All is calm. Walls surround you. You are safe where you are.
All is well. There will be a festival soon. Even the dogs are quiet.
It had been a week since the visit from the Mitinaka Magistrate Kyoshi and his scribe and still there had been no further progress towards returning to Rokugan proper and making a report of both our successes and our failures to a Jade Magistrate. The Osana-Wo and myself being a Mirumoto Dragon in one cell, the Hida and our samurai-ko, we will call her a Companion, in another cell. Hikozaemon the porter tells us there are a couple of other Rokugani in the cells at the other ends, and as Yoriki we have been given linen hakama to clothe ourselves in and opportunities to talk together while taking exercise in the enclosed yard while archers watch over us from the balcony above. My brothers grow restless amidst apologies on behalf of my so-called honor, but I must be the example of patience.
Tonight must be some kind of festival or holiday amongst the gaijin, the guards are having a celebration of some sort with wine and cupcakes as they hang a needlework scroll with a scene from their history on one of the posts. We watch from our bamboo cells within the converted stables, politely refusing for the most part to partake in their strange customs. They dice for possessions of some of the previous captives and one of the six wins a gambling game for something from the pouch and from it draws a queer looking stick of some sort. He starts playing with it, a gaijin item called a wand that creates butterflies that flit about. Once I had a dream of butterflies on the air above the woven tapestry of the Empire itself, but that is a remembrance from another time.
There are many butterflies in the air when the wand does something different and causes the bamboo gates to the cells to turn from brown to green and start to grow and tendrils reach for the prisoners.
There is some commotion as the monk and the companion get entangled before they can be pulled from the growing bamboo shoots by their cell mates. While we are stripping some of the edible new shoots off of fresh bamboo the guards check the locks of the cells to make sure they are secure. (Somehow one of the guards lost his money pouch during these entanglements. I can only say he must have been very careless indeed as he checked the lock on our companion’s cell.)
Somewhere outside the stables a large dog is barking. No one seems concerned and the rest of the jailers take Hikozaemon out from our sight as one of them remains to clean up from the celebration, but not before attempting to make something else happen with the gaijin wand of butterflies that makes the bamboo grow. When nothing but a small popping sound is heard he seems to give up and resume cleaning.
Very soon after the Hida seemed to sense… something. Maybe it was the mouse that scurried across the floor, or the rat that followed afterwards, or the dog barking. In the end it must have been seeing the butterflies from before, still in mid air, still not flapping their wings. Almost like a picture frozen in time, a memory coming into sharp focus they seemed to inch closer in their mid air stillness… their wings slowly shriveling as if being consumed by some acidic substance… something is coming this way.
The gaijin does not speak our language and the Hida begins to try and bend the now slightly flexible green bamboo bars as he tells me that we must get out NOW! Since the day that he has begun to defer to my judgments I have learned not to question times when the Hida gives commands, a lack of urgency in such situations means certain death.
I swallow my honor and beckon the guard to come quickly over to our cell, and since I have been well behaved up until this point he does not suspect that I will grab him by his throat until the very last instant. Meanwhile the Hida has managed to bend the bars of his cell enough so that our companion-ko can escape from their cell.
While the gaijin guard struggles he does not notice the truncheon at his belt has gone missing and is now in the companion’s hand. As the guard breaks my grasp the Osano-Wo manages to strike him in the nose driving cartilage up and into his brain.
Something… has broken into the cells at the far end… butterflies and the remains of now dead prisoners from the other end of the jail slowly creep towards us.
The guard does not have the keys to the cells, but as he struggles for his last breath kindly allows us to remove his belt, wrapping the belt around a pair of the bamboo bars and bending them by tightening the belt with the truncheon.
The “cube” of slowly coloring mass avoids the lanterns that line the middle hallway of the stables as it advances… and advances… the dog outside is barking…
It is a difficult squeeze that allows the Osano-Wo to escape the cell, he holds the truncheon and belt tight while I am able to follow suit and squeeze through the bars. The maneuver is timely as the bamboo at the edges of the cell starts to dissolve and we must move away quickly, leaving the unfortunate guard behind.
When we get to the Hida he is still trying to bend the bars. We manage to assist in the effort, but my brother gets stuck halfway through while our companion is desperately trying to find a way to open the lock of the cell. With no concern for his own safety he braces himself as the monk and myself pull him the rest of the way through. The Hida doesn’t seem to notice the fresh scrapes along his sides. We politely do not notice the frustration of our companion-ko who has somehow opened the lock.
There is one remaining prisoner in the last cell by the locked main door, his cell even has a window into the waiting area before the door to the outside. Somehow his door is unlocked and opened as he is woken and told it is time to leave. The Osano-Wo is inspired and climbs on top of the cages to get past the cube, leaping an extraordinary twenty feet from one cage to another to try the back door, as he climbs to the floor the slime left behind by the creature burns the soles of his feet.
The companion-ko is trying to work at the lock when a guard appears at the gate looking angry, frustrated, still a little drunk from the wine earlier. The Hida grabs the guard through the bars and reels him in quickly so that his face smacks against the bars as it is unlocks and opens up. The dragon strikes the guard in the head as he screams and the Hida breaks his neck and drops him to the floor as the companion gathers the guard’s keys.
(All has been eerily quiet until now. I don’t recall that we heard the other prisoners scream.)
There are words between us, the Hida says I should go, so I climb the other side of the cells and jump a mere ten feet between cages to try and assist the Osano-Wo. Our companion-ko runs into the hallway outside screaming and gesturing wildly at the four remaining gaijin guards.
One guard stands aghast as the Hida rushes him and strikes him, the other guard bars the door to the outside and the newly awakened prisoner rushes towards him to engage him in a fight as the companion somehow attains possession of the truncheon from the guards at the door and at the gate while the monk throws a lantern at the gelatinous mass with no obvious effect while the dragon jumps down and grabs a lantern to throw.
The Osano-Wo performs a kiho strike from afar and the wave of its power damages the blob which has been growing into a pillar. The lantern thrown by the dragon lands at the edge of the blob, driving it onward.
It… falls forward, away from the fire… onto the people who are still in the doorway. The acid from its mass covers the nearly dead gaijin on the floor, the Hida, and then the monk who had been released from the cell at the end.
The last we see of the remaining gaijin they are trying to use spears against the gelatinous mass now blocking the main door.
The Hida and the companion manage to open the outer window, the companion being the first to jump through.
Bare feet burning from the acidic slime covered floor the Dragon sees an opportunity and leads the Osano-Wo into a run, leaping past the edge of the blob, tumbling through the interior window of the final cell, and then through the outer window. The monk follows and makes it through the first window, but at the outer window he pauses to slap the blob from afar.
A beautiful sight greets the dragon.
Outside it is a clear, starry night in which the moon is just a sliver. The night air of the north is cooled even in summer time and there is no one in the courtyard or on the balconies to witness them. Torches gently flicker in the places along the edge of the wall and all is quiet except for the barking of the dog still tied up near the bathing tub around the side of the stables.
You can even look up and see a thousand fireflies descending from the heavens…
Until you realize that those fireflies are a thousand arrows coming towards the Keep, that someone is attacking the holdings of your gaijin captors and somehow this makes the night even more beautiful.
The reverie of the moment is shattered as the monk who had been in the last cell jumps through the window and is dumped into a horse trough to wash the slime off. Until now no one has noticed the bags or trunks piled up against the wall. No one has seen or heard from the porter, Hikozaemon. The Osano-Wo is next, followed after a brief moment by the Hida carrying his bag of armor.
Muffled thumping can be heard from inside as the nameless thing inside eats away at the edges of the door…
“Akinari. Akinari? Akinari! Boy, wake up!”
Mother is just outside the open shogi screen of the porch rhythmically striking a pestle into a large wooden mortar to make a bean paste for festival cakes. The dog is barking at a fox perched on the roof of the chicken coop and chases it away.
“Hai, mama-san”, speaks the child, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and fumbling for his geta at the foot of the tatami, “Mama-san, I dreamed of spirits! There was a walking mountain and fighting brothers and a beautiful woman with no face and I was a mournful dragon. And there were butterflies and lanterns and something was chasing us!”
“No time for your dreams, boy, the harvest waits for no one and The Wall must be provided for. Roll your tatami and come along. You’ll miss breakfast if you keep moving so slow!”
Akinari hurries to roll up the tatami and gather a few things before heading out the door. He makes a mental note to try and write down as much as he can remember into his dream diary when he can get around to it.
Two Experience Points