MikeS 2018-06-22 17:43:31
"Himiko! Are you alright?!"

Takao swiftly steps away from Ikishi and Kirika, carrying Himiko in his arms to safety, his body interposed between Himiko and the threat.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-06-25 15:09:37
Toshiba lets Kirika and Takao act first - he starts sidestepping around to Ikishi's back while the focus is on the vile smoke. Are Ikishi's goals here aligned with their own, just for this moment? Is a reconciliation about to happen? Is what they all think is Ikishi the yokai, and did it just sever the last bit of Ikishi that was binding it?
Gatac 2018-06-25 15:21:09
"I am...you are..." Himiko says, running a hand over Takao's cheek. "I...see..."

The arm - now a safe distance from everyone - keeps smoking, curling and twisting into a blackish, leather-wrapped branch of a tree from the hells themselves. Ikishi cries out from underneath Kirika's blade. "Stay away from it," she huffs. "It will burn itself out."

"Oh, will it now?" comes a voice from the sides. "That sounds like a bit of a waste."

You look at the shaded side of a tree, where a man with covered in leather and metal leans against it amidst a soft rain of cherry petals. Toshiba feels his stomach twist with recognition - Master Sinan, leader of the Ayami ninja clan. Departure was certainly not under the best of terms, but what is he doing here?
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-06-25 15:29:49
"I see we have merited your direct involvement," Toshiba laughs mirthlessly from behind Ikishi. "Kingmaker, and king un-maker. The humble man rules from the shadows far longer than the monarchs on the throne. What misguided good do you purport to bring the Empire, old man?"
punkey 2018-06-25 16:04:53
"Watch my back," Kirika whispers as she turns to face Sinan.
"You got it," Kaede whispers back.

She pivots on her toes and faces the new threat, quietly shifting to open up Yukio's view of the affair. She judges the distance between her and Sinan, keeping him just distant enough that any move towards her or her friends brings him right into range.
Gatac 2018-06-25 16:21:04
"Was I wrong to spare you, twice?" Sinan says, glowering at Toshiba. "Your arrogance sickens me still, but make no mistake, Toshiba Shiretoko, I've not gained a taste for killing you - there is no profit in it." He looks to Kirika and Yukio. "Neither would I cross swords with you, Lady Matsumoto and Lady Kamura. Your cause is righteous and the Ayami have not forgotten that they serve the true emperor." He bows briefly to Toshi, then his gaze falls upon Takao. "And you, ronin - I've no quarrel with you, either."

"What I have come here to do, instead, is claim a prize that belongs to none of you," he says, casting a particular glare at Ikishi. "Step aside and let me bind the yokai properly."
punkey 2018-06-25 16:24:53
"You'll pardon me if I want to know what that entails before I let you do so," Kirika says.
Gatac 2018-06-25 16:31:52
"You'll pardon me, in turn, when I am unwilling to share more clan secrets with outsiders," Sinan replies. "We do not have time for games. Will you stand aside or not?"
punkey 2018-06-25 16:36:40
Kirika doesn't move - which keeps her clear of his path to the arm.
Gatac 2018-06-28 17:41:39
Somewhere in the capital, a blind man plucks the strings of a koto. An uneasy, muggy air blows in from the lagoon, and the sky darkens just enough to be noticeable.

Sinan steps past Kirika and the prone Lady Ikishi, his eyes fixed on the still wriggling arm. In a single smooth movement, he unwraps some fabric covering his chest armor and dumps a canteen's worth of water over it, then quickly wraps both of his hands and arms with the fabric before finishing off with a layer across his eyes, covering the last bits of his exposed skin.

Shivers run down your spines as you watch him pick up the arm; you get the sense he's working a very delicate task as quickly as he can. Reaching for a leather pouch hanging from his belt, he undoes the string keeping it closed and then reaches inside it, producing some of the sickly green powder from the swamp that covers the inside of the spirit masks. He rubs the powder onto the arm, and little by little, it stops twitching and spewing miasma. Having covered the whole arm, he casts it back onto the ground, sheds the wet fabric to the side and then retrieves a metal flintbox from his belt.

"Cover your eyes," he says, then sparks the flint close to the arm.

Even with your eyes covered or averted, you can feel a bright fire flash into existence. Kirika gets the worst of it; it's like trying to stand against a typhoon, but after a moment she realizes that the fire isn't pushing against her so much as it is against the Kamura family enchantment woven so tightly into her skin. Toshiba feels it, too. The armor of the Blue Oni seems heavier than ever, and the flashes of memories past are washed out in searing light. Takao is fortunate that he is not afflicted with any entanglements with either Heavens or Hells, but what he's missing out in that regard is more than compensated by Himiko pressing tightly against his chest, hot tears soaking through his kimono.

When the fire finally subsides, it takes a moment for you to gather the strength to look at the site again. The stone tiles covering the ground bear a perfectly circular scorch mark which, at second glance, turns out to be an actual crack running in a circle with soot gathered against its ragged edge. You don't need to be High Lord Nikochi to come to the conclusion that you just (indirectly) witnessed a literal Hell Door being opened. And it seems to have utterly consumed both the tainted arm and Master Sinan.

"That madman," Ikishi mutters. "Lady Kamura," she says between gnashed teeth, "I should very much like to be helped into my carriage. The acupuncture block on my arteries holds yet, but I could not truthfully say how much longer it will do so; I need a physician to tie them off and clean up the stump as soon as possible. After that is done, I suppose we will discuss the price of your assistance."
punkey 2018-06-28 17:43:40
"We can start with where High Lord Shira's heart is," Kirika says.
Gatac 2018-06-28 17:44:54
"With me," Ikishi says. "If I survive the next hour, you shall have it."
punkey 2018-06-28 17:46:43
"Then I guess you live for the next hour and five minutes at least," Kirika replies, extending a hand for Ikishi.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-06-29 00:29:54
Sinan is gone - perhaps a trick, but Toshiba is not yet jaded enough to let that grim suspicion get in the way as he kneels at the burnt portal. Master Sinan had faults, coveted and collected power and influence like others gather fish, but he is gone and something of Toshiba Shiretoko leaves with him.

He releases the breath he did not know he had been holding in, and relaxes fingers he did not realize were wrapped around a hilt. On their way in, part of him had decided Ikishi would not see another dawn, but seeing Sinan's sacrifice was a final push away from that precipice.

"A final lesson, perhaps," Toshiba says to himself. "I was right to leave, but I am sorry I doubted you at the end."
Gatac 2018-07-05 18:24:07
Shocking as the events that just transpired might be, there is little time to question them; the prospect of holding Lady Ikishi's life in your hands and (possibly) extracting from her an end to all this strife is too important to be denied. With all haste, you beat retreat to the ferry boat that brought you to Ikishi's private little island and set course for the port in your quest for a surgeon qualified to work on Ikishi's wound.

It's quite the pity you couldn't wait and watch for about ten more minutes. If you had, you might have seen the circle of soot start to stir.


Dr. Uzuki is a 40-year old man with a pair of glasses and the kind of well-worn smile that can only occur to a man untroubled by tact. This is quite evident in the way it doesn't falter, even as he stitches arteries on Ikishi's arm stump while Takao and Toshiba hold her in place.

"That is quite the story," he says, having listened to a quick recounting of events from Kirika. "Very interesting acupuncture technique, I should say."
"Just...sew!" Ikishi snarls through clenched teeth.
"It would help if you twitched less," Uzuki says.
"Will my mother be all right?" Himiko asks. She hasn't let go of Takao the whole time, but rather than clinging to him, she merely has a reflexively hand on his shoulder now, even if by all evidence she can now see for herself perfectly well.
"Survival is quite likely, considering the clean cut and the limited loss of blood," Uzuki says. "About her being all right, I cannot possibly comment - she was not all right before."
"I should...have you...whipped!" Ikishi says.
"Certainly, but you might find my charges for that beyond even your coffers," Uzuki replies with unyielding surface charm. "Now do try to be still for once. I don't need you spurting blood all over my practice."

While Uzuki continues his work and prepares to pinch off the subclavian artery, Ikishi presses her eyes closed.

"On the chain..." she manages to say. Takao glances down at her, indeed spotting a sort of necklace now poking out underneath her kimono. Could that be the key to wherever Lord Shira's heart is kept?
MikeS 2018-07-22 16:23:33
Takao enjoys the lack of respect the doctor has for his patient. It has probably been a while since any underling has dared to speak to Ikishi that way, and she deserved to squirm a little while the doctor dealt with her wound.

His thoughts drifted back to the island. He hadn't paid much attention to the appearance and disappearance of the master ninja. His focus had been on Himiko, first on bringing her to safety, and then on the revelation that her eye sight had returned. When she had reached up to touch his face, he had to blink a wetness out of his eye that he would not admit to. Staying close to her on the way back to the port seem like a natural thing for both of them.

His reverie was broken by Ikishi's words and the blink of metal. "The necklace. Is that what you mean, Lady Ikishi?"
Gatac 2018-07-23 14:46:03
"It is," she says. Awkwardly using her left hand, she slides the pendant out, revealing an intricate metal brooch. At her touch, it slides apart to reveal a shaft with several flanges of metal, machined with delicate holes and a pattern of little metal stencils along its outer edge. A key! And for quite the sophiscated lock, to judge from the many fine details.

"Shinmen Takao," she says, "you well remember the place where I provide for my guests, do you not?" Of course Takao does - how could he forget the lone windmill out of town, far away from prying eyes? "At the west wall," Ikishi continues, "you shall find a stone inscribed with a dragon. Proceed from it in a perpendicular manner, exactly twenty paces, and then dig. You will come upon the vault where I have stored the heart, conserved with magic that yet keeps it beating outside its mortal shell. Along with it you will find more soulstones, a scroll describing the technique and all materials necessary for the ritual." She looks over at Yu Lee. "My dear Yu...you are well capable of the procedure."
"Why should I believe you would arrange for things to be so...easy?" Yu fires back.
"Because I have learned that one does not barter with the forces beyond without a way out of the trade," Ikishi argues. "If that vengeful ogre in Shira's breast should ever fail me, I would have a way to replace him - or make bargain with Shira himself, returning him his freedom in exchange for one final favor." She scoffs. "Has this not occurred to any of you? I shudder to think that I may have been brought low by a rag-tag band of such pedestrian minds!"
"Okay, that's quite enough of raising your blood pressure," Dr. Uzuki weighs in. "Let's get you sleeping so I can undo the arterial blocks with the proper quiet."
"The devil you will!" Ikishi fumes. "If I am not present for the procedure, what assurance do I have that -"

But Dr. Uzuki has already placed a fuming cloth over her face. The mere smell of it makes you a bit woozy.

"You're free to question my competence after you've settled your account," Uzuki says. Then, as Ikishi blacks out, he removes the cloth and turns to you. "I know, I should play to my best-paying customer and not vex her," he says. "But how much sweeter than the taste of silver is the taste of satisfaction?"
MikeS 2018-07-25 20:42:58
"I remember the place well enough. It is out by the swamp," Takao grumbles.

"I can go find the the heart, and I suggest to take Shira-sama and Yu with me, if the procedure is as simple as Lady Ikishi implies."

He looks at Himiko. "Would you like to join us? There may be danger and violence. The mill is by the swamp, close to the spirits that Lady Ikishi has made the pact with. But I would not dissuade you from coming along. I understand the importance of family well enough."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2018-07-30 18:03:41
"I am coming too," Toshiba adds. "Lord Shira needs to get his heart back." He turns to ask Kirika, "We can still count on the remaining High Lords' support?"
punkey 2018-08-01 11:14:25
Kirika nods. "The High Lords will be on our side. Shira is the last one, so we should make haste to restore his heart."