘but’ a lot. There is much I still don’t know. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”
“It’s all right, Yu,” Kirika says, and bends over to look her subject in the eyes. “How do you feel, Bu?”

Bu says nothing, but his face slowly contorts into a smile.

“Apologies,” Yu says. “He won’t be much of a conversationalist for the next few hours. I’ve rerouted some chakras linking his mind to his body, it will take a while for that to place him in full control of his facilities.”
“But he will be more...himself?” Kirika asks.
“Yes,” Yu says. “Don’t worry about him, or the others. I will heal them of this.”
“And Shira?” Kirika asks. “What can we do to help him?”
“Find his real heart,” Yu says. “It’s still beating somewhere, and is no doubt key to what Ikishi uses to control him when he’s...not himself.”

“Yes,” Kirika says, and pauses again. “About that. I think we need to the White-Sashed Swordsman. Can we...bring him out, and put him back again?”
Yu raises an eyebrow.
“He is the only one of Ikishi’s inner circle we have not talked to,” Kirika says. “And he seems like he is her second in command, and possibly only confidant. Ramma said that he saw them discussing strategy and arguing many times.”
“I have an answer, but I do not believe you’ll like it,” Yu says. “Pain. Pain draws truth from all things. A few needles in the right places can produce temporary agony without debilitating permanent injury.” She pauses. “If you can find another way - any other way - I would be most grateful.”
Kirika looks to Nikochi, who is currently grunting and barking on all fours, and narrows her eyes. “It would be nice if one of my two mystical experts was currently conscious.” She looks to Yu. “Can you do something about this?”
“I am missing one critical component,” Yu says. “A bucket of cold water.”
“Gladly provided,” Kirika says, and turns on her heel to run to the side of the docks.


Five minutes later, Nikochi is very wet, very sober and very agitated. As he paces back and forth, Yu quietly plucks the needles from the back of his neck.

“- not to mention the Kitsune, who are most upset over current events!” Nikochi blurts out as his ranting seems to run out of steam. “And you two! Do you have nothing better to do than to interrupt my communion?”
“Lady Kamura asked that you be roused,” Yu says.
“Well, here I am, and I am quite roused!” Nikochi says. “So what is it that you want, then? Out with it!”
“I need to talk to the White-Sashed Swordsman,” Kirika says. “And that means I need a way to rouse him from Lord Shira - and make sure he goes back again.”
“Oh, is that all?” Nikochi says. “I’m going to need a knife, fresh bark from an ash tree and a description of the Swordsman. Leave no detail untold, it will all be critical!”
“And you can...put him back in the bottle when we are done?” Kirika asks.
“No more than I can pour wine into the sea and scoop it back out,” Nikochi says. “But he will recover in time.”
Kirika looks to Yu. “Perhaps you should be there as well, to knock him out when we are done, then.”
“That seems wise,” Yu says.
“Pah!” Nikochi says. “Control spirits, bind them, drive them out - little wonder you’ve made no headway treating the second world this poorly. You need to learn how to invite them to this world and ask politely.” He looks to Kirika, then to Yu. “Did you think I was joking about the bark? I need bark, at least a scroll’s worth, and it has to be fresh.”
Kirika bows. “Understood, High Lord. However, I might ask that you consider how well you have done in this world treating people as you do.” She bows to Yu. “Lady Yu.”
“Forgive me, Lady Kamura,” Nikochi says, “but it seems my manners were washed away quite recently. Now if you could describe the Swordsman to me…”
“I’ll get you that...bark,” Yu says.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-04-05 11:09:22
Toshiba feels the ship explode, craning his neck under acceleration to see firey trails arc back down into the harbor.

"Konoko!" he cries, trusting the armor's supernatural connection more than the highly unlikely coincidence of the hawk-eagle being within earshot. "Find Takao!"
Gatac 2017-04-05 13:26:33
"Kiiii!" Konoko cries as she dives past Toshiba from the clouds above, slowing her descent to a glide above the waves while the coastal defenses continue to batter Lady Ikishi's once proud ship into scrap wood.

"YOU SHALL PAY DEARLY FOR THIS!" the Captain bellows above the roar of Toshiba's flight. Toshiba resists the temptation to just drop him into the cold sea below as he brings his arc around, riding up into the closest thing to hovering in place that he can manage; despite the distance, Konoko is still within his sight far below him, and so is a small steam-boat put-puttering away from the fiery ship-to-shore battle.

Mindful of his fiery trail inviting potshots at him, Toshiba dives down again to meet the boat, and despite the far smaller deck size, the landing is far smoother with Takao's steady hands on the throttle.

"So, that's not going anywhere," Takao comments, glancing back at the ship as it lists to the side from holes close to the waterline. "Let's wait out the rest of the excitement at the harbor."
"YOU DARE MAKE LIGHT OF -" the Captain begins, but then Takao draws his Sparrow and levels it at the Captain's head.
"I've had a very long day," Takao says. "I abandoned one ship, rode through the skies on the back of the Blue Oni and then landed on another ship where I had to cut my way through a half-dozen men as said ship was blown out from under me. I am done with excitement. I'm going to go to a tavern and get a warm flask of sake. I'll even share with you if you'll just. shut. up."

The Captain shuts up. The boat engine keeps put-puttering. All close to well as it's likely to get today.


With Copperhead reluctant to step his ninja self into the middle of the Hall of Justice, the hatted shadow warrior stays behind to mind the shop as Kirika, Himiko, Yu and High Lord Nikochi set out on their journey. Yu has taken to putting on the veil again, not wanting to freak out anyone with her mangled lips, but maybe that’s not the thing to worry about in regards to freaking people out - Nikochi could not, for the life of anyone, be persuaded to groom his hair and beard, and while he was talked into putting on fresh clothes, he still looks every part the questionably sane swamp dweller from the neck up. Yu and Kirika exchange a few glances over this during the ride, and it seems more and more likely that Yu was the one putting in the work of keeping Ikishi’s lieutenants away from each other’s throats. If she had gotten to spend all that time and energy on helping her people in their home instead of serving Ikishi…

The arrival at the Hall of Justice does not go unnoticed, though not for lack of distractions: a perimeter of policemen still surrounds the plaza, as concerned citizens mill about, hoping to catch a glimpse of High Lord Shira in chains - the rumor mill is churning fast, and there’s no good way to explain why he would agree to this, and for obvious reasons he can’t be let out to make a speech. A police sergeant quickly guides our heroes through the perimeter and inside before the crowd fixates too much on them. Inside, the Hall seems ominously empty, and High Lady Ishikawa’s footsteps echo throughout as she strides up to meet you.

“I had a feeling I’d see you here,” she says. “I’m sorry for the chaos outside. The whole city seems to be in uproar today.”
“Things are coming to a head,” Kirika replies. “I think it’s time we questioned the White-Sashed Swordsman.”
“I would raise my eyebrows if I still had them,” Ishikawa says, “but considering your record, you’re welcome to try your luck. And your friends…”
“Well, you are Ishikawa-dono, are you not?” Nikochi says, giving her a curt nod. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. I am High Lord Nikochi, spirits and portents.”
“...naturally,” Ishikawa says. “Lady Kamura, a word?”
Kirika steps to the side with Ishikawa. “I know he looks...crazy, and he is, but he’s also...good at what he does.”
“I’m certain he is, you wouldn’t have brought him here if he wasn’t,” Ishikawa says. “But walking around introducing himself as a High Lord is beyond the pale. I suggest you shut him up before somebody else hears that.”
“He is a High Lord,” Kirika says.
Ishikawa buries her face-mask in her palm. “So are two other men in my lockup right now,” she says. “We’re at the edge of anarchy here. If people hear about a crazy guy going around claiming to be a High Lord, at your side, and with my obvious approval...then all the tinder Lady Ikishi has stuffed into this city might just catch fire. I’m trying to keep a lid on things until we’re in a position to reveal the truth, but as you can see, I’m running out of people to do it with.”
“I could not convince him to do more than put on a shirt not stained with drugs and animal droppings,” Kirika says. “But I will keep him out of sight after this, he seems to...enjoy being locked in a room out of his mind.”
Ishikawa sighs. “Get them to the cells, and be quick about it. And if you could find a way to help a drunkard out of this place instead of a madman, I would be quite grateful.”
Kirika gives an awkward smile. “I...make no guarantees about that. I might be able to manage ‘unconscious’, though.”
“Either one, but make sure no more of that...seditious talk leaks out,” Ishikawa says. “I’m counting on you.”
“I will do what I can, but…” Kirika stands back and spreads her arms to show off her tattoos, which give a shimmering wave of blue to illustrate her point. “I think that might prove more difficult than you think.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to take care of something easy,” Ishikawa says, nods one more time to Kirika, then turns to the waiting group. “This way, please!” she says loudly, indicating the path to the detention area.
“Lady Ishikawa has requested we keep the High Lord from causing too much trouble on the way out,” Kirika whispers to Yu. “From shouting about yokai and kitsune, for example.”
“Leave it to me,” Yu says.


Considering the circumstances, Shira-dono looks...extremely well. Rested, clothed and groomed, he projects every bit the power of his office and his personal charisma - just, you know, behind iron bars and with manacles around his wrists.
Kirika bows to Shira. “High Lord,” she says, and lets Himiko greet her father. That consists of her silently walking up to him and giving him a hug, which Shira reciprocates best as he can.
“You are well?” he asks.
“I am fine, father,” she says. “And you?”
“I am also fine, Himiko,” he replies. “Our friends and I seem to have business. Please wait outside.”
“Of course, father,” Himiko says, reluctantly releasing him from the embrace. As she walks past Kirika, she seems to sniffle once, but quickly regains her composure.
Kirika puts a hand on Himiko’s shoulder. “I promised to do my best to bring him back to you, Himiko. I keep my promises.”
“I know,” Himiko says, but leaves it at that as she walks away.
“Well then,” Shira says, taking a moment to not let it show how much all this is affecting him. “What news do you bring, Kamura-kensei?”
“High Lord Tsukareta has been shown the error of his ways,” Kirika says. “He...he let his enthusiasm for improving things and enriching the Empire blind him to the human cost of his efforts.”
“No doubt you are aware, then, of the arrangements made to clear the way for his ambitions,” Shira says.
“...I was hoping that it was the White-Sashed Swordsman that made them,” Kirika says, and crosses her arms as she narrows her gaze. “What did you know, and what was ordered?”
“I ordered my men to follow Tsukareta’s plans and to persuade those living in the way of the projects to move,” Shira says. “I did not order them to use lethal force...but I did not order them to restrain themselves, either. I am well aware of the commoners who were hurt and killed through this - I had to listen to the samurai brag about the swiftness of their strikes. I disciplined them, of course, but in all honesty I expected such problems - you do not send samurai on such a task and expect that they will all act like saints. I can offer no apology for it; I saw my position and the exercise of my power as more important than the people who paid the price.” He looks directly at Kirika. “If you wish that I was better than this, then that makes two of us.”
“I wish nothing for you in this - I wish that the victims of your orders and Ikishi’s schemes were still with us,” Kirika says, her arms staying crossed. “You - and we - need to be better than that.”
“I am in full agreement,” Shira says. “Yu Lee, are you here to work your skills on me?”
“I am,” Yu says.
“You have my leave to do so, and do not hesitate on my account,” Shira says.
“She will not be the one to work with you first,” Kirika says. “We need to question the White-Sashed Swordsman, and it is High Lord Nikochi’s task to bring him out.” She steps to the side to let the crazy old man step up to the cell.
Shira’s eyes narrow. “Nikochi-dono, is it?”
“Quite so!” Nikochi says. “I have your passenger to thank for my forced exile, do I not?”
“It seems that way,” Shira says. “Please understand that I do not remember anything about you.”
“Of course, of course,” Nikochi says. “Well now,” he adds, reaching into a satchel to withdraw his latest piece of artistry - a flexible mask made from tree bark, with a string of braided leather and a chalky white line across the eyeholes. Before Shira can question that, Nikochi retrieves a metal box from the satchel, opens it and sprinkles the mask with a greenish powder. “There, that ought to do it.” He thrusts the prepared mask into Kirika’s hands. “Here, put this over his face and sit him down, I need to prepare the space. Oh, and...try not to breathe too deeply.”
Kirika holds the mask at arm’s length and very gingerly places it on Shira’s incredulous head. “Should he be careful about breathing in?”
“That would rather defeat the point!” Nikochi says, retrieving a mask of his own from the satchel and giving it a fresh sprinkle of powder.
“I shall be fine,” Shira tells Kirika. “Please step back from the cell.”
Yu’s feet shift into a ready stance and her fingers flex to the sound of crackling joints. “I am ready,” she announces.
Kirika just stands back and takes a deep breath. “Ready.”

Nikochi’s owl mask glows an eerie white as he walks around, sprinkling more powder in the gaslights that illuminate this wing of the detention area. The green powder seems to settle in each lamp for a few moments before belching a thick grayish smoke that settles just over the ground while swallowing much of the sparse light.

Scree!” Nikochi howls, sudden and sharp. His footsteps through the smoke make no sound as he half-walks, half-dances towards Shira’s cell. “Lies! Lies and lies I see!” he sing-songs. “Two men in the shape of one!”
“This is ridiculous,” Yu mutters. Kirika’s used enough to his antics that she just keeps her eyes on Shira.
Scree! Come out!” Nikochi says. “Come out!”

Shira’s hands tighten around the bars of his cell, and his head drops back as he stares up at the ceiling. For a few seconds, he seems to sway back and forth, never quite tipping over.

Scree! I see your face!” Nikochi cries.

Shira’s head snaps forward and against the bars. Once, twice, three times he bangs his masked face against the iron, and Yu surges forward to stop him. As she does, he finally lets go of the bars and stumbles back, reaching up to rip the mask off his face. The impact has opened a laceration on his left temple, and he’s breathing heavily, eyes darting side to side, up and down with equal enthusiasm.

“This is wrong,” Yu says, “this is all wrong!”
Scree!” Nikochi cries, dancing a bit around Kirika. “Come out, come out, come out!”
Kirika reaches for Yu’s shoulder and gently eases her back. Whatever happens, she needs to let it happen.

Shira’s feet finally betray him, and he tumbles to the ground, dazed and bleeding. As he draws more, greedy breaths, he seems to...calm down? And then, slowly and carefully, he picks himself off the ground and rises back up.

“He’s here! He’s here!” Nikochi sings. “No lies! No more lies! He is here!”
“And what a rude welcome it is,” Shira - no, the White-Sashed Swordsman says. The voice is unmistakably that of Ikishi’s lieutenant, even without the mask, and the sharp lines on Shira’s face look more than vaguely painful, even leaving aside the bleeding from his temple. “You won’t hold me long, ‘kensei’. But feel free to mewl at me anyway, I could use the entertainment.”
“Well, first, you have me at a disadvantage at that,” Kirika says. “You know who I am - and who my family is, apparently - but all I know to call you is the White-Sashed Swordsman. Since that’s something of a mouthful, and you are most certainly not Shira-dono, would you care to share a real name?”
“I wouldn’t, but thank you for the considerate question,” the swordsman says. “But by all means, let’s make this more convenient for you. I knew an Ichi once who did good work. Why not just call me that, then.”
Kirika looks over to Nikochi for a moment, just to make sure he’s all right. He’s dancing around in a little circle and still screeching quietly to himself, but he doesn’t seem likely to hurt himself, which is about as good as she can expect. “Ichi, then. What is your plan with Shira-dono?”
“Oh, I think I’ve done enough,” Ichi says. “Maybe enjoy the company of a woman or two? I do want to give him a proper send-off; he’s been so useful, he deserves it.”
“And after?” Kirika asks. “Shira is not beyond aid, he does not deserve to die.”
Ichi laughs. “And yet he will!” Ichi says. “Oh, my dear Kirika, he’ll be dead quite soon, I’ll be free, and you and your friends...I don’t think I can honestly give you better advice than ‘start running’. I mean, not that I like you, but I do respect you, and even I feel a bit bad about what Ikishi will do to you.”
Kirika furrows her brow and crosses her arms, trying to remember how her father looked when he would deliver the same words. “We shall see about that.”
“Oh, Kirika,” Ichi says, “don’t you ever get tired of wanting to be your father?”
“It worked well for him,” Kirika replies. She cracks her neck, like her Aunt Kaede did before a fight, and shakes her hands. “Dealt with people like you well enough.”
“There’s nobody like me,” Ichi says.
Scree!” Nikochi cries out, but otherwise keeps on dancing.
“Really?” Kirika says, stepping forward. “Went out on a limb hard for the wrong horse and don’t know you’ve made a bad choice yet. Seen it all before.”
“Oh, that’s what really pisses me off about you Kamuras,” Ichi says, stepping closer to the bars. “You just walk right into your own doom and you’re so damn smug about it. You know, while we’re talking about things we’ve seen before. We couldn’t make your father beg...but you are not him.” He looks around. “And don’t even try to tempt me to your side. I’m not like these pathetic fools who’ve rallied to your banner in the desperate hope for justice or redemption or whatever bullcrap you’re selling them. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is power and who has it. You want to hand this empire over to that idiot child? Ugh. I don’t have the first idea what she sees in you.”
“Someone with resolve and commitment,” Kirika says. She looks to Yu and nods for her to be ready.
“Oh, you think you’re so great, don’t you,” Ichi says, stepping close to the bars.
Kirika smirks and steps just out of Shira’s reach from the bars. “Well, when I ripped Hochi off for two thousand silver, I thought that was pretty great.”

“Ichi” does not care for that, because - being Tanaka Kenta, patriarch of the Tanaka clan that engineered the Kamura downfall and then died about nine years ago - the one thing he cannot abide is his idiot second son Tanaka Hochi pissing away the fortune Kenta amassed on the backs of many, many suckers. That was hard work, that took balls and grit and foresight, and this little girl - this painted Kamura whore - just bragged to him about how she carried away a piece of the pie because Hochi wanted to wet his whistle.

The kinds of things you can put together from a five-minute conversation when you know your way around the dark corners of the empire’s clans...oh, and have a very personal motivation to fuck over the people who betrayed your father.

But this wasn’t so much about figuring out who the White-Sashed Swordsman really was - well, it was a bit about that, but mostly about pissing him the hells off so he lunges for Kirika, trying to thread Shira’s manacled arms through the iron bars. It’s a quick move, building off Shira’s skills, but Kirika’s the better judge of distance, and before the swordsman/”Ichi”/Kenta has figured it out, Yu’s right up against the bars, one hand pulling him by the manacles while the other quickly inserts a series of needles into Shira’s arms. “Ichi” can only silently shout as Yu finishes the chakra with a needle right over Shira’s nose. His eyes roll back, and he slumps to the ground, gently lowered with Yu keeping a hand on the manacle chain. Out cold, too quick for him to jump back out.

“Well,” Yu comments. “He’s a very angry man.”
“Being dead hasn’t improved his temper any,” Kirika says. “Two questions - will this trap Kenta in Shira-dono as long as he’s unconscious?”
“For the time being,” Yu says. “I’ve applied a complex chakra to be sure nothing happens in there that I don’t control. It should be possible to modify it so that he can be roused but remain trapped within.” She pauses. “That does mean we cannot bring Shira-dono back just yet.” She looks over to Nikochi, who seems to be coming down from his own trip. “And I’m not sure we can draw this ‘Kenta’ back into Shira-dono a second time, should we let him go.”
“That’s fine, I got what I needed,” Kirika says. “Second question - do you know of any magic to trap a spirit in a stone?”
“We lured devils into gemstones,” Yu says. “The principle seems similar, but I’d have to...inspect the stone.”
“Well, that leads me to another question,” Kirika says, “but you won't like it.” She looks to Yu. “How long can you keep Shira alive without that stone in his chest?”
Yu says nothing for a moment. Then another moment. “It would be risky if we had his real heart right there by our side,” she says. “Without it...long enough for him to say goodbye to Himiko. Beyond that, I can make no promises.”
Kirika nods. “That’s all we need. We’re going to save Shira, just after we kill him.”
“...with the stone?” Yu asks. “That’s a tall order. We only used gems to trap spirits, we never intended to let them back out.”
Kirika looks over to Nikochi. “Any suggestions, Nikochi-dono?”

Nikochi has ripped off his mask and is sitting against the wall, looking like he’s trying not to puke on his nice clean clothes. You know, while we’re checking in with him.

“I would suggest you shatter the affront to nature that is the stone and let both tangled souls move on in peace,” Nikochi comments. “But I gather you won’t do that.” He sighs. “I’ll help you free this ‘Kenta’ from his prison, but I’ll have no part in trapping Shira-dono’s soul in it.”
Kirika takes a knee in front of - well, slightly to the side of the front of Nikochi. “I understand, Nikochi-dono. Shira was killed, and Kenta is both long dead and an incredible asshole. But do you not think that Himiko has suffered enough at Ikishi’s hands and spells? If we could find his heart and bring it back, I would, but we have no hope of finding it in Ikishi’s palace before Kenta or our efforts kill Shira either way. For Himiko, I think this is the right thing to do.”
Nikochi looks up at her, ready with an objection, but then considers it for a moment longer. “You know,” he says, “I think you’re wrong. I think what your family has done to themselves - and their children - is wrong, and what was done to Kenta and Shira-dono is wrong, and what you intend to do is also wrong. There is no profit to binding the grand subtleties of the universe to our human notions of control and law - it only brings about greater imbalance. But unlike Shira-dono, there’s no stone in my chest. I’m well aware of young Himiko’s plight, and I do not think my own opinions so righteous that I would put them above a daughter’s right to have a father. If it is this or letting Shira-dono die...then I will hold my nose and beg my friends for their understanding and help you do it. Let me be clear, though: if there is any way to find and retrieve his beating heart, I will follow that way, and I expect you to follow it, too. Ideally, we find it before Shira-dono’s...existence is threatened, and we work with it. If that is not possible, then I suppose the stone makes an...acceptable stopgap until we can replace the heart. If - and only if - all hope is lost in this regard, I will have to live with my part in perpetuating this unnatural aberration, but I will not begrudge young Himiko the gift you wish to make her.” He holds out his hand. “Do we have a deal?”
“Deal,” Kirika says, and returns the shake. She looks over her shoulder to Yu. “If either of you have some kind of spell-tracking-spell, now would be the time to let me know.”
“I have nothing of the sort,” Yu says.
“Me neither,” Nikochi says. “But...I’ve got a few friends to ask, if I can get in touch. I’ll have to dive deep, though, so I’d appreciate it if you would lend me a quiet space and only rouse me from the trance in the direst of circumstances.”
“That won’t be a problem, because I will need to come with you,” Kirika says. “We need to be focused, and if you need to go as deep as you say, you will need assistance.”
“Like, assistance, or assistance?” Nikochi asks. “I’m not sure you should be doing the latter.”
“And if these depths have things that bite?” Kirika asks. “I...will adapt. We need to be quick, for Shira’s, Himiko’s, and all our sakes.”
“I’m not afraid of that,” Nikochi says. “Look, I’m a turtle. I dive deep and I swim fast. I might not look like much sitting here, but over there, that’s where I really live.”
Kirika raises an eyebrow. “And me? What am I, bait?”
“You’re a signal fire,” he says. “You go over, anything from here to the horizon will pick up your scent. If you’re lucky, they’ll run away from you, more likely they’ll try to kill you, and worst case something will try to hitch a ride with you.”
“I will deal with it, this needs to work -” Kirika starts.
“Then I will go,” Yu says. “I’m warded, I’ve dealt with spirits, I can bring myself back up if I need to.”
“Hrm,” Nikochi says. “Yu, then, if one of you has to come.” He looks at her. “But no funny business. My friends are ancient, and majestic. You won’t talk to them and you will damn sure not try to bind them.”
“I’m just there to pull us out if we have to leave,” Yu says.
“Hrm,” Nikochi repeats. “Fine. Yu can come.”
Kirika gives them a pained look. “...then what can I do?”
Nikochi looks away, but Yu puts a hand on Kirika’s shoulder. “You can worry about something else,” she says. “We do not want for troubles and open questions. There are other battles to be fought, in this world.”
Kirika nods and stands up. “I and the Shadowwatch will stand ready to strike at wherever Ikishi is hiding Shira’s heart. I will let Himiko know that we have a plan to help her father, if you could both make sure Shira is comfortable and...stable.”
“Of course,” Yu says.
“I’m going to need a moment,” Nikochi says.
“Of course, when you are ready,” Kirika says, and steps off down the hall at a brisk pace.

“So,” Nikochi asks Yu while she’s tending to Shira’s unconscious body. “Have you ever seen something like this?”
“A soulstone channeling chi?” Yu says. “No.”
“I was talking about the curse,” Nikochi says. “Kamura’s thing.”
“,” Yu admits. “But I don’t think she considers it a curse. It’s more like...a gift, and all she has to remember her father by.”
“It poisons her mind and twists her body,” Nikochi says. “It looks pretty and seems to drive her to agreeable enough ends, but make no mistake, it is a curse.”
“You’re sure about that, Nikochi-dono?” Yu asks.
“Of course,” he says. “All power is a curse.”


Kirika steps back out into the still-eerily-empty Hall of Justice’s main entryway to see Himiko sitting down next to High Lady Ishikawa. Nestled on Lady Ishikawa’s knees is a shogi board, each piece with an engraved label for Himiko to read, and it looks like they’ve picked up a game they’ve been playing for a while. Himiko appears to have a slight advantage, at first glance, but such things are hard to tell even for experienced players. Himiko shifts a silver general towards the middle of the board to lock down an advance of Ishikawa’s lances, at which point the game pauses as Ishikawa sets the board aside and rises to meet with Kirika.

“Well?” Ishikawa asks, with Himiko still sitting behind her.
“We know who the White-Sashed Swordsman is,” Kirika tells Ishikawa, then looks to Himiko. “And we have a plan to save your father.”
Tears quickly rush to meet Himiko’s smile as she grabs onto one of Lady Ishikawa’s sleeves. “Who?” Ishikawa asks, her expression unreadable as ever behind her mask.
“Tanaka Kenta,” Kirika says, trying her absolute hardest to keep the rage out of her voice at his name.
“That does not seem possible,” Ishikawa says. “How?”
“Ikishi seems to have trapped his spirit in the stone she placed in his chest,” Kirika says. “And she can bring him out to take over Shira-dono’s body at will. Except for at the moment - we have trapped Kenta in Shira’s body and rendered him unconscious. Our plan is to find Shira’s heart, cast Kenta out of his body, and place his heart back into his body.”
“ can we help?” Ishikawa asks, after a moment’s hesitation.
“We will have only the slightest lead as to where Shira’s heart is being held,” Kirika says. “And we will have very little time to retrieve it before Ikishi...stops us. Any help you or your people can provide in getting Shira’s heart back could make the difference.”
“So where is it, then?” Ishikawa asks. “Do you have any idea?”
“Nikochi and Yu will be asking for assistance with that soon,” Kirika says. “Just have your people ready - I will have mine standing by.” Kirika hesitates, but then takes a knee in front of Himiko. “And if we fail, there is still a way. We will cast Kenta out of the stone...and put your father in instead.”
“You can do that?” Himiko asks, but Ishikawa puts a hand on her shoulder.
“I have every confidence,” Ishikawa says. “My men will be ready when the time comes. And I don’t suppose you have a convincing explanation for my custody of two fellow High Lords, too?” She chuckles. “You will make me look bad if you solve all my problems, Lady Kamura.”
Kirika thinks for a moment. “High Lord Itanu has obviously requested your protection from the many, many enemies he suddenly has after he has been caught stealing from the Empire’s accounts, and High Lord Shira is...he is feeling unwell and sought a safe place for him and his daughter after their manor was burned to the ground.”
“Something like that, yes,” Ishikawa says. “It’s going to be a short session either way without them. I assume your friends will be staying, for the moment?”
Kirika nods. “And I would request that you be present for our attempts to save Shira,” she says to Ishikawa, then turns back to Himiko. “And if you want to be present, I will not say no.” Kirika takes Himiko’s hands in her own. “I know what it is like to lose your father at your age. I swear, Himiko, on my life, on my sword, on anything you care to name, I will do my absolute best to save your father.” She sniffs and reaches up to wipe her eyes. “I promise you.”
Himiko says nothing, just adding a few more tears to the mix, and her head falls as she bows to Kirika. “Count on me,” Ishikawa adds, standing a bit awkwardly to the side.
Kirika nods, gives Himiko’s hands one last squeeze, then stands up. “Tell your most loyal officers to be ready. Shira’s heart will be well guarded, and we will have to move fast. I will tell my people to make contact with yours - in disguise, of course.”
“Naturally,” Ishikawa says. “I don’t know if I’ve said it before, but...thank you. For everything.”
Kirika nods. “Just doing what I can to help.”
Gatac 2017-04-05 13:50:02
While Kirika frets about Shira's heart and Toshiba and Takao share a well-deserved drink, we turn our attention to Yukio...

As the setting sun begins to touch distant mountains, there is much ado around the Silver Lion. The Silver Lion is a prestigious theater, you see, the likes of which can afford to have the sign over its main entrance be lettered in actual silver, and there are only so many people who are on the guest list tonight. But as it is with such things, if you tell people they can't have something, they want it more, and so there's a sizeable crowd outside the Silver Lion, hoping to catch a glimpse of the many nobles and luminaries, or to shout their opinions at the movers and shakers in the city, or just hope that they'll be able to get some of whatever banquet leftovers will be thrown out after the show. Theater security - i.e. top-shelf hired thugs - keep the crowd at bay and hold open a corridor for carriages to arrive and their occupants to make their way into the theater, while those audience members who try to push past or throw things or just generally make a nuisance of themselves are "firmly asked to leave", i.e. grabbed by the collar and dragged away. Quite a production, such an event, even before it officially opens inside.

Leave it to Yukio to make the entrance of the evening, though. Kei said to bring her sword, because dudes dig swords, but Yukio's not content to be one of the pretty faces in dainty kimonos climbing out of carriages who just happens to bring a sword with her. No, Yukio spent most of the day preparing for this, and it shows. For starters, her practical "travel" kimono has been augmented with a sleeveless longcoat in family colors, whose long wingtips and high collar have that "I am a badass samurai" look even if she'd acknowledge that it's not the best fashion choice for actual battle. The colorful obi and decorated scabbard for her blade definitely draw eyes towards the sword, too, and rather than let her hair hang naturally or braid it for battle, she's done it up in a striking, high ponytail that drapes over the back of the coat. One rather suspects she would have brought a spear if she had been at all certain that the theater's coat check could accommodate polearms.

Also, she's on a horse. Not a lot of guests riding in on a horse.

It's a bit of theater before the theater, including leaving the valet baffled when she hands over the reins to him (along with an apology by way of a generous tip), and when she just stands there for a moment and lets her stern look sweep the plaza, it's clear that all eyes are on her, for good and bad. Judging by the way Kei seems to appear from nowhere to rush to her side, stand close and wave his hand at the audience, it seems like that was enough to worry him that he wouldn't be the center of attention tonight.

"I love it!" Kei hastens to say to Yukio. "Wow, you look - you look like samurai!"
"That was the intention," Yukio replies coolly. "Looks like I'm the only one, too."
"Yeah," Kei says, "you know, people here are more...urban? And then there's the whole weapons license thing, but that's obviously not a problem for you, which is cool, people are gonna know you're important, you know?"
"I thought the point was people would know that you're important," Yukio shoots back.
"Uh, yes," Kei says. "'re not having second thoughts, are you? I don't wanna pressure you, no pressure, but you said you'd come help me and now you're kinda talking mean and I'm getting a mixed message, you know?"
"Then let me disambiguate," Yukio says. "I agreed to accompany you here. I intend to honor that agreement. I did not agree to pretend to be anyone I'm not. I am Matsumoto Aotaka's daughter doing the nephew of Hetechi-dono a favor, not a vapid piece of shoulder candy playing dressup. Keep this in mind and we shall have a lovely evening."
"...right," Kei says. "Right. Okay, my bad, I didn't mean to...disrespect you."
"Apology accepted," Yukio says without smiling. "Shall we proceed inside?"


Let's define "lovely evening", just so we're all on the same page. The evening part is certainly the easier half of it; the theater production does take up several hours, chiefly after sundown, and its conclusion marks a perfectly acceptable time to bid someone adieu for the night. So, evening: check. The lovely part, then, is where we might run into disagreements. If, say, you insist on laughter over shared jokes or genuine emotional bonding or even pleasantly vacuous conversation about the weather, then the events transpiring here will not qualify; if, however, you have set your bar somewhat lower and will accept as "lovely" any span of time free from serious bodily injury, then there's certainly a reasonable case to be made in favor of the appellation applying to this particular event. It becomes rapidly clear that Kei's attention is on everyone but the actors on stage, and Yukio does not care for him pointing out all the would-be celebrities in attendance; this is culture, damn it, not some tossed-off light entertainment stage show in a rowdy tavern. There are rules.

The "shush!" she spits at Kei after enduring him for about a half hour was probably a bit too harsh - it was definitely too loud. But he behaves himself after that, and so does the rest of the audience.


"Well," Kei says as they leave the showing, "that was certainly...lovely."
"Indeed," Yukio says, still trying to right the sword at her side after getting up from her seat. The knot on the obi has shifted - she didn't have time to sew things in place properly - and this whole evening is turning out to be more of a nuisance than she had assumed. There's a shiver of a bad mood still in her; despite admonishing Kei for paying attention to everything but the play, she herself had let her eyes wander throughout the hours, keeping a lookout for -
"Oh, there's Lady Ikishi," Kei says, and Yukio's grip around her sword tightens in reflex as she lays eyes on Ikishi - she wasn't there during the play, but now she's mingling with the crowd as they leave the theater. Before Yukio can stop him, Kei waves to Ikishi, who smiles and nods back to him, but then continues her ongoing conversation with three bureaucrats. The bureaucrats, in turn, turn away from Ikishi to look at Yukio. Their looks are not approving.
"Let's go," Yukio says.
"...okay," Kei says. "My fans are outside, anyway."

Making the brave personal sacrifice to avoid the banquet inside, Kei leads Yukio back outside through the main entrance, and wouldn't you know it, when he waves to the crowd, there are actually a few cheers - enough to encourage Kei to move a bit closer to Yukio and put his hand on her shoulder.

"Smile," he says through his teeth.
"You owe me," Yukio replies, faking a smile of her own. She even goes so far as to wave to the crowd, and when the cheers come back louder, her smile becomes a bit more genuine for it.

"Well well well," comes a nagging voice from the side, immediately wiping the smile off Yukio's face. She turns her head to see the oshiroi baba from Hetechi's party the day before, dressed in a different garish kimono and with her fan open this time. "Does your little lady-friend know you're here with yet another paramour?" she asks Yukio. "Does your husband know, you little hussy?"
"I thought I made it clear," Yukio says, "that I do not care for your opinion."
"Oh, you don't care indeed!" the woman says. "You don't care that you got me thrown out of an important party with your...your yuri antics!"
"So, what, you hate my uncle, too?" Kei speaks up. "But you smiled at him and ate his food and drank his wine! He was right to kick you out, you old hag!"
"I won't be told off by you," the woman says, "you philandering little brat!"

For a moment, Yukio was worried about her own anger. One look at Kei, and now she's worried about his.

"Shut up, you bat!" Kei spits, and he would have launched himself at the old woman if Yukio hadn't grabbed him by the collar. But that half-turn to look at him takes the old woman out of Yukio's field of view - until something fast-moving flashes at the edge of her vision. Yukio doesn't think - she's trained hard not to have to think - she just reacts, snapping her left arm upward to block the blow and grab the wrist of the attacker, twist to disarm -

The old woman cries out in pain. The world stops, long enough for Yukio to regain her bearings and let go. The old woman falls back, closed fan clattering to the ground as she holds her right wrist with her left hand. She was going to bop Yukio over the head with that fan - an attack, yes, one unlikely to lead to any serious injury, but Yukio reacted nonetheless, and now there's an old woman before her who's crying in pain, whether real or feigned, and it seems like the whole plaza is staring at them.

"Miss," one of the security guards says as a few of them step forward, "you need to come -"

Yukio reacts, again. Her head hears what they're saying, but her heart only knows that armed men are moving to surround her. Training tells her to take a half-step back, shield Kei, hand on her weapon, ready to fight.

The guards freeze. Yukio freezes. The crowd holds its breath, and for a moment only the old woman's cries are heard.

"Everybody stop!" Kei shouts, pushing past Yukio and holding his hands out toward the security guards. "Stop!" he repeats.
"She broke my wrist!" the old woman cries.
"Because you attacked her!" Kei shoots back. As the security guards hold position, Kei relaxes his fighting stance and points a finger at the old woman as he turns to address the crowd. "This woman attacked us! Lady Matsumoto acted in defense! It's not her fault!"
"She broke my wrist!" the old woman repeats.
"Okay," the lead security guard says. "Sir, Lady Matsumoto, Madam, we're going to take care of this over there, okay? But I'm going to need you all to come with me and wait until the police -"
"Police? Police?" Kei shouts, and the guards behind their lead start to move for their weapons.

Yukio tries to breathe. Tries to figure this out. Kirika...if Kirika was here, she would...she would...she would do something, say something, turn this around somehow...

Yukio isn't Kirika. But she tries.

"Kei, please stop shouting now," she says, quiet but determined. "Let's all calm down."
"Yukio, this old bat just tried to -" Kei starts.
"I know what she did," Yukio barks. "And I know what I did."

Deep breath. Yukio draws her feet back together, hands off the sword. Good. Look reasonable. Be reasonable.

"That's right!" the old woman cries. "Lock her up! Lock them both up!"
"Madam, I'm going to have to ask you to calm down," the security lead tries. "We've sent for a doctor to help you, but -"
"She broke my wrist!" the woman cries again.
"She should've done a whole lot more," Kei fumes.
"Kei..." Yukio tries, but the young man's on a roll now.
"She should've done a lot more than that!" Kei shouts, loud enough that it seems to cow the old woman. "How stupid are you, you old hag? She could have had your hand for this!"
"Sir," the security lead says, taking a step forward, one hand in front of him, one hand on the jitte on his belt.
"Shut up!" Kei shouts at him. "Don't you know who you're talking to?!"
"Sir," the security lead says, "believe me, I know who you are, but -"
"Not me!" Kei screams. "Her!" He turns to Yukio.

Yukio turns pale. Realizes what's coming even though there's no way it should be coming, no way to know what he's going to say, except she does know because there's only one thing he could say.

Oh no.

Oh no no no no no don't -

"Your rightful Empress!" Kei shouts. "Wife of Toshiro, your rightful Emperor!"

There's a billion questions racing through Yukio's mind. How did he know? Did...did Ikishi tell him, or his uncle Hetechi, or...and why bring it up now, you damned idiot!

Yukio tries to breathe.

"...I'm sorry," the old woman says, and the tears on her face now seem real in the brief moment before she laboriously drops to her knees and bows to Yukio. "I did not know, your Imperial Majesty."

Yukio looks around. Tries to find somebody in the crowd who...who hasn't heard what Kei just shouted. Tries, and fails. They're all staring at her, but some - the quick-witted among them - are also getting down on their knees to bow to her.

"I'm terribly sorry, your Majesty," the security lead says; he doesn't get on his knees, but he does bow deeply to her. "We had heard the rumors, but -"

What rumors? Heavens, what rumors? Who knew about this, why didn't Shadowwatch hear and warn them? Was this...was this planned? Yukio feels her heart drop. Is this...was this an ambush?

"Your...your horse," the valet says, bringing up the rental to Yukio while trying very hard not to look at her.
"Leave this to us, your Majesty," the security lead says. "We'll take care of everything."
"I'm sorry," Kei says, now bowing himself.

Yukio takes a breath and looks at him, her face still pale as snow. Kirika would know what to say. Kirika would know.

Kirika has to hear about this. Right away. Right now.

Yukio doesn't say anything. She just takes the horse's reins, climbs into the saddle and stares, one last moment, at a plaza full of people bowing to her.

Then she rides away as if the Hells themselves were after her.