Gatac 2013-05-18 14:08:23
IC Thread 24b, wherein we do what we do best - infiltrate and make a big fucking mess of it.
Gatac 2013-05-18 14:08:32
After the team says farewell to its shadowy component for the next few days, it’s time to pack up - Yukio’s eyes fall on Kirika, and she smiles, and Kirika knows this is going to suck. Everything she lovingly unpacked yesterday needs to be packed up and wrenched back onto the wagons, and Yukio is right there at Kirika’s side with a few helpful suggestions. The discussion quickly turns to Kirika’s conversation with Toshi on the subject of a carnal cooperation...which then snowballs into a discussion about having children. While Yukio’s plans to have a child with Toshi to further the dynasty seem solid, Kirika’s clearly coming at the subject from the “not thinking about it too hard” angle - and yet, something must be done to preserve the Kamura bloodline, and she did not hide her wishes for that to happen. It’s a tricky topic, but it soon makes way to to loading the wagons and getting the convoy onto the road.


Takao’s ride ahead of the convoy does not spare his horse, but he’s got places to be and associations to disguise. After a hard-ridden day (and an hour of trot through moonshine after he presses on instead of camping for the night), he arrives at Sarano’s sprawling compound where the rivers of harvest and trade meet. The main mansion is already dark, with nobody awake to receive him - not that a simple samurai would expect a big welcome. A stableboy who is still awake serves as Takao’s welcome instead; his horse is taken in for rest, while Takao himself finds a place to sleep in the servants’ quarters next to the stables.

From here, it should be easy to act without drawing too much attention to himself.


It is in the middle of the next day’s morning that the convoy arrives at Sarano’s estate. It is perhaps more accurate to call it a village; while the main mansion rises above the other houses and facilities, a few dozen employees of Lady Sarano live on the grounds in their own houses, though the autarky stops short of growing their own food. Still, the estate is sprawling and ostentatious, especially compared to the rather compact mansion of the Matsumoto family. Speaking of which, Yukio’s riding up front in full armor, with the disguised Shadowwatch ninjas flanking her; Kirika and Toshi ride in the wagon behind them, dressed more appropriately for the roles they are about to play.

Your arrival does not go unnoticed; as you climb out of the wagon, an old man slowly approaches, tapping a walking stick onto the ground as he takes his steps.

“A good day to you and welcome,” he says. “Whom may I announce to her Ladyship?”
Kirika bows. "Kyo Tanaka, Ambassador from the district of San'in."
“Ah!” The old man’s face lights up. “Lady Tanaka, I dare say your letters have served to keep her Ladyship’s spirits elevated in these last few months. I imagine she will wish to greet you herself! If you would kindly wait here while I tell her of your arrival, I would be much obliged!”

(Kasey spent 10 Reputation on an Invitation favor, here's how it works out.)

As the old man dodders away, Yukio turns to Kirika. “You sent her letters?” she asks.
Kirika keeps her respectful face on, but subtly shakes her head. "I have no idea what is going on," she whispers.
“Maybe it’s a trap?” Toshi asks quietly. “Who knows about your ‘Kyo Tanaka’ act?”
"You all, myself..." Kirika smiles. "And one other." She shakes her head. "All right, we might not be doomed."
“That’s why I like you,” Toshi says, “you always know how to reassure me.”

Your discussion about the finer points of who-knows-what comes to an end when the door of the mansion opens. Servants rush out quietly to unroll a long strip of fabric to cover up the ground. Out through the middle walks a woman who may be about sixty years old, though her gray hair is artfully done up and her makeup impeccable. Two samurai flank her; one keeps his hand on his sword, the other carries an umbrella to shield her from sunlight. Toshi, Yukio and everyone else in attendance bows to the woman as she makes her way over to you.

“Lady Tanaka!” the woman says with a smile. “What brings San’in’s envoy to my doorstep? I do hope you are not cross with me over the bon mot in my last letter.”
Kirika bows. "It is in the past, Lady Sarano. Let us not allow the past to endanger the present, when the present is so pleasant."
Sarano smiles. “I concur. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other urgent business to attend to - the thousand little sorrows of power. Please, make yourself at home for the time being - my servants will fetch you when I have a moment to see you.” Sarano bows slightly, then turns and walks back into the mansion, with her entourage in tow.

“Lady Tanaka!” comes another cry, this time from the left. “Lady Tanaka!” shouts a young boy, barely 15, almost falling off his horse as he struggles to come to a stop and hand over a sealed envelope. “Urgent news from your trade mission in the East!” After handing over the envelope, he holds out his hand and lowers his head.
Kirika gives a slight bow in return. "Thank you, you are dismissed." She drops a couple of silver into the boy's hand.
The boy bows down, pockets the silver and climbs back onto his horse, galloping off for his next delivery. The envelope - a rather thick one at that - yields quickly, revealing a stack of folded paper - copies of the letters to Sarano, as well as her replies. It’s all wrapped in a handwritten note.

Was 80% confident you would visit Sarano. Have been keeping up correspondence to facilitate entry of your cover into the Lady’s court, just in case. Full correspondence attached, summary follows. Sorry for not informing you earlier - have prepared several contingencies of this type, would have confused you to tell you about all of them.

Your friend Youta

True to his word, the second fold of the note contains a terse summary of topics and details exchanged in the correspondence. Kirika immediately dives into reading and re-reading the summary while Toshi and Yukio take care of driving the cart into the manor grounds.


Takao is rather rudely awakened when a man plops himself down next to him in the stables. One look at the man, though, widens Takao’s eyes considerably.

“Oi, sunshine,” Ryu Zatoichi Akiro - senior Killer Bee ninja - says. “What the bloody hells are you doing here?”
MikeS 2013-05-26 01:02:27
(Athletics: 1d20+16 = 34)

The ninja's world spins suddenly, then comes to a jarring halt. Takao appears in his field of view, kneeling beside the tatami mat on which the Killer Bee is now sprawled.

"I believe we got off on the wrong foot. How about we start again on a more respectful note?" Takao's flat tone indicates zero tolerance for further "sunshines", or any other kind of nonsense.

"I believe, in fact, that you were just about to tell me what you are doing here." The "or else" is implied.

(Intimidate: 1d20+13 = 30)
Gatac 2013-05-30 12:24:57
"Easy, cutter!" RZA says, pointedly keeping his hands in view. "You got my crew fair and square, no hard feelings, mate. Glad to see you ask questions before the cutlery comes out, though. We got ourselves a new contract - just recon - and I would much like it if we weren't at each other's throats, alright? Word is somebody's holding Sarano's strings - I'm here to finger the puppeteer and report back."
Gatac 2013-06-02 04:53:42
As Yukio and Toshi guide the cart into Sarano's courtyard, Kirika finishes reviewing Youta's pre-made cover and starts formulating a plan of action. "Toshi, you go out in front and blend in, keep your eyes and ears open for anything useful - or dangerous," she says at a half-whisper. "Yukio, you stay with your charge, of course." Kirika smirks at that.
“Got it,” Toshi says. He walks off straight into the building like he lives there, hangs a left and disappears into the maze of corridors.
“I’ve got your back,” Yukio says.
Kirika looks over her shoulder to Homi. "Where will your men be?"
Homi smirks. “Where you need them,” he says. “I would hear your ideas, otherwise we will endeavour to stay invisible as best as we can.”
Kirika is startled by Homi's response. "Oh!" She looks back towards the interior gate leading from the outer courtyard into the palace proper. "Sidewinder, can you backup Toshi in the crowds? Listen for trouble and anything interesting - and be ready to pull him out of trouble if it comes his way."
Sidewinder nods and swings himself down from his horse. He hands the reins to Homi, then slides his omnipresent hat off and tosses it away - the hat curves through the air, softly sailing into the back of the Shadowwatch wagon. With a final nod to Kirika, he walks past the main entrance and heads for the servants’ entrance.
Kirika turns to Copperhead. "And as for are you at disappearing once already seen? Or do you need to begin your encounters in the shadows to remain hidden?"
“I can fade from sight at a moment’s notice,” Copperhead says, “but I cannot hide in plain sight like this for very long. I prefer the cover of darkness, of which there seems to be preciously little here.”
"Then it is time that you learn a new trick," Kirika replies. "Come into the back of my wagon, I have an idea, and it will give Toshi and Sidewinder time to blend and gather information." She smirks. "You have the right face for it, I think."
The visible part of Copperhead’s face - i.e. everything from the nose down - stays impassive. “I don’t think I’m going to like this plan. Let’s get this over with, then.”

(Kirika's Disguise targeting Copperhead: 1d20+10 = 29
Time for Disguise: 2d6 = 8 minutes)

Once stripped of his armor and gear, Copperhead reveals himself to have a surprisingly lithe build, and his face is not...unseemly, either. Doesn’t really matter, though, because Kirika’s laying down some heavy foundation makeup to turn him into the picture of a kept man. He even fits into her fine kimono! (It’s a good thing nobody can see him blushing.) Within minutes, Kirika does up his hair, trims his fingernails and tightens what needs tightening on the costume. The heavy gear has to stay behind, but Copperhead manages to stash away some essentials - most importantly, his chain, which he wraps around his midsection under the kimono, compensating somewhat for the loss of his armor. Even Homi seems to enjoy the sight, smiling and giving Kirika a thumbs up.

“I struggle to recall less dignified circumstances,” Copperhead finally says as he gets to review Kirika’s work in a small mirror. “I do like what you’ve achieved with the eyebrows. Are you certain this will pass muster?”
Kirika manages to mostly contain her smile. "It should work well enough under most circumstances, and if it doesn't, I should be able to smooth things over," she replies. "Which is good, because you have probably the most important role in all of this."
“The man beneath suspicion,” Copperhead replies. “In plain view, yet not recognized as a threat. Waiting his turn to be unleashed at an opportune moment. Correct?”
Kirka nods. "Or, more likely, at an inopportune but necessary moment. You are my reserves, my insurance policy - which means that I need to have confidence that you'll be able to get the job done." She looks Copperhead in the eyes and cocks an eyebrow. "Should I have that confidence?"
“Naturally,” Copperhead replies.
"Good," Kirika replies. "Now, at least pretend to be enjoying this, you'll blend in better that way."
“As you command,” Copperhead replies. Then he...tries to smile. It’s not really any less creepy than his normal expression, but it does convey a vaguely positive notion.
Kirka nods. "Good." She looks to Homi. "And where will you be, Homi-san?"
“I’ll be watching,” Homi says cryptically.
"Okay..." Kirika says. She looks to Copperhead, who returns a blank expression. She looks to Yukio, not really expecting her to know what's going on either, but more for reassurance. Yukio smiles and gives her a nod, in that “It will work” way. Kirika smiles at Yukio, then passes the nod on to Homi. "Then I will either see you or not," she says. "Come, Yukio, Copperhead." She thinks for a moment after that. "I probably shouldn't call you by that name in there. Any preferred names?"
“Call me Sasuke,” Copperhead replies.
“Um,” Yukio says. “I’m not good at those. Maybe...Rei?”
Kirika nods. "Well then. Sasuke, Rei, we have a Lady to meet. Rei, if you would?" Kirika motions for Yukio to lead the way.
“Of course, Tanaka-sama,” Yukio says, smiling again as she walks ahead. Kirika follows, with Copperhead bringing up the rear.

Welcome to Lady Sarano’s court...hope you survive it!
MikeS 2013-06-14 00:25:31
"Someone is holding Lady Sarano's strings?!" Takao sits back and strokes his chin, mostly to hide his surprise that the ninja would have the same assignment as him. Who is the third party involved here?

"That is... interesting. As much as this amazes me, it appears we are not working cross-purpose this time. If the Lady is being influenced, that would be interesting knowledge to me as well. How long have you been here, pursuing this job? Did you get a new crew, or are you alone? What have you found out so far?"
Gatac 2013-06-15 01:25:53
"I've been here for three days," RZA says. "Went at it alone, sneaky-like. I've been having a bit of a time of it, too - Sarano's proper paranoid, there are night guards everywhere and there's nothing round to climb. Snapped up a little morsel - we've got us a High Lord coming our way. Boota will be here tomorrow to talk harvest quotas. I was pondering we nab ourselves two unsuspecting blokes, dress ourselves up nice and proper, and then we just waltz right into the business." He waggles his eyebrows. "What do you say, cutter? Is it a plan or what?"
MikeS 2013-06-29 13:01:58
Takao scratches his chin some more, a dubious expression on his face. "How close do you think we can really get to the action in the court? Do you think the manipulation is taking place right there, in front of everybody?

"I can get into court without trouble; in fact, I even have reason to be here. I have a new lord, and am no longer ronin. How about you go make some friends with the hinin and heimin? Figure out who Lady Sarano deals with regularly, how she spends her time, who her close advisors are. The puppeteer must be one of them. That way, we can cover both angles without arousing suspicion.

"What do you think?"
Gatac 2013-07-01 14:35:15
"I'm proper clueless, cutter," RZA says. "I want to say it's covert, because that's what a ninja would do, but who knows what the bloody hells is going on in there - nobody's giving up the cant. They could be buggering horses and eating children in there for all I know."

His eyes widen at the sight of Takao's papers. "You are one resourceful little bugger! Er, that is to say, I am ever your humble servant, squire. You just go on lead the way, I slump my shoulders and keep my eyes on the floor, that's a bloody brill entry for both of us. But don't go waving those papers around at every shite inside - Boota's men are as paranoid as the Lady's, and better informed besides - they'll know your scribble is not exactly sterling. Got that?"
Gatac 2013-07-02 15:09:36
It is a grand entrance to Lady Sarano’s house, worthy of an ambassador. Even the mud room you start out in is immaculate, with a snow-white mat to step on, empty shelves to store your shoes, and a neat row of soft slippers for use around the house. After a quick change of footwear, you step into the main hallway; silent servants rush past you to clean up what little dirt you left behind. Compared to the wide-open design of Matsumoto’s mansion, Sarano’s house is much more closed-in, a veritable maze of hallways and rooms. But despite the lack of windows, it’s all brightly lit by what must be hundreds of gas lanterns, all with their own little opening to the roof over them to keep the air inside clear. Whoever built this wasn’t going for raw size or unique artwork, but wanted to dazzle with intricate details.

You only get to do so much looking around before a woman arrives to meet you. She appears in her mid-forties, her hair worn in a tight bun, but most strikingly, her kimono is white as snow, with not a single fold out of place. “Begging your forgiveness, milady,” she says as she bows deeply to Kirika. “Her Ladyship is ready to receive you now. Shall I bring you to her?”
Kirika bows in return, and gestures for Yukio and Copperhead to bow as well. “Yes, please do. And your name is?”
“My name is Nana, milady,” the woman says. “I will be taking care of all your needs and wishes during your stay. I will show your servants to my quarters while you speak to Her Ladyship, so that you may send for me whenever you desire anything. I hope that is agreeable to you, milady.” As she walks you through the hallways, you catch a glimpse of a branching hallway blocked off by two dour-looking samurai, but they pay you little mind as Nana ushers you past on the way to the inner sanctum. Kirika glances in their direction momentarily, just long enough to ensure Copperhead notices as well, before preparing herself to greet Sarano.

After a series of confusing twists and bends, and passing through a few rooms that would count as courtyards if they didn’t have a roof, Nana slides open a final double door to Sarano’s courtroom. It’s mainly notable for having a somewhat higher ceiling than the rest of the house, accommodating a raised platform for Sarano’s throne. Said throne, while no doubt exquisitely carved and manufactured, is hard to make out under the mass of pillows and sheets artfully arranged on top of it, no doubt to provide the aging Lady Sarano some comfort for her daily business. The casual ludicrousness of the place is only heightened when you notice that there is a large beast chained to the throne by its neck - by all appearances, one of those immense predatory cats from the mainlands to the west. It regards you with what seems like intense boredom, only opening its jaw to yawn. Lady Sarano herself seems to regard the beast with little fear, reaching over to pet it on the head.

“Lady Tanaka!” Sarano says with a bright smile. “So good to have you here. Nana, be a dear and show the servants around, yes?”
“As you command, Your Ladyship,” Nana says, then quietly leads Copperhead and Yukio back the way they came, leaving Kirika alone with the aging noble.
“You are taller than I imagined,” Sarano lets slip, growing more casual as she looks Kirika over. “And you carry a blade.”
“After the third time having been awakened by thieves or spies in my tent, going through my things, I resolved to take some of my security into my own hands,” Kirika replies. “The next intruder received a very unexpected surprise of his own, if you catch my meaning.”
“Oh, of course!” Sarano says with the tone of a woman who has never had to even touch a weapon. “You San’in folk are a bit more rough and tumble, yes? Nevertheless, I am glad you have seen fit to make your way here in person. I do so hope you will find my house to your liking. What do you think of my little Baboo here?” She smiles as she gives the large cat another pat on the head. “He is such a sweetheart! And the envy of everyone in the capital, if I may brag for a moment.” She smiles at Kirika. “But I see you brought your own entertainment. A kept man and a woman? Well, I suppose I shouldn’t judge. But if you tire of them, Nana will provide you with whatever pleasures you seek.”
Kirika bows to Sarano. “I would never seek to deprive myself of the pleasures of your hospitality,” she says. “My kept man is more...of a valet of sorts, as the woman is my bodyguard, but...also something more.” She doesn’t bother hiding her flushed cheeks. “But she is also very understanding.”
“I see,” Sarano says. “Well, if it is women you fancy, then your appetites will be well-catered for. If you don’t fancy Nana, we have younger, older, foreigners...whatever your heart desires, Lady Tanaka. Though if I were you, I would hurry to secure myself the foreign girls...Lord Boota has a rather voracious appetite for them, I’m afraid, and he can be rather inconsiderate about sharing.” For a moment, Sarano just looks at Kirika and smiles vacantly, like whatever is animating the old woman had to take a quick break, but a heartbeat later she picks up again. “And please, do not even bring up your business now. You are here as my guest for the night, and I do not desire to waste the evening on these dreadful contracts you wish to convince me of. Let the sun go down and rise again, and maybe I will have to stomach for it, but today it would just bore me to tears.” She cocks her head to the side, still keeping the smile on. “I do hope that is not too disappointing to you, Lady Tanaka.”
Kirika keeps her own smile on in return. “Of course not,” she replies. “Well, then I would have seen my bodyguard. Do you have any women...built similarly? Preferably a foreigner?”
“Ah, I appreciate a woman who knows what she wants,” Sarano says. “I think you will find Karla agreeable with your desires. Nana can make the arrangements.”
Kirika bows. “Could you have her, and my kept man and bodyguard shown to my quarters?”

(Kirika’s Sense Motive: 1d20+14 = 30)

Sarano reads like somebody who’s gotten tired of all the debauchery a while ago - but it probably makes for a good way to get a read on her visitors, and probably also provides a steady stream of blackmail-worthy embarrassments. Still, such a ready supply of courtesans - including several foreign ones - does suggest business ties that are very much not the traditional trades of the valley. As for Sarano herself - that is more difficult. Her body language, her voice, none of it seems to be quite right for her body and her face, but Kirika can’t quite make heads or tails of it yet.

Kirika waits patiently for Sarano to reply as she studies the woman. “Lady Sarano?” she asks cautiously.

“Oh!” Sarano says, awakening from one more “Gaslamps are on, but nobody’s playing kabuki” trance. “Just speak to Nana when she comes to pick you up. She will arrange everything. I look forward to your company at dinner, Lady Tanaka. You may leave now.”
Kirika bows again. “Thank you, Lady Sarano.” She turns swiftly on her heel and takes her leave from the hall.

With Nana nowhere to be seen quite yet, Kirika takes a minute to look around the immediate area. Gaslamps and paper walls dominate, as elsewhere in the house - Kirika briefly wonders if there’s ever been a fire in the house, the odds certainly don’t favor this type of construction - but thanks to the closed interior layout, she seems to be quite isolated in her little section of the house. She perks up when she sees someone with a white kimono turn the corner, but that turns out to be another easy-on-the-eyes female servant coming to clean up the faint traces of soot from the walls above the lamps in this hallway. From the looks of it, the girl’s been at that all day. When Kirika tries to get a closer look, the servant quickly turns away, preferring not to make eye contact. But now she’s self-conscious about being watched, and Kirika can see her shiver a bit as she cleans.

Before long, Nana arrives with quiet footsteps and a bow to Kirika. “I am ready to show you to your quarters now, milady,” she says.
Kirika returns the bow. “I would like to have...Karla sent to my quarters, along with my kept man and bodyguard.” She watches for Nana’s reaction.
Nana doesn’t show much a reaction at all. “Very well, milady. I will have her cleaned and sent to your quarters. Your servants are already waiting in your quarters, milady. Will you be requiring additional clothes?”
“Please,” Kirika says. “Actually...if I may, I would like to retrieve Karla myself. It would give me a chance to see what I am in for.”
“I cannot allow you into the servants’ quarters,” Nana says, quickly and firmly. She’s had to shut this kind of question down before. “Karla is a lovely choice, milady. I am certain she will be to your liking.”
Kirika bows. “Then show me to my quarters, please.”

Nana leads Kirika back out through yet more of the corridors. The twists and turns don’t seem to have much rhyme or reason to them, and halfway through Kirika starts to suspect that this is deliberate; the repetitive layout and short sightlines must make the house a nightmare to navigate for anyone who’s not very familiar with it, leaving guests at the mercy of the hostesses. The route ends in another of those roofed courtyards, which contains a small garden with a miniature guesthouse built into the middle. There’s even a small creek running by the side of the guest-house, with a sōzu clacking its slow rhythm despite the absence of any animals bigger than a housefly. Most importantly for Kirika, Yukio and Copperhead are waiting outside for her; neither looks particularly at ease with their location, but they try to stay in character, bowing to Kirika’s entry.

“I hope this is to your satisfaction, milady,” Nana says, bowing to Kirika. “I have shown your servants where they can acquire firewood from our stores. I will now go fetch Karla, if it pleases you.”
“Please do,” Kirika replies with a bow of her own. She waits for Nana to depart, then leads Yukio and Copperhead into the strange indoor guesthouse. Once the door is closed, she signals them both to help her look under every floorboard and behind every panel for listening passages and peepholes. Before Yukio can step into the guesthouse, Copperhead puts his arm in front of her to bar her way. Wordlessly, he reaches under his kimono, retrieves a small pouch and gently pours it into the air, blowing the fine powder therein into the guesthouse. Within seconds, the powder starts sparkling as it glides, following even the smallest drafts inside.

(Copperhead casts Detect Secret Doors. Copperhead’s Spellcasting: 1d20+19 = 33)

The powder avoids the walls, though some is drawn into the updrafts of the omnipresent gaslamps. Some of it drifts towards the floor, far faster than it should fall. Copperhead steps close to where it congregates and feels for seams or looseness in the floorboards.

(Copperhead’s Knowledge check: 1d20+11 = 22)

With two deft moves of his hands, he puts pressure on each end of a board, coaxing the latches on the other side to open. The board - and several of its cousins - give way to a trapdoor leading to the crawlspace underneath the house. Copperhead looks down into the space, but draws back out, satisfied that nobody is watching right now.

“There is probably another entry to the crawlspace outside,” he says. “The lock on the front door is a charade to make us feel safe. Clearly, the servants can enter this guesthouse whenever they wish.” He smirks. “Hmph. I also believe the attention to cleanliness and demure behaviour is supposed to further suggest harmlessness and an unwillingness to get dirty. I think it is too early to draw conclusions farther than that, but I believe the intentions of Lady Sarano and her staff are...sinister.”
“If it’s Lady Sarano at all,” Kirika remarks as she carefully inspects the venting for the clever gaslights.
“What do you mean?” Yukio asks.

(Kirika’s Notice: 1d20+12 = 25)

Kirika’s inspection of the gaslamp provides no immediate trickery - but her geisha nose tracks a foreign note in the smell of the flame. It could be the cause of all that weirdness - or merely an exotic fragrance. She motions to Copperhead to investigate the strange smell himself as she moves to try to lift and invert the table onto the panel - but is stymied when it seems to be mounted to the floor. “Hmph,” she grunts, then braces herself and tries to rip one end out of the floor.

(Copperhead’s Knowledge check: 1d20+11 = 29)
(Kirika’s Athletics check: 1d20+13 = 20)

Kirika can actually feel the table budge slightly as she tries to rip it up - with more effort and one more helper, she could certainly tear something loose - but it feels like the plate of the table would come loose before its feet come free. Copperhead’s “pay attention to me” cough is ignored as Kirika simply doubles down on the task.

(Kirika’s Athletics check: 1d20+13 = 28)

CRACK! The plate of the table tears loose, the strength of the glued-together furniture no match for Kirika’s raw determination. The end that she isn’t currently holding slides off its foot, hitting the floor and leaving a nice scuffmark.

Copperhead coughs again, more loudly.
Kirika slides the inverted tabletop on top of the secret panel, then turns to Copperhead as she wipes her brow. “Yes?”
“I believe I have identified the component,” Copperhead says. “It is an old drug from the mainlands, banned by the Emperor many years ago, but I recognize the sweet fragrance from my manuals. The mainlanders call it opium. In sufficient doses, it lowers inhibition, induces a feeling of contentness has an encouraging effect on sexual desire, though if I may be so blunt I don’t think you need any help in that regard.”
Kirika gives Copperhead a withering look. “If we extinguish the flame, would the drug go away? And is there a point, if the entire palace seems to be a enormous smoke house?”
“That is what worries me as well,” Copperhead says. “I think we can certainly limit our exposure if we extinguish the flames inside, but we cannot effectively vent the guesthouse since the air outside contains it, too. I am also afraid that I do not have with me any agents that would help us mitigate the effects. I believe the dose of this kind of delivery system is low enough that we will not incapacitated for a few days, but we do need to guard our emotions and thoughts carefully. I have no doubt that the rooms where Sarano meets with her guests are more heavily dosed, and under these circumstances food and water may be similarly drugged.”
“So, I’m probably going to get drugged,” Kirika summarizes. She looks at Yukio. “And Sidewinder, Toshi and Homi are in here and have no idea. That should be our first priority, letting them know if we can.”
“I have seen Sidewinder blending in with the kitchen staff,” Copperhead says. “I have not seen Prince Toshiro or the sensei, however. Given the house’s peculiar architecture, a search may prove challenging. Do you have any idea how we can reach them? Perhaps at a time when everyone inside the house assembles for a common purpose?”
“Well, Sidewinder should be near Toshi, and Homi is likely not far from either us or them,” Kirika reasons. “Letting Sidewinder know should inform Toshi, at the least. Do you know how to get to him?”
“I do,” Copperhead says. “Fetching firewood should provide a sufficient excuse to venture into that area again.” He pauses for a moment. “Actually starting a fire with wood this house provides would be a poor idea, however.”
“Just get some water from their well,” Kirika advises. “And...warn him not to sample the food.”
“That will run counter to the prince’s nature,” Copperhead says. “I will endeavour. Should I go now, or should I stay around until Nana returns with this Karla person?”
“Stay,” Kirika says. “If we cannot cure this drug, perhaps we can counteract its stronger effects long enough for her to help us. I shall wait outside for Karla.” She looks to Yukio. “Would you care to join me?”
“In this crazy house?” Yukio says. “I am not leaving your side again, dearest.”

You venture back outside to find Nana waiting for you, with another woman beside her. Nana has apparently switched kimonos - her new one is still white, but with a more (ahem) flattering cut, the same one of the woman at her side wears. “Karla” stands taller than Nana, eye to eye with Kirika, though not quite as tall as Yukio. Her features are softer than that of the foreigners in Kargbeck, but the influence is clearly there - perhaps she is the product of a relationship between an Imperial and a foreigner. Her hair is raven-black and cascades over the shoulders of her kimono; it sparkles slightly in the glint of the gaslamps. She wears obvious makeup, but without a geisha’s white foundation, showing off her foreign features. Although she smiles, her eyes seem focused far in the distance, or not at all.

“Milady,” Nana begins, “this is our lovely Karla. Lady Sarano wishes that no permanent harm come to her, otherwise you are free to use her as you please. Do you have any other wishes at this moment?”
Kirika bows, and puts a hand on Karla’s shoulder - which simply triggers the woman to focus roughly in Kirika’s direction. “No, I believe my wishes have been fulfilled,” she says with a smile.
“Very well, milady,” Nana says. “Feel free to have me summoned at any time. I will inform you when it is time for dinner.” Nana bows one more time, then turns and leaves the “courtyard”, disappearing back into the maze of corridors outside. Karla continues to smile at Kirika, obviously waiting for commands.
“Come with me, Karla,” Kirika says with a smile, and starts to lead her into the guesthouse. Karla nods to that. “By your command,” she says, and follows Kirika inside. When she sees the destroyed table, she starts to giggle a little bit.
“Is something funny?” Kirika asks.
“You will make Nana angry,” Karla says. “She’s funny when she’s angry.”
Kirka looks to Copperhead. “Do you have any ideas for a counteragent?”
“Ideas, yes, means, no,” Copperhead says. “I have some materials in the wagon, but I am not sure I can set up a suitable laboratory here. If her state is the result of opium exposure, it will lift if we remove her from further exposure, though it will be very unpleasant.”
Karla giggles again.
Kirika sighs. “We do not have the hours to wait for the drugs to wear off, either. What do you need from me to make this counteragent happen?”
“The agents from my wagon,” Copperhead begins. “Pure water. Flame, hotter than woodfire - the gaslamps might be enough, though we would have to modify them to burn brighter still. Raw opium. And about an hour where we are not disturbed.” He ponders for a moment longer. “We will also need protection from the fumes, or conduct the procedure outside.”
“If you can make the modification to the gaslamp, get your agents and have Sidewinder bring the water, I can take care of the opium, fume protection and cover,” Kirika says. “Do you need venting, or just a mask?”
“A mask will do,” Copperhead says. “Actually, if the servants are at all interested in their health, they will probably be using suitable masks for manufacture the opium-laced lamp oils. Perhaps you can acquire some of those.”
“That would imply that they know what they are making,” Kirika replies, and peers at the lamps outside in the courtyard. “But I have an idea. Go, make your preparations.”
“Indeed,” Copperhead says, then slinks off to gather his supplies and contact Sidewinder. Karla giggles again.
Kirika turns to Karla and puts a hand on her cheek. “You have been drugged,” she tells the poor woman. “You know this, yes?”
“Oh, yes,” she admits. “But Lady Sarano took me in when I had nothing. I don’t mind it anymore.”
“But you are kept as a...a slave of sexual favors,” Kirika says. “We are here to help you, and all the others. Do you understand that?”
“Yes,” Karla giggles. “That is so noble of you. I like noble people.”
“Do you want us to save you and the others?” Kirika asks as she strokes Karla’s cheek.
“I just want you to take care of me,” Karla says, then quickly leans in, grabs Kirika by the back of her head and shoves her into a lingering kiss. Kirika’s eyes go wide, but can’t break loose before Karla lets her go.
“We will help you,” Yukio says, by way of refocusing Karla’s attention away from Kirika. When Karla smiles at her, Yukio quickly adds “I do not require your gratitude.”
Kirika reaches for Yukio’s hand, but doesn’t look away from Karla. “We’re going to take care of all of you,” Kirika says. “And we’re going to start with breaking a lamp.”
Karla smiles. “Can I help?”

As a matter of fact, she can - but not directly. First, Kirika messes up Karla’s hair and loosens her kimono a bit - just enough to imply things have already gotten somewhat heated. Next, she very carefully whacks one of the lamps on the courtyard wall with a piece of wood from the courtyard, just enough to crack it and cause it to start leaking oil down the wall. The thought being, as most of the lamps are in narrow hallways, this lamp has to cover more space with its haze of drugs, and might require a more substantive - and therefore special - mix.
“Let’s hope opium is not absorbed through the skin,” Kirika says, and rubs the oil all over her clothes, as well as Yukio’s and Karla’s. “Now, we’re going to need to sell this, love,” she says to Yukio. “That means that...we will have to be, all three of us...close together when Nana arrives.”
“I trust you,” Yukio says. “Let’s be careful.”

You certainly end up close together. Karla needs little convincing to play along with your funny little game, though Kirika notices how the sweet hint on her lips is most likely opium, too. After a while, the door to the courtyard slides open again, and Nana enters. She glances at the broken lamp, but says nothing as she walks up to Kirika and Karla deep in the middle of another kiss.

“Begging your pardon, milady,” Nana says.
Kirika rolls over and looks at Nana. “Your silly lamp broke, and now we are covered in oil,” she says plainly, breathing heavily and looking over her shoulder.

(Kirika’s Bluff: 1d20+16 = 31 VS Nana’s Sense Motive: 1d20+12 = 17 - Nana errors out, activated as a Crit Fail)

“Yes, milady,” Nana says, not batting an eyelid at Kirika’s explanation - obviously, guests have gotten up to much, much worse. “I will bring you new clothes and send someone to fix the lamp immediately. I apologize profusely for the inconvenience. If there is anything else I can do to serve your wishes, milady...”
Kirika breaks away from kissing Yukio - she’s made sure that every moment with Karla is balanced out with at least one with her love - to reply. “There is a drug, from the mainland, I am not sure if you have it here, opium? I would like enough for all three of us - pure, if you have it,” she says with a wistful smile. “I find it improves...such things.”
“Certainly, milady,” Nana says. “Excellent taste, milady. I will bring you a dose and the necessary accessories. Will you be joining us for dinner later?”
“Perhaps, it depends on how tired we all are,” Kirika responds. She pretends to focus long enough to give Nana a “go away now” look.
“Very well, milady,” Nana says, bows again, then hurries outside. Yukio looks after her just long enough to make sure she’s no longer in earshot, then turns to Kirika.
“She didn’t even bat an eye,” Yukio says. “What kinds of guests does Sarano usually have here?”
“Ones that have been heavily drugged,” Kirika responds, before giving Yukio a really, really big hug. “I’m so very, very, very sorry,” she whispers as she strokes her love’s cheek. “I didn’t mean for this to happen, but it all happened so fast, and I needed to adapt and think quickly, and this is not what I want for us at all, I swear it -”
“It’s alright,” Yukio says. “Just...let’s not stay here any longer than we have to.”
Kirika hugs Yukio even tighter, even as Karla starts to rub her back in her own distracted haze. “No, it’s not all right, and I’m sorry.”
“We’ll make this right,” Yukio says. “I just hope Copperhead found the others.”
“I hope so, too,” Kirika says. “And whatever you want me to do, whatever punishment I deserve, I will do it. I’m so sorry, love.” She sounds far more worried about what Yukio is thinking at this moment than by such mundane concerns as the survival of the others.
“...sorry for what?” Yukio asks, puzzled.
“For...this,” Kirika says, confused herself. “For having our cover involve making out with another woman.”
Yukio smiles. “We’ve had worse plans.”
“I - you’re not mad at me?” Kirika asks tentatively.
“I’m not mad at you,” Yukio says.
“I’m not mad, either,” Karla says, planting another kiss on Kirika.
“- that, on the other hand, is getting annoying,” Yukio sighs.
MikeS 2013-07-03 00:39:20
"Don't worry, I'm done waving these papers. They got me in here. If Boota's men doubt my validity to being here, they question Lady Sarano's people's competence and insult the Lady in her own home. Even a High Lord doesn't do that without good reason.

"Which makes it even more important that we don't walk in together. See, if you get caught sneaking around later, then everybody's going to be in my face again, looking real hard at my papers. No, I'll go to court alone, and you go see if you can make some friends among the servants. We can cover more ground that way." The stern tone in Takao's voice indicates that this is his final word on that matter.

"I'll head off to court now. It's not like a lot of people will be paying attention to me; I am of no rank worth mentioning, and from a small house to boot. I stand on the sideline and observe the goings-on, and will probably not get a chance to talk to the Lady at all, etiquette and everything demanding I wait my turn, so I can go back again tomorrow. I've done these things before." And not really paid much attention to any part of it, he muses to himself. At best he escorted some boorish noble talking to other courtiers about the tax on rice bags moving across the border, and while they say courlty interaction was like battle, with thrusts and feints, he certainly never appreciated the finer details of diplomacy or negotiation.
Gatac 2013-07-24 13:26:12
As Takao predicted, nobody pays much attention to him beyond a final cursory check of his papers, but he can tell from the look of irritation on the white-clad servant's face that it was beyond his station to use the front door and track his dirty self through the nice parts of the mansion as she leads him to the servants' area, which is decidedly more drab and utilitarian. Turns out there are quarters for the noble's guards - as in, a large room with rows of tatami mats, many of whom either have other samurai already lying down on them or are otherwise reserved through the expedience of placing one's bindle on them. The servant woman looks to Takao.

"The kitchen is there" - she points to the right - "and the servants' baths are there" - she points to the left - "and that's all you need to know. The noble's quarters are off-limits unless you are escorting your lord. And no, we are not available to your kind, whatever you may have heard. Questions?"
Gatac 2013-08-04 02:24:46
Half an hour later, Copperhead returns with an armful of firewood and good news. “I have informed Sidewinder, and he assures me he will get the word to Prince Toshiro,” the disguised ninja says. He looks at the silver tablet of drug paraphernalia Nana slid through the door without comment. “I see you have acquired a working amount of opium and some tools.”
Kirika and Yukio are sitting on one of the benches outside the small guest house, Kirika looking very uncomfortable and awkward as Karla rubs her hands on her and nuzzles her cheek into Kirika’s shoulder. “Yes, we have.”
“A possible complication is that I was not allowed to visit their well,” Copperhead says. “As soon as I arrived, a servant asked me what I needed and did not leave my side until I left again. I thought it unwise to start killing inconvenient witnesses before we are done with our initial reconnaissance, but I believe I can...bypass this security. It will require some time, however. As will modifying a lamp and preparing the counteragent. We may have a useful amount by early morning if I work throughout the night.”
Kirika sighs. She was hoping for faster, but things are what they are, and she nods. “Then I will do what I can to give you space. Stay in cover unless you absolutely have to, I don’t want to spend your cover unless we absolutely have to. We will provide you privacy if we can.”
Copperhead nods. “Your help is...unnecessary, but appreciated,” he says. “Focus on keeping your wits about you at dinner. I have reason to believe that they will drug both food and drink with a far more potent dose. I cannot predict what effect it will have on you, but I see little room for optimism.”
“Any suggestions on dealing with being drugged?” Kirika asks with a nervous smile.
“Limiting your exposure is perhaps the most effective method,” Copperhead says. “Watch your portions, be wary of seconds and desserts and your plate being replaced without comment. Abstain from spirits. When pressed, complain of tiredness, short breath and headache; heartburn, if the meal can justify it. Steer conversation away from you, do not engage open-ended questions, excuse yourself to the bathroom if you feel you are too close to succumbing.” He pauses for a moment. “A well-timed purging of your stomach could be helpful, provided you can minimize the noise.”
“You’ve thought about this,” Yukio says.
“I think about many things,” Copperhead says, and for the first time shows something like a genuine smile. It’s not any better than his fake one.
“Well, wish me luck,” Kirika says, and turns to Karla. “Karla, I want you to stay here with Yukio, all right? Will you be missed back in your quarters?”
Karla giggles. “I’ve stayed with guests for weeks,” she says. She fixes Kirika with a pout. “You’re pretty. You should stay here. Lady Sarano won’t mind.”
Kirika smiles. “I have to go to this dinner, Karla. But I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
“Not the dinner, silly!” Karla says. “Go to the dinner. She’ll make you eat either way, so enjoy it. I mean, stay here, with us. There’s food and fun until you die.”
Kirka’s stomach drops, but she keeps her smile on. “ long until I would die? How long until you might die?”
Karla shrugs. “Oh, who knows? You’ll die pretty. We all will. There’ll be more.”
Kirika puts a hand on Karla’s cheek as Kirika feels Yukio move her hand from Kirika’s side in shock. “You’re not going to die in here, drugged like this. I promise. I’m going to get you back.”
Karla gives Kirika a kind smile and shakes her head. “No, you’re not,” she says softly.
Kirika gives Karla one last smile before turning to give Yukio a kiss. “Protect them for me.”
“I will do my best, dearest,” Yukio says, resting her nervous hand on the hilt of her katana. “You watch yourself.”
“Always, my love,” Kirika replies, and stands up. On her way out, she stops by Copperhead. “No matter what, Karla gets the cure first,” Kirika says in a tone that implies there is no leeway in this order. “If you can get her clean water, do so. Understood? She will not stay this way.”
“I understand,” Copperhead says. “Go. We will handle our side of the mission.”
“Understood,” Kirka replies, and walks for the door. She tightens her kimono and wishes very, very hard that swords were appropriate dinner wear.


It becomes clear very quickly at the dinner table that “appropriate” is absolutely not the word of the day. Boota takes an early lead, showing up naked from the waist up with a gaggle of four house concubines who follow him as if lead by invisible chains. Other guests similarly are with company - not enough that Kirika looks like the odd one out for coming without company, but there’s clearly no taboo against it, so long as those lesser people are kept away from the dinner table. It’s a large, presumably heavy semicircular piece of polished wood that has been carried to Sarano’s throne, where the old lady still sits, albeit now with a wooden tray in front of her in lieu of sitting down at the table.

“Welcome, friends!” Sarano beams. “So many familiar faces, and a new one! Tanaka, do bow for the others. She’s from San’in, you know.”
Kirika stands, and takes the time to semi-gracefully bow to each member of the table - and the time to see who’s managing to put drink to their lips without dribbling it down their chin. “I thank you for...the chance to be in this interesting place,” she says with a slight giggle.

(Kirika’s Notice: 1d20+12 = 21)

The old samurai at the table seems more drunk than drugged; the even older noblewoman next to him, however, is completely zoned out. The young scholar’s also showing signs of being out of it. The only one who seems completely aware and sober is Boota, and that may be more down to his bulk than any cleverness.

“Tanaka, these are my good friends Joku” - the scholar - “Mira” - the noblewoman - “Ichi” - the samurai - “and our guest of honor, High Lord Boota. Please, take your seat, and we will serve the amuse-bouche. Oh, Boota, am I saying that right?”
“Perfect, milady,” Boota replies, raising his glass. “A toast! To our noble and generous host Lady Sarano!”
“Hear hear!” scholar Joku shouts.
“Hear hear!” Mira joins in. Ichi just raises his cup.
Kirika bends over for her cup - adding in a stutter-step as she does so - and picks up her own cup. “Hear hear!”
Sarano smiles and raises her cup to her lips; the other follow suit, quickly partaking of the sweet plum wine from the mainland. Kirika doesn’t hesitate - she downs the glass with the rest of them. Better to be somewhat drugged now than blow her cover this early.

(Kirika’s Fortitude Save: 1d20+7 = 20)

Kirika can taste the drug going down her throat; the plum’s sweetness hides the opium’s taste a little, but this is not a subtle dose, intended to build upon a guest already intoxicated from the vapors. Kirika can feel the tattoo reaching up her neck warm up a little, but otherwise, nothing much seems to happen to her - she’s still as sharp and alert as before.

She winces, then gives a blissful smile as she sinks back down to her seat with a sigh. “So, what is the discussion with dinner tonight?”

“The new harvest!” Boota crows. Gods above, the man is loud. “15 percent more rice than last year from the East! 10 percent in the South! An Army marches on its stomach, Lady Tanaka, anyone of intelligence will tell you that!”
“An army?” Kirika asks. “Lord Boota, San’in has heard of preparations for such a thing, but...the foreigners have not tried to betray us yet, and San’in is pleased with their trade, and otherwise the Empire is at peace. What would you need an army for?”
Boota shakes with a guffawing laugh. “What do you need an Army for? You always need an army! Foreigners, bandits, traitors! It’s a madhouse out there! But you can’t be expected to know that, you probably think that’s normal, am I right?”
Kirika shakes her head vigorously, then giggles. “We have our problems, but things are...fine for us. You cannot stop all crime, and some dissent keeps the marketplace of ideas with fresh stock.”
“Hah!” Boota shouts. “Is it time for San’in to rebel again? Somebody bring me my sword!” The whole table joins in the laughter, though Sarano’s is more reserved. “Tanaka, you’re a nice woman!” Boota continues. “Let’s hope your visit here makes you smarter!”
“It certainly has been enjoyable so far,” Kirika says. “Although the drink might not agree with me, I cannot remember when I have felt” She giggles again.
“Ah, not used to the good life!” Boota calls. “Nana!”
The white-clad servant glides up next to Boota. “Sir?”
“Make sure Tanaka gets her pick of the food!” Boota says. “Pretty thing like her, she needs something substantial to balance the spirits!”
“Yes, Sir,” Nana says, slinking away to relay the instructions to the kitchen staff.
“Ah! Lord Boota, I have already partaken of the bevy on offer,” Kirika says. “My bodyguard and I found Karla most energetic, and having already sated my appetite, I must limit my consumption so I will be ready for more - we have not seen the limits of Karla’s strength yet.” She gives him a coy smile.
“Horsecrap!” Boota shouts, but in a dismissively friendly manner. “Unless you cooked the girl up and ate her, you have room for more!”
“Eating her certainly is part of the plan,” Kirika jokes with a wobble.
“Look at those thin arms, Mira!” Boota shouts, ignoring Kirika’s wordplay.
“Oh, that is so sad,” Mira says.
“They call that fashion in San’in!” Boota says. “Well, I call it a crime! The Gods gave us mouths so we could taste and eat! You lived on crackers and pickled fish for a week, Tanaka! Your body needs to regain what it has lost, and you will not fuck your way to a full belly! Not with Karla, anyway!”
Kirika gives the table a goofy smile. “Well, just a little I suppose.”

The first course seems to satisfy Kirika’s “little” criterion. It’s a small slice of mango bread with cured ham and crab meat, served with a drizzle of soy sauce. “For your homesick stomach!” Boota comments.
Kirika laughs and claps her hands. “Thank you,” she says with a bow, and eats it.

(Kirika’s Fortitude Save: 1d20+7 = 20)

Kirika doesn’t get to enjoy the flavor too much, focused as she is on gauging how badly the drugs in it will affect her. Judging from the warm glow on her throat, this dose has been neutralized, too.

“That is remarkable,” scholar Joku says. “What craftsmanship! Don’t you agree, Mira?”
“Oh, I would never get a tattoo,” the noblewoman says. “But it is lovely, dear.”
Mako simply grunts as he sips his wine.
Lady Sarano smiles. “So, tell us a little about yourself, Tanaka.”
“Oh, there is not much to tell,” Kirika starts, putting in a deliberate pause. “But I shall tell it! I was born to a poor soldier’s family outside Shinju, and was my parents’ only child. All my father knew was swords and mercenary work, so he taught me the family trade and allowed me to join him on the few times he was hired. We were once contracted to provide escort for one of the ambassador’s messengers, and in the process of our duties, I was forced to both fend off a pack of bandits and talk their leader out of a...ill-advised attempt on our lives. The ambassador heard of all of this, and invited me to take an apprentice position in his staff. ‘We could use someone with your tongue - and your sword,’ he said. And almost ten years later, here I am.” She giggles again.
“Oh, yes,” Sarano says, nodding along. “That was Ambassador...”
“Moto,” Kirika corrects.

(Kirika’s Bluff: 1d20+16 = 33)
(Sarano’s Sense Motive: 1d20+14 = 21)

“Ah, yes, you mentioned him,” Sarano says. “A good man.”
“And a good story!” Boota calls out. “More wine!”
“And you, Lord Boota?” Kirika asks. “Surely, you have a better reason for being here than simply checking on grain production.”

(Kirika’s Investigate: 1d20+8 = 26)

“Sarano’s place is my home away from home, Tanaka!” Boota says. “Whenever the capital gets too stifling or I need to clear my head, I come here! And the grains, they are just numbers! I can have as much or as little rice as I need to have! When I go home, I can tell the others what I want them to hear, tax what I need them to tax and feed the people this empire needs to feed. Remember that, Tanaka! Without swords, there is no army, but without food, there are no soldiers! You would do well to make your trade arrangements with me - I can be a powerful ally for a small province like yours!”
Kirika smiles. “Yes, perhaps!” She stands up and fakes drunkenly snatching the pitcher of wine being brought to her (well, pretending isn’t that hard, drugs aside, the plum wine packs a punch). She grabs cups off the table, and pours two cups of the wine. “To powerful allies!” she says, offering one of the cups to Boota.

(Kirika’s Fortitude Save: 1d20+7 = 25)

Bottoms up! Kirika drinks up with Boota while the others wait to be served their refill of the cups. Kirika is starting to feel the heat under her collar - it’s not the flushed feeling of drunkenness, it’s the pent-up energy of her family tattoo trying to break free against the attack it senses. Boota packs the cup of wine away like it’s plain spring water, even licking his lips to get the last drops.

Kirika pulls at the collar of her kimono - she feels like she’s just finished up one of Yukio’s exercises, but she keeps pushing. Pouring another cup, she walks over to Lady Sarano. “And Lady Sarano, I must compliment you on the most unique palace I have ever seen. What or who inspired you to build this, and why?” she asks as she fills Sarano’s cup.

(Kirika’s Investigate: 1d20+8 = 20)

“Oh, this was my husband’s dream,” Sarano says with that kindly grandmother smile of hers. “He always took good care of me. Building our mansion took ten years of his life, and he would not let me see it until it was done. It is a lovely place, don’t you think?” She looks directly at Kirika with vacant eyes.
“Indeed it is,” Kirika responds, and downs her cup.

(Kirika’s Fortitude Save: 1d20+7 = 18)

Kirika’s entire chest feels like it’s being held close to a red-hot iron plate. The drugs are kept at bay still, but the cure is about to become worse than the disease. She can feel Joku’s watchful eyes on her as the colors on her tattoo go from “impossibly vivid” to straight “impossible”, gathering a thin fringe of pale blue flame. She fans herself quickly, and puts the wine down.
“Oh, I...” Kirika gasps momentarily in an attempt to let out some of the heat gathering inside of her, “I think this drink is going right to my head.” She bows to Boota and Sarano. “I believe I should go lie down, if that is acceptable to you both...”
“Go on, dear,” Sarano says. “I will have Nana serve your dinner when you feel better.”
“I look forward to seeing you for breakfast!” Boota shouts.
“Quite so,” Joku concurs.
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Mira says.
Mako gives an affirmative grunt.
Kirika bows again, and rushes out of the room. Gods above, I have to get back to the room... she thinks as she quickly steps down the hall. The steam under her collar is becoming awfully literal, and after two corners, Kirika decides that she needs to run, because it feels like something on her might actually catch on fire. The heat and the exertion make for a lot of steaming sweat, and...

(Kirika’s Sneak, at -10 for running: 1d20+8-10 = 8)

...she almost runs over the lamp-cleaning servant, startling her as she darts past like a woman possessed. Kirika doesn’t have time to think about how to smooth that over - she needs to go, go, go, and she does, almost bursting down the door to their guest quarters. Yukio’s almost startled into drawing her sword, Copperhead raises an eyebrow, and Karla giggles. Kirika’s smoking hot, with steam pouring from her collar and sleeves. Yukio doesn’t hesitate any longer - with a lightning-fast cut, she splits Kirika’s kimono along the back. Freed from it silk prison, the tattoo glows with bright blue fire. Copperhead says nothing as he moves to block the door against visitors, but Yukio can’t keep her calm - she drops the sword and rushes to Kirika’s side, only to withdraw her comforting touch when she brushes against the hot tattoo.

“Ow! Kirika, what is going on?” Yukio asks.
Kirika rushes to the only water in the room - the deer scarer - and starts desperately scooping water into her hands and rubbing it on her literally burning tattoo. "I don't know!" she hisses. "It just...started!"
“Water does not seem to help,” Copperhead observes dryly. “Do you know how it started?”
"I had to ingest some of the drugged food and drink," Kirika says, resisting the urge to roll on the ground for fear of lighting it on fire. "Every time I had some, it got worse."
“Hmm,” Copperhead says. “Then there is reason to suppose that ridding you of the drugs may stop it. As long as you breathe the air in here, you will have to fight off the drug like this. I don’t suppose you wish to rethink your priorities in regard to who gets the antidote first? Heartbreaking as her story may be, Karla is in no immediate physical danger.”
"No," Kirika says. "Karla goes first, I am fine." She quickly steps towards her things.
“Kirika,” Yukio says, “this is serious. You don’t know how bad it will get.”
“Woohoo!” Karla goes, starting to strip off her own clothes. “Finally!”
“...this seems a strange time to stand on principle,” Copperhead observes.
"It isn't hurting me," Kirika replies. "And we need Karla aware and clear-headed if we're going to get to the bottom of this place." She grabs her sword and secures it in her sash on her ruined kimono, then turns to Yukio and smiles. "I will be fine, love. I have an idea, just protect Copperhead and keep Karla out of trouble. Okay?"
Yukio nods and sheathes her blade.
"And keep working towards that cure," Kirika tells Copperhead with a nod.
“I will,” Copperhead replies.

Kirika steps away from the others, behind the small house, and strikes an at rest stance. She tries to clear her mind as much as she can while she's still rippling with ethereal flame, and exhales slowly. In the next moment she springs into her kata, her sword apperating into her hands as she rips through form after form, trying to meditate and calm her tattoos through practice.

(Kirika’s Resolve: 1d20+5 = 11)

Kirika’s attempt to calm the raging power of her ancestors doesn’t do much good, to be frank. Although she does her katas by the book, the calm and control don’t come easy, and if anything, the exertion and further agitation of the tattoos are heating things up more than the increased control can calm them down again. After a few minutes with no clear effect either way, the idea just doesn’t seem to be working out. Still, Kirika’s determined not to quit, and at least it’s something she can actually do about her situation, so she keeps at it.

Kirika’s attempts to calm the raging power of her ancestors (hereafter abbreviated as RPA) are interrupted about a half hour later with a knock on the exterior door.

“Milady?” Nana calls through the door. “I have your dinner here.”
Kirika quickly sheathes her sword and hustles into the little house, throwing on the first kimono she can find - which happens to be one of Yukio’s spares. She nearly trips over the tail of the gown as she hustles towards the door. “Coming!” she shouts in a sing-song voice. “We are in the middle of something, you know!”
“My apologies, Milady, I’m afraid the food won’t keep much longer,” Nana replies. “I will do my best to serve it quickly.”
Kirika slams the door open, her heated and sweaty appearance working in her deception's favor. "Well, it's yours, then!" she barks in genuine annoyance. "Can't you see that I am in the middle of something here?"
“A thousand pardons, Milady,” Nana says and walks into the small courtyard carrying a wooden tray with as much of the three-course dinner crammed onto it as possible. As she walks past Kirika and her radiant glare, the plates on the tray rattle slightly from trembling hands, and she sighs a bit when she gets to a free patch of the courtyard where she can set it down. She stands back up, but looks away from Kirika as she speaks up again. “Begging your pardon again, Milady, but I need to refill the lamps...”
"My valet will take care of it!" Kirika barks. "Leave the oil and go!"

(Nana’s Will Save: 1d20+5-3 = 22)

“But Milady -” Nana begins to protest, automatically turning to face Kirika. Bad idea. Kirika’s RPA has kicked into overdrive, giving her a pale sheen as the tattoos glow even through her clothes. Nana’s eyes go wide for a moment, then she bows down, drops the flask of oil on the ground and scurries away as quickly as she can, only turning around when she’s at the door, which closes with a heavy thud. Kirika can feel the exertion burn again, but this time, it feels a whole lot better - like power and righteous fury.

“Shall I follow and silence her?” Copperhead pipes up.
"No," Kirika barks as she rounds on Copperhead. A moment later, she realizes what she is doing and takes a deep breath to try to calm herself. "No. Just, please hurry."
“As you command,” Copperhead says.
Kirika turns to Yukio, a look of deep worry and concern - no, just with a freaked-out expression on her face. "I don't know what's going on," she whispers.
“Do you still have it under control?” Yukio asks.
"I guess, but I don't know for sure," Kirika says, and moves towards Yukio.
“Does it...burn?” Yukio asks, in that ‘Is it safe to hug you?” way.
Kirika shakes her head. "No." She clenches her hands and slowly exhales. "It feels I am facing an army of evil men, sword in hand, and they are destined to fall to my blade. Like my katas are demanding I charge out and cut down everyone responsible for this horrible place."
“Hmm,” Yukio says. “I would suggest sparring, but - do not take this the wrong way - I am concerned it may lead to injury. Perhaps we can practice our katas together, to provide some focus and pass the time?”
Kirika nods. "Perhaps. We can tell Karla it is a show." She moves towards Yukio - very carefully - her eyes on her face wary of any pain on her love's face. Yukio keeps smiling, but Kirika can tell that she has to fight to keep looking at her, with some of the fearsome RPA affecting even her. Kirika sucks in a tearful breath. "I'm sorry," she sobs, and turns away. She can feel Yukio step closer, and soon, she is caught in an embrace from behind.
“This is a bad place,” Yukio whispers. “We must fight it together, dearest.”
"We will," Kirika whispers back. Whether it's the acquiescence to her ancestors' demands for blood, or the presence of Yukio's touch, Kirika feels the flames against her skin calm down slightly. She whirls around and presses her lips against Yukio's in desperation and exuberance, and while the heat, energy and exuberance remain, the fury and bloodlust quickly start to fade. Yukio returns the effort, and they share the kiss for a few blissful seconds. When Kirika backs away, she feels Yukio's hand slide gently over her body - and alight on the sword strapped to Yukio's hip.
"Ready?" Yukio asks with a smirk.
"More than ever," Kirika replies.
MikeS 2013-08-04 15:17:11
Takao looks around the room, then turns to the woman and says disdainfully: "As Lord Takeshi's representative, I was expecting better accommodations, but I suppose a minor lord can't be afforded any respect beyond the bare necessities. No matter.

"I have a message for the Lady Sarano. My lord wishes to trade goods across her borders, and there is the matter of tax to discuss. My lord has drawn up a proposal, and has given me some limited powers of negotiation. When and where will the Lady hold court? I understand that important imperial dignitaries are here now, and I may have to await my turn for several days."

Gatac 2013-08-07 02:04:03
The servant woman - a quick exchange with another passing servant tells you her name is Kiko - shakes her head softly. "And your lord didn't write ahead? If you don't have an appointment, you're at the bottom of the list." She points down the hallway leading away from where Takao came. "The scribe's office is down there, hang a left at the second intersection, look for the wall scroll with the green dragon. She can tell you exactly how long it'll take." Kiko winks at Takao, but without the smile one would expect. "If she has good news for you, I expect a tip. Oh, and don't open any doors."

"Kiko!" comes the call from another servant. "We need more sawdust and buckets for Boota's chambers!"

"Coming!" Kiko shouts back. "Ugh, nobles. The last one wanted a whole live bull. You got any idea how hard that was to clean up, samurai?"



And with that, she hurries off. Well, Takao figures, a little more reconnaissance can't hurt - and there's bound to be something interesting to be gleaned at the scribe's office. He sets off down the hallways the way Kiko pointed. Kiko's description doesn't make finding his way a whole lot easier - does this offset of two three-ways count as one or two intersections? - but eventually he makes his way to the green dragon scroll and walks in. Inside is a desk covered in scrolls and books and brushes and paint and seals and just about everything except for elbow room, and behind it sits an old, haggard woman who regards Takao with milky eyes.

"You're that Takao fella, yeah?" she asks, in a not altogether unfriendly tone. "Whaddaya want?"

More relevant than the old woman's question is the secret door panel behind her. Now Takao's not an expert on secret door panels, but this one's rather easy to spot because it opens up a slit at the mention of Takao's name, with Sidewinder's face behind it. He looks at Takao with a relieved expression, then points to the woman, then towards the hallway in that unmistakable "Get her out of here so I can get out of here!" gesture.
MikeS 2013-08-19 23:46:43
In addition to not being an expert on secret door panels, Takao is also not an expert on distracting old women, or, in fact, anybody who he couldn't threaten, beat up, or slice to pieces.

In fact, he feels a bit awkward right this moment, in addition to mildly being taken aback that word of his coming traveled faster than he did. Only mildly, because of all the strange hallways.

"Uh, yes, ma'am." He just can help being respectful to his elders, even if they may be below his station.

"I, uh, came to inquire when the Lady would be able to attend the matters that my lord set before her. I hear that you do appointments here, a somewhat unusual practice compared to a regular court, I admit. How long will I have to spend here?"

While the woman looks through her papers and Sidewinder rolls his eyes and makes impatient "Get on with it!" gestures, Takao adds: "Oh, and could you help me find Kiko afterwards? I'm sure that she will have looked for nicer quarters for me now that she knows she is dealing with Lord Takeshi's representative, and no mere messenger."

Kind of lame, but no one ever accused Takao of skillful subterfuge.

Gatac 2013-08-21 12:06:09
(Okay, in the interest of resolving this in a way that Takao stands a chance of achieving, I'm ruling this as an Intimidate/Coerce - he attempts to force her to come with him on account of the status of his lord, possibly securing cooperation in exchange for annoying her a fair bit. Ruling it as no risk with slight incentive, so it's at -4, but better than asking nicely. Let the dice speak!

Takao's Intimidate: 1d20+13-4 = 28

Kei's Resolve: 1d20+10 = 25 BEGRUDGING ASSISTANCE!)

The old woman gives Takao one of those "fine, I'll help you, you lazy self-entitled dick" looks, but rises from her desk and walks out with him, plodding in front of him - almost certainly playing up her arthritis to make Takao feel bad for making her move. By the time you get back to the common sleeping quarters, Kiko's back there, too, leaning against a wall and smoking a small pipe, filling the room with an altogether sharper note than the cloying sweetness in the air of the noble quarters.

"I found your stray, Kiko," the old woman says. "Is Takeshi here?"
"Nope," Kiko says.
"Did you tell Takao here that the noble quarters are off-limits unless he accompanies his lord?"
"Yep," Kiko says.
"Well, there you have it, samurai," Kei says. "Enjoy your stay. I've got work to do now."

While Kei shambles back to her office and Kiko continues to indulge in smoking foreign plants, Takao notices the swift and silent steps of Sidewinder approaching from, er, the side. He has just enough time to turn and look at the ninja's disguise - simple kimono, hat off to expose his top knot, passable samurai imitation overall - before he finds himself reacting to a small gesture, falling in at Sidewinder's side as the two march down the hallway.

"Thanks for the distraction, partner," Sidewinder says. "You turn up anything here?"
Takao can only offer a shrug.
"Yeah, nevermind that now. We've got to link up with the others and talk some strategy. Come on, I know the way."


The waiting around after dinner for Copperhead to get his cure in gear last for all of an hour before the next knock on the door echoes. Yukio goes to answer it, wary of Nana trying to insert herself into the room again, but a whispered “Guys! Let me in!” from Toshi switches the determination on her face into an expression of both worry and relief in an instant. She runs forward to the door and slides it open, allowing Toshi to dart in. As soon as the door is closed, she reaches out and embraces him.

“Woah!” Toshi says from underneath the smothering hug.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Yukio says after a few heavy breaths.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Toshi says; after Yukio lets him go, he readjusts his ruffled clothes and turns to Kirika - who’s currently rather, er, clothes-deficient and on mystical fire - and spots Karla in a corner, giving him a less-blissful-by-the-second smile. “O-kay,” Toshi says. “Is there something anyone wants to tell me about what’s going on? Because I’m not sure what I’m looking at here.”
Kirika grabs for Yukio's spare kimono and turns around as she quickly shrugs it on. "Ah! There is...many things," she says haltingly, and waits until she is decent to turn back around - although, steam starts to pour out of her collar almost immediately. "Toshi, this is Karla. She's one of the people imprisoned here - we think all the servants are, with the drugs that Copperhead found in the food and water, and I just got back from dinner, and I am fairly sure that all of the guests - and Lady Sarano - are drugged as well. But High Lord Boota seems to be either unaffected or unexposed to the drugs."
“’re on fire,” Toshi says. “I just thought, that’s, uh, I was waiting for you to mention why you’re on fire, but you didn’t, so I have to ask. Why you’re on fire.”
Kirika just looks at Toshi for a moment, trying to compose her thoughts on that. "It' ancestors - and I - we, I guess - the drugs, and the lies, and seeing poor Karla and all those servants kept drugged until they die or are killed and all the horrible things that are going on in this place -" As Kirika speaks, she becomes more and more furious, and it has more than just an effect on her tone - the tattoos on her face, already flickering with small flames of their own, start to move; the characters shift positions like divisions on a battlefield, clashing in reenactments of battles past. "Even Lady Sarano is drugged - oh that poor woman, I can barely tell if she's alive or if she even has a mind of her own anymore, she's so drugged -"
Everyone in the room - even Karla - are staring attentively at Kirika and the miniature war playing out on her skin. It falls to Toshi to stop the tirade by throwing some words into the room.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Toshi says. “Ancestors no likey the drugs, got it. So, er, good news, bad news, which do you want first?”
Kirika takes a deep breath, and lets it out again. "Just...AAARG!" she shouts. A few more deep breaths, and the flames, dancing tattoos and Kirika all calm down a bit. "Bad news, please, the bad news."
“Okay, the bad news, Sidewinder’s stuck in a secret passage behind Kei’s office and can’t get out,” Toshi says. “The good news is, we found Kei’s office - and Kei. She’s masquerading as Sarano’s scribe. It’s just that we caught her on the five minutes or so where she’s out of the office, found the passage, I went back out to check out another door, Sidewinder wanted to see where the passage goes. Then Kei comes back, we hide, and, uh, I waited a couple of hours for her to leave and let Sidewinder out, but no dice. And he didn’t come get me, so I assume that’s the only exit. Eventually I thought I should look you up, ran into Copperhead here, he told me where you are, I went back to check, Kei was still there, so I thought I’d come back here so we can discuss how we solve this problem.” He looks to Yukio, who has one of those “Oh, Toshi!” looks on her face. “What? I thought we did pretty well.”
"What is she doing?" Kirika asks quickly.
“Reading scrolls and writing new ones,” Toshi says. “She gets a look at all the messages that come on and go out, I think that’s a pretty good stool for a vicious manipulator to park her bony ass. I don’t know what the deal is with the drugs, though. And...wait, did you say Boota is here? Why is Boota here?”
"I first thought he was running the place, but...I think he simply likes it here," Kirika says. "He's certainly aware of the opium suffusing every inch of this place, but he's also not afraid to indulge in the drugged food and drink. Have you seen anything about the servants or the workers here, anything interesting or strange?"
“Well...” Toshi begins. “The ones who are actually running the upkeep of this mansion seem to be pretty normal, you know, not drugged-out. The ones who are consorting with the nobles however, are stoned out of their gourds. Perhaps they eat something different? I mean, the consorts, they’re getting dragged with the nobles to all the meals, yeah?”
Kirika looks over at Karla, who has started rubbing her arms like she’s a little cold. "...I think that they are forced to be drugged," she says. "Not just in their food, but...I think that they are kept stoned at all times, until they...just waste away. Makes them easier to control, and more willing to do what the nobles...demand of them." The flames flare up again, and even start to peek out of the collar of Yukio's kimono.
“Okay, I think I know that tone,” Toshi says. “We’re not leaving after we get rid of Kei, are we? You want to bring the whole place down.”
“Which is superfluous to our mission requirements,” Copperhead points out.
“Oh, yeah, well I guess we could just replace Kei with someone we control and get all the tasty dirt on the nobles of the -"
"No." The flames seem to leap right off the tattoos and swirl around Kirika, tracing the lines of armor around her in the air. "We stop this. Understood?"
Toshi just nods.
“For the record, Prince, I was not going to suggest that,” Copperhead adds.
“Gods,” Toshi says, “can I have one of you willing to take a joke? Just one?” He sighs and shakes his head. “So, what’s your plan, Kirika?”
"Who do the sober house workers seem to report to?" Kirika asks, taking a few more deep breaths to calm herself down.
“Uh, this one servant,” Toshi says. “I saw her run around these parts, but she looked like she had just seen a devil...”
"Nana," Kirika replies. "And that might...have been me."
“My lack of surprise is total and absolute,” Toshi replies. “So, we get Sidewinder out, get rid of Kei and Nana...”
“A better question is, do we know anyone who we can leave in charge here to clean this place up?” Yukio asks. “And if it must be destroyed, where do we take everyone we want to save?”
"Both questions that might well be answered when Copperhead finishes his work," Kirika replies, and looks in his direction. "How is that proceeding?"
“It will require a few more hours,” Copperhead says. “Perhaps you might occupy yourself with the task of extracting my colleague Sidewinder from his carelessly entered predicament?”
"Let's not rush to condemn our teammates just yet," Kirika says. "And Karla will require some help yet." She walks over to Karla, stopping when she starts to shy away from the flames still licking from Kirika's body. "How do you feel, Karla?" she asks sweetly.
“I’m hungry,” Karla says. “And thirsty. And cold.”
Kirika smiles, then closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. The flames decrease, but don't entirely go away, which is exactly what Kirika wants. She spreads her arms wide - her hands are lost in the sleeves of Yukio's kimono - and wraps her arms around Karla, giving her a hopefully warming embrace, using the heat of her ancestors' rage for the more positive end of nurturing and caring for this poor lost soul. "Feel better?" she asks.
Karla sneaks a kiss onto Kirika’s cheek - not an affectionate or inviting kiss, either. “Thank you,” she says.
"Don't thank me just yet," Kirika says. She waits for the shivering to go down before letting go, and looks back to Toshi. "Go, help Sidewinder. Surely, the Emperor-to-be can deal with moving a functionary from her office. We will worry about Nana and the servants. After Sidewinder is safe, you two focus on finding out what exactly is going on here with the drugs and the servants and nobles and all of this strange architecture. Understood?"
“Well, what exactly do you want us to do with Kei when we’re done figuring out her scheme?” Toshi asks. “Leave her alone, leave her in chains, leave her...”
“In the ground?” Copperhead adds.
“That was actually exactly what I was going to say, Copperhead, thank you,” Toshi says.
“My pleasure, Prince.”
"We need to bring them all down at once," Kirika replies. "You get set up, but do not move on her until we are ready to move on this whole foul operation, understood?"
“Got it,” Toshi says, then goes and gives Yukio a kiss on her cheek - which the samurai doesn’t resist. “Stay strong, Yuki-chan.”
“Be careful, Toshi,” Yukio replies with a smile.

Toshi nods, then sneaks back out. Kirika looks after Toshi's departure, then turns to Yukio. "You don't have to be afraid of him, love. Or afraid of what you feel. You might no longer be in love, but...I hate to see you force yourself to not love him."
“I just -” Yukio begins, quickly looking away. “I just need more time to figure out how I feel about him now.”
"I know," Kirika says, and wraps her arms around Yukio, trying to suffuse her with the same warmth and support she did Karla. But when she hugs Yukio, she feels her heart race and fill with emotion, while her tattoos crawl over her skin, as if reaching out for Yukio and wanting to bind the two of them together. Yukio embraces her back and softly strokes the side of Kirika’s neck.


Know the way Sidewinder does, indeed - because that's where Toshi comes rushing along, breathing a sigh of relief at the sight of Sidewinder and Takao together. He quickly joins their group, and they walk the least-patrolled route back to Kirika's quarters.

"Glad you got out," Toshi says.
"Wasn't nothing," Sidewinder says. "Takao distracted Kei."
"How did he do that?" Toshi asks.
"Well, mostly, he annoyed her into escorting him out."
"Huh," Toshi says. "Annoyed her? Shit, I should have tried that, why didn't I try that? I'm good at annoying people."
"Ain't that the truth," Sidewinder murmurs.
"Oh, ho ho ho," Toshi says. "You come up with that one while you were sitting in the dark?"
"I would have gotten out eventually," Sidewinder protests.
"Uh huh," Toshi says.
MikeS 2013-08-21 16:29:20
"I was trying to be polite", Takao grumbles at Sidewinder.

"Had you told me who she was, this would have gone a lot faster. And I wouldn't have had to feel bad about rushing an old lady about just so someone could get out of a secret tunnel.

"What was on the other end of the tunnel, anyway? Or was it just a secret compartment?"
Gatac 2013-08-27 13:30:48
“Hey, I liked your version of ‘polite’,” Sidewinder says. “Got me out of that fix real good, so I’m the last guy to complain.” He looks over to Toshi. “And do believe that getting help was your job.”
“Well, excuse me for not randomly running into Mr. Taciturn,” Toshi says, adding a quick “No offense!” in Takao’s direction. “If you’d walked these hallways for a few hours like me, you would know there’s more than one way to get anywhere in this house. And as it so happens, dear Sidewinder, I was getting help, Takao just got there first.”
“Right,” Sidewinder says. “Now, about that secret tunnel -”
“You might want to hold that thought,” Toshi says. “Unless you want to tell the same story twice, you know Kirika’s gonna grill you.”
“Ayup,” Sidewinder says. “I’ll share my notions at the big table, then.”


Kirika is actually starting to miss the energy brought on by the rage of her ancestors coursing through her; without it, she’s actually starting to sag and feel a bit tired after a long day of lying to people, sparring with Yukio, guarding Copperhead and masterminding this whole crazy event. Currently, she’s splitting her attention two ways: watching the door to the chamber, and watching over Karla, who has started to take a turn for the worse. Yukio is mostly the one taking care of the poor woman at the moment, talking sweetly to her, keeping her warm with blankets, and gently distracting her whenever her gaze turns towards the uncut pure opium that Copperhead is working with. A couple of times, Karla has started to shiver uncontrollably, with Kirika fearing she might hurt herself from her teeth chattering alone. Both times, Kirika wrapped her arms around Karla’s swaddled form, closed her eyes and concentrated on lending her strength, and the warmth of her powers seemed to help a little, but the only thing that can really help Karla is to get her out of this place.

Knocks from the door get Yukio to reach for her sword, but when the door opens to admit Takao, Toshi and Sidewinder, she smiles.
“Kirika!” Sidewinder says, not wasting any time.
“Could you wait until the door is closed and you are clear of it?” Kirika asks politely with a smile.
Sidewinder narrows his eyes and shuts the door behind them, then very deliberately walks ten paces away from it. “Can I talk now?”
Kirika nods. “I apologize, but I think you might understand having some degree of paranoia in this place.”
“Paranoia ain’t half of it,” Sidewinder says. “They’re running this place like a darn blackmail manufactory. The tunnel behind Kei’s office, it’s their archive. Years, maybe decades of dirty secrets all squirreled away. This started before Ikishi.” He looks to Toshi. “You want my honest opinion, something this scale, it’s got the signature of a Shadowlord. Not Homi, but maybe the guy before him?”
Kirika thinks back to the first meal. "Well, Lady Sarano's husband has been dead for a few years now. Perhaps this was his doing, and upon his death, Ikishi simply drugged Sarano and moved in?" A spark of an idea flickers to life in her mind.
“Right, but how’d he get the idea?” Sidewinder says. “This place is a little...ambitious for a local noble, don’t you think?”
"A noble just below a regional lord with connections back to the Capital," Kirika remarks. "A perfect connection for a dirty tricks plan. And I think we will have plenty of time to consider the history of this place when we are done here. Did you find anything out about how the real power is structured here? Who is in charge, who is in the know?"
“Well, we found Kei, so Olafsen’s intel was good,” Sidewinder says. “I don’t see how all of this can work without the servants being in on the deal, but that’s a lot of people to involve” - he looks at Karla - “then again, I got a notion of how they deal with servants who don’t play along. I can’t figure out Sarano herself, though. You got closest at the dinner, Kirika. What’s your read?”
"Drugged nearly into a stupor," Kirika says.
“And who’s pulling her strings?” Toshi asks. “Did you see anyone whisper to her or speak for her?”
"No, but she's barely moved from that throne," Kirika replies. "I wouldn't be surprised if that's the secret for her." She shakes her head. One more mystery.

Kirika turns towards the house and knocks on the door. "Are we almost ready, Copperhead?"
“We are actually fully ready,” Copperhead replies. He holds up a glass vessel with a clear liquid inside. “This will counteract the opium. The side effects will depend on your dose. Most of us should be fine; Kirika, you may experience some discomfort. Karla” - he looks at the poor, shivering servant - “we may need to hold her down.”
Kirika nods, and turns to Karla. "Did you understand that, Karla?"
“Yes,” Karla says, looking up at Yukio. “It’s going to hurt.”
"We're going to help you," Kirika says. "But it's going to clear your head, make you you again. Do you want this?"
“...yes,” Karla stammers. It’s not a 100%, but miserable as she is, it’s also the most clear-headed she’s been in a long time - and somewhere in there, there’s still something struggling to be free of this place.
Kirika nods. "Sidewinder, you get one arm. Yukio, the other, and Toshi, hold her legs. I'll help keep her calm."
“Uh, okay,” Toshi says. “Takao, can you help me with that?”
“I would reconsider using your abilities here, Kirika,” Copperhead says. “The cure has mystical components. It is difficult to predict how they will interact with you.”
"It's a risk I have to take, and we need Takao to guard the door," Kirika says. "If anyone comes by, we're...fucking, basically. Be imaginative."
“Must you solve all problems with coitus?” Copperhead snipes.
Kirika narrows her eyes at Copperhead. "Do you have a better cover for a place where we are expected to be drugged beyond inhibitions, providing ample blackmail and were provided a servant with the exact expectation that we would debase ourselves with her? I am not enjoying this, Copperhead. The best cover is the one that plays into the expectations of those you hope to fool, and you know this."
Copperhead sighs. “Very well. Sidewinder, assist the prince.”
“You got it,” Sidewinder says. “You just do what I do, Toshi, it’ll be fine.”
“Alright,” Toshi says.

One by one, the group takes up positions, holding Karla to the ground while Copperhead approaches with the vessel. “Now, open wide,” he says. Karla throws Kirika a pleading look, but finally opens her mouth, and Copperhead pours the liquid in. Within a second, Karla’s eyes go wide, but Copperhead quickly slams his hand over her mouth. “Do not waste it,” he hisses.
Kirika wraps her arms around Karla, essentially laying on top of her. She closes her eyes, and concentrates. "Relax, Karla. Everything will be fine. We're here to help."
Karla can’t exactly nod, but she does swallow the liquid. Kirika can feel her tensing up, and in a moment of inattentiveness, Toshi almost lets one of her legs kick free as she bucks and wriggles. “It’s working,” Copperhead says. “Keep her down.”
"Relax, Karla," Kirika coos. "Just relax."

(Kirika's Resolve: 1d20+5 = 14)

Kirika reaches out for the fire in Karla - but it’s not like the one inside her. Though her ancestors may rage, they are fundamentally just trying to protect her, but the fire in Karla is a relentless hunter. Kirika watches her tattoos come to life again, but where she’s touching Karla, there are now darker colors, seeming to fight her own patterns. Copperhead’s gaze switches from that to Karla’s face, where a heavy quicksilver-like substance is bubbling up from her nose and the corners of her eyes.
“It’s working, it’s working,” Copperhead says. “Just a little longer. Kirika, you’re getting the next dose, no ifs or buts.”
Kirika feels like she's hugging a heating stove. It's not painful - yet. She can't dedicate enough concentration to respond to Copperhead, she just focuses on Karla. "You're doing so good, Karla," she whispers through gritted teeth. "You're so strong, I can feel it. Just a little longer."

(Kirika’s Resolve: 1d20+5 = 16)

The quicksilver liquid on Karla’s face starts to boil away; she can’t shake her head or scream, but she can squeeze her eyes closed. All eyes are on Copperhead, who seems to be counting to some number, mouthing along to something without making a sound. The pain in Kirika’s hand seems to be fading back down.

“In…” Copperhead counts down. “Let go!”

Everyone does their best to get away from the bucking body underneath them; Copperhead removes his hand just in time for Karla’s scream to be mostly choked out by the return of her lunch. Sidewinder manages to get Karla rolled onto her side as she hurls up the remaining drug in her system, all of which also mystically evaporates as soon as it touches the ground. Yukio looks to Kirika, her face ashen at what she just saw.

“Interesting,” Copperhead says. “The reaction was less adverse than I feared. Well done, Kirika. And everyone else for holding her down.”
Kirika nods. She looks at her arms, and notices that underneath her tattoos are new images: bands of thorns, interwoven underneath. She runs her hand along them, and the skin there feels colder and numb. "And you did well with your cure, Copperhead," she says. "You all did well." She takes a knee next to Karla, and offers her a cloth to wipe her face. "How do you feel, Karla?" she asks gently.
Ajattelin kuolla,” Karla coughs up. “Water, I need water.” Copperhead moves to procure some boiled water from his setup while Karla tries to get to her feet. “And when I catch my breath,” she says, “I need a sword.”
"I don't blame you," Kirika says.
“Better yet, an axe,” Karla says. She accepts a drink of water from Copperhead - half to actually drink, the other to swish around in her mouth and spit on the ground. “I don’t long I have been here, or all of what I did. Perhaps that is better than the alternative. But I will not leave before this place burns.”
Kirika accepts the pitcher of clean water from Copperhead and pours some more for Karla. "We might have an axe," she says. "We definitely have swords. What do you remember? Do you know who I am? Do you remember anything from before you came here?"

“Yes, I remember you, Kirika,” Karla says. “All of you, and I will not forget what you did for me. Before I came here...I was...I was following a man. A raider. I heard there was a Northman pirate in these waters…” She peters out, more angry than confused about her failing memory.
"Olafsen?" Kirika offers.
“Olafsen!” Karla shouts. “He’s next, after I burn this house down!”
Kirika puts her hands on Karla's shoulders. "Calm, Karla. What happened?"
“His father pillaged my family’s home,” Karla says. “I put him to the blade, and his sons - except one who fled rather than face me.” She looks to Kirika. “Now do you understand why I came all this way?”
Kirika nods. "I do. But…" She sighs. "Things are complicated. Starting with maybe holding off on burning this place down until we rescue those who have been held against their will and determine who is truly at fault."
“I am not in shape to fight yet,” Karla says. “You will have some time to free the others. But just so that we truly understand each other - I do not need to know who exactly was responsible for what part of my suffering. My mission is one of revenge, not justice. All who laid hands on me will pay.”
"And if those that do not deserve your wrath are caught in your path? Or if you cause more harm than good in your quest?" Kirika asks.
Karla’s eyes narrow. “I am grateful for your help, and eternally in your debt,” she says. “But I have sworn on my parents’ grave to avenge myself on all who have done us wrong. I will give a shout, and those that do not wish to face me can run; the ones who truly deserve it I will hunt down later. All who remain in my way will find my edge equally hungry.”
"I understand, believe me, more than you know, but..." Kirika sighs. "You must regain your strength, and I have more questions besides. Just...from someone who knows your path well, I...I will ask that you listen to my words when we are done with this place."
“I suppose I owe as much,” Karla says, nodding. “I am...I am sorry if I caused offence.”
"No, no," Kirika replies. "Just that I am concerned about this path you pursue. I know where it goes, and..." She looks at Yukio, who gives Kirika a small smile. "I know that there might be a better revenge." She sighs. "But enough of that for now. What do you know about how this place operates?"
“I think you have seen most of it,” Karla says. “For the noble visitors, they come here because other nobles - already ensnared - invite them. They are served fine wines and food, all laced with drugs that pry open their lips, so that they do not recall what happened here - except that they had a lot of fun, and soon, the longing to return. What we find out is heard by unseen servants and then put to the scroll for future use. For us servants...many come here for the promise of coin, and if one does not object to the methods of this house, one is kept fed and clothed and paid and protected from the drugs - but there are also those like me, brought here as prisoners, who are drugged until they lose all will to resist.” She spits. “It is an evil, evil place.”
"Hmm," Kirika hums, a few different thoughts going around in her head. "Is there any way to tell them apart? Anything we should know about the servants? Or what about Lady Sarano?"
Karla pulls down the collar of her kimono, showing a small tattoo. “All who work here get this - I am told it means ‘servant’ in your tongue. For those who are to be drugged and kept as slaves, they add another bar down here, like on mine - that means ‘slave’. Apparently, ninjas have tried to infiltrate this place disguised as servants before - but they did not know about the mark, and so were quickly found out during an inspection.” Karla shivers with disgust. “After which they received a mark, if you know what I mean. I do not know what is happening with Sarano. I am sorry.”
"Working in the dark with her, then," Kirika muses. "Anything else you remember that might be useful or noteworthy? Anything at all?"
Karla thinks for a moment. “No,” she says, finally. “I arrived here as prisoner, so I never was told the further secrets of this place. You would have more luck interrogating a servant.”
"Hmm," Kirika hums again. "Perhaps so." She straightens her kimono. "So, more prosaic questions. What can you do, besides fight?"
“I’m a hunter,” Karla says. “I build traps and snares. I am skilled with a bow.” She shrugs. “I can provide for myself. That is all I have ever needed to do.”
"How do you feel about helping us rescue the other slaves and servants?" Kirika asks.
Karla nods. “Just keep my enemies in reach. I am tired and not in the mood to chase anyone down today.”
“And we need all of them alive. We can’t tell who is complicit and who is a conspirator,” Kirika reminds her. “Is that going to be a problem?”
“Once you know, are you going to let anyone go?” Karla asks.
“We shall see,” Kirika says plainly. “I will not insult you by saying otherwise.”
Karla nods. “The more interesting question is perhaps: what if we cannot agree on who deserves to die?”
“That is part of what I hope to speak to you about after we are done here,” Kirika replies. “I think that’s about all either of us can ask for at the moment.”
“Very well,” Karla says. “We can talk more later, when we have them at our feet. What is the plan now?”
“We do something you might enjoy,” Kirika replies. “You mentioned interrogating one of the servants? I think I know just the one: Nana.”
Karla doesn’t say anything; her smile does all the talking.
“Scared, not dead. Is that going to be a problem?” Kirika asks.
“Not at the moment,” Karla says. “Her fate can be decided afterwards.”

“Then, in that case, we should get started,” Kirika says. She looks to Toshi, Sidewinder, Copperhead and Takao. “We need to start dispersing the cure. Copperhead, how much can you make?”
“We are limited only by the amount of raw opium and clean water,” Copperhead says. “For now, I have enough to treat all of us, but we will need more raw materials to treat servants like Karla, on account of their higher exposure. I can manage that part on my own, however. I do not believe you have dire need of my other skills - considerable though they may be.” Sidewinder almost snaps his optic nerves from rolling his eyes at that.
Kirika nods. “Is there some way we can expose a good portion of the castle to the dose all at once? Make it something you breathe in? It might not cure them all in a minute, but it will slowly reduce their dosage, yes?”
“The lamp oil,” Copperhead nods. “If I modify my recipe, I should be able to impart it with the cleansing property of the cure. But that would require time alone with their supply of drugged oil, and then at least a day until we can be sure that all lamps have been refilled and enough oil has been burned to create the desired effect. Nevertheless, it is possible.”
“More of a job for when we’re done to cleanse this place if we can, then,” Kirika replies with a nod. “Okay, then we focus on curing specific individuals - which means we need to know which individuals to target, which means we need to ask Nana. Okay, prepare doses for everyone - except me.”
“Pardon?” Sidewinder says.
“That is extremely ill-advised,” Copperhead adds.
“Kirika,” Yukio says. “You’ve had the largest dose of the drug. You need the cure most.” After a moment, she adds “Whatever you’re planning, I don’t like it.”
Kirika takes Yukio’s hand. “You’re right, I have gotten the largest dose - and I am fine. There are others that need it more than me.”
“You’re not fine,” Yukio says. “Look, Kirika,” she says softly, “I don’t doubt you feel fine now, and that your ancestors are doing what they can to protect you - but this is not the time to play tough.
“I am not, love,” Kirika says with a small smile as she rubs her hand. “There are others who are far more deeply affected - others like Karla, or Sarano, who are not so blessed with friends and protection.” She looks at Karla. “Who would you say needs it more - them or me?”
“You,” Karla interrupts. “I do not trust your magic. I cannot know how you will act with the drug in you. Purge it.”
“...I just don’t want anything to happen to you,” Yukio replies.
“Me neither,” Kirika replies. “I...I do not know how to explain this to everyone, but I trust this. It feels strange, and exhilarating, and powerful, but...I know that they are looking out for me. Please, trust my judgement on this.”

Copperhead provides closure by sighing. “Does anyone in this room believe they will convince her? I do not.”
“That is too bad,” Karla says. “You may all be willing to follow her, but talking to you” - she looks straight into Kirika’s eyes - “is all compromise and no solid ground. I cannot depend on that.”
“You want solid, then I will give it to you,” Kirika replies sharply. “My dose is going to go towards a double-dose for Sarano. We need to know what she knows, and she is useless doped as she is. But first, we need to get Nana in here and interrogate her to find out how this place works and what we need to do to put a stop to it - and who we need to rescue and who we can punish. After that, Sidewinder, Takao and Toshi will work to free the servants while Yukio and I take a meeting with Sarano and the court here.” She raises an eyebrow. “Understood?”
Karla narrows her eyes. “I understand. Don’t try to trick me.”
“You can tell me how many times I have when we are done here,” Kirika replies. “Anyone else have any questions?”
MikeS 2013-08-30 00:57:16
Takao speaks up:"I have some information to add. There is a servant in the kitchen named Kiko who seems to be higher-ranked. If Nana is not forthcoming with information, maybe Kiko will do.

"Also, there is another party that knows of the manipulation of Lady Sarano, and they have sent a Killer Bee ninja to investigate. I'm not sure how seriously to take them, but it is interesting that they exist.

"Finally, as Sun Tzu would have put it, we don't just want to win the battle here, we want to win the war. Closing down this den of iniquity is an honorable thing to do. We do have to weigh the outcome against our future plans, in terms of what information leaks out of this place when we are done, and to whom. The presence of Lord Boota adds a twist, since we don't know his allegiance. It could be possible that the entire setup here is his, too, or he at least is involved with the mastermind. As you already pointed out, he seems to enjoy coming here, but does not appear drugged. Are we certain that Kei has only one allegiance, and that she actually has the influence that is claimed?"
punkey 2013-09-08 20:14:27
Kirika shakes her head. "He was very much a willing participant - while the others at the table were so drugged as to be in a stupor, Boota was active and alert. He is here by choice, believe me. And as for Kei, well, she might have more than one allegiance, but we have neither the time nor the resources to find out otherwise. One goes to battle with the army one has. See if the Killer Bee can be enlisted to help shut this place down - but keep him away from Kei and her blackmail. The Killer Bees are likely after what is being stored here, and he will probably take the first chance to slip away, steal what he wants and leave. Make sure that does not happen."