MikeS 2017-10-17 16:48:23
"I will not reveal your secret", Takao agrees. "You have a firm conviction, and while it runs contrary to bushido at times, it feels like you have the best interest of the heimin at heart."

"But what about the Killer Bees? Is anyone left who knows your secret, and who could blackmail you?"

"Let's head back to Daiki's house and make sure that the letters don't fall into wrong hands. He and his family will need protection; Lady Ikishi will not take it well when her leverage suddenly disappears. And speaking of Daiki: you might as well tell him the truth. He suspects it anyway. I think you can win him over when you tell him the price you paid and continue to pay to honor his sister's memory and vision."
Gatac 2017-11-26 05:11:33
After what seems like an eternity, Ishikawa answers.

"None survive," she says. "Among the bees, death is swift and betrayal is currency. Many secrets have been taken to the next world in such a way. Is it any wonder we turn so easily to banditry, when our coin and power is quickly squandered on settling internal scores? And the RZA's been a great help in hunting down any compromising records I knew of."

She takes a breath.

"Clearly, Lady Ikishi must have her suspicions to try to hook my brother - but I hope it is blind fishing. In any event, loathe as I am to add yet more people to a list I've fought to shorten, I see the wisdom in your words, Takao-senshi. Perhaps, if he were to see what lies behind this mask, he will understand..."

Returning to Daiki's house, the trio finds the anguished brother where Ishikawa left him, still passed out on the lawn.

"Thank you," she says. "Both of you. I shall continue the vigil here. Now don't let the light of dawn catch you."

As she speaks, she shoulders Daiki - a deceptive amount of strength in her slight frame - and gently carries him into the house. As she does so, Konoko looks down at Toshiba, gives him a very soft "Kiii..." and then shakes herself.


A rikshaw and boat ride (with little catnaps on both) take Kirika back to Lord Hetechi's mansion, where she's ushered to his private library. In keeping with Hetechi's flair for the opulent, it is set up as a small hall that spans two levels, with grand chandeliers and rows of shelves containing lots and lots of neatly ordered scrolls; one shelf in particular is even given over to leather-bound collections of pages - "books", in the Hanse style. In the middle are several study desks - how often does Hetechi even need more than one? - where one of them has already been taken over by the High Lord himself. Next to the desk is a little table with yet more scrolls and records, and as Hetechi calls out documents, one of the several servants standing nearby rushes the get them, while another refreshes his fragrant black tea and a third massages his shoulders. Kirika notes with only the faintest surprise that there's another trio of servants standing by idly at another desk, who perk up at her approach.

Hetechi puts aside his current scroll and gets up to greet her; as he does so, the waiting servants peel off the empty desk they were standing next to and fall in behind him. "Ah, Lady Kamura," he says. "I'm glad to see you here now. Have you had a moment to rest yet?"
"Yes," Kirika says - ignorant of the lick of blue flame curling around her neck and up her cheek.
"Good," Hetechi says, pointedly ignoring the fire. "I've taken the liberty of preparing a desk and a list of relevant documents for your perusal - and of course you're free to help yourself to copies of my research into the existing jurisprudence." He turns to one of his servants. "Gin," he tells her, "please do make sure that Lady Kamura has everything she needs to do her work."
"Of course, milord," Gin says. "Can I get you anything, Lady Kamura?"
Kirika smiles and bows. "Not at the moment, but thank you very much. I'm sure I will be needing your help very soon." She wanders over to a shelf, looks over the scrolls and takes a deep breath, before reaching for the one she thinks is the right part of the Imperial codes.
"Oh, I'm quite sorry," Hetechi quickly interjects. "In my hurry, I've left the shelf in quite a mess." He squints past her. "I think I put the treatises on the nature of the emperor's heavenly descent in the shelf to the left - the scroll with the green fringe. Again, my apologies."
Kirika quickly withdraws her hand and bows to Hetechi. "Thank you, Lord." She hustles over, picks that one up, and then one she definitely knows the section of - the one on assault.

Hetechi nods to her choices, then returns to his own desk. Meanwhile, Gin holds out her hand to Kirika, offering to take the scrolls off her while she keeps browsing. Kirika hands one of them off to Gin, then quickly grabs a couple more that look to be about courtroom procedure before heading off to an empty desk. As Kirika departs, a faint outline of blue fire remains where she stood, as if turning too fast had torn it loose from her. It's there just long enough for Gin's eyes to widen at the sight, then quickly dissipates again.

Kirika looks behind her. "Oh! I'm sorry, is there anything else I should grab?" she asks Gin.
"...no, Lady Kamura," Gin says. "But if you find you need anything else, please do not hesitate to let me go fetch them for you."
Kirika nods with a smile, then quickly steps over to take the scroll she left with Gin before returning to the desk to start reading. As Kirika starts reading and moments pass into minutes, her shadow seems to flicker slightly in the gaslamp light of the library. Flames rising off the tattoos on her neck take longer and longer to puff into nothingness, and eventually, a critical mass of them seems to form over her shoulder, the vague outline of a face watching over her shoulder. Kirika, oblivious to this, takes a seat and unrolls the scroll on Imperial succession and powers a little further - Gods, there are so many rules for the supposed Heaven's Chosen Son.
"...Lady Kamura," Gin says after taking a few minutes to gather her courage. "Begging your pardon, but could you please not...do that...thing, with the flames? We're quite concerned about fire safety here, due to the irreplacable nature of many of the contents of this library."
"Hmm?" Kirika asks, turning around.
As Kirika turns, the visage of flames extinguishes. "That...thing," Gin tries to explain, but ends up gesticulating quite helplessly. "There was a fire...behind you."
"Oh, that?" Kirika smiles. "It's nothing, just a little...well, they're small and go away quickly. I haven't burned anything yet." She turns back to her studies.
"Naturally," Gin says. She doesn't press the argument, but she does take a half-step to the side, away from Kirika.

Kirika tries to focus on the scrolls and her notes, but her mind can't stop wandering back to the search outside, to Shira and his heart, to her friends out there in harm's way, to Toshi pacing the floors of the Hall of Justice - and most of all, to Yukio, asleep in her cell, counting on Kirika to save her. It's not long before she's only notionally reading the scrolls and her mind floods with Yukio's face, streaked with tears and dirt from her frantic ride back from the theater, begging Kirika to help her.

"Lady Kamura?" Hetechi says, rippig Kirika from her vision - he seems to have snuck up on her somehow.
Kirika looks up with a start. "Ah!" She turns to Hetechi. "Yes, Lord?"
"You seem quite taken with this particular scroll," he says, then cranes his head around. "The Eight Guarantees the Thirteenth Emperor made to the samurai - I can see how that would be useful to your defense. Might I suggest you move on to the court minutes, however? There is some important jurisprudence clarifying and narrowing the guarantees, so you would be well-advised to not rely on the original formulation to the exclusion of our current understanding of them." He clears his throat. "Also, I wish to inform you that there are less than two hours until we must prepare to depart. I've told my tailors and cosmeticists to meet us right here in the library, I do hope that finds your approval?"
"Uh, yes!" Kirika nods with a smile. "Hopefully they won't find working while I work to be too much of a burden."
"Of course not," Hetechi says. "I've just about finished drafting my opening statement, so if you would like to compare notes, I would gladly share my work."
"Yes, that would be most helpful," Kirika says.

Kirika follows Hetechi into the next room where he's prepared his case - and indeed, where he's prepared his entire case, all laid out on several pieces of paper across an entire desk. Not just laid out, but arranged for easy reading - obviously not something that Hetechi might need, but something someone else might need if they needed to quickly study the opposition's case.

Kirika's face flushes red - it's both embarrassing that Hetechi felt compelled to give her this advantage, and that she might actually need it - but she knows that having all of this...this is wrong. It's wrong for Yukio, for Ishikawa, for the Empire. All she does is quickly skim Hetechi's opening argument before hustling back to her side of the library. Once there, she starts pacing back and forth, talking to herself as she tries to formulate her own arguments and opening.

"Esteemed High Judge Omo, we are here today to reach judgement on Princess Yukio Mohime - not as a Goddess, or as a potential Empress, but as a citizen of the Empire like any other," Kirika starts. "Yes, that's good. We do not dispute the actions she is alleged to have done - err, the charges against her - no, the facts presented here today?" She stomps her feet and huffs. "We do not dispute the account of that nosy, awful woman, but are here today to ask that the court find leniency and accept Princess Yukio's sincere apology and restitution for any injury caused."

The library's conspicuously empty of servants as Kirika finishes her first attempt at a speech, which makes the ghastly voice from behind Kirika echo even more. "Is this your best?" Kaede Kamura asks. As Kirika turns to look at the spirit of her ancestor, she's greeted by a grisly sight - Kaede at the moment of her death, pierced by arrows and with her chest caved in from being trampled by a panicked horse. Kaede, however, seems completely nonchalant about it. "Is this your best?" she repeats.
Kirika's eyes go wide. "...yes?" she squeaks.
Kaede rolls her eyes. "The only court I ever stepped in, they had to drag me by my chains. My troops rode in before the prosecutor could finish reading the charges." She seems to reach for one of the arrows stuck in her shoulder and grabs it, as if to adjust it to be less agonizingly painful. "I'm not saying you need to stand laughing on a pile of dead fools, but...put a little spine into it, will you?"
Kirika steps towards the apparition, then pauses - but it's not fear on her face, it's excitement with more than a little awe. "...Auntie Kaede?"
"Hah, 'Auntie'," Kaede says. "Had a couple of titles in my life, that's a new one. I was never that respectable." She looks Kirika up and down. "Looks like you've been through it. Whatever takes you, I bet it'll be a hell of a story."
"Well, it's...it's been an exciting few months," Kirika admits. She pauses, takes another step forward, reaches for Kaede, then pauses. "I...I've been in love with the stories about you my whole life, my father said that you were always so brave and kind when he was a child..." She takes a deep breath, and steels herself. "Would it be all right if I gave you a hug?"
"Sure," Kaede says. "Give me a moment." Before Kirika's eyes, Kaede gets to work on the arrows sticking out of her; the ones she pulls out cleanly dissipate into thin air, but the one in her shoulder doesn't seem to want to come out, so finally she just snaps it off. "There," she says. "Now, bring it in."
Kirika smiles and wraps her arms around the spirit, mindful of, well, Kaede's crushed sternum.
The ghostly arms of Kaede on Kirika's back feel cool, but not uncomfortable. "There you go," Kaede says.
Kirika sighs, then lets go. "Okay! Time to go to work." She starts pacing again. "Esteemed High Judge Omo -" She stops. "Err, Auntie? I mean, I can call you Auntie, right?"
"Yeah, but don't spread it around," Kaede says.
"Well, it's so great to see you and get a chance to speak to you - and I have so many questions I want to ask you - but..." Kirika pauses. "I have this trial to do, and...the woman I love is kind of counting on me to get this right, and...are you here to help me, or..."
"I'm here because you called for help," Kaede says. "Maybe you didn't mean to, but if you lean into the power too much, it draws us out. Not sure I can help you much with court battles - like I said, only had a battle in court, once - but I'm here anyway, so I'll try to be useful."
"Oh! That's...that's good," Kirika says. "Well! I should get some more ink! Gin?" she calls out. "More ink, please! And some water?"
Gin rushes into the library, turns a little pale at the sight of Kaede's spirit, but manages to stammer out "Yes, Lady Kamura!" before rushing out again.
"What's her problem?" Kaede asks.
"First time she's seen a spirit, I think," Kirika replies. "So, everyone can see you? And..." She pauses again. "I don't want to hide you, Auntie. Hmph." Kirika starts pacing again. "Well, I guess we'll have to figure this out together. Between the two of us, we should be able to make some simple legal arguments, right?"
"Yeah," Kaede says. "Just tell me what you need from me...kid."
Kirika smiles. "Sure thing."

Behind Kaede, the door slides open and a small entourage of servants and workers come in, cloth and equipment in hand to prepare Kirika for court - and they all stop cold and turn white as their fabric as Kaede and Kirika both turn their way.

"Oh!" Kirika says, and steps forward, putting an arm over Kaede's shoulders and bringing them both before the servants. "You don't mind doing two, do you? This is my Auntie Kaede, and she'll be joining me in court today." She looks to Kaede. "I know you preferred it in the wilds, but I think you might like what they produce." She looks back to the servants. "You can work around the arrow, yes?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2017-12-22 09:15:27
"Come, Konoko," Toshiba calls to the bird. "Let us return and see what trouble the others have gotten into in our absence."
Gatac 2018-01-19 07:18:10
What trouble indeed. Toshiba and Takao return once more to the factory complex, where they find the uncomfortable situation of Ueki having apparently seized overall command of the operations there, with everyone else either pulling on the "Yukio's trial" string or engaged in the search for Lord Shira's heart.

As such, the first greeting that Toshiba and Takao receive upon their arrival is the whooshing sound of a wooden barrel making haste through a trajectory above them, and just as the sound of Ueki's fauxbuchet stopping itself by wood slamming against rope-wrapped wood echoes, the barrel splashes onto the water just off the factory, sinks with all due haste and then, just about three seconds later, there's a rumble from the harbor and then a big spout of water, with a shockwave spreading over the water telling of the successful detonation of Ueki's explosive contraption. As if that wasn't enough, the debris floating to the surface seems to contain droplets of something oily, which in turn bursts into flame upon contact with air. As the whole mess burns for about twenty second before consuming itself, Ueki comes jogging up, looking immensely pleased with himself.

"Ah, my friends!" he says. "Congratulations, in a sense. You are privileged to witness the future of naval warfare! All we need are a few more test shots to calibrate the sights and the detonators, and then the Gungnir will be the mightiest warship in these seas again!"

"...pardon me," Copperhead says, appearing from behind a corner, as is his privilege as a ninja. "Takao-senshi, it appears you are in receipt of an invitation to lunch - by Lady Ikishi." He produces a letter with what looks like Ikishi's personal stamp authenticating it. "As we are currently missing both the once and future Shadowguard to other tasks, I thought that perhaps we could consider an appropriate response together."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-01-22 15:01:18
Toshiba looks at Takao and Copperhead, then at the inky black smoke rising from the recent aquatic conflagration, then back to his fellows.

"Perhaps we could just blow her the hell up," he suggests.
Gatac 2018-01-24 13:25:57
"I'm not entirely sure that is wise," Copperhead cautions.
"Yeah, that'd be pretty loud," Ueki says. "Not very ninja."
"That's not my principal objection -" Copperhead begins.
"- plus her house-mausoleum-thing won't be vulnerable to these charges," Ueki says. "You're right, this is naval warfare gear, but we need siege munitions."
"If I may -" Copperhead tries again.
"Yeah, sure, I'm open to suggestions," Ueki says, but just as Copperhead takes a breath, Ueki seems struck with an idea. "Right! Metal shells, like your distraction bomblets! But scaled up, and with a rounded tip and fins so they plunge predictably - oh, that'll require a much stronger catapult."
"- perhaps we can put aside the catapult -"
"And get cannons?" Ueki says. "Well, we can't build them here, that's my main issue, but maybe somebody's selling? Not that I'm overly keen on trusting amateur metallurgy, but you may be right, a good broadside could be the best option." He looks to Toshiba. "Well! Seems like my work isn't anywhere near done. See you at lunch!"

And with that, Ueki speeds off.

"...whatever keeps him occupied," Copperhead remarks, then turns back to Toshiba. "Shall I take your remark as a measure of our collective dissatisfaction with Lady Ikishi's continued flaunting of her negative influence on the empire, or do you wish to seriously propose an assassination?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-01-24 13:55:31
"Perhaps it was but a flight of fancy," Toshiba sighs. "Not a good long-term plan for the Empire."

"Yet," he adds. "She dies after her legitimacy is stripped from her."
MikeS 2018-01-24 23:30:02
Takao frowns and scratches the ever-present stubble on his chin.

"I was her guest once before and do not care to repeat the experience", he says. "Certainly, it would be better to travel with company."

He frowns some more.

"It seems an obvious gambit to split our group, at least in body if not in spirit. I assume Ikishi will try to buy me off somehow, or imprison me."

He looks at the two ninja. "Do either of you see anything that we could possibly gain from this meeting? Could we learn something about her defenses? Her state of mind A lead on the location of Shira's heart?"
Gatac 2018-01-25 12:56:52
Copperhead ponders the matter.

"There is always value in reconnaissance, particularly of places we cannot otherwise penetrate, and any way into Ikishi's sanctum that does not involve Ueki's artillery must be preferred by default," he says. "That said, only a fool walks into the spider's net without guile of his own. If you do wish to accept the invitation, we should find you some sort of exit strategy."
MikeS 2018-02-15 00:23:55
Takao nods. "I will accept the invitation."

He rubs his hands. "Now, about that exit strategy. Do we think Ikishi can handle an additional guest or two?"

He looks at the ninja one at a time. "The Oni would have to come through the front door with me. Can Kagemaru sneak in as a literal shadow? What other options do we have? Perhaps one of Ueki's contraptions? His Sparrow worked rather well, until it jammed."
Gatac 2018-02-15 10:41:14
"I see no grounds for her to object to an additional guest," Copperhead says. "Considering your history, she must know that you would not meet her alone."

"But she won't see me coming, I'll just stick to your heels," Kagemaru comments. "Or Toshiba's. Whoever has the bigger shadow."

"I shudder to task Ueki's inventiveness further," Copperhead says, then taps the vambrace on his armor with the hidden gonne. "Something like this, perhaps?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-02-19 12:15:25
"Copperhead," Toshiba addresses the ninja. "I am concerned more about subtler knives. Poisons, inhalants, more exotic forms of malice. Is there... I do not know. A filter, or unguent, or antidote we could take beforehand?"
Gatac 2018-02-19 12:24:20
Copperhead's wide-brimmed hat moves, which you take to mean that underneath, he is shaking his head. "Exotic dangers fall within the purview of Yu Lee, I should say," he begins. "For gaseous substances, you will find that a rag to cover your mouth and nose provides a measure of protection, moreso if wetted down with...impolite natural fluids. As for ingested poisons, I have a few doses of fast-acting emetic I could equip you with. Never leave the house without it, I say. None of those are quite what you wished for, as they provide no fortification beforehand, but I hope my answer is still within the spirit of your request."
Gatac 2018-02-21 10:35:15
Suitably equipped for all foreseeable contingencies, Takao and Toshiba are picked up by Lady Ikishi's carriage and "enjoy" the ride to the docks with subsequent ferrying to her mansion in silence. When they do arrive at the mansion / mausoleum / crazy deathtrap, it looks quite different from their previous nocturnal incursion: the sparse courtyard is now covered with a large fabric tent roof, under which two dozen personnel labor to prepare the lunch courses. The smells of caramelized onions, sharp peppers and stir-fried meat fill your nostrils, seasoned by the soft salty breeze. The table set for you is also much less imposing than one might suspect, being able to seat at most ten people; as is, it is set for merely three. At the head of the table, a richly decorated wooden box - Ikishi's personal norimono has been placed.

"Welcome, Shinmen Takao," Ikishi says from within, her face in shadow. Even those words seem to be too much, and she struggles to suppress a cough. She stretches out a hand to indicate that you should take a seat - you can't fail to notice that it is covered in a long glove, with no skin visible. "Please, take your seats," she continues. "It is...agreeable that you...brought the Blue Oni with you. We have...some things to discuss. Things that...are not meant for Lady Kamura's ears."

Unseen by anyone else, Kagemaru detaches from the shadow of the carriage and begins his approach to the mansion.


The courthouse is almost empty, because the trial of the day is popular. So popular, in fact, that masses of legal scholars, administrators and the well-to-do among the “concerned citizens” have been clamoring for seats all morning, ending in Judge Omo ordering the whole crowd ejected from the proceedings. Every step echoes in the grand hall, where so far a bare dozen people remain: Omo himself, Lord Hetechi and an assistant, the court scribes and a few guards. Still missing are the accused herself, Lady Matsumoto Yukio (or is that Empress Yukio? We’re here to find out!) and her advocate, Lady Kirika Kamura.

“Bring in the accused,” Omo orders. It echoes a bit, from all the empty space, but the way he says it, in a particularly low and unhurried manner, indicates that he’s going to take this trial as seriously as any other. Accordingly, a simple side door to the hall slides open, and Yukio steps out - wearing a fine kimono and with her hair done up, leaving little doubt as to her heritage. Her face falters briefly when she doesn’t spot Kirika in the hall yet, but she strides in, setting the pace with two guards following behind her. As if there was an ‘X’ drawn on the floor, she stops in exactly the right place and bows her head.

“Judge Omo,” she says with practiced surety, “I humbly present myself to your court.”
Omo bows his head in return. “The court recognizes Lady Matsumoto,” he says. “Please be seated.”
A knocking occurs at the latched louvers covering the windows to the roof, and then one of them knocks inwards - revealing Kirika Kamura, who rolls through the gap, hangs off the fifteen foot ledge, and drops straight to the floor like it was five. A blue form slides through sideways after Kirika - as so not to snag the arrows hanging out of her chest - and instead of hanging, just hovers down to the ground next to Kirika. Kirika dusts her fine kimono off - none the worse for wear, and steps forward to Judge Omo. “Judge Omo, Kirika Kamura, and my second, Kaede Kamura, humbly present themselves to the court in the defense of Lady Matsumoto.”
“How’s it going?” Kaede adds, pulling one of the spectral arrows from her shoulder. “Don’t mind me.”
“...the court recognizes Lady Kamura,” Omo says, then looks at Kaede. “And Lady Kamura. Please be seated.”

Yukio gives a smile to Kirika’s entrance, though even she can’t help but raise an eyebrow at Kaede’s entrance. Hetechi, though, seems unfazed by the presence of an unearthly spirit, instead scanning his notes again. Kirika takes her seat at Yukio’s side - after sliding out a chair for Kaede - and takes her love’s hand as she sits down.

“The trial will commence now,” Judge Omo says. “Does the accused’s advocate wish to make an opening statement?”
Kirika stands. “I do, Judge. Esteemed High Judge Omo, we are here today to reach a fair judgement on Princess Yukio Mohime - not as a potential Goddess or Empress, but as a citizen of the Empire. We do not dispute...the allegations made against her today, but instead ask that the court find the leniency agreed upon by both sides - the sincere apology of Princess Mohime and the restitution offered - sufficient in this case. Princess Mohime deeply regrets her actions last night, and wishes to make amends, Judge - just as any other citizen should. Thank you.”

Omo nods to Kirika. “The court has heard Lady Kamura’s opening statement. Lady Matsumoto, is there anything you would like to add to the words of your advocate?”
Yukio stands up from her seat and bows her head. “I have nothing to add to Lady Kamura’s words, Judge Omo.”
“Very well,” Omo says. “You may be seated.”

As everyone settles back down, Omo makes some quick notes on a scroll in front of him. “The court now wishes to hear from the accuser’s side. However” - he checks his scroll again - “I see here that the court has received a petition to dismiss the trial on the grounds that the accuser does not wish to press charges against Lady Matsumoto. The scribes will please note that the trial proceeds at the explicit request of the accused. Lord Hetechi, as representative of the accuser, it falls to you to present the best possible case for why Lady Matsumoto should bear the weight of the law despite the special circumstances in this case.” He sighs. “I take it you have prepared an opening statement to this effect?”

“Indeed I have, Judge Omo,” Hetechi says, rising from his seat. Kirika can see a quiet bit of despair play over Omo’s face as Hetechi picks up several pages worth of notes. “By your leave, I shall begin.”
“The court will now hear Lord Hetechi’s opening argument,” Omo says.

As Hetechi strides forward, Kaede floats over to Kirika. “...he’s yummy,” she comments.
“He’s not into your type, sadly,” Kirika replies. “Women, not spirits.”
“Has everyone switched sides while I was away?” Kaede wonders, maybe a bit too loudly. Yukio coughs as a convenient excuse to cover her face.
“Why, did you know him?” Kirika asks, lowering her whisper slightly to try to get Kaede to do the same.
“Hah!” Kaede laughs. Omo and Hetechi look at her, and she spits out a quick “Sorry!”, floating a bit lower.

Undeterred, Hetechi clears his throat and looks down at his notes one more time before he spreads his left arm out and turns slightly, like an actor addressing a packed theater.

"The issue before us today is not whether Mohime-san injured Yakuta-san,” he begins. “Nobody here disputes this. Neither is the issue whether Mohime-san is, by marriage, the rightful Empress and as such a living goddess. It is an important question, but as I will show, it is not fundamental to this trial. The issue is whether a goddess can become a woman by merely saying so.

The court will note that I beg indulgence to elucidate some common knowledge, not to draw out the proceedings, but to establish the foundation upon which this case turns. It has been the consistent position of Imperial jurisprudence, if not scholarship as a whole, that the Emperor and the Empress are gods in human guise, guided by divine wisdom. As such, any action taken by a god or goddess is, a priori, correct. The purpose of the law is to instruct us mere humans in correctness; a god or goddess needs no such direction. As the law is made by humans, it is necessarily a shadow of the truth. It is a shadow we endeavour to draw in the sharpest lines, but still flawed in ways we are ourselves too flawed to truly understand and therefore remedy. Where divine wisdom contradicts the law, it must be seen as an instruction to fix the law, for the law in that regard is simply wrong."

Hetechi nods to Kaede, who doesn't seem to quite know what to do with that, but nods back.

"Mohime-san has stated clearly and under no duress that she wishes to be tried as a samurai befitting her station, as the daughter of Matsumoto Aotaka. If such a thing is possible - and I say this with no prejudice towards either side of the question - then the trial would be a simple application of the law; we would examine the circumstances of the injury, the privileges and protections extended to both Mohime-san and Yakuta-san, as well as the wisdom of previous rulings. But although this might make things easier on all of us, we cannot choose an answer by how convenient it is. We must look seriously at the question no matter what we wish to be true: what if a goddess cannot be a mere woman?

I fear it is so, and I will now explain why I believe it. The truth is not a matter of convenience, nor of belief, or even of what we are able to grasp of it; it simply is, and it resists all attempts to change. No amount of sophistry will make true that which is not, or render truth into lies; to believe such can be done is the mark of a fool, to turn it into a trade is the mark of a huckster. What is true is true and cannot change no matter how much we wish it could; what can change is not truth, and never was. There exists no mold that can shatter itself, no songbird that can deny its beak and feathers. A goddess is a goddess, whether we believe in her or deny her.

If Mohime-san is the rightful Empress, then she is a goddess, and cannot be a woman, no matter how much she professes a desire to be treated as such. If this was the conclusion I reached here, then this trial would, indeed, turn to the question of whether Mohime-san is the rightful Empress; a question which, with all respect to the court, I believe should not be decided here. Yet, how can we argue about anything else, when this case seems to hinge on the distinction?"

He lets that hang for a moment. As he turns away, Kaede floats up a bit again. “He’s taking a while to get going, isn’t he?” she whispers. “I liked yours better. To the point.”
“I see what he’s trying to do,” Kirika replies. “He’s going to be going for a while yet, I’d get comfortable.” She leans over to give Yukio a peck on the cheek. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m okay, dearest,” Yukio whispers. Still, she squeezes her hand a bit harder as Hetechi’s argument continues.
“I’m here, love,” Kirika replies, returning the squeeze and rubbing her thumb on the back of Yukio’s hand.

Hetechi’s latest dramatic pose finished, and he resumes his argument.

"But!" he says. "In my haste, I have not drawn a clear distinction between some things, and in those distinctions I see a way out of this dilemma. A careless scholar might say, to be is the same as to be treated as; certainly this is an assumption one might tease from my speech. Yet, I say, it need not be so. It might be argued that to treat a goddess as anything other than a goddess is to deny what she is, but such would be the refuge of only the simplest intellect. Our minds, flawed as they might be next to divine wisdom, can recognize the difference between what a thing is and what it should be treated as, and believe in both. A child learns to wield a stick as he might wield a blade, a game of shogi tasks us to imagine legions of warriors in place of painted pieces of wood; why, even the throne itself is, to sober eyes, a mere thing of wood and metal and lacquer, but it holds immeasurably vast power as a symbol of the Emperor's rightful place in the Heavens. In all such cases, we have substituted what we can grasp for that which we cannot."

He looks to Kaede again. “I think he’s into me,” Kaede whispers.
“Do you know him?” Kirika whispers back.
“No,” Kaede says, and grins. “I’d remember a butt like that.”
Yukio coughs again.
“Okay, okay,” Kaede whispers.
“It is nice,” Kirika admits. “But not as nice as yours, love.”
“Girls will be girls,” Kaede comments quietly.

Just then, Hetechi starts the final walk of his performance.

"In my examples,” he says, “three things have been treated as more than they are, but is the reverse permissible? I see no reason why it should not be. One might say it is disrespect to treat a goddess as a woman; I do not see how that follows. I do not propose that we treat Mohime-san with any disrespect. I propose instead that we treat Mohime-san's request as that of a goddess who has come to instruct us in divine wisdom. We should consider her request as that of a master who steps into a dojo and asks to be instructed as a beginner, to both test the teacher's skillfulness and to add to it. And I say to you: if you were the teacher and you treated this master differently than any one of your other students, if you extended courtesies to him and him alone - does this not speak poorly of how you conduct yourself away from the watchful eyes of your betters? If your heart wavers at this thought, does this not show you how much farther you have to travel down the road to your own fulfillment? And do you in your arrogance believe that you need to hold back your strength and skill against a master lest you hurt him?

I say, let us honor Mohime-san's request. Let us replace our fear and flawed thinking with a full-hearted embrace of this trial. Let us sharpen our wits against the whetstone of divinity. Let us trust that a goddess does not require us to second-guess her decisions.

Let us try Mohime-san as she wishes to be tried: as a samurai."
“Woo-hoo!” Kaede cheers from her seat.
“...Lady Kamura,” Omo says. “Order, please.”
“Oh, right,” Kaede says. “Sorry, Judge.”

As Hetechi finds his seat again, Omo turns to his scribe, who gives him a nod. “The court has heard Lord Hetechi’s reasoning,” Omo says. “Recess is ordered for half an hour. All rise.”
Kirika stands, only releasing Yukio’s hand to bow to Omo before it immediately returns to its proper place. After a round of bows, Omo rises from his seat and retreats to his office along with the scribe.

“Well, that was quick,” Kaede comments.
“Only the first round of the trial, I’m afraid,” Hetechi comments, a warm smile on his lips as he walks over. “Lady Matsumoto,” he says, bowing his head slightly. “I am glad to see you well. May I just say that I admire your willingness to stand trial and set precedent thereby? I do hope you’ll forgive me that I was cast as the villain in this play.”
“Oh, I...I wouldn’t say that you’re the...villain,” Yukio says, returning the bow.
“And I hope my library was of some use to you, Lady Kamura,” he adds.
“It was,” Kirika says, and looks to Kaede. “For more than one reason. Have you met my aunt Kaede?”
“I have not,” Hetechi says, nodding to the spirit. “You lead the peasant uprising in the South during the Millet Crisis, if I recall correctly.”
Kaede smirks. “They called it a rebellion, in my time,” she says.
“History is rarely kind to noble causes,” Hetechi says. “First they are demonized...then trivialized.”
“Better than to be forgotten,” Kaede says.
“Um,” Yukio speaks up. “I’m sorry, but...can we talk about...why you’re here?”
“I asked for help, and she came,” Kirika says. “Not sure what for yet, but I have faith.”
“There’s a purpose to everything,” Kaede says, then pauses. “I think.”
“I’m afraid matters of the worlds beyond are not my field of expertise,” Hetechi says. “Lady Kamura, your opening statement was very...straightforward.”
“And yours was intentionally obtuse,” Kirika replies. “I know an attempt to bore someone to death when I see it.”
“It is difficult to lose just enough,” Hetechi says. “I thought I’d try to set a precedent in the jurisprudence, or two, while I’m at it.” He harrumphs. “I did try to spice it up a little, I should say.”
“Worked for me,” Kaede blurts out.
“Should I...shift my approach?” Hetechi asks.
“No, I think things are going just fine,” Kirika replies. “Perhaps not enough fights for my aunt’s liking, but the day is still young.” Kirika smiles. “I heard that you used to be quite a troublemaker yourself. Maybe we’ll see if you still have some moves, Rooster.”
Hetechi cracks a grin. “Oh, wasn’t the show exciting enough so far?”
“Totally,” Kaede says.
“In any event,” Hetechi says, “I did some unwise things when I was young. An experience I would heartily recommend, however.” He looks at the judge’s bench. “I must admit, I was hoping to work a crowd. You’re catching me on my...less developed idea. I do hope you’ll forgive that I’m improvising a bit with this routine.”
“What does it look like when you’re not improvising?” Kaede asks.
“Perhaps we can explore that after the trial?” Hetechi says.

Yukio coughs, but Kirika just smiles. “Business now, fun later.”
Gatac 2018-03-07 10:58:46
After a few silent moments, it seems like Lady Ikishi's patience runs out. "Your silence...says much," she wheezes. "I hope that...you understand the...depths of my...desperation. You seek...the heart of Shira-dono." She gathers her breath. "I am prepared to...offer a trade." She labors to raise her arm and turn her hand palm side up. "I...require...my daughter," she says. "She will not...come to any permanent harm...if this is your concern." The arm drops. "I have taken...careless steps," she continues. "Without her...I cannot hold...the yokai within." She coughs. "I realize you do not...wish me well, but...see reason in this. You do not...want that thing...loosed upon the city." Summoning more strength, she taps on the table. "My daughter...for the swordman's heart. I require her...before nightfall."


“Order in the court,” Omo orders, as everyone is seated again. “The court has deliberated on the parties’ opening statements. Lord Hetechi, your argument was...most thorough, and we could not find any precedent dismissing your reasoning. The court has chosen to follow your logic and allow that Lady Matsumoto, irrespective of any further issues with regards to her divine duties, shall be tried with the privileges of a samurai. Let it be noted accordingly.”

The scribe...scribes, and Omo turns to Kirika. “Lady Kamura, you have entered a plea for the trial to recognize an agreement of forgiveness between Lady Matsumoto and the victim of her actions. Would you like to proceed with your argument at this time?”
Kirika stands. “I would, Judge. I would like to call Lady Yakuta to testify.”
Omo nods. “The court asks that Lady Yakuta be brought in.”

A side door slides open, and two more guards walk in, escorting the old woman from the theater the night before. However, her air of haughtiness seems to disappear as soon as she catches a glimpse of Yukio; she stops walking and bows deeply to her. “A thousand apologies, my Empress!” Yakuta cries out. “If I had known, I would have never -”
“Order!” Omo says. “Order in the court!”
“Never!” Yakuta repeats, but then straightens up and approaches the bench.
“Lady Yakuta,” Omo says, “the court asks that you refrain from any overt...displays of submission towards the accused. We are here to litigate the facts of the case, not Lady Matsumoto’s status. Do you understand?”
“Of course, of course,” Yakuta says.
“Very well,” Omo says. “The court recognizes the accuser, Lady Yakuta, called to the stand as a witness by the advocate Lady Kamura. Please be seated.”

“Broke her wrist, huh?” Kaede whispers to Yukio. “What’d you do, sneeze on her?”
“Please be quiet,” Yukio says.
“Lady Yakuta, you have previously agreed to accept restitution and apology from Princess Mohime in regards to the incident last night?” Kirika asks.
“Oh yes,” Lady Yakuta says, bowing again to Yukio. “May I just say that her Majesty’s gracious offer was very generous and kind, seeing as how the entire episode was my fault.”
“And you would have been accepting of this, if she was merely of noble birth and a samurai?” Kirika asks.
Yakuta nods, less-than-convincingly. “Of course, of course,” she says. “Accidents...do happen. And we do not run our prisons for the daughters of samurai, now do we? People of our station should...respond to every situation with grace, and understanding.”
“And I thank you for yours,” Kirika says, and looks to Omo. “Nothing further, Judge.”
“The court recognizes Lady Kamura’s line of questioning,” Omo says. “Lord Hetechi, I’m sure you have some questions of your own?”
“I do, Judge Omo,” Hetechi says.
“Proceed,” Omo says.

Hetechi rises from his seat, then approaches Lady Yakuta.

“I do apologize for the circumstances, Lady Yakuta,” Hetechi begins. “I had hoped to see you again in a different light.”
“Oh, it can’t be helped, I suppose,” Yakuta says. “Go ahead, Lord.”
“Very well,” Hetechi says. “How would you describe Lady Matsumoto’s manner of dress at the event?”
“Oh, the clothes were very fine,” Yakuta says. “Very fitting for a...a samurai, I suppose.”
“And you had no idea as to her identity?” Hetechi asks.
Yakuta laughs quickly. “Oh, Lord Hetechi, I don’t believe anybody knew,” she says.
“It was a good party, then?” Hetechi asks with a smile.
“Quite so!” Yakuta says. “Quite the event, though it does not hold a candle to your gatherings, Lord Hetechi.”
“I see,” Hetechi says. “So you were neither likely to mistake her for a commoner nor to imagine the consequences of confronting a woman who may rise to become Empress?”
“...no?” Yakuta says.
“Then I am at a loss,” Hetechi says, turning to address the small audience. “You said yourself that, among nobles, matters are settled with grace and understanding. How, then, do you explain the altercation?”

“What’s he doing?” Kaede asks.
“...I’m not sure,” Kirika says, sitting forward.

“It was a...misunderstanding,” Yakuta says.
“A misunderstanding that broke your wrist,” Hetechi says. “Surely you can see that this is quite a serious matter.”
“Of course,” Yakuta says. “Of course it is, but…”
“If I confronted you and caused you injury,” Hetechi says, “would you accept recompense in exchange for dropping any charges against me?”
“...naturally,” Yakuta says. “Of course...of course I would.”
“That is reassuring to hear,” Hetechi says. “Then I hope you will forgive me this.”

He steps away from the stand and turns to Omo.

“Judge Omo,” he says, “I wish it noted for the record that the accuser’s words do not match her actions. She proclaims grace and forgiveness, yet it is clear to me that this is a charade only meant to impress those she considers her betters. When she had no idea of Lady Matsumoto’s identity, beyond the obvious markers of her station, she felt quite safe in confronting her. I submit to the court that her acceptance of the offer of recompense is materially dependent on the accuser’s impression that she is dealing with the Empress, not with a samurai.”
“Why, I never!” Yakuta snarls, but doesn’t say anything.
“...the court recognizes your reasoning, Lord Hetechi,” Omo says. “Lady Kamura, this is your witness. Do you wish to respond?”
“I already asked this question, your honor, and she responded that she treated Princess Mohime as she would any other samurai of noble birth,” Kirika replies. “Unless Lord Hetechi can prove otherwise, does the court find any reason to call my witness a liar?”
Omo thinks for a moment. “...it is the presumption of this court that the accuser, called to the stand, will recognize the solemnity of the proceedings and refrain from falsehoods,” he says. “Lord Hetechi, while your reasoning is interesting, the court would also like to know if you have any proof that Lady Yakuta is lying.”
“I do not,” Hetechi admits. “I...got carried away, on an article of curiosity. I beg the court’s forgiveness for my brash accusation.”
“So noted,” Omo says. “The court asks that Lord Hetechi refrain from making further reasoning based on conjecture not substantiated by evidence or witnesses’ statements.”
“Of course,” Hetechi says.

Omo turns to Kirika.

“Do you have any other witnesses to call, Lady Kamura?”
“Only one,” Kirika replies. “I would like to call Hetechi Kei.”
“The court asks that Hetechi Kei be brought in,” Omo says.

The ritual repeats, Kei looking particularly ashen at the sight of everyone assembled in the hall. He almost forgets to bow when he stands before the bench, but finally catches himself.

“The court recognizes Hetechi Kei as witness,” Omo says. “Please be seated. Lady Kamura, your witness.”
“Did you know Princess Mohime’s status prior to last night?” Kirika asks.
“Uh, no,” Kei says. “No idea.”
“Mister Hetechi,” Kirika says, advancing towards Kei, with Kaede at her side. “I must impress upon you the importance of telling the truth. There are dire consequences for lying in a court proceeding.” She stops in front of Kei, both Kirika and Kaede towering over him, and both bigger than two of him put together. “Do you understand?”
“...y-y-yes,” Kei says.
“Lady Kamura, and -” Omo begins. “Both of you. Please refrain from...looming over the witness.”
Kirika and Kaede both step back at the same moment. “Yes, Judge. Now, Mister Hetechi - did you know who Princess Mohime was prior to last night?”
Kei lets his head sink and then nods.
“Would the witness please answer the question by speaking?” Omo chides, apparently at the edge of his patience.
“Yes,” Kei admits. “Actually, I - I mean I didn’t know before I asked her! Okay? I didn’t know, I just thought she was, you know, samurai.”
“...continue,” Omo says.
“Well, I, uh,” Kei says. “I learned about it a few hours before the show. So, I mean, technically, that was last night, but...you know.”
“Who told you?” Kirika asks.

Kei looks to Omo.

“Um, the information was given to me in confidence,” he says.
“Answer the question, boy,” Omo says.
“I - I was just wrapping up some band practice,” Kei explains. “Then, uh, Lady Ikishi approached me. And she, ah, she told me. But she swore me to secrecy! She said that it was very dangerous for Lady Matsumoto right now to be recognized, so she was, uh, going incognito, but if I was going to take her to the theater and be with her I had to be aware of it so I, uh…” He looks to Omo again. “Do I really…”
“Continue,” Omo says.
“...so I wouldn’t put the moves on her,” Kei says.

“That little shit,” Yukio growls through her teeth.
“Yeah, fuck him,” Kaede says.
“Order, order,” Omo orders.
Kirika’s arms and shoulders clench with anger, but she manages to keep it out of her voice - but not her tattoos, which burst into flame momentarily. “That was...wise.” She takes a deep breath, and the blue fire and glow recede. “But you are sure that Lady Ikishi was the one that told you about this?”
“She was just trying to save me from being a dumbass,” Kei admits, while Lord Hetechi visibly squirms in his seat. “She told me not to tell anyone and I just...I just blurt it out.” He looks to Yukio. “I’m sorry.”
“Judge Omo,” Yukio speaks up. “By your leave, I petition the court to address the witness myself.”
“Granted,” Omo says.
“Hetechi Kei,” Yukio says as she rises, then takes a breath. “...why did you believe her?” she asks.
“Uh,” Kei says.
“There must have been a hundred pretenders to the throne,” Yukio says. “They have come and gone in the last decade. How did you think that Lady Ikishi learned of who I am? How did you think she could be certain of me, when there must have been previous attempts to seize the throne with far greater fanfare, convenient witnesses, forged papers and seals - none of which Toshiro and I have employed so far - how could she possibly know that I was legitimate? And why, Hetechi Kei, would she see fit to entrust you with this information?”
Kei just sits there, grasping for answers he doesn’t have.

“...objection,” Hetechi says from where he’s sitting, sounding utterly deflated for once. “Inviting the witness to speculate.”
“...the court recognizes Lord Hetechi’s objection,” Omo says, similarly stunned. “Lady Matsumoto, the court asks that you limit your questioning to...questions the witness can answer.”
Yukio keeps staring at Kei. “You don’t know, do you?” she asks.
“No,” Kei admits.
“No further questions from me, Judge Omo,” Yukio says.
“The court recognizes Lady Matsumoto’s...questions,” Omo says. “Lady Kamura?”
“Do you think she was right?” Kirika asks. “Do you believe that Lady Matsumoto is Princess Mohime, heir to the Empress’ throne and goddess?”
“...yeah,” Kei says. “Of course. Of course I do, I wouldn’t have…”
“Answer the question,” Omo insists.
“...I wouldn’t have stood up to Lady Yakuta if I wasn’t sure we’d get the better of her,” Kei says.
Kirika nods. “No further questions.”
“Lord Hetechi?” Omo asks. “Would you like to question the witness?”
Hetechi sighs. “I have no questions for this witness that are worthy of these proceedings, Judge Omo,” he says.
“Very well,” Omo says. “The court...thanks...Hetechi Kei for his time.” He turns to Kei. “That means you can go, boy.”

Kei gets up from his seat and looks one last time to both his uncle and Yukio, neither of whom have a very friendly look on their faces. He slinks out of the courtroom.

“The court has heard the witnesses,” Omo declares. “The court will now withdraw to deliberate on the sentence. Recess for thirty minutes.”

Omo and entourage disappear into the judge’s chambers again. Kaede floats over to Yukio and puts a ghostly arm on her shoulder.

“Why’d you go out with this dillweed?” Kaede asks.
“...I thought I knew the type,” Yukio answers. “And I thought I was doing Lord Hetechi a favor.”
“With respect,” Hetechi says, still sitting in his chair, “I do not require these kinds of favors.”
“Your nephew’s kind of a dick, man,” Kaede says. Noting that Hetechi doesn’t reply, she looks sheepish for a moment, then floats a bit lower and gets back to yanking an arrow from her ghostly body.
Kirika looks at Kaede, catches her gaze, then tilts her head towards Hetechi with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, he is, right?” Kaede says.
“Lady...Aunt…Kaede,” Yukio says. “This is, perhaps, not the time.”
“Touchy,” Kaede says, but after a moment, her expression softens. “Sorry, honey. You got a heart big enough to go with those shoulders, don’t you? You gave the kid a chance and he blew it. You tried to sort out a bitch and she whacked you for it. That’s not on you, okay? Shitty people are gonna do shitty things. The best we can do is stand up and do something better. Yeah?”
Kirika nods. “Exactly what I would have said.”

“If I may,” Hetechi says, rising from his chair. His head hangs low as he gathers the strength to speak. “I fear I may have gotten...carried away with this task. Not with any design to cause either of you serious trouble, of course, but now I see that what I took as a frivolous challenge is, at its core, my fault. Had I exercised better judgement at the party, I would not have set you two against Lady Yakuta to begin with, nor should I have allowed Kei to proposition...whatever his idea was.” He sighs. “And I ought to know better. A rooster like me...most assuredly hurt people, back in the day, with exactly as much foresight and discretion as my nephew. I should not think too fondly of these days.” He shakes his head. “In any event, I would say that I have played my part. I shook Yakuta, but from a direction I knew would not - could not sway Omo, who must keep sight of the facts, not of suspicions. Yet Kei’s testimony planted enough seeds of doubt within him that he will be inclined to go light on you, Mohime-san. And it might be the seeds of another alliance against Lady Ikishi.” He forces a smile. “A deserved victory for you, I should say.”
“I agree - but you give yourself too little credit and far too much blame,” Kirika says. “Yukio and I were destined to rile up that horrible wench no matter your actions, and your intentions with Kei were every bit as honest as Yukio’s - it’s not your fault that he...lacks good judgement. And our victory is every bit yours as it is mine, High Lord.” Kirika bows to him. “Thank you.” As best she can, she nudges Kaede forward.

Kaede floats forward, casting a sideways glance at Kirika. “Uh,” Kaede says to Hetechi. “...I’m good at hugs. You look like you need one.”
Hetechi looks at her, and chuckles. “I can’t say I’ve ever been hugged by someone like you.”
“A woman?” Kaede says.
“A spirit,” Hetechi says. “I did experiment at the scholar’s academy.”
“Hehe,” Kaede chuckles. “Nothing fazes you for long, eh, Lord?”
“Not with so many...wonders yet to be experienced,” Hetechi says.

Kaede does hug him. As she does so, he puts his arms around her insubstantial form as best he can, while she reaches for his -

“So that’s your aunt,” Yukio says.
“Indeed,” Kirika smirks.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-03-07 14:03:02
"What happens at nightfall?" the Oni asks. "Specifically. And what kind of yokai are we dealing with here? Despite what has happened, the Ikishi who loves the Empire in her own way is perhaps not beyond aid."
Gatac 2018-03-07 14:35:33
"At nightfall," Ikishi wheezes, "I will be...beyond help." She gives a rasping little laugh. "You have been to...the swamp. You have...seen what lives there. Many years ago" - she stops to cough - "I ventured inside...and made a deal...with the king of the swamp. I would be...his vessel, and gain...his knowledge of...qi. I thought I had...tricked him. With qi manipulation...I suppressed his will...and drew upon his power." She draws a breath. "Now I realize...he tricked me. He was not bound. He merely waited...but he seeks to...destroy me and free himself." She takes several breaths. "Generations ago, the old...the old masters sealed the yokai...in the swamp. Now they can...only leave within a living...human." She coughs again. "The king will...seek to break the seal...free the others...and then they will come here...to eat."

She pauses to gather her strength.

"How strange it is," she says. "That a mere tool...could come so close...to ending me."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-03-08 12:18:10
"Why Himiko?"

Toshiba's thoughts turn to the common threads among his companions and Ikishi. The Lady took a yokai into her flesh, but how different was that from Kagemaru's transformation? Or Kirika, playing hostess to countless ancestral spirits? Or the Oni's armor?