Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-12-17 15:26:45
Takao escaped! Toshiba's elation nearly pulls him from the moment. Maybe this is why there was only this one gonnefighter on lookout.

"Very well," the Oni says. "We shall see if thine pugnacity merits a like response."

He darts in, hoping for a quick hit, then dances back in anticipation of Firebolt's response. Konoko skreees and swoops, timing her feint with Toshiba's blade, which he throws on the move, drawing another just as fast as the gonneman fills his own hands.
Gatac 2014-12-20 10:17:04

Toshiba attacks Firebolt: 1d20+10 = 14 MISS!

Toshiba makes a Standard Move to move backwards from Firebolt.

Firebolt uses his first half action to enter Freerunning stance, then draws two gonnes for free via Quick Draw and uses his last half-action to shoot Toshiba.

Firebolt's Attack: 1d20+18 = 20 MISS!)

Firebolt easily dances out Toshiba's knife swing, using his spinning momentum to free two gonnes from his brace. Toshiba's attempt to get clear is rewarded with a distinct lack of superfluous holes as Firebolt's revanche whistles past the nimble ninja.

"You think you can win?" Firebolt crows. "You still think you can win?"

(Kagemaru takes a five-foot step to get close to Firebolt and tries to grapple him!

Kagemaru's Athletics with the Deft Grab trick: 1d20+19 = 27
Firebolt's Athletics: 1d20+17+4+2 = 26 FAIL

Firebolt is currently held and loses his Dex bonus to Defense.

Konoko uses Coordinated Attack to grant Toshiba another attack.

Toshiba's hurled Attack: 1d20+12 = 16 MISS!

Kiara draws Dragon's Will and wades in, trying to score a good hit on Firebolt.

Kiara's Attack: 1d20+14 = 27 HIT!
Kiara's Damage: 2d8+5 = 13

Together with Dragon's Will's Keen, this is just enough that Firebolt has to make a Fort Save against the aptly-named Table of Ouch.

Firebolt's Fort Save vs DC 12: 1d20+5 = 6 OUCH INDEED

Table of Ouch Result: 1d20+25 = 42: Bruised Ego. Healing Times doubled. How...strangely appropriate for Firebolt, I suppose.


Firebolt's bragging is cut short by Kagemaru springing up from the edge of the roof and getting behind the braggard. Firebolt twists and winds out of Kagemaru's attempts to get a good grip on him - this dude's got moves, no doubt, and Kagemaru realizes quickly that he might not want to take this one to the ground - but it's enough to nail the slippery bastard down. It's a testament to Firebolt's agility that despite trying to throw off Kage and avoid Konoko's swooping feint, he's still got time to dodge Toshiba's knife getting hurled his way - instead, it sails off into the nearby river, where it proceeds to plunge into the water and stabs a sweetfish right through the gills as it comes up to admire the beauty of the noon sun.

That sweetfish...that sweetfish had a family. A moment of silence, please.

Anyway, Firebolt manages all that, but...but he thought that flying ninja girl was only good for flamethrowing. He's so wrong about that, though, that Kiara sees little choice but to educate him. Her sweeping strike (which almost nicks Kagemaru in the process) isn't quite true, but opens up a nice gash on Firebolt's face.

"You idiot!" he shouts, flipping from cocksure to enraged in an instant. "You...you hit my face!"
Gatac 2014-12-28 11:48:38
(Toshiba takes the time to Aim at Firebolt, gaining a +1 to attack him as long as he doesn't move more than five feet. He then hurls another knife!

Toshiba's hurled Attack, using the Blade Flurry trick: 1d20+12+1 = 26
Toshiba spends an Action Die to boost his roll: 1d8.open = 7 HIT!
Toshiba's Damage, with Sneak Attack: 1d6+1+1d4+3d6 = 23

Toshiba beat Firebolt's Attack by more than 4 but less than 10, so he inflicts his damage again:

Toshiba's Damage, with Sneak Attack: 1d6+1+1d4+3d6 = 19

Firebolt's Fort save vs Bleed, DC 42: 1d20+5 = 7 FAIL!

This also qualifies as another save on the Table of Ouch:

Firebolt's Fort Save vs DC 21: 1d20+5 = 25 SUCCESS! Firebolt gains no additional critical injury.

Firebolt gains the Bleeding condition. He'll take 1 subdual damage every round from here on, except when he takes an action in that round, in which case it's 1d4 lethal. He can now also be targetted by Toshiba's Salt The Wound trick for extra damage.)

Striking while the iron is hot, Toshiba steadies his aim and lets his dagger sail - right into Firebolt's thigh! The bandit doesn't dignify that with a scream, but the bloody gash in his black pants is all too obvious.

(Firebolt does the only thing he can do: try to escape the grapple.

Firebolt's Athletics: 1d20+17+4+2 = 38
Kagemaru's Athletics with Deft Grab trick: 1d20+19 = 32 FAIL)

The added pain is further motivation for Firebolt to slip from Kagemaru's grasp - the shadow can count the number of people who've slipped his grasp on one hand, but Firebolt - injured though he may be - makes it look terrifyingly easy.

(Kagemaru, seeing that keeping Firebolt grappled will be difficult at best, decides to turn to other methods of locking down the elusive bandit. First, a Cheap Shot targeting Firebolt's Dexterity:

Kagemaru's Unarmed Attack: 1d20+14 = 23
And an Action Die: 1d8.open = 11 HELL AND ALSO YES
Kagemaru's Damage: 1d6+5 = 8

Grr, forgot the Sneak Attack damage, as Firebolt is still flat-footed after breaking out of the grapple.

Kagemaru's Sneak Attack: 2d6 = 8

Firebolt now suffers a -2 penalty to all attack and skill checks that use Dexterity. He does however cease to be flat-footed. But Kagemaru won't let that stand: he uses Feint to keep Firebolt off-balance.

Kagemaru's Prestidigitation: 1d20+19 = 23
Firebolt's Notice (untrained): 1d20+3 = 17, capped to 15)

But just because you've escaped Kagemaru's grasp doesn't mean that the ninja can't fuck your shit up. Just a momentary touch of the shadow's hand on Firebolt's arm seems to almost burn through the cloth of his shirt, finally making Firebolt scream out in pain. As a parting present, Kagemaru flicks shadow-tendrils across Firebolt's face, far too quick to follow - and taking his attention off the other combattants still gunning for him.

(Konoko uses Coordinated Attack to grant Toshiba another attack.

Toshiba's hurled Attack, using the Salt The Wound trick: 1d20+12+1 = 30 HIT!
Toshiba's Damage, with Sneak Attack and Salt The Wound: 1d6+1+1d4+3d6+1d6 = 21

Firebolt ceases to be flat-footed.

Kiara attempts to simply trip him to fix that.

Kiara's Acrobatics: 1d20+18 = 27
Firebolt's Acrobatics: 1d20+17+4-2 = 35 NO SELL

Kiara becomes flat-footed, but that's no problem because she still has a half-action to take. She'll just have to attack and not enjoy the Sneak Attack bonus, in that case.

Kiara's Attack: 1d20+14 = 25
And because this seems to be the current fashion, let's throw an AD on top of that to get it past Firebolt's ridonkulous Defense: 1d8.open = 13 HOLY MOLEY

Kiara's Damage: 2d8+5 = 10)

Which earns Firebolt another visit from the knife fairy - and thanks to Konoko's timely shout, one that stabs right into the already-open wound for bonus agony - and a close shave from Kiara's fuck-off big sword. The bandit looks vaguely like he's regained his bearings for the moment, but the last six seconds have clearly not been kind to him - he won't stand up to another thrashing like that.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2014-12-28 15:28:51
"Blood loss dost perform wonders on thine rejoinders, I see," the Oni quips as Firebolt staggers under the miraculously murderous assault by the three ninjae. "But all smoke, sound, and fury without sting befits such a hired gonne as thineself."
Gatac 2015-01-03 07:42:18
"Yeah, well..." Firebolt begins as he rights himself. "It's all in the reflexes..."

(Toshiba's hurled Attack, using the Salt the Wound trick: 1d20+12+1 = 27 HIT!
Firebolt uses his Parry trick to make a Reflex save: 1d20+18 = 23 FAIL
Toshiba's Damage, with Salt the Wound: 1d6+1+1d4+1d6 = 10

Toshiba's hurled Attack, using the Blade Flurry trick: 1d20+12+1 = 32 DOUBLE HIT CRIT!
Before Toshiba can activate the crit, Firebolt attempts to use his Back at You! trick. Another Reflex save: 1d20+18 = 23 FAIL
Toshiba's Damage: 1d6+1+1d4 = 10 + 1d6+1+1d4 = 8 = 18 damage directly to Wounds.)

The story of Firebolt's next few seconds is a story of almosts. The first blade hurled his way almost glances off the gonne he quickly raises in an ultimately futile attempt to deflect the blade from finding a place in his shoulder. And the second one, well, that motherfucker almost manages to catch it - and if it had been thrown by a lesser man, he probably would have done so, too. But we're not talking about a lesser man than Toshiba Shiretoko here. The blade, thrown hard and true, easily slips Firebolts grasp and lodges between his ribs.

Firebolt has just enough time to realize that he just fucked with the wrong ninja. His eyes go wide, then roll over, and then the loudmouthed bandit loses his balance, toppling over the edge of the mill's roof for a long dive into the churning river below.

Kagemaru holds out his fist to Kiara. "Mess with the best..."
She returns the bump. "...die like the rest."

Toshiba has just enough time to wonder where Konoko has gotten to when she comes flapping up over the side of the mill and circles around, dropping a wet gonne at Toshiba's foot before perching on his shoulder. "Kiii!" is her only comment.
Gatac 2015-01-13 14:51:40
Considering the refinement and wealth of most of the Park Row district, one would expect to find it dotted with some of the finest eating in the city. However, two factors work against it in this regard: one, it’s not in the center of the city, and two, it’s nowhere near the waterfront, either. It is not home to the working man’s dives or traveler’s taverns, either - you couldn’t afford the land to build on there. That does, however, leave room for something more middle-of-the-road: noodle shops and soup restaurants that cater to the somewhat more upscale clientele, though shading more towards the employees than their noble masters. When Kirika enters one with Yukio in tow, she is not surprised to find many of the stools taken by geisha, wealthier craftsmen and learned teachers, with the occasional “hip” noble among them. The counter is a flurry of activity as bowls of steaming noodles are scooped and handed over by the chefs (plural) while the pretty girls next to them process the payment. Volume, volume, volume - but there are still a few empty seats in a corner away from the counter, and Yukio’s rumbling stomach echoes Kirika’s own.

“I don’t know what to get,” Yukio says, glancing up at the menu of several dozen variations of noodles and broths attached to the ceiling above the counter. “Toasted sesame and fish, I guess? What do you think?”
“Spicy broth and tofu is what I usually look for,” Kirika says, but then her stomach growls loudly enough to be heard over the din in the restaurant. “Or perhaps with some meat.”
“Yes, that would be good,” Yukio says, looking at the menu again. “But there are three different kinds of beef alone. How does anyone make a decision here?”
“Hey!” comes a call from the back of the noodle shop, turning both Kirika and Yukio’s heads towards the source - none other than little Ueki Kogin, looking a lot better than the last time you saw him. (Which, admittedly, isn’t hard when the last you saw him he was still recovering from being taken and tortured by Yo “Cobra” Homi.) He’s put some meat back on his bones, and his clothes are almost but not quite decadent in their newness and choice of silk fabric. “Hey, guys!” he calls again, waving his hand.
Kirika smiles, which Yukio echoes, albeit somewhat nervously. “Hello, Ueki!” Kirika walks his way. “What brings you here?”
Ueki actually gets up from his table, quickly embracing both Yukio and Kirika. “Business!” Ueki beams. “I’ve got business like you wouldn’t believe! Everybody wants gonnes, I’m backlogged straight into next year. You should see some of those puppies I’m putting together now - I don’t want to brag, but they’re pretty much the best. I make those foreigner gonne copies the Forge is cranking out look like firecrackers. I’ve got pocket gonnes, muskets, even rifles and a few...specialties. You guys should come and take a look at my stuff.” He grins. “I managed to sneak in a few things for you, too.”
“Master Oa gave you that much space and apprentices?” Kirika asks after Ueki finishes gushing.
“Yep!” Ueki says. “I mean, it took some convincing, but for a wizened old master he’s a pretty nice guy, you know? Once he saw my prototypes he was all for it.” Ueki’s smile fades a little. “You...you don’t think I went behind his back, do you?”
“No!” Kirika says. “More...just surprised he went for all of it so quickly. And the business end of things is...it was very much not what I saw when I was there. Was I concerned for a moment? Yes, Ueki, I was. But only because I want the best for you.” She puts a hand on his shoulder - and unlike the last time, it’s a good three or four inches down for her to do so. “Understood?”
Ueki’s smile brightens immediately. “Yeah, of course,” he says. “Hey, I don’t blame you, I mean, this is me we’re talking about.” He laughs at that. “Seriously, though. Oa’s cool, Shimazu’s cool, I’ve got half the valley of the old masters helping out. Everything’s almost perfect. I could hardly ask for more.”
“Almost?” Kirika asks with a raised eyebrow. “Anything I can do?”
“Well,” Ueki says, “you could try to get rid of my retainer…”

“Ey yo!” comes another call from the end of the noodle shop - none other than Kargbeck’s new chief of the guard, Holger, carrying two steaming hot bowls of noodles. “Damn, chica!” he comments. “When you get so swole, girl?”
“Decided that if I’m going to get into trouble so much, I should dress for the occasion,” Kirika replies with a smile and a bow. “Greetings, Holger. What brings you to this surprisingly popular noodle bar?”
“This fast-talkin’ fool,” Holger says, nodding to Ueki. “Motherfucker shows up, says he needs to take the Gungnir out for a spin, I say hell no you won’t - unless I’m in that roll. Me and some guys, just making sure shit stays legit, you know I’m sayin’? Tough times ahead.”
Kirika sighs. “You’ve got that right. What have you heard?” She looks to Ueki. “Either one of you. Masters Oa or Shimazu say anything to you?”
“Weeeeelllll,” Ueki says, “actually I’m here because Oa said I need to hook up with you guys and make sure you’re okay, while I’m in town to get the business settled. Told us to go here and have some noodles today, too - said they’re pretty good. How the hells Oa knows anything about this noodle shop, now, that’s...that’s another question.”
“Shit’s getting real at Count C’s crib,” Holger adds. “We been getting letters, Imperial Court and shit trying to get they hands on the Gungnir and that Olafsen bastard. C tells ‘em they ain’t ours to give, Court says we literally harboring criminals. Court’s got their hackles up real good, we getting more bullshit every day, trade dispute this shit, road tolls that shit, they getting all up in our grills. We even see some Imp ships sailing for Kargbeck on the way here - I think they gon’ blockade us or some shit. We locked down, but that ain’t gonna last, you feel me? We need to get that harbor free or we’re fucked.”
"Damn," Kirika said with a frown. "I guess that moves Itanu up our target list. Is there anything I or the rest of us can do for you or your men here?"
“Yeah,” Holger says. “Keep my man Jack in check. I gotta go and organize some shit, maybe get a one on one with Itanu, work this shit out, know I’m saying? Ain’t nobody got time for war games right now, we need to get this straight.”
"I...don't think going to Itanu is a good idea now, at least by yourself." Kirika looks around. "Ikishi doubtlessly knows you are sided with us, which means there might be a bad surprise waiting there. You should meet with him, but so we can protect you."
Holger nods. “I feel that,” he says. “Where we gon’ park Jack?”
“Um,” Ueki says, “I could come along…”
“My business is keeping your ass safe,” Holger says. “Chica says we steppin’ on hot turf, that ain’t my definition of ‘safe’. You ain’t expendable, Jack, so you ain’t gon’ roll. Believe that.”
Ueki turns to Kirika and Yukio. “It’ll be fine,” Ueki says. “Seriously, it’ll be fine, I can handle myself, it’s not like we’re stepping onto a battlefield, right? Besides, Itanu’s a trader. Money talks and I speak that language.” He looks directly at Kirika. “Come on. Please?”
Kirika looks Ueki over. "What are these...samples you brought?"
Ueki’s face beams. “Oh, you’re going to love them!” he says. “I mean, what’s the worst part of using gonnes right now?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “All the reloading! I mean, bang and done, that’s not going to do very much for bandit number two coming at you, right? I mean, unless you’re a trick shooter and line them up and get a hot load, but...well, you’re not, I’m not, let’s move on to the real deal, the new hotness: the Sparrow gonne! You know those little mini-gonnes, those pepperboxes the foreigners make? I took the idea and ran with it. I got repeating hand-gonnes, repeating muskets, even a portable repeating cannon! And they almost never jam.” He hushes his voice. “Well, I mean, there’s still misfires, we’re still working on that, but just imagine the potential!”
Kirika nods slowly. "So...it shoots more than once? That sounds pretty useful - and really hard to do."
“Yeah, well,” Ueki says, “that’s why you can’t build them in your backyard with a quote-unquote blacksmith who can barely make a decent kitchen knife. We’re talking tolerances and exact understanding of the material here - something the old masters excel at, with my forward-looking designs of course.”
“Gee, that sounds pretty interesting,” comes another voice; a patron at the counter tips up his hat, showing off Sidewinder’s face and the smile on it.
“How many people are in this noodle shop?” Yukio mutters. Kirika merely pets the back of her hand and smiles.
“Saw you two riding into town,” Sidewinder says, nodding to Ueki and Holger. “Figured I best stick with you.”
“The fuck are you?” Holger says.
“A friend,” Sidewinder says. “Maybe there’s another place for this kinda conversation?”
Yukio turns to Kirika. “Do you think they can make the noodles to go, too?”
“Look around, love,” Kirika says and gives her a peck on the cheek. “I bet for the right coin they’d relocate to your manor.”
“Indeed,” Yukio says. “I’ll...I’ll just get us two orders. Wagyu with spicy broth. And...pastry flakes?” She looks to Kirika. “Is that okay for you, dearest?”
“Dearest?” Holger asks. “Shit, I missed all the good parts. Loop a brother in, chica.”
“Fine by me, love,” Kirika whispers to Yukio. She smirks as she wraps an arm around Yukio’s shoulder and turns back to Holger. “Do you want the long, or the really long version, Holger?”
“The lowdown will do,” Holger says, and adds a smirk of his own. “Busy guy like me ain’t got time for knowledge.”


Yukio returns from the counter with a covered bowl full of lunch, and so the slightly eclectic group makes its way back to the rented safehouse, where Toshi and Homi are already awaiting your return. With a short round of introductions for Holger’s benefit, the meal is arranged in the living room and discussion naturally resumes between mouthfuls of tasty (if somewhat overpriced) noodles.

“So,” Homi begins, “I understand you’ve managed to manufacture a shipment of gonnes with your advanced design?”
“That’s right,” Ueki says. “It’s all under guard on the Gungnir right now. I plan to sell most of them, but you guys get first pick on anything you need, of course.”
“I’d like to inspect them, if nothing else,” Sidewinder says.
“You are going to love ‘em,” Ueki boasts. “I mean, I know you can do some damage with the old and busted models? Imagine squeezing off six shots without taking your hand off the gonne. I tell you, this is it, this is the next big thing.”
“Do you have any of them on you?” Kirika asks. “I think our friends would like to see them in person.”
Ueki shakes his head. “Couldn’t take them into the city,” he says. “Cops made us leave everything on the ship. Apparently we have to go the Hall of Justice? That’s what they told us. I don’t know, kind of a hassle, but you guys can come to the Gungnir with us and check it out.”
Kirika looks to Sidewinder. “How clear is the city? Could we make such a move safely?”
Sidewinder nods. “I checked in with a few of our blades,” he says. “Ikishi’s got her agents going after nobles and functionaries, but she doesn’t have a lot of eyes and ears on the streets - that’s still our thing. I don’t know if we can make it undetected, but I’m pretty dang sure they can’t stop us.”
Kirika thinks for a moment. “Hmm. A foreigner pirate ship, loaded with dangerous new weapons, parked in the capital’s harbor. I think perhaps being caught on board is not the best idea at the moment - nor is having the weapons found out. But perhaps there is a way we could put them to good use.” She looks to Ueki. “How easy is it to teach someone to use your gonnes proficiently?”
Ueki shrugs. “About as hard as any other gonne - or easy, depending on how you look at it,” he says. “I mean, I can teach you how to load one up and pull the trigger, that’s nothing. Getting really good at the aiming part, though, that takes a while. Why, are you looking to branch out from your sword?”
“No, but I am thinking that there are many good peace officers here that will soon be facing a lot of danger, and could use some weapons,” Kirika says. “Hiro, do you feel ready to approach Lady Ishikawa? Sidewinder could leave some sort of minor contraband with the gonnes on the Gungnir, which would get the crates held as contraband subject to search -” She holds up a hand to preempt Ueki’s protests, “- which they are not, and would be released. But for now, they would be in a safe place and not subject to suspicious actions to make us look bad - and they would be where they will be most needed when the time comes.”
Sidewinder nods. “No trouble at all.”
“...uh,” Ueki says, “you know…” He ponders that for a moment. “Actually, I agree.”
“That was unexpected,” Homi says.
“I know, right?” Ueki says. “I felt like this weasel moment coming on and then, well, then I thought about it and realized that this isn’t really getting in my way, so sure, good idea.” He turns to Kirika. “They are going to let me sell the gonnes afterwards, right? I mean, they pretty much have to, yeah?”
“That...would be up to Lady Ishikawa,” Kirika says. “But if they perform as well as you say they are, then I can imagine her being very receptive to purchasing a few crates.”
“Sweet, government contract,” Ueki says. “I mean, that’s not just gonnes, that’s ammo, spare parts, training, maintenance, upgrades, plus free advertising!”
“I’m heartened that your mercenary soul finds this scheme sufficiently profitable,” Homi gently chides, then turns to Holger. “And you will seek to speak to Itanu? Just...speak with him?”
“That’s how I roll,” Holger says.
Homi turns to Kirika. “Perhaps we could lend a hand in this? It would be a good excuse to meet with Itanu and sound his waters.”
“If the purpose of this meeting is to end the blockade before it starts, then perhaps the voice of a lord with experience in foreigner lands might be persuasive,” Kirika says.
Toshi takes that as his cue to join the conversation. “And what do we offer him?” he asks. “Hey, we know you’re working with Ikishi in a conspiracy against the throne, knock it off. I mean, I guess we could try to blackmail him, or…”
“Hold up,” Holger says, “you know that ain’t right.”
“Or we could carry out our plan as it stands, just...faster,” Kirika says. “Once we fail with Itanu, it would be an excellent opportunity to speak with his assistant - our real prize in his organization. Toshi and I can make a case from our side, and Holger, you can provide the eyewitness account of what his corruption is doing - and we shall see where that gets us.”
“First step forward is good faith,” Holger says. “Peace, then it’s peace. Beef...then it’s beef. I don’t need to hear how you do, just that you can get it done. Whatever, man, I’m just trying to hold it down for my peeps, you hear?”
Kirika nods. “I do, Holger, I do. And I think that his assistant might be the good man you need in that position to make sure your city lives on.”
“Right,” Holger says. “So...let’s get your shit jacked, Jack.”
“...can you maybe sound less enthusiastic?” Ueki says. “A little?”
Kirika smiles and claps a hand on Ueki’s shoulder. “Only for a little while, Ueki.”
“Well,” Ueki muses, “I suppose there was going to be paperwork one way or another…”
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-01-19 11:22:45
Toshiba tucks Firebolt's gonne into his pack, frowning at the mill-water frothing downriver. "'Twas not truly a fatal throw, I fear, although he's out of the picture for now," he says. "Takao and their hostage's trails should be our priority. It is, as always, about speed." Toshiba lands on the ground outside the mill and opens the doors, looking for signs of his quarry.
Gatac 2015-01-20 14:25:01
A quick inspection of the premises quickly reveals that they've been cleaned out; while there are still two sets of chained manacles in evidence, whoever was held here is long gone. Time for Toshiba to show off his tracking skills once more.

(Takao's trail is a day old, but he was running away with Kichirou - so that's a -2 and a +4 so far. Initial terrain is yielding for a further +2. And since Toshiba suffers no penalties for speed due to his Trail Signs ability, it's time to get cooking at +4 on top of his normal skill bonus.

Toshiba's Survival: 1d20+15+4 = 37
Takao's Sneak: 1d20+1 = 6)

Picking up Takao's trail proves easy as pie for Toshiba's sharp eyes, and with Konoko taking to the air above them, the race to find their friend is on. The footsteps - two pairs of them - lead to the edge of a thick swamp.

(By RAW, nothing much would change, but because this swamp Be Freaky, I'm adding a -4 discretionary penalty. Unlikely as that is to change anything.

Toshiba's Survival: 1d20+15+4-4 = 22
Takao's Sneak: 1d20+1 = 20, reduced to 15 because Takao is untrained in Sneak.)

The interior proves a little harder to navigate, but Toshiba presses on. To Kagemaru, it looks like a lot of guesswork and luck, but every few minutes they do find a fading footprint or some crushed bamboo to show them they're still on the trail. A half hour of picking their way through the muggy swamp later, our trio of ninjas has become intimately acquainted with the swamp's mosquito population, but the density seems to be decreasing and finally, they find themselves in a clearing, where the half-rotted remains of an old hut stand. Takao was definitely here...and left again...but the way this place has got Toshiba's stomach a-flutter does not seem to provide exact guidance on whether this hut should be searched for further clues or left undisturbed.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-01-20 14:32:15
What other clues does one need? Toshiba's friend was here but did not stay - perhaps that is all the clue the huntsman needs to know he should not tarry in this place. He's found no other human tracks, signs perhaps that Takao's captors were taken unawares or that their search led them in the wrong direction. Multiple layers of deception could be at work here, but that kind of thinking circles in on itself and paralyzes the mind. Better to be an arrow and fly straight and true through tangled machinations.

Besides, the sagging hut gnaws at Toshiba's well-being. He presses on. If the trail is lost, he can always come back and search the place, for the good it will do.
Gatac 2015-01-20 14:48:23
(Toshiba's Survival: 1d20+15+4-4 = 20
Takao's Sneak: 1d20+1 = 8)

Pressing on, Takao's path out of the swamp seems just as hard to read as the road into it. The hut still gnaws at Toshiba's thoughts, as do some of the whispering reeds around him and the addition of a third pair of footprints, but soon enough they're out of the worst and back in somewhat open territory along the river.

(And with that, goodbye discretionary penalty.

Toshiba's Survival: 1d20+15+4 = 30
Takao's Sneak: 1d20+1 = 7)

The way the river naturally leads to a small settlement around a peculiar bridge makes the continued tracking more of a formality, but the footsteps don't lie - one pair turned back into the swamp, two pressed on, and Toshiba can think of no reason why Takao would circle back.

And so, with thoroughly dirty boots and every suspicion that Takao either crossed the river here or continued via boat, the ninjas make it to Hashi's tavern for further enquiries. You could easily mistake the main room for a dormitory, to judge from the number of people sleeping off their alcohol poisoning on the tables, and even the barkeep seems to be barely on his feet after another long night. The only one who seems to be properly awake is the old man in the corner, gently plucking at his koto - obviously trying not to wake anyone, but also, you know, kinda not willing to just stop playing music.

"Hey, man," the barkeep says. "What it is? You cats looking to turn in or turn it up?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-01-20 16:39:52
"More like turn up someone," Toshiba responds. "Two men might have come in here, probably on the shabby side of things, but one would have definitely been a fighter."
Gatac 2015-01-22 04:26:44
The barkeep nods to the old man, who suddenly stops plucking his koto.

"Who's asking?" he says, reaching for something under the counter.
Gatac 2015-01-22 11:58:54
(Barkeep's Knowledge Check: 1d20+10+5 = 34)

The barkeep smiles and looks to the old man. "Peep this cat," he says.
"For real no doubt," the old man answers, and takes a long drag from his equally long pipe before he resumes plucking his tune.

"You missed the action by a couple hours, Oni," the barkeep says. "Four cats up this way, two shabbies, a samurai and this ninja-looking dude, he was outta sight, man. Samurai took one of the shabbies downriver, the other guy got into it with the ninja, I mean they threw down, but then it looked like everything was cool and they booked it, too. Can you dig it?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-01-22 12:42:44
"Verily," Toshiba says, counting out a handful of coins. Takao must have been the "shabby" who fought this ninja the barkeep speaks of, which means Hetechi's lover left with... whoever the samurai was. "The first pair, did they travel downriver by boat or horse or foot?"
Gatac 2015-01-24 13:27:10
"They jacked a boat," the barkeep says, waving off Toshiba's attempt to pay. "That's all the skinny I got, Oni. You keep trucking, baby, don't let the Man catch you slipping."
"Stay deece, Oni," the old man adds.
Gatac 2015-01-24 13:36:55
(Kirika’s Disguise: 1d20+6+4-5 = 20)

After a final discussion of their approach to Itanu’s office with Holger and Toshi - where Holger has to be reminded a few times that, no, he’ll have to stay back while Kirika and Toshi scout because Holger does not blend - it falls to Kirika to become somewhat less noticeable. Not so easy when you have bright tattoos all over your body and a build that says anything but “harmless innocent bystander”. Kirika selects a downright conservative drab red kimono and adds a few strategic pillows to simulate a more...big-boned appearance, while the tattoos that still peek out from her neckline and her wrists are covered in a choker, some gloves and a little makeup. It’s been a while since Kirika did up her hair and painted her face, too, but the end result looks...passable.

Toshi, with his apparent sixth sense for knowing when a woman is finished dressing, enters the room just then, and it’s a little infuriating how easy it was for him to disguise himself: throw on nicer clothes and shave, done. Still, the sober expression and small nod show that he’s got his head in the game for this one.

“Hey there,” he says. “Good to go?”
Kirika adjusts the pillows under her disguise. “How do I look?”
Toshi smirks. “Is this one of those times where I can say ‘fat’ and have it be a compliment?”
“Don’t want it to be too much, unless I want to just blow out my cheeks and hold my breath the whole time,” Kirika says, doing just that to try it out anyway.
“Yeahyeahyeahyeah, that’s too much,” Toshi quickly adds, waving her off. “It’s fine this way. We’ll be in thick crowd anyway, there’s no way anyone could get a good enough look to see through that.” He pauses for a moment. “So, uh, Ueki. One of your hard cases finally making good?”
Kirika waits until she first feels like she needs to take a breath - which takes about thirty seconds or so by her count. “Yes!” she gasps as she exhales. “It certainly looks that way.” She smiles at Toshi. “It’s good to see him finding something that makes him happy - and keeps him out of too much trouble.” She takes Toshi’s hand and turns to lead him out of the safehouse. “And I think you’re forgetting about yourself, Toshi,” she tells him with a smirk.
“Well,” Toshi says, “it’s good that we finally cleared the air between all of us. No more lies. It’s a lot easier to live with, even if we’re walking right into the tiger’s den, so to speak.” He shrugs. “I’d like to meet this Emperor you see in me some day, but...well. Coming to terms with the truth isn’t easy for anyone. I suppose you’d know that better than most.”
Kirika gives Toshi a peck on the cheek. “And I know that being that Emperor is something that you just do being you, Toshi.”
“Let’s hope that’s enough,” Toshi says.

Their walk doesn’t get much further than the curb, where they find a rickshaw already waiting - actually, make that two. Both drivers look at each other, a strange staredown that finally seems to end with the guy at the front as the winner, as he walks forward to meet Toshi and Kirika while the other guy slumps his head.

“Where to, milady?” the winner asks, bowing his head to Kirika.
“The clock tower, please,” Kirika says, passing him the standard fare twice over.
“Yes, Ma’am!” the driver answers, his eyes lighting up at the stack of silver coins. After Kirika and Toshi climb in, he hefts the cart’s handrails up and takes off towards the main street.

Left in his dust is the second rickshaw driver, who just drops his shoulders and leans back against his cart.

“Ooh, look at me,” he mumbles, “I was here first, I’m always here first, I get all the good fares!” He spits on the ground. “I hope his axle snaps.”


It’s a ten minute ride downtown, then a twenty minute stroll through downtown to get past the masses and to the clocktower. Kirika’s pretty sure walking would be faster at this stage, but the driver doesn’t seem to be fazed by the crowds - just the opposite in fact, as he pushes and cajoles people out of his way, using the bulk of his cart to part the ocean of bodies.

By the time they arrive at the clocktower, Toshi and Kirika feel confident that they could both do a fairly good impression of the driver’s endless “Excuse me! Coming through! Excuse me! Coming through!” calls.

The clocktower, then. It’s not the biggest building in the city, but it sure is the tallest, its basic wooden structure strategically reinforced with steel together with solid links to the buildings around it through iron beams running between them, bracing the tall tower against them. Its bells ring out just as Kirika and Toshi climb out of the rickshaw, which momentarily drowns out the sounds of the street around them. By the time it stops ringing, the rickshaw is already leaving again.

“It’s very loud!” Toshi shouts, his ears not quite adjusted to the normal level of noise again.
Kirika simply nods, already focusing on getting into her frumpy-looking character.
“...oh, it stopped,” Toshi adds, a little quieter. From there, it’s just a nod of the head until he too is in character, and once that is achieved, he strolls off, fading into the crowd. Kirika does likewise, and so the reconnaissance begins.

(Kirika’s Investigate: 1d20+6+2 = 15)

The clocktower has two obvious entrances: the front door and a side entrance in any alley, apparently for the benefit of a restaurant at the ground level. The front door stands wide open, and some people - well-dressed people - freely walk in and out, apparently the patrons of the restaurant and the two smaller shops opposite it. Kirika does, however, spy a burly man in a well-made but not expensive kimono standing guard next to both a wooden cage-like thing suspended by a forest of metal cables as well as the spiral staircase winding around it, leading to the higher floors of the tower. A glance up the walls outside reveals that the metal beams that brace the tower, while an obvious first entry for a ninja, lead only to bare walls, with neither windows nor any other kind of surface feature in reach to help with climbing. Not that this would deter the Ayami ninjas and their powers, nor likely any serious shinobi, but it sure seems to subtly discourage the amateurs.

Kirika does her best to move with the flow of the crowd as she circles the building, keeping an eye out for more guards as well as Lord Itanu and his second, but nothing appears to contradict her initial impression: looks nice, really doesn’t like uninvited guests. A few minutes later, Toshi maneuvers through the crowd to join her.

“It’s locked down pretty good,” he says. “Did you see anyone coming out?”
“Nope,” Kirika says. She motions behind them to the stairs leading up to an elevated tea house above the pottery shop they’re standing in front of. “Shall we have some tea while we wait?”
“I’d love to,” Toshi says. “Though I hope you have more of that silver you plied the driver with.” He motions to a placard advertising the tea house’s prices. “Two pieces a cup and it goes up from there. In the Forge you could buy a whole sack of tea leaves for that.”
Kirika winces slightly. “Then we should hope that Hiro’s mission goes quickly and smoothly.”


Outraged though he may be by the prices, Toshi doesn’t miss the chance to have some good roasted tea (is that a fragrant hint of cherry?), and the complementary rice flour biscuits are really rather good. Kirika’s mind remains on the job, though, as does her look on the tower’s main entrance. Sadly, the composition of the crowd there does not change - just the restaurant’s foot traffic, with no sign of Itanu or his second. No funny business at the alley leading to the side entrance, either, except for a single handcart that arrives to drop off a delivery of fresh vegetables and fish. Toshi’s on his third cup when a third chair is pulled up to their table - Hiro Homi taking the chance to sit down next to his young charge.

“I see what you are trying to do,” the old ninja remarks. “She has the distant stare, he the occasional longing gaze...maybe you should try to sneak in a few moments where you hold hands, too.”
“Hmm?” Kirika says, turning away from the window for a moment.
“Or perhaps that was not part of your act at all,” Homi adds with a smirk. “Well, I am not here to tease you for it. What matters is that we can proceed as discussed.”
“Things with Lady Ishikawa went well?” Kirika asks in as much of a circumspect tone as she can muster.
“‘Well’ is not the word I would use,” Homi answers. “There is need for...more discussion. But she has agreed to play her part in this plan.”
“Good,” Kirka says, and stands up, already shaking the pillows out from under her disguise. “Then we can start this in earnest. I trust Sidewinder has planted our evidence, and Lady Ishikawa’s people are on their way to the ship?”
“Indeed,” Homi confirms. “Before I leave, I wanted to share some information about the clocktower. I trust you’ve taken a good look at its entrances?”
“The front, side and staircase entrances,” Kirika replies, pulling a pillow out from her stomach and playfully tossing it at Toshi’s face.
“There is a less obvious way inside,” Homi says. “The mechanics of the tower, such as its clockwork, the bells and the elevator, are all driven by water from the canals. The tower takes in water from the canal and puts it out to sea, using the height difference for power generation. I’ve been told that the intake is large enough for a small person to fit through, provided they can get past the metal grate at its mouth.” He looks to Toshi. “Though I have the feeling that this may not be of much interest to you, I felt it necessary to mention, in case you wish to include it in your strategy.”
“Perhaps as an emergency way out,” Kirika says, pulling out the last pillow and finally discarding with the choker covering some of her tattoos. With a quick snap of her kimono, she completes her return to her true appearance and reaches down for Toshi’s hand. “Shall we?”
“Let’s go,” Toshi nods.
“Good luck,” Homi says. “I will remain here to monitor the situation.”

As Kirika and Toshi filter out, Homi scoots his chair over to get a better look at the tower. This places Toshi’s half-finished cup within his reach, and after a few seconds, the ninja master grabs it and takes a sip.

“Mmh,” Homi mumbles to himself. He turns his head to look over his shoulder and holds up his hand. “Waitress?” he calls. “Another one, please!”
Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-01-26 11:43:27
Toshiba leaves the coin on the bar. "Let it never be said the Blue Oni forgets who his people are."

He walks outside, turning to Kiara and Kagemaru. "The trail is more difficult if they're on a boat, but not impossible. We'll head downriver and stay alert. They're only a few hours ahead, and we travel quickly. We may catch up to them on the water."
Gatac 2015-01-31 11:39:49
"Copacetic," the bartender replies, taking the coin. "Catch you on the flipside, Oni."

Outside, Kiara quickly fetches her dagger and starts to scrape some dried blood out from under her fingernails, while Kagemaru puts his shadowy hand to what might still technically be called his chin. "And then what?" he says." Takao's still in the wind."
"Maybe we'll find that annoying little gonneman," Kiara says, sounding almost hopeful.
"We do need to finish him off," Kagemaru says. "Eh, might as well follow Hetechi's lover and whoever that other samurai is, then, since everyone's heading cityward anyway. Takao's a big boy, he can take care of himself."
"Funny how their trail loops right back to where we started today," Kiara says. "One of life's grand synchronicities. It really makes you think, you know?"
"You're kidding," Kagemaru says.
"Totally," Kiara says with a fierce grin. "Let's go and finish the fight."


Waiting for you at the clocktower’s main entrance is Holger, looking like - well, Holger, whose foreign clothes would blend in a little better if he hadn’t taken to adding some colorful straps of fabric bought from a nearby street market.

“Yo,” he says, holding out his fist and catching a quick dab from Toshi. “We doin’ this?”
Kirika nods. “Let’s start things up.”
Holger nods and walks inside, leading the way like he knows what he’s doing. His path takes him directly to the elevator, and the burly man standing guard maneuvers on an intercept course.
“Do you have an appointment, Sir?” the guard asks, clearly struggling to keep a straight face at the ‘Sir’.
“Believe that,” Holger replies. “Holger de Campagne, representin’ Kargbeck. I got some facetime with your shotcaller, my man.”
“...one moment, Sir,” the guard replies. He turns to walk back to the pillar he was standing in front of, where Kirika makes out a brass horn leading into the wall, as well as a chain running out of a hole in the wall with a wooden handle at the end. The guard pulls the chain three times and waits; a few seconds later, a voice echoes from the brass horn.
“What is it?” the voice asks.
“Uh, boss, there’s a man, a foreigner from Kargbeck,” the guard says. “He says he’s here to see you...I think.”
“Uh huh,” the voice answers. “What’s his name?”
“Um,” the guard says, then turns back to Holger. “Pardon me, Sir, could you…”
“Holger,” Holger says. “H to the o l g e realness.”
“...Holger, boss,” the guard says into the horn.
“Oh,” the voice replies. “Oh! Yeah, send him up.”
“And there are two more -” the guard begins.
“Send them up, too,” the voice replies. “Come on, let’s hurry this up, we’re losing time here.”
“Yes, boss,” the guard says. He turns back to Holger. “One moment, Sir,” he says, then walks over to the elevator and grabs the front of the cage, pulling it up to let Holger, Kirika and Toshi climb into the cab - a tight fit. “Keep your hands inside, please,” the guard says, then rolls down the front of the cage again, walks over to his pillar and pulls the chain three more times. Then there’s a horrible screech, and the elevator starts rising, first reluctantly, then more smoothly as it clears the ground floor and soars up through the middle of the spiral staircase.

“Well,” Toshi says, “that was easy.”
“Getting in, yes,” Kirika says. “Getting out?”
“That’s on you, chica,” Holger says. “Last I remember, you guys are pretty good at fading from high towers.”
“Well, let’s hope this next one is as easy,” Kirika says, leaning up against Toshi.
“You did bring a very large kimono,” Toshi says. “Maybe we could rig up some kind of rudimentary glider?”
“Oh, you gotta be shitting me, man,” Holger says.
“Relax!” Toshi calls out. “I am shitting you. Kidding you! Kidding you, I mean.” He looks to Kirika. “Between the two of us, we’ll talk our way out. Right?”
Kirika nods. “That’s the plan.”
“Trust the plan,” Toshi says.
“Whatever, man,” Holger finally comments.


According to the sign, the elevator stops on the seventh floor, where another guard stands ready to open up the cage and let you out. Another sign in the short hallway proclaims that this is High Lord Itanu’s office, with a little addition underneath reading “Chief Economist”. The door to said office stands open, and while you can’t see enough of it to spot Itanu yet, you can see the stacks of paperwork piled up - well, to tell from this glimpse, pretty much everywhere.

“Come in!” an impatient voice calls from inside.
Kirika's hand goes to her sword as she looks both ways down the hall, but still nods for Holger to proceed. Holger gives her a “might as well, we came this far” kind of shrug and walks in, letting Toshi and Kirika follow in his footsteps. Inside the office, the suspicions about the wealth of paperwork are proven true and then some; the only thing that would cleanse this place of all red tape would be a good, hot fire. In the middle of this nightmare sits High Lord Itanu at his desk. The once semi-dashing rogue is now clad in the fine clothes of an Imperial bureaucrat, and adjusts his bifocals as he rises to meet Holger and shake his hand.

“Mr. de Campagne?” Itanu asks. “I’m Itanu. Pleasure.”
“What up?” Holger replies, shaking his hand. “I gotta rap to you, man.”
“Right,” Itanu says, and his mannerisms betray a bit more youth as he slips into more comfortable language. “Lay it down, son.”
Kirika raises an eyebrow at Itanu's adoption of the same...unique accent as Holger. “I gotta be straight, man,” Holger says. “Why you all in our grill?”
“Regulators gotta regulate, son,” Itanu replies. “You’re on our turf, and we gots to get that dough.”
“I don’t want no beef with you, man,” Holger says, “but we ain’t paying stacks for nothing.”
“You gotta lay down some cream for peace,” Itanu replies. “Ain’t no other way to play the game, son. You start frontin’, we start rollin’.”
“Hey, man,” Holger says, a little more anger in his voice. “Don’t start nothin’, won’t be nothing’, dig? I just want you to be cool.”
“Then get me my ice,” Itanu replies. “You better bounce now, son. You got bills to pay.”
“It is what it is,” Holger nods, then looks to Kirika. “I think I’m done here, chica. Your move.”
"I think I'm all done here as well," Kirika replies. She bows to Itanu. "High Lord, Lady Kamura, accompanying Lords Tatsuno and de Campagne. I'm sure we will meet again."
Itanu’s eyes narrow, but he slides the bifocals back into position as he regards Kirika. “Excuse me, then,” he says, nodding to Toshi. “I had heard you were back in town. Congratulations on your successes on the mainland, Lord Tatsuno. Unfortunately, I was too busy to join the celebration welcoming you back. I’m sure you can see that I have my hands full managing the Empire and its...tenants.” He glances briefly at Holger for that last one before returning his eyes to Kirika. “What brings you here together with Mr. de Campagne, then?”
“Lord Tatsuno,” Kirika replies. “He wishes to speak on his behalf.”
“I see,” Itanu says, adjusting his bifocals yet again. “Let me be very clear, then. Lord Tatsuno, your service to the Empire is honored by all and will not soon be forgotten. However, the land Kargbeck was built on rightly belongs to us. It’s time they paid their share to help the Empire prosper and provide proper protection...from such things as pirates, for example. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot to do, as you can see.”
“Actually,” Toshi begins, “I must beg more of your time, but I am a bit of a scholar of Imperial land grants, and it’s not often that I get to speak to an expert like yourself, Itanu-sama. You see, it seems to me - a layman, granted - that the grant was specifically made as an Imperial Gift. Per the Uniform Code, that does mean that the conditions and terms are generally fixed at the time of the grant and require a subsequent Imperial Edict to modify. Now, I’m not familiar with the specific text, but I have heard it said that it grants the land used by Kargbeck to the Hanse for ninety-nine years, tax-free, on the condition that they do not pursue further expansion in this region. Also, blabla tax code details, yadda yadda diplomatic niceties, and so on and so forth…”

Kirika can see the smoke start to pour from Itanu’s nose - metaphorically, but given the circumstances, it is good to specify that - as Toshi continues to lay out what sounds like an incredibly detailed, incredibly bullshit account of contract law. The perfect moment to get out of his way, then, and let the two conmen try to outargue one another. A quick sweep around the room shows another door leading out of it, into a smaller office where a young man sits at his desk, deep in brooding over a particularly long scroll with no less than three abacuses (abaci?) on the desk in various configurations.
“Oops, sorry,” Kirika says with a smile and a quick bow as she subtly slides the door shut behind her with her foot. “I must have come into the wrong room. Lady Kamura, and you are?”
“Oh!” the young man says, rising to bow to her deeply. “I’m Shintaro, Kamura-sama. You were here to see Itanu-sama?”
“About his...demands of Lord Holger,” Kirika says, letting just enough disgust slip to see if he responds in kind.
“Oh, yeah,” Shintaro says. “I’ve told him that they’re inefficient, but he really seems to have his heart set on them.” He looks up. “Oh, sorry. I should explain...if you don’t mind?”
Kirika’s smile returns as she takes a seat. “Please.”
“Ah!” Shintaro says, fetching another scroll. “You see, by my calculations, a road tax of ten percent, as Itanu-sama is pursuing, will reduce total trade volume by about six - well, about six and a half, but closer to six than seven - percent. This may not sound like much, but will seriously impact Kargbeck’s productivity and willingness to trade with us instead of using Kargbeck as a relay station for trade with the Southern Island States. I project that, within three years, the tax will reduce interior trade to a level where our income will be where it is now without any taxes on the trade itself, since we already level taxes on further sales from Imperial merchant to Imperial merchant, which makes us a good amount of money without burdening the Hanse. And after this tipping point, interior trade with the Hanse will drop to a point where we’re actually making less money than we’re making now indirectly. Not to mention the ripple effects on the trade stations around Kargbeck, the diplomatic implications and what a reliable supply of sophisticated Hanse goods like their gonnes will do to the already unstable Southern Island States. We might actually breed a whole new crisis down there if we drive the Hanse to arm the islands - I consider it a distinct possibility, in fact, that this will lead San’in to rebel, ally with the island states and make another bid for independence. At our current troop levels…” Shintaro glances up at Kirika. “Oh, sorry! That was probably a bit too much at once! I’m sorry, I just get...I care a lot about that.”
“Well, as far as I know, our current troop levels barely support keeping the districts in the north appeased from mainland threats, which already leaves our south dangerously exposed,” Kirika continues.
“Exactly!” Shintaro says, clapping his hands together as his expression brightens. “Exactly! I mean, given basic logistical considerations, we would be able to repel an invasion, but we’re stretched far too thin to attempt to recapture San’in in that case. The tax agreement would be a nominal loss of income, but we would lose our foothold in the Southern Islands, not to mention a great deal of prestige! We would have to raise a whole new army and navy to deal with these issues, and let me tell you, the implications for our rice crop alone are staggering. We already have too many provinces being supplied at barely subsistence levels. The last thing the people need is more soldiers eating their crops.”
“What do you think the end result of all of this would be?” Kirika asks.
“Considering that we are already low on arable land,” Shintaro says, “the only quick solution I can see would be an invasion of the mainland to secure fertile provinces. If we augment our military to the levels necessary to face off with San’in and deal with possible Hanse retaliation, which we likely would, then I can definitely see the temptation to use that same force offensively. We cannot disband the force quickly, as that will leave us open to renewed aggression, plus history shows that disbanded soldiers are a particularly difficult group of people to reintegrate into society, given their dislocation from their homes when we recruited them, followed by taking away their new livelihood by dismissing them. That would certainly lead to additional civil unrest we cannot endure. So, we need to keep the soldiers around. And to feed them, we need more land. War seems the most logical outcome, then.” Shintaro hangs his head. “This is, of course, a bit fanciful, I mean, the numbers hold up but I’m sure something as minor as a tax dispute can be settled without such dire consequences. I’ll just…” He sighs. “I’ll speak to Itanu-sama again. And, well, I would love to see Boota-sama about the food issue, but he isn’t receiving me or answering my letters, maybe Itanu-sama can arrange a meeting once I’ve convinced him.”
“Well, I have spoken with Boota about the food shortage,” Kirika replies.
“Oh!” Shintaro gasps. “What did he say? Did he give you any numbers?” He grabs an abacus. “I was going off the historical data, but if you can update me on this year’s harvest, I could make more precise predictions, of course.”
“This year’s harvest will be productive, just like the one before it, and the one before that,” Kirika says. “There is no grain shortage, Shintaro. Boota has been redirecting it at Lady Ikishi’s request.”
“...excuse me?” Shintaro says. “That is…” He goes digging through his scrolls. “Ah-ha!” he says. “Yes, that makes sense, I was wondering why we’ve seen dropping yields over the last decade - I was beginning to worry we were dealing with soil depletion, but it didn’t look like we were overfarming. Yes, that’s right.” Shintaro moves some pieces on his abacus. “Okay, in that case I was completely wrong about that. If we plug in historical yields, we should have plenty of growth potential and be able to support a larger military, too.”
“What if the goal is to keep the food for the people where it is right now, and only feed a military?” Kirika asks.
Shintaro slides some more marbles on his abacus. “That...that would feed a lot of soldiers. Enough to seriously impact our economy from recruiting away valuable workers. But we could supply about...a half million soldiers. A force of that size could easily be used to make deep strikes into mainland territory and build an occupation zone beyond coastal provinces...possibly as large again as the Empire now is. If we compound that with the food production we would likely capture, minus losses due to foraging and scorched earth tactics…” Shintaro swallows hard. “That’s decades of war. But win or lose, it’s going to ruin us.”
“Shintaro,” Kirika says, standing up. “What if none of this was by accident, or ignorance? What if this was the goal?”
“Oh, this is no accident,” Shintaro says. “This actually lines up perfectly with a few other patterns I’ve been seeing in the last years. Credit where credit is due, though, if Silent Eye hadn’t sent me his calculations, I probably wouldn’t have gotten as far as I did.”
“Silent Eye?” Kirika asks.
“He’s a likeminded fellow,” Shintaro says. “Sends me letters, no return address. Very private, I don’t know where he lives or what his name is or even if he’s a he. Brilliant mind, though. A little blunt, but very clear.”
Kirika raises an eyebrow. “May I see one, if that’s all right?”
“Oh, sure,” Shintaro says, digging up a scroll from a locked desk drawer and handing it over to Kirika. She takes a peek at it, deciphering the terse script.


Forge gonne production down 12 percent last month. Iron smelting up five percent. No coincidence. Iron is being diverted, destination unknown. Still investigating. Looked at your population math - forgot to account for decreased fertility due to urbanization effects, actual growth rate prediction must be lower. Implications for your work are clear. Increased trade with Hanse is critical.

Silent Eye

If the wording didn’t make it clear, the actual brushstrokes seal the deal. “Silent Eye” is none other than Kirika’s friend Yauta - apparently still well and no less active, even in hiding. She smirks as she looks back up to Shintaro. “How long does it take for him to reply?”
“A week or so,” Shintaro says. “Never more than ten days. He leaves a different forwarding address on every letter on the back.”
Kirika nods. “Interesting.” She takes a breath. Sorry, Yauta, but we need to meet face to face. “I have a question for you, Shintaro. What do you think Itanu knows about what you have found?”
“Not a lot,” Shintaro says. “I mean, I think he knows I’m looking into it? But he’s always so busy, he hasn’t had the time to sit down with me so I could explain.”
“And what if I told you that he was doing this on purpose?” Kirika says.
“...working for Lady Ikishi?” Shintaro says. “You mentioned her being in league with Boota-sama.” Shintaro seems to consider that for a moment. “Why?” he asks.
“Coin and power, Shintaro-san,” Kirika replies. “Coin and power.” She crosses her strong arms. “So, think this through all the way, Shintaro-san.”
“Already did,” Shintaro replies. “And I think that we’ll need each other’s help soon. You should probably leave now before Itanu-sama becomes suspicious, though.”
Kirika nods. “Yes, my distraction is probably running out of breath. Later on today, we should meet and I will do what I can to get you all the help you need.”
“I should probably get all of this stuff out of my office, too,” Shintaro says. “If Itanu-sama goes through it, he might figure out that I’ve seen through the scheme. Where can I meet you?”
“The tea shop across the way,” Kirika says. “We have aid there - probably running up a very expensive bill.”
“Right,” Shintaro says. “I’ll, uh, I’ll see you then. Thank you.”
Kirika bows. “I should thank you, Shintaro-san. See you very soon.”
“Goodbye,” Shintaro says, then turns around and starts gathering up some scrolls. “What a fine mess,” he mutters to himself.
“Couldn’t agree more,” Kirika replies, and steps out.

As she shuts the door behind her, Kirika puts on her best “Oh gods above, get me out of here” face.

“So, you see,” Toshi says, creating a new gasp of agony from both Holger and Itanu. “If we’re going by the Sage Lu’s traditional understanding of mutual best interest set forth in his contract theory, you are of course correct. But the more commonly accepted line of reasoning these days, I understand, is Sage Po’s enlightened partnership, which is of course a vastly different lens into the essence of our understanding of contracts, and Po would disagree with your interpretation of the doctrine of justified modification on several points, such as…”
“Ah, Lady Kamura!” Itanu says. “I hope my assistant was able to entertain you while we discussed the particulars of Mr. de Campagne’s case. Lord Tatsuno’s position is very interesting.”
“Yes, well,” Toshi says, “now that we’ve developed a solid mutual understanding of our terms, perhaps we can get to the meat of our disagreement.”
“Sounds like things are just as interesting in here,” Kirika replies with a deep breath. “I didn’t want to be rude, but...does your assistant know how he sounds to others?”
“Oh, don’t mind him,” Itanu says. “He has a head for numbers, but it’s frequently up in the clouds if you know what I mean. Now!” He claps his hands together. “I’m sorry, but we’ll have to cut this short, these tax reports will not summarize themselves. Lord Tatsuno, thank you for your time and effort, I hope I could illustrate to you the difference between book learning and actual legal practice. Mr. de Campagne” - he turns to Holger - “the terms are clear and will continue to stand. We expect your first payment within the month. Now, if you could all kindly find your way outside...my associates will see you out.”
“Lord Itanu,” Kirika replies with a bow.
“This ain’t over,” Holger comments.
“Oh, really?” Itanu says, his voice hardening. “You wanna set it off, son? You think you can bring it?”
“Step to me, I’ll take you to church,” Holger replies.
“Bounce, son,” Itanu says. “Before you get rolled on.”

Kirika catches a nervous twitch in Holger’s right hand. Looks like Holger does want to set it off - for real.
“Come, Lord Holger, let’s ghost before we get ghosted,” Kirika replies, putting a hand on his shoulder.
Holger smoulders as his eyes fix on Itanu. “You can’t stop what you just started,” he says, then lowers his voice. “Straight buster.” He snorts, then turns around. “We out.”

Holger stomps out of the office back into the hallway, leaving Kirika and Toshi standing.

“Uh,” Toshi says, “but I really did enjoy the discussion, let’s do that again sometime, okay? Uh, bye!”
“Pleasure to meet you, Lord,” Kirika says with a final bow before following Toshi out the door. Outside, Holger is pacing the small hallway, looking just about ready to explode - and the expression on the guard’s face outside is one of genuine concern. That elevator can’t get here fast enough, it seems.

“Motherfucker thinks he can step to me,” Holger mutters. “I oughta put his fucking lights out.”
“Calm, Holger,” Kirika says. “You know as well as I do that he’s trying to get you to do just that.”
“We’re done here,” Holger says, turning away to fume a little more.
“Holger?” Kirika says, putting her hand on his shoulder. “We’re here to help. You know that. Just...remember that.”
“I said we’re done here,” Holger says, a little of that anger already cooling down. “Let’s just bounce.”
“Okay,” Kirika says. “You feel up to meeting someone who can help us?”
“I guess,” Holger says.

The elevator cab arrives, and the guard opens the cage for you to climb in. With a shudder, it begins to move downwards again.

“Sooo…” Toshi says. “Not to brag, but I was running circles around that guy. He doesn’t know jack about the law he’s trying to enforce, he’s just making shit up as he goes.”
“I couldn’t tell, holmes,” Holger says.
“Well, I was trying to keep him busy, not win the debate,” Toshi says. “A debate we wouldn’t have won anyway,” he quickly adds. “But yeah, I think I know where the brains are in that office. Itanu’s slick, but he can’t run shit without help.”
“He’s a con man,” Kirika summarizes, and looks to Holger. “Where’d you pick up that accent?” she asks him. “Seems like he grew up in the same place.”
“Northside sailors, chica,” Holger says. “Slick motherfuckers to a man. Always wheeling and dealing, hanging out in our hood for their deals where the man don’t see, you feel me? They dropped the science on me.”
“So he’s one of them,” Kirika says. “Any insight you can offer?”
“These cats got each other’s backs,” Holger says. “But they out for themselves, and they’ll flip on everybody else. They don’t play fair and they don’t expect nothin’ good from anyone. You open a line to stab Boss Bitch in the back, Itanu’s gon’ show up bright and early, dig?”
“Just here to make as much coin and power he can before the ride stops,” Kirika says.
“Yup,” Holger says. “Don’t get it twisted, the crew I hung with was solid. But they know there’s a game and they play it. Itanu’s just playing harder than most.”
“Good to know,” Kirika says. She spies the tea shop that they’re heading back to to wait for Shintaro and sighs. “Might you have an expense line?”
Holger cracks a lopsided smile. “Chica,” he says, digging up his heavy purse. “I got ninety-nine problems, but a bill ain’t one.”
Gatac 2015-02-01 11:47:45
On their return to the tea house, it does not escape Kirika’s attention that there is now a tea pot on the table, set on a rack with a candle beneath the pot to keep it warm. Hiro Homi takes another sip from what is now his cup as Kirika, Toshi and Holger sit down.

“There was no movement here while you were inside,” Homi notes. “What did you achieve?”
“Shintaro is very much interested, and I have found an interesting connection to a friend of mine,” Kirika replies. She looks out the window and thinks for a minute, then signals their serving girl over. “How often does that food delivery runner come by the tower, you think?” she asks her.
“Oh, these guys!” the server says. “Two, three times a day sometimes. That restaurant feeds the whole tower in addition to its normal patrons, they go through a lot of fresh food every day.”
“Oh!” Kirika says, feigning a pleased surprise. “Where are they based, you think? I’d love to stop by and try what they have on offer.”
“Down by the docks,” the server says. “You...probably don’t want to go there, Ma’am. It’s very...working class.”
“Hmm,” Kirika replies. “Unfortunate. Do any of the people from the tower come here? Perhaps I could get their opinion.” She smirks bashfully. “Particularly...this one man, kind of young and thin, wears glasses?”
“Oh, no,” the server says. “I see him sometimes when he goes home late in the evening, but we usually close for the night before he leaves. That poor boy. All work and no life.” She smiles. “So, can I get you anything else? More biscuits?”
“Yes, please,” Kirika replies as she stands up. “I’ll be right back,” she says to the table, and walks off down the stairs.
“The fuck is she doing now?” Holger says.
“What she does best,” Toshi says. “Sit back and relax, Holger.”

Kirika hustles back across the street, and stops near to - but not directly in front of - the alleyway leading to the clocktower elevator. She looks one way down the street, then the other, and spots what she’s looking for - an unobtrusive spot near the alley that’d still be easily visible to those on the lookout for signs and symbols. A piece of charcoal is pulled out of her pouch, and a moment later a simple “Ki” character and an arrow pointing towards the teahouse is left behind. She hustles back across traffic and up the stairs back to her seat.

“There, and now we’re waiting for two people,” Kirika says.
“How long do you think we’ll be waiting?” Toshi asks.
“A few hours - about the same time we’ll probably be waiting for Shintaro to get clear,” Kirika replies. She smirks. “Maybe they’ll run into each other on the way up.”
“Okay,” Toshi says. “In that case, I’m ordering cake.”
“Heh,” Kirika laughs to herself. “Or maybe we can speed things up.” She flags down the serving girl again. “Can you order from that same food service?”
“I...could,” the server says. “But we don’t really have anything on the menu that they sell, so I’m not sure why we would do that.”
Kirika fishes ten silver out of her pouch. “Because we’re going to be here a while, and on top of needing service, we could use something to eat.”
“Oh,” the server says. “I’ll...I’ll have to talk to my boss about that. I’ll be right back!”

As the server hurries away, Homi smirks. “Clandestine communication through food orders,” he muses. “Why did I not think of that?”
“I think there’s a far more important question to be asked here,” Toshi says. “What are we ordering?”
“Tight thinking, T-Man,” Holger adds. “I don’t know about you, but I gots to have my kushikatsu.”


Our heroic(?) trio of ninjas(!) abandon Hashi's bridge-centered speck of civilization for a short walk out of direct sight before it's time to just straight jack a boat and float it downriver. Inside, you find a tarp to throw over Kagemaru, which is good because the suit seems to be shedding flecks of shadow under the gaze of the sun, making him look less "unstoppable darkness incarnate" and more "buraku stagehand coming down with the flu". Staring ahead isToshiba, whose eyes scan the banks of the river for any sign of Firebolt leaving the coursing stream, but soon they're in the capital's outskirts and the buildings and canals take over for the natural river, making it simply impossible to say with any confidence where Firebolt's gone to. Hetechi's estate seems the safer bet, then, and Kiara works the rudder to weave their boat through the network of canals that make up much of the capital's inner city. Soon, the canal opens up into the eastern bay, containing the capital's seaside harbor and many smaller islands housing the noble and well-to-do of the Empire. High Lord Hetechi's island is easy to locate: it's big and shiny and stands alone, with no other land in the immediate area. Kiara steers the boat to the side, as if to lay in course for a different island instead of continuing their approach.

"Are we on the guest list?" she asks. "I don't see a way to get there without being seen."
"I could dive there," Kagemaru suggests.
"And we're supposed to wait?" Kiara says.
"Or we could all wait together," Kagemaru says. "Come nightfall, it'll be easy."
Kiara turns to Toshiba. "Please tell me you have a plan that does not involve us twiddling our thumbs for the next few hours. Please."