Empire

Gatac 2017-08-09 12:18:15
Daiki chuckles again.

"Exactly," he says. "So, are you two going to pull a chest full of silver out of your bums or are you going to leave?"
MikeS 2017-08-09 13:11:19
Takao holds Daiki's gaze evenly. "Not to put too fine a point on it, but do we look like people who need to pull chests of silver out of our bums to make problems go away?"

"You are a man of many problems. Maybe more than you think. They won't go away if we leave. Most will get worse," he continues in a flat, low tone.

"We are here to solve a problem. But, see, we'd like to find out for ourselves what the real problem is."

"You seem like a decent sort of fellow, from how you treat your family. Perhaps you had a bout of bad luck that got you here."

"Why don't we go to a tavern, have a drink, and you tell us your story?"
Gatac 2017-08-10 01:40:37
Daiki scoffs at that. "I am a decent sort of fellow," he says, "and I'm not going to abandon my wife to go drinking." He nods to the road. "See yourselves out, gentlemen. This conversation has run its course."

He turns to walk back into the house.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-08-10 16:48:25
"You're selling dirt on your sister to clear your debts," Toshiba says flatly. "I wouldn't leave this conversation yet, Daiki. Let us help you keep her secret and get out from under your troubles."
MikeS 2017-08-10 20:12:10
"And you got this far into debt with gambling and get-rich schemes," Takao adds. "The only decent thing I've seen about you so far is how you treat your wife."

"I've seen enough of your type. You mean well, perhaps, but you're too smart for your own good. In your case, though, I think you may have been set up by the very person who you're about to sell your sister out to. She plays a long game, and don't believe for a moment she'll keep her promise."
Gatac 2017-08-11 01:16:31
Daiki straightens up, as if he's about to shout something, but then the air puffs out of him again. Then he says what he was about to shout.

"She's not my sister," Daiki says.

"Mother wouldn't hear it, of course," Daiki continues. "She wanted to believe that the Heavens had delivered her daughter from the flames. But I know she's an imposter, and I can prove it. The lengths to which she's gone to keep her secret should already be proof enough, of course. Or are you not hired thugs sent by her to handle me somehow?"

He sighs.

"I've tried to play along, for the sake of Mother," he says. "But she passed away two years ago, and whatever grace my creditors granted me while my wife was heavy with child will soon pass. And I will not have you browbeat or savage them in turn just to get them off my back. The imposter could have done that for me at any time. No; I am a good man, but perhaps in a different way than you think. I came by those debts honestly and I will service them with coin. Coin I intend to earn by doing nothing more than saying and proving the truth. Fukuo always wanted to fight for the truth, and I intend to honor that, finally. If you find that so objectionable, then it is better you strike me down now."

"Hrr," he finishes. "Or at least carry this message to the imposter: there is nothing to speak about until she deigns to show up in person."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-08-11 09:49:52
"Your honestly is laudable, but you are tainting it by spending it on liars." Toshiba's hand relaxes off of his knife hilt - when had it gone there? "Allow me to be honest with you - my side needs Ishikawa, or whoever she is right now, and we need her free from scandal. If you proceed as your conscience dictates, a demon - a literal demon - may cement her power over the Empire. Surely you can see how orchestrated this is? The questionable timing of it all? Your debtors applying pressure, then this lucrative offer comes along, and all you have to do is say the things you've been keeping locked up for so many years. Put poor Fukuo to rest. It's an easy choice, except it's not. More people - living people, I might add - are riding on this than you think."

Toshiba motions Daiki to his door. "But you do what's best for your family. Only what's best for them, even though thousands will suffer in the months to come. Honor and selfishness often walk together on the path to destruction. Konoko!" the Oni cries. The hawk-eagle circles slowly down from above, alighting on Toshiba's forearm. He feeds her some table tidbits saved from the tavern where they spoke to that ill-fated captain. "Guard Daiki's child and kill anyone who approaches her with a weapon."
MikeS 2017-08-11 10:14:35
Takao motions for Toshiba to stay.

"You think your sister is an impostor? Why? Might as well tell us the whole story now."
Gatac 2017-08-11 15:05:41
"Kiiii!" Konoko cries, gorging herself on the scraps. As Daiki looks on half-fascinated, half-terrorized, she takes flight again, circles a bit, then lands on the roof of the house overlooking the front entrance. Her posture leaves no doubt that this house is now under her protection.

She also makes it clear that Daiki is not going to walk back into that house until the Blue Oni says he can.

Daiki sighs. "Okay," he finally says. "I'll...try to explain it. Drinks are on you, though."

---

"Of course it's suspicious," Daiki says, sipping on a cup of warm sake paid for by Toshiba's coin. "I figured something was happening when I get an offer just days after I am reminded of my debts, but - what do you mean by a literal demon?"

Another sip.

"Well, whatever the case may be," he says, "the woman claiming to be my sister is an imposter. But to understand why, I suppose I should tell you the whole story first."

Sip.

"Almost exactly twelve years ago, my sister was finishing her studies of the empire's jurisprudence when the emperor rather quickly fired the old High Lord responsible for public safety. Well, officially he retired to spend more time with his family, but you know how it is - it turned out he had pressured the courts to render favorable verdicts in some land disputes that he stood to gain from. I don't know all the details, but the emperor needed someone who would appear impartial and incorruptible. My sister answered the call, on High Lord Hetechi's recommendation."

Sigh.

"She made enemies almost immediately. The other High Lords had backed the nomination on the understanding that a young woman would be easy to push around; Fukuo was anything but. She had high-minded ideas about how to reform criminal law. But it wasn't the High Lords who truly wanted to hurt her - lots of minor nobles were mad at her instead, because she talked at length about abolishing the privileges of nobility and making people equal before the law, and many nobles had only their titles and privileges to their names; losing them would have made them no better than the peasants. In the end, it didn't really matter who hired the assassins who came to my sister's office; they all died in the fire that broke out when she fought back. And I say this with every confidence in my sister, but...that blaze consumed the entire building. There's no way anyone could have survived the fire."

Sip.

"But what do they dig out from the ashes the next morning? A woman, badly burned but still alive somehow. Before anyone can even stop to consider who she could be, my mother went ahead and embraced her as Fukuo. It was destiny that she alone survive this act of cowardice to assume her honored position as a High Lord, wasn't it? My mother never doubted it. It didn't matter that she was burned beyond recognition; a mother would know her daughter, wouldn't she? It didn't matter that even her voice was different; the hot air had burned her throat, too. And it didn't matter that she could hardly remember anything beyond her name; mother carted in scholars and physicians by the boatload who all took her money and confirmed that sometimes the mind forgets what it cannot bear to remember."

Sip.

"I tried. I tried to believe her. I tried to love that hideous...creature like my sister, and for every disquiet I felt I chided myself, thought that it was just the shock of it all and the sight of her that made me irrational. Mother gave her Fukuo's diaries to read, just to jog her memories, of course - but these became her memories. Everything she said she remembered came from those diaries, or other people telling her stories, or...I think she was snooping around, too. We were all so eager to believe her, and help her, and...after a year she knew enough to fool them all. Except me."

Sip.

"You see, there was something that Fukuo never wrote in her diary, because she was sure mother was reading them. She confided in me over her first crush, and made me deliver their letters back and forth. To be sure of anonymity, Fukuo and her beloved never used each other's names in the letters. And don't think I snooped - I helped Fukuo write many of them! She always said I had a way with words. Anyway, one day the imposter opened up to me about her secret love, thinking to convince me that she really was remembering something and not just reciting from my sister's diary. Only she evaded me when I pressed her for who her beloved was. Obviously, she had found the hidden stash of letters in the house, but without any names on them, there was no way for her to know who had written to my Fukuo."

Sip.

"This is the grand secret, by the way. I know who it is. That person will still have my sister's letters and be able to confirm it. But the imposter does not know who it is - I'm certain of it."

He finishes the cup.

"So how about you explain to me now why the truth is so ruinous? You say more fates are riding on my actions than I think - well, enlighten me."

As he says so, he refills his cup.
Gatac 2017-08-11 15:08:58
Following the brief ferry journey to the island that holds Hetechi’s mansion, the group of five is quickly and discreetly ushered inside by Hetechi’s servants. It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the mansion is still full of life this late into the night, but not the party type of activity. Instead, as it turns out, Lord Hetechi and his lover Kichirou have turned the festivity hall into a darkened, candle-lit theater, enjoying an early morning snack on a mountain of pillows while a hired acting troupe performs some light and quiet piece of drama. With a discreet hush, the servant guides you along the edge of the room and then announces you to Hetechi, who gives Kichirou a quick smooch before rising to meet you - after adjusting his kimono.

“Lady Kamura,” he says, half-whispering, and gives a nod of greetings to the ninjas. “Shall we talk in my study?”
“There is much to discuss, Lord,” Kirika says with a bow. “Both news of Shira - and of tonight’s unfortunate events with regards to Yukio and your cousin.”
“Come with me, then,” Hetechi says.

---

You would think that in a mansion full of under-, over- and every-kind-of-stated opulence, the best would be reserved for the owner. But Lord Hetechi’s study is a sparse, if large room, equipped with the furniture to read and write manuscripts in peace, as well as a cot and a balcony with a pole-mounted telescope, albeit a quite large one aimed at the night sky above. Hetechi fetches himself a drink of water from a nearly tumbler - whose state of fullness is perhaps the most overt display of how much Hetechi spends to keep every detail of his household just as he likes it - and motions for the ninjas to take a seat.

“So,” Hetechi says, “what news do you bring?”
“First, we have an idea where High Lord Shira’s heart is,” Kirika says. “It is kept somewhere not on the soil of this city - so we intend to search on the harbor and underground for it, and request that your palace serve as the center for this search. We will be enlisting High Lady Ishikawa’s officers, General Lee’s scouts, and my Shadowwatch in the search, and when we find it, we will seize it to return it to its rightful place.”
“Naturally,” Hetechi says. “I will have the gymnasium cleared for their use and tell the kitchen to expect some guests. What else?”
“Have you heard of what happened at the theater tonight?” Kirika asks.
“I have,” Hetechi said. “Yakuta-san can be a difficult woman at the best of times, but it is my understanding that she does not wish to speak a word against the Empress. Your beloved has nothing to fear from her.”
“Then that will be good...or not, depending,” Kirika says, and sighs. “In order to maintain the legitimacy of Ishikawa’s justice and ensure a smooth transition, Toshi and Yukio have decided to submit themselves to the judgement of Judge Omo - and either you or I will be arguing for her...or against. Depending.”
“Hm,” Hetechi says. “I assume you wish to defend her?”
“I wish to do what is best for her and for their rule,” Kirika replies. “What I want...it does not matter here.”
Hetechi smiles at that. “It is the only thing that matters,” he says. “What is more precious than love, more noble than its cause? I can see on your shoulders the weight of many difficult decisions; let me help you with this one.” He bows his head. “I would be honored to take the people’s side in court opposite you and Lady Mohime.”
Kirika sighs, but smiles back. “Thank you, High Lord.” She returns the bow. “I just worry about...well, I worry if the people will see this as merely a show trial, Yukio being both prosecuted and defended by friends.”
“Who else should defend her but her friends?” Hetechi asks. “And you need not worry about my side of the trial. I may have no use for a blade, but this trial - and your cause - will be well-served by my own peculiar skills. Independent of that, however, it would be my pleasure to see you in the library downstairs - I expect we both have some research to do.”
“Yes, I believe we do,” Kirika says, and clasps a hand on his shoulder. “But first, I have a search to organize, and you have a play to finish seeing - and a partner to take care of. The trial starts at noon.”
“I shall see you there, then,” Hetechi says. “In a fresh kimono, perhaps?”
Kirika looks down at her clothes. “What? Is there blood stains or rips? Gods above, I hope I didn’t ruin another one.”
Hetechi shakes his head. “I’m sorry for the misleading implication,” he says. “What I meant to suggest is that you take some time out of your doing everything to calm your nerves and prepare your appearance. For good and for ill, formality and ceremony are a large part of the court’s business. There is no good reason to appear as anything but your best. My staff will gladly help you with anything you require.”
“...I suppose I could use a bath,” Kirika admits. “But a quick one - and after the search party is underway. And only if they don’t find anything right away. Or if they don’t need me for anything else.” She pauses. “Or if something else doesn’t happen first.”
“I believe I understand how you came to appear here as you did,” Hetechi says. “May I dispense some more advice?”
“Of course, High Lord,” Kirika replies.
“If you try to grasp everything, you will end up holding nothing,” Hetechi says. “The time you will need to calm yourself, the time to close your eyes and stretch your legs and allow yourself a clear mind; it will not drop into your lap. There will always be distractions, problems, people clamoring for your attention. Do not let these things lead you by the nose. If you will not take this time for yourself, nobody will give it to you, either. And furthermore, what is most critical…” He pauses to let Kirika hang on to his words, then slowly grins. “Never turn your back on a ninja.”

Before Kirika can process that, Kiara seizes her from behind and unceremoniously slings her not inconsiderable bulk over her noticeably slighter shoulder.
“Hey!” Kirika shouts.
“And off we go to the baths,” Kiara says. “Oh, Lord, is the kitchen still open?”
“Naturally,” Hetechi says.
“Nice!” Kiara says. “Later, Lord!”
“But - but General Lee must be notified!” Kirika protests. “And Ishikawa’s men -”
“I got it,” Kagemaru says, fading into the shadows as Kiara carries a still-struggling Kirika out of the room.

As the door closes behind them, Hetechi turns to Copperhead and Sidewinder.

“Would either of you gentlemen care for a drink?” he asks.
“Ayup,” Sidewinder says.
“Indeed,” Copperhead adds.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-08-11 16:26:56
To hell with it, Toshiba thinks. It's the hard way if we hold Toshiro's secret too close, and maybe not even then.

"Ikishi is a yokai and has all but usurped the throne for her own evil ends," Toshiba says. "We have come to the capital with the rightful Emperor, but in order to avoid civil war, we are trying to gain the trust and favor of the High Lords and transfer power with a minimum of bloodshed. The imposter" - he uses Daiki's term for Ishikawa - "has been our ally, but our chances of success diminish if she is removed from office or scandalized into impotence - and you are Ikishi's weapon in this. Make no mistake, hers is the hand that wields that blade."

Toshiba takes a sip of his own and shakes his head. "Do not worry overmuch about who is a yokai. I could have said Ikishi is a flamingo for all the difference it makes here. The stakes of this contest are very real human lives. If we are not successful in this, I have no doubt the armies on both sides shall raze this city in their struggle. Now that you mention it, however..." he trails off, thinking deeply. "Who benefits from this bizarre plot to duplicate Fukuo? I am sure you have thought on this, Daiki. Whoever she is, she was commanded to do this by someone, to be burned, to learn your sister's mannerisms and live this secret life." He looks to Takao. "It sounds like something a shinobi would do. Ishikawa is one of our cornerstones - if she can topple what we are building at the right moment, all could be lost to blood and fire."

Toshiba wracks his brain, trying to think of clans whose methods would align with this strategy. The Ayami? Killer Bees? Shadowwatch?
Gatac 2017-08-17 12:44:18
Daiki is quiet for a good long time as he nurses his sake.

"No," he says. "In truth, I - I hadn't thought about why someone would want to impersonate Fukuo. At first because I didn't care - I wanted her to stop and be exposed for whoever she really is so our family could have closure. But now - I don't know. Maybe it is as you say and it is simply that I do not ask the question because I have no good answer." He sighs. "There is more than respecting our mother to my silence. At first I was beside myself with anger and barely contained myself, but over the years I've often caught myself thinking about whether letting it go would sit better with me. The impostor's motives might be unknowable, as are her ultimate allegiances, but - she certainly has kept up my Fukuo's work. Not a word spoken to impugn her actions in the office. I would look all the more the fool ranting and raving about her when she has acted so...decently to so many people. And it's been so long now - I always hoped someone else might come forward to say he had discovered it, too - but nothing."

He takes another sip.

"And whatever I do, it won't bring Fukuo back," he says, finally, seeming resolved in this. "Nothing can. I never wanted to hurt anyone, I just - I'm tired of carrying those letters on my conscience. The world wants to believe a lie, well, maybe it is better I embrace it, too. It seems a good lie, by all accounts. I'll just - I'll go home and burn the letters, before I lose my resolve. That'll do the trick. Whatever might happen tomorrow, without the proof, I'll no longer be a threat or an asset to anyone. I'll just be a poor man with gambling debts and a family I don't deserve. I can live with that, I think."