Gatac 2013-05-18 10:15:09
IC Thread 24a, wherein the ninjas come home to roost.
Gatac 2013-05-18 10:38:47
For centuries, the Ayami clan fortress has stood watch over the valley below and served as refuge - to the clan in times of crisis, to foolhardy travelers desperate to pay princely sums for protection, and even for the occasional hostage. The path up the mountain is long and winding, granting the clan hours of warning on anyone coming up, and with only a few traders and messengers regularly making the journey, intruders and aggressors become easy to spot. You iterate that over two dozen generations, you end up with people who become very, very good at looking down the mountain.

Until, one day, three ninjas drop out of the sky right in front of the fortress's gates. And they could not be more different: a young woman pale as ivory, blowing patches of half-melted snow over the clearing with the flapping of her majestic red wings; a demon in blue armor, riding through the sky on a trail of blue flame; and a figure of pure shadow, quivering as its skin seeks out a place to hide in the middle of a snow field in bright sunlight.

The guards on the watchtowers quickly disappear after they realize that you have no hostile intent. And so, like any other Out-of-context problem, you are forced to wait your turn while the members of the Ayami clan deliberate their course. After about ten minutes of nothing, the main gate cracks open - and out walks a contingent of hardened ninja warriors flanking the Ayami's supreme shadow himself, Master Sinan. Sinan has augmented his outfit with metal armor covering his chest, arms and head, and an open kimono without sleeves on top of that. It's an outfit designed to show power, which makes it all the more impressive that it doesn't make any clanking sounds as he moves closer.

He looks at each of you in turn, then nods.

"Thank you for following my summons so promptly," Sinan says. "Now, perhaps one of you can tell me what in the Seven Hells you are doing out there, because I seem to have lost track of you."
Nevina 2013-05-22 15:00:15
Kiara beamed at the scowling face, waving energetically at all the solemn figures she had grown up with. She seemed to ignore the mood as she flounced forward, managing a polite, albeit rushed, customary bow, "It's been quite a while, lovely to see you too, Master Sinan!" She had missed the greenery of the area, the stillness and quiet that seemed to permeate their fortress. "Perhaps we should take this inside a bit? There's quite a bit going on, and I'm sure we have some mutual information to trade."
Kagemaru 2013-05-22 15:32:18
Kagemaru freezes in awe as Master Sinan comes walking out in his full battle armor. Because Sinan-Sensei usually isn't one for showing off, Kage takes that as a serious sign on behalf of the ninja village.

He is shocked, though not surprised, by the reaction Kiara shows in spite of Sinan-Sensei's signals.

"Excuse us Sensei, a lot has happened since we started on our mission. And as you can see, we made some peculiar allies."
Gatac 2013-05-23 14:09:23
(Sinan's Knowledge check: 1d20+8 = 28)

Sinan's eyes - the only part of his face visible underneath his mask - narrow as they linger on Toshiba.

"You've made it far in this world without us, Toshiba," Sinan says. "Years ago, we thought you dead at the hands of the I see that quite the opposite has come to pass."

Sinan scowls at Kiara. "You use the word 'trade' in an entirely too mercenary fashion, young ninja - and I see Nagani has not properly communicated my concern about you usurping the leadership of a rival clan. Do not misunderstand me - such a coup may yet serve our clan well, but inexperienced as you are, I am not sure you have the wisdom to know how to use it. The same I would say of the powers you now wield."

"Much as you, Kagemaru," Sinan says, turning to the living shadow. "You set foot outside this fortress mere months ago without even a rank, and you return the master of a very dangerous artifact. But nevermind all that - after I hear your report, we must talk about the status of your original assignment. We have uncovered some information you may find enlightening. After that, I have a favor to ask of you all. Come now - we are wasting time."

Sinan turns and walks back through the main gate, and the guards part to admit you through it, too. Inside, it's the same old fortress it's ever been - old wood and older stone, still recovering from the harsh winter. Craftsmen are hard at work repairing the structures, and as you follow Sinan to his quarters, you see the next year of recruits beginning their final training phase, sparring against one another with barely restrained ninjitsu strikes. A gaggle of younger kids - the eldest seems five years old - almost runs into you as they lead each other on a merry chase through the courtyard; they stop and stare wide-eyed as you walk past them, clad in exotic gear so unlike the simple adornments the other adults wear.


Of the three of you, only Toshiba has ever actually been to Sinan's dwelling, but the mystique isn't worth much - it looks just the same as any other hut in the fortress, the same spartan style, only with more wall-mounts for weapons, armor and trophies. The Ayami have never been a particularly rich or powerful clan, but you suspect Sinan would prefer ascetic decoration even if the clan was swimming in silver. As you settle before him, the big question arises: how truthful will your tale be? What will you reveal, what will you conceal?
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-06-07 08:59:25
In the wake of Kagemaru and Kiara's silence, Toshiba speaks up. "Although I cannot speak to 'assignments', I can tell you that it has been a long and winding road. We have been protecting the Fox's daughter and her husband from assassins. Then we worked to discover the source of the attacks, and are working still, following the signs. Working both with and against foreign devils when the trail leads us to them, but then Nagani knows of our exploits in Kargbeck already. Our latest information leads from the Forge to Sarano's holdings, and I suspect you have had agents insinuated within her vassals even before her manse had a foundation built. Therefore, I deduce that you can simply tell us who Kei is."

Toshiba watches Sinan and his entourage carefully, looking for any signs of recognition or surprise.
Nevina 2013-06-07 10:48:15
"Trade? Mercenary?" Kiara laughs, waving a hand dismissively, "I've never been one for semantics. I'm sure you knew what I meant." Clearly she was of the opinion that he just woken up on the wrong side of the bed and was a little touchy. Much like he would be the day before, and the day before that.

"Though I would say that, inexperienced as I am, I've done a relatively decent job considering it was a post I hadn't originally asked for." She continued to merrily chirp, "Got the Red Dragon clan rebuilding fairly steadily, and being more selective on mission types. You can thank the Ayami teachings for the influence on that." Her grin never faltered, and she seemed pleased with herself despite his obvious displeasure and lecture of her acts.

Her optimism and joy for leaping into battle translated easily over to her day to day living; very little ruffled her feathers, perhaps because she never put much thought or weight onto things. It was an easy-going personality, but one that obviously made her teachers wary of her actions.

She felt a wave of nostalgia hit as they walked through their home clan. The chill of the air made the breathing of their kin visible, and she realized that she hadn't even felt the cold all that much. As enchanting as a winter home is, she still preferred the greenery of spring. Perhaps it was the comfort of knowing it would be easier to hide and act as ninjas do. Kiara wished she could jump in on the sparring matches right then and there, and it was with a wistful sigh that she continued to follow Master Sinan.

Kiara had a high level of trust in her clan and wouldn't have had an issue speaking of all the details, but she wasn't sure on how much their companions wished to keep secret. It wasn't that she wanted to keep secrets from the Ayami, but rather she wanted to respect the privacy of their friends. Surely given the right context they wouldn't mind, and if the Ayami could help in any way, it would be worth it. For now, she waited as Toshiba spoke, and turned expectantly to Master Sinan to listen.
Gatac 2013-06-13 12:33:00
Sinan listens to the highlights of your winding tale, but his expression remains unreadable behind his mask. Finally, he speaks.

"It is dangerous for the Ayami to involve themselves in the Imperial succession," he says, "but on the other hand, we would be acting in direct support of the Shadowguard - quite the coup for our clan, and a most honorable assignment. In any event, should his plan fail, I expect the new overlords of the conspiracy against the throne to seek out and destroy the clans one by one. We are doomed if we fail but also doomed if we do nothing."

"Unfortunately, you seem to be a step ahead of me once again. We do indeed have an agent in the Sarano court - or we did. We have not heard from Goemon in two weeks. I wanted to ask you to go search for him, but I suppose you were making the trip on your own accord. If he is still alive, you will find him disguised as a cook at Sarano's estate. Ask him for the recipe of his mother's fish soup. When he asks if you knew his mother, answer that you met her on a ship to San'in. He will assist you in any way he can - if anyone would know who Kei is, it would be him.

"On to more pleasant matters. Kagemaru, you said the Shadowguard has already taken an interest in you. I will honor his wisdom by making you the official Ayami liason to the effort to install Toshiro, son of Yoshihiro, as the Emperor. You are young, but already you have proven worthy of promotion. You shall be a Chunin of our clan - the ceremony will be later today, as I sense you need to move out again tomorrow."

"Kiara, while I find you no less deserving of such a rank, I have the inkling that it would matter little to you. You seem to have found a place leading the Red Dragons, and you claimed their leadership in a way I see no reason to upset. We must tread carefully around the connection between the Red Dragon and the Ayami, but I believe this opens up a few new strategic avenues. Run your clan as you deem proper, but do not forget your ultimate loyalties."

"Now, you two go enjoy yourselves in the village. You must be tired and hungry. I have a few more things to discuss with Toshiba, but we will rejoin you in a few minutes."

(after the two young ninja leave)

Sinan reaches underneath his coat and retrieves a knife, holding it out for Toshiba to take. "Your departure from our clan was dishonorable," Sinan says. "If we knew you were still alive, we would have hunted you down and taken your life. I hope you understand that I say this with no malice, much as my next words are impartial. Blood must be shed one more time, Toshiba. Nagani returned from Kargbeck to speak to me of her mistakes made in furthering the career of her brother Sadatsugu. Her actions caused this clan much anguish, and I am grateful that you managed to resolve the situation without dragging the clan further into the mire. I would have a novice whipped for such a lapse of judgement, but Nagani is no novice - she is one of the, if not the, most trusted shinobi in our clan, and her failure cannot be corrected in her lifetime. I asked her to name someone who would do her the honor of seconding her death. She chose you." Sinan's eyes focus to almost laser-like intensity. "Do our clan this favor, and I will consider your own transgression a settled matter."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-06-14 11:21:31
Toshiba meets Sinan's gaze, and the reasons he left flood back like it was just yesterday. Stronger even, for now Toshiba knows how little his trangression mattered in the long run, and how much his fear of reprisal shaped his wretched time afterwards. Nagani, Kagemaru, and Kiara all knew who he was and where he was. If Sinan wanted him dead, he would have never made it out of the Forge.

He takes the knife. "Where is Nagani?"
Gatac 2013-06-14 11:25:08
"In the mountaintop temple," Sinan says. "The ascent should be little trouble for you."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-06-14 13:08:36
Toshiba nods, turning to look at his figurative childhood. He heads off to the temple, tucking Sinan's knife away. You can never have too many knives.
Gatac 2013-06-25 15:24:21
Toshiba ascends via rough-hewn stone staircase from the almost-mountaintop clan fortress to the for-real-mountaintop temple. Well, temple is probably too grandiose a word; it's more of a sheltered shrine dedicated to the clan ancestors, and even in summer, the chilling winds that blast over the mountain make any extended stay up there quite uncomfortable. It's not accident that going up there for a while and enduring the elements is an important part of the clan's rituals. Toshiba finds Nagani in deep meditation before the shrine, with her back to him. The new knife weighing down his belt seems to getting heavier every moment. If he wanted to get this over would be difficult to imagine an easier and faster death.


"Kagemaru!" comes a call to greet the young ninja as he walks the courtyard; he looks to his side to find Sensei Kateko walk up to him with a smile. Kateko is the clan's master of disguise - whether samurai, priest or even noble, Kateko can easily slip into any role and taught Kagemaru everything he knows about blending in. He claps his hand on Kagemaru's shoulder and walks with him. "Good to have you back, boy. I've been worried about you, staying out there for so long." His smile slowly fades as he keeps talking. "Listen, I know you've got your reasons for traveling with the target, and helping her, but...the clan needs to eat, too. That was a very lucrative contract you were sent on." The smile returns. "I'm not telling you how to do your job, I'm just saying, if you go out there and you see something that looks like business you could send our way, we'd all appreciate it - that's something our Chunin can be expected to look for. Gods, Sinan won't lower himself to banditry, but I'm a practical man. One way or another we need to make money. You know?"


Kiara has picked up a shadow, it seems. A small girl seems to be practicing her ninjitsu by following her around the village, darting from concealment to shadow to cover. Of course, given that Kiara noticed her, she still has a lot to learn.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-07-01 12:52:13
"Is it your wish to die, Nagani?" Toshiba asks, his fingers trailing down the knife's hilt before leaving the weapon with an effort.
Gatac 2013-07-01 14:16:22
"I don't," Nagani says without getting up. "But I knew that if I said nothing to Sinan, my fate would be sealed. Choosing you as my executioner was a gamble, but I have little left to lose. My brother's life was worth more than any honor or code to me, and so is my own now. I have failed the clan, and I see now that I may no longer belong in it...but I do not want to die, and I hope I can convince you to spare me." She pauses for a moment. "I have nothing left to give you, Toshiba. I would bribe you with silver or information, if I had either, but all I can offer is my gratitude. If that is not enough...then please, either strike true now or let me fight for my life."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-07-01 14:55:31
The wind carries Toshiba's silence off the mountain for the next few heartbeats. The next sound is something Nagani was not expecting to hear - Toshiba laughing with relief.

"By all the hells, Nagani," Toshiba says, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, "I came up here to tell you not to throw your life away for an unyielding old man and his moronic rules. Only the dead are honorable, and I find my aspirations sway towards neither of those states." He walks to her and hands her Sinan's knife. "Take this, as a reminder of the life you take back this day."
Gatac 2013-07-01 15:02:09
Nagani gets up and turns towards Toshiba, with a slight smile on her lips.

"I was hoping you would feel as you do," she says. She takes the held-out knife - then pulls in Toshiba for a quick smooch. "Thank you, Toshiba," she says. "I hope you understand that I will leave before you change your mind."

She steps out of the wind shadow of the small shrine, pulling the fabric around her neck up to protect her face.

"Until we meet again!" is her last muffled cry; then she takes a running start and leaps off the side of the mountain! Toshiba hurries after her only to see her pull out of her dive by spreading a fabric skin between her arms and legs, gliding off the mountain and letting the wind carry her far away.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-07-01 15:19:05
"Until that day," Toshiba says into the sky after her. He watches her go, somewhat jealous of her exit considering his own departure from the Ayami involved more hiding in stables and less soaring away like a leaf on the wind. He sits for a while - the walk up wasn't something he cares to repeat, but the view can't be denied - then turns to head back down to the clan village, his thoughts on how Sinan will react, if it was some sort of test, and whether or not he should even care.
Gatac 2013-07-08 13:58:01
Toshiba's descent back down to the clan fortress is not a particularly fast one - but eventually, he does reach it. He finds Sinan still in his hut, clearly waiting for Toshiba.

"I see the knife is gone," Sinan says. "Tell me of the deed."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2013-07-08 14:34:52
"To the Ayami, she died enforcing your rules. To you, she leapt off the mountain and flew away. To me, she made the only sane choice she could."
Gatac 2013-07-08 15:09:41
"A sane choice," Sinan says. "Yes. This clan has been brought to the brink of destruction by many fine, sane choices. In contracts, you can either follow your conscience or the coin - and we have been choosing poorly in the last few years. Our most promising students of this year have already tasted such great power outside that they will soon forget their loyalty. We lost you and Nagani, not to enemy action, but choice. And now everyone here will see that the clan cannot enforce its own rules - I have no taste for lying to anyone about Naganai's fate. Others will rebel and get away with it." He shakes his head. "The knife that should be in Nagani's heart - you have aimed it at our back. I cannot punish the great and mighty Blue Oni. But you should know that this was your last chance to return home. The next time your travels bring you here, there may very well be no clan left. I suspect that may make you happy."