Empire

Gatac 2017-05-20 10:18:07
IC Thread 28
Gatac 2017-05-20 10:18:53
Kirika never was much of a shogi player, and so she leaves the game to Himiko and Ishikawa, instead preferring to pace a circle on the floor in the Hall of Justice’s main entryway. Between Shiro, Yu, Nikochi, Hiro, Toshiba, Copperhead and Sidewinder, Toshi, and above all Yukio’s ridiculous “date”, there’s plenty weighing on Kirika’s mind. She even ran through all of her katas with Crane’s Dance firmly tied into its scabbard - thrice - but nothing seems to be able to calm her nerves. Ishikawa gave her a disapproving look when she came in at the transition between Sun Rises to Morning and Farmer Severs the Rooster’s Head, but otherwise said nothing, instead moving a piece on the board before retreating back to her office.

As Himiko sits alone, she seems still, but Kirika can see her hands feeling over the board, reading her own lines again and again as if looking for a piece that she just can’t find despite knowing it should be there. As Kirika keeps watching, Himiko’s hands eventually stop, and she smiles.

“You’re staring, Kamura-kensei,” she says.
Kirika blushes. “I apologize, Himiko.” She takes a seat across the board from her. “What are you looking for?”
“An opening,” Himiko says. “My defense is secure, but I need to move to promote more pieces. I have...trouble with playing against Ishikawa-dono. She is a good teacher, but she has a much better grasp of the flow of the game than I do - so she takes more risks. It is frustrating to try to foresee a strategy that might entail sacrificing one, two, three pieces even, all to lure me out of position.” She turns her head up to Kirika. “Do you play?”
Kirika hesitates. “My father...never had a chance to teach me. I learned a bit, posing as a geisha. I was never as good at it as you or Ishikawa are, though.”
Himiko nods. “I grew up without want or obligations,” she says. “All my time was idle. I should dearly hope to be good at this game after the years I have dedicated to playing it.” She sighs. “I took my father for granted too long. We didn’t spend much time together. I was raised to be ready to one day hear he had fallen in glorious battle, to comport myself as a grieving daughter does. But now he is in a place I cannot say, not dead but not truly alive, either. And I wonder what is appropriate to feel, at such a time.” She pauses. “Or how I ought to feel about knowing that saving my father may yet entail the death of my mother. It is more comforting to consider the stakes of this game instead. An exercise in pure reason where I stand to lose nothing.”
“I’ve seen some shoji games where quite a bit more than one man’s life was at stake,” Kirika says. “And you have been much stronger than you think. You are here, waiting and ready to do what you can to help your father. If I had been given that chance...I would have given anything for that chance.”
Himiko nods. “I’m sure of it,” she says. “But sometimes, in life as in shogi, there are no good moves.”

“Kirika!” comes Yukio’s shouting from the entrance, and Kirika’s head spins to see her beloved in full regalia, sweaty and breathing hard from exertion, being held back by a couple of the police officers in the building. “Kirika!” Yukio repeats, only barely restraining herself from just pushing past the people in her way.
“Let her through!” Kirika shouts, and runs towards Yukio, catching her as she almost loses her footing on the slick tile floor. “What’s wrong, love?”
“Over there!” Yukio says; without waiting for Kirika’s reaction, she grabs her and drags her over to a quieter corner of the hall, where she then takes a moment to catch her breath. Yukio's still dressed up with the fancy coat and the prominent scabbard for her sword, but her hair's unraveled from the ponytail and there's a spray of fine dirt over her face and front, clearly from riding hard the whole way and taking a few ill-advised shortcuts. The expression on her face is wide-eyed, and there’s a distinct wetness in the corners of her eyes - not puffed up enough to have been crying for too long, maybe just tearing up from wind in her face, but either way that face and the heaving breaths don’t paint a pretty picture.
Kirika opens her mouth to respond, but decides the best move is to simply embrace her beloved and rock her back and forth for a moment. “What happened?” she asks after Yukio’s breathing calms down.
“I was at the theater with Kei,” Yukio explains. “On the way out, that...old woman from Hetechi’s party accosted us again. I tried to calm down the situation, but she attacked me, and I - I think I broke her wrist when I defended myself.” She takes a breath. “But then, I tried to calm things down, I tried to apologize, but Kei kept shouting at her, and security closed in on us, and then Kei screamed at everyone that -” Another breath. “He told them that I was the Empress. He just - just shouted it out to them. They all heard it, and…” Yukio trails off. “I’m sorry, dearest. I...didn’t know what to do. I only knew I had to find you and tell you. I only pray Ikishi has not capitalized on this yet.” She hugs Kirika tighter. “You know what to do. Don’t you? Please, dearest, tell me you know what to do.”
“Was Ikishi there?” Kirika asks. “Because none of my Shadowwatch agents have heard anything about Toshi being Emperor.”
“Exactly!” Yukio blurts out. “I was thinking about that, I just...I couldn’t figure it out. Yes. Yes, she was there, outside the theater. But she didn’t have a chance to tell Kei then, she must have told him earlier, or...actually, I don’t know how he found out.” Yukio squeezes her eyes shut. “I...don’t know how she arranged all this, or if it was just a coincidence after all, and - I don’t know. It was like I understood nothing that was happening around me, and they all - they all looked at me, like they were expecting a goddess, and all I could do was run away.”
Kirika smiles. “Well, dressed like that, you definitely look the part.”
“Kirika!” Yukio says, looking at her with shock in her eyes. “This is no time for jokes! Our plan was to keep Toshi’s identity secret, but that’s ruined now.”
“Our plan was to keep Toshi’s identity a secret for now,” Kirika says. “This might be earlier than we thought, but...I think this is a good thing. The city is in chaos, people already blame Ikishi, and then suddenly an heir to the throne is revealed? People might see him as the one to fix things.” She gives Yukio a peck on the cheek. “And that you looked every bit the badass warrior you truly are when they saw you as their Empress is a nice touch, too. Wouldn’t want them thinking of you as just another subservient noble’s wife.”

“No,” Yukio says. “But the...the fear. They bowed to me. I...I wanted to show them that Toshi and I would be better than this. That there is reason to rejoice.” She sighs. “You make this sound like...like something that is good for us. And - don’t mistake my words, it heartens me to see your confidence in a time where mine is shaken, dearest. But I have not felt so helpless, so...useless, in quite a while. I am not quite sure how to move on from this feeling yet.”
“Kamura-kensei!” Lady Ishikawa calls from the door to her office. “When you have a moment.”
“One moment, Ishikawa-dono!” Kirika replies, then looks back to Yukio. “You and Toshi are better than that, and you will have your whole lives to prove it. And as for people...you are the wife of a god now, love, a goddess in your own right. You’re just going to have to get used to people reacting that way, no matter how kind and straight you are with them.” Kirika kisses Yukio again. “Don’t worry, I’ll be here to keep it from going to both of your heads.”
Yukio tries to chuckle. “Of course you are,” she says. Another breath. “Ishikawa?” she asks.
“Only if you feel ready,” Kirika replies.
“Yes,” Yukio says. “Yes. I can handle it. Let’s...let’s just get it over with.”
Kirika nods. “Good. I meant what I said about how you look too, love.” She gives Yukio’s backside a bit of a goosing before letting go. “Promise me you’ll wear that the next time we go out.”
“Promise,” Yukio says, nodding to that.

Kirika and Yukio make their way over to Ishikawa’s office, where Yukio closes the door behind her. With the three of them in there, there’s not a lot of room to maneuver, and this close up, even Lady Ishikawa’s mask seems to look worried.

“...I don’t know what to say,” Ishikawa admits. “I don’t know what to do, anymore. The situation just seems to keep escalating. I thought I had my day ruined when I heard that the Blue Oni had been sighted attacking one of Lady Ikishi’s ships as it tried to run the harbor defenses.” She looks to Yukio. “But the incident at the theater…”
“I’m sorry,” Yukio says.
“That doesn’t help me,” Ishikawa says. “It doesn’t help us. There are already as many voices shouting that I need to practice what I preach and arrest you for assault as there are voices saying that the High Lords are not to be trusted at all and stand in the way of the ascension of the rightful Emperor and Empress. All the unrest, all the incidents of the last week, it’s coming to a head and we’re in no position to make any wise decisions with this much pressure from all sides.” She shakes her head. “I expect an emergency session of the council to be called for tomorrow. Whatever your plans were, the timetable just got moved up in a big way. We need results tomorrow; failure to come to some sort of result in the session tomorrow would be - well, it would be bad. I’m not entirely sure the government would hold together if we fail to speak with one voice then.”

Kirika respectfully waits for Ishikawa to finish. “Tomorrow is fine,” she says with a nod. “Maybe even tomorrow afternoon instead of tomorrow night.”
“Why give ourselves even less time?” Ishikawa asks. “Is this your scheme to project confidence?”
“Itanu has been removed from the High Lords in disgrace and Shintaro, his replacement, owes Hiro and me his life and knows that we guaranteed his proof of Itanu’s crimes came to light,” Kirika replies, starting to tick names off on her fingers. “Boota is terrified we will reveal the truth of his ways as a con artist and pervert. You are on our side, I hope, as is Hetechi and Hiro, and Nikochi is still technically a High Lord and has a vote. The only one I am not certain of is Tsukareta, but I gave him something very nasty and troubling to think about, and with a bit of a push at the meeting, will likely do the right thing, and Shiro...will be present and free from Ikishi’s control by then, or dead.” She looks up to Ishikawa. “Am I missing anyone?”
“That is still more upheaval in the council than anything that has happened in the last decade,” Ishikawa says. “What worries me most is ensuring that things calm down after this. If we can show the people that we have the situation under control, then this...unorthodox alignment of interests may work out. But as long as something or another happens in this city by the hour, the people will not care for what we decree when it is clear that we are no longer in control.”
“I have an idea that might help with that,” Kirika replies. “How much would one need to pay in reparations for a simple assault that was provoked?”
“That is the problem,” Ishikawa says. “If our policy is that Lady Matsumoto is the rightful Empress, then there can be no crime; if she pays anything, it would be a display of grace and concern for an injured subject, no admission of guilt. If our policy is that Lady Matsumoto was a citizen like any other at the time, then this is not something that can be bought off; we would have to hold her and put her before a judge who will decide the sentence. At that point it’s out of our hands. Either approach can be twisted against us.”

Kirika looks over to Yukio. “Omo? Would you be comfortable with him?”
“He seems an honorable man,” Yukio says. “And I never asked to be above the law. I think facing justice as any citizen would is the right thing to do.”
“Then, if proper legal representation can be summoned, I’d imagine we can get this over with tonight, yes?” Kirika asks, looking back to Ishikawa. “Kei and that...horrible woman are up, and Omo seems like the kind of man who stays up late reading legal documents. Can they all be brought here for a swift trial?”
Ishikawa pauses. “I can ask him nicely,” she says, “but at the end of the day these are all for him to decide. Are you prepared for the eventuality that he does not hold a trial tonight?”
“Simply the announcement that Empress Yukio Matsumoto deeply apologizes to…her, regrets the accident, and has submitted herself to the mercy of High Lady Ishikawa and the courts for a fair trial should at least show commitment to keeping peace and order, I think,” Kirika replies.
“Something like that,” Ishikawa says. “In that case, Lady Matsumoto, we will have to place you under arrest here until the trial.”
“I’ll be in good company, at least,” Yukio quips, though her hand still taps for her sword.
“I will be keeping you company,” Kirika says, snuggling up to Yukio. “I’d ask if there’s room for two in her cell, but that won’t be a problem.”
“We might as well be operating a guest house at this point,” Ishikawa replies dryly. “I’ll get started on the paperwork and have a messenger sent to Judge Omo’s residence. Lady Matsumoto, I need to ask you to report to the front desk for processing. Your weapon will be secured for the time being. Kamura-kensei, you remain free to come and go as needed. If there is anyone you know that you can summon to help us keep the peace, I would greatly appreciate it.”
“Well, only one of my friends doesn’t have spies watching this building, so...I think summoning Prince Toshiro, Son of the Heavens would be a good idea,” Kirika says. “He should be here when Yukio turns herself in.”
“Make it so,” Ishikawa says.

---

Getting away from the naval battle wasn’t as much of a problem as securing the boat in an inconspicuous location and waiting out the masses of police officers and harbor watchmen patrolling the area. By the time things cool down a bit, the sun is low on the horizon.

So, as it turns out, in the wake of a major defensive action is a pretty good time to walk into a harbor tavern, as most of the regulars taking up chairs and tables rushed out to either get to their posts, secure their own ships or just gawk at the spectacle of Lady Ikishi's proud sailing ship capsizing under the thunderous fire of the coastal fort - and it’s still too early for the regulars to wander in for their sorrow-drowning. Accordingly, Toshiba, Takao and the luckless, shellshocked Captain get the best table in the house, i.e. stools at the bar. Sake is poured, a round of shots is pounded, then the crushing silence indicates it's time to talk about what just happened.

"That was... exciting," Toshiba admits. "To where was your hapless vessel bound, captain?"
"Pah," the Captain says, his first words in many minutes. "A swift cruise 'round the Northern horn, to the western mainland. Such was the aim."
Adam Schwaninger: "Such was the heading, the direction - but you have not yet revealed the aim of your ill-fated voyage." Toshiba frowns.
"I had a message to deliver," the Captain said. "The Lady's haste in her order meant that we could not secure clearance to depart. We sailed forth unannounced, and -"
Probably word to her agents provocateur to begin mayhem against the Lees' people, Toshiba thinks. "And the message was...?"
The Captain reaches into his kimono and withdraws a sealed scroll. "I would count myself lucky to have drawn the Blue Oni's ire once and lived to tell the tale," he says. "The message for your assurance that I shall walk out of here in one piece."
"'Tis an ancient proverb: One does not kill the messenger," Toshiba replies. "Agreed."
The Captain hands over the scroll to Toshiba. "My thanks for your hospitality," he says. "I shall take my leave of you now. As it happens, I have a ship to catch."
"Another one?" Toshiba inclines his head in question. "Perhaps we should refer to you as commodore."
"As passenger, Oni," the Captain says. "On whichever one will depart soonest and take me away from the Lady's wrath. To Sin’an, perhaps."

With nobody interfering, the Captain carefully wanders out of the tavern, and the door closes on him. If he has any brains, that will be the last time anyone sees him.

And so, Toshiba turns to Takao, muttering, "I do hope reading this will not make me regret striking the bargain with that captain." He opens the scroll, taking care to leave Ikishi’s personal seal recognizable.

Dearest Yue,

an eventuality I have long suspected has come to pass: the Lee siblings have broken their covenant with me. My attempts to sway them with reason and gentleness have failed, a turn no less tragic for its predictability, for I foresaw that such would happen, and have therefore entrusted you, my most faithful agent, with the heavy burden of vigilance among those who have long feasted on my generosity while breeding treachery in their midst.

It brings me no joy to order you to make good on what I promised these people. Take from each man a hand, from each woman a foot, from each family a child; gather them all, and grant them the spectacle of a grand pyre. Cast the bounty of your harvest into the flames before their eyes. Let them see what their broken promises have wrought. Then return to me at once; I trust that what is left in the wake of this will never dare oppose our righteous cause again.

Faithfully, Ikishi Sumiko


"At what point does such cruelty become exhausting to these people?" Toshiba asks, passing the message to Takao. He nods towards the door the captain exited just moments before. "He made no such bargain with you, if you were so inclined. Otherwise, we should take our leave. Our comrades may find this scroll useful."
"I'm not much for shooting people in the back," Takao says. "I've had my fill of bloodshed for the day."
"Have you had your fill of fire-boots?" Toshiba asks with a grin. "Or shall we return along more traditional routes?"
Takao coughs after another sip from his cup. "Today, I've been seasick, airsick and now I'm not sure if this sake agrees with me, either," Takao says. "Could we maybe hail a rickshaw just once?"
"Of course," Toshiba says, putting down some coin on the bar.
Takao finishes his drink. "Where to?"
"The Hall of Justice," Toshiba replies. "I believe Ishikawa will make the best use of this evidence. The rest of us need no convincing."
"Hrm," Takao says. With a deft move, he unholsters his Sparrow gonne, then racks the spent cartridges from the cylinder and feeds in a couple of fresh shells.
“For someone who tires of bloodshed,” Toshiba says, “you seem quite resigned to it.”
Takao cracks open the gonne’s sideplate, taking a look at a cracked metal plate inside. “This world does not act as we wish it,” he says. "No disrespect to Lady Ishikawa, of course," he adds. "I agree with your reasoning, and I look forward to leaning back and letting the authorities do the work for once. It's just that after this week, I would rather have six shots at my side whenever I can help it. Would you mind if we made a detour to a blacksmith?"
“Perhaps one that is next to a tailor?” Toshiba suggests. “This armor does rather stand out.”
“Agreed,” Takao says.

---

Well after the sun has gone down, Toshiba (in a bulky robe) and Takao (with a fixed gonne) enter the Hall of Justice, where they bear witness to a rather elaborate production: Ringed by a dozen policemen, Lady Ishikawa stands before the power couple of Yukio and Toshi, Yukio still in her evening finery but notably unarmed, while Toshi’s in his best princely clothes. Off to the side, Kirika stands, watching the show play out.

“Matsumoto Yukio,” Ishikawa says, “it is my sad duty to inform you that you have been charged with the crime of assault. Until such time as you can be brought before a judge, I must place you under arrest. Please follow my officers to your cell and obey their lawful orders.”
Yukio nods to that. “I understand, Ishikawa-dono.”
“Take her away,” Ishikawa tells her lieutenants, who lead Yukio to the back after one last hand squeeze from Toshi - bad optics, apparently, to let her get close to Kirika in what is surely staged mostly for the benefit of whoever might witness this.

And then Ishikawa’s head turns towards Toshiba and Takao, beckoning them closer with a wave of her hand as the circle of cops breaks up and people return to their posts.

“Takao-kun,” she says. “What brings you to my doorstep?”
“Dire news,” Takao says, as Toshiba holds up the scroll. “Shall we talk it over in your office?”
Ishikawa looks to Toshi and Kirika. “This seems like one of those conversations you might all want a part of. Follow me.”

---

Inside the exceedingly cramped office, Ishikawa reads the scroll, more than once, and her steady hands begin to acquire a light tremor as the fury rises in her. In the end, handing to scroll to Kirika seems easier than hurling it through the window, so that’s what she does.

This is what her ship was sunk for?” she growls. “All those sailors dead and maimed all so they could try to deliver a message of cruelty and despair! And yet - yet again it is nothing. The illegal departure, the fight in the harbor, all that must be laid at the feet of the Captain who told you of this and gave you the scroll, a man who is no longer here to be held accountable, a man whose tale of being ordered to run by Ikishi is rendered hearsay without him - and even if he was here, it would be his word against Ikishi’s.”
“The scroll orders her agent to brutalize and slaughter a people,” Takao objects. “What viler crime could she be accused of that this does not prove?”
“A vile deed in a foreign land,” Ishikawa says. “The old laws are silent on such things; where there is no injury to an Imperial citizen or his property, there is no crime.” She balls her right hand into a fist and bangs it against a wooden beam, then her breath grows shallow and fast for a long time. Finally, she seems to calm down again. “Perhaps...perhaps Omo can think of a way.” She turns to the others, and for what may be the first time, looks utterly baffled and searching at the assembled Shinobi. “What will we do?”
punkey 2017-05-20 11:23:34
The instant Kirika and Toshi break visual contact with the world at large, Kirika takes Toshi's hand, and once inside Ishikawa's office, as she reads the missive, Kirika wraps her big arms around Toshi and gives him a hug before planting a kiss on his lips.
"It's all right," Toshi whispers. "Yukio's safe, we'll figure something out."
Kirkia smiles. "I was about to tell you the exact same thing."
"We're rubbing off on each other, huh?" Toshi whispers back with a light chuckle.
"Maybe we were always closer than we knew," Kirika replies with another kiss, which Toshi returns before they let go.

Kirika is standing tall before Ishikawa by the time she finishes her speech. "The threat to the Lee's people has been defused - for now. We should let Yu and Rock know, so that they may begin preparations to defend their people, and deal with what we have in front of us." She raises an eyebrow. "Permitted parties of unarmed soldiers would provide excellent cover for a search effort - say, for Shira's heart."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-06-05 14:27:58
"You will do what is right," the Oni speaks up, looking at Toshi, Ishikawa, and Yukio. "We" - he indicates the rest of them - "will cheat."

"Actually... what is Ikishi doing right now? Does anyone know? She is far from a static obstacle, and it behooves us to know what machinations she works."
Gatac 2017-06-06 15:01:29
“I have men working to find out,” Ishikawa says, leaving it at that. “For now, you two should take a moment to freshen up - somewhere out of sight, if possible.”
Takao snorts at that. “You have things to discuss that do not involve us?”
“That, and I can see the blood on your boots,” Ishikawa says dryly. “Not a good look for when Omo gets here.”
“Oh, damn it all,” Takao says, looking down. “I thought I got everything.”
“In any event, we shall hasten our steps and join the shadows,” Toshiba adds, and the two men leave the office for a washroom.

---

It is so very, very late in the evening that it’s almost very, very early in the morning, but the lights are still on in the Hall of Justice - as, indeed, they always are. But the peace and quiet of the night watch ends when a harried-looking courier enters, followed by Judge Omo in a good kimono and a bad mood. While the police officer on duty sends for Lady Ishikawa to be woken, Omo seeks out Kirika in the waiting area, with Ishikawa’s letter for him in his hand.

“Lady Kamura,” he says coolly. “I take it this was your idea?”
“There is no justice better than swift and fairly determined justice, Omo-sama,” Kirika replies with a deep bow. “I requested the speed, and I trust you to provide the fairness.”
“Justice is not summoned at your convenience,” Omo says. “And I was told on the way that the accused is the Empress? What manner of nonsense is this? How did a whole crowd come to believe this?”
“It is true, Judge,” Kirika replies. “The man you know as Lord Tatsuno is in fact Prince Toshiro Mohime, next in line to the Emperor’s throne, and his bride is Yukio Mohime, daughter of Lord Aotaka Matsumoto, and now soon-to-be Empress.”
“Then I do not see how this trial can be anything but a farce,” Omo says. “Particularly if you insist on rushing it in this manner. The research into existing jurisprudence for precedent alone could well take weeks, and -”
“Judge Omo!” Lady Ishikawa calls out, rushing to join the conversation. She’s brushed down her clothes, but she’s still working on adjusting her mask to sit straight on her face. She bows her head to him, and he returns the gesture. “My deepest apologies for imposing on you, but as I’m sure Kamura-kensei has explained, the situation is...special.”
“Indeed it is,” Omo says, turning back to Kirika. “And as I am currently explaining to her, I don’t think I can hold a fair trial in this matter.”
“Judges do so in nighttime proceedings in courts and offices up and down the islands, Judge,” Kirika replies.
“The law is settled on many matters,” Omo says. “What am I supposed to make of Yukio Mohime? How can I determine what her status is before the matter of Toshiro Mohime’s claim to the throne is settled one way or another?”
“Excuse me,” Toshi speaks up, rising from his seat in the waiting area. Lady Ishikawa bows her head to him as he approaches, but before Omo has a chance to, Toshi bows first. “I am he, Omo-san, and while it is true that my father was the last Emperor and I am pursuing the claim on the throne of the Empire, I cannot claim to be anything more than a citizen and subject of the same at this moment. To my wife, it might be proper to afford the privileges of a samurai, as she has earned the same through her own effort, but if this in any way complicates the trial, I believe she would gladly stand trial as a citizen herself.”
“Prince Toshiro, I am humbled by your humility and sense of fairness,” Ishikawa says. “Please forgive me, but I must raise the issue of public opinion. The people will not accept an Empress treated like a common criminal.”
“I’ve heard you go back and forth on that with Kirika,” Toshi replies. “None of the alternatives are without their drawbacks and perils.” He turns to Omo. “Which is why I believe any decision to be made here must be based in principle, not calculation. I have not been crowned. I am not Emperor - yet.” He bows again to Omo. “My wife and I humbly submit ourselves to your jurisdiction, Judge Omo.”
“Prince Toshiro -” Lady Ishikawa begins, but Toshi silences her with a nod.
“The decision is final,” Toshi says.
“Hrm,” Omo says, then turns to Kirika. “How much do you know about the trial you’re asking me to hold?”
“...I might be intimately familiar with the traditional small claims and misdemeanor procedures, Judge,” Kirika admits.
“I see,” Omo says. “Then there is, indeed, a possibility to conduct this trial swiftly - if you are willing to take part in it. I will require someone who’s learned in the law to represent the people’s interests against Yukio Mohime.”
“Excuse me?” Toshi says. “You want Kirika to...argue against my wife?”
“Who else would dare?” Omo says. “Go around this city, see if you can find a scholar who would stake his name on arguing against a future Empress.”
“You are aware that there are...personal entanglements to be worried about,” Kirika says. “You were at Hetechi’s party, after all.”
“I will have court staff reviewing your arguments to ensure you present the strongest possible case,” Omo says. “And it should also be in your own interest to argue well, if you do not wish to play into any appearance of the court failing to prosecute the case effectively due to said personal entanglements.” He turns to Toshiro. “If you truly wish your wife to be tried as any other citizen would, that is now in your hands. Unless there are other volunteers?”
Kirika casts her eyes about. “...Lady Ishikawa?”
“I cannot be any part of this trial, in my position,” she says. “Judge Omo, would Yukio Mohime be granted the right to prepare her defense with a scholar?”
“I don’t see why not, if she can afford one,” Omo says.
Ishikawa turns to Kirika. “You should ask Lord Hetechi,” she says. “He would be a good choice.”
“Hrm,” Omo says. “If you truly wish to leave no doubt of the trial’s effectiveness, you should convince him to speak for the people.”
Ishikawa turns to Kirika and just shakes her head.
“I can take him,” Kirika says. “I’ve done more than plead my case as a defendant, you know.”
“In any event,” Omo says, “provided I have either Lady Kamura or Lord Hetechi at the courthouse by noon ready to be sworn in as the people’s advocate, we will begin the trial first thing after recess. I cannot promise a similarly swift resolution, but I hope that first step will be the swift and fair justice you wish to show the people.” He looks directly at Kirika. “If neither of you show, I will recruit more suitable advocates and hold the trial when they are ready. Is this understood?”
Kirika nods. “We will both be there, Judge.”
“Excellent,” Omo says. “If that is all, I think we should all get some sleep.”
“...yes, we should,” Kirika says, her tone indicating she intends to do anything but.
“Lady Kamura, Lady Ishikawa,” Omo says, nodding to each in turn. “Mohime-san.”

Toshi returns the nod. As Omo wanders away to grouchily climb into whatever rickshaw brought him to the Hall, Toshi looks at Kirika.

“So...do you want to go to Hetechi, or should I?” he asks.
“You really should sleep,” Kirika says. “I will say my goodnight to Yukio, and then be on my way.”
“And knowing you, you’ll be running around all morning, too,” Toshi says. “I mean, it’s useful, but…”
“I think what Prince Toshiro is trying to say is that he appreciates your tireless work and dedication,” Lady Ishikawa says.
“Actually,” Toshi says, looking at Kirika, “what I’m trying to say is that I’m worried about you, Kirika. Thank you, but...don’t overdo it, okay?”
Kirika smiles. “I feel fine, Toshi.” She gives him another peck on the cheek. “Really, I do. I just...haven’t felt tired in a while. Not that I’ve had the luxury of time to rest, either. Too many things to do.”
“Well, when I’m on the throne,” Toshi says, “my first order is gonna be for you to put the sword down and sleep for a week.”
“And I’d be just about laid down when the next disaster would arise,” Kirika replies with a smirk. “If there’s nothing else, I’m going to kiss Yukio goodnight, and you’d better be right after me.”
“Sure,” Toshi says. “Go on, I’ll just...wrap up here.”
Kirika turns to leave, but pauses at the doorway. “Everything’s going to be all right, Toshi,” she says. “I’ll make sure of it.”
“Yeah,” Toshi says. “You will.”

As Kirika leaves, Ishikawa stirs beside Toshi.
“Kamura-kensei is very...familiar with you,” Ishikawa says.
“Heh,” Toshi coughs. “She ought to be.” He looks directly at Ishikawa. “Also, hi, I’m Toshi. Please stop with the Prince Toshiro thing, it’s...not my style.”
“So I have seen,” Ishikawa says. “I’m...glad to finally meet you, Toshi.”
“As am I, Lady Ishikawa,” Toshi replies. “So, uh, you got a place where I can lie down for a few hours?”
Ishikawa sighs. “We’ll find one,” she says.

---

After Kirika and the future Emperor have departed the premises, Lady Ishikawa beckons Toshiba and Takao from their hiding place into a quiet corner of the Hall.

"My apologies for leaving you to stand outside," she says. "This situation is complicated enough without parading a ronin and the Blue Oni in front of Judge Omo. And..." She pauses. "There is yet more trouble that I did not dare share in the open. You asked after Ikishi's last moves. I have learned that, despite my efforts, she may be about to uncover...damaging information about me. I would task RZA, as I have done before, but he has departed the city, and I am short on allies." She sighs. "It seems she has been in contact with my brother. I received word that she is to entertain him at her mansion for lunch today." Another pause. "I cannot condone harm coming to any innocent, much less him, but...I cannot be vulnerable to Ikishi's manipulation. Not now. Not with so much at stake. I...I cannot tell you what to do. I hope you can sway him. If not, at least keep him from Ikishi's grasp, but..."

Her voice falters.

"I'm sorry," she says. "I have asked too much. Perhaps...perhaps it is enough if you could learn his intentions, and tell me posthaste, before Ikishi can capitalize on his cooperation, then maybe...maybe I can limit the damage."
"Can you elaborate on why this is a weakness?" Toshiba asks. "What happens if we do not intervene?"
"You saw what sorts of secrets Lady Sarano's vault kept," Ishikawa says quietly. "I, too, made a mistake, a long time ago. If it becomes public, I will have little choice but to leave this post. I am not proud of this skulking in the shadows to conceal my error, but I don't see the alternative."
Toshiba nods. "Do you know where he is now? Is he the only one who knows of this indiscretion?"
"Ordinarily, I would think Daiki in a gambling den" - Takao gives Toshiba a 'here we go again' look - "but he's been cooped up at his house all week, since my sister-in-law just gave birth. She gave me the news that he would be seeking out Ikishi today to...secure a loan. As for who knows, I must say I am not even entirely sure he knows - but he well could, and I see no other reason for Ikishi to take an interest in him."

"Given the subject of that errant captain's missive, it's possible Ikishi could simply use him and his family as leverage against you directly." Toshiba falters here, unsure how to broach the issue with tact. "I do not see why Ikishi would have to choose a single option here. Blackmail to force you out of power, or hostages to place you under hers."
"Yes, but," Ishikawa begins. "I need to be sure if he knows. I cannot...I cannot approach this situation with a clear mind until I am certain. To be sure, taking him hostage would also put me in a difficult position, but...it being him, in particular...I just have a bad feeling about this."
"It sounds like he needs to be kidnapped by bandits and held for ransom, then heroically rescued by an elite team of your police at a later date," Toshiba suggests.
"If you see no better way," Ishikawa says. "I would prefer that I do not know the details of your plan."
"Do not worry overmuch. I assure you that we also do not know the details of our plans."
Toshiba tries a smile.
"...I would also prefer not to be reassured in this manner," Ishikawa adds.
The smile on Toshiba’s face drops. "We shall take our leave, then."

As the errant pair of Takao and Toshiba take their leave, the renegade samurai seems unusually...agitated.

“Maybe I am imagining things,” he says, “but considering her previous employment of RZA, and the fact that she raised the issue without dear Kirika to hear it...I cannot fight the feeling that Lady Ishikawa was weighing exactly how much latitude she was ready to give us to deal with the problem. After all, if your tool is a ninja, every problem looks like an assassination - no offense to you and yours, Toshiba. And not that this is what she asked us to do, but...if I had the fortune to have a brother, much less one that has just started a family, a mere embarrassing secret - even one liable to end my career - would be the easiest thing pressed from my lips if it kept him out of danger. And I’ve worked with Ishikawa before; she’s not the type to do anything the easy way until she’s tried it the right way first. What secret do you think could have her so concerned that she’d forget herself in the haste to extinguish even the chance it might be revealed?”