Admiral Duck Sauce 2015-02-02 14:13:21
Toshiba stares at Hetechi's estate for a long while before he sighs heavily. "Hetechi and his lover are reunited, and we cannot parley that into a favor owed to our cause. At least Ikishi has lost her leverage over the High Lord. You're right, Kagemaru, we should have followed Takao. We're wasting our time here."

And this, after all my talk of speed, Toshiba chides himself. We've done little but confirm the successes of others.

"Konoko!" Toshiba cries, opening up his pack and quickly scratching a quick account of the three ninjas' recent escapades. "Take this to Kirika, see if she has anything for you in return, then return to me."

He turns then to Kagemaru and Kiara. "Let's find Takao at least. Perhaps he's returned to the city, perhaps not, but this way perhaps we can evade whatever spies Ikishi has surrounded Kirika with and still communicate."
Gatac 2015-02-08 14:34:14
Two hours pass, the sun sinking close to the skyline of the city, without any further movement at the clocktower. The food delivery - all fifty silver of it - does finally make its way to your table, and Holger doesn’t hesitate to dig into the grilled pork skewers. Arrayed between the main courses, however, there’s a small box made of waxed paper, with a peculiar symbol on top. Opening it up reveals four katsuo nigiri, with a nice whiff of garlic, separate from the rest of the sushi order. Kirika lifts one only to find a piece of paper underneath the nigiri.

Your location is not secure. Meet at Second Public Square under tree grove. Come alone.
Kirika groans slightly. “And now we have to move.”
Homi leans over to take a peek. “Go meet him, then. We’ll provide the diversion.”
“Direct Shintaro my way when he comes out, if you would,” Kirika replies as she stands up.
“Sure thang,” Holger says.
“Your turn, Toshiro,” Homi says, nodding to Toshi. Toshi nods back, then pushes himself out of his chair and reaches for his throat, hacking and coughing as he feigns choking.
“Yo!” Holger cries loudly, getting into the spirit of it. “Yo, we need a doctor!”
“Is there a physician in the house?” Homi cries. “Please, somebody! Save my nephew!”
“I’ll go for aid!” Kirika says, and leaps up to run down the stairs. Once down the steps, she straightens her kimono with a snap and flags a passing cab and hops in the back. “Second Public Square, please.”
“Right away, Ma’am,” the rickshaw driver replies, and they’re off into the vagaries of downtown.


The Second Public Square is somewhat less ugly than the Fourth, mostly because its center is taken up by a small grove of cherry trees, who are both more profound and prettier than any of the surrounding pieces that try to pass for “art”. This square supposedly symbolizes the unity of people and the land they live on, if the rambling “introduction” on the statue plaques is to be believed. However, the cherry trees are not in bloom, and with the square rather awkwardly tucked away in between several commercial blocks, foot traffic is rather low, to say the least. Kirika disembarks her cab - leaving another healthy tip - and looks for someone trying to look inconspicuous and succeeding at it. After a few seconds, she spots a lone gardener in the grove, who seems to be carefully digging up the earth to plant a new tree at the edge of the existing group. She carefully walks over his way, looking to be obvious to him but inconsequential to everyone else.

“Hello Crane,” Yauta greets her when she gets close enough, without taking his eyes off the tree sapling. “New job. More time in fresh air. Working on the people part. What do you need?”
“Silent Eye?” Kirika asks with a smirk.
“Seemed fitting,” Yauta says. “Shadowguard and foreign dignitary with you. I feel...uncomfortable. Worrying development. Big score?”
“Change in line of work,” Kirika replies. “More in the...doing the right thing business now.”
“Your change in size is incongruous with a naturalistic explanation,” Yauta says. “Related development?”
Kirika scratches the back of her head. “Yes. A...gift, from my ancestors. To prepare me to be like they were - if I could even pretend to be like they were.”
“Understood,” Yauta says. “Interest in Shintaro? He told you my codename. Trusts you.” Yauta scoffs. “Trusts too easily. Codename was very necessary.”
“I’d be surprised if you haven’t figured out why I’m here already,” Kirika says with a smirk. “Go ahead, I know you want to.”
“You are behind production irregularities in the Forge,” Yauta begins. “Itanu’s office is irrelevant unless replacement is needed.” He smirks. “Alliance with Shadowguard to gain control of the Empire. Good idea.” He sighs. “Must disappoint. Ikishi’s counterintelligence is difficult to penetrate. Can only offer limited insight.”
Kirika keeps her smirk on and shakes her head. “I told you, I’m in the doing the right thing business now.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m here to stop Ikishi, and put the rightful Emperor on the throne. Stop everything that she is trying to do, all of that suffering and death.”
“Noble,” Yauta says, shoveling just a little soil onto the delicate roots of the sapling. “What do you need?” he asks.
“Your help, if you want,” Kirika asks. “As my friend.” She takes a breath. “And on that note, do you want to know my name? I...I’m trying to move past who I was before. Be better to my friends.”
“No need to ask for my help, you have it,” Yauta says. “What do you want done, Kirika?” He smirks. “Saw your arrival. Looked sincere when telling Shira your name.”
“Meet with Shintaro,” Kirika says. “Face to face. He’s going to need help putting together the proof of Ikishi’s schemes, and...I think you might get along. It might be nice to have another friend here. Yes?”
Yauta shakes his head. “Problematic,” he says. “Shintaro is under observation at home. Clocktower too secure to infiltrate. Secure Shintaro and arrange meeting, I will come.” His voice darkens. “You were too conspicuous at the tea house. Clocktower might be locked down, forcible extraction required.”
“Ah, but that’s why we’re moving fast,” Kirika replies. “Itanu hadn’t even heard of me when I arrived there. We have eyes on the elevator and the front entrance, Shintaro should be able to walk out without a problem. Lady Ikishi’s network might be extensive, but it is slow compared to how we move.” Kirika takes a seat next to Yauta. “And give me some credit. Why would I want to make such a show? Think of this, Yauta.”
“Distraction to cover your exit,” Yauta says. “Protect me.” He smiles. “Protect Shintaro, too. He’s good.”
“I think you might very much like meeting everyone at my table,” Kirika says. “They’re on their way here as soon as Shintaro meets up with them.” She looks over at the tree Yauta is working on. “How are you finding outside work? Delivery driver, gardener…”
“Gardener, not delivery driver,” Yauta says. “Delivery company owner.” He shrugs at the next part. “Trees are better than people. Easier to take care of and make happy.” He smirks. “Not as interesting to observe.” That said, he gets to his feet. “Your friends will not meet me,” he says. “Arrange new meeting with you and Shintaro. Outsiders are not acceptable.”
“Even the Shadowguard and the Prince?” Kirika asks. “They certainly could use your sage advice. And...well, you recognize Yukio, I trust.”
“No time to evaluate their trustworthiness,” Yauta counters. “If you believe they are suitable, I will test them. Perhaps in a year. Perhaps.” He turns to look directly at her. “Anything else?”
“No,” Kirika says with a smile. “I will let the others know to hold back, set up a good perimeter. Okay?”
“Agreeable,” Yauta says. “Have to get going. Do not reuse contact point at the clocktower. Laughing Dragon restaurant by Hall of Justice is secure for now.” He turns to walk away, but pauses one last time. “You look better than before. Goodbye.”
“I feel better than before,” Kirika says. “See you soon.”
Yauta silently raises his hand over his shoulder as he walks away, waving farewell before disappearing into a nearby alley. Kirika sighs. “Tiny steps,” she says, and then walks over to a bench to wait.
Gatac 2015-02-19 13:30:56
That turns out to be a longer wait than expected. One hour, two hour, three hours pass as the sun drops behind the horizon and the city starts to light up from torches and gaslights along the streets. And still, no sign of the others escorting Shintaro to her. Kirika’s just about to reconsider the plan when she notices another rickshaw driver running towards the square. He pulls up to the side of the street, then jogs over to the bench Kirika is sitting on.

“You ordered a ride, Ma’am?” he asks between breaths.
Kirika raises an eyebrow. “Yes...I did,” she replies, and climbs in. “Are you being compensated well enough to take the night off afterwards?”
The driver flashes a Shadowwatch braid. “The job is its own reward, Ma’am.”
“Then I will give you enough for a good meal and a stiff drink,” Kirika replies. “Because unfortunately, I suspect you will need it.” She nods ahead. “Go, quickly.”

Ten minutes through downtown later, the driver drops Kirika off back at the teahouse. Holger, Toshi and Homi are the last guests, but it’s not quite close enough to closing time to bother kicking them out just yet. That big plate of delivery food is well and truly gone, though.

“He didn’t come out,” Homi says.
“What’s the move?” Holger asks.
“The move is we go and get him,” Kirika says. “And by we, I mean Hiro and myself.” She gives Toshi an apologetic look. “Sorry, Toshi, unless you’ve become an expert climber recently…”
Toshi raises his hands. “Yeah, no,” he says. “And if you’re gonna do what I think you’re gonna do, I won’t be much use without my chucks anyway.”
“You wanna play it hard?” Holger asks. “I can back you up.”
“Only if I have to, and that’s why I need you down here, Holger,” Kirika replies. “Both to keep an eye on Toshi, and to provide cover for us in the event we have to leave quickly.”
“You got it,” Holger nods.
“Provide cover,” Toshi muses. “With what?”

Holger just grins, reaches for his back and lifts his jacket - showing off two leather holsters with minigonnes. “Never catch me without my heat,” Holger says. “When the play calls for it, we gon’ start busting caps.” He looks to Kirika. “But first we gon’ play it cool.”
“Right,” Kirika nods, then looks to Hiro. “You ready?”
“Naturally,” Homi says, rising from his chair. “Lead the way.”

Kirika stands up and, with a nod to Holger and a smile to Toshi, walks down the stairs and across the street towards the alley. She makes eye contact with the guard as she approaches the alley and gives him a polite smile and a sigh. “And we return.”
The guard turns to face them and crosses his wrists under his belly. “Office hours are over,” he says. “Please return tomorrow.”
“For someone meeting with Lord Itanu?” Kirika asks.
“For the whole tower,” the guard says, giving Kirika one of those ‘My shift ends in twenty, stop making my job harder’ looks.
“I was summoned back from Saito two hours ago,” Kirika says, crossing her arms. “That means I returned there with Lord Holger, got settled in, and now I am back, and because of the lateness of the hour, the High Lord himself will have to wait for the morning.”

(Kirika’s Impress: 1d20+18 = 29
Guard’s Resolve: 1d20+12 = 17)

The guard sighs, rolls his eyes, looks away from Kirika - but he does turn around, and he does walk back to his pillar, and he does pull the handle on the chain three times.

“Yes?” Itanu’s voice echoes from the brass horn.
“Uh, boss,” the guard says, “it’s the lady from earlier today, she wants to speak to you; I told them…”
“Then tell them again,” Itanu shoots back. “Gods, what am I paying you for?”

The guard turns away from the horn, muttering “jerkwad” to himself before turning back to face Kirika.
“May I?” Kirika asks.
“Knock yourself out,” the guard says.
Kirika steps up to the horn. “Lord Itanu, this is Lady Kamura. You really should let me up, I have a very good offer to make you - no preconditions.”
“Oh, a good offer!” Itanu crows through the horn. “Did you make my boy a good offer, too? Tell you what, Kamura, you want him, I’ll send him right down to you. It’s a very short trip when you use the window in my office.”
“Now, there’s no need for anything like that,” Kirika replies. “He did no such thing. He doesn’t even suspect you of any wrongdoing beyond a willful neglect of your duties - hardly anything anyone needs to be worried about.” She pauses. “He is still ready to talk to me, yes?”
“Fuck you, Kamura,” Itanu says. “You wanted my attention, you got it. You’re talking to me now. And right now, I don’t like you very much.”
“Well, as of right now, I’m much more friendly than Ikishi will be when you mention today’s events to her,” Kirika replies. “She probably won’t move against you too much, but I expect that she’ll insist you move somewhere safe, out of the way, where you won’t be troubled by me - and unable to have access to your gains and escape routes out of this place. Whereas I have a simple offer - leave. The game is up - we are here to stop Ikishi, and we’re already halfway there. You don’t strike me as the kind of person to go in for death and suffering - just making a fast coin or two. I can understand that impulse - I’m sure you know about my past. So, my offer is that you get out of here with everything you’ve won. Fair game, no foul. Let your assistant step into your position in your absence, and go back to the Northside, new ship and riches in hand.”
“Oh, I’ll get out of here all right,” Itanu says. “The boy and his notes and this office, that’s going to be a bit more tragic.” His sneer is almost audible. “If you’re fast, you might get to hear his screaming before the fire kills him. As for me...nice to know you. Bitch.”
Kirika points for Hiro to climb on top of the elevator cage and grab the chain as she returns to the horn. “I do not want this to go down that path, Itanu,” she says. “Please, don’t make that choice.”

No response from the horn. Homi - with alacrity that surprises the guard but can’t surprise Kirika anymore - clambers up the elevator cab, then reaches under his kimono - a simple wooden rod unfolds into a ninja-to with a flick of the ninja master’s wrist. Kirika unsheaths Crane’s Dance as she climbs on top as well, readying the hilt of her sword for a strike. “Ready?” she asks Hiro.
“Ready,” he says with a nod.

Kirika raises her sword for a strike, and before the guard can protest, she brings the end of her sword’s hilt crashing down on the ring securing her chain of choice to the cab.

(Kirika’s Damage: 1d10+9+8 = 20
Chain’s Damage Save vs DC 20: 1d20+10 = 19)

The old masters prove once again that their katanas are just better - even a glancing hit from Crane’s Dance proves enough to split a link, and with a terrible groan the chain tears loose. As gravity works its power on the counterweight at the other end, the chain rapidly spools over its pulley at the top of the elevator shaft, yanking Homi and Kirika up with it.

(Kirika uses Cagey to automatically succeed with the upcoming Reflex save.)

Kirika has heard the gentle whispers of her ancestors guiding her on many occasions now, usually faint and as if from a great distance. Rarely, however, have they been as loud and clear as the moment where she sees the top of the elevator shaft rushing towards her in slow motion: JUMP! Kirika swings out to the side and lets go, smacking against the wall of the hallway outside Itanu’s office just a second before the chain finishes its loop through the top pulley and plunges downward again, this time for good.

Kirika readies her sword and looks around for Hiro - not seeing him at first. “Hiro?” she asks. “Hiro?
For a moment, there’s no response - but then, a grunt from above. Kirika hurries to the edge of the shaft and looks up, finding Homi pressed against the top - feet braced against one side of the shaft while his ninja-to is stabbed into the other. The ninja master laughs a little despite the strain. “I am getting old!” he coughs. “Go! I’ll be fine!”
“I’ll take that as a promise!” Kirika shouts back, and hustles back down the hall to Itanu’s office. She slices through the door with two slashes of Crane’s Dance and bursts inside, sword at the ready. Three things of note: 1) No Itanu. 2) Open window. 3) Fire, fire everywhere; Kirika has to briefly shield her face when a gust of wind through the office sends a lick of flame at her.

Okay, that was a lie. Four things, namely: 4) Shintaro screaming from his office. Kirika sprints towards the open doorway, sword held low but still ready.

(Kirika suffers 10 points of Fire damage passing through the blaze.

Kirika’s Reflex Save: 1d20+5 = 23 SUCCESS!

Kirika manages to avoid catching fire.)

Singed, sweaty and winded (but otherwise fine), Kirika bursts into Shintaro’s office, which is somehow even more on fire than Itanu’s - the walls, the stacks of documents, even the ceiling. Only the floor has held out a little so far, but Shintaro - wrists and ankles bound - is only keeping the flames at bay by wildly rolling around, screaming in terror all the while. Kirika, without time to spare, simply grabs him by his bounds and bodily tosses him into the next room. She waits to hear the “oof!” of him impacting the floor before shouting her question to him. “Important documents!” she calls out. “Do you have all that you need?”
“A few!” Shintaro cries in between coughs and sobs.

(Kirika suffers 14 points of Fire damage from the blaze in Shintaro’s office.

Kirika’s Reflex Save: 1d20+5 = 15

Still not on fire, though.)

“Where?” Kirika coughs.
“Desk!” Shintaro shouts back.
Kirika looks at the desk - actively on fire by this point - but the half that the drawer containing Yauta’s letters and hopefully the remaining evidence is still merely smoldering. Kirika vaults the desk, grabs the handle and simply tries to rip the drawer clear out of the desk.

(Kirika suffers 13 points of Fire damage from the desk.

Kirika’s Reflex save: 1d20+5 = 25)

The drawer’s metal handle is already hot to the touch, but Kirika manages to yank it free without burning herself too badly. It lands on the floor, cracked but still mostly in one piece - and stuffed to the top with scrolls and other pieces of paperwork.

“Kirika!” Homi calls from outside. “Are you all right in there?”
“Grab Shintaro!” Kirika shouts back as she crams the contents of the drawer into her kimono. “We’re leaving!”

Kirika gathers what she can grab, which doesn’t seem nearly enough considering all the scrolls providing fuel to the blaze around her, but finally she’s gathered what she can. With nothing of value left inside the office, she beats a hasty retreat just as the groaning ceiling above her starts flex downwards.

(Kirika suffers 15 points of Fire damage.

Kirika’s Reflex save: 1d20+5 = 14 Uh oh…

Action Die: 1d6 = 3)

Her ancestors are really going all-in tonight - the DUCK! in Kirika’s ears feels loud enough that the entire city must have heard it. She dives underneath the top beam of the door just as it decides it really would rather lie on the floor than hold up the wall above it, and as she scrambles back to her feet, the ceiling in Shintaro’s office seems to give completely as parts of the bell mechanism on top of the clocktower comes crashing down into it, with a ear-crunching G note. Homi’s already out of Itanu’s office and in the hallway, with Shintaro slung over his shoulder.

“Come on!” Homi shouts.
Kirika sheaths Crane’s Dance as to better hold the scrolls and documents inside her clothes, and runs out the door as fast she can. “Feel up to helping Shintaro down the elevator?”
Homi stares down the shaft all the way to the cab at the ground floor, then turns back to Kirika. Just as he opens his mouth to speak, the whole tower shudders, and the taut chains still left in the shaft make a ringing sound, as if briefly relaxed and then retensioned. “What’s your plan?” Homi asks as he sets Shintaro down for the moment.
Kirika looks down the shaft herself. “Can you get these documents to safety?” she asks, nodding towards the dozens of pieces of paper crammed in her clothes.
“Yes, what about you two?” Homi says.
“Tie him to me,” Kirika says, “and I’ll climb down.”
Any argument Homi might want to make about that is instantly mooted by the ringing of the F bell coming through the ceiling of Itanu’s office - the tower shudders again and starts listing just a little to the west. Shintaro’s bound hands are threaded over Kirika’s head and around her waist, before Homi unfurls a length of cord from his obi and strengthens the tie while Kirika shakes the documents out of her clothes - suboptimal, but better than scattering them all over the burning building on the descent when they’ll invariably come loose. With a final pull of the cord and one last knot, Homi pronounces the tie solid. “Get out,” he coughs, gathering up the scrolls. “I’ll take the next window.”
“Good luck,” Kirika says, grabbing ahold of two of the remaining elevator chains.
Homi simply claps her on the shoulder, then starts down the stairs. The tower shudders again, and the sudden meter-wide gap in the floor ahead of him is only surmounted with a quick-witted jump from the old master that sees him slam into the next wall. With a pained grimace on his face, he looks back up to Kirika. “Go already!” he shouts, before hurrying further downwards to the seventh floor.

“Here we go!” Kirika says to Shintaro, and steps off of the (somewhat) stable floor of the tower and over the empty space of the elevator shaft, holding herself up with one arm on each chain, her feet only providing the slightest support as she starts to shimmy down the chains.

(Kirika’s Climb checks:

1d20+13 = 31)

Easy now. Steady.

(1d20+13 = 30)

Easy does it. Don’t look down.

(1d20+13 = 17)
The tower shudders again. “Gods!” Shintaro cries, clinging more closely to Kirika even as she feels the tension of the left chain slowly going slacker and slacker.

(1d20+13 = 29)

Halfway down. They’re halfway down. Almost made it. Just a bit more.

(1d20+13 = 18)

The left chain is tensing again. That’s...that’s good, right? Because the crashing sounds from above sure aren’t good.

(1d20+13 = 28)

The slipping at this point is only half accidental. They need to get down fast, faster than this far, but how long can this hold, and can Kirika stop it in time?

(1d20+13 = 19)

“Watch out!” Shintaro cries - not a moment too soon, as the left chain tears loose from its mount on the elevator cab. Kirika holds on to the remaining chain for her dear life as the loose left chain whips and scythes all the way up the shaft, while the counterweight screams downwards just behind the next wall. A quick glance downwards...almost there…

...and then Kirika drops the last three feet onto the elevator cab’s roof. Never before has flimsy wood felt so much like solid ground. She grabs ahold of Shintaro, jumps off the cab and runs full on across the street with him on her shoulders, only turning around to shout to the guard to run for his life. Fortunately for the guard, he already seems to have gotten the idea a while earlier, but knowing that the tower is empty now makes it no less terrifying to watch it buckle and sway under the shifting weight of the heavy bell mechanism eating through its fire-weakened structure. Finally, the top four floors seem to pick a direction to collapse in, and the whole upper half of the clocktower comes tumbling down, smashing through the roofs of a few nearby shops. With the head of the colossus lopped off, the bottom seems curiously “okay”, insofar as the metal beams linking it to the buildings around it are still holding, and the fire doesn’t seem to have reached the lower levels - though it is still doing quite a number on the parts that fell off, and it’s probably going to find a fair bit more fuel in those shops it just smashed.

This is the right time for Holger and Toshi to come running; Holger sets to untying Shintaro while Toshi steadies Kirika after her ordeal in the flames.
“Heavens!” Toshi cries. “Are you okay?” he asks. “What happened?”
“Itanu declined my offer,” Kirika coughs. “Is Shintaro all right? Have you seen Hiro?”
“He’s fucked up good,” Holger offers, “but he’s breathing.”
“No, you’re the first one we saw,” Toshi says. “But I’m sure he’s” - a look of relief washes over his face - “yeah, he’s fine.”
Kirika turns to look where Toshi is looking, and catches Homi carefully climbing down the side of one of the buildings the tower was braced against. As he makes his way toward the rest of the group, he holds his right shoulder, but other than that and some soot and minor burns, he seems to be in good shape.
“Invigorating as that was,” Homi says as he closes in, “I think we should clear the area.”
“Agreed,” Kirika says.
Homi raises his good arm and whistles sharply. Within seconds, the rickshaw that brought Kirika back from the public square pulls up next to them, and the driver moves to help everyone get in the cart. “Where to, Sir?” the driver asks.
“Park Row,” Homi coughs.
Without further ado, the driver picks up the handles, and within seconds the rickshaw’s off, heading back to the safehouse.
Gatac 2015-02-28 12:51:08
The ride back to the safehouse involves dodging a few of Ishikawa’s policemen heading towards the wreck of the clocktower, a task that Homi’s driver fortunately seems quite adept at. Twenty minutes later, the rickshaw pulls to a stop in front of the safehouse, just as the involuntary coughing competition between Homi and Shintaro seems to be drawing to a close. Sidewinder and Copperhead are already waiting, and the taciturn gadgeteer quickly takes over treating Shintaro’s injuries while the others find a place to sit and take some well-deserved deep breaths.

“I got that contraband placed on the Gungnir,” Sidewinder says, breaking the cough-infused lack of talk, “though I reckon that right now it ain’t exactly at the top of our priorities list. Anybody gonna fill me in on the latest?”
“Itanu is on the run,” Kirika says, flapping her kimono to get some of the remaining smoke scent off of her clothes. “He knows what we want with Shintaro, and what we’re up to with Ikishi. Nothing too damning on its own - it’s nothing Ikishi doesn’t know already, but…”
“But it ain’t like we’re light on complications as is,” Sidewinder says. “What’s the play?”
Kirika looks Holger’s way. “You’re the best one here on the Northside raiders, Holger,” she says. “What do you think he’ll do?”
“Bounce and wait for the heat to die down,” Holger comments, “but I never tussled with a Northside shotcaller. Bitch might stand on it and dare us to come at him.” He shakes his head. “That motherfucker had a scheme. He ain’t torch his place if that don’t get him something, dig?”
“Or cover something up?” Kirika offers. “We’re pretty sure he was up to no good on Ikishi’s behalf. Might that be reason enough?”
“He had hours to kill Shintaro and go through the evidence to figure out what to get rid of and then destroy it,” Homi points out. “Neither of which would have required him to burn down the whole building. But he waited until we were inside.” He looks to Kirika. “Are you thinking along similar lines?”
“He wanted to get us at the same time?” Kirika shakes her head. “Then why not just invite us up? Perhaps he wants to place blame for the tower’s destruction on our heads? But then why leave so many witnesses?”
“I think killing us in the process was his primary goal,” Homi says. “He must have reasoned that we would have seen through an ambush up there, so he chose to set us against an opponent not made of flesh and blood. Keeping Shintaro alive would motivate us to brave the blaze in an attempt to rescue him, as indeed we did. Itanu merely underestimated our...durability.”
“I prefer to think of it as our deftness and speed,” Kirika replies with a smile as Yukio ruffles some ashes out of her hair. “But back to the matter at hand. Is there anywhere he would likely go, Holger?”
Holger shrugs. “Shit, you got me, chica,” he says. “I thought I knew the kinda brother I was gonna deal with...turns out I knew shit. I don’t feel so useful right now, chica. Sorry.”
“I should set my blades to the task of tracking him, then,” Homi says. “Maybe we can pick up the trail before it goes cold.”
Kirika nods to Homi. “A good idea, but they would be more effective with somewhere to look,” she says, looking back to Holger. “Any information you have, no matter how useless you think it is, might be the difference. How many years did you spend with the Northside raiders, Holger?”
“Three,” Holger says. “But we never went nowhere near this joint. I been to a couple of they haunts, but that shit’s way up north - way. Ain’t nothing useful ‘round here, last I heard, so unless that cat’s high-tailin’ it all the way up coast, we’re SOL.”
“Okay, then where would he go here if he wanted to feel safe and protected from us?” Kirika says. She leans closer to Holger. “You lived with them for three years, Holger. That’s more than enough time to understand how they think, what they’d do when things go wrong.” This is usually the time when someone would get stern, and demand Holger think harder - but Kirika Kamura is not that someone. Instead, she puts her hand on his shoulder. “Just say whatever comes to mind, Holger. The answer’s in there.”

(Kirika’s Impress: 1d20+18 = 35)

Holger nods at Kirika’s encouragement and closes his eyes to concentrate. “Snap!” he bursts out. “Shit! That leaflet scheme! Motherfucker had one of these on his desk, I’m fucking positive.” He shakes his head. “Shit! And I was just standing there, peeping this scrip with Hanse on it, didn’t click for me. That one blew straight past me, but the fuck else could it be?” He looks up at Kirika. “I tell you where that fucker’s gone. Straight to the heat, chica. Fucker’s framing me.”
Kirika jumps to her feet, staggering Yukio back behind her with a “hey!” “Then we should probably beat him there. Sidewinder, Copperhead, can you secure this location and help Shintaro organize his things?”
“You got it,” Sidewinder says. Copperhead doesn’t deign to speak, but grunts in an affirmative manner.
“I still question this,” Homi says. “Lady Ishikawa is well aware of the dolled-up leaflets already. Itanu would need far more damning proof to steer her towards the conclusion that Holger here is the culprit. I don’t see how he could possibly convince her.”
“One of two possibilities present themselves,” Kirika replies. “One, we did a good enough job disguising our approaches to Lady Ishikawa that Ikishi’s forces - or at least Itanu - are unaware of her leanings towards our cause. And two -”
“That ain’t the only ‘proof’ he got,” Holger finishes. “Let’s hustle.”
Gatac 2015-03-14 14:57:29
The undercover rickshaw driver is really getting a workout tonight, as the route goes back downtown on another thoroughfare, this time heading to the Hall of Justice - or rather, as close to it as possible, seeing how the road in front of it has been roped off by a squad of policemen, while several cartloads of burnt furniture have been piled up inside the perimeter, looking like a rough first assembly of anything that might be useful getting pulled from the wreckage. Lady Ishikawa isn’t hard to spot in the commotion, either: she’s crouched down next to one of the piles, carefully turning over a piece of burnt wood in her gloved hands and describing it to a scribe standing behind her. Kirika stands up on the back of the rickshaw to get a better look - and see if Itanu is here. Alas, the Northside firestarter does not seem to be in the crowd outside. It’s somewhere around then that Ishikawa finishes with the wooden piece and hands it to the scribe. As she rises, she turns her head to survey the scene and spots our heroes standing off to the side. While it’s difficult to impossible to actually see her eyes roll at the distance behind her mask in the dusk, the “come over here” wag of her finger is much easier to make out.

“Let them through!” she calls to the policemen at the perimeter. “They’re here to see me.”
Kirika leads the small progression through towards Ishikawa. “You wouldn’t have happened to hear from Lord Itanu, have you?”
“Only that he apparently escaped with his life,” Ishikawa replies. “A messenger arrived ten minutes ago. I would dearly love to ask Lord Itanu some questions about what happened, but it seems he’s...unavailable for comment.” She blinks at Kirika. “A gap you seem eager to fill, however.”
“We went to talk with him, try to figure out his involvement with Ikishi’s schemes and convince his assistant to aid our cause,” Kirika replies. “We spoke with both of them - without incident - and then we left to allow his assistant time to gather his things. When we returned, Itanu refused to allow us access, threatened his assistant’s life, and then we intervened. Itanu had already set his office ablaze - with Shintaro tied up inside it - and we barely managed to rescue him before the tower collapsed.”
Ishikawa glances towards Homi. “Is this accurate, Hiro?” she asks.
“It is,” Homi answers.
“Well then,” Ishikawa says. “Superlative. A tribunal among the High Lords is just what this city needs right now.” She turns back to Kirika. “Thank you for the gonnes, by the way. I heard your friend Ueki requires a few of them to continue his business here. I think I can authorize checking out a few...vendor samples, as long as the bulk of the shipment stays under lock and key until the full investigation is concluded. But that’s probably best taken care of tomorrow when we’re done sifting through the evidence here. Why don’t you come by then, give your official statement in writing?”
“Oh, well…” Kirika looks around the periphery of the crowd for any sign of Itanu.

(Kirika’s Notice: 1d20+11 = 26)

Lots of cops, some of them familiar faces from around town, even, and a few curious bystanders - but no Itanu in sight.

“Perhaps we will do that,” Kirika says. “Do you need anything else from us?”
“If happenstance should find you in the same location as Lord Itanu,” Ishikawa begins, “for reasons I cannot yet imagine, but suppose the fates align that way...do try to get him here in one piece, please. This is one problem that I wouldn’t take well to it disappearing. Have I made myself clear?”
“Perfectly,” Kirika replies with a bow. “Shall we?” she asks the others, putting a hand on Holger’s shoulder.
“We out,” Holger nods.
“Take care, Fuyuko,” Homi says. His sly grin earns him a silent glare from Ishikawa. Kirika pretends not to hear that for Homi’s benefit.

A few steps away, Holger kicks a loose pebble that surely had it coming. “Fuck this shit,” he smoulders. “Itanu’s ghost and we got nothing.”
“I disagree,” Homi says. “We now know that he’s not racing us to pointing fingers for Lady Ishikawa’s benefit. If he has any solid evidence to frame you, surely he would rush to present it to her. I consider that a win, though it does open up the discussion about his possible agenda once more. Kirika, any thoughts?”
“Well, if nothing else, he’s getting out of town in a hurry,” Kirika replies. She thinks for a moment. “Holger, you noticed that flyer, yes?” She looks to Homi. “Mura was in importation, correct?”
“He was,” Homi says. “How does that help us in this matter?”
“It means he has a docking berth - one that is empty since Mura went into hiding,” Kirika says. “And that Itanu has access to. Where do pirates go when things go wrong?”
“They hit the docks,” Holger says. “Roll up there and scope out the Northside rides?”
Kirika nods. “Let’s hit it.”

Their walk back to the rickshaw is interrupted by the piercing cry of Konoko’s “Kiiiii!”, inducing a visible flinch in Holger; the large bird of prey circles above them on a thermal from the nearby fire before gliding to a landing on a stone bollard in front of them.

“Ki!” Konoko says, spreading her wings and stretching out her leg with the attached note.
“Oh!” Kirika gasped as Konoko sweeps down out of the air, but her surprise quickly turns to a smile as she plucks the note off of the hawk-eagle’s leg. “Thank you, Konoko,” she says, and gives the bird a scratch on the back of her head with a couple fingernails before opening it. Konoko ducks her head and lets out a quiet “Ki!”, but soon closes her eyes and accepts the scratches, fluffing her feathers in response.

Kirika reads Toshiba’s quick note, then bums a piece of writing charcoal off of Holger to compose her response on the back.
Ruined IT’s day, don’t have him yet. Spoke with Boss, no good. IS tentatively on our side. Good work, see you soon.
Update complete, she resecures it to Konoko. “Back to Toshiba,” she whispers to her.
“Ki?” Konoko whines, raising her head and opening her beak.
“Hmph,” Kirika says. “Toshiba has spoiled you, hasn’t he?”
The bird cocks its head to the side and lets out a series of high tones that one could maybe, with a lot of imagination, take for its attempt to imitate laughter. Then it stretches its head back up and opens its beak again, wider than before even.
“Yes, yes,” Kirika says, and looks back to the rest of the group. “Does anyone have anything that she might like?”
“Coming up short on this one, chica,” Holger says.
“I may be of help,” Homi says, then reaches into his robes and retrieves a small satchel made of a folded napkin. He gingerly undoes the knot, revealing a few biscuits pilfered from their cafe visit, and tosses one into the air towards Konoko. The hawk-eagle starts off its perch in a flash, jumping up and flapping right over Kirika’s head, then snatches the snack out of the air and glides over the edge and down into the canal before flapping to catch another thermal and make her journey back to Toshiba.

“I don’t think that’s her first sweet,” Homi comments with a wry smile. “Shall we make haste, then?”
“Let’s,” Kirika replies.
Gatac 2015-03-27 07:41:34

It’s much easier to talk about going to the docks to find Mura’s berth than it actually is to locate the damn thing. For starters, befitting the Empire’s capital, the docks stretch on along the shoreline to the East for at least a mile, with rowdy sailors to match the expanse, and that makes for a lot of berths that even Holger’s hard-nosed ‘tude and Kirika’s sweet-talking skills have a difficult time penetrating. Several run-arounds later, our heroes finally make it to the berth that belongs to Mura - the silver and jade plaque announcing said fact must have cost as much as the berth itself again. Lo and behold, a simple junk is docked there, and a few of the sailors are still up and about, working to scrub the hull by torchlight.
Kirika looks over the group of men working the ship - none of them look ready for a fight, or even interested. She looks back to the group, shrugs, and simply walks in the front door of the berth. The little dockside hut has seen better days despite the fresh coat of paint outside: a few rough cots and a table, plus a small fireplace. A kettle and a porcelain cup sit on the table. Kirika touches them both - the cup is warm, and the kettle slightly warmer, but neither one is fresh as of a few minutes ago. She strides through the berth’s shack and out to the dock itself.
“Hail!” Kirika calls. “You heading out soon?”
“Sho’ ‘nuff,” one of the sailors says. “Lookin’ to bounce, baby girl?”
“Air’s getting too hot around here,” Kirika says. “My friend here said that your kind are good people for that.” She points to Holger.
“My kind?” the sailor says. “Are you for real, girl?”
“Relax your shit,” Holger weighs in. “No diss, she ain’t know better and she got the dough to get some mo’.”
“Stop flexing, homeboy,” the sailor says. “Whatcha got?”
“I got love,” Holger says, extending his hand. After a skeptical glance, the two of them exchange an elaborate handshake sequence.
“Straight,” the sailor says. “What’s the business?”
“We gotta holler at cha,” Holger says. “Lookin’ for the Northsider rough rider, that shotcaller from the clocktower.”
“For real?” the sailor asks, shifting his eyes. “Well, he ain’t been here.”
“Is that how it’s gon’ be, player?” Holger asks as his expression darkens.
“Slow your roll, homeboy,” the sailor says. “You know we don’t snitch. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”
“I ain’t askin’ you to drop dime on a homie,” Holger replies. “This shit is personal. You don’t want none of that beef, player.”
“Don’t trip son, it’s cool,” the sailor says. “Yeah, that slick touched down in the shack thirty minutes ago. Blasted off ten minutes ago.” The sailor points further down the dockside, to a tavern. “That’s all I got, homeboy.”
“Tight,” Holger answers, then exchanges a fistbump with the sailor. “Keep it real.”
“You know we do,” the sailor answers. With a smirk at Kirika, he turns back to his work.

“...I understood about half of that,” Yukio admits.
“We’re getting a drink,” Kirika responds. “You and Hiro get the rear, Holger and I get the front?”
“Indeed,” Homi says, taking Yukio with him into the shadows while Kirika and Holger stride down the boardwalk.
“You think he’s still in there?” Holger asks, for once easing off on his Northside.
“Unless he got tipped off, yeah,” Kirika says. “I’d certainly need a drink if I were him right now.”
“Let’s roll,” Holger says.


To lead with the most pertinent information: yes, Itanu’s in the tavern, at a table all to himself with two mugs of ale. There’s about twenty other sailors in the tavern, plus the barkeep and two obligatory wenches helping to facilitate the transformation of silver into alcoholism, but a cursory scan of the premises reveals no other obvious items of interest. For all that Kirika and Holger entering the tavern draws some eyes - Itanu’s among them - there seems to be no further reaction to it, as events resume a second later much like they were already going before they walked in. With Itanu both aware of their presence and not reacting to it, Kirika decides the best course of action is the direct approach, and just walks up to his table and takes a seat, waving for a cup of sake of her own.

“Back to annoy me some more, Kamura?” Itanu asks glibly.
“I’m here to talk about your options,” Kirika replies. “You tried to kill Shintaro.”
“Tell me about my options, then, Kamura,” Itanu replies, sipping his ale.
“Well, you need to answer for that,” Kirika says, and sighs. “Why did you do that? I meant what I said about letting you go.”
“The same reason anyone does what they do,” Itanu says. “I thought I’d get away with it. Why should I take an offer from you before I’ve even tried to win?”
“Getting out of here with your wealth intact isn’t winning?” Kirika asks.
“Oh, please,” Itanu says. “You think I’ve been dealing with this slog for years to get rich? Anyone can have a lot of silver. It takes years of work to have power. If I’d left, I’d be a nobody. A rich nobody, but a nobody nonetheless. Did you really think High Lord Itanu would tuck in his tail and run while you wreck everything I’ve built over the years?”
“What power did you have that wealth couldn’t buy?” Kirika counters. “You were tied to Ikishi’s bidding. You acted at her beck and call. Everything else, the prestige, the luxuries, the access, all come with wealth.” Her hand rests on her sword’s hilt. “What did you really hope to win?”
“Forget it,” Itanu says. “Do what you want to do. I’ll finish my ale.” That said, he does just that, lifting the mug to his mouth.
“I’ll wait - but then you’re coming with us,” Kirika says. “Lady Ishikawa has questions.”
“I’m sure she does,” Itanu says. He puts the mug down, then slowly gets up. “You should probably have that sake you ordered.”
Kirika tosses down the sake and stands up herself. “Are you ready?”
“As long as you pay for the rickshaw,” Itanu says.


It’s really getting rather late, as the much shrunken stack of half-burnt evidence in front of the Hall of Justice indicates. The perimeter has shrunk accordingly, and even then only a few policemen remain on watch - among them Lady Ishikawa herself, still sifting through the evidence with a new and somewhat rested looking scribe behind her to write down her findings. At the sight of Itanu, she straightens up and quickly brushes some of the dust and ashes off her uniform before walking over to meet you.

“Itanu-dono,” she says, meltwater dripping from her icy words. “How good to see you alive and well.”
“One can’t be too careful after being the target of foreigner terrorism,” Itanu shoots back. “I suspect you’ve already heard some of the wild tales being spun about the attempt on my life. I’m here to set the record straight.”
“I will be with you in a moment, then,” Ishikawa says. “My assistant will seat you and take care of your needs.”
“You are too gracious, Ishikawa-dono,” Itanu says. “I look forward to our conversation.”

Fake pleasantries exchanged, Itanu follows the scribe inside while Ishikawa turns her head to watch him walk away from her.

“He came along of his own free will?” she asks Kirika.
“Probably expects Ikishi to save him,” Kirika replies.
“That might not matter,” Ishikawa says. She reaches for a scroll tucked into the back of her belt and hands it over to Kirika. “My men caught a young man spreading these around the city. He escaped, but not before scattering the rest. Take a look.”

Citizens of the empire! Rise up against the Seven Devils!

Tonight, the first blow for freedom was struck! The symbol of Lord Itanu's corruption at the heart of the city lies in flames! Join the glorious fight against injustice! Together, we will let the nobles know true fear and take back what is ours! To arms, brothers and sisters!

“Another one of these leaflets,” Ishikawa says. “I thought they’d abandon this scheme after your friend Takao found the first batch, but apparently they’re not through with it after all. What’s more, they must have already had them prepared. They were planning on doing this all along. Killing you and Homi-dono was just the cherry on top.”
“Hm,” Kirika says. “May I have one of these - and a chance to speak with Itanu?”
“You can keep that one,” Ishikawa says. “And I can ask Itanu if he’ll see you after I’m done with him, but I don’t see a reason why he’d speak to you - unless he’s got something in mind for how to manipulate you. As a High Lord, he’s not...exactly treated like any ordinary suspect.” That last sentence sounds especially bitter, coming from Ishikawa and her frustrated attempts at reforming justice.
“And if he does, it will reveal his true ends,” Kirika says. “But that is after you are finished. Do you mind if I observe your questioning?”
“Sorry, you can’t,” Ishikawa says. “It won’t be much of a questioning in any event. He’ll say what he wants to say, nothing more. We’ll only get to compel answers at the tribunal, when we assemble the High Lords to hear the evidence and deliberate.”
Kirika nods. “Show him one of these, then,” she says. “And ask him how much support he thinks he’ll get from Ikishi now.”
“Of course,” Ishikawa says. “It’s just...well.”
“High Lords do not often stand tribunal,” Homi says. “To even bring the matter before them is a serious test of Ishikawa-dono’s standing, and I do not know if my support will help. Even so, if we wish to condemn Itanu, he must first be stripped of his position by unanimous vote. We should not bring this to the floor until we are convinced that everyone will vote in our favor.”
“And that’s exactly why he simply came with you when the plan was in motion to his satisfaction,” Ishikawa comments, her tone somehow getting even more bitter. “He knows that we don’t have what it takes to hurt him.”
“How long can he be held pending his hearing?” Kirika asks.
“Not at all,” Ishikawa replies. “I couldn’t arrest him if I found him standing over a corpse with a bloody dagger in his hands. His cooperation is voluntary and all about keeping face. If he wanted to, he could leave the city tonight. The only thing that can compel him is the summons to the tribunal - if he doesn’t show to defend his honor, he can be stripped of his position more easily. Though that clause has not been invoked in several hundred years.”
“Hmm,” Kirika says. “And would you...be upset if he failed to appear for that summons?”
Ishikawa’s eyes narrow. “Whatever you mean to suggest, if it involves raising your hand against him, you had better not think of it again.”
“No, simply helping him make his scheduled escape,” Kirika replies. “He is booked on a junk with some of his Northside raiders fellows tonight.”
“It is no escape if he is free to travel,” Ishikawa points out. “Consider my position here. I cannot compel him to do or say anything without the tribunal being summoned. But at the same time, if we do invoke this, we need to have our strategy in perfect alignment beforehand. If the tribunal fails to strip him of his rank, then there is nothing we can do to hold him accountable for this.”
“That sounds very frustrating,” Yukio weighs in.
“Welcome to my life’s work,” Ishikawa replies.
“How long can Ikishi dither on this tribunal if Itanu is not present?” Kirika asks. “And how devastating would it be for him to be absent?”
“Ikishi plays no part in this - if Itanu is not present at the time of the summons,” Homi explains, “the tribunal is postponed to the next meeting of the High Lords - regularly the next month. If he still fails to show then, the decision to strip him of his rank requires only a simple majority. If we can secure Hetechi-dono’s vote and at least one of the others abstains, it would be achievable.”
“And how long is the trip to the Northside raiders’ strongholds?” Kirika asks Holger.
“From here?” Holger asks. “Shit, a couple of days.”
“And how far along will we be before he can even return?” Kirika asks Homi.
“I’m afraid that we won’t be anywhere near finished,” Homi says. “You see, to...do what we want to do...requires the full council. So we must do it either with Itanu or his eventual replacement. Either way, Itanu’s planned exit and the tribunal proceedings will not speed things up in any way.”
“Do you think Ikishi might just be...playing for time, then?” Yukio asks.
“Certainly something we should consider,” Homi says.
“Then…” Kirika looks at the flyer again. “Then she has played into our hands.” She holds up the flyer. “We fan the flames of this? Itanu won’t be able to come back into town for his own safety. And then we have a serious trade dispute, like, say, a blockade of an important trade partner…” She motions towards Holger. “And then a decision will be need to be made quickly. The only other expert on trade is Shintaro, but he will need the authority to act.”
“Hmm,” Homi says. “We could certainly try to have Shintaro sworn in as acting High Lord if the situation becomes truly dire, but usually...dire means that the respective High Lord is dead. I think the council is far more likely to order the city pacified and the ‘rebellion’ crushed to alleviate the safety issue.” He looks to Kirika. “Your idea does not lack merit, but we should carefully weigh the possible outcomes.”
“Outcomes?” Ishikawa snarls. “This false flag leaflet campaign threatens the safety of this city and its citizens. Playing into that will endanger innocent people. You cannot possibly justify that.”
“Who will prosecute that hunt?” Kirika asks. “You control the forces in the capital. A third party army sits outside the city. Unless Ikishi intends to wage war across the entire city and burn it to the ground, she cannot act.”
Homi smirks. “She has a point there, Fuyuko,” he says.
That earns him an extra-strength glare from Ishikawa. “Enough of this,” she says to Kirika. “See me tomorrow, with what I hope is a better plan. I have to attend to Itanu’s fanciful tale now.” She then turns back to Homi. “And you. We will have words about this.”
Homi grins at that. “Of course.”
“Out of my sight, ninja,” she says, then turns and walks away, heading into the Hall of Justice to cap off her long day.
“I feel I must thank you,” Homi says to Kirika. “It is truly a delight interacting with Ishikawa-dono.”
“You mean trolling her?” Holger asks.
“Yes, she seems...less pleased,” Kirika says.
“Oh, that is just her anger finding expression from behind the mask,” Homi says. “I do believe that being able to speak her mind will better her mood, in a roundabout way. For now, I think it is time to return to the house once more.”
“Hopefully Shintaro will have made sense of what we managed to rescue, and we will have more than schemes to present to Ishikawa-dono in the morning,” Kirika says.
“Indeed,” Homi says.
“Word,” Holger adds.


On return to the safehouse, you find Shintaro resting in the bedroom, sleeping off some of the terror and pain from the attempt on his life, with Sidewinder keeping watch over him. The main room, however, has had its table transformed into an improvised workbench, with both Copperhead and Ueki tinkering with what looks like one of the bracers from Copperhead’s armor.
“Hey!” Ueki calls out at your entrance. “Check this out!” He raises the bracer into the air and turns it into the light of the lantern above. “Wrist-gonne!” he adds.
“You put any holes in our rental house yet?” Kirika asks with a smirk.
“We’re at least two hours away from a live-fire test,” Ueki said. “So, no.”
“Said test would be taking place outside of city limits for obvious reasons,” Copperhead adds. “Unless circumstances force our hand. Do you bring any news?”
“Itanu is in Ishikawa’s custody,” Kirika says. “He seems to be planning on letting his position and Ikishi save him, but we have other ideas.”
“Surely involving Shintaro-san’s discoveries?” Copperhead replies. “To head off your likely line of inquiry, he is asleep and I would prefer he not be disturbed, but I believe I have acquired a broad understanding of what materials you managed to save from the blaze. It appears to be a substantial piece of his calculations.”
Kirika takes a seat. “Please, go ahead, Copperhead.”
“According to what I understand of his work,” Copperhead begins, “for the last decade, a comprehensive effort has taken place to falsify both harvest numbers as well as trade volumes in the official reports. In the first category, underreported harvests are supported by falsified weather reports and expert opinions on soil degradation that seem suspicious. For the latter, Shintaro caught on not only to Itanu’s dealings with pirates in letting them raid trade routes in exchange for a cut of the plunder, but also figured out a consistent underreporting of trade income from our dealings with the Hanse and the Southern Islands, portraying them as a net drain on the Empire’s finances. There may also be some tax evasion occurring with several noble houses, but I believe that this is, for lack of a better term, traditional.”
“So, using trade to grow her army and further her false information,” Kirika says.
“Likely,” Copperhead says. “I cannot double-check Shintaro-san’s conclusions, however, as the original reports he was working with seem to have fallen victim to the flames.”
“You mean the actual no-fucking-shit evidence,” Holger throws in. “That means we got some scribbles and a witness, not a slam dunk.”
“It should be convincing enough for most of the High Lords, once we smoke out Ikishi’s loyalists,” Kirika replies. She sighs, and leans against Yukio. “I hope.”
“Hey, ‘evidence’ is Ishikawa’s deal,” Toshi weighs in from the sidelines, walking in from the kitchen with a kettle of hot tea. “And she’s already on our side, right? As long as Shintaro can tell his story, we should be good.” He fills up a few cups. “I mean, yeah, it’s not a ‘slam-dunk’, whatever that is? But we’ve got them making some drastic moves trying to stay ahead of us any desperate way they can. Sounds like a victory to me.”
“Yes, it is,” Kirika says, and sighs. “But I am very tired. Almost getting burned alive does that to a person.”
“‘Have some tea’ tired or ‘go to bed’ tired?” Toshi asks, with a wink to Yukio that leaves her blushing.
“One, then the other,” Kirika replies, her eyes closing for a moment.
“I feel like we should be getting our own house,” Ueki says to Holger.
“No doubt,” Holger answers.
“On the contrary, it means more space for you all,” Kirika replies. “And tonight, some peace and quiet.” She rubs her cheek against Yukio’s as she pulls Toshi up against her side. “I think sleep is in order tonight.”
Ueki leans in with Copperhead. “Do you think you can finish the gonne yourself?”
“Undoubtedly,” Copperhead says. “Why?”
Ueki smirks. “Because I think I need to start working on earplugs.”
Gatac 2015-04-04 09:14:53
After a few hours of deep but not particularly restful sleep, a bleary-eyed Kirika is coaxed back into the land of the conscious by the smell of fresh tea wafting through the house. Wiggling free from underneath the arm of a gently snoring Yukio, she climbs out of bed and follows her nose, finding Toshi in the kitchen, sitting on a stool and watching something cooking in the fire of their oven.

“Good morning,” he says, yawning a little himself. “The ninjas are out pulling security. Hope I didn’t wake you up too soon.”
“Good morning,” Kirika says with a slight bow before settling down next to the table. “How early is it?”
“The sun isn’t quite up yet,” Toshi says, as if that’s all the answer that’s needed. “I’m baking some sweet rolls. Tea?”
“Gods yes,” Kirika sighs. “If it’s black, I might kiss you.”
“Pucker your lips, then,” Toshi says, grabbing a clean cup from a cupboard and pouring a piping-hot liquid from the cast-iron pot into the same. “I can’t call it Wake-Up Tea because, you know, prior art and all, but I think this should be suitably invigorating. Go on, take a sip, tell me what you think.”
Kirika takes the cup with both hands and drinks deep - the tea screams down her gullet like the muzzle blast of a gonne before punching her stomach into submission. An involuntary belch results, and oh gods, it’s even sharper on the way up. That’s one way to wake up, for sure.
“Well?” Toshi says. “I used some herbs and spices.”
Kirika coughs a couple of times, and quickly jumps up, pulls Toshi close and kisses him as deep as she can - the better to share the aftertaste on her lips and tongue. Toshi’s protests are weak, if not to say feeble, and when their lips part, he’s smiling.
“Always glad to help,” Toshi says. “So, you’re going out with Shintaro?”
“Yes,” Kirika says, returning to her tea. “But I have to go alone. My friend is...cautious. He said he doesn’t trust any of you.”
“But you trust him?” Toshi says. “I mean, taking Shintaro alone to a meeting with this guy, you do realize how that looks, right?”
“Implicitly,” Kirika replies. “I’ve know him...I knew him before I knew you, Toshi. He’s been a friend for a long time.”
“Well then,” Toshi says. He grabs a flat wooden board with a handle, then slides it into the oven, expertly retrieving the sweet rolls. He gives them an experimental sniff, then takes a rag, grabs one of the rolls and quickly puts it in front of Kirika. “Have some breakfast first. When I walk into the unknown on an empty stomach, I get cranky.”
“Just the one - it’s a breakfast meeting,” Kirika replies. She takes a bite, and groans with pleasure at the sweet, yeasty flavor.
“If the whole Emperor thing doesn’t work out, I can still try my luck as a chef,” Toshi says with a grin. “How’s Yukio?”
“Asleep,” Kirika replies, and sighs again. “I think that the last weeks have taken more out of her than she lets on.”
“I’ll talk to her,” Toshi says, and claps Kirika on the shoulder. “You go and meet your friend. Hiro and I will handle things here. And when you’re back, you take a nap, catch up on some of that sleep you missed.”
“No time,” Kirika replies as she stands up. “Not until all of this is finished.” She puts a hand on Toshi’s shoulder and smiles, her thumb rubbing his cheek. “Not until you and Yukio are safe.”
Toshi smiles softly. “Okay,” he says. “In that case, don’t stuff yourself too much at your meeting - I’m making lunch and you wouldn’t believe the fresh fish you can source here. When’s the last time you had proper kabayaki?”
“Years,” Kirika replies.
“That drought is coming to an end in a few hours, then,” Toshi says, then chuckles. “Get it, drought? Because it’s fish?”
Kirika chuckles and rolls her eyes as she slides Crane’s Dance into her obi. “Yes, I get it.” She turns back to Toshi and gives him a peck on the lips. “Thanks for tea. I…” She stops, held short by the realization of what she was about to say. She thinks about it for a moment, looking into Toshi’s waiting eyes. Screw it. “I love you, Toshi.”
Toshi’s reply is a smile and a kiss. “Be back by noon,” he says.
“I’ll try,” Kirika replies, and skips off to do the same to the still-slumbering Yukio before she hustles out the door.


The Laughing Dragon is a restaurant on that awkward precipice between workman’s lunch and bureaucrat’s dinner, which isn’t surprising considering it’s placement close to the Hall of Justice and the resulting clientele. The waitstaff don’t blink an eye at Kirika’s weapon - in fact, before she can even say anything, she’s already ushered to a secluded partition in the back of the restaurant, where Yauta waits for them, disguised with a cloth cap and a surprisingly decent fake beard.

“Sit,” Yauta says, indicating two chairs for Kirika and Shintaro. “You came alone?” he asks.
“Here,” Kirika replies. “Hiro Homi and his ninjas are watching our perimeter.”
“As predicted,” Yauta says. He turns to Shintaro. “I am Silent Eye. We’ve had correspondence.”
“Indeed we’ve had!” Shintaro says, reaching across the table with an outstretched hand. “Can I just say that it’s an absolute pleasure to…”
Yauta looks down at the table, making no move to feed his own hand into the shaking process.
“...meet you,” Shintaro says, awkwardly withdrawing his hand.
“He doesn’t like being touched,” Kirika explains, giving Yauta an “I got this” nod. “But he is glad you’re here - and alive.”
“Very glad,” Yauta adds, even holding eye contact with Shintaro for a moment. “To business. How much evidence did you save?”
“Almost all of Shintaro’s work - but the many documents that work was based on were destroyed,” Kirika replies. “There are doubtless copies elsewhere, but they would be scattered who knows where.”
“Locatable, but easy to dismiss as forgeries if presented after the fire,” Yauta says. “High likelihood of physical threats to you,” he tells Shintaro. “Your safety is paramount. Do you have friends or family?”
“...my parents?” Shintaro says, not quite following.
“Then you are vulnerable to coercion by proxy,” Yauta concludes.
“Wait a minute,” Shintaro says. “Do you honestly think I’d betray you...betray the Empire...because of a few thugs threatening my family? I assure you, Sir, I am made of sterner stuff!”
Kirika puts a hand on the table to motion Yauta to let her handle it. “We are worried that Ikishi will do much more than that,” she tells Shintaro. “She has killed a great many people, and made others endure even greater agonies before they died. That is what concerns us.”
“Gods,” Shintaro says. “What is this woman capable of?”
“A lot,” Yauta says. He then turns to Kirika. “Strategy?”
“Well, you know about Itanu,” Kirika replies, her phrasing making it clear that it’s a statement, not a question. “Our plan is to use the Mura flyers to fan the flames of unrest and drive him out of town. Once he’s out of town for his own safety, Holger will go to the council demanding action on the taxes causing Kargbeck so much trouble, and that will force them to appoint Shintaro as the new High Lord in Itanu’s stead.”
“What?” Shintaro says, looking at Kirika. “I think...I think we’re not quite on the same page here. Run that by me again?”
“You will be the new High Lord for finance and trade,” Kirika replies. “In charge of managing the accounts, regulating trade, and protecting both. Your Empire - and Emperor - need you, Shintaro.”
“I...I think that’s a little premature, don’t you agree, Silent Eye?” Shintaro says, turning to Yauta. “Uh, I mean, I’m just a numbers guy, you’re the one who’s been...well, who’s been nudging me in all the right directions. If anyone, you should be the one in charge.”
“Considered it,” Yauta says flatly. “Politically inexpedient. Too much exposure. Prefer the current arrangement.”
“And you are the best one for the job,” Kirika adds. “You know the court, you know the laws, you know how to manage all of this - Hells, you have been the one managing all of this. We need someone honest in that position - someone not a thief, like Itanu.”
“I’m not…” Shintaro says, then redirects the sentence. “...I’m not seeing a lot of honesty in the court these days. I mean, who can you trust?”

(Kirika’s Sense Motive: 1d20+15 = 24)

Shintaro knows more than he’s letting on about what’s going on in court. Not to say he’s hiding it well, but there’s definitely something he’s not saying out loud.
“What do you mean?” Kirika asks curiously.
“I mean Itanu’s obviously corrupt, so’s Boota,” Shintaro begins. “Shira’s only interest in merchants is that they bow to samurai. Hetechi’s...weird. Ishikawa runs around in a mask everywhere. And the Shadowguard...look, I know you’re working with him, but...I just don’t trust that guy. I’m sorry, but I don’t. I mean, if he’s so good and so smart, why’d he let the Emperor disappear in the first place?”
“He didn’t let it happen, believe me,” Kirika replies. “And this is all public knowledge, Shintaro - what are you really talking about?”
“Well,” Shintaro begins, “I know you’re fighting Ikishi now, but...Itanu once told me in confidence that she and the Shadowguard used to work together. And he didn’t come out and say it, but...the Shadowguard got rid of the Emperor for her. So, you know, atoning for his mistake would be all well and good, but I can’t look beyond him kind of being responsible for this whole mess to begin with.” He looks to Yauta. “You know?”
“A popular conspiracy theory,” Yauta answers. “Did Itanu hold proof?”
“No, of course not,” Shintaro says. “He never showed me anything, it was just...he was drunk and talked about it.”
“He...removed the Emperor from the palace,” Kirika replies. “But only after Ikishi’s poisons had done their work.”
“And what proof do you have?” Shintaro asks. “I mean, this cuts both ways, doesn’t it? I have Itanu’s word, you have Homi’s, how should that be weighed?”
“There is...proof, but...I can’t show it to you,” Kirika says. “All I can offer is my word that Hiro Homi is a man to be trusted. He did save your life, after all.”
“You ask that I put everything on the shoulders of your word, then,” Shintaro says. “Are you confident that it can bear the load?”
“Do you trust my word?” Yauta says.
“Well, yes -”
“Her word is as good as mine,” Yauta adds. “Notwithstanding, I will investigate.” He turns to Kirika. “Trust, but verify.”
Kirika nods. "Wouldn't expect any less - we will talk later." She looks back to Shintaro. "Is that enough?"
“For now,” Shintaro says, then sighs and shakes his head. “I...I knew Itanu was not a good man, but trying to kill me - it’s like I don’t know him at all.”
"Because you did not," Kirika replied. "Did you ever hear him speak like the Northside raiders? Because he is one of them, too." She puts a hand on his shoulder. "Do not be discouraged. He fooled a lot of people."
“Yeah,” Shintaro says. “Yeah. I guess.”
“Anything else?” Yauta asks.
"Any further words for Shintaro?" Kirika asks Yauta.
Yauta glances up at Shintaro. “Good work so far,” he says. “Pleased that you survived. Keep it up.”
“Uh, yeah,” Shintaro says. “Um, thank you?”
Yauta genuinely smiles. “Thank you,” he says. He turns to Kirika. “Breakfast?”
"Yes," Kirika replies with a smile. "Please, order for us."
Yauta looks down at the table as he snips a finger. “Already did,” he says. “Rice pudding for Shintaro.”
“How’d you…” Shintaro starts.
“I own the catering company,” Yauta answers, then turns to Kirika. “Pickled fish for you. Had sweet rolls prepared, but smelled them on you when you came in.” He smirks. “When you return to the safehouse, have the trash emptied. Almost narrowed you down to a half block already.”
Kirika smiles. "I shall speak to the Shadowwatch about keeping their diligence up." She raises her tea. "Thanks."
Yauta nods. “Just taking care of my friends,” he says.
Gatac 2015-06-07 06:16:40
Kirika's gaze hasn't moved from the window for the last ten minutes - and she hasn't gotten up at all since returning from her meeting with Shintaro and Yauta. Her mind had shifted from talking with Shintaro to putting Itanu away - and the rather raggedy nature of the plan she elucidated to Ishikawa last night. She has a problem, and she knew it, and solving that problem is occupying all of her brainpower.

Footsteps behind her soon turn into soft lips nuzzling her neck. “Good morning, dearest,” Yukio says, righting her kimono as she steps around the table and pulls up a chair for herself. “What’s on your mind?”
"Itanu," Kirika replies in a thoughtful monotone. "The plan with him. It's not very good."
“So make it better,” Yukio says with a smile. “You’ll think of something.”
Kirika returns the smile. "You make it sound so easy, love," she replies, and takes Yukio's hand. "Itanu is in a good position, and he knows it. He knows that Ikishi is still the one closest to the throne, and he knows that Ikishi is working to get him out. So..." She sighs and pulls Yukio's hand to her cheek. "I need to pry them apart, but after last night, I'm pretty sure Ikishi already knows what we discussed with Ishikawa, and we know nothing about what she is doing."
“Well, if she knows what we’re going to do,” Yukio muses, “we know what she’s going to do: try to counter it.”
"Yes," Kirika replies, and thinks for a moment. "Hmm...and that means keeping him out of our reach - which pretty much means keeping him where he is. We could grab him any other way. And that means he'll be cut off, and...she'll have to put a stop to her rebellion rumors. And...then...well, she'll be doing something else, and maybe we can use that to turn Itanu!" Kirika jumps to her feet and hustles around to Yukio, throwing a leg over hers to sit down straddling her love face-to-face, and delivers a kiss. "You're a genius, love."
Yukio returns the kiss. “No,” she says, “I just have good taste in people I fall in love with.”
Kirika's cheeks flush, and she stares into Yukio's eyes for a good long moment. Eventually though, she closes her eyes and shakes her head. "Damn," Kirika says. "We don't have time, do we."
“Then it’ll be all the sweeter when we do have time,” Yukio replies, kissing Kirika again. “Go and save the Empire, dearest. But tonight, you will be mine, no ifs or buts.”
Kirika's hands drift down and grab Yukio's ass. "Not possible with your backside, love," she says playfully, leaning against Yukio. She purrs and closes her eyes, and her hands start to wander to Yukio's front of their own accord. "Just a little taste, perhaps -"
Yukio grabs Kirika’s arms by the wrist and pulls them away from her chest. “You have different things to focus on right now,” she says. “The wait will be worth it.”
Kirika sighs. "Yes, yes." She steals one more kiss. "Do you know where Hiro is?"
“I saw him meditating in the garden out back,” Yukio says. Letting go of Kirika’s hands, she turns her own efforts to righting Kirika’s kimono and brushing her fingers through her lover’s hair. “Go and speak to him.”
Kirika shivers as Yukio's fingers touch her scalp. "You are a terrible tease."
Yukio grins. “Just making sure you’ll think of me until tonight,” she says.
"Ugh," Kirika groans, and dismounts her lover to step out into the garden.

Outside, she finds the rented house’s garden, secluded but cramped piece of green it is. Every house on this street has the same kind of artificial water feature as well as a deer scarer artificially muffled to reduce the repetitive sound, which seems like the height of decadence compared to the austere sight of Hiro Homi sitting on a large rock in the middle, eyes closed and hands folded in his lap.

“Kirika,” he says as she approaches. “How can I help?”
"Are the Blades keeping track of Ikishi's agents?" Kirika asks. "I have a feeling she might be dispatching them to counter our plans against Itanu."
“We are tracking a few,” Homi says, “but I cannot be sure if we have found them all. Is there anything in particular you are concerned about?”
"Passing word to Itanu, distributing counters to their previous agitating leaflets, trying to calm the populace, moving to discredit Shintaro, and catch us in the act agitating against Itanu," Kirika lists off. "And if she knows the plan we discussed with Ishikawa last night. I suspect she might, and that will force her into action - action that we can redirect against Itanu."
“Hrm,” Homi says, opening his eyes. “I was afraid it would be something like that.” He reaches into his kimono to produce a small bound book, labelled The Tale of Three-Peach Mountain. “The signs and countersigns of our Blades in the area are hidden within,” he says. “I will need to instruct you in our cypher, but it is fortunately easier to decrypt than to create a new message - and you would do well to learn this now in any event.”
"Oh, thank you, Homi-sensei," Kirika says with a bow. "This will be very helpful once you introduce me to who you want me to work with."
“I’m not sure you understand me yet,” Homi says. “This book is our network. Once I teach you to read it, you will know all our agents and have the means to position them according to your design. I see no need to hinder your efforts with middlemen.”
Kirika tilts her head. "Wait, you aren't coming along? They're your agents, Hiro."
“No,” he says. “They’re yours.”
Kirika looks down at the book in her hands. "Oh." She looks back to Hiro. "So...I'm it now. Aren't I."
“The title remains with me for now, of course,” Homi says. “I hope that will provide you with a certain level of...deniability, until such time that I become useless for that, too.” He smirks. “This office has never stood on ceremony when it comes to succession. The name of the man on the throne matters. The rest falls to the able.”
"But you are - I'm not -" Kirika stutters. "I don't know what you know, Hiro. You've been getting the information so far, not me."
“Then I suggest you request a thorough report from your agents,” Homi says. “I’ve avoided it so far, but I think the time is ripe for it. I’ll help you sort through it.”
Kirika taps the book in her hand. "Well, there's no time like the present." She undoes the leather band tying the book shut and starts to flip through it. "How do I call in someone from all our capital cells? I need the big picture of right now."
Homi points out some subtle markings next to a few lines in the books. “District leaders,” he says. “These twelve should be able to boil down events in their districts for us - if they’re all still active. We can get to writing up the orders next - the rickshaw driver can deliver them.”
Kirika nods. "Then we should hurry, Ikishi is already moving while we are still."


It’s lunchtime at the noodle place again, with the resulting crowd - though, as Kirika notes, less surprise visitors from Kargbeck. That deficiency is more than made up, however, by the amount of people with subtle Shadowwatch ribbons worn on their clothes - Kirika’s counted eight since she came in five minutes ago, and the rosy-cheeked painter that just walked in has one on her obi, too. Kirika simply sips her tea and watches as they all subtly look around for Hiro Homi. She hopes that all dozen might make it, but as the water clock drops a metal ball to announce the change of the hour, it's clear that this is all she will get. Sighing, Kirika slides the folded paper star Hiro taught her to make onto the table to signal the first to come and report. That turns out to be the painter, who gives Kirika a bright smile as she sits down.

“I need more white for my cherryblossom painting,” she says. “Do you know anyone who’s selling?”
"Try the hill district," Kirika replies in a measured tone. "They have the best lime."
The painter nods and leans in closer. “Did the old fool finally start using a cutout?” she whispers. “I’ve been telling him for years.” She reaches into her kimono and produces a folded note that she hands to Kirika under the table. “My assets are under surveillance. I’m afraid we can’t redeploy without exposure right now.”
"Whatever you have is more than we know," Kirika whispers back. "Stay safe."
“Always,” the painter replies. “Thanks for the tip! See you wednesday!” she says in a louder tone, then rises from the chair and makes her way out of the noodle house.

The next one is a middle-aged bureaucrat whose swaggering approach spills a little broth on the floor, and he plops down opposite Kirika to the tune of...well, a fart.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” he says. “That’s just last night’s crab soup.”
"Lemongrass and spring water," Kirika replies. "Did wonders for my cousin."
Another nod, another note slipped under the table. “You watch your fine ass out there,” the man whispers. “The last asset I activated was found in seventeen pieces.”
"Keep down then," Kirika replies, ignoring the first remark. "We will need everyone very soon."
“You got it, sweetcheeks,” the man whispers, then rises and leaves.

For a few more minutes, nobody approaches Kirika, until finally one of the waitresses walks over with a bowl of hot noodles. “Ma’am, when I call your order, I expect you to pick it up,” she says. “Did you want that with extra fish sauce?”
"Many apologies," Kirika says with a bow. "My leg's fallen asleep. And just a dash."
“Hrmph,” the waitress says and plops the bowl down before returning to the counter. Kirika finds the note just peeking out from under the bowl, quickly pocketing it.

“Excuse me,” a lanky man says, wearing the fine clothes of a bureaucrat. “May I sit here? You remind me of my cousin.”
The sign, Kirika recalls, is supposed to be ‘You remind me of my cousin’s friend’. She smiles. "Don't you owe me a drink?΅
“Uh…” the man says, and sits down opposite her. “Cousin’s friend!” he whispers. “Oh gods, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to mess it up. It’s been three years. And I don’t know you. Uh, countersign?”
Kirika's gaze flashes to the three random strangers that are suddenly approaching the man from behind. She tilts her head and raises an eyebrow. The two men on the outside keep their impassive expressions, but the woman in the middle softly shakes her head. The word given, Kirika pulls her lacquered chopsticks out of her hair at that and bends over to pluck a mouthful of noodles.
“You remind me of my cousin’s friend!” the man repeats, but it’s too late; the woman jabs him with a small needle in the side of his neck, and his eyes start to cloud right in front of Kirika.
“Come on, buddy, you’re drunk!” one of the two men calls, and together the two heave him out of his seat as the last flicker of life leaves him. As they carry him outside, the woman sits down opposite Kirika.

“Strange weather we’re having,” she says. “Do you think it’ll be cloudy tomorrow?”
"A cooler day would be a blessing from this heat," Kirika replies.
“So much for District 13,” the woman whispers, handing over her notes underneath the table. “When are we going to clean house?”
"We will let you know," Kirika replies. "Courier a list of those to be trusted and their signs - and an agent to conduct the questioning of those that are still alive."
“You got it,” the woman says. “Anything else?”
"Stay safe," Kirika replies, the words meaning a bit more this time.
The woman nods, then rises from her chair and walks out.

Ten minutes and three more sign.countersign exchanges leading to new notes later, Kirika’s meeting with the Blades seems to be over, and so is her bowl of soup. Leaving a few coins on the table, she stands up and walks outside, where the Shadowwatch rickshaw driver awaits.
“The body’s taken care of,” he tells her as she climbs in.
Kirika sighs. "Did he have a family?"
“Didn’t know the real agent,” the driver says. “I wouldn’t worry about that.”
"They're our people," Kirika replies. "And we don't have that many left. Forgetting about those left behind is what Ikishi would do - we take care of our own, even after their service...ends. Especially then." She sighs. "Don't worry yourself about that. But if so...something should be done."
“Lady, I’m a professional,” the driver says, pulling the rickshaw away from the curb and onto the street. “You don’t take this job if you’re worried about how nice your funeral will be.”
"Two points," Kirika says as she pulls out the first note and ticks onto the paper with her charcoal stick. "One, everyone worries about their loved ones - and the more we care for our own, the less Ikishi has ways to turn our people. And two, we are giving our lives to our Emperor and empire. It should be ensured that the empire occasionally gives back - especially when one gives their last measure of sacrifice."
“Yeah, well,” the driver says, “I didn’t know him so I don’t have the first idea how we’d find his family, if he has one, and as it is we don’t have a body or even know if there’s anything left to bury. You want to do something nice for him, focus on what you can change.”
"Or do both," Kirika says, turning her attention to the notes. "Nothing stopping us from doing both."

Unsurprisingly, much of the status report in front of Kirika is about the poor state of the Shadowwatch’s intelligence network in the capital. In theory, there were supposed to be 20 cells covering the capital, each commanding a dozen agents and a field supervisor. With no Emperor on the throne, though, the flow of new recruits has almost stopped, and just about everyone who’s still on the job already has been in that position for more than a decade. Then there are Ikishi’s attempts to subvert and dismantle the network, turning some agents, killing others and trying to checkmate the rest. While the number of agents might be about 60% of where it was during the glory days - with six cells outright gone and the rest more or less depleted -, only five cells remain fully capable of action, with others either dismantled, rated as untrustworthy by their control cells or too busy taking care of their own problems to be of much help.

Which is not to say that those remaining agents have been lazy; their assessment of Ikishi’s agents puts her spy network at about seven cells total, with each only containing six agents - so, for the moment, Shadowwatch retains the numbers advantage. Ikishi’s agents are almost all bureaucrats, which grants her a disproportionate amount of insight and influence in the city’s administration, but also means that she has very little influence in the rougher parts of town. Her information regarding military matters, the merchant trade or even her links to the Northside raiders are all indirect, channeled through a single point of contact, which makes her extended network far more fragile.

The acerbic notes that Ikishi’s agents are far more successful at gaining influence through bribes reveals another aspect of her organization: it runs chiefly on money. While Shadowwatch has developed long-term relationships through favors and its remaining agents closely identify with the mission of protecting the throne, Ikishi’s agents have chosen the shortcut of bribery and are themselves motivated by silver. Two cells of Ikishi’s agents have, in fact, been thoroughly mapped through their network of bribes and look ripe for exposure. The reports are less optimistic about their ability to firmly link all those operatives directly to Ikishi, but revealing the presence of her network by itself could have a very damaging effect on her operations, if only for the brief time it’ll take her to spend more money on burying her previous efforts and retargeting her operation on new officials.

Kirika smiles and resists the urge to burn half of Ikishi’s network - that’s a move best held in reserve. Instead, she focuses on the current problem of Itanu. The closest cell to the police station receives a quick missive to watch the comings and goings of the agents under Ishikawa’s command for traitors, and especially any conveying instructions and information to Itanu himself in the cells. Another goes to those with a good eye on the comings and goings of the core of Ikishi’s shadowy agents; they are tasked with determining whatever actions Ikishi is taking against the plan she elucidated last night to Ishikawa, from smearing Shintaro to quelling the rebellion she was trying to start. The other three cells are told to stay low and simply keep to their regular routine information gathering - it wouldn’t do for her or the cells to get caught unawares right now.

Two hours later as noon wanes, Kirika has her reports from the activated cells. The infiltration of Ishikawa’s police force is actually quite low: a handful of patrol officers who have proveably taken bribes to look the other way on activities of Ikishi’s proper agents, which is the lesser problem, and then there’s duty sergeant first class Oto, a bureaucrat stationed at the Hall of Justice who handles much of the paperwork in warrants and evidence seizure - he doesn’t quite have the run of the place’s red tape, but it’s fair to say that if anything significant is going on in Ishikawa’s police force, he’s in a position to hear about it and make copies of the documents involved. Shadowwatch couldn’t dig up any concrete proof that he leaked details about specific cases, but a log of his off-duty activities - secret meetings, visiting dead drops and handing off scrolls to Ikishi’s agents - should be enough to ask some tough questions.

When it comes to Ikishi’s efforts to summon up some riots and blame the foreigners for it, the real coup - finding the printing presses - still remains out of reach. However, Shadowwatch has made note that several Hanse-speaking scholars on Ikishi’s payroll have received fresh payments, presumably to craft new messages. Once new leaflets are being circulated, Shadowwatch should be able to get their hands on one and maybe even trace their source. One of Shintaro’s uncles also received a “friendly” visit, no doubt to prepare him to denounce his nephew in some sort of publicity stunt, maybe with some manufactured dark secret - shocking how many young bureaucrats these days are into drugs and loose women, after all, and if your experience at Lady Sarano’s manner is any indication, Ikishi knows where to procure such vices and how to attach them to someone’s reputation.

“Hah!” Kirika shouts, and slaps the page. “Finally, a toe-hold.”
“You’ve been busy,” Toshi says, eyeing the reports as he sits down next to her. “Which toe are we holding?”
“We have a way to pry Itanu loose from Ikishi,” Kirika replies.
“That implies a physical proximity I’d rather not have imagined,” Toshi says, “but go on.”
“Ikishi’s reacting to the plan I made up last night, moving against Shintaro and issuing new leaflets,” Kirika says. “And with Itanu in lock-up, she’s got to have some way of passing word to him to keep him calm. We cut him off and disrupt her leaflets - or insert a message of our own - we can get him to turn on her.”
“I see,” Toshi says. “...why are you looking at me like that?”
“Well…” Kirika says with a smile. “We don’t know where those presses are. We know where the Hanse scribes are, but we can’t take over Ikishi’s messages without the presses. And I was wondering if you were up for a bit of work.”
“Say no more,” Toshi says with a grin. “I was born for this ‘bit of work’.”
“I need you to find these presses, and, if you can, substitute in our own leaflet,” Kirika says. “Get with Holger; we just need it to be a tell-all of what Itanu’s done against the Hanse and the Empire.” She puts a hand on his. “You sure you’re okay with this, Toshi?”
“Getting out of this house is the best thing that could happen to me,” Toshi says. “That and finally getting to be more than a prize to be guarded. Trust me, that sucks.”
“I know, Toshi,” Kirika says, giving his hand a squeeze. “All the same…” She smirks. “As your Shadowguard, I ask you to please be careful.”
Toshi smirks and shakes his head. “Not even sworn in and already cramping my style,” he says.
“Better get used to it,” Kirika replies. “Now, get your ass moving, my Emperor.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Toshi says, then gets up from the table. “Yo, Holger!” he shouts through the house. “I need your help, my dogg!”

Kirika shakes her head and stands up, and walks to the garden. Bringing a friendly face to the meeting with Ishikawa seems like a good idea, and Hiro’s the closest she has. Hiro Homi, for his part, is still meditating on the stone in the garden, though Kirika’s sharp eyes spot that he’s switched the legs of his lotus position.

“Did you get what you need?” he asks.
“Enough of it,” Kirika says. “Are you up for a visit to the Hall of Justice?”
“Always,” Homi says, opening his eyes and rising to his feet.
“Then we should depart right away,” Kirika says. “Unfortunately, Ishikawa is not likely to be pleased to hear what we have to say.”
“Is she ever?” Homi muses.
Gatac 2015-06-07 06:17:28
“Duty Sergeant Oto!” are the first screamed words you hear from Lady Ishikawa after only the briefest of introductions to the materials collected by Shadowwatch. Within seconds, a heavyset man appears at the door to Ishikawa’s cramped office, barely fitting inside when Kirika and Homi shuffle aside.
“Boss?” he asks, slightly out of breath from the effort of quickly moving his bulk through the Hall.
“Don’t give me that ‘boss’ bullshit,” Ishikawa growls. “You’re drawing a second paycheck and I’m ready to hear your full confession.”
“What?” Oto says.
“The good Lady Ikishi,” Ishikawa says. “You’re on her payroll.”
“...what?” Oto repeats; in barely a second, Ishikawa has drawn one of her tonfas and has forced Oto against the wall with the club pressed against his neck.
“Duty Sergeant First Class,” she growls, “I am losing my fucking patience.”
“Okay okay okay!” Oto coughs, buying himself an inch to resume breathing. “I don’t know any Lady Ikishi! There’s just this guy who...he pays for some documents sometimes! And fifty extra for a weekly report!”
“That’s interesting,” Ishikawa says, pressing the tonfa closer to his neck again. “And how much silver does it cost for you to stand there and still lie to my face?”
“...your face?” Oto gasps; Ishikawa’s answer is to draw back her tonfa and strike him across the top of his head. Oto cries out in pain and crumbles to what little free floor there is while Ishikawa looms over him.
“On your feet, you parasite!” she bellows. “Report to the detention cells at once!” She bows down to him. “And I swear on the Heavens themselves, if you try to run, they’ll have to carry you to court. Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes! Yes!” Oto cries; Ishikawa holsters her tonfo, then grabs him by the collar and “helps” him to his feet.
“Away with you!” she shouts. “We’ll have a nice long chat later!”

As Oto slouches out of the office and towards the back of the Hall to the sounds of his own whimpers, Hiro Homi sees the opportunity to clear his throat.

What?” Ishikawa growls.
“I just wanted to say that I am sorry you had to find out this way,” Homi says.
“Sorry,” Ishikawa snorts. After that, she takes a long, deep breath. “No,” she finally says. “No, I’m sorry. This is not how I wish to do things.”
“He betrayed you,” Homi says. “Your reaction is understandable.”
“I assaulted him,” Ishikawa says, “and I threatened him with more violence. That is not how we should do things.”
Homi smiles. “I commend your idealism, Fuyuko,” he says.
“Stop calling me that,” Ishikawa says, finally turning around to face them. “Your familiar tone is very inappropriate.”
“I mean no disrespect,” Homi says.
“Then follow my wishes,” Ishikawa says, turning to Kirika. “You have a list of the other compromised officers?” she asks, her tone now deathly even.
“I do, Lady Ishikawa,” Kirika says with a nod, and presents a copy of the list. “This might not be complete, of course.”
“It’s a start,” Ishikawa says. She takes the list, scans it, then nods. “I’ll have them pulled and interrogated right away,” she says. “Anything else?”
“Ikishi knows of the plan I told you last night to have Itanu removed from his post,” Kirika says, “and she is moving against it.”
Ishikawa nods. “Any specifics?” she asks.
“Well, we know that she is moving to discredit Shintaro, and is having new leaflets made,” Kirika replies. “We are handling those two problems, but we think that we have an opportunity if we can isolate Itanu from Ikishi while she has him hiding here. Has he stopped requesting to be released?”
“Not yet,” Ishikawa says. “The last time I spoke to him was during lunch, two hours ago. He was still adamant that our protection was not necessary, but he wasn’t about to walk out, either.”
“Well, let’s go see what he has to say for himself now,” Kirika says. “After you, Lady.”


Itanu’s been put up in one of the squad rooms - obviously not in a cell! - and that’s where he still is, sitting at a table with a light afternoon snack ordered in from a nearby restaurant while he studies today’s newsscroll.

“Ah, Ishikawa-dono,” he says, looking over the scroll instead of putting it down. “Have you made any progress on investigating the threat to my life and limb yet?”
“Actually,” Ishikawa says, “our investigation has turned up nothing substantial. I believe you are the victim of a well-timed coincidence.”
“I don’t see how you would come to that conclusion,” he says wryly. “Is the arson of my offices and the revolutionary screed flooding the streets not enough ‘evidence’ for you?”
“The fire investigators have determined that the likeliest source of the inferno was a chemical reaction in the ink cupboard of your assistant’s offices,” Ishikawa lies. “We’ve also turned up no further copies of the ‘screed’, as you put it. Most likely it was quickly lettered and printed by a few pranksters to take advantage of the current events - a bit of theater, nothing more.”
“You must be mistaken,” Itanu says, now lowering the newsscroll. “Every piece of proof before you can only add up to a craven attempt on my life by foreign saboteurs.”
“Well, the investigation is still ongoing,” Ishikawa says. “We’ll see where it takes us. You seem very sure of your version of events, Itanu-dono. Are you sure that is truly what happened, or is it not possible that that is the shock talking? Perhaps I should send for a physician…”
“No such thing is necessary!” Itanu growls. “If that is all…”
“I believe it is,” Ishikawa says. “I am as ever at your service, Itanu-dono.”
“Yes, yes,” Itanu says, going back to reading the newsscroll.
“To be frank, Itanu-dono,” Ishikawa says, “I expected you to take this news with more cheer. After all, we only asked you to stay here to evaluate the threat against you, and you seemed confident you could handle such problems yourself. I come here to tell you that there is most likely no threat you have to fear, and yet you no longer seem eager to depart.”
“Yes, well,” Itanu says, now pointedly staring at the newsscroll. “I didn’t want to say anything in public, but what you interpret as never having been a threat is all the proof I need that our foreign enemies are abandoning their strategy and looking for a different way to hurt me. I was confident my men can handle an open threat - but now I’m no longer sure what the saboteurs will do next. And your lack of concrete results in your investigation is not helping my confidence.” He snorts. “I can see what you’re doing. You, too, are growing less confident in your ability to bring them to justice. But as long as I’m here, you’re responsible for my safety. How convenient it would be for me to have left these halls on my own so that whatever dark fate is seeking me out can strike without you having to jump in its path. No, Ishikawa-dono, you wanted this to be your problem and so it is. I won’t take a step outside of this building until you’ve closed the case.”
“I see,” Ishikawa says. “You are welcome to stay here for as long as you see fit, Itanu-dono.”
“Of course,” Itanu says. “Now, don’t you have an investigation to lead?”
“I do indeed,” Ishikawa says, then turns and leaves the room.


“That bodes well for us,” Kirika says once the three of them are safely back in Ishikawa’s office. “He probably has received word of our plan for him, but now is cut off from Ikishi.”
“Just keep an eye on his visitors,” Homi says. “Now that he’s playing up his worries, you have all the justification you could ask for to deny him contact with people other than yourself and your trusted inner circle.”
“At the cost of making him even more of a headache in the meantime,” Ishikawa says. “Are you sure this will work?”
“Do you sense any loyalty at all in the man?” Kirika asks, eyebrow raised.
“Only to himself,” Ishikawa says. “We’ll let him stew in his paranoia for a bit. I assume you will know when I have finished interrogating Duty Sergeant Oto?”
“We have people keeping an eye on the Hall, yes,” Kirika replies.
“Hrm,” Ishikawa says. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me who those people are.”
“They are good people, Lady,” Kirika replies. “They respect you, and will keep you safe.”
“But secrets remain between us,” Ishikawa says. “I think we’ve said everything that needs to be said, then. If you discover any more of Lady Ikishi’s men within the police force, I would appreciate another warning.”
“I believe we will see each other very soon, Lady Ishikawa,” Kirika says. “Once we are ready to confront Itanu, you will be the first one I see.” There’s a pause as Ishikawa’s impassive mask stares at Kirika and Hiro. “And, well...I do not think you should feel too harshly about how you treated Oto, my Lady. One cannot always balance perfectly atop one’s principles, especially ones as admirably lofty as yours. What matters is that you corrected and regained your balance instead of falling off.”
“Two reasonable people may disagree about the point that separates a stumble from a fall,” Ishikawa says. She looks at Kirika and Homi for a moment, then reaches up to grasp the sides of her mask underneath her hood. “I assume you’ve both been witness to some gruesome sights?”
“Yes, my Lady,” Kirika says.
Ishikawa grasps the mask and pulls it forward, releasing it from her face as she undoes the hidden straps at the side. With another breath - this one sounding raspier without the mask muffling it - she lowers the painted ceramic away. The shade of the hood still hides some details, but what you can see is still horrible - her entire face is covered in lumpy scar tissue, and the tip of her nose is entirely gone, as is every trace of hair. Considering the extent of the damage, it can only be considered a miracle that she kept her eyes - and didn’t die from an infection through those burns.

“The mask is not for me,” she says. “I hope this has answered a few questions you dared not speak.” With the show over, she raises the mask to cover her face again and snaps it back into place. “Anything else?”
“Perhaps a moment’s reprieve from your duties would help you be more effective,” Homi suggests. “I would like to see you for dinner, Ishikawa-dono.”
“Hmpf,” Ishikawa scoffs. “That’s quite forward.”
“I suppose it is,” Homi says.
“The Laughing Dragon, at sundown,” Ishikawa says. “Come alone.”
“Naturally,” Homi says, then looks over to Kirika.
Kirika simply bows. “I know you are skeptical, but I believe that what you do and what I do can exist side by side, my Lady,” she says. “I want to see both of our futures be bright.”
Ishikawa smirks under her mask. “Doesn’t brightness destroy shadow?” she asks.
“Some,” Kirika replies. “It also defines and intensifies others. Choosing what and where your light is makes all the difference.”
“A question of where you stand, then,” Ishikawa says. “I’m becoming surer of the answer, though.”
“And where would that be, my Lady?” Kirika asks with a smile.
“Beside the throne,” Ishikawa answers.
“Indeed I do,” Kirika says. “In more ways than one.”
Gatac 2015-06-07 08:33:38
The ride back to the safehouse isn’t a particularly short or long one; Kirika’s seen the route often enough by now to tell some semblance of the capital’s traffic patterns, and this counts as somewhere between light and dead normal; accordingly, the rickshaw driver is in no hurry. When he does pull into the street on Park Row, however, the usually empty spot in front of the safehouse is taken by a rather ornate carriage, complete with a team of horses in front and a bored but well-dressed driver in front. The sinking feeling in Kirika’s gut and the twitching of the tattoos on her skin all tell her the same thing - this is Ikishi’s. Her hand stays on the hilt of Crane’s Dance as she climbs out of the rickshaw, only wavering long enough to pay the Shadowwatch driver with a healthy tip - maintaining the cover - before she walks inside.

The inside appears bare, with all clothes and gear temporarily stored inside the house gone; so are the people, too. That only leaves Lady Ikishi sitting at the otherwise empty table, giving the entering Kirika a coy smile.

“My, how barren,” she says. “Not very welcoming at all.”
“I’d offer you a cup of tea, but as you can see, we’re all out,” Kirika replies as she takes a seat.
“Quite,” Ikishi says. “Well! You’ve been quite busy, Lady Kamura, riding around town on one errand or another. Pray tell, has your busy schedule given you a moment to rethink my offer?”
“I could say the same about you,” Kirika replies. “Drugging and kidnapping your daughter from her father’s care must take up a lot of your time, along with smearing Shintaro’s name and threatening Lady Ishikawa. I doubt you’ve had time to consider my offer, either.”
“Oh dear,” Ikishi says. “See, Lady Kamura, that troubles me. Your brash ways and lack of etiquette all too plainly expose your low breeding. I had hoped we could spend just a mere minute entertaining the notion that we are two women of power looking to come to an agreement in good faith, but I see we must speak of moves and countermoves and all those dreadful things you associate me with.” She makes a show of sighing.
“I just don’t feel the need to pretend that this is more than it is,” Kirika replies. “My actions are still just and right when brought to the light.”
“And I get to enjoy the charms of your sanctimoniousness,” Ikishi says. “But speaking of my daughter, she is recovering quite well from her dramatic faint at my feet. The best surgeons in the city are looking after her. But of your loved ones, my dear Kirika, I see no sign. What am I to make of this? I gather by your return and the face you made when you entered that you expected someone altogether different to be sitting at this table, yet I am hard-pressed to find any evidence at all that someone lived in this house recently. Quite the achievement.”
“My friends are very good at keeping things clean,” Kirika replies. “What brings you calling, Lady Ikishi?”
“Oh, nothing in particular,” Ikishi says. “Perhaps, I simply enjoy lifting a rock and watching the cockroaches beneath it scatter into the shadows. Your allies are sneaking and murdering their way through the city, while I have to merely get in my carriage to rattle your little rebellion. Perhaps now you understand the enormity and the futility of the task you’ve set yourself. I am, as ever, ready to forgive the misguided.”
“As am I,” Kirika says.
Ikishi smiles cooly. “We both know you do not count me among them,” she says. “You’ve seen what you wanted to see. Your pathetic little code will not let you sheathe the blade until it draws blood. I remain set in my path and so you do, too.”
“There is no code here,” Kirika replies. “I am no samurai, no great warrior. I am just someone that wants to see justice done, and wrongs righted. I want the best for the Empire. I want fairness for everyone - including you, Lady Ikishi. That is my path. You know who I was before now -”
Ikishi waves her hand in front of her to cut Kirika off. “Yes, yes, the justice and righteousness dross, I’ve had quite enough of that already,” she says. “But that seems to genuinely be the whole of your thought process, and that is endlessly disappointing to me. Such a devious mind chained to such pedestrian, childish notions.”
“It takes a lot of work to make sure that such things come to fruition,” Kirika replies.
“And what a bland, sugary fruit it is,” Ikishi says. “What now, Lady Kamura? A threat, perhaps?”
“Have I threatened you yet, Lady Ikishi?” Kirka replies. “Or have I done anything other than offer you peace, a way to make things better for everyone?”
“Oh, you’ve done plenty,” Ikishi says. “My poor friend Itanu-dono seems terribly confused about who he owes his success to. Your friends have taken what’s mine...several of my things, actually. And just today a man was killed before your eyes and disposed of as so much trash by your band of ruthless assassins and saboteurs. The threat could not be spoken clearer, even if it never crossed your lips.”
“Only in reaction and defense of others,” Kirika replies. “Do you have any other questions, Lady Ikishi?”
“There are some aspects of this enterprise that still seem nebulous to me,” Ikishi admits. “But I confess that I would rather hear them from the mouth of your friends. Perhaps that lady samurai riding at your side...that is Aotaka Matsumoto’s daughter, is it not? I can just about imagine that conversation, if only I knew where to find her…”
Kirika’s hands tighten and her tattoos flash bright blue. She can feel the pulse of heat, see Ikishi’s eyes widen and her muscles tense to defend against attack, but otherwise she stays dangerously calm. “Leave Yukio alone.”
Ikishi smiles. “You wouldn’t strike down an unarmed woman, would you?”
“No,” Kirika replies. “Leave. Yukio. Alone.”
“Or maybe dear Toshiro,” Ikishi muses. “Oh, no, I need him. Though...how much of him…”
No.” Kirika’s tattoos are glowing visibly underneath her kimono, moving and coiling around her arms and neck, and she can see the air start to shimmer around her hands from the heat.
“Well,” Ikishi says, her makeup seeming to crack around the corners of her mouth. “I can tell this conversation has run its course.” She rises from her seat, collecting her umbrella. “It is good to know where you can be reached, Lady Kamura. Just in case I need to deliver...a message. A good day to you.” She smiles and bows.
Kirika stands as well, but as she moves to bow in return, her tattoos snap taut around her wrists and waist, almost like a leash. She struggles for a moment, but returns the bow smoothly. “A good day to you as well, Lady Ikishi.”

With her poisonous payload delivered, Ikishi turns around and saunters towards the front door; as it swings closed behind her, Kirika can just catch a glimpse of Ikishi turning back to smile at her one more time before she climbs into her carriage, with the sound of hoofbeats signalling her departure. Kirika follows after her, watching her leave. She feels power and strength filling her from her tattoos, drawing from the anger and rage she feels at Ikishi’s threats towards her loved ones - but also feels her ancestors pulling her back. Her mother’s hands are on her shoulders, and it’s her voice she hears in her ear. Not worth it, she whispers.
“I know, mother,” Kirika whispers back. “I know. I just…”
Find your friends, her mother whispers as her hands fade from Kirika’s shoulders. As the carriage turns the corner onto the main road and speeds up, the power of her tattoos starts to fade, too.
“Not yet,” Kirika growls at her tattoos. She digs deep, focuses on Ikishi’s threats to her friends, and tightens her obi before stepping off and breaking into a flat run.

Ten minutes later, Kirika is three miles away and no longer in Park Row. This neighbourhood doesn’t have such a nice name, probably because it’s not such a nice neighbourhood, just rows of wooden houses leaning against one another for strength while the soundtrack alternates between barking dogs and crying babies, pretty much around the clock. Not too unlike the “old growth” slums of the Forge that Kirika used to live in, and that sense of familiarity provides a quantum of solace as she races through a backlot to an unpainted door. She skids to a stop on her sandals, taking a few puffing breaths and wiping the sheen of sweat off her brow before knocking twice, then once more. The door opens and Yukio pulls her into the dusky room in a flash while Toshi quickly pulls the door closed again. Yukio’s “come here!” quickly turns into an almost crushing embrace.
“Heavens, dearest,” she whispers. “Every second we waited here was like dying.”
Kirika cups Yukio’s face in her hands and rubs her forehead against her love’s. “I was so afraid when I saw Ikishi in the house, love.”
“We got the warning just in time,” Yukio says.
“And fortunately,” Toshi weighs in, “we’re pretty good at running away.” He pauses for a moment. “How about you? Er, not the running part, you’ve obviously got that, but how are you doing? How did you get away?”
“Ikishi, we talked, she left, and then...I ran,” Kirika says.
“What did she say?” Toshi asks.
“Nothing, just more threats,” Kirika replies. “She just came to remind us that she could, that she knew about our safehouse.”
“And likely this one as well,” Copperhead muses as he appears from the shadows. “You must have left her agents in the dust, but they could have seen where you were going, and your appearance here is likely to have been witnessed. We should relocate as soon as possible.”
“Where is Shintaro?” Kirika asks, turning Copperhead’s way. “And Sidewinder? Are they safe as well?”
“We split up on the escape,” Copperhead says. “Sidewinder took Shintaro with him to another hideout of his. We thought it best to hedge our bets in case we were pursued.”
“Good,” Kirika replies. “And our equipment is with them?”
“Indeed,” Copperhead says. “Indecent as it may be to state such, but ours was the half that could not afford to be caught on account of gear weighing us down. Sidewinder stated, and I must stress the nature of this as a literal quote: ‘Ain’t no fun without a challenge’. Insofar as luck protects fools, it must surely have made him bulletproof.”
Kirika smiles. “Well, we should make haste to their location, then.” She nods to Copperhead. “Would you lead the way?”
“I will, if you will allow me a few minutes to survey our surroundings and ensure that we can leave unmolested.” He nods to Yukio. “You may go about your private business without my interference, then.”
Kirika looks back to Yukio, eyebrow raised. Yukio in turn assumes the approximate color of a red beet.
“He was just holding me,” she says, looking to Toshi. “And I was holding him.”
“Running for our lives is not the time to be romantic,” Toshi weighs in. “Though there’s a certain nostalgia about it.”
“Toshi!” Yukio hisses.
“And what I meant to say in the first place is that we’re both glad you’re okay,” Toshi quickly adds. “Group hug?”
Kirika’s eyebrow stays up. “You were nervous...because you were holding each other, waiting for my return?”
“I think it’s more like we were holding each other because we were nervous,” Toshi says.
“TOSHI!” Yukio hisses, as loud as she dares.
“Look, I think we can all agree that that’s fine, Yukio’s tendency to be embarrassed about everything that involves even the most innocent skin-on-skin contact aside,” Toshi says.
“It is not fine!” Yukio says, somehow turning even redder. “We were pursued by our sworn enemies! We should have been standing behind the door with our blades drawn, not...not cuddling!”
“I have a feeling we wouldn’t have won that fight,” Toshi says. “And all things considered I’d rather go out with you in my hands than steel.”
Kirika waits until Yukio turns her way, exasperated, then steps up to her and kisses her. Once Yukio recovers from that, Kirika smiles at her. “Relax, love. You did nothing wrong - running or otherwise. I think that our night before coming here shows that I feel comfortable sharing you with Toshi - and that you feel safe when Toshi and I share a bed as well.”
“It’s not about that!” Yukio fumes.
“It is a little,” Toshi says.
“Toshiro,” Yukio says between deep breaths, “Not. The. Time.”
“We have a little bit,” Kirika says, her smile staying on as she holds the small of Yukio’s back and presses them together. “Speak your mind, love.”
Yukio sighs as she leans into Kirika’s embrace. “Damn it,” she mutters. “I’m supposed to be a samurai, not a run-away-urai.”
“Is she picking up my wordplay?” Toshi asks. “Besides, it’d clearly be sham-urai. Which is not what you are at all!”
“I agree with Toshi’s poorly-constructed phrase,” Kirika says. “It is not cowardice to run when you are at a disadvantage and there is nothing to be gained by standing and fighting. All you would have accomplished is a pile of bodies pinned on our efforts, and Ikishi emboldened to attack us again. You made the smart play, love.”
“I know,” Yukio says. “I know. But I’m tired of ‘smart’ and ‘strategic’ and ‘long view’, dearest. I want to plant my feet somewhere, face our enemies and cut down all who come at me until this is finally decided.”
“There will be a time for that,” Kirika says. “But for now…” She turns to Toshi. “How did your mission with the printers go?”
Toshi grins. “Oh, you know,” he said. “Just showed up Shadowwatch something fierce by tracking them down in, like, two hours. Everybody thinks it’s gotta be foreigners running the presses, or the ink, but I figured, these guys need to replace their metal type, too. Found a small artisan blacksmith who takes their orders, tracked the address she gave me, was a dead drop, followed one of Ikishi’s agents from there, and guess where he led me, straight to their underground press.” He pauses for a moment. “It’s not actually underground. Marshland and all. But it is in the back room of a factory to hide the noise.”
“Were you able to switch the leaflets for Holger’s?” Kirika continues.
“Err,” Toshi says, “okay, so...it’s a success in progress, so to speak. I mean, I found the place, but only by following Ikishi’s guy and he stayed there, so I figured I’d better not press my luck. But the factory shuts down in the evening, so I figure they can’t print at night without the noise masking, so it might be empty then?” He looks at Kirika. “I’m like 80% confident. 90%.”
“Did you see that the agent was there the whole time?” Kirika asks.
“I waited there for ten minutes,” Toshi says. “Do you realize how hard it is to blend in on factory grounds for ten minutes without being a shadow creature? I had to switch hiding places three times, and then I was out of good hiding places, and I thought, well, I’d better go back and tell you guys about the place so we don’t do the thing where I find something important and get captured and then you not only don’t find out what I found out but have to come rescue me, in the course of which you have to find what I found anyway and so make my whole work kinda pointless to begin with.” He pauses. “That seems an oddly specific concern now that I’ve said it out loud.”
“You got scared and ran off,” Kirika summarizes.
“Yes,” Toshi folds.
Kirika reaches out and loops Toshi into the embrace, giving him a kiss as well. “So, Toshi needs a way to get his job done - a distraction. And Yukio, you want to go beat up some bad people.” Kirika smiles. “I’d imagine that factory was in a pretty rough neighborhood.”
“I like where this is going,” Yukio says.
“I feel like I could be liking it more,” Toshi says.
“Toshi, if you had a distraction, do you think you could get your job done?” Kirika asks.
“Well, being the distraction usually is my job,” Toshi says. “But...I guess? I mean, yeah, sure, I could.” He looks to Kirika. “95%.”
“And Yukio...how would you like to punch some gang members in the face?” Kirika asks, an extra twinkle in her eye.
“Do you even have to ask, dearest?” Yukio replies. “Of course I’ll do it.”
“Then let’s go get into some trouble,” Kirika replies, backing out of the three-way hug. “Copperhead?”
“I listened to just enough of that conversation to evaluate the feasibility of your approach,” Copperhead replies as he appears out of the shadows again. “I...appreciate its simplicity. In any event, the proverbial coast is clear. Let us make haste.”
Gatac 2015-06-16 12:52:26
While the Forge retains its rightful place as the Empire’s heavy manufacturing center, the capital is no slouch when it comes to industry, either - it’s just that the factories here tend towards less martial products. Among the biggest is Maseo’s Woodworks, which fills a hall with almost two-hundred workers manufacturing all kinds of furniture and other wooden goods for the exploding urban population of the city.

(Fun history fact: the term “middle class” dates back to 1745.)

The first thing Kirika and Yukio notice on arrival at the gates to the factory grounds (insofar as an artificial platform on thousands of wooden stilts sunk into the lagoon counts as “grounds”) is the smell. Wood shavings mix with varnishes, paints and other distinctly artificial fragrances for a headache-inducing vapor. The first hints of it start on the pontoon bridge connecting the platform to the city proper, but by the time they’re face to face with the smartly-dressed guard by the wrought-iron gate that governs entrance to the factory, the smell seems strong enough to be searing all traces of hair from the insides of their nostrils.

“Authorized personnel only,” the guard says, like he’s been practicing in front of a mirror every night to get this job. I mean, who wouldn’t want his job, getting paid to stand around all day looking official?
“We’d like a tour,” Yukio fibs, trying to put on a big smile. “We’re investors.”
“So,” the guard asks, looking at the two, than back at the wooden board in his hands that seems to have some words painted on it. “Are you authorized personnel?”
“Well, not exactly,” Kirika says with a smile of her own. “But we are investors, which I think should get us some kind of special treatment…”
“You’re...not authorized?” the guard asks, seeming a little unsure on this point.
“We’d like to be!” Yukio chirps.
“Then you...uh…” the guard stammers. Finally, he looks at the board, back at the two women, then at the board again, and then he pulls the gate open - not that it would have kept them out if they put their minds to it, but hey. He points out a posh-looking man strolling from a little side house to the main manufacturing hall, flanked by a half dozen burly men whose toolset of heavy chains and iron rods does not seem to match any woodworking technique you’re familiar with. “Herr Maseo!” the guard calls, deliberately using the foreigner’s form of address. “There are...two investors!”

Herr Maseo nods to the shift supervisors accompanying him, and together, they walk towards the gate; the grins of the supervisors are still subtle, much like the motion of the chains they’re lazily swinging in their hands. Kirika conceals her surprise at the six men - all of whom are just as tall and even larger than Yukio and herself.

“Ladies,” Maseo says cooly. “I think you’re lost. Now you’d better run back home. This is no place for the likes of you.”
“We’d really like a tour,” Yukio offers.
“There are no tours,” Maseo replies. “Ken?”
“Yes, Herr Maseo?” the gate guard replies.
“Take a break,” Maseo says. “In fact, go home. And don’t come back tomorrow.”
“But -” the guard starts to protest, but Maseo cuts him off with a glance.
“Oh, good point,” Maseo says. “Strip off my property first. Wouldn’t want you to become a thief, now would you?”
“No,” the guard mutters, then starts undressing.
Kirika raises an eyebrow, but keeps her smile on. “What exactly is going on here?” she asks. “How is our investment doing?”
Your investment is what you’re standing on,” Maseo says. “Dividends start paying out in five years. You’ll find it’s all in the small print. Just like the fact that we don’t give no tours to anyone. Now beat it.”
“Oh, boss, isn’t that a little harsh?” on the shift supervisors says. “This could be fun.”
“Yeah,” another chimes in. “Like, a real good time.”
The gate guard has finished stripping down to his underwear. “Excuse me,” he mutters as he presses past Yukio and Kirika, clearly at least smart enough to know he doesn’t want to be anywhere near this conversation.
Kirika looks Yukio’s way, and raises her eyebrows in the direction of the rude man and his group of thugs. Now?
Yukio just grins and nods. Now.
Kirika turns back to the boss-looking-man. “I expect that you manage all your workers with such a firm hand?”
“That’s why I’m the boss and they’re the peons,” Maseo says. “You girls understand that, right?”
“I think we do,” Kirika nods. She squeezes Yukio’s hand. Okay, now.


Yukio: 1d20+11 = 27
Kirika: 1d20+11 = 26
Shift Supervisors: 1d20+9 = 16
Maseo: 1d20+4 = 5)

Yukio sizes up one of the shift supervisors as he edges close to her with a leering smile. “So, you gonna be good?” he asks. Her reply is a grin and a lightning-fast punch at his throat.

(Yukio’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 18 HIT!
Yukio’s Damage: 1d4+5 = 8

Supervisor’s Damage Save vs DC 14: 1d20+12 = 17 SUCCESS!)

The brute flinches back, leaving him open for Yukio to try to grab his weapon and relieve him of the same.

(Yukio’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 19
Supervisor’s Attack, at +4 for having the larger weapon: 1d20+14+4 = 29 SUCCESS!

Yukio becomes flat-footed.)

However, this is no weedy conscript scared half to death of Yukio in her family armor - this is a brute of a man, and his superior muscle mass wins out as he shoves Yukio backwards and off-balance. But Kirika knows that her love can handle herself - she has her own, chain-swinging problem right in front of her, and favors the same with a full-strength kick to the ribs.

(Kirika’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 22 HIT!
Kirika’s Damage: 1d6+4 = 10

Supervisor’s Damage Save vs DC 15: 1d20+12 = 18 SUCCESS!)
And when that doesn’t take, she spins under his lunging swing of the chain to deliver a kick to his shin.

(Kirika’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 33
Kirika’s Damage: 1d6+4 = 8

Supervisor’s Damage Save vs DC 19: 1d20+12 = 19 SUCCESS!)

That one definitely produces a yelp from the supervisor, but doesn’t stop him from pressing his own attack, as the pack of brutes surges forward to deliver what they imagine will be a pretty one-sided beatdown. Well, not a particularly pretty one, really.

(Mr. Club tries to get revenge on Yukio.

Supervisor’s Attack: 1d20+14 = 21 HIT!
Supervisor’s Damage: 1d8+4 = 7

Supervisor’s Attack: 1d20+14 = 29 HIT!
Supervisor’s Damage: 1d8+4 = 8

Mr. Shins likewise tries to return the favor to Kirika.

Supervisor’s Attack: 1d20+14 = 29 HIT!
Supervisor’s Damage: 1d8+4 = 12

Supervisor’s Attack: 1d20+14 = 27 HIT!
Supervisor’s Damage: 1d8+4 = 5

Seeing as their friends are taking care of the two uppity ladies, the remaining supervisors only move to encircle the impromptu battlegrounds.

Maseo just speechifies.)

And boy are those counterstrikes not pretty. Both Yukio and Kirika get a taste of iron from their respective dance partners, whose attacks may not be particularly skillful, but feel like being hit by a charging bull. Under the circumstances, the fact that the remaining four “supervisors” make no strikes of their own and instead seem content to build a perimeter around the fight is not reassuring at all.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Maseo brags. “The wonders of modern chemistry. Now, we can do this the hard way, or…”
Yukio wipes her lips. “Hard way,” she spits.

Yukio goes full hog and tries to pummel Mr. Club.

Yukio’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 31 HIT!
Yukio’s Damage: 3d4+15 = 23

Supervisor’s Damage Save vs DC 25: 1d20+12 = 27 SUCCESS!)

The hard way, per Yukio’s definition, is a series of kidney punches and a knee to the brute’s groin, followed by a headbutt. The brute is thrown back and takes a half-step to steady himself, shaking the stars from his rattled head, but he’s still on his feet. Kirika decides to try and do something about that.

(Kirika’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 28 HIT!
Kirika’s Damage: 1d6+4 = 6

Supervisor’s Damage Save vs DC 28: 1d20+12 = 19 FAILED!)

The brute’s head had just stopped ringing when he catches a snap kick from Kirika to his ear that ends with the unmistakable sound of a bone fracture. The brute howls and falls to his knees, then to his side, rolling on the dirty wooden platform flooring and trying to stem the bleeding from his mangled ear. Kirika can just about feel her own dance partner coming up behind her, and so she turns quickly, throwing an elbow strike behind her that’s destined for his teeth.

(Kirika’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 31 HIT!
Kirika’s Damage: 1d6+4 = 7

Supervisor’s Damage Save vs DC 22: 1d20+12 = 28 SUCCESS!)

Mr. Shins’s head snaps to the side from the impact, but the brute’s body doesn’t move. Instead, he slowly turns his head back towards Kirika, spits out the bloodied fragments of two teeth, and moves to “thank” Kirika by returning the favor.

(Mr. Shins tries to pummel Kirika!

Supervisor’s Attack: 1d20+14 = 19 MISS!)

It all works out to a lot of flailing without any flaying, though, as Kirika dances through his brute force chain swings without getting any iron added to her diet.

(A NEW CHALLENGER APPEARS! One of the brutes steps off the sidelines and moves to grab Yukio.

Supervisor’s Athletics: 1d20+14 = 22
Yukio’s Athletics: 1d20+17 = 22

Yukio resists on account of her higher total skill bonus. Mr. Grabs is now flat-footed.)

Meanwhile, it’s becoming clear to the gorillas on the perimeter that their buddies might not be winning this one, and as such it’s time to stop pretending this is a fair fight. He steps behind her and tries to hook her arms - but in the seconds-long struggle, skills triumphs where muscles are evenly matched, and Yukio pushes him off her and off balance.

(Another brute tries to taunt Kirika!

Supervisor’s Sense Motive: 1d20+10 = 11
Kirika’s Sense Motive: 1d20+16 = 21 SUCCESS!

Kirika gains a +1 to her next attack against Mr. Talky!)

“Hey, baby, why don’t you try that with a real man?” one of the brutes shouts from the sidelines. A sideways glance from Kirika tells him that she intends to do just that - but at her own pace. Seeing that his subtle approach isn’t working, he falls back to what he knows best.

(Supervisor’s Attack: 1d20+14 = 16 MISS!)

For certain values of “best”, anyway.

The remaining two brutes drop their fighting stances a half-step back as they recognize the level of resistance they’re dealing with here - but neither seems particularly eager to engage.

“What are you doing?” Maseo shouts. “Dogpile them! Beat them! Grab them! Stop standing around and DO SOMETHING!
When Kirika sees four more of the same brutes coming her and Yukio’s way, her hand goes to her sword - but she pauses before drawing it. “Put down your weapons, and I won’t draw mine.”
“Don’t listen to her!” Maseo fumes. “Just hit them!”
“But…” Mr. Talky says. “They’re all...fast!”

Yukio returns the favor to Kirika, sending an attack at Mr. Shins:

Yukio’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 35 BAM!

Supervisor auto-fails his Damage Save. Mr. Shins is out! Now, it’s Mr. Grabs’s turn to hurt.

Yukio’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 19 HIT!
Yukio’s Damage: 1d4+5 = 9

Supervisor’s Damage Save vs DC 14: 1d20+12 = 14 BARELY!)

Well, what’s Yukio to do with such a clear instruction? A snap kick to Mr. Shins’s chin shatters the rest of his teeth and sends him to the ground, while an elbow to the guts forces Mr. Grabs’s back, belching up a few half-digested bites of breakfast as he tries to stay in the fight. Kirika sees her opening and moves to exploit it.

(Kirika’s Attack: 1d20+15 = 30 HIT!
Kirika’s Damage: 1d6+4 = 8

Supervisor’s Damage Save vs DC 18: 1d20+12 = 16 FAIL!

MORALE CHECK! Supervisor’s Resolve vs DC 20: 1d20+10 = 13 FAIL

All brutes must take at least one move action away from Kirika and Yukio this round. Kirika attacks Mr. Talky, the only brute currently in range.

Kirika’s Attack, +1 for resisting the Taunt: 1d20+15+1 = 35 AD spent, CRIT ACTIVATED!
Supervisor auto-fails his Damage Save.)

“No-no-now look here, sweet cheeks -” Mr. Talky says. That’s all he says, though, because the roundhouse kick Kirika delivers to his blabbermouth folds him like a steam-cleaned kimono.

The two remaining brutes look at each other, then at Maseo, then slowly back away from the fight - they’re not quite fleeing, but they’re certainly cognizant of the fact that this is now, by virtue of four of their friends in the dirt, a fair fight - one they seem to be ill-equipped to handle. There’s some chain-whirling, but it’s rather half-hearted.

“YOU IDIOTS!” Maseo screams, drawing roughly half of the blood in his body into his face. “YOU’RE STRONGER THAN THEM! YOU HAVE WEAPONS! GET IN THERE AND FIGHT!”
Kirika, on the other hand, remains calm. “What is going on here?” she asks the two remaining brutes. “What has he done that made you like this? Who is behind all of this? Answer my questions and I will let you both go.”
“Er…” one of the brutes stammers. Let’s call him Mr. Personality. He certainly has more than the other guy, who just keeps swinging his chain like he’s just realized that this one skill he has will not carry him through life like he always imagined it would.
“DON’T TALK!” Maseo screams. “FIGHT! FIGHT, YOU IDIOTS!”
“Or don’t - which seems like the better choice right now,” Kirika says. “We are not here to fight you, but there are wrongs here that need righting. You must know this. Help us.”
“Er…” Mr. Personality continues to stammer.
“How does he treat the others here? Like the poor man at the gate? How does he treat you?” Kirika asks. She smirks. “Does he always treat you like oxen, like dumb beasts?”

(Kirika’s Impress: 1d20+19 = 22
Supervisor’s Resolve: 1d20+10 = 19)

It’s not one of Kirika’s better speeches, but luckily, the audience wouldn’t know a good speech if it knocked out their teeth - all they’re hearing is that somebody’s talking to them like they actually have a choice here, while their boss is getting blue in the face from screaming and their coworkers are in various configurations of agony on the floor.

“Er...bye!” Mr. Personality says, dropping his iron rod and running away. Chainguy stops swinging his chain, looks to Maseo - and then carefully begins to wrap his chain across his torso for storage.
“FIGHT, YOU IDIOT!” Maseo shouts. Well, croaks. His voice is pretty shot by now.
“Shut up,” Kirika barks at the angry little man, making her tattoos pulse blue for emphasis.

Maseo surveys the situation. Four of his employees are down on the ground. One has run away, another is clearly no longer interested in carrying Maseo’s agenda forward, and that leaves him alone to deal with two angry women who are the source of his recent terrible troubles. Clearly, the only thing to do is run away, and so he tries, turning around and scrambling deeper into the factory grounds.
Gatac 2015-06-24 14:52:52
Yukio lets out a sigh. “Should I catch him?” she asks.
"Please, we should find out what is going on here," Kirika says. As Yukio nods and sprints after him on what will doubtlessly be a very short pursuit, Kirika turns to the confused-looking brute. "What is your name?" she asks kindly.
“Kogo, Ma’am,” he says, then pauses for a moment. “Yeah. Kogo.”
Kirika nods. "What happens here, Kogo?"
“The workers...well, they work,” Kogo says. “Herr Maseo says that it costs a lot of money when they don’t work. So he keeps us around, and when they see us they work.” He looks to the side. “I don’t want to lie, Ma’am. I’m not good at a lot of stuff. But I’m good at this.” Another pause. “I never killed one.”
"That's good, Kogo, that's very good," Kirika says. "And how did you get...like you are? Were you always this big?"
“I was big,” Kogo says. “I’m bigger now. Herr Maseo gives us pills. They taste really bad.”
"Do you and the others, and the workers, do you all stay here?" Kirika asks. "Can you take me to where everyone else is?"
“Yeah,” Kogo says. “I can do that.” After a moment, he realizes that Kirika is waiting for him to do so, and he turns and starts trudging off.
"Wait," Kirika says, and looks back to the groaning mass of four other brutes behind her. "Will they be all right?"
Kogo shrugs. “They’re not my friends,” he says. “They’re big. They can take care of themselves.”
"Okay," Kirika says. "Lead the way, Kogo."
“I never had friends, I think. I was really unhappy when I came here,” Kogo explains. “I don’t know why. Maybe I would be happy with friends. I don’t know.”
"Were you...taken here?" Kirika asks as she follows by his side. "By someone else?"
“I don’t know,” Kogo says. “I think I came here. I don’t just go along with other people. No offense, Ma’am.”
"None taken," Kirika replied. "Just wanted to be sure you weren't kidnapped."
“No,” Kogo says. “I reckon I’d remember that, Ma’am.”

“LET GO OFF ME, YOU CRAZY BITCH!” Maseo screams, obviously having regained a bit of his voice despite his huffing. Kirika and Kogo round a corner behind the main factory hall, finding Maseo on the ground in front of his little office cottage, locked in an armbar by an annoyed-looking Yukio. “YOU’RE BREAKING MY ARM!”
"Only because you keep struggling," Kirika says to him. "Isn't that right, Kogo?"
“Uh,” Kogo says. “I don’t know, Ma’am.” He looks down at Maseo. “The lady makes more sense than you, Herr Maseo. We’re just talking. You don’t have to scream.”
“I swear to the Heavens,” Yukio says, “I will rip this arm off and beat you into next week with it if you don’t stop screaming every single word you say.”
“I could break his other arm,” Kogo offers. “Or a leg.”
“That’s not necessary yet,” Kirika says, and crouches down next to Maseo. “What have you done to Kogo and the others?” she hisses.
“I just give them the pills, okay?” Maseo says. “I let them use my print shop and I get the pills in exchange. It’s just a business arrangement!”
“Who are ‘they’?” Kirika says. “Where did Kogo and the others come from? They barely remember how to speak, let alone who they are.”
“I don’t know! Bureaucrats and policemen!” Maseo answers. “Nobody was made to come here, okay? They’re all employees! Anybody wants out, they get out, I don’t care! There’s a line every Monday for people trying to get hired! Please, you have to believe me, I’m just a businessman!”
“Is that true?” Kirika asks the gathering crowd around them.

The assembled workers look to each other, but most nod, though some clearly reluctantly.
“I didn’t know how hard it would be,” one says, “but I need the money.”
“It’s not that bad!” another says. “We’re inside. I stood for three hours in freezing rain just to apply!”
“It’s exactly that bad!” yet another weighs in. “He’s not paying nearly enough!”
“Find another job, then!”
“There are no other jobs!”
“Sure there are, my friend makes his way as a migrant farm worker…”
“I’m never going back to a farm!”
“So, uh, is this our lunch break?”
“Anybody know where the money is? If they’re closing, we need to get paid!”
“Let’s get paid! Who’s with me? Let’s get paid! Let’s get paid!”

The chorus of “Let’s get paid!” swells throughout the crowd, while Maseo just growls to himself.
“Okay, okay!” Kirika shouts. “Let’s all calm down a moment.”

(Kirika’s Impress: 1d20+19 = 24
Crowd’s Resolve: 1d20+15 = 16)

“She’s right.”
“Uh, guys…”
“What are we supposed to do now?”
“Well, she seems to know…”
“Speak up!”
“First!” Kirika turns back to Maseo. “This place will be fine without the bribes to hide the presses - the presses can stay and keep running, you just wouldn’t need to keep them hidden and have…” She looks at Kogo. “So many guards. Right?”
“Uh,” Kogo says. “Do we need to leave, Ma’am?”
“Not at the moment - and hopefully not at all,” Kirika says.
“Okay,” Kogo says.
“What about them?” Maseo says. “My...business deal. They’ll...they’ll kill me for this. For what you’re doing.”
“Who? Ikishi?” Kirika says. “We are dealing with her - with them. And if you are willing to pay them, you have a good set of bodyguards here already.” She looks at Kogo again, then grabs Maseo’s free hand and squeezes - hard. “But first you will tell me about them. I asked about who they were and what has happened to them, and you talked about your other employees - but not them. Now, you will.”
Argh! Let go let go let go!” Maseo squeals. “They’re thugs! Mercenaries! Street fighters! Anyone who’s big and can handle a weapon!” He pants for breath as the joint locks slacken a bit. “I need one, I advertise and they come. You got any idea how desperate they are for work that pays? They get money, room and board, I’m the best deal in the whole damn city! So what if the pills make them a little dumb? They don’t care! They ain’t got the brains for anything else anyway!”
Kirika looks at Kogo for his reaction. Kogo looks like he’s remembering something that he doesn’t like, but he nods a silent yes to Kirika. “And that’s all that happens?” she asks Maseo. “No side effects, no long-term problems?”
“No!” Maseo whines. “Nothing like that! They only get so big...and so dumb. The muscles go away when they stop taking the pills!”
“And you will continue to run this place - fairly - if I let you go?” Kirika asks.
“Are you crazy?” Maseo says. “You want it, you run it! I’m getting out of here on the first ship!”
Kirika looks around. Obviously, the plan to secretly swap out flyers has gone somewhat awry - but that doesn’t mean the plan isn’t salvageable, albeit in a very different form. She puts her fingers to her lips and lets out two brief whistles. Moments later, a single distant whistle is heard, and that’s all the reaction she gets. “If you would pardon me for a second,” she says as she stands up. “Kogo, could you help Yukio with Maseo? And everyone else, please, go back to what you are doing. This place will not be closing anytime soon, I believe.” She then walks off in the direction of the whistle.

Following the whistle takes Kirika behind a storehouse to the side that looks out over the lagoon, with only seagulls for witnesses. As expected, she finds Sidewinder leaning against a wall, the brim of his hat pushed down low over his face, while his arms are folded in front of his chest.

“That’s a heck of a ruckus you made, no doubt,” he comments. “What’s the scheme?”
“Thinking we could use a new stronghold,” Kirika says. “And these people could use some help. And we do have a dangerously bored master craftsman to occupy.”
“Huh,” Sidewinder comments. “I heard worse notions.” His arms tighten around his chest. “Didn’t reckon I’d see Kogo again in this life.”
Kirika’s eyebrows go up. “You know him?”
“That’s too strong a phrase,” Sidewinder says. “We were clanmates, before Shadowwatch and all. Tell you the truth, he wasn’t very good at it, either. Good in a bar fight, but not the subtle type, you know? What sunk him was that he couldn’t take his lumps. Spoke out of turn, master beat him, Kogo hit back. They threw him out after that. Doesn’t surprise me that he ended up as working muscle. Just didn’t reckon it’d be so...literal.”
Kirika nods. “Then it might be good for him that you’re here when whatever Ikishi has been pushing this way wears off. For the time being, let’s bring everyone else here. It’s certainly safer than the house.”
“Ayup,” Sidewinder comments. “Do you calculate that our prince will survive the news? He seemed right happy to be sneaking about. Turns out he needn’t have, now, doesn’t it.”
“I’m sure there’ll be time for his moment of daring excitement,” Kirika says. “Hopefully, otherwise he’s liable to make one.”
Sidewinder chuckles. “Wisest thing I heard all day,” he says. “Any other notion needs conveyed?”
“Let Ueki know we might have found him a better place to work,” Kirika says.


“Holy fucking shit!” are Ueki’s first words as he enters the main factory hall. Though work had briefly picked up again after Kirika’s assurance that the factory business would continue, the workers stands still once more for the tour - which is a good thing, because Ueki’s running around like a headless chicken trying to get a close-up look at the tools and machines. “Look at this!” he shouts as he inspects a large metal wheel with serrations in its edge. “What is this?”
“It’s, uh,” the worker fumbles, “it’s a blade for a tablesaw, Sir.”
“Ooh, I’ve heard about these!” Ueki answers, continuing his gefingerpoken and mittengrabben.

Back at the main tour group, Copperhead’s assessment of the workshop’s facilities is more sober. “Above satisfactory,” he concludes after a scan. “Are there any metalworking tools?”
“Just small-scale,” Maseo answers. “We can punch hinges, sandcast handles, these kinds of things.”
“Adequate,” Copperhead confirms, then turns to Kirika. “I have a few ideas, but for the time being I recommend we resume normal production. I would like to assess the skill level of the workers and the effectiveness of the machines as they are now before we commit to further projects.”
“Agreed,” Kirika says. “And the presses?” she asks Maseo.
“All yours,” Maseo says. “As long as you don’t break them. They cost a fortune to have shipped in, you know.”
“Do we have people that can operate them?” Kirika asks. “And how do you signal for a pickup?”
“Well, not really,” Maseo says. “A few guys helped me set them up when they came here, so we could ask them, but the actual printing was done by outsiders I didn’t know. They pretty much just get here, print their stuff and ship it out by boat from the back. Doesn’t really involve me, except when they ruined my typeset last week. I had to order a replacement set, but even then they wouldn’t let me touch it, they had one of their guys pick it up.” Maseo shakes his head. “You know, they brought their own replacement sets a couple of times, but they were substandard, I think they threw off the alignment and warped a plate. I had to put my foot down. I mean, I’m letting them use my presses, I never agreed to let them ruin my machines.”
“Sounds like you know how to run them well enough yourself,” Kirika replies with a raised eyebrow. “Maybe with a bit of help you can help us out with a print run.”
Maseo gives an uncertain nod. “I can try, but if anything goes wrong…”
“We have someone that might be able to help,” Kirika says, and looks across the hall. “Ueki! Want to see something really different?”
Ueki puts down the rotary saw blade he’s inspecting and comes sauntering over, head on a swivel making mental notes for which machine to inspect next. “Sure, what do you have?”


The back room of the factory hall is substantially occupied by three very big, very intricate formations of precision-crafted metal: printing presses, whose external power gearings are currently decoupled from the main power shaft running underneath the hall’s ceiling. Next to them, stacks of parchment on one side and barrels of ink on the other take up more room, and just to make things even more cramped, there’s a workbench with its own gaslight with dozens of drawers underneath, clearly equipped to assemble type into a finished plate.

Ueki whistles in appreciation at the sight. “Wow,” he says. “I thought we were talking about a few hand presses.”
“Hand presses wouldn’t be able to produce several thousand copies of a bulletin in a few hours,” Maseo explains. “I dreamed big. Nobody else has a shop like that in the whole empire. I would have cornered the market.”
“Oh, no doubt,” Ueki comments. “I mean, I know exactly what you’re talking about. When you’re establishing your brand, you have to do it right, you don’t skimp. You take your best shot.”
Maseo sighs. “Only I had nothing to print,” he says. “People trust announcers, and handwritten letters. Plus the whole hassle of convincing the authorities that I wouldn’t be using the presses to slander the throne, they wanted to see every pamphlet two weeks in advance. Two weeks! How was I supposed to spread the news of the day like this? I mean, I tried with a summary periodical, biweekly, but the news were old by the time it came out, I couldn’t find any reputable scholars to write treatises for it, and just forget about selling advertising space. Nobody wants to advertise in something the people don’t read.”
“I feel you, Maseo, I really do,” Ueki says. “Hmm, maybe with a special dispensation from Lady Ishikawa - keeping the people informed about recent events to maintain good order and prevent the spread of nasty rumors?”
“Hmm,” Maseo says. “That’s not a bad angle at all.”
“And you can print my ads,” Ueki says.
“We have more urgent matters to put to paper,” Copperhead weighs in.
“That we do,” Kirika says. “Specifically, a pamphlet about the many crimes that High Lord Itanu has committed.” She passes the draft that Holger put together to Maseo. “How long do you think it would take to have a few hundred of these ready?”
Maseo scans the draft and scowls. “An hour to lay it out, another to print them,” he says. “What exactly is a ‘straight buster’?”
“...we might have to do a quick editing run first,” Ueki proposes.
“Yes, please,” Kirika says. “If you need any help…”
“Thanks, but I can handle it,” Ueki says. “I do a bit of copywriting myself, you know. You just have to check out one of my gonnes to see for yourself, they come with a very good manual if I do say so myself. Seriously, you should check it out, I’m really proud of how it came out, I think it conveys the right mix of seriousness and enthusiasm for the advancement of technology.”
“Gets you all excited for the future of war,” Kirika replies with a smirk. “Well, I’ll leave you two to it, then. Is there any pickups coming today, Maseo-san?”
“Not that I know of,” Maseo says. “After that late-night pamphlet run yesterday, I haven’t heard anything further.”
“Guess we’ll have to spread it ourselves and make it look like Ikishi’s work,” Kirika says, and bows. “Good luck, and thank you, both of you.”
Gatac 2015-06-27 09:31:41
Leaving the geeking out over lead-tin alloy type and the New Imperial Standard typeface to Ueki and Maseo, Kirika ventures back outside. A few considerate souls have washed the place where the fight took place, so it’s hard to tell from outside just how much things have changed in the span of a few hours. One recent addition to the scenery certainly stands out: Toshi, pacing in front of the entrance to the supervisor barracks where Yukio’s currently dealing with the aftermath of several severe ass beatings. Kirika’s almost made it there when the door opens and Yukio walks out, with bloody sleeves and a tired smile.

“How are they?” Kirika asks. “Both from the fight and from whatever Ikishi has been pushing on them.” She shivers. “Poor men.”
“Comfortable, for now,” Yukio says. “They didn’t get their lunch ration of the drug, so they’re...well, mostly they’re sad and confused, I even got a few apologies.” The smile fades a bit. “The thing is...I’m pretty sure they were not the apologetic type before they came here, dearest. Without the immediate aggression, they’re almost...like well-trained dogs.”
“I’m sorry,” Toshi says. “That sounds rough. You dealt with it the best way you could.” He shrugs. “So, cause a ruckus while I go switch the pamphlet drafts, that was the plan, yeah? And now it looks like we’re running the whole place. Talk about mission creep.”
“Things changed once we got inside,” Kirika replies, then gives Toshi a peck on the cheek. “You were still very brave, Toshi.”
“That goes without saying,” Toshi says, returning the peck. “Not that I mind hearing it. At all. Repeatedly, if necessary, to express the true depths of your admiration.”
“My hero!” Yukio half-faux-swoons, planting a peck on his other cheek.
“And what a burden it is,” Toshi says, “but you lighten it so expertly.”
“Dear,” Yukio says, “can you not make light of me making light of you?”
“Is that a call to modesty I hear?” Toshi says.
Yukio grins. “No, I’m telling you to let me have the last word.”
“Well,” Toshi says, “if I say yes, is that going to count as a violation?”
"A technicality that you would never exploit, I'm sure," Kirika adds.
“Perish the thought,” Toshi says, with a grin that adds ‘Go on, say something else, I dare you’.
Kirika smiles at Toshi for a moment longer, then turns to Yukio. "Are you all right, love? I saw you take a few good hits."
“We gave better than we got,” Yukio says. “It’s not like we had to go the distance. Remember our first sparring fight, at the Academy?”
"Of course," Kirika says, and gives Yukio a peck of her own. "I mostly remember afterwards, but -"
“You shared a bathtub and I wasn’t there to see it,” Toshi cuts in. “No regrets, though. Just, you know, if you ever do that again, I’d like to be included.” He blinks. “The sparring. I meant the sparring!” He blinks again. “Okay, I meant the bath, too.”
Kirika smiles and pulls a now bright red Yukio in close. "I'm sure a little two-on-one could be arranged." She smiles for a moment before turning a bit red herself. "Oh, damn. You know what I mean."
“Tonight can’t come soon enough,” Toshi muses. His face darkens. “No snickering now. I mean it. I’m your emperor. My word is law, and the law is no snickering.”
Kirika clears her throat. "So! Itanu!"
"Yes!" Yukio adds.
"Do you think we have him?" Kirika says. "If I were him, I'd be getting out of town in a hurry after this."
“Ikishi is resourceful,” Yukio says, “but I don’t see her pulling another trick out of her sleeve to bring Itanu back to her fold. For all her bluster, her many underlings have proven to be less than difficult to set on a different path, and Itanu has nothing at all to gain from siding with her.”
“She could still be blackmailing him somehow,” Toshi counters.
“I doubt it,” Yukio says. “She must have known he would flip on her given the chance. He wears his self-interest for all to see.”
“Yeah,” Toshi says. “I mean, Ikishi’s a smart player, but she’s got too much to lose trying to rehabilitate Itanu. They’re done with each other, I think.”
"Just need to make sure that he leaves instead of sticking around to ruin our plans in return," Kirika says. "Have either of you heard anything from Toshiba, Kagemaru or Kiara?"
“Not yet,” Toshi says. “Shadowwatch lost track of them and Takao last night. They haven’t been seen since. But I’m not really worried. I mean, if Ikishi had them, we’d know it by now.”
“Still,” Kirika says. “They have been out of contact for a day now - I would have expected a check-in from Kagemaru at least. It’s not like distance is much of a problem for him. I should ask Sidewinder to look for them while Copperhead secures this place against further attack.”
“Oh, yeah,” Toshi says. “Let’s have one guy search the biggest city in the empire and find three super-sneaky ninja that have completely dropped out of sight of our entire spy network.”
“Sarcasm won’t speed the search,” Yukio says.
“No, but it makes me feel better,” Toshi says. “I don’t have a better idea, though, so all right. Sidewinder’s good for surprises, if anyone can do it, he can.”
"The sooner we're all back together, the sooner we can take a break for the night," Kirika points out.
That definitely makes me feel better,” Toshi quips.
“We have one more thing to deal with first,” Kirika says.


“Wow!” is the first word out of Toshi’s mouth when he enters the Hall of Justice, with Yukio and Kirika trailing behind. “It’s so...open.”
“How does it stay up?” Yukio asks, trying to find the pillars that hold the roof covering the main hall.
“I have no idea,” Toshi says. “Looks impressive, though.”
“I hope looks are not the extent of your considerations, Lord Tatsuno,” Ishikawa says, and for once there seems to be an actual smile underneath the slight upward curve of the mouth painted on her mask. “Lady Kamura, Lady…”
“Matsumoto,” Yukio adds.
“Ah yes, forgive me,” Ishikawa says. She turns to Kirika. “How goes your day?”
“Productive,” Kirika replies. “And yours, Lady Ishikawa?”
“Some avenues look promising,” she says. “My office?”
“Of course,” Kirika says. “After you, Lady.”

As they approach Ishikawa’s center office that overlooks the rest of the hall, Kirika spots two officers posted by the door of the interrogation room where Lord Itanu makes his (temporary) home. It’s not particularly subtle in how it indicates something or someone important hidden behind the door, but it does seem effective at isolating the High Lord from anyone who’s not on Ishikawa’s guest list. Once inside the office, Ishikawa squeezes behind her desk and takes a sip of cold tea.

“So,” she says, regarding Toshi. “You’re Yoshihiro’s son?”
“Yes,” Toshi answers.
“My condolences,” Ishikawa says. “Here’s hoping we can set things right. You’ll be pleased to know Lady Ikishi paid me a visit earlier today, asking to speak to Itanu. I sent her packing. I do believe that finally wiped the smirk off her face. I hear you went ahead and caused a disturbance in the factory district?”
“We found the presses for Ikishi’s pamphlets,” Kirika replies. “They were appealing to a local businessman’s ambitions in return for his equipment and silence - and providing these.” She pulls a silk handkerchief out of her pocket and opens it to reveal a few of the brute pills. “They make one immensely strong - at the cost of your intellect.” She puts the cloth away again. “We don’t know if they reverse themselves on their own, but the mercenaries that were taking them are recovering. The businessman has recanted his previous error as well, and is helping us now.”
Ishikawa regards the bruises on Kirika and Yukio with a literally inscrutable expression. “I see,” she says. “I assume you can’t link either the presses or those pills directly to Ikishi?”
“She used cutouts,” Kirika replies. “But all of the pamphlets are her propaganda, the pills use her methods, and there is...the hint of her methods smothers the whole affair.”
“Hints do not get me the ears of the judges,” Ishikawa says, but sounding more...dismissive than depressed. “What matters is that another one of her schemes is in tatters.”
“Almost,” Kirika replies. “There is still the matter of the man downstairs. Itanu needs to be dealt with.”
“Do you have a suitable pretext for talking to him?” Ishikawa says. “I suppose he should be informed that we found the source of the threatening pamphlets. Don’t you agree?”
“Actually, we might have failed on that account,” Kirika says, pulling a pamphlet out of her other pocket, and handing it to Ishikawa. “The tone has changed somewhat, though.”
Ishikawa scans the piece of paper - containing Ueki’s revised version of Holger’s message as suggested by Toshi - and chuckles quietly. “Oh, that will do just fine,” she says. “Come on, Lord Tatsuno. We must keep Lord Itanu apprised of the developing threat against him.”


Itanu adjusts his glasses as he reads the pamphlet presented to him again, and then another time, before finally looking up at Ishikawa. “What...what dross is this?”
“Another one of those pamphlets which Lord Tatsuno so kindly provided me,” Ishikawa explains. “Would you care to substantiate any of the crimes against the Empire it alleges you’ve committed?”
“Would I care?” Itanu growls. “Now listen here, you...you upstart! Do not think for a second that I can’t see your place in this, this...conspiracy against me!”
“According to this, you’re no less an upstart than I am, Lord,” Ishikawa says cooly. “And you’ve defrauded the Imperial treasury and sent dozens of loyal sailors into certain death by the hands of pirates.” Her eyes narrow behind the mask. “These are very serious allegations, but also quite detailed, and I can’t imagine that it will be very difficult to corroborate them.”
“Someone really has it in for you, huh?” Toshi adds.
“Fine!” Itanu says. “Investigate away! You’ll turn up nothing of this...ridiculous fiction. This is...it’s…”
“Straight foolish?” Toshi offers.
Itanu looks intently at Toshi. “I think we’ve said what needs saying, Lady Ishikawa,” he says. “Leave me and Lord Tatsuno alone for a moment, please.”
“As you wish,” Ishikawa says. “My men are outside if you need anything.”

As the door shuts behind Ishikawa, Itanu removes his glasses, all the better to glare at Toshi with.

“You flexin’, homeboy?” Itanu says. “You roll up in my crib with that foreigner clown, and now this shit right here?”
“I taught that clown a thing or two, just to twist you,” Toshi replies, launching into his Northside impression. “Had to get your attention, my man, ‘cause I want in on all that bidness. You rollin’ large, I want those stacks. Cut me in and I’ll pull you out, you don’t, have fun in the slammer.”
“You little punk-ass trick,” Itanu smolders. “I’mma stomp your ass for this shit.”
“Hey, don’t hate the playa, hate the game,” Toshi says. “Boss Bitch cuttin’ you loose, man, I’m the new hotness. You better bounce on back to the hood before you get six feet deep.”
“Pretend I’m listening, mark,” Itanu says. “What you got?”
“Well, you in or you not?” Toshi asks.
“...I’m in,” Itanu says.
“Church,” Toshi says. “I’ma holler at you when the lights go out. You’ll know it when you see it. We gon’ grab your stash and then we get ghost.”
“You ain’t told me nothin’,” Itanu says.
“Well, I ain’t seen nothin’,” Toshi says. “You just be ready, pops. I’ll catch you on the rebound.”
“Don’t fuck with me, boy,” Itanu says. “You won’t breathe long enough to enjoy it.”
“Word,” Toshi says.


After emerging from the room and getting back to Ishikawa’s office, Toshi lets out a breath he’s been holding for a few minutes now. “Well, that was new,” he says. “I’ll definitely need to pick Holger’s brain some more, but I think I did a decent job; he seems to buy that I’m a Northsider and that he can buy an escape from the city with his ill-gotten gains. Now all we need is an actual breakout tonight, and we’ll have him.” He looks to Kirika. “Right?”
Kirika thinks for a moment.
“Dearest?” Yukio asks. “What’s on your mind?”
“We need to talk to the Northside Raiders before tonight,” Kirika says.
“Assuming we can do that,” Toshi says, “what’s the message?”
“If Itanu can be trusted to stay gone,” Kirika says. “Or at all.”
“Is that a good idea?” Yukio asks. “I mean, they don’t just talk to anyone, do they?”
“They’d talk to Holger,” Toshi says.
“But will they tell him the truth?” Yukio says. “They’re not known for their trust in outsiders…”
“They gave Itanu up in seconds,” Kirika replies. “I don’t think that they like him all that much either. We just need to know if we can trust that he will take the hint.”
“And that we can trust them not to ‘close the loop’ on him,” Ishikawa weighs in. “No matter what he’s done, I’m not sending him into the fangs of certain death.”
“What do you propose we do if he cannot be trusted and they want him dead, then?” Kirika asks, eyebrow raised.
“Proceed with the preparations for a tribunal, of course,” Ishikawa says. “We can entice him with opportunities to choose the low road, but it has to be his true choice. If he wants to take his chances with the raiders, then that’s for him to decide. I will certainly not see him delivered northside against his will.”
“...that was the plan all along,” Kirika replies. “We...we put all of this together so that he would see no other choice.”
“Hey, let’s not stress out too much on this point, okay?” Toshi says, stepping forward. “I totally respect the whole law-and-order thing you got going on, Lady Ishikawa. But Itanu’s a scumbag, and he’ll do the scumbag thing every time. All we have to do is nudge it along. It’ll work.”
“What Prince Toshiro means,” Kirika hisses, whispering Toshi’s name as she manhandles him back behind her in a very un-future-Emperor way, “is that we put a lot of effort into ensuring that it doesn’t come to that. We are committed to doing the right thing here, Lady. You don’t need to suspect that we are waiting for the opportunity to murder everyone that opposes us.”
“Uh, yes, of course,” Toshi says. “That’s what I meant.”
“That’s how I understood it,” Ishikawa replies. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Nothing else, your graciousness,” Kirika replies with a bow. “See you this evening.”
“Indeed,” Ishikawa says. As you take your leave, she begins to shuffle through the stack of parchment on her desk, muttering about one casefile or another, her mind already back to being fully involved in her work.
Gatac 2015-06-28 10:55:26
The sun’s been doing the “high in the sky” thing for long enough today; it’s on its way down from the apex when the Shadowwatch rickshaw pulls up as close to the docks as the driver can reasonably get without earning the ire of the merchants, sailors and teamsters who have far more need of the narrow walkways than some fancy people-carrying cart. Fortunately, it’s only a short walk to the Wave Rider, a trading ship from the Northside whose crew has had previous dealings with Kirika, Yukio and Holger - and is about to get some more of those dealings. Holger leads with a nod and a handshake that easily transitions into a half-hug with the First Mate before fists are dapped.

“Holler, son,” Holger says.
“What’s good?” the First Mate replies.
“We here for the business,” Holger says. “Gotta rap to your baller shotcaller, for real.”
“Woah, slow your roll, holmes,” the First Mate says. “I thought you cashed that Itanu bitch last night.”
“Well, he ain’t calling no shots no more, that’s real,” Holger says. “But he was a straight buster no doubt, so we need the real OG who’s running this.”
“That don’t sound like my problem,” the First Mate says. “Much love, holmes, but you better got something else for me before I do you another solid.”

Holger looks to Kirika. "What do you want?" she asks, crossing her arms.
“Whatcha got?” the First Mate asks.
Kirika fishes her purse off of her obi. "Is this what you want?"
“Coin rules everything around me,” the First Mate answers with a nod. “Slide that silver my way and you got a deal, girl.”
Kirika counts out 200 silver - which takes a bit of time - dropping each stack onto a crate next to them. "Is that sufficient?"
“That’s good,” the First Mate says; with a couple of nods, everyone in the crew starts to pick up their share. “You’re looking for Ryu Sai, runs the fish market down the block. He’s got his head shaved and he’s down two fingers on his left hand. You scope him, tell him Wave Rider Crew says ‘What’s new?’, and he’ll talk to you. What the deal is after that, that ain’t my problem. Dig?”
"I can dig it," Kirika says with a nod.
“Cool,” the First Mate says. “You better bounce if you wan’ catch him today.”
“Right on,” Holger says, exchanging another handshake with the sailor. “Peace out.”
"Much appreciated," Kirika replies with a bow.

With the information quickly (if dearly) bought, Kirika, Yukio and Holger proceed from the Wave Rider’s berth down the boardwalk, finding their way to the fish market by their noses. Most of the commotion of the day has already died down, as the freshest catch has already been sold and the remaining wares, while certainly reasonably priced, do not inspire much confidence for any culinary use beyond making fish sauce. Yukio eyes a snack cart as she passes, but quickly moves on.

“I think I’m actually starting to understand a bit of it,” Yukio says. “It’s good that we’ve got Holger on our side, dearest.”
“You don’t want me on the other side, for real,” Holger says. “You peep Ryu yet, chica?”
Kirika nods in the direction of another crab cart. "Over there," she says, leading the way. As they approach, Kirika purposefully moves into Ryu's line of sight and gives him a nod as he continues his discussion - about the weather, apparently.
“South winds comin’,” Ryu says to the fisherman as Kirika and Yukio procure a little paper box of deep-fried crab meat balls each. “You got that eel?”
“No sweat,” the fisherman replies.
“My man,” Ryu says, ending the conversation with a nod - and then he makes a beeline for Kirika and Yukio, walking straight past Holger and his attempt to open the conversation. “What’s your game, shortie?” Ryu asks, which is a little ironic considering that he’s actually the least tall between the four of them. “Don’t act like you ain’t here for me.”
"That would be what the nod meant," Kirika replied with a smile and a bow. "Kirika Kamura. I am here to ask about how the Northside Raiders feel about Lord Itanu - he is looking to get out of town in a hurry, and if he were to reach out..."
Ryu chuckles. “Straight talk,” he says. “Too big for a code, Kirika Kamura? Whatever, I don’t need that cloak and dagger shit. All the same I don’t need anyone saying ‘Northside Raiders’ too loud around here. Feel me?”
Kirika smirks. "Apologies. Time is of the essence and...it has been a trying day. My patience for games is thin."
“No games here, just the game,” Ryu says. “Check it: Raiders are over. It’s done. Northside’s chill, like an ice box. Jacking ships is for suckers, tax collecting is where we’re at. Guys getting dropped, suckers trying to dodge a rap, that’s bad old times. Itanu’s problems are his, not ours. As long as we keep the cashola rolling, it’s all the same to me, shortie.”
"Who collects from the collectors?" Kirika asks.
“That’s privileged,” Ryu says with a smirk. “What’s it to you?”
"Well, if it's the 'taxes' I'm thinking of, then Lady Ikishi is at the end of this little chain," Kirika replies.

(Kirika Sense Motive: 1d20+18 = 25)

Ryu’s smirk shifts in just the right way to tell Kirika that she’s hit a sore spot.

“And that means?” Ryu asks, his genial tone slowly losing said geniality.
"Just means that 1: you're probably not all that happy with the way things are, and 2: you can tell which way the wind is blowing - and it's saying she's not going to be on top much longer," Kirika says.
“Ambition’s one thing, shortie,” Ryu says. “Followthrough’s a bitch. Holler at me when you’re on top, but don’t waste my time before that.”
"You might not want to wait that long," Kirika says. "With Itanu about to blow town and Boota hiding in his palace, who are you going to deal with? Ikishi doesn't let anyone know more than they need to, so with those two gone, she's the only one left that knows what you're doing - except me."
“So the way I see it,” Ryu says, “if nobody’s in charge of me right now, we just hold on to that tax money for a while longer while things shake out. I’m good with that.”
"As am I," Kirika replies. "But that's the short term. I want to talk long term." She crosses her arms. "I might be in the position to need a discreet, effective, and experienced set of sailing ships in the near future. Clandestine transport, stopping bad people from doing bad things - quietly. It will mean no more freelancing and only striking the right targets for the right reasons, but it will also probably pay better than shaking sailors down, and definitely be more exciting. If things come to pass where you are looking for work, would you and your other former associates be interested?"
Ryu’s head tilts from one side to the other. “Work for The Man, then?” he asks with a smirk. “Be real, girl, you don’t want to hire us - you want to take us off the table, lock this shit down. If we gonna go steady with you, then we gots to get paid right. You sort that shit and come back to me, and say what you gotta say. I’ll listen.”
"That's fair, nothing's happened yet," Kirika replies. "But I would like at least a handshake deal before we part ways today. When things are ready, show this at the palace." She takes a scrap of paper and scribbles a very distinctive kanji on it - the one for the Shadowguard. "They will find me."
Ryu nods and accepts the paper, carefully tucking it into his vest. “I’m down,” he says. “So, we cool?”
"One more thing," Kirika replies. "I do have a first job for you - of a sort. You should be okay with this one, as it only requires you do nothing at all. Let Itanu leave, if you had other plans in store for him. We will make sure he doesn't come back."
“No sweat,” Ryu says, glancing down at Kirika’s sword and over to Yukio. “I think I’m gonna be okay with what you do to him.” He sniffs at the air. “Time’s up, shortie, I’m ghost. Keep it real.”
"See you soon," Kirika replies with a bow.

Ryu pays her no more mind; he just slowly wanders off down the boardwalk.

“Are we sure this man is in charge of...anything?” Yukio whispers.
"He knew the details of their business with Ikishi - and he wasn't happy about working for her," Kirika whispered back. "That's good enough for me." She looks to Holger. "Your impressions?"
“Legit,” Holger says. “But I smell bullshit on the Raiders being all done. This set here might be straight, but there’s gotta be a couple bangers left. Ain’t nobody at the top calling all the shots.”
"Might they have a problem working for the Shadowwatch?" she asks.
“Can’t imagine most would,” Holger says. “But some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill, you feel me?”
"I do," Kirika replies. "But it's worth the risk. We will need people willing to work a bit outside the law and do so quietly soon, and they might fit the bill. But first, Itanu."
“Right on,” Holger says. “Let’s bounce. I gotta drop some science on Toshiro.”