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Rin sat at the table dressed in the uncomfortable Kamishimo. When she had indicated to the servant that she would not wear the formal Kamishimo the girls look of horror had caused her to concede the point and relent, after all Lord Daidoji would be there and she did wish to impress him at least.

 

And so here she was sitting uncomfortably as the food was being served. "Water and Just rice or noodles please."

 

Lord Hideji frowned as the Dragon turned away the fine food and asked for rice. "Mirumoto-san is there something wrong with the food?"

 

Rin bows her head to the Hideji Daimyo, "No Lord Hideji -sama of course not i am sure it is excellent. I merely follow a strict diet which precludes rich foods. I only eat rice or noodles and fish but it must be fish caught with my own hands." She smiles, "I do not get to eat much fish."

 

Her reply elicited a few polite laughs as the food continued to be served. Lord Hideji looks at the Dragon for a moment more before his attention wanders to another of his guests.

 

But Lord Daidoji his curiosity piqued asks a question of the Dragon. "And why Mirumoto-san do you follow this unusual diet? You look in the peak of health, so that can not be the reason. Is it religious?"

 

"In some ways yes Lord Daidoji-sama. I seek to Master the Way. And to do so I must find perfect balance with spirit, mind, and body as you know. I must only focus on what will lead me to my goal. and distractions and indulgences, such as rich food and drink, I must keep at bay. I discovered this when I competed in the Topaz Championship. I learned many lessons over those three days, Lord Daidoji-sama."

 

She let her eyes fall upon the Crane beside her and linger a moment before looking back at Lord Daidoji.

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Hair neatly coiffed in an elegant tail down her back, dressed in her finest kimono, replacing the kataginu with the formal haori of the Topaz Champion, and the jitte of the Jade Magistrates tucked into her obi, Zoyu preened under the esteemed attention directed at her, even that of the choleric Lord Hideji. She nodded at him with a gracious bow of her head.

 

"We were honoured to receive your invitation, Lord Hideji-sama," Zoyu responded in a soft, sweet voice. "It is a needed respite from our travels to Mamoru Kyotei Toshi on behalf of the Jade Magistrates. It has been... enlightening learning of the lands beyond those surrounding the Kakita Dueling Academy."

 

Was there more meaning in her tone than conveyed by her words, in the curve of her lips... perhaps. Zoyu took a small portion of each of the exquisite dishes presented at the banquet, and a judicious amount of sake, otherwise satisfying herself with tea. Taking a bite of sushi, Zoyu noted Rin's lingering glance and sat in a poised manner that revealed the mature curves of her figure. Zoyu smiled and nodded at the Dragon.

 

"We all learned much during the Topaz Championship, Mirumoto-san, from our fellow competitors and elsewhere." Zoyu turned her mismatched gaze towards the rest at the banquet table, speaking charmingly with them all, encouraging them to share their interests and praising their clans. "I regret not facing Shiba Izumi-san during the Duels, Lord Shiba-sama. The Shiba mastery of Mushin no Shin* is renowned and I wished to learn more and experience is the best teacher, is it not?"

 

Zoyu met the Ikoma Lord's fierce eyes directly, no backing down to any Lion, and nodded politely. Of an age with Lord Hediji, Lord Ikoma Kazuma may have even fought with him when the Crane had seized these lands from the Okimoto. "Likewise, even in the halls of the Kakita Artisan Academy, the Omoidasu* of the Ikoma are spoken off respectfully. Kitsu-san has graciously shared some history and the words of the ancestors with me. Perhaps later in the evening, you would be willing to share tales of Ikoma or other... noteworthy events with us, Lord Ikoma-sama?"

 

Zoyu bowed deeply towards the ever-watchful, stoic man at her side. "It is a surprise and pleasure to find you here in the northern lands of Crane, Lord Daidoji-sama. We missed you at the Topaz Championship. The entire clan is ever thankful for the eternal vigilance of the Iron Crane. Toshimoko-sama is my sensei and I see myself as a true student of The Sword, but I understand you have an interest in the weaponry of the gaijin. I know little of these things - could you explain some of their peculiarities that fascinate you?"

 

Listening attentively and respectfully to any of the Daimyos that share words with her, Zoyu turns a gentle and enticing smile towards the quiet, young man sitting to the left of Lord Hediji, encouraging him to share some of himself with the others. "I regret I know little of you, Nobikazu-san. A student of the Art of Iaijutsu, I have a great love of the Art of Dancing as well. What interests do you have, Nobizaku-san? Painting, perhaps, or the elegance of calligraphy?"

 

Notes

Mushin no Shin: No Mind Without Mind, the state of No Mind, which is usually shortened to just Mushin - No Mind

Omoidasu: Ikoma Bards, historians, law keeper's, and the heart of the Lion Clan, being the only class allowed to display emotion publicly

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"We all learned much during the Topaz Championship, Mirumoto-san, from our fellow competitors and elsewhere." Zoyu turned her mismatched gaze towards the rest at the banquet table, speaking charmingly with them all, encouraging them to share their interests and praising their clans. "I regret not facing Shiba Izumi-san during the Duels, Lord Shiba-sama. The Shiba mastery of Mushin no Shin* is renowned and I wished to learn more and experience is the best teacher, is it not?"

 

Lord Shiba Ryotsu's lips purse thoughtfully for a brief moment before he replies with a pleasant smile,

 

"I would think that the best teacher would be the best teacher. Experience has its benefit, but in matters of the blade, experience alone rarely makes certainly lessons and subtleties clear, at least not without much pain or loss of life. A skilled sensei can ensure the lesson is learned, and with just enough pain to be remembered. 'Cry in the dojo, laugh on the battlefield' they say."

 

 

Zoyu met the Ikoma Lord's fierce eyes directly, no backing down to any Lion, and nodded politely. Of an age with Lord Hediji, Lord Ikoma Kazuma may have even fought with him when the Crane had seized these lands from the Okimoto. "Likewise, even in the halls of the Kakita Artisan Academy, the Omoidasu* of the Ikoma are spoken off respectfully. Kitsu-san has graciously shared some history and the words of the ancestors with me. Perhaps later in the evening, you would be willing to share tales of Ikoma or other... noteworthy events with us, Lord Ikoma-sama?"

 

"Tale-telling is best left for the Omoidasu, Kakita-san. I, on the otherhand, was trained long ago at Shiro sano Ken Hayai, by the Akodo." Lord Ikoma Kazuma said, somewhat curtly as he glanced over at Lord Hideji and General Yataro..

 

 

Zoyu bowed deeply towards the ever-watchful, stoic man at her side. "It is a surprise and pleasure to find you here in the northern lands of Crane, Lord Daidoji-sama. We missed you at the Topaz Championship. The entire clan is ever thankful for the eternal vigilance of the Iron Crane. Toshimoko-sama is my sensei and I see myself as a true student of The Sword, but I understand you have an interest in the weaponry of the gaijin. I know little of these things - could you explain some of their peculiarities that fascinate you?"

 

"We all go where our duty calls, Kakita-san." Lord Daidoji said in a calm, surprisingly soft tone. "And as such, some luxuries cannot be afforded by some, so that others may indulge." he said as he picked up is cup of tea and brought it near his face. "Mirumoto-san seems to understand this well." he adds before taking a sip of tea. "Congratulations on your victory though. I am sure Lord Doji-sama was quite pleased."

 

"The gaijin do not fascinate me, Kakita-san. I possess a few gaijin artifacts that have washed up along the shore over centuries. But they are merely curiosities, nothing more." Lord Daidoji points out simply. "I am sure that Shinjo-san here knows far more about the gaijin than I. I simply brought a single gaijin blade to court, once, as a conversation piece, and suddenly the talk of the court is that I am enthralled with the barbarians. And then many wonder I so rarely attend court..." he explains with a small sigh and shake of his head.

 

 

Listening attentively and respectfully to any of the Daimyos that share words with her, Zoyu turns a gentle and enticing smile towards the quiet, young man sitting to the left of Lord Hediji, encouraging him to share some of himself with the others. "I regret I know little of you, Nobikazu-san. A student of the Art of Iaijutsu, I have a great love of the Art of Dancing as well. What interests do you have, Nobizaku-san? Painting, perhaps, or the elegance of calligraphy?"

 

Nobikazu's lips part to reply to Zoyu's question as Lord Hideji speaks,

 

"It is such an honor to host the Topaz Champion in our humble castle. Am I to understand you all participated? You will excuse my ignorance, it takes some time for news to travel this far north to our little valley. And I understand there was some attempt on the Lord Prince's life that you thwarted? I am sure this is a tale is so exciting and interesting that one needs not the skills of a Omoidasu to properly relay and be enjoyed."

 

 

Notes. Please Read.
Shiro sano Ken Hayai: "Castle of the Swift Sword" The home of the Akodo Bushi and Tactical Schools.

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"We all go where our duty calls, Kakita-san." Lord Daidoji said in a calm, surprisingly soft tone. "And as such, some luxuries cannot be afforded by some, so that others may indulge." he said as he picked up is cup of tea and brought it near his face. "Mirumoto-san seems to understand this well." he adds before taking a sip of tea. "Congratulations on your victory though. I am sure Lord Doji-sama was quite pleased."

 

"The gaijin do not fascinate me, Kakita-san. I possess a few gaijin artifacts that have washed up along the shore over centuries. But they are merely curiosities, nothing more." Lord Daidoji points out simply. "I am sure that Shinjo-san here knows far more about the gaijin than I. I simply brought a single gaijin blade to court, once, as a conversation piece, and suddenly the talk of the court is that I am enthralled with the barbarians. And then many wonder I so rarely attend court..." he explains with a small sigh and shake of his head.

 

 

 

Rin snorts as she finishes her rice and puts the empty bowl on the table. "One must not have a favorite among weapons, or anything else for that matter, lest one be at a disadvantage should your favorite not be at hand."

 

She leans forward to look at Lord Daidoji. "Lord Daidoji, I have heard good things about the School which shares your name. As i have said I seek to master the way and wish to learn as much from as many as i can. For instance I have Practiced here at the Dojo and have seen how good the yari can be when used properly I have much more respect for it and those who employ it now."  She takes a drink of water. " But The Daidoji school has always intrested me greatly."

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"We all have weapons we favor, and anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves, Mirumoto-san." Lord Daidoji said as he sat down his teacup. "Favoring is a weapon is fine, as long as it is not to the determent of others. The Crab Clan understands this. I have spent a great deal of time in the company of the Crab, and in my youth I served on Kaiu Kabe for a year. I have seen the value of the various weapons of war first-hand against all manner of foe at a young age, but a bushi's daisho is always at their side though."

 

"All things in moderation, Mirumoto-san." Lord Daodoji explains. "The same is true for a diet. Rich food or good sake is not the problem. Overindulgence is. Limiting one's diet so strictly neglects one's nutrition, which can hinder one's ability to properly serve." Lord Daidoji added as he picked up a piece of sushi with his chopsticks and ate it.

 

"Few have little, if any, interest in the bushi of the Crane Clan, aside from the Iaijutsu Duelists of the Kakita... until they are forced to meet us on the battlefield, that is." Lord Daidoji said as he reached for his teacup once more. "So the Daidoji school has always interested you, hm? And why is that, if I may ask, Misurmoto-san?"

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Shinjo Shun took his seat when the others did and slowly eats the provided food and tea. He sits quietly, but pays at tension to the conversation that is ongoing. He takes notice of the mention of gijgen items and the mention of his name but remain quiet ..... for now.

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"Hmm, thoughts to words do not always reflect meaning properly." She draws a deep breath and slowly exhales." It would be an intresting discussion but in proper place." She turns to more face Lord Daidoji before continuing.

 

"I follow the niten way but i feel that to honor my ancestor I must reflect on what he taught and what my reality is, and make it my own. My philosphy , which grows every day builds upon what i have been taught and what i see and learn. In the short time of my life I have found what i feel is my strength and I wish to build upon this."

 

She pauses for selfreflection 

 

"What i have seen and heard of the Daidoji School I think  would inspire me as i believe, and this is mostly an uninformed opinion, that the philosophy I grow is in line with their teachings."

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How very interesting, Beneath the surface, tensions of all sorts roiling, Toshi noted. Lord Shiba wished to make clear his forces were ready. Lord Ikoma seemed intent to establish himself as a man of cool intellect, rather than Matsu emotions - images he seemed to think Lord Hideji promulgated. And lo, the host completely cut off his own son.

 

The neighbors did not have a high regard of the Hideiji. Perhaps that ruthless behavior had come back to haunt this castle? Time to see what the cracks between father and son amounted to. "Yes, we all did, Lord Hideji, and succeeded. Naught much to add on that. As for the matter of the Prince, it would not be right to burden your feast with such unpleasantness. Nobizkazu-san, do you find the distance of this domain an impediment to keeping up on the latest in the arts?"

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Akari , a bit uneasy after today's little events, would eat her meal, enjoying the taste before speaking to Lord Shiba to take her mind off of things.

 

"Lord Shiba-sama.  Pleased to meet you."  She bows and smiled.   "I trust you are in good spirits."

 

The Isawa then asked "I was hoping I could ask you on your personal insight on war.  I mean if you do not mind, that is."  She said that last part hoping to at least lessen issues if he is offended.

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Taka was careful to dress and act appropriately for a meal with so many daimyo present, although that was made easier by his recent training in the intricacies of the Court and experience of dining with the Emperor. Sticking to plain and only mildly rich foods as was his habit he took note of Lord Daidoji's comments.

"I wish more of the Empire's samurai would follow you example Lord Daidoji and spend some time on Kaiu Kabe."

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Zoyu nodded at Lord Shiba, conceding the point. She could hardly disagree with the efficacy of good teachers when Toshimoko-sama himself was her sensei and mentor. "Quite so, Lord Shiba-sama. With a skilled sensei, the lesson learned from experience can be magnified many times."

 

Zoyu apologized softly to Lord Ikoma for making assumptions, watching his fierce eyes on Lord Hediji. There was a wary one who would fight if Lord Hediji's ambitions grew heavier in the valley. She blinked non-plussed when Lord Daidoji revealed he had little interest in the peculiarities of the gaijin, and was vaguely disappointed.

 

Her full lips curved down in a faint frown as she gave Toshi a sidelong glance. There was much that could added about the Topaz Championship - her epic clash with Bayushi Daisuke, her exquisite run through the Iaijutsu Duel, the hunting competition where she swayed the Emperor to allow the Prince to participate, some of the other noteworthy things that didn't involve her - but she did note how Lord Hediji interrupted his son. Toshi san is looking for cracks. Interesting...

 

"You are too kind, Lord Hediji-sama. To be a full samurai, it takes more than just skill in sword and battle," Zoyu added smoothly. "The Arts as well should hold a place in the heart of the samurai as well, do you not think so, Lord Hediji-sama, Nobikazu-san?" She smiled beatifically at them. How could a true Crane deny the value of the Arts? "One of the anticipated events of the Topaz Championship is Poetry. If I may be modest, my extemporaneous Haiku was quite inspired and allowed me to triumph as Topaz Champion as much-" Her lips twisted at the exaggeration and she added truthfully, "- almost as much as my sublime skill with Iaijutsu."

 

She recited her poem, then dipped her head encouragingly at Nobikazu. "Distance has no bearing when Art springs from the heart, Nobikazu-san. Though to be sure, inspiration can come from all corners of the Emerald Empire. What Art does your heart seek to express, Nobikazu-san?""

 

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"The Topaz Chapion speaks with wisdom," Rin bows to Zoyu, "After all if there were no Masters of the Way of Carpentry, we would all be living in caves. The Paths we have to choose from are many and varied yet in the end all lead to the same place. Harmony and Balance."

 

She looks across the table at Nobikazu "The path that one chooses to follow and then excels at is the path that is right for the one." She pauses a moment gathering her thought.

 

"The path that we choose but do not excel at or the path that is forced is often the wrong path. And no service we undertake, no duty we fulfill will bring mastery or balance."

 

She looks at each person in turn giving a slight bow of the head acknowledging each, the daimyo receive a deeper bow of course. her gaze ends at Lord Hediji, with her head bowed.

 

 

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Taka was careful to dress and act appropriately for a meal with so many daimyo present, although that was made easier by his recent training in the intricacies of the Court and experience of dining with the Emperor. Sticking to plain and only mildly rich foods as was his habit he took note of Lord Daidoji's comments.

"I wish more of the Empire's samurai would follow you example Lord Daidoji and spend some time on Kaiu Kabe."

 

Lord Daidoji nods to Taka.

 

"We all have our duty, and standing The Wall is the duty of the Crab, one which they have carried out dutifully for centuries, often thanklessly. It is a duty that they endure so that the rest may have other luxuries. I feel it would be a service to the Empire for more to see just what that duty requires, but I fear many would not handle the realities of The Wall well." Lord Daidoji explains.

 

 

Akari , a bit uneasy after today's little events, would eat her meal, enjoying the taste before speaking to Lord Shiba to take her mind off of things.

 

"Lord Shiba-sama.  Pleased to meet you."  She bows and smiled.   "I trust you are in good spirits."

 

The Isawa then asked "I was hoping I could ask you on your personal insight on war.  I mean if you do not mind, that is."  She said that last part hoping to at least lessen issues if he is offended.

 

"Aside from fighting off gaijin barbarians or the Dark One's foul spawn, war is only due to a lack of civility by one or both parties. We are more educated, civilized and refined than the barbarians outside our borders, and as such we should be able to find non-violent solutions to out disputes. Unfortunately, we also fall prey to those baser emotions occasionally, resulting n bloodshed." Lord Shiba said thoughtfully.

 

"In short, once you step on the battlefield, you have already lost." he added as his gaze drifted off into nothing for a moment, before taking a sip of a sake.

 

 

How very interesting, Beneath the surface, tensions of all sorts roiling, Toshi noted. Lord Shiba wished to make clear his forces were ready. Lord Ikoma seemed intent to establish himself as a man of cool intellect, rather than Matsu emotions - images he seemed to think Lord Hideji promulgated. And lo, the host completely cut off his own son.

 

The neighbors did not have a high regard of the Hideiji. Perhaps that ruthless behavior had come back to haunt this castle? Time to see what the cracks between father and son amounted to. "Yes, we all did, Lord Hideji, and succeeded. Naught much to add on that. As for the matter of the Prince, it would not be right to burden your feast with such unpleasantness. Nobizkazu-san, do you find the distance of this domain an impediment to keeping up on the latest in the arts?"

 

 

Zoyu nodded at Lord Shiba, conceding the point. She could hardly disagree with the efficacy of good teachers when Toshimoko-sama himself was her sensei and mentor. "Quite so, Lord Shiba-sama. With a skilled sensei, the lesson learned from experience can be magnified many times."

 

Zoyu apologized softly to Lord Ikoma for making assumptions, watching his fierce eyes on Lord Hediji. There was a wary one who would fight if Lord Hediji's ambitions grew heavier in the valley. She blinked non-plussed when Lord Daidoji revealed he had little interest in the peculiarities of the gaijin, and was vaguely disappointed.

 

Her full lips curved down in a faint frown as she gave Toshi a sidelong glance. There was much that could added about the Topaz Championship - her epic clash with Bayushi Daisuke, her exquisite run through the Iaijutsu Duel, the hunting competition where she swayed the Emperor to allow the Prince to participate, some of the other noteworthy things that didn't involve her - but she did note how Lord Hediji interrupted his son. Toshi san is looking for cracks. Interesting...

 

"You are too kind, Lord Hediji-sama. To be a full samurai, it takes more than just skill in sword and battle," Zoyu added smoothly. "The Arts as well should hold a place in the heart of the samurai as well, do you not think so, Lord Hediji-sama, Nobikazu-san?" She smiled beatifically at them. How could a true Crane deny the value of the Arts? "One of the anticipated events of the Topaz Championship is Poetry. If I may be modest, my extemporaneous Haiku was quite inspired and allowed me to triumph as Topaz Champion as much-" Her lips twisted at the exaggeration and she added truthfully, "- almost as much as my sublime skill with Iaijutsu."

 

She recited her poem, then dipped her head encouragingly at Nobikazu. "Distance has no bearing when Art springs from the heart, Nobikazu-san. Though to be sure, inspiration can come from all corners of the Emerald Empire. What Art does your heart seek to express, Nobikazu-san?""

 

Lord Hideji's brow furrowed ever so slightly and he held up his sake cup as the questions continued to flow to his son from various guests. A servant quickly stepped forward and knelt beside him, refilling his cup.

 

"When not studying more martial pursuits I have discovered a taste for poetry. Much can be conveyed with a few, simple words, as long as the reader is open to it." Nobikazu said with a soft smile.

 

"And though not an art, I find hunting equally relaxing. The valley teems with small game which provide plenty of sport." he explained.

 

 

"The Topaz Chapion speaks with wisdom," Rin bows to Zoyu, "After all if there were no Masters of the Way of Carpentry, we would all be living in caves. The Paths we have to choose from are many and varied yet in the end all lead to the same place. Harmony and Balance."

 

She looks across the table at Nobikazu "The path that one chooses to follow and then excels at is the path that is right for the one." She pauses a moment gathering her thought.

 

"The path that we choose but do not excel at or the path that is forced is often the wrong path. And no service we undertake, no duty we fulfill will bring mastery or balance."

 

She looks at each person in turn giving a slight bow of the head acknowledging each, the daimyo receive a deeper bow of course. her gaze ends at Lord Hediji, with her head bowed.

 

"Perhaps, Mirumoto-san. But one's duty does not always permit the luxury of choosing a path. Sometimes our duty selects the path for us." Nobikazu said and glanced over at his father who was taking another sip of sake.

 

"And no path one's duty requires is ever a wrong path." Lord Hideji stated somewhat flatly.

 

"So please, regal us with your tales of the Topaz Championship. My other guests and I were unable to attend, and it is rare we get to hear the news of it first hand from the participants and even the Topaz Champion herself." Lord Hideji

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Taka finishes off a rice ball, wondering why his companions seem intent on irritating Lord Hideji by paying more attention to the son he obviously does not get on with than following the conversation he wants. With an internal shrug and fear he will never understand courtiers he replies to Lord Daidoji, "I fear you are correct given the number of my own clan mates who have difficulty with the reality of the Wall despite growing up with some idea of thr conditions there. Unfortunately the Emperor has recognised that some of that reality seems to be appearing in other places within the Empire, hence his appointment of a new Jade Champion. "

He briefly considered answering Lord Hideji about the championship, but realised that he had paid more attention to trying to picking up the skills involved than to who was performing them or where people where placed in the rankings and so had little to say about it other than his own performance.

"I regret to say Lord Hideji that when I arrived following my invitation to take part in the championship I found myself woefully unprepared for the tasks involved. I was lucky enough to succeed in enough tasks during the first day of the competition to pass overall but picked up few points on the other days and as a Shugenja I did not take part in the Iaijutsu matches."

With a slight bow in her direction he continues, "I am sure the Champion would be willing to tell you more about how the competition went this year."

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"One cannot not balance the elements, when one is without balance." Rin looks at at the Topaz Champion "This is a true tale and set the path for our journey at the championship, I am sure the Topaz champion will agree."

 

Rin looks at everyone present

 

"The first test of the tournament was Sumai. While trained in Sumai I had trained extensively in juitsu and thought myself well skilled, In truth I thought myself well trained in all things. My opponent was none other than the one who would become champion.She was not some one i considered a serious trial for my skill for was I not Mirumoto Rin. I am proud, and I followed the way of the Sword in all things I could not be defeated. But I was wrong I had taken even as a child to boasting and drinking I acted improper.  I had strayed from the Teachings of my ancestor." She lowers her head in contemplation.

 

"Before the fight began I lost, I did not apply what i had been taught and Kakita-san beat me soundly then went on and excelled that day while I suffered defeat after defeat. That night I realized what had happened I had defeated myself because in my Arrogance I had turned from my path. I rededicated myself to The way And found my Balance."

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Akari nods.

 

"Glad to hear that, Lord Shiba-Sama.   Wise words from a Wise man."  She smiled.

 

She thinks before she drinks.  "Some do not feel that way, but it's important that cooler heads prevail.  Especially in times like this, when plots such as what occurred during the Topaz Championship have happened."

 

She takes another drink.  The young Isawa still is slightly haunted by her lack of effectiveness that day.   Many of her combat spells would have burned the entire city down, making the situation worse....maybe she should have whined to a geisha when she had the chance....

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"You do yourself a disservice and me too much credit, Mirumoto-san," Zoyu said with a small grin and false modesty. "I am merely swifter than I look and was lucky that day. And found her Balance, indeed." Zoyu turned to Lord Hediji, warming to telling of the Topaz Championship. She might not be skilled in spinning a tale like an Omoidasu, but her voice with smooth and clear and she spoke well, her graceful gestures emphasizing her words.

 

"Mirumoto-san met the Prince of the Empire in the Clash of Weapons, and truly, her display of The Way was one rarely seen matched. Three strokes she landed, quicker than lightning, before the Prince struck his first. As for my match, it was dance of between Scorpion and Crane, a tempestuous flow between strike and evasion until I could land a blow squarely and claim victory."

 

She had excelled and claimed victory in the Topaz Championship, and so magnanimous and gave others their due, telling of their noteworthy deeds along with her own, of course. The wild Horsemanship match between Taka and the Mantis Bushi Hitoe, so evenly matched in their display of skill that the judge awarded them each a point.

 

Having already recited her poem, Zoyu only recited one more from the Poetry event for Nobikazu's benefit, the one that struck her most. During the Courtier debates, she spoke of how Toshi deftly spun a net of words about his Viper opponent. Zoyu went into great detail about how she had swayed the emperor himself into allowing the Prince to participate in the event... with the aid of the Prince and Lady Bayushi she smoothly added after Taka's and Rin's pointed glances. She gave Nobikazu an understanding look, adding that the Prince was a noted falconer with an interest in hunting as well. In the telling of the hunt itself, Zoyu made clear Hiju's notable skill and played up the tension as they raced back to claim victory.

 

Speaking on the Iaijutsu Duels, Zoyu grew more animated and assured, giving critique and insight on every stroke - especially her own, of course, referencing comparisons and contrasts from previous Topaz Championships she had witnessed. It was clear she could speak on the subject at length, but at last, she came to final duel, between her and Rin, just as they had faced each in the first event of the first day. There was symmetry in that.

 

"... single, perfect stroke, soft and swift as the wind, and the Topaz Championship was mine," Zoyu ended. Conspicuously to those who were there, there had been no mention of Ujimitsu's explosive lack of decorum and finding himself in a new clan, nor the zombie attack seeking the life of the Prince. Zoyu's attention was once more directed at Lord Hediji as she bowed her head. "I hope my poor words have done credit to your table, Lord Hediji. Have you witnessed the Topaz Championship in prior years?"

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Taka finishes off a rice ball, wondering why his companions seem intent on irritating Lord Hideji by paying more attention to the son he obviously does not get on with than following the conversation he wants. With an internal shrug and fear he will never understand courtiers he replies to Lord Daidoji, "I fear you are correct given the number of my own clan mates who have difficulty with the reality of the Wall despite growing up with some idea of thr conditions there. Unfortunately the Emperor has recognised that some of that reality seems to be appearing in other places within the Empire, hence his appointment of a new Jade Champion. "

He briefly considered answering Lord Hideji about the championship, but realised that he had paid more attention to trying to picking up the skills involved than to who was performing them or where people where placed in the rankings and so had little to say about it other than his own performance.

"I regret to say Lord Hideji that when I arrived following my invitation to take part in the championship I found myself woefully unprepared for the tasks involved. I was lucky enough to succeed in enough tasks during the first day of the competition to pass overall but picked up few points on the other days and as a Shugenja I did not take part in the Iaijutsu matches."

With a slight bow in her direction he continues, "I am sure the Champion would be willing to tell you more about how the competition went this year."

 

"You still passed one of the most challenging gempukku ceremonies in the Empire, Kuni-san. That is no small feat and a credit to your school and sensei." Lord Daidoji said with a nod to Taka.

 

 

"One cannot not balance the elements, when one is without balance." Rin looks at at the Topaz Champion "This is a true tale and set the path for our journey at the championship, I am sure the Topaz champion will agree."

 

Rin looks at everyone present

 

"The first test of the tournament was Sumai. While trained in Sumai I had trained extensively in juitsu and thought myself well skilled, In truth I thought myself well trained in all things. My opponent was none other than the one who would become champion.She was not some one i considered a serious trial for my skill for was I not Mirumoto Rin. I am proud, and I followed the way of the Sword in all things I could not be defeated. But I was wrong I had taken even as a child to boasting and drinking I acted improper.  I had strayed from the Teachings of my ancestor." She lowers her head in contemplation.

 

"Before the fight began I lost, I did not apply what i had been taught and Kakita-san beat me soundly then went on and excelled that day while I suffered defeat after defeat. That night I realized what had happened I had defeated myself because in my Arrogance I had turned from my path. I rededicated myself to The way And found my Balance."

 

"There is an old saying, Mirumoto-san. 'Cry in the dojo, laugh on the battlefield.' You may have been overly confident in your abilities, but at least you made the mistake and learned of such in a relatively safe environment, so that when it is truly a matter of life and death, you you have already made your mistakes, learned from them, and are more prepared. Consider yourself fortunate." Lord Shiba explained calmly.

 

 

Akari nods.

 

"Glad to hear that, Lord Shiba-Sama.   Wise words from a Wise man."  She smiled.

 

She thinks before she drinks.  "Some do not feel that way, but it's important that cooler heads prevail.  Especially in times like this, when plots such as what occurred during the Topaz Championship have happened."

 

She takes another drink.  The young Isawa still is slightly haunted by her lack of effectiveness that day.   Many of her combat spells would have burned the entire city down, making the situation worse....maybe she should have whined to a geisha when she had the chance....

 

"There may be many Clans, but are one Empire, and the Dark One is the enemy of us all. An attack against the Hantei line is an attack against the heart of the Empire itself." Lord Daidoji said as his sake cup was refilled.

 

"The Emperor, in his divine wisdom, has seen fit to fill the position of Jade Champion once more, putting the minions of the He Who Shall Not Be Named on notice. And with all of you and your fellow competitors in the Topaz Championship, what would seem to be one of the most distinguished classed of samurai in recent memory, appointed as the first wave of Jade Magistrates, I am sure the Empire will be in good hands." Lord Shiba said as he lifted his cup.

 

"To the new Jade Champion and his Jade Magistrates." he toasted, which was fallowed by the other daimyo.

 

"Banzai!"

 

 

"You do yourself a disservice and me too much credit, Mirumoto-san," Zoyu said with a small grin and false modesty. "I am merely swifter than I look and was lucky that day. And found her Balance, indeed." Zoyu turned to Lord Hediji, warming to telling of the Topaz Championship. She might not be skilled in spinning a tale like an Omoidasu, but her voice with smooth and clear and she spoke well, her graceful gestures emphasizing her words.

 

"Mirumoto-san met the Prince of the Empire in the Clash of Weapons, and truly, her display of The Way was one rarely seen matched. Three strokes she landed, quicker than lightning, before the Prince struck his first. As for my match, it was dance of between Scorpion and Crane, a tempestuous flow between strike and evasion until I could land a blow squarely and claim victory."

 

She had excelled and claimed victory in the Topaz Championship, and so magnanimous and gave others their due, telling of their noteworthy deeds along with her own, of course. The wild Horsemanship match between Taka and the Mantis Bushi Hitoe, so evenly matched in their display of skill that the judge awarded them each a point.

 

Having already recited her poem, Zoyu only recited one more from the Poetry event for Nobikazu's benefit, the one that struck her most. During the Courtier debates, she spoke of how Toshi deftly spun a net of words about his Viper opponent. Zoyu went into great detail about how she had swayed the emperor himself into allowing the Prince to participate in the event... with the aid of the Prince and Lady Bayushi she smoothly added after Taka's and Rin's pointed glances. She gave Nobikazu an understanding look, adding that the Prince was a noted falconer with an interest in hunting as well. In the telling of the hunt itself, Zoyu made clear Hiju's notable skill and played up the tension as they raced back to claim victory.

 

Speaking on the Iaijutsu Duels, Zoyu grew more animated and assured, giving critique and insight on every stroke - especially her own, of course, referencing comparisons and contrasts from previous Topaz Championships she had witnessed. It was clear she could speak on the subject at length, but at last, she came to final duel, between her and Rin, just as they had faced each in the first event of the first day. There was symmetry in that.

 

"... single, perfect stroke, soft and swift as the wind, and the Topaz Championship was mine," Zoyu ended. Conspicuously to those who were there, there had been no mention of Ujimitsu's explosive lack of decorum and finding himself in a new clan, nor the zombie attack seeking the life of the Prince. Zoyu's attention was once more directed at Lord Hediji as she bowed her head. "I hope my poor words have done credit to your table, Lord Hediji. Have you witnessed the Topaz Championship in prior years?"

 

"I have not had the pleasure of visiting Tsuma and observing the Topaz Championship since my youth, though it seems this year would have certainly been one to witness. It is not often that all of the competitors pass, much less get the honor of participating alongside the Lord Prince himself. You have all brought your families, schools and clans honor with such an accomplishment, and I am honored to host you. In know you have business in Mamoru Kyotei Toshi.(Honored Treay City), but please enjoy my hospitality for as long as you like." Lord Hideji said

 

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Akari smiled. 

 

"And to the Daimyo who honor us with their praise."  She said with pride and gratefulness as she raises her cup. 

 

 

"It is going to be a great task, filled with many hardships, but I feel we all shall bring honor to our families and clans. "  She said hopeful.

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For much the rest of the banquet, Toshi made only some small talk and politesse in the discussion. Zoyu had already proved her intent to speak enough for the two of them if not more, and in any case, he had plenty to listen, observe and give thought to. A non-bushi inclined heir in a minor family of bushi who stood to likely not have confidence in a courtier or artistic daimyo, even in the Crane. And a father determined to stamp out even the slightest concept of Nobizazu on the path he would prefer.

 

A thing to wonder, whether the opinions of the local heimin and monks on Nobizazu's future reign would match the chances here. Perhaps. Nobizazu might not be so ruthlessly focused on the matter of tribute and taxes. Taka had mentioned one of the family, Shosuro Ino... yes, something to do in town. Arrange the letter's sending and visit kinfolk...

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"You are quite right that we have a duty in Mamoru Kyotei Toshi, Lord Hediji," Zoyu agreed smoothly, finishing her meal with a cup a tea. She took a sip, then gave the Daimyo a soft smile. "But we made such good time on the excellently maintained roads of the Lion," the stunning bushi bowed her head at Lord Ikoma, her streak of sable hair falling forward, contrasting sharply with the paleness of her cheek, before returning her mismatched gaze to the Crane Lord, "that we can partake of the hospitality you offer for a few days more."

 

The elegant young made polite and charming small talk as the remnants of the banquet were consumed or removed, nursing her last cup of tea. She finished it, sat it down and washed her hands on a warm, damp towel proffered by a servant, then arched her brows as though a thought had just occurred to her.

 

"Lord Hediji, of course, while we are here, feel free to come us with anything you believe may be of concern to the Jade Magistrates," Zoyu said, subtly urging him and the others at the table to confide in them, now or in private. She slid a slim, strong finger across the jade jitte, the badge of her office, secured to her obi. "We are bound elsewhere, true, but the duties of the Jade Magistrates fall to all corners of the Empire. If we cannot resolve the issue in the time we are here, we will let it be known to our superiors, so further measures may be taken, as needed."

 

The sleek, lushly figured young woman inclined her head towards Lords Ikoma and Shiba, including them as well. "To be sure, the aid of the Jade Magistrates is open to all."

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Rin sat back waiting for the banquet to end listening to the quiet conversations. She frowned as Zoyu skirted around the issue of the Witches but figured that Zoyu , having more experience at court, knew what she was doing.

 

All things being equal Rin had come to the conclusion that she would rather face Yari in the dojo than to spend one more minute playing the silly games her superiors seemed to relish.

 

As soon as they could leave the table she decided to gather at least one more to accompany her to the town. If the “witches†were what she suspected, they would do something tonight and she intended to be ready for them.

 

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The banquet continued into the night with fresh, piping hot dishes brought in regular intervals along with plenty of tea and fine sake to wash it all down as the conversations continued. Eventually the meal concluded and attention was turned to the small puppet theater form several short plays, each accompanied and punctuated by music.

 

After the puppet show things began to wind down, with everybody rising and walking around a bit, conversing in small groups here and there on a variety of subjects, ranging from Kaiu Kabe and Jade Magistrates, to the arts, the Topaz Championship and travel plans. Lord Shiba and Ikoma would be leaving in the morning to return to their castles, something which Lord Ikoma seemed to very much look forward to. Lord Shiba offered some advice on the rest of the trip to Mamoru Kyotei Toshi, indicating some of the better places to dine and rest along the way, a trip he seems to have made many times.

 

As these conversations take place Lord Hideji and his son talk alone a across the small courtyard, their conversation escalating to an obvious argument rather quickly, sake cups in hand. As it would be rude to eves drop and they are a distance away, the exact argument is unclear, but from a word made out here and there, it would seem to be the latest installment of a long disagreement over something Lord Hideji wants his son to do, but Nobikazu seems to refuse. Finally Lord Hideji scolds Nobikazu, who storms out of the courtyard.

 

Everyone falls momentarily silent, then the party resumes with everybody politely ignoring the outburst...

 

The party gradually draws to and end with Lord Hideji thanking everybody for coming and wishing everybody a good night as servants arrive to lead the various guests back to their rooms.

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As the banquet ends and the guests leave she will speak softly to Zoyu and Toshi that she wishes to speak to them before they retire and asks the to gather the rest of the Magistrates.

Rin waits in the common area by their rooms for everyone to gather, soon the Jade Magistrates are all there.

 

"I am going to go to the town tonight and thought it best if someone come with me. I have a feeling that the witches if they exist will try something tonight. Does anyone wish to accompany me?"

 

 

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Taka acknowledged Lord Daidoji's comment and joined in with the two toast but after that reverted to listening and observing as much as possible for the rest if the meal. Afterwards he took note of the worsening if the relationship between father and son before returning to his quarters. Hearing of Rin's plans he quickly spoke up.

"Hai, Rin-san, I will join you. If the witches are based in the town they may try something tonight, although they could live out of town and so take longer to learn of our presence here."

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"I shall accompany you, as well, Rin-san," Zoyu proclaimed in her dulcet tones, after Taka spoke, her mismatched eyes merry and a faint curve to her lips as she dipped her head.

 

Despite the unseemly tension between Lord Hediji and his son, it had been a pleasant evening, relaxing even. She was planning on seeking a secluded, striking place to flow through the forms and steps of The Sword before turning in for the night, perhaps seeing if she could find Nobikazu and sharing some words with him.

 

But Rin's activities for the night presented her an opportunity. Zoyu didn't believe these supposed Witches would dare make trouble with Jade Magistrates in the environs, let alone confront the Topaz Champion. But she wanted to make sure Rin did not act precipitously. And perhaps she would have a chance to delicately broach the subject of Rin's driven, almost ascetic, intensity. She had seen what it had done to Ujimitsu - she did not wish the same to happen to Rin.

 

And the Fortunes alone knew, perhaps Zoyu would learn if there was more to the uncanny insights attributed to the Dragon than mere fanciful tales.

 

"And If these Uba prove to be phantoms, perhaps we can find other means to use our time."

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"I'll be with you all soon.  I'm going to make sure we'll have adequate protection where we will lay our heads."

 

Akari would make the preparations and write the necessary symbols to make Wards for their quarters.

 

The Young Phoenix made sure to check to make sure it was working right before rejoining her fellow Magistrates.

 

Evil Ward
Sunstar *rolls* 4d10: 10+10+4+5: 29
Sunstar *rolls* 2d10: 2+4: 6
Keeping both 10s and the 5.

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The winding path from the innermost courtyard to the guest quarters passes through three guarded gates which are closed and barred behind you as Hideo Castle closes up for the night. Once assembled in the guest quarters Akari sets about warding while Rin and Zoyu don their light armor. With Daisho tucked in their obi Rin, Zoyu and Taka set out toward town while the others prepare for sleep, or meditation in Kageko's case.

The guards at the outermost gate stop you, and inquire as to why you seek to leave and much less wearing armor.

"Jade Magistrate business." Zoyu explained to her clansmen, presenting her carved, jade sphere to them in one hand while a delicate finger traces along the handle of the jitte in her obi.

The guard addressing the Jade Magistrates looked at the orb and jitte and then bowed.

"Of course." he replied and nodded to the other guards who unbarred and opened the gate as he stepped aside.

 

The night was cool, which was a bit of a change for Zoyu and specially Taka, having grown up further south. Like most of the Empire, it was dark as well, with whatever moonlight was available being the primary lighting. Some lanterns could be seen burning in town> The light of the Golden Peony Inn and a couple of sake houses not quite closed yet could be seen on this side of the river, with the lights of the rival geisha houses catching the eye on the far side of the river. Two lanterns could be seen moving about the city, most likely carried by patrolling doshin.

 

The walk down the path from the castle to the road is a short one, though the incline is slightly more difficult to manage in the darkness. As you near the road a hooded figure can be made out turning from the road and onto the path toward the castle. Even in the limited moonlight it is obvious the figure of a woman and as she draws near you can make out that the hood it rather large and elevated above the head, while what skin you can see of her partially obscured face and neck seems to be stark white.

With the white skin and tell-tale shape of the hood, Zoyu could make an educated guess at what the woman was. Her lips curved in a small smile, curious who the geisha was going to see in the castle, if geisha she was, though Zoyu would never be so crass to demand the identity of her patron. She wasn't so sure about Rin or Taka.

Zoyu step forward to cross the woman's path, making no effort at stealth and making sure the jitte of the Jade Magistrates was in full view and a pleasant, if firm, expression on her face as she tried to get a better view under the edge of the hood.

"Hold, oneesan," Zoyu demanded mildly. "There have been rumours of Uba in the area - though we lend them little credence - and we Jade Magistrates are walking the night to keep make sure nothing untoward troubles the streets of Jinpachi. Who are we addressing with a warning to beware walking the dark hours in Jinpachi?"

The hooded figure bowed low. "This one is Chiyoko, Crane-sama," the woman said in a soft voice, a tiny hint of reticence in her tone. "This one knows where she is going under the fall of night."

"To be sure," Zoyu replied, amused, glancing back up the path to the castle with a languid gaze. She wondered which of the Daimyos or those in their entourages had summoned the girl. Zoyu stepped aside and waved the girl on. "Be on your way, Chiyoko-san. No, a moment. Have you passed any others in your... wanderings this evening?"

"Only the doshin, Crane-sama." Chiyoko said in a soft, polite tone.

"On your way then, Chiyoko-san." Zoyu said once more.

"Good evening, Magistrates-samas." Chiyoko said and gave a deep, polite bow before turning and continuing on her way up the path to Hideo Castle.

 

You continue down the road into the slumbering town of Jinpachi, the streets empty, quiet and dark with only the occasional hanging lantern making a small island of light in the darkness. The road passes by the House of the Golden Peony, which is still open at this house. It seems that, like many inn throughout the Empire, doubles as a restaurant and sake house on the bottom floor. A lone man sits outside the door on the ground, holding his knees to his chest and resting his head on his forearms (possibly asleep) with a daisho by his side, a common practice for ronin looking for work or possibly waiting for his ward to exit the inn.

Eventually a pair of doshin, one of them carrying a lantern at the end of stick with the kanji for 'official business' written on it (as doshin are apt to do at night) approach you, inquiring about your business (especially armored) this late at night. A view of a jade orb, jitte and a brief explanation has then bowing politely.

"We meant no disrespect, honored magistrates. We were just doing our job." the doshin explain apologetically.

"It is not often we get magistrate on official business, and few are on the streets at this hour. The town, it slumbers. The only establishments open into the night are the House of the Golden Peony, and inn. The sakes houses, the House of the Laughing Kappa and the House of the Dancing Traveler, are sometimes opened late. They are near the Golden Peony. The only things open late on the south side of town are the geisha houses, the House of the Cherry Blossom and the House of the Pines, which is open to the early morning, much later than the House of the Cherry Blossom. Anybody on the streets is most certainly on their way home from such establishments." they explain.

"What have you heard of the uba?" Taka asked.

"We have heard the townsfolk talk of uba, but we have seen no proof. Just claims of being bedeviled, probably to cover up a farmer drinking too much and being too sick the next day to tend to his field." the doshin reply.

The rest of the night is uneventful. The streets are quiet, dark and empty aside from the occasional townsfolk walking (or stumbling) home as the few establishments open late begin to close. The last place to close is the House of the Pines, just a couple of hours before dawn (which explains why they do not open until roughly dusk), by which time the town is truly asleep without a soul on the street aside from the doshin night watch.

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As the night drags on Rin's mood darkens, something nags at her thoughts but she cannot bring them to the surface. She has been watching as the Doshin have made their rounds regularly, they are diligent, no Uba or conspirator could escape their notice. Some time after the last drunken man stumbles home, she grunt and touches Zoyu's arm lightly leaning in she speaks quietly so as not to allow her voice to carry beyond her companions.

"Tell me Zoyu-san, you are more familiar with these geisha, are they not valuable?"

Zoyu looks quizzically at the other Bushi. "I am not sure what you mean, yes their services can be expensive if that is what you are asking."  There is a slight amusement in her tone as she imagines Rin visiting the Geisha.

"Hmmph, since they make the money for their house then why would the house owner allow one to travel at night unescorted from the town to the castle?"  Asks Rin.

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"It is precisely because those in the castle who ask Geisha to come to them value discretion that the okasan of the Geisha Houses allow them to go unescorted, Rin-san," Zoyu replied easily.

Unlike Rin, the uneventful night did not seem to weigh heavily on Zoyu. She was calm and relaxed as they walked through the silent town, her pale skin and white hair almost luminous under the moon and starlight. Sleep was beginning to make its demands known, but she still needed to dance the steps of The Sword before finding her bed.

"And it is because their services are valuable that geisha are very unlikely to be accosted," Zoyu added, turning her head away to politely hide a yawn. She turned back to Rin, a wry smirk on her lips. "Would you want to definitely make an enemy of many or most of the samurai in town, an enemy of the wealthy, perhaps daimyo himself? An attack on geisha is as like an attack on them. It is simply not done, Rin-san."

Zoyu sighed and rolled her shoulders as she looked around then at her companions. "I am thinking that Jinpachi is not going to be troubled this night, unless it is by a drunken Ronin and the doshin are here to deal with that. Shall we head back to the castle?"

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"You and Taka-san go I will remain I have business here in the morning. Please have a servant deliver a message to the Dojo that I will not be coming to train this day."

Bidding her companions farewell, Rin makes one last transit of the silent town before finding the Tattoo shop where she sits beside the door waiting the dawn.

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Zoyu watched Rin walk off into the night for a moment before rolling her eyes in exasperation then looking over and down at the short Crab at her side. "Did we not agree that we should not move about Jinpachi alone, even if so far this night, there seems to be no danger about?" Zoyu commented. "If you would Taka-san, could you find the Doshin and travel back to the castle with them? I will accompany Rin-san - I wish to speak with her in any case."

Assuming Taka's assent with a quick grin, Zoyu hurried after Rin with swift, graceful strides, her long, white hair swaying behind her in languorous undulations. Zoyu fell into step with the intense Dragon without a word, ignoring Rin's sharp look, and completed the circuit of the town with her in silence.

When Rin settled against the wall of some artisan's shop, Zoyu frowned, displeased with the area, then shrugged. One may be called upon to wield one's blade in any part of the Empire after all. Zoyu stretched and limbered up despite slumber beginning to weigh her eyelids, then began flowing through the Kata of Iaijutsu and Iaido, every step and movement fluid and precise, followed by long moments of utter stillness. The moonlight seemed to gather brightly along the length of her flicking blade.

After while, still dancing through her forms, making minuscule adjustments against imaginary opponents, Zoyu murmured politely, "Is aught amiss, Rin-san? You have been... peculiar, since we have arrived in Jinpachi."

Truthfully, Zoyu had found Rin acting oddly since the Topaz Championship, but it was moreso, or perhaps different, since they had arrived in the Northern lands of the Crane.

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Rin gave Zoyu a glance and a frown when she caught up to her but said nothing. They walked through the town in silence, no uba, no conspirators, nothing.

Rin settled at the tattoo shop she had planned to sleep some waiting for the inhabitants to arise, she watched for a moment or two as Zoyu steppd away from the building and began her exercises, then bowed her head and closed her eyes but sleep was not to be.

 

After while, still dancing through her forms, making minuscule adjustments against imaginary opponents, Zoyu murmured politely, "Is aught amiss, Rin-san? You have been... peculiar, since we have arrived in Jinpachi."

Truthfully, Zoyu had found Rin acting oddly since the Topaz Championship, but it was moreso, or perhaps different, since they had arrived in the Northern lands of the Crane.

She considered, briefly, pretending to sleep but decided against that, such rudeness could not be forgiven. instead she raised her head and looked to the east where the sun would rise.

"Yes there is much amiss. This is not my Path."

She takes the jitte from her obi holds it up for emphasis then drops it on the ground.

"But duty and honor force me to walk it to the detriment of the path I chose. Lead me to this place, where i would not be otherwise. Makes me sit and listen to people who will talk about everything which means nothing except what they came here to talk about."

She shrugs and takes a long piece of grass and chews the end out of habit.

"You other clans say we Dragons are mysterious and enigmatic that you never know what we are talking about. But this is not so we use words to make one think to reveal the truth in what is said. All I see in what the other clans say is the use of words to hide the truth of meaning."

She stands and walks close to Zoyu forcing her to stop her kata.

"I see Honor and Duty being used as excuses. I am distracted," Rin can smell Zoyu's scent, the lingering fragrance from her earlier bath and the strong natural smell brought on by her workout. "My balance is not right. My spirit is troubled, and I am tired of not being able to speak what needs to be spoken."

She turns and steps back to the building stopping to pick up the jitte before sitting again.

"I should never have left Mirumoto Castle."

 

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"Oh grow up." an annoyed voice said from the corner of the roof, but all that could be seen was a lone crow looking down from it's perch. With a flutter of black wings the crow landed on the ground and looked at Zoyu and especially Rin.

"You are samurai. You live to serve you lord and Emperor, and yet here you sit, whining and pouting like a child. You passed you gempukku. You are an adult now and it is time to start behaving like one. Your Emperor himself, gave you a mandate and you toss it in the dirt." the crow spoke as it fluttered it's wings once more.

"You talk of Dragons and their wisdom, but you fail to apply it to yourself. You are being selfish and letting your desire, a sin as your kind says, cloud your judgement, arguably to the point of dishonor. You have been given a duty, one which should be an honor, and yet you whine about your 'path' like a petulant child. Your path is before you, but you fail to even see it. Stop being so selfish and grow up." the crow chastised.

"Your precious Prince spoke to you of honor, duty and the burden of responsibility... for what good it did. Stop being a selfish child and instead be a woman worthy of him." the crow chided.

 

The Three Sins committed by Nothing are what formulates the basic foundation of Rokugani belief. All three sins - Fear, Desire and Regret - poison the mind and keep it from acting with certainty.

When the Three Sins are portrayed in temples, bowls of pebbles are provided so those who come to the temple can throw rocks at the images before they leave.

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Startled Rin half drew her sword until she realized what was talking. She stared as the Crow flew to the ground, glanced over at Zoyu and saw the look of astonishment mirrored on the much more exquisite face of her fellow magistrate. After a moment of collecting her wits and composure She realized this could only be one of two things. She noticed Zoyu coming to the same conclusion and the look the Crane gave to her told her to proceed.

Pushing her half drawn sword back into its saya she shifted to face the Bird.

"Intruding into conversations is a good way to start a fight. Speaking as you have without even so much as an introduction is another way to start a fight."

Rin rolls her shoulders and pops her neck, a gesture Zoyu has become familiar with.

"You are no crow. That means you must be Shinsi come to to teach me a lesson, but no I do not think Shinsi would speak as you have, for he would know my Heart and Mind."

"No," She sniffs loudly, "with your words of chastisement and derision, no, I do not think you are Shinsi . I do not think Shinsi would speak in such manner. You must be a Kenku then, who are said to be wise and benevolent. But then I do not hear words of Wisdom all I hear are insults"

She bows her head and sets her swords to the side to show peaceful intent.

"So Kenku-sama, what is it you would have of me?"

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Zoyu let Rin vent her frustrations without interrupting. Rin didn't seem inclined to visit a Geisha to give voice of her burdens, so Zoyu didn't mind playing the part, especially here, in the privacy of the town in the middle of the night. Perhaps, if she had encouraged Ujimitsu to talk, he would not have made his outburst and been forced to find succor in the arms of the Scorpion.

Her lips twitched as she watched Rin drop the jitte of the Jade Magistrates, struggling to conceal her disappointment and dismay at the action, but the tenseness in her shoulders eased when Rin picked it up once more. Privately, Zoyu believed Rin was so focused on the Path she wished to take, she wasn't seeing that there were multiple roads down that Path. The striking Crane also though Rin might be missing the company of the Prince more than she was willing to admit, even to herself.

Zoyu was considering how to reply to Rin in a delicate manner that wouldn't come across as judgmental, nor would make Rin respond defensively, when they were interrupted from words on high. Words from a crow!

Zoyu's mismatched eyes were wide in astonishment and awe. Stories and folklore about Kenku - for to her, the speaking crow could be nothing else - were spoken of much in Crane lands, especially among students of The Sword. Zoyu would be lying if she said she had never dreamed about catching the eye of a wise Kenku duelist, who would take her away and teach her the uncanny mystic arts of Kenkujutsu and years later, she would return, having not aged a day, unmatched in beauty and the blade, to fulfill some great destiny. It was not an uncommon tale.

When Rin looked at her with the same astonishment in her eyes - and something fiercer - Zoyu nodded at her to proceed, since the Kenku had addressed her first. With the words the Kenku had spoken, it appeared it had had eyes on them since the Topaz Championship.

Zoyu's eyes grew even wider even as she winced, when Rin replied to the Kenku's barbed chastisement with her own blunt honesty. Perhaps, they did not have stories of the Kenku among the mountains of the Dragon, to know what a rare honour this was. It was not how Zoyu would have responded, but having never met a Kenku before, nor ever expecting to, she had little idea how the Kenku would receive Rin's words.

Zoyu graciously dipped her head towards the strutting crow, her slim, strong fingers lightly gripping the hilt of her blade as she sheathed it in a fluid movement.

"Kenku-sama, you honour us in speaking with us," Zoyu added sweetly after Rin. "May we know what we all to call you? These ones are Kakita Zoyu and Mirumoto Rin."

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Taka watched Zoyu move off after Rin with a slight shake of his head. It was frequently irritating the way Zoyu always assumed she knew best, but perhaps in this case she could help Rin regain her balance - she had obviously been feeling out of sorts since the championship.

Rather than follow Zoyu's assumption/suggestion Taka turned instead towards the temple where he meditated for a while in the peaceful grounds before raising a prayer to the Sun as she rose at dawn. After a brief word with the priests to see if more information was available about when the Uba appeared and how widespread the attacks were claimed he made his way back up to the castle for some breakfast and to discuss things with his colleagues.

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The crow watches Rin and then Zoyu as they each speak, fluttering it's wings once.

"I know full well who you are. You may call me Tisuri." it replied to Zoyu, inclining it's head for a moment before turning it's attention back towards Rin.

"You have not heard a word I have said, have you?" Tisuri asked, already knowing the answer.

"What I speak is the truth. You talk of wise dragons, and yet fail to hear wisdom and truth, choosing to only hear chastisement, derision and insults because you are still being a selfish child and focusing on what you want, instead of your duty. And then you whine or act like a petulant child when your duty gets in the way of what you want. You are Samurai, those that serve. Samurai exist to serve their lord and the Emperor. Your duty is whatever they choose for it to be. That is the way of your Celestial Order, the way of the Empire, the way of Bushido and though it, Honor." the crow says.

"You waste your time, focus and potential pining after what you want instead of your duty. You fail to see and appreciate just what you actually have and the way set before you. You have friends who care and are concerned for you, despite how you treat them. You have a position and duty that bring prestige while at the same time allowing you to protect and serve the Empire from the worst enemy imaginable. You have met and befriended the Prince, even saved his life, and the Emperor himself is in your debt and has given you this appointment, one which stand a good chance of bring back into the company of the Prince."

The crow hops over to Rin's swords and looks down at them for several long moments before looking back at her.

"You fight against your own duty bestowed upon you by the Hantei himself, instead of accepting and embracing it. Better yourself, by all means. Study other forms and styles. But that appointment, that duty, which you toss is the dirt is why sensei are willing to speak with you and take you into their dojo. It affords you a level of respect, a level of respect that you lack for the position itself. You are an adult now and you are samurai. Act like it and stop wasting your potential."

Tisuri hops up on Rin's lap and looks up at her.

"You have the favor of Mirumoto himself. You bare his name..." Tisuri says before pecking at Rin's hand once, breaking the skin as a small drop of crimson forms at the tiny wound.

"...and his blood courses through your veins, as does the blood of the kami Togashi, and yet you squander it." the Tisuri says, looking back up at Rin.

"Instead, be worthy of it. Be worthy of your name, your blood. Be worthy of your caste, your duty. Be worthy of your friends, your Prince..." the crow explains as it looks into Rin's eyes.

 

The Togashi Family: The kami Togashi is not know to have ever married or had any children. The Togashi 'family' are all people who followed him and took his name, leading the clan as well as forming the Ise Zumi order of tattooed monks. All new Ise Zumi take the family name Togashi as well. No known blood relative of Togashi is know to exist or have ever existed.

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Rin's eyes narrow as the crow keeps pushing her with words that cut like like the sharpest KatanaThe words kept coming and she grew angrier her hands clenched into fist the words no longer having meaning in her ears it was just the crowing of a bothersome bird...The he jumped into her lap and instinctively she raised her hand to strike him away and his beak flashes and blood flowed.

 

Shocked Rin stared at the boold drops on her hand scarlet agaisnt her pale skin. Then she heard, really heard the crows words as if for the first time.

 

"...and his blood courses through your veins, as does the blood of the kami Togashi, and yet you squander it."  Tisuri says, looking back up at Rin.

"Instead, be worthy of it. Be worthy of your name, your blood. Be worthy of your caste, your duty. Be worthy of your friends, your Prince..." the crow explains as it looks into Rin's eyes.

 

 

 

Eyes wide opened she looked from the blood to the crow then back at the blood Even though the crow has finished speaking she hears its voice.

"You have the favor of Mirumoto himself. You bare his name..."  Tisuri says before pecking at Rin's hand once, breaking the skin as a small drop of crimson forms at the tiny wound.

"...and his blood courses through your veins, as does the blood of the kami Togashi, and yet you squander it."

 

She thinks of the long walk carrying the swords, the climb up the mountain, five years old the Monk never helping her, finding her own way around ad over the obstacles. Findin her path...

 

She looks at the Crow. The wind does not move. Zoyu is between breaths her hairs frozen as the wind which blew it stills. The Crow cocks its head to the side

 

She looks up and sees the old man and the monk in the street the child kneeling between them

 

"I see, hmmm," the old mans gaze feel on the child she kept her eyes cast down. "So, child are you Mirumoto or are you Togashi?"

 

She raised her eyes. "Can't I be both?"

 

The old man looked thoughtful "We shall see."

The crow caws one eye staring baleful at Rin the other at the empty street

 

Rins sees the old man and the child

 "So, child are you Mirumoto or are you Togashi?"

 

She raised her eyes. "Can't I be both?"

 

The old man looked thoughtful "We shall see."

 

The Crow raises its wings and caws again

Rin sees the child

"Can't I be both?"

"We shall see."

 

The crow flaps its wings and jumps off Rins lap. The wind blows and the sounds of the night return.

Rin whispers. "We shall see."

Then kneels and bows her head to the ground in front of the crow.

"Thank you, wise Kenku-sama, Thank you very much."

Zoyu isn't sure what has happen the Kenku pecked Rin and then Rin Bowed, certainly not what  she expected.

"What...?" She asks somewhat puzzled.

Rins sits back down and looks at her friend.

"Come," She pats the ground beside her, " we should sleep, we will go back to the castle at sunrise."

 

 

 

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Zoyu's lips pursed in a moue, nonplussed, a furrow blooming between her brows. Something the Kenku said had shaken the belligerence from the Dragon girl and left her contemplative. Zoyu was irritated that she didn't know which of Tisuri's words it was. She was also mildly disgruntled the Kenku was sharing its wisdom with Rin, but had no words for her - she wasn't entirely mollified by telling herself it was because she was already treading her own Path with grace and decorum.

But the Kenku knows my name and has seemingly been watching me. I may yet prove myself worthy of learning some of the mystic arts of Kenkujutsu. According to the tales, by any measure, I would make an exemplary student, Zoyu boasted to herself.

Zoyu distractedly nodded her agreement to Rin when she patted the ground next to her, but she kept her gaze on the Kenku, as she dipped her head low in thanks. "I am grateful for the wisdom you have shared with my companion, Tisuri-sama," Zoyu affirmed, then added - if not what she really wanted to ask,  "If I may be so bold and ask of you a boon... You see and hear much, Tisuri-sama, and all with us unknowing. Do you know if there is any truth to the rumours of Uba in this town?"

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