Hikozaemon walked slightly ahead of the lady. “Lady, I believe this person may be what you were looking for.” He tried to edge a smile but could not look directly at her, he had seen her angry. The urge to run away from her was still very real. The Lady was more than pleasant on this shopping trip. She asked of family and of his old job, and a measure of pride rose in him.
He did know everyone in this city. He caught himself and his eyes darted back and forth. Mentioning those few, less than honorable people, made him sweat, but the Lady seem to change the subject. Was she being nice to him? Well, she almost seemed cheerful, and if he made a few slips of the tongue, she never let on.
He held the door for her, and they entered the dark shop. A well-dressed woman stood by several crates; she eyed the pair as they entered. With a small nod to Hikozeamon, she closed the lid on the crate and walk toward them, “Welcome to my shop,” she made a formal bow, “please excuse the disarray, but the town is turned upside down with the…” her eyes searched the Mon on the Lady’s dress, ”current situation. How may this simple merchant be of services to…” her sentence trailed waiting for an introduction.
Hikozaemon moved forward and bowed repeatedly, “Ah, yes, the Lady… This is Michi… Lady Yoka…” but was silenced when the Lady stepped forward and placed her hand on the Ashigaru’s shoulder. “You may call me Shosuro Kaito,” a slight bow showed proper deference. Hikozaemon looked back at the Lady, mouthing several names, then realized that his mouth still hung open. Kaito eyed the shop quickly as the woman bowed very low.
Items throughout the shop were of various makes not just of the Dragon Clan. The shop itself was organized very well, despite the woman’s statement. Yes the shop looked as though an army quartermaster had run through and made requests, but it still spoke of organization. She was a merchant, that odd rung on the ladder of the celestial order. But that could be just what the Mirumoto needed.
Kaito watched the woman, and saw she still eyed the clothing as she finished her bow. “Please, there is no need to be so stiflingly formal, we all know how an army can turn everyone’s lives into chaos,” Kaito spoke with exacerbation, “Hikozaemon has mentioned that you, above everyone else, would be likely to help me with my unique questions.” The woman shot a quick look at Hikozaemon, whose mouth still hung open. He snapped it shut with a wide smile then stared deadpan at the floor.
The woman’s gaze came back to Kaito, “My Lady, I can only hope my humble shop could be of service to…” her voice trailed as Kaito casually strolled past the woman, “My name is Kimme, and I have been in business here for over 10 years,” she moved in front of Kaito shifting small boxes out of her path and covering other open ones, “Unique questions? My Lady?” She watched as Kaito wandered on.
Kaito trailed her finger along the edge of a crate, and then slowly turned back to Kimme. “My time is precious to me, and pardon me if I am more blunt than Dragon normally are, but I need a set of Mirumoto Daisho.” Kimme froze, her expression was shocked, Kaito was sure she may have expected that direct of a request from a gaijin, but not from a Rokugani. “I can assure you that the present army has granted my Lord, the Taisa of the Stone Dogs, a large line of credit,” Kaito’s tone was one of boredom. She bumped her sleeve pocket into the crate, the sound of Koku jingling made Kimme’s eyes stare at the sleeve. “Of course, in these uncertain times, an army’s word drifts like the wind across the mountain peaks. Finding constant customers in these times would be… profitable.” Kaito stared at Kimme with a blank expression. “Oh and the swords, they are a Wedding gift to the Taisa, if they were of sufficient quality, he and his bride would be grateful.” Kaito finished adding a detectable inflection.
Kimme’s face brightened, “By a chance, I have come into possession of a ‘unique’ treasure.” She disappeared behind a curtain. Hikozaemon was slowly backing toward the door. That was until Kaito reached behind and gently grabbed his sleeve and pulled him forward, “Thank you Hikozaemon, she seems much more business minded then the other ‘profiteers’ you introduced me to.” Kaito’s face stayed forward, Hikozaemon swallowed very hard.
Kimme returned with a long box, beautifully decorated. She cleared a table and set a piece of silk down, then placed the box on it. Kaito watched as the opened box revealed two blades, a daisho set. They rested on blue silk with wave designs; the exposed tangs bore the maker’s name “Yoshi”. Kaito was amazed at the beauty of the blades, the hamon, the design formed from forging, looked as if it flowed like an ocean wave.
The merchant knew she had a unique item, and was readying herself for the negotiation. Kaito drew a fan from her sleeve and opened it. She laid it on her nose and then snapped it shut. “So you are quite capable, and your sense of organization has an appeal that I have not seen in this city,” Kaito’s tone was sharp and business like. “I need a broker, you could manage the supplies of a Taisa’s men?” The words were more command then question. Kimme looked back down to the blades, then back to Kaito. No words came from her mouth.
Kaito continued, “The legion would be approximately 700 men at arms, although recruiting the numbers may take a little time, but all the more time for you to manage the proper contacts, suppliers and artisans. It would of course be remiss of me to mention that the land the Taisa holds is on the border with the Unicorn. I could see… personally… that the Taisa had no restrictions on trade.” The words shot out from Kaito, and Kimme absorbed them while closing the box.
Kimme seemed to compose herself, “My Lady that would be a singular honor.” Kaito pressed the closed fan onto the box, “Yes… yes it would. Why an intelligent woman could see limitless possibilities. Of course this is not for me to say, the Taisa has the final word. We leave at sunrise tomorrow. It would be helpful to all parties, if the Taisa’s decision was known before we leave the gates.” Kaito stared deeply at the merchant.
Kimme eyes were in motion, and there was a small tremor Kaito could detect. “My Lady, for you, a Wedding present like this will be unmatched.” She tapped the box. “I have several tsuba and…” Kaito stopped her, “Something with a tree, and Moon. And if My Lord is pleased… well that pleasure is then passed along. You will find that I pass along things as they are passed to me.” Kaito made her expression clear to understand, “Commerce is a little toy I dabble in, nothing serious you understand, a hobby really. You won’t mind my, looking over your shoulder. Exciting to see what unique things, one can find.”
A chill traveled through Kimme as she looked at Kaito. Kaito opened her fan and laid it on her nose, “I would expect a ‘rough’ plan in the morning. And any other gifts at the gate before we leave.” Kimme bowed deeply, “My Lady, I hope I can serve you and the Taisa to the best of my abilities. May I ask, who the Taisa will be marrying?” Kaito turned and walked toward the door, “Me. I should be seeing you in the morning.” And she walked out the door. Hikozaemon chased after Kaito.
Hikozeamon started back toward the center of town. “Lady, we should go this way back to the house.” He pointed in the opposite direction. “Come on, I need to find a cart and someone to pull me,” Kaito grinned.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The night chilled them as the group walked back through the gates. Tamori Yuriko’s Funeral happened after sunset, and all spoke a few words in memory of the Shugenja who had moved on. Mirumoto Yonaka, npw the Taisa of the Stone Dogs, turned to the assembled and said his goodnights.
The morning found the group making final arrangements. Mirumoto Yonaka, in armor of the Dragon Clan again, made arrangements with some officials. Shinsai Mai, the monk of Osano-wo, sat on the ground. He wore new robes, nothing flashy but new. Hikozaemon arrived pulling a cart, with supplies and the sprawled armored form of Hida Nakamuro, who, even at a distance, smelled of sake. Shosuro Kaito arrived on a small cart drawn by two heimin.
The Shosuro stepped off the cart carrying in one hand a stack of folded papers, under her other arm, a long box. She approached Mirumoto Yonaka and bowed respectfully. “My Lord, if it would please you, I have taken certain liberties so that you may have your Legion outfitted,” Kaito handed him the stack of papers. Yonaka look somewhat confused, then gave Kaito a suspicious look. “What have you done?” he asked her. Seeing he was not of a mind to read the plans for outfitting the legion, Kaito took back the stack of papers. “I have arranged for a manager to gather the armor and weapons, clothing and food stuffs for your legion. And I can say that it seems quite a good arrangement,” Kaito smiled sweetly.
Yonaka stared at her, appearing to patiently wait for the ‘catch’ that was sure to come. Kaito continued, “and for your consideration of the offer, I got you this,“ Kaito handed him the box. He opened it to find a Katana and wakizashi set. Again Yonaka seemed confused. Kaito leaned forward and whispered “I wanted to get you armor as a wedding gift, but these seemed very nice. I don’t know anything about ‘Water Hammer City’ but it is said that all the best swords in the Dragon Clan lands come from here.”
He closed the box. “We should be going, there are enemies to the west, and we cannot turn back until they are no more,” Yonaka said as he rode off. The Mirumoto was the only one on horse. All others walked, although Kaito rode on her small cart drawn by the heimin. As they left by the south west gate, they saw high off the ground someone had written on the wall,
. Oh Little Mouse
. See now you are not hunted
. Love walks Summer’s path
The group headed south toward Shuho.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The road turned to the west before reaching Shuho. Villages along the way were very accepting, even welcomed the small party. Each village told of bandits becoming bolder. Word of the Bandit leader “The Raven” was spreading about. Food was actually plentiful, and was offered when the group removed a troublesome bandit or a hidden gaijin who was fleeing Togashi’s army.
The group passed the “Furthest Fortess” a great fort built into the side of a mountain, and very well hidden. It was a castle of the Togashi. It was said that the fortress held the ‘Final Riddle”. The group decided to press on.
After two weeks, several more bandits and gaijin were dealt with. The group arrived at Wooden Bridge Village. There were no stories of Bandits; strangely there were no people out to talk about anything. No dogs were barking, or even to be seen. The only person out was a priest down at the graveyard. He was praying, lighting incense, and just maintaining the markers. Mirumoto Yonaka rode forward and addressed the priest. “Where are all the people, in such a peaceful town?” he asked as he dismounted his warhorse ‘Binky’. The group wandered up cautiously behind.
The priest stopped what he was doing and turned to the Bushi, “Peaceful, so we thought, peaceful, I am truly impressed whoever the Lord of this province now sent help so quickly. But Hideki, the box maker’s son, and Tomaru, the woodcutter are both dead for standing up to the bandits.” The priest’s expression was sour. Shosuro Kaito asked “Where are the dogs, why do they not bark?” The priest replied, ”The dogs were scared and have not returned, the bandits were menacing. Everyone is scared! They left that thing in her house.” The priest looked frightened.
Mirumoto Yonaka sharpened his gaze on the priest. “Left what ‘thing’ with who, where was this?” The priest stared across the street, “The widow Tomaru, they took her house after they killed Tomaru. There were Six, 4 bandits and 2 Gaijin. They left yesterday morning.” Yonaka held his gaze, “Show me.”
The priest ran across the street and ushered the woman out of the back through the garden. The group entered and inspected the house. All noted the general disarray of bandits who took this place for their own. But Yonaka spotted the hole in the wall. It was a stab mark into the wall, an odd shaped cut. Yonaka stared and the Shosuro and Hida examined it as well. “I removed the cursed thing,” The priest said. The Hida raised up in readiness. “Cursed?” the Shosuro asked in a gentle polite tone. “Please where is this thing,” asked the Mirumoto and the priest trotted off.
He returned with a many layered cloth that had been tied and smelled of incense. “I tried to bless the thing to…to purify it,” the priest said shaking. Yonaka took the package but the Shosuro took it from his hands and set it on the floor. There was something heavy and metal in the bundle. She untied the package to reveal a double-edged dagger, of gajin make, and a folded parchment, but it was not paper but skin of some animal. The folds were held close by a wax seal. And there was a stab mark through the skin. The Shosuro picked up the blade with one of the cloths and examined the blade. It matched the wound in the wall and the parchment. She nodded this to the Mirumoto and the Hida. Folding the package back up and tying it shut, the Shosuro asked the priest to bless the bundle one more time, before she stored it away.
The Hida burst out into the street and started examining the tracks in the dirt. It was quickly obvious to his eye that a group left to the North West. Nakamuro also noted that someone in that group was wounded, bleeding and it seemed their pace was not too fast. He slapped Hikozaemon on the shoulder and grunted, pointing at the cart. The Mirumoto mounted his horse and the Shosuro got her little cart. “We will take care of these men, you have nothing to fear,” the Mirumoto told the priest, and turned his horse to the Northwest.
The trail was easy to follow. The countryside was open, and the bandit’s path seems to follow along a river that kept them on this bank. The mountains rose beautifully to the north. Fishing baskets were cut open along the bank only more confirmation that the bandits were just ahead.
Unknown to the group, a lone Unicorn Scout also watched the progress of the Bandits and the group. He did not know the intentions of either group so decided to maintain his cover and observe. He settled his horse and paralleled the two parties just out of their sight.
A glint of metal told the group that they might catch the bandit near dusk. Mirumoto Yonaka decided to wait until after dark and gather information on their enemy. He nodded to the Shosuro. Kaito looked herself over; she covered any bright colors with black and then disappeared into the dark.
The Shosuro crept up to the edge of the camp, and saw that the bandits lit no fire. The only light was the quarter moon, which was enough for her to see that some were asleep and there was a guard awake. She did not notice that the Unicorn Scout had approached close to the camp as well, but he did not see the Shosuro either as she returned to the group.
The group decided to approach the camp under cover of dark and engage the bandits when they responded. The bandits responded, as the guard started to wake the others in the band. It was obvious they had heard the groups approach. “Yamijiai!” exclaimed the Shosuro, and the Hida launched toward the bandits. Hikozaemon trailed after his master, Yari in hand, and bewildered expression on his face.
The group wades into the circle of bandits. The Monk of Osano-Wo is confronted by a Mitanaka samurai and slashes the monk’s new robes. The Mirumoto strikes the samurai back and the monk followed that strike with a punch that dropped the man. Another Mitanaka samurai struck at the Hida causing only sparks to shine in the night, followed by the heavy thump of Nakamuro’s Dai-Tsuchi missing its target and hitting the ground. The other two Mitanaka scrambled to respond but did no damage.
Hikozaemon stood by Hida Nakamuro but was slashed by a knife from one of the gaijin. The other gaijin caused lights to dance from his fingers that glittered around the group but then fell like dust to the ground. The Shosuro noted this and step back readying an arrow.
The Mirumoto turned his attention to the Gaijin attacking Hikozeamon, striking him soundly. Another Mitanaka struck the Monk of Osano-wo causing him to momentarily stumble. The Crab’s Dai-Tsuchi struck this time, the Mitanaka bushi reeling from the blow. But then the Hida was covered in a glowing outline. The Gaijin sorcerer made the magic stick this time. The curious light made the Shosuro miss the gaijin. The Mitanaka bushi, now able to clearly see the Hida, brought down his sword but had it knocked away by Hikozeamon.
AND THEN THE DAMN WORLD GOT PUT ON HOLD UNTIL NEXT WEEK!
one experience point