Empire

Gatac 2018-08-09 17:41:29
The trip to the mill has turned into quite the production. Bringing Lord Shira all but inevitably brings Lady Ishikawa with it, and a police carriage to house Shira in, and Copperhead to be in the locked wagon with Shira and watch over him, and Toshi came, and that's before we even get into Yu and Himiko and finally, at long last, Toshiba and Takao, too. But big as the convoy is that sets off on the journey, it also feels like a vote of confidence. Ikishi is out of the way, for now. Shira's heart - and vote - will soon belong to the right side of history. And although Himiko's sight might have come at the price of whatever dark trade her mother forced on her, the ease of her smile seems genuine. Finally, for the first time, closing her eyes and basking in the warmth of an afternoon sun is a choice.

As the convoy moves, Yu steers her horse between Toshiba and Takao.

"It has come to my attention," she says, "that you two are to thank for intercepting Ikishi's messenger to the mainland and that I have been most deficient in delivering those thanks. You have saved the lives of my people, and while I will not soon pledge life and limb to another master, be assured that I am very grateful to you. If there is a boon within my means to bestow upon you, do not hesitate to ask it."

---

Elsewhere, a rather smaller team of Kirika, Yukio and Ueki make the journey to Ikishi's mansion again, though not like before. With their mistress gone, the ferrymen will not take them, so it all comes down to a small fishing boat rowed to the shadowed side of the island, away from possible prying eyes - not that there seem to be many as you make landfall quietly and take stock of the situation from the cover of tall grass. In fact, rather appropriate to its ostensible task as a "family mausoleum", the island is quiet now, with little trace of the servants who prepared and served the meal that revealed to you the dire straits of Lady Ikishi's deal with the yokai. The charred circle of the Hellgate in the middle of the plaza before the mansion looks cold now, soot sunk into stone in a way that a thousand rains might not dislodge.

"It's too quiet," Ueki opines. "But hey, no collateral damage concerns. Everybody's gone! Nobody we need to fight, that's...okay, I'm not gonna pretend I'm disappointed because honestly I really wasn't looking forward to fighting anyone. Let's, uh, get that door blasted open and then get inside, yeah?"
punkey 2018-08-09 18:21:25
"One thing at a time, Ueki," Kirika says. "And we should be so lucky to find our friends without a fight." She surveys the plaza - servant's quarters off to one side, the mausoleum before them, but the number one thing she feels is...emptiness. This place isn't just quiet, it's like no one was ever here.

"Let's check the servant's quarters before we resort to blowing things up, hmm?" Kirika says.
Gatac 2018-08-09 18:25:35
You fan out and go through the servant's quarters, the storehouse, little auxiliary buildings - finding absolutely nobody. The shelves in the storehouse are empty, but free of dust. The servant's quarters are bare, even lacking tatami mats on the floor. Yukio tests the big central hearth with the cloth-covered back of her hand, finding it cold. This has not been fired today.
Gatac 2018-08-18 07:01:05
The stony looks on Toshiba and Takao's faces say it all to Yu: your gratitude is thanks enough.

The mill stands as you remember it, its water wheel still stopped up and the entrance closed. With Ishikawa's nod, the door is breached, revealing that the interior has since been "cleaned", removing all evidence of it having served as a Lightwatch base / hospitality zone. The moan of frustration is audible even behind her mask, but she doesn't comment on it further; it's been a few long days, and besides, Lightwatch has been demolished and Lady Ikishi's schemes halted, so what good would evidence be now?

Instead, you turn your attention to the outside, where you spend a few minutes locating the stone Ikishi told you about. It's subtle, to put it mildly, but you do find the marking, take your paces and then start digging, soon hitting the "vault" - a stone box that protects an ornate wooden chest inside. That chest, in turn, has metal reinforcements and a lock that fits Ikishi's key. On turning it, several clacking sounds are heard. When you open the chest, you find not only what Ikishi said, but also several glass phioles around the perimeter of the chest, filled with a clear liquid - no doubt some sort of acid that would ruin the contents if the chest was forced open.

Most significantly, what looks to be Shira's heart is in there, and it is indeed still beating. Himiko gasps at the grisly sight and turns away.

"Bring out Lord Shira," Ishikawa orders her men, then nods to Yu Lee. "His life is in your hands now."
"I will not fail him," Yu says.

Neither Toshiba nor Takao have much to contribute to the delicate operation - and besides, neither of them is much of a "crowd" type of man, so they quickly find themselves standing watch at the perimeter. Before the dreaded man-to-man conversation can develop, however, something appears on the cloudy sky, a trail of red fire that rapidly closes the distance. Is that...is that Kiara? Holy hells, it is her, but only because you've seen barely enough of her half-dragon shape to recognize elements of it in the actual no-shit dragon streaking through the sky, carrying someone on its back. As the mystical beast curves and descends for a landing, all eyes are on it; leathery wings unfold fully and help it arrest its speed before touching down.

(Fun history fact: the 1917 Fairey Hamble Baby floatplane was the first aircraft to incorporate functional flaps. And yes, I know flaps compensate for loss of dynamic lift due to speed reduction, not being the cause of the speed reduction themselves, so shut up.)

As the dragon comes to a halt, HIRO HOMI! climbs off its back. Before your eyes, the dragon shimmers and folds upon itself, assuming the appearance of plain old human Kiara again.

"Man, flying long-distance over the sea sucks," Kiara says. "Dolphin meat is hella oily. Wicked heartburn, and -"
"Let's spare our friends," Homi says. "I think I can apprehend the basics of what has occurred during my absence. Kiara was so good as to let me in on the...rough outline."
"Oh, yeah," Kiara says. "Like, you guys forget I'm here half the time, it feels like. I mean, the ninja in me appreciates it but the dragon needs some fire, knowimsayin? So I figure hey, let's make myself useful and take care of a loose end like our Homi here. How did you even plan to get back from Olafsen's lair after scuttling the ship?"
"I'm the Shadowguard," Homi says. "I have ways."
"Who needs 'ways' when you have friends?" Kiara asks. "Anyway, that's one long haul! Longer than the flight to the oracle, even." She spits. "Man, that good for nothing jerk. Still mad about that."
"In any event," Homi says, "during my time on the ship, I was able to examine the bodies further. Through means unknown, it appears that their chi was drained completely. That accounts for their strange disposition - without even the barest speck of life in them, these bodies cannot even decay. I suspect Ikishi's arts are to blame, though I cannot yet say for what purpose this was done."

Takao glances up during Homi's explanation; were those clouds so thick and dark before? The question is shortly answered by a distant flash of lightning, with the thunder upon you a few seconds later. Looks like a storm coming your way fast.