Gatac 2018-12-16 14:56:59
(Real quick housekeeping: Technically Toshiba might have still been under the effects of Sickened but the talky bit has gone on long enough by this point that I'm ruling he's over it. Makes the math easier, too. Anyway, on to...


Toshiba: 34
Takao: 28
Yo: 25

Toshiba delays to let the better grappler Takao go first.

Takao's Athletics = (11)+19 = 30
Yo's Athletics = (3)+13 = 16

Yo is Held.)

"Tie me up? Hardly!" Yo cries, surging forward - his kick is too fast for him to stop when Takao dodges it at the last moment, instead letting a small rope noose slip from his sleeve. In a flash, he's got Yo's leg bound up. Sad, really.

(Toshiba's not that good at Athletics. But he's got Sneak Attack dice. And the Wicked Dance stance...oh boy.

Toshiba's Attack = (17)+10 = 27
Toshiba's Damage + 3d6 Sneak Attack + 2d6 Wicked Dance Sneak Attack + 1d6 Knife Sneak Attack = (5)+1+(1)+(5+5+6)+(4+4)+(4) = 35
Yo's Fortitude save vs Bleeding = (17)+8 = 25 nope
Yo's Fortitude save vs Critical Damage: Yo's Fortitude save also nope.

In addition to the damage, Yo is now Bleeding. Plus he gets a Critical Injury. Let us consult the Table of Ouch: oh, that just says Bleeding again. By RAW this does nothing but that's lame, so I'm gonna rule he takes twice the Bleeding damage due to this.)

"Then I will have to take you down myself," Toshiba sighs as he draws his...knife.
"You will do nothing of the -" Yo shouts, flailing a fist at Toshiba. What that earns him are a few cuts across his arm and chest. "DAMN YOU!" Yo cries as Toshiba dances away from his counterstrike.
"I thought the plan was grappling," Takao remarks dryly, dodging a jump kick from Yo's free leg.
"You're grappling him, aren't you," Toshiba replies. "Just a bit of blood loss. Nothing permanent."

(Yo does not have much choice but the attempt to free himself.

Yo's Athletics = (12)+13 = 25
Takao's Athletics = (5)+19 = 24

Yo is no longer Held! Yo uses Quake Strike!

Yo's Trip = (11)+16+4 = 31
Toshiba's Acrobatics = (14)+15 = 29
Takao's Acrobatics = (3)+6 = 9

Both Toshiba and Takao become Sprawled!

Yo uses Master's Touch I to make an attack using both the Knife Hand and the Guillotine Kick trick. And no, don't ask me how you make a knife hand with your foot. Yo's just that good at kicking people, apparently.

Yo's Attack vs Toshiba = (9)+18 = 27 HIT!
Yo's unarmed damage x2 = (2+2)+8+10 = 22 with an effective AP of 6, so reduced to 19 by Toshiba's armor.)

It should be taken as a given that Toshiba carries rather a lot of knives on him at all times. Usually, this is good. You never know when you need a knife. However, in this instance, it's more like you never know when Yo needs a knife. Toshiba catches the glint in his fingers too late, realizing that the nimble ghost assassin / assassin ghost stole one of Toshiba's own throwing knives from his arm sheath when Toshiba cut him. Toshiba whips his upper body away as Yo kicks up into the air one more time, but his target is neither of the two Shinobi: instead, it's the loop holding his ankle, and the knife cuts true before embedding itself into the far wall of the mill. Not content to leave it at one party trick, Yo comes down hard onto the ground, ramming his fist into ground. Spirit-augmented strength ripples through the floorboards and throws both Toshiba and Takao to the ground. As if to punctuate his point, Yo brings down his heel on Toshiba's chest. That hurts a lot more than a kick should, even through the Blue Oni's suit.

"Fine!" Yo crows. "Anyone who gets in my way shall be -"

Hiro's response is to throw one of his sticks at Yo. With unnatural speed, Yo snatches the weapon from the air - and returns it posthaste, striking the unprepared Hiro in his guts! As the ninja master bowls over from the burst of pain, Yo gives him a bitter laugh.

"Wait your turn, old man!" he snarls. "Your lackeys lined up to die first."

(Oh, almost forgot the Bleeding damage.

Yo's Double Bleeding = (1+4) = 5)


It's only a few minutes across the harbor to the dock where Ueki is waiting, having taken his shirt off and trying to wring the salt water out. Kirika and Yukio, after a minute of holding onto each other for dear life and exchanging a few reassuring kisses, managed to reposition themselves back to a seated position on the row boat - not that they've let each other go, just that they're now sitting upright and holding onto each other in more of a "I'd prefer you to stay right here" hug.

As Yukio tosses the line to Ueki with her free hand, the latest rumble and crash from Ikishi's private island and palace sounds out. Everyone turns to look in time to see one of the last standing parts of the main body of the crypt/mansion fall over as another geyser of water shoots from the underground complex as another chamber collapses. The entrance is still standing, but the rest is either crumbling or has already fallen over as water pours from underground, rushing over the rubble like a river to either side.
"Good riddance," Yukio says.
"Where's Kaede?" Ueki asks.
"Returned to her side with the rest of my ancestors," Kirika replies, giving Yukio another squeeze.
"Okay," Ueki says, clearly over the supernatural events he just witnessed. "So...we just killed General Noronu. That's a thing. I guess Ishikawa won't be happy." He looks at the collapsed mansion in the distance. "Man, those machines - and people said I was crazy."
"Hold off on building a secret workshop under the pier until we win, if you could," Kirika jokes as Ueki ties the rowboat off.
"Yeah, no," Ueki says. "I'm keeping my future activities above sea level, thank you very much."
"Had enough adventure for today?" Kirika asks.
"Yep!" Ueki says. "Definitely. I'm good on adventure. Who's good on adventure for today and the rest of the week and maybe forever? This guy!"
"But you were very important today," Kirika says. "You need to let go so I can get out of the boat," she whispers to Yukio.
"And you need to let go so I can get out of the boat," Yukio whispers back.
"You first," Kirika replies with another peck on the cheek.

Yukio's response is to sweep up Kirika into her arms and carry her out of the boat, bridal style. Impressive strength and balance.

"Ooh! I'll get you for this later," Kirika protests.
"I look forward to it, dearest," Yukio says.
"Ahem," Kagemaru says. "I hate to be Daimyo Downer but there's a loose end that wasn't just buried under thousands of tons of rock. What happened to General Noronu's body?"
"Went down with the ship," Kirika replies as Yukio sets her down. "If it would not be too much trouble..." She looks at Kagemaru. "I think we all want to be sure he's dead and find out exactly...what Noronu was."
"I'll go after it in a moment, but I do have one piece of the puzzle right now," Kagemaru says. "He was Master Sinan, somehow. Or at least he told me he was. Said that's how he knew about me and how to trap me."
"Uh..." Yukio says.
"Oh, right, you don't know him," Kagemaru says. "Head of the Ayami clan I...I guess I'm still one of them. Haven't had the opportunity to sort that out yet."
"Actually, I know who he was," Yukio says. "He sacrificed himself to banish the demon inside Ikishi's arm after Kirika cut it off."
Kagemaru doesn't have visible eyes but he does stare right through Yukio. "...okay, more after I get the body," he says, then dives into the water without making any splash whatsoever.
Ueki looks to Kirika. "...I have a really bad feeling about this," he says.
"Which part?" Kirika asks. "The way Noronu was controlling an entire ninja clan? How he managed to swap bodies? That he was animated by powerful magic? Or that he seemed to...be some kind of magical construct and not really a person at all?"
"E) All of those," Ueki says. "I mean, not to fault your swordsmanship, but didn't he....kinda go down a bit easy? Not for a human, not even for a General, but if he had all those woo-woo mystical powers and he impersonated a ninja clan head for years then...uh...what I'm saying is, I've read enough stories to know that nobody's dead until I see a body." He pauses. "And with these guys? I wanna see two bodies, minimum."
"Fair enough," Kirika says. "But right now, I'll settle for one."

Minutes pass as you wait for Kagemaru to scour the bottom of the bay for the sunken boat and return. There's no doubt that he can endure down there, and the crowd that is coming to gape at the spectacle is smart enough to keep their distance from you, but still...Yukio draws Kirika tighter, while Ueki makes a show of racking through the mechanism of his gonne, showing that a little water won't keep it from working insofar as it may need to work.

Finally, Kagemaru steps out of Ueki's shadow. Not on his shoulders is General Noronu's body. Instead, he quietly holds out a stone in his hand, intricately carved with mystical runes but utterly inert even to Kirika's touch.

"...fuck," Ueki says.
"The boat was ripped apart on impact," Kagemaru says. "It's possible the body was flung away too far - even I can't see a lot down there - but I'm not holding my breath." He looks around. "Because I don't breathe anymore?" Ueki coughs. "Tough crowd," Kagemaru concludes.
"We should take this to Nikochi," Kirika says. "Hopefully he can make sense of it."
"And that's where our dry clothes are," Yukio adds.
"Gods yes, dry clothes," Ueki says.
"I'm all clothes," Kagemaru says. "How do you think I feel?"
"...are you asking us to...wring you out?" Kirika asks.
"No," Kagemaru says. "I need to soak in some warm soapy water first. Get all the dirt and salt out, you know?"
"...well, I guess Nikochi can meet us in the laundry, then," Kirika says.
Gatac 2018-12-29 21:13:25
(Round 2!

Toshiba returns to Plan A and grapples Yo!Kichirou.

Toshiba's Athletics = (19)+14 = 33
Yo's Athletics = (1)+13 = 14 womp-womp

That worked! Yo is held.

Takao's had enough of this shit. Time to draw his katana, All-Out Attack for -4 and attack using his Think Ahead trick...

Takao's Attack = (7)+27-4 = 30 HIT!
Takao's Damage = (2)+5+8+5 = 20
Takao's Attack = (8)+27-4 = 31 HIT!
Takao's Damage = (3)+5+8+5 = 21)

"And now!" Yo crows, "I will -"

That's when Toshiba sticks a knife through his pants, pinning Yo's kicking leg to the floor.

"The plan is still grappling," he coughs.
"I see," Takao replies. In the time it took him to say that, his quote-unquote "lesser" blade flashes twice, drawing two fine crimson lines across Yo!Kichirou's chest. "Just a bit of blood loss," he echoes.

(Again, Yo begins his initiative count by trying to free himself.

Yo's Athletics = (7)+13 = 20
Toshiba's Athletics = (19)+14 = 33 PERMISSION DENIED

Except, this time, it does not work. Toshiba chooses the Injure grapple benefit because hey look here's a knife...also you're flat-footed so SNEAK ATTACK

Toshiba's Damage + 3d6 Sneak Attack + 1d6 Knife Sneak Attack = (4)+1+(4)+(2+2+3)+(6) = 22 DONEZO)

"I will -" Yo protests, but then Toshiba finishes immobilizing him by simply sticking the next knife right through his foot. Yo simply screams.
"Verily, the Blue Oni has grown tired of your, um, shtick," Toshiba says.

Yo keeps screaming, though. Takao helps Toshiba to his feet and the two of them back away as strange shadows dance over Kichirou's body. Thunder falls heavy outside as more lightning approaches.

"Takao-senshi," Yu Lee asks quietly, "I promised a boon earlier. Perhaps this is an opportune moment?"
"If you please," Takao replies.

Yu Lee rises to her feet, leaving Homi to tend to the falling Copperhead. Swinging her staff upwards and twirling it, Yu then brings it down again, drawing a circle and symbols onto the dusty floor with blinding speed. "Rin, pyou, tou, sha, kai, jin, retsu, sai, zen!" she counts down, and the mill fills with a howling wind - "AKURYO TAISAN!"

It was the lightning outside. That's the only explanation for the bright light that floods the mill and hurts everyone's eyes. Once vision clears, the first thing visible is Yu Lee in her starch-white clothes, holding her staff up into the air and swirling its tip slightly. Where it points, a vague, bubbly mass of darkness floats in mid-air, with more being drawn from Kichirou's mouth and nose. He looks just freaked out enough about it to tell you that it's him again in charge, not the yokai. Lucky for him, the process only takes a few seconds.

"Takao!" he gasps as he looks around. "What...why are we here? What happened?" He looks down at his foot. "What -"
"'tis but a scratch, in truth," Toshiba reassures him. "That part of the foot heals quickly."
"...okay," Kichirou says.
"DAMNABLE APES!" the darkness-cloud shouts. "YOU WILL NOT KEEP ME FROM -"

Yu's response is to whip her staff from side the side, slamming the yokai against the mill's roofing for a bit until it pipes down.

"You will be banished soon enough," Yu says. "But first...I think we have some questions."


"So, High Lord, what do you make of it?" Kirika asks as she dunks Kagemaru back into the wash tub.
Nikochi regards the inert stone recovered from Noronu's body with consternation. "I've not seen the likes of it in my travels," Nikochi says. "But I think we can deduce a few things. One, it was obviously made with great care and skill. Two, it must be uncommonly specialized, advanced art if I have not seen it. Three, it seemed vital to the....presence you fought. And four...we know there is a dark magic within Shira-dono that lets his body be controlled by another. It stands to reason that this is a similar contrivance."
The fabric that makes up Kagemaru's remaining corporeal form keeps slipping through Kirika's fingers, and every good scrub on the washboard wrings more grey and brown water from him. "You were starting to get a bit...fragrant," Kirika says to him.
"I prefer 'well-travelled'," Kagemaru replies. "But yeah, it looks similar to the stone inside Shira's body."
"And there is no indication what language those marks are?" Kirika asks. "No hint as to the origin of the power?"
"I cannot answer this question," Nikochi says. "But, perhaps one of my friends can." He reaches into his satchel - which releases another cloud of funk to make up for Kagemaru's cleanliness and procures from within a mask painted in fiery red, with a painted-on white beard and a long stick for a nose. "Be on your guard. Shihon Dongen is an old and terrible tengu, but the yokai of the swamps are his sworn enemies. I am certain you can parlay that to our advantage."
"...yes," Kirika replies, and looks to Yukio.
"If anyone can, it's you," Yukio says.
"Capital!" Nikochi says. "Fetch me my wine and put out the lights - but keep a flint handy. The mountain tengu are deathly afraid of fire, you should know."
"Ueki, if you could take over here?" Kirika asks.
Ueki gives Kirika an "All right, bro, but you'll owe me a solid" look and gets to work on scrubbing Kagemaru.

A dark room has been arranged for the negotiations, and Nikochi is, to put it mildly, drunk off his ass, either talking in tongues or slurring them so badly that Kirika can hardly understand a thing. The ridiculous mask isn't helping; he slides it up a bit to take another swig from the jug, then shouts something - and falls over, flat on his back. As you wonder if you should help him up - or roll him on his side, even - the mask erupts with a sickly green glow. Nikochi's body rises onto his feet as if being pushed up from the ground, while his feet hover slightly above the floorboards. Before Kirika can even begin to question him, however, Nikochi surges forward with speed beyond mortal eyes, seizing her by the neck and slamming her into the wall behind them.

"WHO DARES?" a voice from within him bellows. "PLEAD QUICKLY, APE. I'VE LITTLE PATIENCE FOR GAMES."
"Kirika Kamura, Shadowguard," Kirika replikes, staring back into the glowing green eye holes of the mask. "And I battle a mighty yokai." She holds the stone up. "This was inside a corpse, animated by light and ice. What can you tell me?"
"PAH!" the voice - Shihon Dongen? - scoffs, but Nikochi does release Kirika. "MIGHTY TO YOU, PERHAPS. THIS IS BEYOND THE KEN OF THE ROTBEASTS." He snatches the stone from her hand. "WHAT WOULD YOU TRADE FOR MY KNOWLEDGE?"
Kirika's mind races back to childhood stories of tengu. "...we have food, or drink, if you desire?"
"I...I knew of drugged women in bondage before Sarano's palace," Kirika replies. "A lord I was ripping off had brought a...consort that seemed...disconnected. I took what I could and left that night, but...I did not attempt to free her."
"This one seeks to not only return, but rule," Kirika replies.
"It has reached a pact with a powerful woman, and has taught her magic and given her power in return for opening the door for its kind to return and prey on others again," Kirika says. "Plain enough?"

Just like that, the glow from Nikochi's mask goes out and the High Lord of Spirits - full of spirits as he is - topples over again.

"Is it just me," Ueki says from the next room over, "or are all spirits kind of huge assholes? Uh, Kamura family excepted, of course."
Kirika pulls the mask off Nikochi and rolls him onto his side so he doesn't drown in his sleep. "So far, yes," she replies as she walks back into the laundry. "How goes the cleaning?"
"I think we need some more water," Ueki remarks, pulling his hands out of the brown-reddish liquid underneath the soapy bubbles. "My auntie used to say, don't clean dishes in slop. And this is slop." He pauses. "Though I'm pretty sure Kagemaru isn't a dish. I mean, under that shadowcloth, who knows, but..."
"You're a pretty good blacksmith, Ueki," Kagemaru says.
"Uh...thanks?" Ueki replies.
"Stick to that," Kagemaru says.
"I can ask for more, but that depends on Kagemaru's desires," Kirika says.
"Oh, I'm still all kinds of dirty, really," Kagemaru says. "That salt doesn't come out easy. Maybe Yukio would like a turn?"
Ueki looks to Yukio, but Yukio nods back to him. "I'll have them draw us a new tub," she says, then grins. "Dearest, would you go ask if they have a washboard for us?"

Kirika nods and walks out into the larger "cleaning and maintenance" area of the docks and looks for the first helper she can find.

"Excuse me, do we have a washboard for my friend?" she asks.
"Two silver," the rotund man says. "Don't break it, don't pawn it, don't come crying to me that you ripped up your clothes. Deal?"
"Uh, okay," Kirika replies, fishing two silver out of the pouch on her hip.
The man leads her to an equipment shed, unlocks it and brings her inside. Among various shelves with rental gear for just about anything a traveling sailor might need, there's one for washing utensils. The man fishes out a big, hardwood washboard with a worn embossed plate reading "7" on it and hands it to Kirika. "Bring it back when you're done."
"Right," Kirika says, and returns to the laundry. "I suppose it's good that our cover here remains intact..."
Yukio takes the washboard without further ado, sets it in the tub with the hot, clean water, then grabs Kagemaru from the other tub and starts giving him a vigorous scrubdown.
"...talk to you outside?" Ueki says.
"Sure," Kirika says and follows Ueki outside. "What's up?" she asks.
"Did I do something I shouldn't have done?" Ueki asks. "On our...mission, I mean."
"No, you did well," Kirika replies. "Why do you ask?"
"I..." Ueki says. "I've been doing all this messing around with the Gungnir, keeping everyone busy and not sleeping and almost blowing the docks up a few times, and....I just feel like I wasted everyone's time with it. I wanted to make myself useful and I didn't. I wanted the same thing today, so...I just wanna know if I did okay. No stupid 'genius moments', nothing too rash, not too timid, either, just...useful."
"You did more than fine," Kirika says, resisting the urge to hug him once more. "You were the reason we got out of there alive. And this story isn't written yet - and I feel much better knowing that we have a fast, armored ship that can blow up anything that gets in it's way." She smiles down at him. "Useful is not something you measure before you finish, Ueki."
Ueki brightens up. "Thanks," he says. Then he keeps looking at Kirika.
"...what?" Kirika cautiously asks, returning Ueki's small smile.
"I knew you'd make it out," Ueki says. "Somehow, when everything went wrong, I was scared, but...I knew you'd make it somehow, and that meant we'd be fine because there's no way in heavens or hells that you leave anyone behind, and...I don't know if I've ever had that before. That feeling. So, thank you for that." He leans in and gives her a quick peck on the cheek.
Kirika blushes. "It's...it's not a problem," she says.
"No, it isn't," Ueki says. Then he rubs the back of his head. "So, I'm gonna...go oil my gonne now. Saltwater's not so good. You should probably clean your sword, too." He looks back to her briefly, then turns away. "So, uh, come get me when you're done with things, okay?"
Kirika nods. "And get some rest, Ueki."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2019-01-07 18:48:58
"Such as 'what did you think was going to happen here'?", Toshiba asks. "And 'how many more of you must we dispose of today'?"
Gatac 2019-02-05 18:58:00
"I WOULD FINALLY HAVE MY REVENGE ON FATHER!" the shapeless shadow bellows.

As it does so, it reshapes itself into a vaguely human form. Ghostly white drapes itself around its form like a funeral kimono while the shadows swirling where its face should be seem like smoke in a clear vessel whose fine countours very much resemble Hiro Homi.

"A mogwai," Yu Lee diagnoses. "Homi-sama, perhaps -"
"Can you destroy it?" Homi asks, his voice deadly even.
Yu Lee looked over to Homi. "Yes," she says, her voice just as even.
"Do it," Homi says.

Yu Lee nods and taps her staff against the intricate pattern on the ground. It flashes up like phosphorous and casts the whole mill into a sickly white glow. The shadow-creature howls, shards of light tearing holes through it while it struggles against its invisible prison. But within moments, the last shreds of its darkness disappear into nothing. Yu Lee raises her staff off the ground and the eerie glowing dies down. However, even as the storm outside grows quieter, the air feels heavier now. Toshiba can still hear the shadow's cries reverberate, like a strange heartbeat felt pulsing in a deep wound.

"Is it over?" Kichirou asks. "Can...can somebody pull the knife from my foot?"
"...what in all the hells was that?" Ishikawa demands.
"A shadow," Homi says. "Nothing more."
"An echo of your son's last moment," Yu Lee says.
"Your son..." Ishikawa mutters.
"That thing was not my son!" Homi spits.
"...anyone?" Kichirou pleads.
"It was created of your son," Yu Lee continues. "The pain and confusion of death. His last thought became its entire being. It was...pure malice."
"Have you spoken true, then?" Homi asks. "Is it destroyed?"
"'tis," Yu Lee says. A final nod to Homi confirms the grim deed.
"Please excuse me, then," Homi says. Waiting for nobody, he makes for the door and forces it open, pushing himself into the rain outside.

With all the commotion done for the moment, a shocked silence settles over the mill only to be disrupted by Lord Shira giving a sputtering cough. He sits up in a shock, his chest cracked wide open. Within, his reinserted heart beats strongly and surely, but the man's deathly pale as his hand hovers near the dozens of needles that are keeping the laws of biology from asserting themselves.

"Please do lie down, Lord," Yu Lee comments cooly. "I shall be finished with you in a few minutes."
"...I need a measure of sake," Ishikawa mutters.
"...do I just...pull it out..." Kichirou questions, addressing nobody in particular.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2019-02-05 19:27:26
"No," Toshiba's gaze snaps back to his reckless but effective immobilization technique. "I shall do that. On three. One..."

Toshiba pulls out the knife and moves to quickly bind the wound. He looks to the downpour visible through the open doorway with a look of reproach.

"There," he finishes. "It was not right for you to be used as yet another pawn. I am sorry."
MikeS 2019-02-05 19:33:11
"Don't put weight on it for the next few days," Takao adds.

"You probably picked that one up the last time we were here. Even though... I didn't notice a change in behavior until much later. Let's hope that with all the spiritual support we have now it won't happen again."

The spirit having been dealt with, Takao turns his attention to Yu Lee and Lord Shira.
Gatac 2019-02-06 16:50:04
"I'm never going outside again, that's for sure," Kichirou says, then winces at the pain when Toshiba bandages the wound. "...but I will have some of that sake." He looks up to Takao. "I'm sorry for attacking you at the party. I didn't know what came over me...guess I know now." He shakes his head. "Oh, Hetechi-kun must be worried silly by now..."

Hetechi-kun, huh?

At the impromptu operating theater, Yu Lee has her hands (literally) full dealing with the two ninjas and Lord Shira. With the help of Lady Ishikawa - who's got some first aid training of her own and Himiko - who, it turns out, is pretty good at stitching - Shira's ribcage is first bent back into position by the same mysterious means Yu Lee used to open it up in the first place, then one by one, needles come out, muscles and skin are returned to their proper places, and finally the mother of all sutures is placed down the middle of Lord Shira's chest.

"I owe you my deepest gratitude, Ms. Lee," Shira tells her, which is all he gets out before Himiko abandons all pretense of etiquette and dives for him, wrapping him in a hug. The warrior winces but still smiles warmly and places his free arm over the back of his daughter, giving her a gentle kiss on the side of her neck. For the two of them, the world finally seems put right again.

At Ishikawa's feet, Copperhead's raspy breaths deepen as he regains consciousness. Wisely, he does not attempt to sit up, but he does talk. "Honey," he croaks.
"Ugh," Sidewinder comments, picking himself up off the ground. "Ain't no time for sweets, partner," he comments, showing that at least what passes for his dry wit is undamaged.
"Honey bandages for the burns," Ishikawa corrects him, then looks down at Copperhead. "We will get you help. Perhaps Yu Lee could put in one of her nerve blocks -"
"No," Copperhead says. "Homi-sama?"

Where, indeed, has Hiro Homi gotten to?
Gatac 2019-02-20 18:50:27
While the thunder rolls over the mill, it's clear skies within the city - perfect for Lady Kamura's informal tour of the High Lords. And first on her list is the one whose allegiance seems most shaky: Lady Ikishi's protege Tsukarareta-sama. Unlike other High Lords, he never made much of an effort to have opulent offices built for himself, preferring the intimacy of a quiet study attached to his private residence. However, today is a busy day at High Lord Tsukareta's office, even by his standards. When Yukio and Kirika arrive, his small office is already full of scholars and clerks, talking with and over each other as Tsukareta himself receives, writes on and hands out scrolls from the pile on his desk.

"Lady Kamura!" he says, stretching his neck to look over the heads of the crowd. "Give me a moment and I'll be right with you!"
Kirika bows and stands to the side, hand returning to its place inside Yukio's. "He seems like he's working hard."
"He is," Yukio says, squeezing Kirika's hand. "But that was not the problem, was it."
"No, it's a good thing," Kirika says. "I wanted him to see the consequences of his actions, not...descend into a depression. We might have avoided the latter, but we're here to see if the former has stuck."

Meanwhile, the office slowly clears as Tsukareta finishes handing out scrolls. With the last clerk out - bowing his head to the Ladies as he leaves - you enter to find Tsukareta sinking back onto the ground, leaning his back against a pillar.

"Please, have a seat, Lady Kamura, Lady Matsumoto," he says. "And please forgive the mess. It's taking quite a bit of work to track down all the families affected by my mistakes."
"Oh?" Kirika asks. "I wasn't told of this."
Tsukareta frowns. "You've just witnessed the beginning," he says. "I would like to say that I went to work immediately after my return from our recent...excursion. But there were a thousand excuses not to and I should say I went through the better part of them before I managed to drive myself to the only right course of action."
"My love here can attest to my own dalliances with finding reasons to not do the right thing," Kirika says with a smirk. "What matters is finding your way to the right course. What are your plans?"
Tsukareta gives a thin smile. "I will ask them to sue me," he says. "Well, this office. They have all suffered through my malfeasance and I intend to have this proven in court. The empire's coffers will have to pay out what they should have paid to begin with, with a substantial amount of silver on top to cover other expenses and injuries. It will not make what we did right but it is the closest thing I can imagine." His smile grows broader. "Then I suppose I will be thrown out of office and be made to pay the empire's outlay from the case. I could not pay a tenth of it, but I shall give everything I have and contend myself with ruin."
"I might propose a middle ground," Kirika replies. "Pay the additional amount over what would have been owed yourself - and institute rules to balance public need with the cost to citizens going foward. I think that might be an acceptable degree of personal responsibility."
She looks to Yukio. "What do you think, love?"
"I think that is for the courts to decide," Yukio says, "and for the Emperor to intervene in, if necessary."
Tsukareta laughs. "Emperor?" he says. "We would need to put someone on the throne first."
Yukio nods. "Exactly."
Tsukareta's eyes go from Yukio to Kirika. "...I'm not sure I take your meaning."
"Prince Toshiro has returned," Kirika says. "There will be a meeting of the High Lords soon to decide if his claim to the throne is valid."
"...I see," Tsukareta says. "And...I should vote to confirm him?"
"You should vote how you think is best," Kirika says. "He will make his case, and you decide. I believe he will be a good emperor, but we did not come all this way and fight this hard for what is right to force people to make decisions they don't want to do. I instead hope that we have made our case convincingly."
Tsukareta considers it. "Prince Toshiro, you say," he mutters. "Is he a good man?"
"I believe he is," Kirika says. "We are his friends, so we are not exactly impartial, but he has advocated for kindness, justice, and peace over war and cruelty. He has shown compassion to those that show remorse, and stood firm against the truly evil. I consider him one of the wisest people I know."
Tsukareta nods. "I guess I'll see for myself. But to be honest, Lady Kamura, at this point I would confirm a particularly perspicuous deer after only the briefest assessment of its character. It's time there was someone on the throne. If your Prince Toshiro is even a tenth as good as you make him sound, he will have my vote."
"Thank you, High Lord," Kirika says with a deep bow. "And I wish you luck with your endeavors."
"Wish me strength, I'll have more use for that," Tsukareta says, returning the bow with a deep nod. "If that is all..."
"We will leave you to your work," Kirika says. "And if you need anything, do not hesitate to ask."
Gatac 2019-03-18 19:58:03
It takes a while yet for the thunderstorm to fully pass; enough for everyone to sort themselves out. But when you do exit the mill, there is still preciously little trace of Hiro Homi. There is, however, Lord Shira, arm in arm with his daughter Himiko, who steadies him on the way back to the carriages. The wetness on their faces must be the last few drops of rain. Just after them, the shaken Kichirou is helped along by Lady Ishikawa's men, to be escorted back to Lord Hetechi's mansion. Takao, having now twice met the young man at his lowest, can finally guess at why the dancer has so captured Hetechi's heart: there is a gentle lightness to his laugh, and he steals a laugh from one of the policemen with a well-timed joke.

Let us not forget - there's hope.

And yet...yet the cost has been considerable. Only one glance at the burned figure of Copperhead is needed to drive it home. Wondrous that he survived at all, but the fight for his life seems hardly over. Yu fusses over him while Sidewinder and a cop carry him forward on an improvised stretcher. As they do, the old mill groans behind you, like the last gasp of a titanic beast finally succumbing to the laws of nature.

Should it remain standing, a monument to the scope of Ikishi's cruelties, or be wiped from the lands and rightfully forgotten? A choice for another day, perhaps. For now, you make haste towards the factory.


Arriving at the former site of the clocktower, Yukio and Kirika are greeted by a big pile of rubble. It's a big pile that grows slightly less big by the hour as people pick through it and carry parts of it onto carts for reuse and disposal, but this is clearly going to be a while yet before the plaza is clear. However, a cozy little public house next door has had its sign taken down, replaced by a sign reading "High Office of Trade". A hastily erected wooden board displays notices about currency conversions, regulated trade good prices and new import regulations.

"Well, that's more than Itanu ever did..." Kirika says to Yukio as she surveys the scene.

Punctuating Kirika's comment is the sound of footsteps from inside. The door slides open and a positively tiny clerk sticks her head out.

"Number 103! 103, please!" she shouts.
Across the plaza, one man rises from the gaggle of sailors seated outside another public house - this one very much still operating as such - and makes his way over.
The clerk sees Kirika and Yukio, then offers them a tired smile. "I'm so sorry," she says, "we're booked for the day. If you could come back tomorrow...we don't have much of a wait in the morning."
"We are not here for clearances," Kirika says with a smile and a bow. "If you could let Shintaro-sama know that Lady Kamura is here to see how he is doing?"
"Oh!" the clerk says. Somehow her smile stays locked on Kirika while her eyes snap to the sailor on approach. "Stop!" she shouts. "So sorry, it'll just be a minute."
"Now you wait just a damn minute -" the sailor starts.
"JUST A MINUTE!" the clerk shouts. Somehow it's still technically shouting, not screaming, even if it leaves your ears ringing.
With a wince, the sailor about-faces and trundles back to the waiting area.
"Thank you for your understanding!" the clerk calls after him, then turns back to Kirika. "Right this way, please, Lady Kamura!"
"Yes, of course," Kirika says, slightly stunned. "Is it me or was that very attractive?" she whispers to Yukio.
"Oh, please," Yukio whispers back. "Sharp wind would blow her away."
"Such a commanding tone, though," Kirika says. "Physical strength can be trained, but inner strength -"
"Are you coming or not?" the clerk calls from inside.
"Not interested," Yukio whispers.
"What?" the clerk asks.
"Yes, we're -" Yukio says. "Lady Kamura is coming."
"In my defense, it was very nice swordplay," Yukio says.

Under the clerk's withering glare, you are led inside. Most of the pub tables have been converted to desks, where other clerks slave away over paperwork and apply big red stamps or wax seals as needed. Shintaro waves them through from the door to the back, where a storage room has been converted to his office. The barrel he's using for a desk is, apparently, still full of sake.

"Yes, hello, can we get to the point quickly, please?" Shintaro says. "This shipping license backlog will not clear itself."
"Yes, just checking in to see how your recovery is going, Shintaro-sama," Kirika says with a bow. "I see you are...cleaning up Itanu's backlog."
Shintaro sighs. "And then some. The reward for competence is more work. And it takes quite a bit longer to go through these applications when one tries to follow the rules. I would need twice as many clerks to make a dent in the paperwork alone. Thrice, even." He runs his hand through his hair. "But I can't exactly pull more funding and more people from my arse, can I."
"You can petition the council for just that," Kirika points out. "You are acting High Lord of Trade, after all. I'm sure they will find your appeals compelling."
"Already done," Shintaro says. "I even attached a report with some basic calculations as to total workload and required staffing levels considering various tasks, personnel availability, trade seasons and last but definitely not least the completely unsuitable offices we occupy now..." He scoffs. "Say, you're a gifted orator and you have at least a basic understanding of these considerations - unlike some High Lords I could name - so maybe if you could lend your weight to it and speak on my behalf, that might actually do some good. Not that I'm advocating we bypass the regular channels but I know when a kind word can help and, well, your words tend to be kinder than mine particularly when dealing with the...obstinate."
"I would be happy to, but I would also be glad to help you improve your oratory skills," Kirika says. "High Lord."
"I appreciate the offer in the abstract but the simplest calculation will show that the current issue is best resolved by your direct involvement over the effort it will take to teach me nevermind the opportunity cost of doing so, considering all the work I would be missing when we're already behind and not to toot my own horn, but the clerks out there do need rather a lot of my supervision so I'm not currently expendable."
"I will simply remind you that I am not going to be available much longer," Kirika says. Her eyes drift back to the clerk that introduced them. "But someone else might be suitable." Kirika gives her a slight bow and beckons her forward. "What is your name?"
"Seta, Lady Kamura," the clerk answers.
"Seta, what is the status of trade licensing?" Kirika asks.
"Um, begging your pardon, Lady Kamura -"
"Oh, out with it," Shintaro says. "The Lady is no stranger to the truth."
"We're fucked," Seta says matter-of-factly. "We started with a one month backlog, we're up to two and we're about to get hit with appeals that we'll have to start over with because so many records burned with the tower. And if we can't unfuck this before tax season, well..."
"Well?" Yukio asks.
"We'll be super-fucked," Seta summarizes.
"You know who this is?" Kirika asks, hand on Yukio's shoulder.
"Girlfriend," Seta blurts out. As Yukio looks at her, Seta blushes and looks away. "I...was at Lord Hetechi's party."
"Lady Yukio Matsumoto," Yukio says.
"Pretend we are the High Lords," Kirika says. "Update us."
"And tell us why we should fund you further," Yukio says.
"Ahem," Seta coughs. "Esteemed High Lords," she begins, then grabs a scroll from Shintaro's desk. "This is a declaration of custom for a small barge. It contains twelve items covering its various cargoes. Between receipt, reading, lookup and calculation, this form may about an hour to process. If a Captain has made a mistake or left out a piece of information, that can easily double. Call it five per day for each of our twenty clerks. So, one hundred declarations a day pass through our offices, if we do nothing else." She pauses for effect. "We currently have about two-thousand six-hundred declarations to work on. Every day we add about one-hundred and fifty. While these declarations lie unprocessed, untaxed grain rots and fruits spoil in ship's holds." Another pause. "In conclusion, we need more money and more people. Please."
"However did Itanu manage to keep this office running?" Yukio asks.
"Easy," Shintaro says. "It only takes a few minutes to count a bribe before you stamp a declaration."
"I recommend Seta represent you on the High Lord's Council - for the time being, until the backlog is cleared," Kirika says. "She makes fine arguments and has a...clear and distinct speaking voice."
"I'm glad we're all agreed on that, then," Shintaro says.
"We're all not!" Seta says. "Not all - I'm not agreed with you!" She looks at Shintaro. "Damn it, what I mean is I don't agree with you."
"It's an order," Shintaro says.
"You can't!" Seta counters.
"Yes I can," Shintaro says.
"But you wouldn't!" Seta cries.
"I just did," Shintaro says.
"...well!" Seta says. "Seems like I have a lot of preparing to do, then! If you'll excuse me, Lord, Ladies!"

She stomps out, while Shintaro smiles.

"Oh, don't worry," he says. "She loves a good challenge."
"Hey, miss," the sailor number 103 asks outside, "when do you think -"
"I DIDN'T CALL YOUR NUMBER! GO SIT ON A CACTUS!" Seta shouts, loud enough to rattle the walls.
"...was there anything else you needed?" Shintaro asks, quieter now.
"Prince Toshiro?" Kirika asks.
"Might you support his claim to the throne?" Yukio continues.
"I'll hear him out, at least," Shintaro says. "But I can't prejudice my decision before I have all the facts."
"Of course," Kirika says. "Wouldn't expect otherwise."
Shintaro keeps looking at her.
"In the meantime...I might ask a friend of mine you're familiar with about ways to simplify your work," Kirika says. "He understands your office very well."
"That makes the third time Silent Eye has offered his help," Shintaro says with a sigh. "Don't pretend he didn't put you up to this. Anyway, as I've told him before, he's free to come work for us, we'd love to have him, but I can't just deliver him a cartload of confidential documents and receive them back processed by Gods know what methods. I'm sure he'd do superlative work but he's not what I should call transparent about his methods."
"He's...not very much of a people person, but I will ask," Kirika replies. "In any case, I will let you know." She bows to Shintaro. "Good luck - High Lord."
"And to you, Ladies," Shintaro says, returning the bow. "Oh, and if you want a souvenir, we're happy for every brick removed from the rubble."
"I think Yukio might take a bundle to put in my pack," Kirika says with a hip bump.
"Why would I?" Yukio says. "We left a perfectly good set of stone weights at your farm."
"Maybe I miss you sneaking them into my pack every morning," Kirika teases.
"Maybe you miss something else," Yukio teases back.
"Maybe you'll want to talk about this outside," Shintaro offers.
"Yes, of course," Kirika says with another bow. "Good day, High Lord."
"Good day," Shintaro says.


Arriving back at the factory, you don't even have time to properly park the carriages before Ueki comes running, waving his arms wildly.

"I did it!" he shouts. "It's done!"

The question of what, exactly, is done is swiftly answered by a look at the docked Gungnir. Following the repairs to her hull and the various upgrades Ueki installed on it, the already formidable ship now sports iron plating above the waterline, glistening softly in the afternoon sun. Some of the plates seem movable, no doubt hiding Hanse-style cannons. Large metal pipes emerge from the side of the quarterdeck, apparently the exhausts of a metal engine installed in the cargo hold. The aft mounts a rotating platform mounting Ueki's catapult, the platform being covered in a light wooden frame hung with tanned leather to provide some protection against enemy archers. And just in front of that, the quarterdeck extends with a new forward protrusion with the relocated ship's wheel, surrounded on three sides by more iron armor with narrow viewing slits. In comparison to these flashy upgrades, the potentially much bigger feat of moving and re-rigging the masts seems almost...mundane.

"Eh? Eh?" Ueki says, openly much too proud of himself. That lasts for a few seconds, up to when the stretcher with Copperhead is carried out. "Oh no," Ueki mutters. "What happened?"
"Nevermind that!" Sidewinder barks. "We need a darn room and all the high-test booze we got!"
"Don't forget honey," Yu adds.
"...right!" Ueki says, turning to the confused workers and waving them over to come help. "Hot water! Clean rags!" he shouts to them. "Move it, people!"

As Copperhead is taken care of, the nobility emerges: Himiko at Lady Ishikawa's side, then Shira and Toshi.

"He didn't deserve this," Himiko whispers.
"Deserve rarely has anything to do with it," Shira says somberly. "Much as I do not deserve the lengths you went to to save me. If there is anything I can do..."
"There is, Lord Shira," Toshi says. "When the matter of my confirmation to the throne comes to the council...vote your conscience."
Shira nods. "My liege," he says, "that is not a favor that needed asking for."
"I meant no insult," Toshi says. "But I will not be handed the throne as a favor, either."
"You are without a doubt the biggest fool I've yet laid eyes on," Lady Ishikawa says. "I must say, I disagree with Lord Shira."
"...what are you getting at?" Toshi says.
"I think 'deserve' has a lot to do with this," Ishikawa says. "My liege."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2019-03-22 18:47:03
Toshiba removes the Oni's helmet and just sits down on the dock overshadowed by the Gungnir. Homi was the shadowguard - he'd remain hidden until he chose to reveal himself again. Copperhead would pull through or he wouldn't, and Toshiba grins as he realizes that'd be a particularly Copperhead thing to say. He hopes he does, but with Ueki and Yu helping the ninja there's not much for Toshiba to assist with.

For once, there wasn't anyone in need of stabbing or tracking down or weird spirit possession, and he could just sit and watch the gently swaying ship and the gulls overhead. Try not to think about the prophecy that foretold his doom, the prophecy that was either postponed, averted, or predicted precisely for this outcome to occur. Turning that sort of double-think over in one's head too often would lead nowhere.
Gatac 2019-04-13 19:40:18
It's a packed evening show at the Yasakani Theater, which sits right on the precipice between the posh city center and the docklands; the warm gas lamps that shine up front contrast quite nicely with the back alleys behind the theater. A hand-painted poster on a scroll advertises tonight's play: "Nine-Tailed Fox Romance", the latest in a series of "new-style" plays that are, to put it bluntly, designed to showcase the looks of the actors more than the didactic message of the play. (Insofar as NTFR has a message, it seems to be "Fooling around with fox demons is fun but they're gonna cheat on you and also devour your parents". Esoteric, that.) Anyway, despite being the premier theater of the capital, it doesn't compare to the Count's place back in Kargbeck, which to be fair set some pretty high standards in decadence. Kirika and Yukio - already appropriately notorious - are waved through by the usher into the main hall, where it's standing room only with fifteen minutes to the start of the show. A glance at the upper rungs shows that of the three box seats, two are occupied - High Lord Boota's among them.

"It seems the High Lord has himself a box seat," Kirika says. "Shall we introduce ourselves?"
"Let's," Yukio agrees, taking Kirika's proffered arm with a smile.

Together in proper arm-in-arm couple form, they make your way up the stairs to the boxes, skipping past the one rented out by an amorous couple to the one occupied by season ticket owner, High Lord Boota. It is easy to spot by the half dozen samurai parked in front of the entrance. One of them - the head samurai, to tell from his bearing and everyone else making room for him - steps forward to meet them. He's a thin, pale man who wears his hair in a tight ponytail while the frame of Hanse-built bifocal lenses sits on his nose.

"Lady Kamura, Lady Matsumoto," the samurai says, bowing his head. "Boota-sama has asked that he not be disturbed. May I be of service?"
"We wish to speak with the High Lord about a particular matter," Kirika says.
"A matter of some delicacy," Yukio adds.
"Something not befitting standing in the hallway," Kirika continues. "Or passing messages back and forth."

The samurai bows his head deeper.

"Begging your forgiveness," he says, "but it cannot be helped. My orders are very specific. Lord Boota must not be disturbed."
Kirika's smile gains a bit of an edge. "Tell him that it is Lady Kamura and Lady Matsumoto."
"Who is it?" Boota's voice comes shouting from inside the box. Obviously he's currently chewing on something.
The samurai's eyeroll is almost hidden behind his glasses and the dim lighting. Almost. "The Ladies Kamura and Matsumoto wish to speak to you, Boota-sama."
"What?" Boota barks back.
"The Ladies -" the samurai begins, only to be interrupted by movement from inside the box.
"Outta my way, you dummies!" Boota barks, stumbling from the box. His fine silk kimono hangs open to his chest and the sleeves show the telltale signs of grease stains, as does his mouth. "You!" he says to Kirika. "What are you doing here? We have a deal."
"Merely to remind you of it," Kirika replies. "There will be a vote tomorrow."
Boota looks Kirika up and down. "Fine!" Boota says. "You'll get your vote. Now go, I'm sure you have someone else to bother!" He stomps back into the box.
"...I trust this satisfies your query," the samurai says, stepping into your way again.
"It does," Kirika replies. "And how is working for the High Lord?"
"It is a...most special honor," the samurai comments coolly. "My family has humbly served as retainers for seven generations. To be placed in a position of such importance is more than I could ask for."
"Hm," Kirika says. "Well, if we cross paths again, I hope it is under...more pleasant circumstances."
The samurai bows his head again. "That would be agreeable to me as well," he says. "A good evening to you, Lady Kamura, Lady Matsumoto. Please do enjoy the show."
"And a good evening to you..." Yukio says, waiting for the samurai to suggest his name upon realizing he hasn't introduced himself. However, the samurai stays quiet.
Kirika returns the bow. "Come, love, let us adjoin to a place not..." She cringes at the sounds of Boota stuffing his face, however muffled through the wall. "...so distracting."
"Quite," Yukio says.

Taking Kirika's arm again, she walks off with her dearest until they're halfway down the stairs and well out of earshot. "Are you ever not scouting for new talent, Kirika?"
"I don't know what you mean," Kirika claims. "There's never any fault in being polite and sympathetic - as a conwoman or Shadowguard."
"You know exactly what I mean," Yukio says.
"He just seemed...unhappy," Kirika replies. "And if I can offer a better...choice of employer..."
"Yes, but he didn't seem to like us much better than he does Boota," Yukio says. "Besides, he's Kiyomori clan. Ten generations back, they got crushed in a power play between the emperor and their daimyo. They still hold a grudge against the throne for that."
"Says the daughter of the man I tried to rip off whom I love without condition, while one of the clans that preyed on my family eagerly waits to train students for my dojo," Kirika says.
Yukio sighs. "Fine," she admits. "Also, I dated him briefly at the war academy. It did not go well."
"Oh, well then he is banished from the palace, let alone my Shadowwatch," Kirika replies with a smirk before giving Yukio a peck on the cheek.
"Thank you," Yukio says. Beyond the crowd, the kabuki play continues as a new flutist joins the score. "Do you care to watch the play, dearest?"
"Well, we can watch a play here, or we can go visit Hetechi and...revisit that balcony," Kirika says.
Yukio looks over to the concession stand. "Hetechi does have the better snacks," she says, then looks at the main actress up on stage not entirely butchering the notes she's singing. Clearly, her loose kimono is helping her get enough air to, ahem, project. "On the other hand, maybe the show here is better..."
"Hetechi can wait if you...are enjoying the show," Kirika replies.
"Hmm," Yukio says, smile growing as she looks at Kirika. "You did work as a courtesan, did you not? Yet I don't think I've ever heard you sing...or seen you dance without a sword."
"I could arrange a private performance at Hetechi's," Kirika says.
"Hmm," Yukio says, her smile growing into a grin. "Let us discuss the details on the way, then."


It's a long wait for Toshiba and Takao, particularly as they both know just enough about healing to independently come to the conclusion that Copperhead, by all rights, should not have survived being struck by lightning, nor anything that happened thereafter. But with Yu Lee's mainlander magic, any manipulation of chi seems possible - though the tale of Lady Ikishi proves a most concerning example of its possible abuses. One must understand, therefore, how jealously Yu Lee guards her secrets, and so it is their very knowledge of medicine that sees the two shinobi banned from the procedure, lest either of them learn something that they should not know.

Finally, Ueki emerges, looking pale and about a year older than before. He walks over to the two and plops himself down next to them.

"He's...sleeping now," Ueki says. "They don't...they don't know when he's gonna wake up. If he's gonna recover..." He trails off. "...if he's gonna be there when Toshiro becomes Emperor," he adds. "And for what? All so some crazy spirit-thing could torture Homi for...what? What the hells was the deal with that, even? You've fought the Yo-thing before, what did he even want?"

There are no answers, at least, none that Ueki would understand. If there is one thing you have learned about yokai, it's that their motives and means are rarely comprehensible to mortals. Old grudges become twisted and distorted by the ravages of time. The feelings at the moment of death - rarely peaceful - echo into the painful eternity of the worlds beyond. Over there, reason is fragile and only hate truly endures. Give it enough time and even the kindest soul caught in such a place will be reduced to a wounded beast dressed in the rags of its long-gone humanity, doomed to either scream impotently at the veil or - worse - cross it and haunt the living until its final destruction. This is, you realize, the meaning of the word 'hell'.

"Fuck spirits," Ueki concludes.


There is, of course, a party happening at Lord Hetechi's mansion. Well, more of a soirée, really, to judge from the rather reduced amount of carriages and servants waiting outside. Accordingly, there's a rather large pool of Hetechi's servants eager to jump onto escorting the pair inside to the main hall, where the find the crowd silently seated on cushy cushions while the poet Yamada-san is reading from his newest works. That would explain the, ahem, select clientele. He's currently doing a thing where he is slowly sipping on wine while staring into the crowd, building tension between him and the audience to create the correct emotional landscape for his next recital. Kirika and Yukio quietly take a seat at the back, holding hands and leaning against each other as they wait.

"The dreadful autumn grasps me," the poet speechifies to universal silence. "I am plucked from my world! Oh, fall, fall! I fall and leave - a leaf, my brothers gone before me. Goodbye, tree. Goodbye, life. Goodbye, love." A dramatic breath. "Goodbye."

Polite applause chases Yamada-san off the stage for a brief interruption in the reading. Somebody hands Yukio a finely calligraphed program. Looks like Yamada-san has been extraordinarily inspired by the upheaval as of late and there's about two more hours of this to look forward to.

"Shall we take advantage of this interlude to make our introductions and slip away?" Kirika whispers in Yukio's ear.
"Quick, before he comes back," Yukio agrees.

They vacate their cushions and make their way over to the banquet, where Lord Hetechi is discussing the details of the third course with his chef. Sitting next to them in a chair with an elevated leg is Kichirou. He and Hetechi are holding hands tightly.

"A souvenir of your adventures?" Kirika asks Kichirou.
"Well, I was possessed by the yokai spirit of Homi-dono's dead son who brought me to the old mill to wreak vengeance on the same, and somewhere in the middle of fighting one of your ninja friends stabbed me through the foot," Kichirou recalls. "It's...actually, it's mostly all okay now. I think."
"I'm quite certain the story will make sense at some point," Hetechi says, dismissing the chef with a nod. "Lady Kamura, Lady Matsumoto," he greets them with a nod. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"
"Merely here to mention a certain vote coming up tomorrow, High Lord," Kirika says with a bow, "and seeking respite from...an otherwise exciting day."
"Hm", Hetechi says. "I feel your mention of excitement is a license to pry, so I shall ask: what happened to you, then?"
"...when was the last night?" Kirika asks. "Was it when I was here studying for your trial?" She gives Yukio's hand a squeeze. "Or was it the party?"
"The studying, I should say," Yukio says.
"Perhaps a summary of events following the trial will suffice," Hetechi suggests.
"Well, after the trial, it was revealed that the yokai within Lady Ikishi had begun to consume her, Himiko desired for us to save her mother, so we met with Ikishi. She managed to isolate the yokai within her arm, which I cut off to sever her connection with the yokai - that part was particularly nice," Kirika says with a smirk. "Master Sinan - or whatever he was, actually - removed the spirits and vanished, and we took our leave back to find High Lord Shira's heart as part of our deal to save Ikishi. Our associates went with him and High Lady Ishikawa to restore him, while I went with Yukio, my aunt -"
"Her aunt's spirit," Yukio adds.
"Yes, of course her spirit," Kirika says, as if that was the least insane option, "and a few others to explore the depths of Ikishi's lair. There we found General Noronu - or rather, the yokai operating the reanimated form of General Noronu - killed him, freed the spirits of my missing Shadowwatch agents, rescued Kagemaru, and escaped in a metal vessel that moved underwater - until it almost sank and we had to swim for the surface." She pauses as she thinks for a moment longer. "And we visited the other High Lords, which meant having to see Boota again."
"...wine?" Hetechi asks, grabbing two cups and holding them out for the pair.
"Yes, thank you," Kirika says with a smile, handing the other to Yukio.
"Dearest," Yukio says as she takes the wine, "perhaps we could impose on Hetechi-dono to spend the night?"
"Too late," Hetechi says. "I'm afraid that after hearing about all this I must insist you do so."
"...the docks might require our presence?" Kirika weakly offers. "What about the others?"
"They're fine," Kichirou says. "Mostly."
"...explain," Yukio says.
"One of the ninjas was hit by lightning," Kichirou says.
"But he survived," Hetechi hastens to add.
"That mainlander woman is taking care of him," Kichirou says.
Hetechi sighs. "If I may," he says. "Lady Kamura, you will, I am sure, never run out of issues that vie for your attention. But you have a most beautiful woman at your side who clearly longs for your undivided attention. Might I humbly suggest you let the empire be the empire for one night and check your sorrows at the doorstep?"
"But -" Kirika starts.
"Hetechi-dono," a servant calls, stepping up with an empty silver platter. "We are running low on hachinoko," she says, her braided black hair allowing a look at the faint scar on the side of her cheek. "I will have the chef prepare the frying of the karintō."
"Very good," Hetechi says. "I shall have Yamada distract the crowd some more."
The servant nods, then turns to Kirika. "Leave the docks to us," she says, brushing aside her apron to show off the Shadowwatch braid on her belt. She nods once, then makes for the kitchen.
"It appears the docks are receiving the required presence, then," Hetechi muses. "Any other excuses, Shadowguard?"
"...I suppose not," Kirika says.
"Excellent!" Yukio replies. "Just tell us where to go."
"I believe you know the way to my guest quarters," Hetechi says. "I shall have refreshments sent up -"
"Actually," Yukio says, "I was hoping we could clean ourselves first." She smiles at Kirika. "You made sure everyone's clothes got cleaned after the swim. Except for yours. Also, you know...I still think about that hot bath, after the sparring at the Academy."
"I see we shall not soon run out of stories to tell each other," Hetechi comments dryly, then claps his hands. Ozaki, the immaculately groomed young servant from last time, appears as if from thin air. "Ozaki, would you please show my guests to the hot baths? And take care of whatever else they might require."
"Of course, Hetechi-dono," Ozaki says. "If you would be so kind as to follow me, ladies."

It's a fairly long walk through the mansion - what isn't, considering the size? - and Yukio only has to slightly drag Kirika along with her. The Shadowwatch agent has gone on to do what needs to be done, which means she's not in Kirika's sight, which clearly agitates her, but soon they have left the hustle and bustle behind to arrive at Lord Hetechi's bathhouse in a private little courtyard that overlooks the bay from a cliffside of the mansion's island. Ozaki excuses himself to stoke the fire that will heat the water inside, which Yukio uses as an excuse to steer Kirika past the bathhouse and almost to the edge of the cliffs, where a lonely cherry tree tries to stretch towards the night sky. Yukio's hand rides over Kirika's back.

"You're trembling, dearest," she says quietly. "Your nerves are getting the better of you, I think."
"It's just all so much," Kirika whispers back.
"Yes, it is," Yukio says. "I...I can't even remember the last time I had a day where everything was safe and predictable and within my grasp. Not since Toshi brought those ninjas to our little farm." She pauses for a moment. "If you could go back to being Kasumi Kagawa...if you had to make the choice all over again to help Toshi with my father and the horses and everything that came after...would you still go down this path?"
Kirika turns around and wraps her arms around Yukio. "Never, love. Not for a moment. Would you?"
"I've been tempted," Yukio admits. "Dearest, there's just so much...evil in our path. So many people who will do...who have done terrible things to get ahead. So much pain. And sometimes I sit and wonder. Toshi and I, we were...we were happy at the farm. It was a different kind of happiness but that doesn't make it less real. We could have spent our lives there just being with each other, and it wouldn't have been a waste. Venturing out got me you...but it also got me all this responsibility, all this weight on my shoulders. And I know that this is a battle that will be fought every day for the rest of my life. Unlike the Academy, there will be nobody to call the battle and award points. I shall flail and struggle and die never knowing what my legacy will be. But then you drag me with you again and I steel my heart to be next to you." She sniffles. "I just...I want to be happy, with you and Toshi. It feels so...selfish."
Kirika pulls Yukio close. "I am happy. Toshi is happy. We are making a difference here, saving lives, setting wrongs right. It's hard work, but...it's worthwhile." She gives Yukio a kiss. "Just like farming. You do the work, and see your efforts grow into something better. Yes?"
Yukio returns the kiss, then looks out to the sea. "You think we'll ever go there?" she asks quietly. "Wherever...whatever there is, behind the horizon."
"Maybe," Kirika says. "And if you mean beyond even that...if we are apart in the hereafter, the Heavens had better build higher walls, love."
Yukio laughs. "If we both wreck half the next world in search for another, I should think we'll be reunited twice as quickly," she says. "Perhaps even quicker if the masters of that place see reason."
"But for now, our bath awaits," Kirika says. "And while a dance might not be possible, I will gladly sing for you."
"Mmh," Yukio purrs.

They wander back to the bathhouse, where Ozaki awaits.

"The baths have been heated and scented," he says. "Shall I open the shutters to the sea for a view?"
"That would be lovely," Yukio says.

As Ozaki goes around the outside of the bathhouse to open the shutters, Yukio grasps Kirika's obi by the knot.

"And to think," she says, "this time we didn't even have to beat each other black and blue first."
"I think it's time for something I've been thinking about since that first bath," Kirika coos back.
"Are you gonna tell me what that is," Yukio asks, "or is it a surprise?"
"It should wait until after I sing for you," Kirika says as she slides Yukio's kimono off her shoulders. "Because we will both be far too busy after."
"Is that a fact?" Yukio asks.
"Pull and find out," Kirika replies in a sing-song tone and a smirk.
Gatac 2019-04-22 08:46:54
An hour or so later, Kirika and Yukio sit together underneath a blanket, arm in arm on the elevated bed platform Ozaki had thoughtfully moved into the upstairs loft above the bathhouse. Following the baths, Kirika's serenade, subsequent...activities, and then a second bath, the windows upstairs were thrown open to vent any remaining heat. The view from the upstairs windows was fantastic (Kirika and Yukio suspect that the view from any window larger than a unfurled scroll on Hetechi's property is fantastic), and the two were luxuriating in the romance of the moment - as a grey sash billows in the breeze outside as it hangs tied from a rafter. It's reporting time.

"I thought we were going to sleep," Yukio half-pouts.
"We will, love," Kirika says. "Probably."
"You're incorrigible," Yukio says.

Just then, a soft rap is placed on the door leading into the loft. "Pardon me," says the servant/Shadowwatch agent with the slight scar on her cheek. Her name's Akina, as Kirika surreptitiously learned from another Shadowwatch agent checking in. "There is a report I must make," she adds. "May I enter?"
"Yes, please," Kirika nods.

The agent opens the door and quickly closes it behind her. She stands at ease before the bed, her eyes fixed forward. Definitely not on the sight of the Shadowguard and the future Empress in bed together. No Sir.

"Pardon the intrusion, Shadowguard," she says. "I must report that Homi-dono has been gone for longer than usual without sending word of his whereabouts. Per his orders, I am to report such occurrences directly to you. He was last seen leaving the mill outside the city four hours ago."
Unlike the other reports tonight, this one actually gives Kirika pause. "Are there any further reports coming?"
"No," the agent says. "I was the last one. There is nothing else to report." Her gaze falls just a bit at Yukio and Kirika before straightening out in a snap. "May I be excused now, Shadowguard?"
"Yes, Akina," Kirika replies with a nod. "Thank you."

The agent tries to meet Kirika's eyes, realizes what a terrible idea that was, blushes and turns on her heels in less than half a second. Another half second and she's out with the door closed behind her. Efficient.

"We're going out to look for him, aren't we?" Yukio asks.
"Only if you want to," Kirika says, drawing her in for a kiss.
Yukio returns the kiss. "I wouldn't sleep well worrying about him," she says. "Come on. The bed will still be here when we come back."
"There's just one thing that we'll have to do," Kirika says, standing up out of the blanket and taking the sash off the rafters.
"Yes?" Yukio asks.
She sits back down - and ties the sash around Yukio's eyes. "Sorry, love," Kirika says with a kiss. "But I promised him."


A degree of speed is essential, and as such Yukio is led by Kirika down a set of stone steps into a small nearby bay, where a barge waits to take you directly to the Homi family shrine. That it is on one of the many small islands out in the bay is enough of a revelation to the uninitiated, but by the time the blindfold comes off, Yukio and Kirika are already deep in the thicket of a dense grove of bamboo, with only stars and small glimpses of distant lights illuminating the way back out. At a clearing in the grove, a well-worn stone shrine with a small roof made of lacquered wood is situated. Sitting in front of it in deep meditation is Hiro Homi. His weapons and clothes are neatly piled up at the edge of the clearing, leaving him in one of those rare situations where he's just an old man in a plain gray kimono with nothing up his sleeves. In front of him sits a bowl of black sand, with a few smoldering incense sticks stuck into the sand. Kirika takes a seat and motions for Yukio to do the same. Hiro already knows someone is there, and who it is. He will respond in his own time.

Quiet settles over the grove as Yukio and Kirika join Hiro in meditation. The smell of incense wafts throughout, its heavy and smooth fragrance creeping up their nostrils. The bamboo stalks sway in the soft night breeze and soften the lapping of the waves against the island's shore into a distant murmur. The sense of peace here is almost addictive.

"I suppose I wanted you to see it, but I could not find the right way to invite you," Hiro offers, by way of explanation for dropping off the grid. "I apologize for worrying you."
"It is more than understandable," Kirika says. "I heard from Akina what happened. No one should have to do what you did, let alone twice."
"I barely did anything," Hiro says. "Your friends fought it. I merely had to consent to having the mainlander destroy whatever was left of my son." He takes a deep breath. "I pray that, despite all, his soul can rest now."
"Did your shrine give you any clarity?" Kirika asks.
"Some," Hiro says. "I think after we put the matter of Toshiro's ascension behind us tomorrow, I will prepare for a journey. I've spent too much time looking at the empire's ugliest sides. I should like to balance it out with some beauty." Hearing Kirika suck in the breath for an objection, he keeps talking. "Don't fret now. I won't be gone in a flash, though I suppose that is expected of me. I know there will be a thousand things to do even after the boy is on the throne. I'll be at your service for nine-hundred and ninety-nine of them."
Kirika releases her held breath. "I just...I have grown accustomed to leaning on you these last few weeks. It is just nerves about there only being one Shadowguard."
"Do you know what I see when I look at you, Kirika?" Hiro asks.
"A bit of a mess?" Kirika answers with a smirk.
"I see change," Hiro says. "I see someone who has defied a false fate put upon her by others...and embraced a legacy thought lost. I see someone who believes in everyone but themselves." He pauses. "Nothing in your life has ever come easily to you. This won't either. But I know you will bloom on this field...summer flower. My time is over. But yours has finally come."
Kirika wipes her eyes. "I was going to hug you anyway but I'm going to hug you now, okay?"
Hiro gently rises off the ground, turns and walks up to Kirika. He gives her a smile and a bow. "I would be honored," he says.
Kirika wraps her arms around Hiro and hugs him tightly. "Thank you, Hiro," she whispers.
There's a tear sliding down Kirika's cheek as Hiro returns the hug. It must be one of hers, surely. "And thank you, Kirika," he whispers to her.