Empire

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?"