Gatac 2014-07-19 11:04:54
IC Thread 26a - Kagemaru, Kiara, Kirika and Toshiba
Gatac 2014-07-19 11:05:20
The sudden call of thunder from blue skies sends half the estate running outside, where they become witness to a wondrous spectacle: dragon-winged Kiara soars through the clouds, with a younger, whooping girl on her back, while a unmistakable armor of the Blue Oni rockets next to her, leaving a scorching trail of fire behind him - and he has a passenger, too, a man in a dull kimono clinging to the armor for his dear life.

As all eyes are on the air show, there’s a faux cough from the side, and Toshi almost jumps out of his own skin when he sees the shadowy form of Kagemaru leaning against a wall of the dojo, shaded from the noon sun.

“Showoffs,” Kagemaru comments.
“Holy fucking hells!” Toshi gasps. “How did you - who - what?”
“We were successful in our mission,” Kagemaru says. “But I’ll let the others land first.”
Nevina 2014-07-22 23:56:55
Kiara's landing was instinctual by now, a simple movement of muscle memory. Or rather would have been, except for the extra cargo upon her back of which she had promptly forgotten about as she righted her body for the land. She had the decent courtesy to recall her over-eager passenger at the last minute, and she spun awkwardly about as her feet touched solid ground. Well, the other girl had enough spring in her to fend for herself, she was sure.

"Kagemaru was a bit of a showoff himself earlier." The ninja beamed, having just caught wind of the conversation.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-07-23 10:25:58
"Everyone, meet Rock Lee. Rock, meet everyone," Toshiba says sternly as he scorches grass in an attempt to land without needing to perform gymnastics. "Mr. Lee here was contracted to tunnel into the city of Stonesky for Noronu's would-be-conquering army. The problem was he decided to hire corpses to do his work, and unless he wants to join them, he's going to explain everything he knows right now."
Gatac 2014-07-23 12:50:52
"That's, uh, good you brought him here," Toshi comments. "And the girl?"
"Girl!?" Bumi snaps as she climbs off Kiara's back. "I'm Kiara's ninja apprentice. The name's Bumi - who the hells are you guys?"

General “Rock” Lee has had better days, but right now, he’s not sure he’s had worse. It only took a few hours to pound into him exactly how screwed he was from the second the ninjas came to Stonesky, and with some of those hours being spent clinging to a flying suit of armor as it cut through the cold winds above, his feet are unsteady as he walks towards a trio of two women and a young man who looks very weedy next to them. The big woman in the middle steps forward and crosses her arms. Lee shambles to a halt. This will not - cannot - end well for him.

“I am...General Lee,” he says, his throat raspy with exhaustion.
Kirika bows respectfully to the very, very haggard looking man. "And I am...Lady Kirika Kamura. I believe I have met your sister, Yu."
That gets Lee’s attention. “And she has displeased Lady Ikishi?” he asks. “Hrr. I figured it had to be something like this. Why else send someone after me, too?”
Kirika chuckles and looks at Toshiba, Kiara and Kagemaru. "No, we're not Ikishi's agents. We're working to stop her and take her down. Yu has very carefully stayed within the lines of her agreement with Ikishi - your people are safe."
Lee sighs. “I should have figured out that a bandit is nothing but an honorless, dirty scoundrel with no loyalty, and answers only to the highest bidder,” he says, eyeing Toshiba.
“Hey!” Toshiba throws in. “Who are you calling...dirty?”
“He is very clean underneath that armor,” Toshi adds.
"But, we are not mercenaries," Kirika clarifies. "We are...an aggrieved party. We know what Ikishi's plans for the Empire are, and we are going to put a stop to them."
“You and what army?” Lee asks, smiling a bit at already knowing the answer.
"Well, we were hoping to ask you and your men to aid our cause," Kirika replies, smiling back.
“Well, your friends did quite a number on my officers,” Lee says, looking back at the ninjas. “The bulk of my troops are unharmed, but...let’s just say they’re lacking in motivation right now. Which brings me to my next question: how are we going to get paid?”

Kirika looks to Toshi.

“We’ll have more than enough coin when we get rid of Ikishi,” Toshi says.
“And what do you have now?” Lee asks. “Let me just make this clear: we did not come to this little...island fiefdom...to work for promises of loot or on credit. Coin up front - or a damn good plan.”
Kirika raises an eyebrow. "Where did you all come from?"
“These are my people," Lee says. "Those fit enough to take up arms, at least. Admittedly, we had to bolster our ranks with more experienced locals as ‘officers’ - who promptly turned on me at the first sign of trouble.”
"But now it's just your people?" Kirika asks.
“Indeed,” Lee says. “Fortunately, the deserters only cared to loot the coffers, so we’re still well-supplied with arms and food, for the moment. That gives me a certain room to maneuver, instead of declaring the whole of this a waste and looking for the most expedient way to get our men back home.”
"Well, our plan involves setting your people free, and very possibly giving them a home here, free from your enemies," Kirika says. "Would that interest you and your soldiers?"
“Of course,” Lee says. “Let’s hear that plan.”
"Well, the details can't be shared until you agree to aid us - I'm sure you understand that - but essentially, we plan to undermine Ikishi's support amongst the High Lords, and then reveal the truth of her plans to everyone," Kirika says. "Her collusion with the pirates attacking our ships, her creation of your army to take the capital, all of it."
“Why should the High Lords give you the time of day, much less side with you over Ikishi?” Lee asks.
"We...have some persuasive people," Kirika replies.
Lee raises an eyebrow. “Is that all?” he asks.
Kirika looks over to Toshi, and sighs.
“I’m the Emperor,” Toshi says bluntly.

"No fucking way!" Bumi blurts out, drawing all the looks.
Toshi smirks. "Yes fucking way."
Gatac 2014-07-26 03:15:02
Lee’s eyebrow rises further still. “Hmm,” he says. “I was wondering what was causing Ikishi so much trouble. My bet were the foreigners, but a heir to the throne...yes, that would do it.” He turns back to Kirika. “Not that she ever told me, but the disregard she has shown lately for my reports and requests told me that she has bigger problems than me.” He turns back to Toshi. “How much land would you give us?”
“...how much do you need?” Toshi answers.
Lee smirks. “I see you need us as much as we need you,” he says. “Any other wrinkles?”
"Oh, I'm sure there will be," Kirika says. "One of which is getting your sister safely away from Ikishi's control. Anything you can tell us about Ikishi or Yu would be very helpful."
Lee nods. “That can be part of our deal. Now, if you don’t mind...before we get into further details or agreements, I want to rest and think about your position. When I’m rested and we’ve agreed on a suitable amount of Imperial land grants and other forms of payment for our services, I’ll be glad to share everything I know.”
Kirika crosses her arms. "Don't think that you can take advantage of us, General. We may need your help, but we are offering to deliver your people to salvation - and taking a personal interest in the safety of your sister."
Lee bows to that. “Excuse my forwardness,” Lee says. “I am very certain we can come to an agreement where neither side feels treated unfairly. But the fate of my people rests on the deal we make. I need a clear head for that. Is there...a problem with my request?”
Kirika shakes her head. "No, not at all. It seems you have had an...eventful day."
“That is putting it mildly,” Lee says.
"You are welcome in my home," Kirika replies. "You will be shown to guest quarters as soon as you want."
“Now would be an excellent time,” Lee says.
"Then I will take you there myself," Kirika says. "Follow me."

Kirika motions for Lee to follow him, and leads him into the manor house and down the corridor encircling the interior. "I spoke with your sister a week ago," Kirika says. "She is a very kind and wise woman, of strong convictions."
Lee follows, though the effort of staying on his own two feet is taking a bit out of him. “Yes,” he says. “She was born under auspicious stars. We’ve done what we can to let her focus on being a priestess. I used to wish I had her trust in Ikishi’s qualities, because just wanting to believe things might be working out for us is all that kept me going some nights. I just hope that when it’s all done, she can live with what we did here.”
Kirika sighs as she slides the door open for Lee. "She...she has let her hope that she has done the right thing blind her to Ikishi's ways, but I think her eyes are open now, and Yu knows that she has done everything in the service of saving her people, and saving your life. There is very little more honorable than that - and I hope that that is what you tell her when you are reunited."
“Something like that,” Lee says. “Thank you for...the hospitality. The invitation could use some work, though.”
"Next time, try being available for a message, rather than requiring three shinobi to extract you," Kirika replies with a smirk.
“Fair enough,” Lee says, spying a free bed. “We’ll hammer out the details of our arrangement over dinner. Until then.”
Kirika bows. "Until then."


Even Copperhead’s carpentry skills can’t quite keep up with how the group’s ranks have swelled. Over dinner at a hastily elongated table that packs the main hall of the manor house, cards are put on the table - starting with Lee, who’s eager to prove his usefulness.

“Lady Ikishi has had the services of my sister for five years now,” he says. “In all that time, all I ever received were letters to confirm she was still alive and well, but Ikishi forbid her from telling us any details of what she was doing in that time. However, a year ago, I received a letter from Ikishi herself, telling me that a ship was waiting for me with a load of equipment and coin, and to go to the Empire and raise an army in secret. So I went, and...discretely sent out feelers to locals, but I quickly realized that the few I could find who were willing to submit to my standards of secrecy were not enough. I wrote back home, and brought in our own people by the shipload. Now, we may not be warriors by trade, but we are hard workers, so we quickly set to expanding the caves surrounding Stonesky to build a base of operations. At that point, it became clear that we needed an expert in the study of the rocks to make sure that our construction would not end with a cave-in, or worse, the sea flooding in. I was able to recruit the foreigner, Quennel DuMont, as our engineer. With his help, we were able to expand the caves to hold our Army.”

He turns to the ninjas. “What I showed you, Blue Oni, was just the first level, where we were driving horizontally to meet up with Stonesky’s warrens and prepare our assault tunnel. Our quarters go for several more levels beneath. All in all, we had five-thousand men - the local mercenaries we lost in the chaos of your intrusion are but a few dozen, but they were the most experienced warriors and leaders, so now our people need to be reorganized.” He nods to Kiara. “Perhaps your ninja forces can serve as officers now? They are certainly well-trained and disciplined enough.”

“Our plan for the attack on Stonesky is still intact,” he continues. “We can seize the city from inside and fortify it within hours. With Stonesky under our control, trade with the mainland will be severely disrupted - not to mention its importance for trade within your empire as well. If you want us somewhere else, however…” Lee pauses. “Our people will be of little use in open battle, I think. We’ve trained in gonne-fighting at close quarters, but we do not have the drills for formations and flanking elements and such niceties of strategy. And I’m worried about moving these forces out of the caves - we’ll be much easier to spot and attack out in the open, and it is a long way from Stonesky to the capital, if one cannot fly.”
“Were you told what Ikishi’s plans for you all were after you captured Stonesky?” Kirika asks.
“Not much,” Lee says. “We were to take the city and hold it, until we were supposed to be reinforced by the Imperial army itself - apparently, Ikishi plans to have them side with her, and place it under the command of her pet general, a man named Noronu.” Lee frowns. “My sister would say that Ikishi wanted us back to safety in our homeland as soon as possible. I would say she wanted us to do the dirty work but didn’t want a force under arms that was not under her direct control still loose in her new order.”
Kirika sighs. “Or she planned to have a ready-made military victory to solidify her control.”
“Kill us, you mean?” Lee asks. “I’ve considered it. But part of the reason why we’re tunneling into Stonesky is that it is difficult to attack. Betraying us like that would not be a clean victory for her troops. They could certainly kill us once they’re in the city and have disarmed us, though.”
“It would be made significantly easier if, say, your leadership was made up of mercenaries paid to kill you and let her soldiers in through the front door,” Kirika points out.
Lee’s eyebrow rises. “It would be,” he says. “I never considered that the mercs I hired would already be under her sway, but…”
Gatac 2014-07-29 11:15:42
As Lee makes his introduction, Toshiba's look falls to another visitor to the estate - a mountain hawk-eagle glides to a landing atop a beam of the dojo, hopping around to face Toshiba, then carefully folds her wings. Such a fearless bird would be remarkable in itself, but this one - well, it's kinda been stalking Toshiba for a while, since the Ayami clan fortress at the latest, and it's proven annoying persistent. It's only now that they're both actually on the ground that Toshiba gets a better look and spots the small blue metal ring around the bird's left leg.

The bird cocks its head to the side and greets Toshiba with a friendly "ki-kiikii!" sound. Then she takes off again, and stays gone for a minute, before returning to drop a freshly-killed hare right in front of Toshiba. She glides around in a half circle and seeks out her perch again for another landing.

Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-07-29 11:34:12
"I've been calling her Konoko," Toshiba explains, picking up the rabbit and starting to slice a smaller portion off for the bird. "First time she's brought me anything, though." He holds out the hawk-eagle's share, beckoning Konoko to take the meat. "That blue ring... it's possible she's always belonged to the Oni."

He turns back to the group. "Taking Stonesky will force a response from Ikishi, and will set Noronu's army on the march. We should assume that she would know General Lee's troops are no longer under her sway, and so Noronu would not be coming to reinforce, even if that were true in the first place - they'll be coming for a fight. For what it's worth, Lee, your mercenary officers seemed quick to betray you. Perhaps they thought our interference was a signal of some type. At any rate, that's the army out of the capital, yes? It would be far easier to gain the peoples' trust and assistance when there aren't hundreds of soldiers waiting in the wings to crush any uprising."
Gatac 2014-07-29 14:40:47
Konoko swoops in, landing on Toshiba's outstretched arm and plucking the meat from his hand. She looks first at him, then at the others, before settling into just chilling out with Toshiba.

"She's, uh, pretty big," Toshi remarks.
"It's possible the mercenaries interpreted your arrival as a signal for a prearranged plan," Lee says, "but I think it's more likely they simply panicked. In any event, with many of them spread to the wind, we must consider the possibility that Ikishi is already aware of what happened and will not react to our taking of Stonesky. There is also the problem of casualties - both among your citizens and my own people. If taking Stonesky by force according to the original plan does not gain us a strategic advantage, we must consider other options."
punkey 2014-08-03 02:35:31
"Well, as far as our plans are concerned, we have no need to take Stonesky, by force or otherwise," Kirika says. "What we do need, however, is an army at Toshi's back when we ride into the capital. His cover will be as a returning Lord, fresh from having reconquered his land and saved his people from a barbarian horde." She smirks. "How do you think your men would like to play the heroes in that tale?"
Gatac 2014-08-20 14:03:46
Next to speak is Aotaka Matsumoto, samurai lord of valleys to the south, including the Forge and its, well, forges.

“I have already shared with Lady Kamura the news of Olafsen and Karla’s relationship, as well as our joint efforts with Han to adversely affect gonne production in the Forge, but there is grander news for all of you!” he begins. “I received an emissary of the foreigners this week by the name of Hohl-gerr. Though his manner of speech was...overly familiar, he wanted to let me know that Kargbeck’s forces are on our side in this struggle!”

He looks to Kirika. “I also received the ambassador from San’in,” he continues. “Apparently there were persistent rumors of a different ambassador in the city, so they sent someone to investigate and set the record straight. While we were discussing this, he brought up that San’in, too, could assist us - for a price.”

“Finally, I received a message from the Imperial War Academy, from Master Oa himself,” Matsumoto says. “He informed me that the academy and its students will remain neutral in any coming conflict. They cannot aid us, but they will also not be providing reinforcements to the Imperial Army, and I do hope that I was not the only one so informed - perhaps officers of the Army who trained there and hear of Master Oa’s words will likewise refuse to fight.”
“That’s...those are all great things, Lord Matsumoto,” Kirika replies. “How goes your efforts to help the victims of Sarano’s drugs, her slaves?”
“As well as can be expected,” Matsumoto says. “Many are working at the farms to get their feet back under them, while we treat the ones who are still too sickly to care for themselves. Others are continuing to demolish what remains of the Sarano manor while we repurpose the surrounding installations. I think it might make a nice start for a village - with a temple at its core, to sanctify the ground and warn of the evils once committed in that place.”
Kirika smirks. “One populated and lead by, say, a group of former slaves that could use some agency over their lives?”
“Perhaps,” Matsumoto replies, but the expression on his face grows more serious. “Grimmer, however, is the fate of Lady Sarano herself. Travelers found her body in the streets of the cloth district, with a single stab wound. Nobody professes to have seen her murderer or heard her pleas for help. I cannot imagine that her death was swift.”
“...I don’t think even she deserved that,” Toshi throws in.
“Perhaps,” Matsumoto repeats. “But the time for such questions is past. I saw to it that she received a proper burial, at least.”
Kirika raises an eyebrow. “A single stab wound?”
“A strike to the gut,” Matsumoto says. “It does not seem an act of passion, nor a contracted kill - it smells of cold vengeance to me.”
“Hmph,” Kirika grunts, but says nothing more. Her expression doesn’t betray much in the way of compassion for Sarano’s passing.

"That's a lot of potential help we could be getting," Toshi says. "I mean, Holger's intense but he's a good guy, and if this escalates to an all-out war, we could use a fleet from San'in -"
"Kiii!" Konoko screams, spreading her wings just a bit before settling down again.
Toshi takes a step back. "Like I said, if we could get help from San'in -"
"Kiiiii!" Konoko screams again.
"Uh, no offense," Toshi says, "but I think your bird's getting a little restless here."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-08-20 14:24:06
"Go!" Toshiba flings Konoko aloft, letting her take her own path towards whatever she sensed. "On your guard!" he hisses to the group, then follows the eagle with his eyes, trying to discern from her what his stunted senses cannot make out for themselves.
Gatac 2014-08-20 14:55:06
Konoko half-spreads her wings but flaps all the harder as she darts through the confines of the manor, coming to a brief flapping hover next to a wall - just enough to rip down an ornate map of the empire mounted as part of Copperhead's renovation efforts. The map clatters to the ground as Konoko flutters up to perch on a beam, then hops around and looks down at the spilled map.

"Kiiii!" she screams again and hops down, letting her wings slow her fall as she lands on the map and starts going to town on it.

"Uh," Toshi says, "I'm not really seeing a threat here..."

Toshiba's sharp eyes, however, spot that Konoko's not indiscriminately tearing the map apart - no, she's focusing her attention on ripping out the part of the map that shows the chain of islands making up San'in province.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-08-20 15:23:29
"Enough, Konoko," Toshiba asks the bird. "Although I do not profess to speak to animals, it's clear this is an omen. Our fates are tied to San'in."

He looks around sheepishly for a moment before regaining the air of invincible confidence due the Blue Oni. "Assuming one can trust the testimony of fowl."
Gatac 2014-08-21 15:32:27
Konoko stops clawing at the map and jerks her head towards Toshiba at the mention of her name. The map is no longer interesting; instead, she hops to turn, then launches herself into the air, fluttering over the table again and landing to perch on Toshiba's shoulder.

"I've had advisors with less sense than a good bird," Matsumoto opines. "In any event, San'in could be a powerful ally, but they are a fickle people - and I suspect their price will be to grant them full autonomy and recall our governor. Even if we do not deal with them now, I imagine they will demand the same once we have won." He pauses for thought. "San'in has never been a comfortable part of the Empire. If there is a province we have to let go, it's not the worst choice. We should be mindful not to start a chain reaction, though. Plenty of provinces will have grievances with a new Emperor, justified or not, and we cannot satisfy them all. Establishing the notion that we will let them dictate terms or even abandon the Empire is dangerous."
"That's true," Toshi says. "And I don't mean to tar them all with the same brush, but...San'in was founded and built by grifters, thieves and pirates. I'd rather not deal with them." He turns to Toshiba. "I don't suppose Konoko can tell us why she wants us to get in bed with them?"

(Toshiba's Knowledge check: 1d20+8 = 27)

Konoko. Not a mere name that came to him in a flash. It has always been her name. That ring on her foot...put there by the first Oni. She has followed the Blue Oni ever since, and her eyes have seen more than any man could. What else does she know?

San'in. The Oni has been there, many times. Grifters, thieves and pirates - but also traders, travelers and sailors. Its biggest port, Shinju, the Southern Pearl. Mainlanders, foreigners, even island people mingle there. No one man or woman in charge. Somehow life goes on.

Exiles. With every upheaval in the Empire there are powerful people who lose their lives, and those who lose everything but. Those nobles who really wanted to disappear set sail for the mainland - but those who gambled on returning one day went to San'in, where they still bide their time. Entire shadow dynasties lie in wait on their private islands, waiting for a more favorable political situation. Old names, old honor - and more than willing to help whoever will welcome them back. Oyoyawa, Yunon, Raki.

Tuku. That Shinju street rat still owes him big. If they could get him into the deal, they'd get a better idea of what San'in's new "ambassador" is up to. But how to get word to a single grifter across the ocean in a hurry?
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-08-25 11:48:06
"If you go back far enough, every civilization is founded by grifters, thieves, and pirates," Toshiba replies. "But San'in is more than that. People from all over come to San'in to trade - goods, information, anything. We will want San'in to be our ears listening to the rest of the world as we move forward with our plans. Furthermore, exiles live in San'in. Political exiles who might throw in with our cause after being ousted. Entire families that could lend their power to ours, or give the weight of their reputation and honor to our own."

Toshiba pauses to let that sink in, then adds, "Additionally, the Oni knows a Shinju informant there. If San'in is our destination, Konoko could carry him a message to prepare for us. Tuku would have current information on the climate there."
Gatac 2014-08-25 12:27:11
"Sounds reasonable enough," Matsumoto says. "I will take word to their ambassador that we are willing to entertain a deal with them, while your bird can deliver a covert message to your local contact. We should soon have a more complete picture of what San'in could actually offer to help our struggles now."
"Right," Toshi says. "So, if that's the sideshows taken care of, let's get to the main event. What's happening in the capital?"

Finally, it is Hiro Homi’s turn to speak. The wizened Shadowguard looks every day of his advanced age tonight, having spent time where he should be resting on poring over his records and missives from the capital in an effort to gain as complete an understanding of the situation as possible.

“We are dealing with several unknowns within the capital, so I will begin with those who I consider the least threat to our plans,” he starts. “Lady Ishikawa is the High Lord in charge of public security and runs the capital’s new force of lawmen. Her ‘police’ is highly trained and well-organized, but as far as anyone can tell, her heart is in the right place. If any trouble arises within the capital, she will move to protect the people. However, while I am sure of her motives, what concerns me is that otherwise I have been unable to find out some of her other foibles. Shadowwatch has not seen her indulge in any vices, and as you know, she had the Killer Bee ninja at Sarano’s estate destroy blackmail records on her behalf. A further personal eccentricity is that she is never seen in public without a ceramic mask covering her face - the result of an incident with a housefire years ago that left her severely burned.” Homi frowns. “I have seen her without the mask - and suffice it to say I understand why she wears it now.”
"How well do you know the Lady?" Kirika asks. "What do you know of her disposition towards Ikishi, or a new Emperor?"
“We have interacted,” Homi says, “but she does not think very highly of the institution of the Shadowguard. What she likes even less, however, is corruption. If we can show her that we are struggling against forces that are trying to subvert the empire for their own gain, while our cause is just, I am certain she will side with us. Her ultimate loyalties remain with the people, and to an extent, the system of laws she is trying to set up, with some foreign ideas about innate rights and protections for all citizens. She will not move without evidence, but when she is set on a course she will not be deterred by threats to herself either. I think we can work with that.”
"Then we should get along well," Kirika replies. "We have enough witnesses and conspirators here to make quite an impression."
“Indeed,” Homi says. “Next up, High Lord Shira, the keeper of the old traditions. He lives for preserving knowledge of old fighting styles, and is the main benefactor of the Imperial War Academy. He has a personal hatred for ninja, so the two of us get along like a grease fire, but to him we can appeal to his sense of preserving the line of succession and protecting the throne from Ikishi and her upstart rebellion. While he has no direct command of the army, many look to him to exemplify the ideal of a warrior, and wherever he falls we can expect many soldiers and samurai to follow. But he is a demanding and proud man, so we will need to tread carefully around him or risk losing his support.”
“I can appeal to him,” Yukio says. “With Master Oa’s endorsement, Shira-sama should receive me, and I can provide the right balance of forthrightness, deference and martial spirit. I’m sure he won’t be displeased about a graduate of the Academy becoming Empress, either - he may imagine himself with more sway over the Empire’s politics after our ascension, and we don’t need to make good on promises we do not actually speak, do we?” She smirks at Kirika, who takes her hand and smiles back.
“Which brings us to Lord Hetechi,” Homi says. “He is a good friend of mine and would support us in a heartbeat, but as long as Ikishi holds his lover prisoner, he cannot do so. His support would sway many of the best and brightest of the minor nobles as well, in addition to the Empire’s bureaucracy and many of its temples, too. The potential trouble here is that if we cannot free his lover, Hetechi will be forced to remain silent or even denunciate us, which will bring all those people into the fold against us as well. A very volatile situation of which I am sad to only have learned from Sarano’s library - then again, not much I could have done to free his lover from Ikishi’s clutches before without tipping my hand.”
"Then I guess a rescue mission will have to be launched," Kirika replies. "Something that we have quite a few experts on, by this point." She looks down the table at Toshiba, Kagemaru, Kiara and the Shadowwatch ninjas.
“Indeed,” Homi says. “Lord Itanu...there is no nice way of saying it, but we will have to blackmail him with what we know about his selling information on trade routes to pirates like Olafsen. He is only out for himself, and Ikishi is likely paying him well for his services. His sway over the merchants and vendors may not seem like an immediate threat, but on his say-so, the flow of vital supplies can quickly cease - which may well provoke rioting in the streets, which Ikishi’s agents would no doubt exploit.”
"What do you know of his second?" Kirika asks.
“An ambitious but overworked fellow by the name of Shintaro,” Homi says. “Where Itanu has risen from his family’s mercantile efforts, Shintaro is an academic with a keen interest in trade and abstract concepts of mathematics applied to it. I don’t doubt that he’s been looking into ways to engineer improvements to his station, but his work in optimizing trade routes could prove vital - Itanu already relies heavily on Shintaro’s numbers to issue his own directives. I never made personal acquaintance with Shintaro, even his exact name was news to me, but I believe he is...rather neutral on who rules the Empire, as long as he gets to organize a part of it. The acquaintance is nil as he shies away from social functions of all kind, preferring his work to all else, even food and sleep. A major risk factor, however, is that he is a kindred spirit of Lord Tsukareta…”
“Ikishi’s best pal,” Toshi throws in.
“Or so he believes, at any rate,” Homi says. “An engineer whose grand dreams keep him awake and at work day and night, he obsessively seeks to turn the Empire into the triumph of technology over tradition. Ikishi sponsored his ascension, his education, everything but his title, which he inherited from his father at the tender age of eight. Put simply, I do not expect to sway him, but I also do not see what immediate harm he could cause us, as his responsibilities are rather insignificant - he builds roads and canals, but he cannot make them disappear before us. It is a pity, nonetheless, as he seems genuinely talented in his craft. Kirika, perhaps you have an idea for how to work on him?”
"I would like an audience with him, perhaps," Kirika replies. "We'll have to see how much he really knows."
“I’ll see what I can arrange,” Toshi says with a nod.
“And finally, Boota,” Homi says, the name heavy with disgust. “Well, we’ve met him. We know he’s corrupt. He’s no direct threat to us, but considering he’s met us and lived, we have to wonder what he told Ikishi. Though we threatened him into silence, a man who can be blackmailed once can be blackmailed twice - or thrice. And once metal meets flesh, we can be sure he won’t be supporting us, though I’m not sure he’ll side with Ikishi either. More likely, he’ll run, and in his greed and haste cause us further headaches. Thoughts?”
“He should be running from us,” Toshi says. “He’ll leave a mess for us either way, but I want him out of the picture, and if that’s the next one-way trip out of the Empire to Gods know where, that would be just good enough.” His expression darkens. “If he insists on standing in our way, we’ll go through him. That’s one guy I won’t feel sorry for, no matter what.”
Kirika nods.

Homi takes a swig of water from a bowl to wet down his throat as he continues. “Which takes us to Ikishi herself. That woman...is without exaggeration the most devious creature I have laid eyes on in my life. She will do anything and everything to get ahead, and it won’t be as simple as her trying to have us killed - first she will try to sway us, then she will work to split us, and only when all else fails will she send her killers - who, as we’ve seen, are a force to be reckoned with. The only thing we can rely on is that she needs Toshi alive until he’s ascended to the throne. Everything else - any law, any concept of honor you can imagine, any friendship you think she would try to hold to - are worth nothing the second they fail to serve her. She has had years to position herself in the highest ranks of the court, to prepare for this fateful moment ahead, and though we have caused her considerable trouble, I do not believe for one second that we will find her in a state of weakness. When we enter the capital, we venture directly into the tiger’s hunting grounds. There will be no quarter given if we fail.”

He rises to his feet, laboriously, and his look sweeps the room. “Lady Ikishi must die. Nothing else will end our quest. Are we all agreed?”
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-08-25 14:28:17
"Agreed," Toshiba says, and even Konoko gives a short screech. "What do we know of Hetechi's lover? Will the timing be problematic should we free her... or him, I suppose... before any other part of this plot? I ask because most of us here are suited for such a rescue, and furthermore, unlike many of our other options, Hetechi's lover's location is unknown to us."
Gatac 2014-08-25 15:33:09
"Him", Homi says. "Hetechi has a...loose group of multiple lovers, but Kichirou was his favorite, and a close friend, too. His disappearance was the talk of the town when I left to pick up your trail." He looks to Toshiba. "Speaking of which, Lady Ishikawa would have investigated - obviously to no favorable result, but perhaps her research is a starting point. Other than that, I'm afraid we have our work cut out for us in this regard."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-09-12 14:13:09
"All right. With everyone else pursuing targets of their own, we will start with what Ishikawa knows and hopefully find Kichirou. Is there any way we could contact the High Lady and meet legitmately, or shall we fall back to our usual style of late-night conversation?"