The body was battered and bruised. Two distinct sword cuts marred the chest where the armor did not stop the Mirumoto’s strikes. The knife wound under the arm surprised Lady Masamune. In another life she was an Actress, but not anymore. She was now a Kitsuki Investigator. She wanted to question someone, but this low-born Ronin had hit her Crab! and only she was allowed to do that.

The Forest Killer was stabilized by Hida Nakamuro in the Crab fashion, born from a millennium of fighting against the Shadowlands. It was not pretty, but it was sufficient to keep him alive. Lady Masanume needed only a few words with him.

Looking over the Crab’s shoulder as Nakamuro checked the bandages, she cleared her throat slightly. The Hida only tilted his head, never taking his eyes off the Ronin. “He is stirring, will I be able to ask him questions?” she inquired. “Lady, I would…” Nakamuro started to protest. “I would prefer if you stayed anyway, and do just that expression,” Masamune instructed. The Crab’s jaw set firmly as if to commence a long lecture, but “Hai” was the only reply.

Masamune knelt down beside the Ronin. She opened her fan slightly in her lap and behind that placed her tanto. After several more minutes, the wounded man was struggling to open his eyes. Hida Nakamuro pinched the man’s jaw with his massive hand, and forced one of his eyes fully open. This made the Ronin flinch. The Crab checked how responsive the Forest Killer was. A faint moan from the man was cut short by his own force of will. That action alone told Masamune much about him.

She placed a gentle hand on the man’s jaw, causing the Hida to relinquish his grip. She gently tilted the mans head in her direction. For a brief moment she wished she had a Scorpion mask on her face, but that notion drifted away with a single breath. “Why would you cut down the Emperor’s Sacred trees? They were clearly marked as under His protection. By cutting them down, it is as if you attack the Kami themselves.” Lady Masamune spoke in a gentle, disarming tone. The Ronin pulled his chin away only to find the Hida’s hand putting it right back.

The Ronin’s eyelids opened and closed as if trying to focus. Masamune continued, “Do you not fear the retribution of the Kami?” She tried to add an edge of sincerity to the question. This man seemed very disciplined, but an insult to his courage might be a way to make him reveal something more. “Kill me,” he said and tried to spit. The Crab tightened his grip on a bandage causing the prisoner to draw in a breath.

This man already knew he was dead but something in the way he spoke made the Kitsuki Investigator focus. Could it be? Could this man be a member of the Kolat? Lady Masamune remained impassive. “The Emperor is a Son of the Heavens, His decree has protected the trees… They are protected by the Will of the Kami!” Masamune intentionally tried to flare the last sentence hoping to draw a reaction from the Ronin.

The Ronin winced but focused his eyes on her. He spoke very clearly, “The trees belong to Man.” Masamune locked her gaze on the man, then she darted a nervous glance at the Crab Bushi. “Certainly all things belong to the Kami,” she flicked her gaze to give the appearance of being uncomfortable. “Hida-san, could you please get some fresh towels and some tea?” Masamune said flatly. The Hida’s expression could have possibly melted iron, but he muttered “Yes, Lady” and turned away.

Lady Masamune glanced to see what the others were doing before she turned back to the Ronin. “You are…” she paused and gritted her teeth, “I do not know if I can save you. There are too many of them. Although maybe I could convince them to just leave you to die.” She added concern into her voice and she looked about a little nervously. The Ronin looked confused, but then croaked, “I know the way out of here, give me a knife.” He started to look intently at Masamune.

She was now sure he was Kolat, he could be her lead to the killers of her acting troupe and the ones who turned the Mitanaka against the Dragon Clan. Maybe even the mysterious Master Jade Sculptor who had eluded her for so long. “I think everyone else in your cell is dead,” she said in a nervous tone, “and I have no support right now.” She hoped that because of the Kolat’s very secretive nature, the Ronin would believe she too could be a Kolat operative. The Ronin gurgled a slight laugh. “There are others, the Carver has seen to that,” he finished with a cough.

The Carver!

If he could just give her an idea of who the Carver was, she was now so much closer than she had ever been. “I will try to convince the Mirumoto to leave you here, then you could take me to the Carver,” she said conspiratorially. But the impromptu camp was starting to move. He looked at her. “I will take you to the Carver, give me a knife.” He had a gleam in his eyes. She saw the Hida returning.

Their duty at the moment was to hunt down a giant Oni and slay it. This Kolat was the closest thing to a clue she ever had. There was no way to leave him alive. Masamune frantically looked over the Ronin’s body. His clothing was tattered and slashed, then her eye caught a piece of paper just sticking out of a seam of his sleeve pocket. She herself had sewn things into her clothing. That would have to be good enough.

She placed her fan over the man’s face and forced his chin down while drawing the knife across his throat. “Here is a knife,” she said, and she pulled his kimono up to deflect any blood while she stood up. She cut the sleeve pocket away and turned to Hida Nakamuro who looked unmoved by the scene. The Crab handed her the bandages, glanced at the dead man, and then quickly gulped the tea. “Clean your blade,” was all he said.

The body continued to thrash a bit. The Hida prodded the body to direct the blood away from the group in general, who looked toward then now-deceased prisoner and back to the pair. “No Bandits shall live. Stone Dogs or death,” was all Lady Masamune said.


L5R : Jade Winds ednoria