Shadow Warriors

Gatac 2019-04-22 08:48:31
IC Thread 29 - The final thread! At last!
Gatac 2019-04-22 10:31:28
It is the morning after and five incredible things are happening.

Incredible Thing #1: for the first time in untold years, the Council of High Lords will actually convene in the eponymous Council Hall of the Imperial Palace. The occasion merits it, but this requires you traveling to the actual Imperial Palace. Situated an hour's ride to the west of the capital, it sits on the side of a mountain, looming over a farming valley. Though its vast grounds, lush parks and splendid additions over the centuries have long since sprawled all over the mountainside, the resemblance of the original palace to the ninja clan fortresses does not escape you.

Incredible Thing #2: The artificial lake in the valley has never seen a ship like the Gungnir, but there it is, its new "fire engine" having proven its worth in getting the ship up the canals without any wind to help it. How Ueki managed the feat of navigation seems unclear, but the refitted Hanse warship doing a round of the lake must clearly be counted as some sort of victory lap. "Well, we're going to need some fireworks to celebrate?" Ueki said when pressed, and you have to admit that a bit of color to the proceedings - assuming the vote goes your way - wouldn't hurt.

Incredible Thing #3: As the guard detail (and what more thankless job is there than guarding a palace that's gone unused for a decade?) undoes the vast crossbars that hold closed the gates to the palace, Ishikawa-dono - in a fine black kimono and a matchingly-painted mask - clears her throat, catching the attention of everyone assembled.

"I know we have not properly convened," she begins. "But I propose that we admit a few...witnesses to the council session." She looks over to you and nods.
"That is highly unorthodox," Shira-dono hastens to reply, Ryusei swinging at his side as if to emphasize his point. "The sanctity of these deliberations -"
"Oh, give me a break!" Boota-dono comments, wiping sweat off his greasy brow. "Sanctity, proceedings, I ate a dictionary for breakfast! Why are we even here? Why even have a vote?"
"Because it's the right thing to do," Hetechi-dono says. Kichirou waves to him from his carriage, clearly enjoying a bit of peace and quiet.
"And, uh, the proper procedure," Tsukareta-dono says. His fingers still have ink stains from the various documents he tried to work on on the way here.
"I don't like to agree with Boota-dono," Shintaro-not-quite-but-kinda-dono weighs in, "but all this for a vote does seem rather ostentatious. Now, about that proposal..."

Everyone looks at him and his ratty, dirty kimono.

"...I see no reason to turn it down," Shintaro adds.
"Neither do I," Homi-dono adds. By his side stand Sidewinder and - Incredible Thing #4 - Copperhead, clad head to toe in armor and looking like one big walking bandage underneath. "There is a certain consideration of merit here. After all, we would not be here without them."
"You say that like it's a good thing," Boota snarks.
"Regardless of the way we took here," Ishikawa says, "I think we're all agreed that a candidate for the Throne must be tested and confirmed by us." Besides Boota's murmurs, nobody disagrees. "So that's settled. Now, my proposal. I count three Ayes. Anyone else?"
"Oh, whatever," Boota grumbles.
"You're abstaining?" Ishikawa asks.
"Yeah, sure, call it what you want," Boota says.
"I cannot consent to this proposal, as it is highly irregular," Shira says, then turns to you and nods his head. "Regardless of our friendship, I must be full-throated in my vote for tradition. Nay."
"Good thing some of us are voting for the future instead," Shintaro says.
"Yes, the, uh, future," Tsukareta says. "I mean, Aye."
"I see no reason to be intransparent about the most important political event of this decade," Hetechi says. "Aye."
"Five Ayes, one Nay, one abstention," Ishikawa sums up.
"The motion is carried," Shira says. "Come then, friends."

The big gate is unsealed and creaks open. That makes it the only thing in the palace that lacks maintenance, however. As you enter, you see terraced gardens tended to by legions of servants, monks raking gravel in front of the Emperor's family shrine off to the side and several groups of armed guards patrolling the grounds.

"Incredible," Yukio whispers, holding on to Toshi's arm. Befitting the occasion, she is dressed in full Matsumoto family armor with a bow on her back and her sword at her side - a marked contrast to Toshi, whose simple and elegant kimono plainly hides neither weapons nor armor.
"It is," Toshi tells her, holding back tears. "Isn't it."
"I'm here for you," Yukio replies.

Hand in hand, they follow the High Lords up the enormous stone-hewn steps to the palace proper, with their own personal honor guard of friends flanking them, while the palace guards bring up the rear. Behind the procession, with another creak, the gates are closed again.

---

You don't see Incredible Thing #5. Incredible Thing #5 is the gasp from Lady Ikishi as she recovers from a fall onto forest soil and tries to right herself with only one arm. Her clothes and face are covered in dirt, but she's got more important things to do, like casting her gaze around the clearing and turning on hand and knees, looking, searching - oh no. Her eyes see the markers in the distance, the forest graveyard and its legions of fallen soldiers.

"DO YOU SEE IT NOW," a voice booms from the shadows of the trees around her. "THE PRICE OF YOUR PRECIOUS THRONE."
"No!" Ikishi cries. "You're gone! I cast you out!"

She tries to stretch up the stump of her right arm, as if to demonstrate the truth of what she's saying. Still, as she looks around, she considers her options. Being spirited out of her prison cell just like that...well, the chance to escape her fate should not be discarded lightly. Maybe, a little voice inside her pleads, maybe Himiko will understand. There is no punishment to fit Lady Ikishi's crimes, none but death, and who is so righteous as to not want to flee from death? Himiko would understand. Wouldn't she?

"DID YOU," the voice continues. "YOU RENOUNCE MY POWER?"
"I renounce all of you!" Ikishi shouts, scrambling to her feet. "Look what you've cost me -"
"DO NOT PRESUME TO LECTURE ME ON LOSS, SUMIKO," the voice booms back at her; Ikishi feebly tries to cover one ear with her remaining hand, but it's no good. "MY PATIENCE IS STRETCHED FAR BEYOND ITS LIMITS. AND YOUR DEBT WEIGHS HEAVIER THAN YOU REALIZE."

As the voice thunders, its power gathers into shape, drawing darkness from the shadows, life from the trees and wetness from the ground; then, birthed in a five-meter circle of pure desolation, stands the shape of General Noronu, looking just the same as before Kirika sliced him apart. Only the light of the sun shining through his shape betrays the lack of substance behind it. Ikishi's eyes flick to the side of Noronu, where the Ayami clan's "Master" Sinan appears, leaning his shadow form against a tree with his arms folded.

"THREE APES," Sinan and Noronu says in unison, and Ikishi finds herself mouthing along with them. "YOU ALL CRAVED POWER. AND YOU ALL WASTED IT."
"No," Ikishi whispers. "No, it's...it's over..."

In a flash, Sinan's shape is right in front of Ikishi; he stabs a shadowy hand straight into her chest. Ikishi's face contorts into pure agony. She can neither scream nor close her eyes as Sinan lifts her easily off the ground, hand wrapped tightly around her heart - or what would be her heart.

"OH, YOU CAST OUT MOST OF ME," the dark voice says. "BUT YOU FORGOT THIS. OR DID YOU HONESTLY THINK ONE STONE WAS NOT ENOUGH TO ANCHOR ME TO THIS WORLD?"
"Please," Ikishi stammers, the last of her warmth escaping between her tight lips. "My daughter..."

But it's no use. Sinan's shadow-shape flows into her, forcing little glowing trickles of raw chi to erupt from her skin and drip down onto the forest floor. Noronu's shadow-shape bites into her stump, pressing one last howl of pain from her, then contorts itself until it resembles an arm, the same way a bleached skeleton in the desert resembles a horse. Her skin goes pale and taut, and when only her darting eyes are left, frantically searching for one more trick, one more option, one more way out, they flood with shadow, too. What gently sets its feet onto the forest floor is no longer the delicate trickster noble, no longer even vaguely human. Black orbs peer from a face as hard and white as marble, while the body is clad in shimmering chitinous growths, as if someone painstakingly painted Ikishi's family colors onto an enormous rhino beetle.

"No..." she stills echoes from underneath.
"YOU WILL LEARN SO MUCH MORE FROM ME, SUMIKO," the voice booms. "LET'S SET RIGHT YOUR MOST RECENT MISTAKES. NO MORE GAMES. IT IS TIME TO DESTROY OUR ENEMIES."

The Ikishi-shape waves its shadow-hand over the ground. With a rumble from beneath, the ground shifts and shakes. Within seconds, the ashes of the dead rise from fissures in the forest floor; cold though they are, they gather more substance from the shadows until a lost battalion of damned souls marches through the forest - and towards a mountain on the horizon.

---

"...you feel that?" Toshi whispers to you as you ascend the steps. "Like a...tremor? In the distance?"
punkey 2019-04-22 21:40:07
The whole way to the Palace, as Kirika shadowed Toshi, she finally felt at peace. Toshi, her best friend, was finally ascending to his rightful place as Emperor, and...it felt right that she was by his side for it. Kirika couldn't explain it, but it felt like this is where she was supposed to be. As she follows Toshi and Yukio through the gardens and up the steps to Palace itself, it feels as if she is standing in a warm and calm sea, so calm that you even forget the water is there.

And then a cold wave breaks over her head. Something is wrong, very wrong, and it's to the east. She turns with a snap, her hand on her sword. "I definitely felt that," she whispers back.
"We're stopping," Yukio says through her smile, stating the obvious as the honor guard stops behind them and the High Lords turn around to look at them. "Why are we stopping."
Kirika strains her eyes, but can't see anything. "I...don't really know," Kirika replies. "Something is wrong."
"What's the matter?" Boota-dono calls from above, chuckling to himself. "Nervous?" Bound as he might be to deliver a Yes vote, he doesn't miss the opportunity to needle you one more time.
"We're, ah, going to join you in a moment," Toshi calls up to them. With both Homi and Hetechi catching Kirika's glances, they usher the remaining High Lords up the stairs while you hold position on the stairs.
"I don't see anything," Yukio concurs.
"Okay," Toshi says. "We have to get this vote over with. But let's keep our eyes open. Yes?"
"...agreed," Kirika says. She bows to Toshi, a little embarrassed. "Apologies, Prince."
"None needed...Shadowguard," Toshi says, then chuckles. "Better a second look than a knife between the ribs, right?"
Gatac 2019-05-05 15:27:45
After all the buildup to this moment, the council chamber in the imperial palace cannot help but disappoint. It is shaped like an octagon inside an octagon; the middle holds an elaborate mosaic of the Empire's seal surrounded on seven sides by the standing desks of the High Lords. The eighth side has a conspicuously new elevated podium built for speaking. Set back into the wall is an alcove with stairs leading up to an ornate chair - not quite the throne, but clearly the Emperor's place to sit and watch the deliberations if the fancy should strike. Several doors outside lead to individual offices where, once upon a time, a bustling group of clerks, scholars and samurai would assist the High Lords with their daily business. As is, the place - though kept immaculately clean - feels heavy with the weight of history and the silence of the last few years.

However, as everyone fills into the room, Boota stops in his tracks when Toshi crosses the threshold.

"Begging your pardon, Prince," he says, "but is tradition that we deliberate without the heir in attendance." He smiles. "For the sake of things. You understand."
Toshi nods, already having learned that lesson on soft power. "Of course," he says. "For the sake of things. The other witnesses will suffice."
"...I guess they must," Boota replies.

Toshi gives you each a hug - yes, each and every one of you - then withdraws to the area outside. Hetechi wordlessly shows you to a bench in the back where you can sit, then takes his place as the last High Lord at his desk.

"Order, order," Ishikawa says. "This council will come to order now. This extraordinary meeting has been called by Hetechi-dono and myself to settle the matter of Toshiro Takeda and his claim to the throne. To this end, a motion to recognize Toshiro Takeda as the true heir to the throne of heavens has been entered. We will each be granted the opportunity to speak our minds and place a vote - Aye or Nay - with regards to this motion. As is the way of this council, we shall speak in order of seniority. As chairwoman of this session, I will be speaking last, so as to not influence anyone's vote." She bows deeply to Shira. "Shira-dono, we would be honored as always to hear your thoughts first."

Shira returns the nod and coughs into his fist as he prepares to speak. His look sweeps the chambers.

"Fellow High Lords," he begins. "These are trying times. No doubt we have all felt the sting of uncertainty and discontent in the Empire. The throne of the heavens has lain vacant for far too long." He doesn't leave that point up to debate. "Our previous efforts to locate a suitable heir have failed. So it has come to be that we must now adjudicate a most unusual claimant. You all well know that I am no friend of upending tradition. For many generations, my family has upheld tradition in the service of the throne and" - he looks down, fighting back a few tears - "sacrificed much in its name. In the name of duty, we hardened our hearts. In the name of duty, we did as we were bid no matter the consequences. In the name of duty...we were unspeakably cruel to the ones we loved. Truly there is no higher calling." He takes a breath. "It is with happiness and sadness both that I have laid eyes upon Prince Toshiro, gazed at his achievements, his friendships, his moral character. Happiness because I believe he is a rare breed of man, a man who understands the necessities of leadership without having let himself be crushed by them. Sadness because I know that his character will be tested sorely should he ascend to the throne. What a terrible thing it is, to wield power, to have to wield power...to be responsible for everything. It is...the burden hardest to bear. And I believe he would bear it well." Shira takes a breath. "I endorse the motion to recognize Toshiro Takeda as the true heir to the throne of heavens."

"Thank you for your remarks, Shira-dono," Ishikawa comments. "Your vote has been recorded. Next, we will hear from the Shadowguard, High Lord Hiro Homi."
Silence falls over the council chambers as Hiro Homi clears his throat. "I'm afraid I must submit a correction to the council records," he says. There are stares from everyone but Hetechi, and Boota in particular grows more consternated by the second. "I was remiss in informing you all that I laid down my office as Shadowguard several days ago. My chosen successor is Kamura-dono."

All eyes turn to Kirika and Yukio all but shoves her forward from their position as observers at the edge of the council chambers.

"What," Boota says. "You cannot be serious!"
"I never joke about my work, Boota-dono," Homi says. "Kirika Kamura is my chosen successor and has been entrusted with all the duties and responsibilities of my office. Many of the actions you have seen Shadowwatch take in the last few days to ensure order and peace in the Empire have been under her command." He smiles. "And the fact that I forgot to inform you of this change just proves that I am no longer capable of discharging my duties in the manner worthy of this position. As the council rules state -"
"Oh, forget it," Boota says. "Just forget I said anything."
"You withdraw your objection?" Ishikawa asks.
"Yeah, yeah," Boota says. "But only because I am very interested to hear this next bit." He turns to look at Kirika. "So, what say you, Shadowguard?"
Kirika looks around the room for a moment, and opens her mouth for a few moments before speaking. "I have known Prince Toshiro for several years now, and...he has never been anything less than a steadfast friend and ally. Since we have embarked on our journey to this moment, he has shown more...more grace, maturity, and wisdom than I would have thought possible for any one person. Prince Toshiro has sought justice for those denied it, given voice to those that are ignored, and settled disputes with a look and a few words. He didn't seek the throne until all other avenues had been exhausted, and that alone should prove his wisdom. I trust his judgement above all others, even my own, and I would lay down my life for him without a second thought." Kirika steels herself, stands up straight, and steps into the empty spot at the chamber that Hiro Homi had just vacated. "I endorse the motion to recognize Toshiro Takeda as the true heir to the throne of heavens."
"Oh, get real," Boota says.
"Boota-dono," Ishikawa cautions, "your turn to speak will come."
"Pah," Boota says. "What could I possibly say to sway anyone's mind here?" He looks around. "You are all aware by now, I imagine, that Toshiro Takeda fled the palace, lived for years under a false identity as the lowest of commoners, that he made ends meet through manual labor and - when his talents in that field proved meager - petty crime. Surely your own due diligence has provided you these facts by now. Hasn't it?" He turns to Kirika. "And naturally, you would have known all this from the beginning, Shadowguard. Yet not mention a word to us here. If this is not the last chance for honesty, when then shall we hear some truth? Is this all you have to say about Prince Toshiro, then?"

"I thought that we were keeping somewhat in mind the concept of haste, Boota-dono," Kirika replies. "But if you want, I can give a more full account. Yes, when I first met Prince Toshiro, it was as a petty thief. I was also a thief, and a liar, and made my living convincing nobles of things that were not true so that I could steal from them. I remembered my father and mother, and what my name meant, but I had put that all behind me. I had given up on who I am, what my family is, and what we stand for. And it was Prince Toshiro was the one who refused to let me truly abandon myself. He and I, we were good thieves together - as you well know, Boota-dono. But he also refused to take a copper from anyone who didn't have more than enough of their own. He would never harm those that got in our way. He would make restitution to those caught in the middle of our crimes. He never let me give up on myself - and that kept the Kamura fire alive in me. When he needed help, I was there without question, because Toshi was the most decent man I knew, because he had saved me from my own demons. I say this without hesitation or exaggeration: Toshiro Takeda saved not only my life, but that of the entire Kamura line - and he did not do so with his eye on the throne, he did so as, as you said, a petty criminal."
"Hrm," Boota scoffs.
Kirika fixes Boota with a glare. "I did not take this position through trickery or happenstance. I was Toshi's guardian long before this day, and I would have given my last breath for him long before I knew of his lineage. Toshi is a good man, Boota-dono, no matter what he has done, he has always been one. We need more like him, and we need him on the throne."
Boota glares at Kirika as she sees his strategy unravel. Sure, he was bound by his promise to vote for Toshi...but there was nothing in the deal about not swaying the others away. Yet, as he looks around the chamber, he sees that the gambit has failed.
"I know it is highly irregular for me to speak again and I beg your indulgence in doing so," Shira-dono weighs in, "but I have seen the truth of what Kamura-dono has said. A man chooses his path on every day, with every choice he makes. I am sure you can see the truth in this as well, Boota-dono. Let us not assassinate Prince Toshiro with his past. Nobody is born worthy, but I am quite satisfied that he has become so. If you are not, then vote your own conscience when it is your turn."
"Yes," Boota says quietly. "I believe I will."

As Boota steps back, another chill runs over Kirika's back. Even though she can all but hear Kaede cheering her on as she put Boota in his place, the other ancestors can sense that something is coming this way - and they're getting ready for a fight.

"Thank you for your remarks, Kamura-dono," Ishikawa says. "Hetechi-dono?"
"Yes, thank you," Hetechi says. "As Kamura-dono described so eloquently, I believe a lot can be said of a man by the merest glance at the people he keeps at his side. In this regard I should at least say that Prince Toshiro's company is colorful." He nods to Toshiba and Takao. "What Kamura-dono was too polite to mention is that this Empire cannot sustain itself on high-minded ideals and friendship alone. It needs people of action, and if not samurai, then perhaps somebody who is well-acquainted with all the people of the Empire, from the most noble to the most common. Good leadership arises from perspective, fellow High Lords. A man who has never known hunger cannot feel the joy of a bountiful harvest. A man who has never shed blood cannot know the weight of committing an army to war. A man who has never loved someone else will only ever love himself. And a man who has never made mistakes...will never truly strive to do right. What Boota-dono elaborated on are not flaws to be discarded; they are the marks of true experience. All who have met Prince Toshiro speak highly of his qualities as a human being. I could never endorse a man for this throne who was flawless as a cut gem, for I would know he has been diminished by just this removal of the rough edges, made to conform to someone else's idea of beauty and order." He takes another breath. "To be truly godly, one must first be...human. I endorse the motion to recognize Toshiro Takeda as the true heir to the throne of heavens."
Boota harrumphs over the solemn quiet of the chamber.
"Boota-dono," Ishikawa says, "seeing as it is your turn now, perhaps you would like to share your remarks?"

Boota steps forward at his desk. "I have only ever done what was wise for the Empire," he says. "This is what we were called for here, to do the wise thing. Not the right thing, not the popular thing, but whatever choice was needed to let the Empire flourish. I hear a lot of talk about how Toshiro Takeda is a good man. Well, to hells with that!"
Murmur starts around the chamber.
"Order," Ishikawa says. "Order."
"To hells with good men," Boota continues. "To hells with kindness and eloquence, too. Our Empire has never been more vulnerable to the machinations of outsiders, to subversion by foreigners, to attack from the mainland. What we need is a cutthroat warlord who commands the respect and fear of all. A man unburdened by frailties of soft-heartedness or heavy conscience. A clever man who appeals - just enough - to others that he does not invite open rebellion, but still ceaselessly pursues a singular vision for the Empire. Someone who will make us great again. I ask you, is Toshiro Takeda the man I describe?" He smiles. "I believe so. I've done my due diligence. You all feel free to vote for whatever sappy nonsense you wish, but your Aye will be counted along my clear-eyed vote all the same. I endorse the motion to recognize Toshiro Takeda as the true heir to the throne of heavens."
"Thank you," Ishikawa says, and Boota finally steps down, smiling smugly at Kirika. He's delivered his "yes" but damn if he hasn't done his best to derail all this.

"We shouldn't have let him go," Yukio fumes with a whisper into Kirika's ear.
"Tsukareta-dono," Ishikawa says, "it is your turn to speak."
"Yes, ah, I will," Tsukareta says, casting a nervous glance. "I - I find myself agreeing with Boota-dono. Never before has the Empire faced such a threat." Yukio's grip around Kirika's hand tightens as Boota's smile deepens. "I'm speaking of the threat of backwardness!" Tsukareta continues, and Boota's grin falters. "Yes, the foreigners are dangerous to us - because of their technology, their way of life, their efficiency. They don't need warships to conquer us! Yes, we must...must make this Empire great again. But not by steel, but by silver!" He looks around. "I've not had the privilege of spending much time with Prince Toshiro but yes, I have met his friends. And they are some of the most forward-thinking, open-minded advisors I could think of. A man who listens to these kinds of people...inconvenient people, radical people, I almost might say - uncouth people! Someone who can keep friendship with them and take their perspective into account and is willing to do what is wise - which is investment! Reform! Modernization! That is an emperor I can get behind. So yes, I endorse the motion to recognize Toshiro Takeda as the true heir to the throne of heavens."
Boota fumes but says nothing as Ishikawa nods to Tsukareta. "High Lord Shintaro," she says, "your remarks?"

"Yeah," Shintaro says. "Hi to everyone who doesn't know me. Name's Shintaro, no clan, my parents are commoners. Used to be Itanu's numbers guy until Itanu...you know. As he would say, started from the bottom, now we're here." He looks around. "Toshiro's fine by me. That's really all there is to it. I endorse the motion to recognize Toshiro Takeda as the true heir to the throne of heavens."
"...that's all?" Ishikawa asks.
"Yeah," Shintaro says. "I don't have to give a speech, do I?"
"No, but -"
"Then yeah, that's it," Shintaro says. "Your turn."
"...yes," Ishikawa says. "I suppose it is."

As Shintaro steps back, Ishikawa clears her throat.

"I apologize in advance," she says, then reaches to lower her hood and undo the strap holding the mask to her face. Gingerly, she removes it and puts it down on her desk. If anything, the burns and missing facial features look even worse in the brighter light of the chamber. Tsukareta turns white as a sheet at the sight, while even Shira seems taken aback by the grisly sight.

"I think you had a right to see this, finally," she continues. "It has cost me...immeasurably much to stand here today. To live up to a high ideal. And to champion the right thing even when it wasn't wise." She throws a glance at Boota, who averts his eyes. "I've heard many arguments in favor of Toshiro today. But I would be remiss not to mention one quality that has been given short shrift so far: his perseverance in the face of adversity. We are all well aware of what it took to come to this moment, and our own struggles are dwarfed by what Toshiro and his friends went through. At every turn, they had the opportunity to walk away from him. At every turn, he had the chance to abandon his quest. And at every turn, we had the right" - she leaves that hanging for a moment - "we had the right to harden our hearts, to turn away, to not see what he put in front of us. But we have seen, haven't we? We have all had to confront things that were not right. We all had to become aware of our own biases, our own shortcomings, our own mistakes. One such mistake is my own and you will be sure to hear of it soon." She nods to Toshiba and Takao. "What Shira-dono described as giri is the never-ending sacrifice of doing what is best for others without regard to what is best for yourself. I am given to understand that Toshiro - Toshi to his friends - is many things that an Emperor cannot be. That he is willing to forgo all of that...that he is willing to abandon his happy life to be Emperor...is all the qualification I needed to see." She breathes deep. "I endorse the motion to recognize Toshiro Takeda as the true heir to the throne of heavens."
"Then it falls to me to make the proclamation," Shira-dono says. "As of this moment, we are all resolved, unanimously, that the throne of heaven is no longer vacant. Let today be the first day of the reign of Emperor Toshiro."

Everyone, even Boota, intones "Emperor Toshiro" three times together. At Homi's prodding, Kirika joins in.

"Order," Ishikawa says. "I call this meeting of the council of High Lords to order. The purpose we have come to serve has been concluded. I move to adjourn this meeting. All in favor?"

Six Ayes echo through the chamber.

"Meeting adjourned," Ishikawa says. "Kamura-dono," she says, fumbling to replace her mask on her face. "Perhaps it ought to fall to you to inform the Emperor of our decision."
punkey 2019-05-07 12:52:38
Kirika looks at Ishikawa with astonishment, but slowly nods. "Of - of course, Ishikawa-dono." She turns towards the door that leads to the Emperor's waiting chambers - showing how much even the building had cast its vote. The doorway is, like much of the palace, understated and luxurious at the same time. There's no excess of gold leaf or feet of minute engraving and carving, just a beautiful design executed exquisitely. It truly shows the difference between modern buildings and the classics.

Kirika pushes the door open, and waits for Toshi to stand up from the bench by the wall - and then bows all the way down to her knees, resting her head on the floor.
This would be a prime moment for Toshi to fumble it. Run for the door before anyone sees it. Tell Kirika to get up right away, what are you doing, we're besties, remember? But maybe there is something to this day that has truly changed him. He stays silent as Kirika kowtows to him.

"Please, rise," he says after a few moments. He maintains his dignity all the way up to Kirika getting back on her feet. Then, his face shows a bare hint of a grin. "How'd we do?" he asks quietly.
"We did all right," Kirika says, her grin only slightly wider that Toshi's. "They let me go second and decided to vote for you anyway."
"So, five...or six?" Toshi probes.
"Seven," Kirika replies, her grin growing a bit more.
Toshi nods. "Boota kept his word, then," he says. "He's still retiring one way or another but at least that's over with -"

That's exactly as far as he gets before Yukio bursts into the room.

"Oh, hey," Toshi says. "Welcome to Day 1, Empress."
"What?" Yukio asks, eyes darting between Toshi and Kirika. "Oh. Yes. Come with me."
"...sure?" Toshi says as Yukio rushes back out.

Following behind her, you speed back towards the entrance, where Yukio leads you through a side corridor onto one of the ancient battlements of the palace. From there, she wordlessly indicates to the horizon in the east - where you can just about make out something that might be a small force of soldiers marching your way.

"They bear no standard," Yukio says. "I think we need to assume they're hostile."
"They're also a bit late for their objections," Toshi jokes.
"That won't really matter if they kill us all, will it?" Yukio replies.
"Point taken," Toshi says, then turns to you. "Ideas?"
"Get the palace staff to safety, send them out the back," Kirika replies. "Soldiers defend but do not leave to approach them - no one approaches them, not you," she looks at Yukio, "or you." Kirika turns to Toshi. "They're not...that's no regular army."
Gatac 2019-05-13 16:48:15
"Indeed not," Shira comments. "Nevertheless, I shall have the alarms sounded."

---

It's been centuries since the Imperial palace was under honest-to-Heavens siege, but the architecture still remains in place to defend against one. Gongs are rung and signal fires lit. Within fifteen minutes, staff has been evacuated through the backward mountain pass, the guards are at the defensive positions and gates are shuttered. Within that time, you've retreated to the roof of the palace for a better look at the situation. The enemy army - and it is an army, if a small one, maybe a thousand men by Shira's reckoning - has kept moving forward through the woods, obscuring sight at their formation. At this rate, it'll be two hours still until they reach the walls of the palace.

"What a foolish attack," Shira surmises. "They've no siege equipment with them. If we send word to Rock Lee's men outside the capital, they can be here by nightfall and vanquish the enemy. All the while, we can easily hold fast for days here. We've the provisions and fortifications for it."
"I'm not looking to be besieged," Toshi - ahem, sorry, Emperor Toshiro - says. "Any way we can take the battle outside?"
"I do not recommend that, my liege," Shira says. "Even if they are of poor skill and armament, they outnumber us twenty to one. They would overrun any fighting position we could establish outside the walls until they get here. We should instead spend the time until their arrival distributing ammunition to the archers and doing a round of the perimeter to make sure there are no weaknesses they could exploit."
"Right," Toshiro says. "That makes sense." He turns to you. "I don't like that we don't know anything about them, though. You said they're no regular army, but...that doesn't really tell me a lot. Perhaps someone could scout?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2019-05-14 14:59:35
"Konoko can alert General Lee faster than any rider," Toshiba suggests. "In the meantime I shall see what fresh hell creeps towards us."
Gatac 2019-05-19 18:57:43
Said and done - Toshiba writes a quick message and entrusts it to the metal cylinder on Konoko's leg. With a loud "KEEE!" the bird of prey darts into the sky and catches the mountain's downdraft, sailing away towards the capital. Toshiba considers following her, but on a bright day like this, he'd be seen for miles with his boots of fire streaking through the sky. Old school it is, then - and there's always rocketing back in a bind.

---

There are ways, one supposes, to move without being seen, even in broad daylight. However, a woodsman like Toshiba well knows that moving always leaves a trace and makes success depend on the blindness of the quarry. Much easier to spy on a moving army, then, by picking a good hiding spot in its path and letting it pass by. The rich crown of this keyaki tree and the right rags hide him almost perfectly, though he almost misguesses his timing: this army is marching relentlessly with sure step, making little attempt at stealth, but they are doing so in utter quiet - no marching songs, no orders, not even chatter. As Toshiba gazes down at the passing column, he can guess the reason why: these soldiers are scraps of rotted meat and bones sewn together by pure darkness into shapes that mock their bygone living forms. A dead branch fortified with shadow serves as pike, the shattered skull of a boar lashed together with strings of blackness replaces a helmet, and the leg of a fallen deer could be mistaken for a bow, its sinews somehow pulled from its flesh and strung taut against the calcified bones. This must be what the spectres fought underneath Lady Ikishi's mansion looked like. Toshiba's count is up to two hundred of the abominations when he sees their commander, a larger-than-life blob of shadow, two heads taller than the largest brigand, untainted by such worldly concepts as "solidity" or "qi". Still, Toshiba senses something living within it still, and as if on cue, the creatures shoulder ripples and stretches, something pushing against the inside, something like a...hand?

"YOU HAVE BEEN DROWNING FOR AN HOUR NOW, SUMIKO," the foul creature echoes from no mouth, its porcelain white face sparkling for no audience save for whatever...whoever might be caught inside. Wait, Sumiko...Ikishi Sumiko? What has that foolish woman done now? "SOON YOU WILL LACK EVEN THE ENERGY TO TWITCH WITHIN ME. I CAN FEEL YOUR HEART SLOWING ALREADY. DID YOU IMAGINE YOU HAD YEARS, MAYBE, IN THIS WORLD? TIME TO ATONE? YOUR QI WOULD NOT EVEN SUSTAIN US UNTIL SUNDOWN." Something not entirely unlike laughter echoes from within the shadow creature. "STILL, MORE THAN ENOUGH TIME TO SIT ON THE THRONE YOU COULD NEVER HAVE. AND DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE PATH BEYOND. YOU WON'T DIE TODAY. NOT BEFORE I'VE TAKEN YOUR DAUGHTER, TOO. WITH HER FRESH QI...WHY, WE MIGHT MANAGE TO BRING THE ENTIRE EMPIRE TO KNEEL BEFORE US."